Baobinga and Co – Joint Ventures review

Baobinga’s Joint Ventures covers the broad range of the dubstep genre, some songs paying homage to Jamaican dub, and others abandoning the usual qualities of dub altogether in favor of a more trance-like sound. Though nothing particularly original happens on this album, its track variation and invariably catchy manipulated bass notes make Joint Ventures an excellent club playlist all on its own. Baobinga shows his versatility working with several starkly different artists, adapting to suit a wide range of styles and proving that it is possible to produce a whole spectrum of music with a bass and a synthesizer. Joint Ventures would appease those critics who complain that dubstep is one-dimensional and that all club beats sound alike.

That being said, nothing new is produced on Joint Ventures. Though no track is alike, each song sounds exactly like something done many times before. No one track is particularly moving. Joint Ventures is really a mashup of archetypal club songs that emerged in the late 90s and early oughts, some smacking of Sean Paul and others with a more Ferry Corsten-like darkness. However, nothing on the album is bubblegum. Baobinga retains the essential darkness of dub, so no candy raver tracks on Joint Ventures.

More exciting electronic music has happened since the heyday of dubstep. Animal collective, Panda Bear and James Blake took electronic music to new depths. Really, electronic has gone from club music to a genre with real introspective qualities. However, emotional value does not necessarily a good club song make. Heavy, repetitive bass lines and lyrics have their use at parties. Dub artists like Baobinga only really started to use electronic music in a different way, but it has only recently become something more. Joint Ventures has its merit as a playlist, but had the album never been made, it would have been no real loss.

So, Joint Ventures should please those who love good dubstep and venues looking for a playlist. Whether it has any merit beyond that is debatable. Baobinga can keep making tracks that sound like history, but dubstep has already evolved into other forms of expression, with elements of the genre adopted by diverse artists. Joint Ventures proves this versatility of the bass.

Painted Palms – Canopy EP review

Painted Palms debut ‘Canopy EP’ is very much like freezing water: a bit bland, but precisely what is needed on a blisteringly hot summer day. The five-song collection feels specifically crafted for trips to the beach, parties on the beach, and driving home from the beach to go enjoy some time relaxing around a pool.

There is a song on here for any summer occasion, from discussing life at three in the morning (Great White) to aforementioned trips to the ocean (All Of Us) to watching it rain and wishing to do something (Water Hymn). However, the magic is purely seasonal, and listening to this album in weather less than 20C would feel wrong.

Each song blends into each other, but then has a distinct switch that gives each track a diverse flavor. Overall, there is a heavy MGMT/Matt&Kim/Yeasayer/Darren Hayes feel to the EP, but not so much that it feels derivative. Lyrically, it is highly repetitive and often simply vowel based vocalization (such as track number two, Water Hymn, where no discernable words are ever said), but when lyrics do appear, they are never clichéd and generally carry a feel of whimsy and nostalgia: “I’m falling asleep, watching the glow/walking alone on my way home/they come and they go these wandering dreams/drifting from me, falling asleep.”

There are lush and diverse instrumentation with good high and low balance, coupled with a strong, albeit unexceptional, vocal performance. Like their music, this two-piece from California/Louisiana also has aquatic properties; like a very large but shallow puddle, they cover a wide range of things without getting too deep and dirty. Start this album turning mid May, but when school bells ring it should be packed away for a year to make way for more appropriate fair.

Little Dragon – Ritual Union review

The voice… It came to me in a dream.
I didn’t quite know from where it came.
And then I listened to Ritual Union, the third album from Swedish group, Little Dragon.
Lead vocalist Yukimi Nagano’s voice has a magical sweet-toned rasp to it. It reminded me of Lykke Li a little bit at first (no song title pun intended there), but her sound carries more soul, dream-like-fantasy-over-interesting-electroninc-beat-soul.

Ritual album can be split, in my opinion. The group could release an album of those same beats and a separate album of just Nagano’s voice–the success factor would still be there.

I’m a huge fan of the uptempo rhythms  of the background. They complement the vocals without being distracting or overpowering. So basically, the sound effects are out of this world, without running the space (get it?).

Even when you turn up the volume, she still sounds soft and sweet.
For some reason I sit, listen and try to envision how Little Dragon does it. I can’t figure it out, but I certainly don’t mind the attempt.

I wanted to think of Shanghai Restoration Project when I listened to “Ritual Union,” but hearing the rest of the CD made that thought irrelevant.
The creativeness of the lyrics paired with the electronic heartbeat and fast-paced tempo and effects (“When I Go Out” is the track I’m most referring to in terms of effects, this time) make  Ritual Union an exquisite find.

Sometimes intent and meaning can get buried in the background, but Little Dragon shines with its alluring blend of different music genres and the lullaby like appeal of Nagano’s singing (“Seconds” is the lullaby track).

With the songs you get a story and some excellent beat artistry. What more could you ask for? Big dragon?

The Men – Leave Home album review

The Men man up; “Leave Home”

You know what’s awesome?

Punk Music.

Real punk music, like the kind you heard for the first time and thought “What is this garbage?”. The kind where the words are terrible, the singers are worse and the “music” jars your very existence. But it spoke to you, man. It led you down that path of self destruction when everyone around you was trying to get ahead in their career and you just thought “F**k it”.

For those of you that weren’t around for the birth of punk (and who am I kidding, neither was I), the new release from The Men, “Leave Home” is a great way to get that special, guttural feeling that was felt 40 years ago. Sure, parts of the album sound like something the Stone Roses might have birthed (see “If You Leave” as evidence), but when they rock out, by God they rock out in spades. Most of the album is drenched in feedback and overdrive, giving it that hedonistic slush that makes you wish you could find your dad’s leather jacket and some safety pins.

Yet despite staying true to its punk origins, it’s actually quite a musical piece of work, for want of a better word. You can detect the guitar somewhere in there, and it’s aggressive, forceful, but melodic and unpredictable; think almost free jazz style. Also relevant is the length of the tracks – the shortest on the album is just over three minutes, longer than most punk recordings in history. This gives the noise time to work its way inside your head and get into your being, and it’s enjoyable. It could be the soundtrack to a political revolution, or at the very least, a quick riot.

I won’t be surprised if this album ends up bellowing in my ears while I’m tearing down the ski hill this winter; as a matter of fact, I look forward to it. The Men seem to be heading the revival, saying that hey, the world is in a messed up state, and you probably can’t fix it, so you may as well jump and thrash and sweat. We’ll just be over here detuning our guitars.

They Might Be Giants – Join Us EP review

They Might Be Giants. Or they might be the unwanted bastard of the Barenaked Ladies, Flaming Lips and the Moldy Peaches. Brooklyn-based members John Linnell and John Flansburgh dropped this little 4 song EP (entitled Join Us) on July 19th.

To hear that a band like this has found success in children’s music is completely non-shocking. As I turned on the last track of the EP, entitled Cloisonné, my boyfriend in the other room shouted, “Sounds like a pedophile.”

The fact that the intro sounds fairly similar to the Flaming Lips’ Do You Realize, is probably the only part I liked about this one. All I did was quickly turn on the Flaming Lips to purge the sound of that skin-crawling vocalist out of my earholes.

They Might be Giant’s biggest claim to fame was probably the Malcolm in the Middle theme song, although somehow the band has managed to sell over 4 million records and their kids’ album Here Comes The ABC’s actually went gold. (Probably because they sold 4 million copies).

Apparently their next project, announced in November, is going to be an album done by their sock puppets that they use during their shows and call “The Avatars of They.”

Hopefully I’m dead before they make me review that one.

Crystal Antlers – Two-Way Mirror review

The sophomore release from Long Beach California indie psych-rock group Crystal Antlers shows definite growth and maturity since their debut album, 2009’s Touch & Go release, “Tentacles”. The band got the short end of the stick with their first release being the last ever new release from Touch & Go, so the buzz and hype of the previous album wasn’t fully realized. With their latest release they seem to have gotten past the run of bad luck and created something with new label Recreation Ltd, that could really get them noticed.

This album is definitely more melodic, and laid back than their previous release; dare I say the band was in a happy place when it all came together. On this release vocalist Johnny Bell has transformed into a “Singer” and really shows his ability on tracks, “Sun-Bleached” and “Dog Days”. The latter being one of my favourite tracks on the album truly showing the versatility of his voice; easy listening tone complimented by the gruff, but still melodic wail.

The rest of the crew consists of Andrew King on guitar, Kevin Stuart on drums, Damian Edwards doing percussion and newest addition to the 5-some Cora Fox on the Organ. The Organ is definitely one of the trademarks of the Crystal Antlers sound and the lone female of the group did not disappoint, especially on  ”Seance” which is very busy sounding, kind of like a new age “Flight of the Bumblebee”. I really dig the organ as it makes many of the songs sound old, like saloon music you would hear in the olden days of cowboys and indians. Then on some tracks like “Summer Solstice” and “Fortune Telling” I got  beachy pop vibe. Summer Solstice is almost pure 60’s beach pop/ luau music, and the band produced a video that portrays this perfectly (see below).

One of the most emotional tracks on the album is the opener “Jules story”. It’s got heavy drums and Johnny Bell is probably most gruff and wailing on this track; lot’s of reverb and I truly felt the emotion through my speakers. I only later learned that it was written in response to and around the time a friend of theirs, I’m assuming Jules, was unfortunately killed by police. No wonder it’s emotional.

The overall sound of the album is loud, but not overpowering. It does travel through several emotions, despair, anger, sadness to lighthearted happiness and fun. Crystal Antlers may be criticized for being all over the place in this record, but I think it works. They have gotten over past hiccups and have a sound that is enjoyable to listen to. With this album they have the strength of a label behind them, so hopefully they can continue with the momentum and get touring so their fans can see them live.


The Men – Leave Home review

The Men know how to fake a listener’s ear. Leave Home starts with a few minutes of hazy noise. Feedback whines, another guitar clanks and wobbles, sketching out a scarce melody. It could be preparation for some epic rock, or double as just a meandering study in tone and dissonance, but by the middle Leave Home, things have fall apart severely.

There are only eight songs on Leave Home, and they do experiment with all sorts of sounds that came in the wake of the punk movement. There’s shades of post punk, metal and even some hardcore. Every track hits, and every blow comes at you from a different angle.  I was surprised how much of this album was instrumental.  This is probably for the best because the lyrics are unintelligible, but that’s the punk influence bleeding out of this album.

To those who like to dive deep into the tides and trends of the punk sea, this could be an enjoyable album. There are plenty of different sounds so there are probably multiple tracks that you can pick out and add to a playlist.  There are tacks that feel in some ways shoegaze, but there are other’s that as stated before could be put on any hardcore album.  I suggest you check out Leave Home if you have had a bad day, or just want to get your blood pumping.

Osheaga Music Festival Roundup

There are very few things that I look forward to all year. One of them is Christmas, because it’s the only day I get to play Rock Band as a full band of family members. The other thing I look forward to is the Osheaga Music and Arts Festival that has been going on for six years here in Montreal. The festival is easily the highlight of my summer, and many other Montrealers, as well as out-of-towners. With Eminem headlining one of the three days this year (which I wrote a longer review on over here), it was sure to be a great one – and Osheaga did not disappoint.

Day 1: The Eminem Show

Continue reading “Osheaga Music Festival Roundup”

The Horrors – Skying review

2009’s Primary Colours is sort of the A Rush of Blood to the Head story for the Horrors’ career: a critically acclaimed sophomore LP that took the band’s genre and spun in it on its heels. The garage-rock on their debut Strange House was seemingly discarded as the band went synth-heavy with ethereal production and shoegazer guitar that brought an onslaught of Interpol and Joy Division comparisons, as well as the thought that this band had the artistic integrity to push limits and rise to the ranks of the Arcade Fire in the future. And though the Interpol reference is still very present on Skying, “shoegazer” isn’t quite the word for it. Instead, the Horrors’ desire to be commercially successful is all the more palpable here, which is to say that like most English post-punk bands that chase money and fame, they end up sounding like a cross between the Cure and Depeche Mode.

Not that they’re necessarily a letdown on this album; for someone who isn’t a diehard fan of the punk or glam-rock scene, Skying captured my attention and got the band exactly what they wanted out of this: more listeners. But judging by the title, it would be believed these guys mean one of two things: A) either the band is soaring at its highest level, or B) they’re in the act of reaching their peak, inching their way toward the heavens. In context to the transformation on their prior release, though, neither of these is all that true. The Horrors have created a stepping-stone toward a broader and more universal sound, but they’ve by no means peaked. Songs such as “You Said” and “I Can See Through You” have radio-friendliness written all over them, but you could argue that they’ve forced a step backward in terms of artfulness. Though the album flows well, it uses repetition less as a literary device and more as a safety net for easy listening.

Perhaps I’m being too hard on the Horrors, but I’m more inclined to say that I’m being too easy on them. This is a band that got nervous in the face of critical acclaim and decided for the easiest and most explainable option: commercialism. And though its tolerable and still contains the skeleton for the Horrors’ sound, it’s not trying to grow, and that’s such a letdown.

Machinedrum – Room(s) review

Travis Stewart is a character actor of electronic music, he’s been around forever (since 1999) but you probably don’t know his name. He is the man behind Machinedrum and a strong influence in the electronic music world in general. He cites many genres as his own inspiration, everything from the ordinary (urban and hip-hop) to the downright bizarre (Chicago juke and ghettotech) and all are strongly visible on his latest release Room(s) and second this year, though under a different name.

Stewart’s brand of dreamy sample-filled tracks are an electronic whirlwind, a mostly mid-tempo but nonstop acid-trip. People seeking simplicity and single-listen enjoyment should not look to Room(s). From a man with at least eight different nicknames and a discography as lengthy as a band as old as R.E.M. or Sonic Youth, though many of Machinedrum and his other main project, Syndrone’s albums are shorter, Room(s) is a full-length look into the mind of an electronic wizard. It reads as sort of a collage of genres, samples, beats, ideas, the ADD musings of a Brooklyn-based workaholic/producer.

This bass-driven jungle-infused mesh-up works and doesn’t. The schizophrenia of it may actually be planned, while each track differs just enough to still eventually blend. The unique single “Sacred Frequency” drowns its listener less than others and “The Statue” throws manic energy at you like a freaky techno hurricane. “U Don’t Survive” and “Now U Know The Deal 4 Real” stand out with stronger vocal sampling while “Come1” is sometimes reminiscent of 90’s house music. “Door(s)” and “Youniverse” could have been better but are lost in the repetitive auto-tune trend commonly found in this genre.

Overall Room(s) is conceptually nice but Stewart gets lost in the Edward Scissor-handing nature of his work, splicing sounds too breezily for his own good to a point of awkward abnormality. For all he talks about others pushing boundaries, he will likely never reach a level of success that allows anyone to realize he’s done so. As an artist he has to decide whether or not he wants to cook something with not only a great sounding recipe but something that tastes good as well.