Tuesday, August 21, 2012

One man's loss is the world's gain.

Evening Hymns are no strangers to Ear To The Sound readers. Back when I started this blog (over 4 years ago, yikes!) with the whole "A is for.../ B is for..." conceit and didn't know what this blog would become, the E was for Evening Hymns. Though it never got its own blog entry, Spirit Guides - the debut album under the Evening Hymns moniker - was #15 on my Top 20 of 2009 post.

"Cedars" from Spirit Guides served as a primer to what the sophomore record, Spectral Dusk, would be like and how heartbreaking and heartbreakingly beautiful it would prove to be. The new album - like that song from the first record  - was written in the wake of the death of Jonas Bonnetta's father, and serves as a meditation on grief, loss, and memory.

On The Line Of Best Fit, Bonnetta went through a track-by-track examination of the roots of this album and explains how even the wordless field recordings that open and close Spectral Dusk are connected to his late father [they were recorded at The Burn where his dad shot his first deer]. Some of the songwriting is explicit in its attempt to address Bonnetta's loss ["Arrows,""You and Jake," "Spectral Dusk"], while other songs are more elliptical and metaphoric (though no less affecting) ["Moon River," "Family Tree"].

Midway through the album the explicit and the elliptical become enmeshed on "Cabin In The Burn." I don't think it's a coincidence that the cabin in the wilderness is central to the landscape Bonnetta and co. have created, and that the song finds a place at the heart of the album. The lyrics describe the spirit of Bonnetta's father inhabiting the cabin ("you are the four walls / you are the bear-claw door / you are the wood stove") while the rocking chair he used to rest in sits empty, looking out onto the wilderness. Pere Bonnetta can no longer sit in the chair so his son lets him lie down in his mind ("and there you can be anything") - it is a deeply touching gesture and the point at which the son truly seems to come to terms with the loss of his father. It's only after this acceptance that Jonas is able to find rest ("Asleep In The Pews"); though even that rest is fitful and leaves him "waiting for some strength."

When he sings that "those nights in the woods / they were dark / and they were deep," on "Asleep In The Pews"  Bonnetta could be describing the recording of Spectral Dusk as well as his memories - he and bandmate Sylvie Smith were joined by a group of friends / musicians at a cabin near Perth, Ontario where the group hunkered down in the winter of 2010. The album seems as remote and self-contained as the cabin must have been, and while you can actually hear the ice in a drink crack on the title track, you can practically hear the floor-beams creak underneath the weight of the emotional load that these friends help Bonnetta carry. Everyone does their very best in contributing to this beautiful tribute - particularly Mika Posen's expressive, evocative violin work on "Irving Lake Access Road, February 12th 2011" which conveys both the loss and the hope of the lyrics elsewhere on the record as it soars and dives wordlessly.

I hesitate to say that I have a "favourite" track on this album because it's not the kind of album you can pull apart and reduce to individual elements (and each listen reveals new elements and sounds that make one song or another stick out at different times), but from the very first time I listened to Spectral Dusk, "You and Jake" was the song that hit me the hardest. In it, Bonnetta reflects on the special relationship that his brother Jake shared with their father, "smoking smokes and just dreaming big." But rather than begrudging that relationship (as some of us would), he instead chooses to draw on the lessons his father taught him to help overcome the grief associated with his death. When Bonnetta sings "you taught me how to be a working man / now I'm gonna work on you" (a line he echoes on "Spirit in the Sky" later on the record), my heart breaks each and every time I hear it. The resolve he displays in that line makes me want to be a better man and a better son - I didn't have the relationship with my father growing up that Bonnetta clearly did with his, but I still have the chance to get over myself and get past my youthful jealousies around my dad and brother's relationship. We're all set to take our first-ever trip together this fall and I find myself wanting to play this song for him and explain what it draws up in me. It's not often that an album has that effect, but it's not often that an album like this gets made. For Bonnetta's sake, I wish that circumstances meant he never had reason to make it, but I'm grateful that he was able to channel his pain into something this beautiful.

You can buy a digital copy of the album at the Evening Hymns Bandcamp page, where the album stream below comes from.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Brothers already worked it out...

Released this past May, the self-titled effort from the Colman Brothers seriously could have been released in 1965 on Fania and I wouldn't have been surprised; it sounds that timeless. It also sounds alive, as the energy of the percussion pulses through it.
"Mr. DG" shuffles into the frame first, a laid-back stroll through the neighbourhood before "Another Brother" dashes down the street with a muted cornet in hot pursuit. I'm not sure if it's brother Andrew or brother Mat on the horn, but kudos to whichever brother is responsible (my guess from this picture is it's Andrew...). While the horn line is the call, the organ line is the response, giving a real point/counterpoint interplay between the instruments on this number - kind of like sparring partners in the ring, roped in by the drums.
Organ is traded for piano at the beginning of "MOMO" and a Grant Green-esque guitar joins the brass section (now augmented by trombone) before the organ reappears. There's a lot going on within this track and it really starts to show just how talented at spinning plates the brothers Colman are (and leaves me to wonder just how many musicians they employ to take this show on the road).
"Sem Amor" is credited to Sara Colman as well so this family affair isn't just a bro-mance. The song is also the first to feature vocals, with Sister Sara and without love.
"The Chief" (a personal favourite) feels like it could have come off a mid-period Jimmy Smith Blue Note record - particularly a record like Home Cookin' where the dynamic between Smith's organ and Kenny Burrell on guitar vacillates between partnership and duel with each showing up and showing off while the rhythm section just underpins and undersells - it's a dynamic "The Chief" has in spades.
"She Who Dares (Remix)" is a bit of a departure from what has come before it on the album, but still walks with the funky strut "Mr. DG" first displayed.
Speaking of remixes, it's actually because of Detroit producer Tall Black Guy that I got hip to this UK act in the first place. After connecting with him on Twitter and checking out his great Hollyweird records and his remix of Maylee Todd, I happened upon his "On A Better Day I'm Dreamin'" remix and decided to burrow deeper into the source material.
I'm so glad I did, and I'm pretty sure that after listening to Colman Brothers, you'll be glad for serendipitous journeys and discoveries as well.

You can listen to the Bandcamp stream of the album below, and a special edition vinyl is available for order that features the Tall Black Guy remix that got this post started.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Friday, July 20, 2012

The summer lives forever

Listening to the latest effort from Winnipeg hip-hop duo The Happy Unfortunate, I can't help but think of A Tribe Called Quest's Midnight Marauders. I know that comparing THU to one of the giants of the rap game in ATCQ may seem overblown or like a reach, but bear with me.

When ATCQ debuted with People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm in 1990, they came out of the gate swinging and between Ali Shaheed Muhammad's inventive, crisp production and some tight rhymes on cuts like "Bonita Applebum" and "Can I Kick It?" helped birth the daisy age. At it's root, Instinctive Travels... was just a fun record. They quickly followed their debut with 1991's darker The Low End Theory, an album that mined some of the same jazzy production but which also found the group exploring darker themes (date rape, the ills of the music industry) lyrically. Two years down the line, Midnight Marauders found ATCQ striking a deft balance between 'fun' songs and lyrical complexity - in other words, fully-realized maturity.

The Happy Unfortunate are now three albums into creating their own catalog (I'm not counting the beat-tapes they've released sporadically) and they appear to be following the same trajectory, just reversing the gaps between albums. 2009 saw their debut Stand Up Or Fall Down and two years later came No Time To Sleep.

Now with July Never Dies, the talented pair demonstrate a similar maturity in both their content (failed relationships, patience and perseverance, long-distance love) and their production. Soulful vocal and horn samples float around for the first few seconds before the boom-bap snap of the hi-hat and snare kick in on "Yesterday's Fool."

I don't think the yesterday they're talking about in the lead-off track is '89 (particularly considering the ages of The Happy Unfortunate), but a lot of the beats will take you back to the daisy age with the jazzy, gentle beats found on this baker's dozen of cuts. A harmonica that feels like a Stevie Wonder sample on "Mistakes To Be Made," the floating synths on "Long Shot," and the rolling piano line on "Through The Day" all have that old-school vibe without sounding copycat and in service of laid-back beats, they're perfectly paired with Wilson & Caneda's relaxed delivery.

 The title is also perfectly paired with the collection of tracks - it feels like summer has been caught on record in a way that few albums or songs have since DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince dropped "Summertime" back in '91. The Happy Unfortunate will officially drop July Never Dies next Friday at the Urban Forest in the Exchange (just across from Market Square on 93 Albert St.) with a party that features Saint Kris, M-Kaps and Len Bowen. Don't sleep on the record (which you can preview below) or the show. Pre-order July Never Dies on their Bandcamp page.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Beats me to my next post...

I'm going to be dropping a new ETTS post about the forthcoming record from Winnipeg rap duo The Happy Unfortunate in the next few days, but I just got the link to this beattape from Envoy - who is one-half of the group - and figured I'd share it here and promote the fact that (a) there will be a new post shortly, and (b) it will be about The Happy Unfortunate... who I am happy to say will be playing a free Friday night show on August long as part of Islendingadagurinn (aka Icelandic Fest) in Gimli. This is the first summer I'm in charge of booking that night and I couldn't be happier to include this act in the line-up.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hell yes, Way Yes.

From the folks that brought you past ETTS act  Dominant Legs, Lefse Records is back and starting the summer off right with a little EP from Columbus, Ohio trio Way Yes called - appropriately enough - Walkability. As the title suggests, this is perfect for adding to your mp3 player, slipping on a pair of ear-buds and taking a stroll through your neighbourhood. The tropical vibes propelling off-kilter indie-pop songs remind me of past favourites Secret Cities' Strange Hearts album, their Western Vinyl label-mates Callers, and even Victoria, B.C. act Chet - whose Kauai is a criminally overlooked record.

At a brief 5 songs and seconds shy of 20 minutes, striding to the pace of Walkability will get you two-thirds of the way to your daily recommended 30 minutes of exercise, and you'll likely want to hit repeat at least once and give 133% effort.

The title track (below) shimmers into view like heat rising from the hood of a car on a sun-baked stretch of highway and then the band intones its 'go it alone' lyrics: "don't need no breakups / don't need no friends at all / they'll just bring heartache ... it's walkability / it doesn't matter to me." The subtly reverb-ed and ringing guitar line surfs above the waves of percussion before washing ashore on a beach of electronic noise that bends itself into the beat that pushes "Important" forward.
  Way Yes - Walkability by yvynyl 

I believe I've made mention in the past of having a bit of a dark fascination with composing the playlist for my own funeral, and I may just have to include "Singing" with its optimist outlook on going out on a positive note: "I get older every day / I get closer to my death / and I hope / that when I go / I'll be singing." Maybe that'll leave the crowd in a positive place as they scatter my ashes in the South Saskatchewan River valley.
  Way Yes - "Singing" by Some Kind of Awesome

I may be writing about Lefse label-mate Teen Daze and his great new record All Of Us, Together in the next few days (he plays the LO Pub here in Winnipeg next Wednesday, June 20th), but in the meantime, you can pre-order Walkability at Lefse Records web store.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Poised for the Polaris?

Last week - June 7th to be exact - the polls closed in one of the biggest votes of my life (I would count voting in the last federal election, only that didn't go so well - seriously Canada, WTF?!). For the first time ever, I submitted a ballot for the Polaris Prize. The Long List will be announced tomorrow in Vancouver, and when the world learns about which 40 albums made the cut, I will learn which (if any) of the 5 records I voted for are included for consideration in the winnowing down to a shortlist of 10 and eventually a winner for the 2012 award.

I was super-excited to be included in a batch of new jurors for the prize, and both witness and participate in the discussion that goes on among jurors about which albums are being and should be considered for the Polaris. As someone who has tried to predict the award-winner on an annual basis and once tried to guess the shortlist a year in advance based on release dates for albums from established Canadian acts that were due to be released during the following Polaris 'calendar' of June-to-May (I did pretty well considering I had the eventual winner and a few other albums make my 'cut'), it's exciting to be an active participant in determining what album will snag the prize. But it's also become clear that I'm no more likely to know what exactly will be on the list tomorrow despite being privy to the discussion among jurors than I was on the outside looking in. And that's because ultimately my ballot is MY ballot and I'm not voting as part of some hive-mind. The five records I put on my list were the ones I believed were the best of the bunch and I am certain that these specific picks, in this specific order, were not replicated by any other juror - and it's quite likely a fact that holds true for every juror. There are just far too many albums to be considered, jurors' perspectives to account for (and likely some other variables I'm not even thinking of) to say with certainty that the Long List will reflect my opinion.

**Speaking of how many albums were under consideration, please know that I listened to every album my fellow jurors recommended (at least once) as well as a great number of records that were never mentioned. My job at UMFM allows me the luxury of having a huge number of albums cross my desk and so a good eighty-to-ninety percent of the 'nominated' titles were already familiar to me, but for those I hadn't heard previously, I took the time to familiarize myself with the argument for the album and the contents of the album itself. This will likely make voting for the shortlist a bit easier as I fully expect to have a few of my personal picks not make the cut and require me to 'fill out my five' from among the Long List titles.

Without further ado, here's what I voted for:

Number 5: Yamantaka // Sonic Titan - Yt // St [Psychic Handshake]

This is an act that made my own long list when it came time to select my Top 20 albums for 2011 (which is, I should point out, not Can-Con exclusive like the Polaris), and one for which my fondness has only grown since the calendar turned to 2012. Yt // St is a captivating listen with a lot of disparate elements working in a weird harmony. The band describes themselves as:

a psychedelic noh-wave opera group fusing noise, metal, pop and folk music into a multidisciplinary hyper-orientalist cesspool of 'east' meets 'west' culture clash in giant monochrome paper sets.

It bears up to repeated listens, revealing layers with each new play - the band has packed a lot into these seven songs.
You can listen to the album on the bands' Bandcamp page.

Number 4: Kathryn Calder - Bright and Vivid [File Under: Music]

I wasn't too big on Kathryn Calder's first solo effort, Are You My Mother? While I understood her attempt to deal with the period in which she took care of her terminally ill mother, and put a voice to the feelings and experiences, the songs themselves were a bit flat. A little more time and distance gave the former Immaculate Machine member and sometime New Pornographer the opportunity to develop her songs more fully and the results are exactly as the title suggests.

Number 3: Slim Moore & The Mar-Kays - Introducing... Slim Moore & The Mar-Kays [Marlow Records]

When I'm not writing here or on Reductive Reviews, I try to contribute to Airtimes, UMFM's online culture zine. In fact, when we were building the site, I wrote a review of the Slim Moore record to test the back-end because I wanted more people to know about this album. With Light In The Attic and Numero Group reissues and brand new release from Daptone Records, the past few years has seen a renaissance in the soul music realm and Introducing... is a really fine addition to the canon. Moore's got a supple baritone that moves from croon to growl, while his band shifts from smooth shuffle to funky hustle, all with aplomb.

Number 2: Cannon Bros. - Firecracker / Cloudglow [Disintegration Records]

I'm really hoping that the full-length debut from Winnipeg duo Cannon Bros. isn't just a "Peg City pick" and their Pavement-era guitar rock appeals to jurors from across the country. Certainly the album will appeal to those who came of age in the early nineties (i.e. me) and look fondly back at the music coming out of Chapel Hill, Athens GA, and other college towns. Hard to believe that Cole and Alannah (aka the "Bros.") were just toddlers at the time.

Number 1: Jos. Fortin - Typewriter [Shuffling Feet] 

Had this album come out last year, it would likely have unseated Cookie Dough by Freddie Cruger and Anthony Mills (aka Wildcookie), as my top album of 2011. I actually had the good fortune to hear a rough version of Typewriter last August and heard the mastered copy before the calendar turned to 2012, but the album wasn't released until this March. I've had a long time to fall in love with this record - and unlike some crushes, this one hasn't worn off; it's only gotten deeper. I feel that Fortin decided on the title of the album because when people wrote on typewriters, words carried more weight and had more permanence than they do in an era when a "Delete" key can make a thought disappear in an click. People can revise their thoughts in an instant and leave no trace of the original. In contrast to that, Fortin's lyrics (and songs) demonstrate an understanding of how finely-crafted words can stick with a reader/listener. I have listened to this record dozens of times and find new elements to appreciate each time. You can hear the record for yourself below via Bandcamp.

**One last thing - winnowing this list down was arduous and I certainly left several albums I really, really like off . I just want to give shout-outs to (in alphabetical order):
Apollo Ghosts - Landmark [You've Changed Records] - really strong rock record, classic and catchy.

BADBADNOTGOOD - BBNG2 [Independent] - how disappointed am I that these guys cancelled their Winnipeg Jazz Fest appearance...

Cold Specks - I Predict A Graceful Expulsion [Arts & Crafts] - Al Spx voice is incredible and these songs are simple, unadorned vehicles for that voice.

Fraction & Fresh Kils - Extra Science [KilZone] - I thought this was a very strong year for Canadian hip-hop and this is one of two records that really grabbed my attention this year. Plus Fresh Kils production on numerous other records / singles was seriously on point.

Japandroids - Celebration Rock [Polyvinyl] - I honestly didn't get enough time with this one. I got my first full listen about a week before the ballots were due. It's very strong.

Moonface - With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery [Jagjaguwar] - pretty much everything Spencer Krug (Sunset Rubdown, Frog Eyes, ...) puts to tape is of interest to me, but his Moonface gig is poised to be my favourite. After the very solid Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I'd Hoped was released last summer, he followed up with this stunner which may be his best work under any name.

Teenburger -  Burgertime [Droppin' Science] - a collaboration amongst Timbuktu, DJ Jorun Bombay and one of my favourite rappers, Ghettosocks that took me back to the days when thematic hip-hop didn't mean a masters thesis set to beats, just a whole lotta fun songs that play well together.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Something about you...

I meant to write about this album in FEBRUARY [seriously, that's when I started the draft that included an embed of the album - sorry for abandoning ETTS, but I'm making a concerted effort to get back on the long(er) form posts going forward, including a forthcoming breakdown of my votes for the Polaris longlist].

Something About April kinda feels like it was tailor-made for me. The retro-soul vibe that dips into electronics, guest artists that include Dennis Coffey, Shawn Lee and Calibro 35, album artwork that looks like a Leroy Hutson record, released on the imprint of the only magazine I still read religiously (apart from Sports Illustrated in the can of course), Wax Poetics. Radiohead called this ages ago.

Things get off to an auspicious start with "Turn Down The Sound" (reverse psychology?) - eerie vocals and an ominous bass-line before the vamping organ drops into the mix; a simple snare and hi-hat provide the forward momentum. It's clear from the get-go that, like his bio says, Adrian Younge"has dedicated his life to the study of classic soul music" - this and so many of the other tracks on the album sound like something Numero Group or Light In The Attic might have unearthed. "Anna May" even dips further back in time to doo-wop and those lovely "ooo-oooh baby" refrains. "Lovely Lady" even pulls out the "she-bop-she-bop" stop before Dennis Coffey dazzles with his legendary licks.

Even with out the doo-wop callbacks and the vocal acrobatics from guest vocalist Rebecca Jordan, Something About April would still engage listeners, as the instrumental tracks that Younge intersperses throughout are fascinating little soundscapes in and of themselves. No wonder one of the tags on Soundcloud is Dark Soul & Psychedelia ("Mourning Melodies," I'm looking at you.).

You can pick up the wax here, but if you don't take me at my word that this is an album you should pick up, the lead-off track is below and clicking on the album title in the second paragraph will take you to a Soundcloud set of the entire record.

  Adrian Younge Sound Orchestra • Turn Down the Sound by Ghetto Blastic

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Spring for a copy of this autumn act.

Not that Winnipeg doesn't have it's own great jazz scene, but Vancouver seems to be giving us here in Peg City a run for our money as a happenin' hot bed. From the more straight-ahead Cellar Live stuff to the avant-jazz of Fond Of Tigers and other Drip Audio artists, there's a lot going on in lotus-land.

It's actually through Fond Of Tigers that I became aware of The October Trio as both acts share a drummer in Dan Gaucher. The trio is rounded out by Josh Cole on double bass and Evan Arntzen on tenor and soprano saxophone as well as clarinet. While the three work best as a group, the strength of this act is Arntzen, who can really open up on his soprano saxophone ("Wide," which recalls some of Yusef Lateef's work) or pull back on tenor and let the rhythm section propel matters (the title track "New Dream"). Arntzen is versatile and talented without being showy, and he never loses sight of the melody. It's melody that lies at the heart of all eight songs on New Dream (I won't even call them "tracks" because they are really songs - you'll be hearing them in your head for days after listening to this record).

Apart from the aforementioned "Wide" and "New Dream," for me the album standout is the album's longest, "The Park," which features an ambling, bouncy line from Cole and a more meandering delivery from Arntzen that strikes a deft balance between purposeful forward motion and a relaxed, open approach to delivering the melody.

It may be spring going on summer, but I strongly encourage you to buy stocks in this autumn act (i.e. go pick up New Dream at Bandcamp).

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Beauty beats all.

I've had the distinct pleasure of recording Tim Crabtree - aka Paper Beat Scissors - twice at the UMFM studio. Once in our old space and again in our new band room [you can hear the latter session here] as well as seeing him perform live.

To say I was excited to hear that Crabtree had enlisted past Ear To The Sound fave Mike Feuerstack of Snailhouse to co-produce his debut full-length is an understatement - considering what I'd managed, the thought of a talent like Feuerstack drawing out the best in Crabtree seemed like a forgone conclusion. Having listened to the self-titled record that is the result of their collaboration several times over now, I can comfortably say my expectations were met. And then some.

In addition to getting Feuerstack to lend his instrumental talents, Crabtree enlisted the help of Islands' Sebastian Chow (violin), Bell Orchestre/The Luyas' Pietro Amato (French horn!), Tanya Davis and Rose Cousins (vocals). The album credits read like the line-up card for the '27 Yankees - this is a murderers' row of Canadian indie-folk artists.

As great as the help is, this is still Crabtree's show and his statement. All the ornamentation in the world couldn't prop things up if the songs are incapable of standing on their own and it's clear in listening to Paper Beat Scissors that these songs have been born out of a man alone with his thoughts and his guitar; "Folds" is beautiful without the ghostly ringing guitar tones and backing vocals, and gorgeous with them layered in.

Do yourself a favour and download the haunting first single, "Rest Your Bones" courtesy of Pigeon Row. The album is out March 6, 2012 and you can pre-order it on vinyl or CD via Forward Music Group.

Crabtree will be heading out on a national tour to coincide with the album's release and a complete list of dates can be found here. For local readers, there will be a stop in Winnipeg on March 27th and UMFM will be presenting the show so keep it tuned to 101.5 FM for further details, and be sure to visit the official Paper Beat Scissors site for all PBS news.

I'll leave you with this beautiful video by Mitch Fillion of Southern Souls, which should convince you to check out those live dates...

PAPER BEAT SCISSORS - Live at the Shivering Songs Festival from Mitch Fillion (southernsouls.ca) on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Slippery as a (Swedish) fish.

Over just seven songs, Halina Larsson crafts a captivating little album. Fires and French Horns begins with the title track [a stream of which is below], a song that hews a fine line between folk-singer and pop-songwriter. Her voice is precious and breathy, and when a xylophone augments the chorus the song risks a turn to the cloying but Larsson manages to sell a line like "I've got the right way / to tell you now / I've got the right words," and with it, the song as a whole. Though sadly, there are no French Horns to be heard.

Fires and French Horns- Halina Larsson by HalinaLarsson

Larsson's voice takes on a dusky tone on "Puget Sounds;" the record's quiet standout. The snare provides a lolloping beat that matches the efforts of the song's protagonist to pull her lover onward in their relationship. While it's not as out-and-out country as Barton Hollow, "Puget Sounds" reminds me of some of The Civil Wars' work, especially "I've Got This Friend," and "Falling."

More so than The Civil Wars, Larsson's music reminds me of Sophie Zelmani and her self-titled debut. That's a name that might ring a distant bell for some, but is likely a stranger to most (this despite having released eight albums since her debut in 1996 and an appearance on the My Best Friend's Wedding soundtrack). A fellow Swede, AllMusic described Zelmani's music as "tender singer/songwriter country" and that's likely a descriptor that will be attached to Larsson at some point if it hasn't been already.

You can purchase Fires and French Horns at Larsson' Bandcamp page, and be sure to visit her website for more info.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I narrowed it down to these...

So here it is – the crème de la crème of my 2011 listening. Now that this is out of the way, I can focus on 2012 – which is already shaping up to be pretty good from the numerous records I’ve received so far.

20 Gem Club - Breakers [Hardly Art]

I wrote about this onetwice; once on each of my blogs. Which should be a strong sign that it would end up here.
Twins by Gem Club

19 Herajika Tracks - Love Universal [Introducing Production]

Yup, same thing with this album (though just here on Ear To The Sound).
Herajika tracks - Shigure by aresistencia

18 The Middle East - I Want That You Are Always Happy [Missing Pieces]

They may want that you are always happy, but it's clear that The Middle East aren't always in a positive frame of mind. My wife referred to #20-18 as my 'mope-y' section of the Top 20. It gets more upbeat at the top!
The Middle East: Very Many by -gaga

17 Kathryn Calder - Bright and Vivid [File Under: Music]

I thought 2010’s Are You My Mother? was pretty strong, but it didn’t prepare me for how amazing Bright and Vivid is. Strong songwriting, strong voice, strong, strong, strong.
Kathryn Calder - Who Are You by File Under Music

16 Slim Moore & The Mar-Kays - Introducing Slim Moore & The Mar-Kays [Marlow Records]

Phe-nom-en-al. Fans of the Daptone label, Lee Fields, Syl Johnston, etc. should be all over this one. Moore’s got a rich baritone, and the band supporting him is stellar (it includes members of the Souljazz Orchestra – who you also need to check out).
Slim Moore and the Mar-Kays - steppin' all over me (Cosmic Groove) by SOFA RECORDS SHOP

15 Beirut - The Rip Tide [Pompeii Records]

This is Zach Condon finding his own sound after borrowing heavily from the Eastern European gypsy sound for Gulag Orkestar and The Flying Club Cup. It took a while to get into it after loving those first two records, but The Rip Tide is a great step forward.
Beirut - Santa Fe by Revolver USA

14 Dum Dum Girls - Only In Dreams [Sub Pop]

This is the Runaways produced by Phil Spector.
Dum Dum Girls - Bedroom Eyes by subpop

13 Wild Beasts - Smother [Warp]

My wife calls this “Gandalf rock” since she thinks Hayden Thorpe’s vocals are reminiscent of a certain Lord of the Rings wizard (for the record, she puts Future Islands and vocalist Samuel T. Herring in the same category). Yes, Thorpe’s vocals are peculiar, but they are perfectly married to the music.
Wild Beasts / Reach A Bit Further by Constellations Festival

Here's a bonus version of "Reach A Bit Further" live on the BBC. A bit different but no less lovely.
Wild beasts - Reach a bit further (BBC session) by mysteryfallsdown

12 Cannon Bros. - Firecracker/Cloudglow [Disintegration Records]

Alannah & Cole are twenty-years-old. This would make me sick with jealousy if I didn’t know them and know what great people they are. Look for them to blow up big in 2012.
Left in a Hurry - Cannon Bros by anecha

11 Thundercat - The Golden Age Of Apocalypse [Brainfeeder]

This is the 2011 answer to my #6 of 2010. Thundercat picks up where Flying Lotus left off.
Thundercat - Is It Love by Madison House

10 Bon Iver - Bon Iver [Jagjaguwar]

This ended up being one of the most divisive choices on year-end lists. Which kinda surprises me.
Calgary by boniver

09 Secret Cities - Strange Heart [Western Vinyl]

Fargo rock city represent!
Secret Cities, "The Park" by The FADER

08 Washed Out - Within And Without [Sub Pop]

Could’ve likely made the list on the back of “Amor Fati” alone, but the rest of the album is pretty brilliant as well.
Washed Out - Amor Fati by subpop

07 Wye Oak - Civilian [Merge]

I saw this band in Windsor several years ago when their Merge debut was about to drop. They played to a crowd that was smaller than the number of magazines that declared Civilian one of the best records of the year. Glad to see they got big.
Wye Oak - 'Holy Holy' by SpunkRecords

06 Louise Burns - Mellow Drama [Light Organ Records]

Reviewed this for Stylus, and as I said in that piece, this would’ve been my pick if I had a Polaris vote. But I don’t. Hmmmm.
Louise Burns - Drop Names Not Bombs by Light Organ

05 Destroyer - Kaputt [Merge]

Dan Bejar is one of those “love him or leave him” artists. I love him.
Destroyer - Chinatown by mouxlaloulouda

04 tUnE-yArDs - whokill [4AD]

Merrill Garbus played the West End this fall – whokill was primed to make the Top 10 anyway, but that live show pushed it a few spots higher.
My Country - Tune Yards by tracks_arte

03 James Blake - James Blake [Polydor]

One of the earliest releases of 2011, this one was unrelenting in how good it was. Probably the record I listened to most in the past year.
James Blake - The Wilhelm Scream by UMPG

02 Austra - Feel It Break [Paper Bag Records]

My toddler can sing along to “Lose It,” which speaks volumes to the number of times this album was played in my home. Katie Stelmanis’ performance at the West End was another jaw-dropper.
Austra - Lose It by Annie Mac Presents

01 Freddie Cruger and Anthony Mills are Wildcookie - Cookie Dough [Tru Thoughts]

I may be the only person with this album at the top of my list – I honestly haven’t seen it on any others. But I am happy to be out on my own on this one. I wrote a glowing entry about it ages ago, and still feel exactly the same about Cookie Dough.
WildCookie "Serious Drug" by Raven Supreme-Green

Friday, January 6, 2012

So Many Great Records, Part 4

Okay. So this is the last of the longlist entries. Once I recap my Top 20 of 2011, it's on to new things. I've actually already heard a couple albums this week I'm itching to write about, so expect the new stuff to be posted next week. Enjoy your weekend.

Sandro Perri - Impossible Spaces [Constellation]

Here’s another one I owe to Jeff Friesen. He’s been a longtime Perri-person and it was thanks to his championing of prior works that I was primed for Impossible Spaces.
Love & Light by Sandro Perri

Shimmering Stars - Violent Hearts [Hardly Art]

I owe Stylus a review of this one. I’m not going to blow the awesome analogy I’ve come up with for it here, but needless to say, the review will be a favourable one.

Listen to one of the best tracks, "I'm Gonna Try" here. [Embed not available]

Sister Crayon – Bellow [Manimal]

I could’ve sworn I wrote about this record on this blog or Reductive Reviews, but a search reveals I did not – which is a shame, because this is a really solid record. Sister Crayon has a pretty distinct sound that captivated me.
Sister Crayon "I'm Still The Same Person" (The Album Leaf remix) by terroreyes

Sleep Over – Forever [Hippos In Tanks]

Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde [Fat Possum]

I didn’t see these guys when they opened for Arctic Monkeys in Winnipeg so I can’t confirm rumours I’ve heard about their live performances not matching up to the record, but maybe that’s a good thing.
Weekend - Smith Westerns by joshuadj

Snailhouse - Sentimental Gentlemen [White Whale/Forward Music]

Me and loving Snailhouse go way back. Feuerstack was one of my favourite interviews of the year on TGIFR because we talked while he was scouting locations to play handball while on tour.
Great Storytellers by snailhouse

St. Vincent - Strange Mercy [4AD]

On a list of “just missed its” in my life, being a day late to see St. Vincent at a small club in Phoenix a few years back ranks up there.

Listen to "Surgeon" here. [Embed not available]

The Stepkids - The Stepkids [Stones Throw]

WAAAAAY back when, I wrote about a band called The Dragons. That was an old album rediscovered. The Stepkids is just an album that sounds like it was rediscovered, but was actually created by guys who have supported the likes of Alicia Keys and decided to do their own thing.
The Stepkids - Shadows On Behalf by Stones Throw Records

Sun Wizard - Positively 4th Avenue [Light Organ Records]

Not quite sure what it is about B.C. right now, but there’s a lot of classic-sounding rock coming out of that province. Yukon Blonde is the breezier AM Gold to Sun Wizard’s more muscular sound. I had the good fortune of having these guys in to play live on TGIFR this year.
Sun Wizard - World's Got A Handle by Light Organ

This Hisses - Surf Noir [Transistor 66]

Here’s one of those rare instances where the album’s title perfectly describes the sound of the music contained therein. Surf Noir didn’t exist until this Winnipeg three-piece created / coined it.
01 Lycanthrope by This Hisses

This Will Destroy You - Tunnel Blanket [Suicide Squeeze]

I actually liked this record so much I wrote about it twice. Once in Stylus and once on Reductive Reviews.
Communal Blood by This Will Destroy You

Timber Timbre - Creep On Creepin' On [Arts & Crafts]

Listen to this on vinyl. You deserve it.
Timber Timbre: "Lonesome Hunter" by flavoredtrash

Tom Waits - Bad As Me [Anti-]

Everyone’s favourite creepy uncle returns.
Tom Waits - Chicago by throw_your_head

Toro Y Moi - Underneath The Pine [Carpark]

My countdown co-host, Jared McKetiak nailed it when he talked about this record on air. Toro Y Moi was one of the people who set the benchmark for chillwave with his first record and proceeded to jump well over it with Underneath The Pine.
Toro y Moi - New Beat by raphaelassaraf

Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Unknown Mortal Orchestra [Fat Possum]

This came out of leftfield and grabbed my attention.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Ffunny Ffrends by MODESTMODUS

War On Drugs - Slave Ambient [Secretly Canadian]

Much preferred this to Kurt Vile’s record.\
The War on Drugs - Baby Missiles by edin2sun

The Weather Station - All Of It Was Mine [You’ve Changed Records]

Delicate, beautiful, personal. Tamara Lindeman’s sophomore effort as The Weather Station slayed me from the first listen.
The Weather Station - Everything I Saw by thebrokenspeaker

Weird Owl - Build Your Beast A Fire [Tee Pee Records]

Here’s another one I’ve yet to review for Stylus (Taylor, I promise, I’ll be submitting these soon!), but have been listening to for a while. Tee Pee is a fascinating label that hews its own line rather than following what others are doing sonically. Weird Owl is – in its own way – the perfect fit for them.

Wilco - The Whole Love [Anti-]

These guys have earned a place in my year-end wrap-up pretty much any year they release a record. And the title track earned a spot in my Top 20 songs of the year.

Whole Love from Spencer Tweedy on Vimeo.

Wires Under Tension - Light Science [Western Vinyl]

I wrote about these guys here on Ear To The Sound, so it shouldn’t be a surprise they made this list.
Electricity Turns Them On by Wires Under Tension by western.vinyl

Yamantaka/Sonic Titan - Yt//St [Psychic Handshake]

Another blind find courtesy of the postal service. This album came into the station unannounced and I slipped it into my computer based solely on the fact that the band’s name piqued my interest. So glad I played it.
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan - Reverse Crystal // Murder of a Spider by Psychic Handshake

Zola Jesus – Conatus [Sacred Bones]

I resisted this one at first because it felt like everybody was raving about it. But my resistance was futile.
Night by ZolaJesus

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

So Many Great Records, Part 3

Well, I had hoped to have my entire longlist recapped before the New Years' Eve countdown aired, but unfortunately I developed a sinus infection over the holidays and between that and familial obligations, I didn't write a single word. So over the next couple days, I'm going to finish up the recap and get to my Top 20 (of which the word is already out on.

Happy New Year and all the best in 2012.

Les Jupes - Modern Myths [Head In The Sand]

Now that my Top 20 songs have been revealed, the cat’s out of the bag on this one. Released early in 2011, Modern Myths held strong throughout the marathon and “One Solemn Oath” never lost its resonance.
One Solemn Oath by LES JUPES by The Instrument Village

Lia Ices - Grown Unknown [Jagjaguwar]

This is a spooky record that gets under your skin.
Lia Ices - Ice Wine by hoodlem

Little Dragon - Ritual Union [Peacefrog]

The title track is amazing. How disappointed am I that Little Dragon had to cancel their Fargo show last February? That may have been the closest the Swedish act would get to Winnipeg.
Ritual Union by Little Dragon

Liturgy – Aesthetica [Thrill Jockey]

Black Metal. Thrill Jockey. Yes, please.
Liturgy - Generation by muntersinger

Low - C'mon [Sub Pop]

This may be the Minnesota band’s happiest record in a long string of epic sadness.
Low - Nothing but heart by ciaciod

M83 - Hurry Up We're Dreaming [Mute]

While I think Saturdays=Youth is a better record, this double-disc from the prolific Frenchman is still a very strong release.
Midnight City by M83

Mastodon - The Hunter [Reprise]

Here’s a record that Cretin Rob and I can absolutely agree on.
Mastodon - Curl of the Burl by Roadrunner Records

Matthew Maaskant - Believe It Or Not, This Is The Place [Draft Tattoo]

I wrote about being taken with this record, so it shouldn’t come as a shock to be on here.
Fireflies by M.Maaskant

Memory Tapes - Player Piano [Carpark]

Carpark always seems to be releasing interesting records, and Player Piano is a fitting album for their roster.
Memory Tapes - Unknown by jobsmit

Modeselektor – Monkeytown [BPitch Control]

According to Wikipedia, Modeselektor describe their music thusly: “Happy metal, hard rap, country-ambient, Russian crunk.”
Modeselektor - Blue Clouds by Modeselektor

Nat Baldwin - People Changes [Western Vinyl]

Chances are, if your album got a rave review from me earlier in the year, you can expect to see it find a place on the longlist at the very least.
Weights by Nat Baldwin by western.vinyl

Ocote Soul Sounds – Taurus [ESL]

Antibalas + Adrian Quesada + Thievery Corporation’s label (ESL) = one of my wheelhouses.
Ocote Soul Sounds - Primavera by INgroovesmarketing

Ohbijou - Metal Meets [Last Gang Records]

Known for Casey Mecijia’s wispy vocals, this record is surprisingly muscular.
Ohbijou - "Niagara" by indiemusicfilter

Owiny Sigoma Band - Owiny Sigoma Band [Brownswood Recordings]

More credit to Gilles Peterson for “discovering” this act and releasing it on his Brownswood Recordings label.
Owiny Sigoma Band - 'Wires' by Brownswood

Ox – Tuco [Cosmic Dave's Record Factory]

Mark Browning’s first full-length since 2007 (not counting his Christmas album), finds him further mining the dusty roots of American music. Great stuff.

Listen to "Indie Rock Radio Nation" here.

Peter Wolf Crier - Garden Of Arms [Jagjaguwar]

For some reason I used to get this band confused with Peter and the Wolf. After Garden Of Arms, I will not be making that mistake again.
Settling It Off by Peter Wolf Crier by rippleent

Quasimode - Magic Ensemble [AIS]

Classic club-jazz from Japan.
Quasimode - Giant Black Shadow by Starslicer

Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin' [Columbia]

As I mentioned in my Stylus review of this record, Saadiq is like a musical Dorian Gray moving back through rock history.
"Heart Attack" Raphael Saadiq by stantonallyson

Ringo Deathstarr - Colour Trip [Sonic Unyon]

Comparisons to My Bloody Valentine are warranted (although nothing will ever touch Loveless) and earned this Lone Star act a spot on the longlist.
Ringo Deathstarr - Imagine Hearts by Club AC30

Roots – Undun [Def Jam]

Pretty much the same boat as the Black Keys’ El Camino – released too late in the game for me to fully digest.
The Roots - Tip Of The Scale by dorego

Russian Circles - Empros [Sargent House]

Not as mind-blowing as Geneva and Station, a solid record from Russian Circles is always a welcome addition to my library.
Schiphol by RussianCircles