Cheval Sombre – Mad Love album review

Cheval Sombre’s newest album “Mad Love” begins with the burst of a synthetic organ through the speakers into a world of soft, delicate indie caresses. “Someplace Else” is at the top of the list, capturing the listener with a comforting melodic groove that surrounds one with a gentle rhythm ideal for a cold, dark evening of nostalgic dreams.

“Mad Love” combines a bizarre outer-space vibe with a reassuring acoustic center, pouring through ten heartfelt indie anthems that pull at one’s heartstrings, beckoning them into empathy for the narrator, dragging their hearts through the depths of his expressed emotion. With tracks such as “I Once Had a Sweetheart”, and “Walking in the Desert”, Sombre takes the audience through a displayed nostalgia over lost love and the desolation that abounds from it.

The album is one that seems to elongate time, dragging in a slow, funeral march through sadness and the feeling of a deprecated existence, emitting a mournful sound reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, without the raspy, gripping voice or depth of the lyricism. The new release stands as a monument to all that seems to engulf the music world as of late: slow, mournful acoustic melodies, obviously derivative of specific artists with little to no modification to the sound.

Those who enjoy the overwhelming repetitive, reprocessed productions of modern indie will undoubtedly enjoy “Mad Love”. With the indistinct vibrations emitted by the album, it would be difficult to like any of the replicas that are so easy to find in modern music without digging Sombre’s newest release.

Tusks – Total Entertainment album review

Canadian band Tusks “Total Entertainment” album is a relatively diverse set of tunes, though I think everything fits well within the modern indie mindset.  Opener “Little Pirouettes” is a bit of a turn off with its, to my taste, overly plodding style, but I think a listener without my prejudices towards energetic rock would enjoy it just fine.  The second song “Oceans” is probably my favorite track on the whole album, a polite little piano driven rock song that has no pretense to greatness but is fun enough.  For some reason I hear echoes of Andrew Gold’s “Thank You For Being A Friend”, probably better known as the theme song from “The Golden Girls”, in “Oceans” but that might just be because I am moderately mentally disturbed.

“Family Arms” continues the polite up tempo indie vibe until the mandatory mid-album ballad “New To Old Money”.  It was here that I finally really started to notice keyboard player, Shaw-han Liem.   It’s too bad the guitars are so much farther up in the mix, not merely because they overshadow Mr Liem’s capable playing, but because I think a lot of these songs would work pretty well as new wave style piano and organ driven numbers.  Mind you, that’s a minor artistic quibble.  The guitars as well as every other instrument are quite well written and played.  And the production has a crystal clarity that allows even the softer instruments to be heard clearly.  That production probably does hurt the album’s power somewhat, there’s not a bit of grit in here.  But this isn’t supposed to be an exercise in gritty rock’n’roll, the polished aesthetic is very much a part of their sound.

Second to last on the record is the most fun song, the uptempo dub of “In the Beginning/Give It Time”.  Unfortunately they choose to end with another plodding number in “To See It Through”, the first half of which almost touches on piano driven Billy Joel-style balladry.  I’d prefer a little more aggressive closer, but again, that’s personal taste.  All in all a decent little record, if affable indie rock is your thing.

Borko – Born to be Free album review

Open your mouth, show me your teeth, it’s all part of who you are, sings Borko in “Born to be Free.” And as he invites listeners to do so, so do they get to further explore Borko’s world via his second full-length album.

When he isn’t making his electro-acoustic tunes, Iceland native Björn Kristianson—aka Borko—divulges his talent as a film and theater musician, as well as elementary school music teacher. By the time he focused on his solo career, Borko had already been active in the Reykjavic music scene for years, playing in several Icelandic bands such as Rúnk, FM Belfast, and Skakkamanage. He’s also toured worldwide, sharing stages with artists like múm and Seabear. In 2001, he released the Trees & Limbo EP, followed by his first full-length album titled Celebrating Life in 2008.

Born To Be Free was released on October 16th, 2012 by Sound Of A Handshake. What ensues is a dreamy-acoustic exploration of Borko’s multilayered realm. In comparison to the first album, Born to be Free has a more transcendental and darker vibe. It also has more lyrical content this time around, as it lacks its predecessor’s instrumental tracks.

The beautiful title track is a gentle acoustic invitation to self-acceptance whereas “Abandoned in the Valley of Knives” embodies sadness via minimal yet biting lyrical content, making way for the instrumentals to shine as the intense orchestrated closing sequence goes out with a bang. “Bodies” diffuses a palpable otherworldly, airy feel with a surprise folk-ish ending, as “Sing to the World” closes on a positive note, condoning said activity.

As demonstrated via his second effort, Borko has successfully fused the electronic-indie rock genres once again. With a hypnotically futuristic yet down-to-earth acoustic sound coupled with unconventional lyrics, Borko can neither be labeled predictable nor boring.

Iceland: source of yet another unique artist whose name starts with “b.”

Arainne Moffatt – MA album review

Since 2002 Araine Moffatt has been giving us her interpretation of various modes of music. Whether she strums an acoustic guitar or layers tracks with static drones, the relatively young Québécoise is undoubtedly thoughtful. Her new album, MA, is nothing short of sincere. This time, the majority of the tunes have a distinct indie pop rock feel. And Moffatt’s distinct voice is ever present. Like her prior releases, most tracks have a plucked distorted bass leading the way with other noise to texture. The clean sounds and fuzzy noise come together for a pretty standard indie album.

Of note is track number two, entitled, “In Your Body.” Not too raucous, the suspenseful track builds and builds and builds but without leading anywhere creating tension and expectation, in all the best ways. As Moffatt chants , “…in your body…,” it’s undoubtedly a sexy and suggestive track. Some of my personal favorite tracks from this album, on the other hand, are not in English but French (well, OK, Québécoise French, but it sounds the same to me!). The lyrics are a mystery but their aesthetic quality is unparalleled. One can’t argue if something sounds good. “Hôtel Amour” and “Mon Corps” are excellent examples of where Moffatt’s French renders a unique indie pop experience. “Mon Corps” is especially interesting as a synthesizer pulsates in and out of your ear-drums. Coming back to English, the most approachable tracks on MA prove to be “All Yours”—bubbly and catchy— and “Rules of Legal Love”—spacious and low-key. I wouldn’t be surprised if these are the tracks which radios will exploit.

The only downside of MA is that it lacks an x-factor. It lacks a certain air which indicates difference from all other things indie. Don’t get me wrong, it’s well done and a good listen. By no means is Moffatt’s work “bad.” It’s just that it feels so formulaic. The sounds and transitions she employs seem to share a lot in common with other acts of her style. Besides that, her lyrics (at least the English ones) are nothing too impressive. To my ears, MA is a little cookie-cutter but you may disagree. I highly advise that Araine Moffatt deserves a chance. If you’ll grant me the indulgence in a corny cliché, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure.

Helen Austin – Always Be a Unicorn album review

Helen Austin’s music is unlike anything I have ever listened to and this is because I have never really opened myself to music like hers. As I continue to listen and dissect her music, I notice some musical similarities to bands like Simon and Garfunkel and (I know this is a stretch) the spirited harmony of the Beatles. Helen Austin is very unique with her music and her new album Always Be a Unicorn is something comparable to a children’s book.

Always Be a Unicorn is bright, colorful, upbeat, and cheerful almost like a child’s coloring book. Seventeen tracks of pure positive energy. It’s almost unrealistic to be this positive and that’s what makes this album work in a very hilarious way. That aside, her voice is very melodic and lovely. It’s strong, pitchy, and fluid. The melody and harmony work well with the all the instrumentation incorporated. It’s truly a masterpiece because songs like, “Tree house,” “Brand New Start” and most of the other songs on her albums are ingeniously creative. It sounds very professional because she’s hitting all the right notes, plucking the right guitar strings, but it’s messy, almost like if a child compiled this album. It works very well, and I absolutely love it.  Most of her songs are highly interactive. You can definitely notice in songs like, “Only Me,” “Lovely,” and “Let it Shine.”

I’ll probably never listen to this music casually because it’s not my taste, but for all you fans out there that appreciate a great singer with creativity, Helen Austin should definitely be your first choice. She will not disappoint.

The Wonder Years – Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing album review

I was once a 14-year-old girl. I remember it pretty well – completely changing my appearance, pointless friend drama and New Found Glory. Pop-punk was perfect at the time, at it’s peak, and I was the perfect age for it. It was simple, it was exciting and it sang about all the same dumb stuff I felt and thought.

Sitting at my office desk job as an adult and listening to The Wonder Years – Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing is, at first, an odd experience. It brings up a weird mix of nostalgia and slight sense of awkward “I’m too old to still be doing this.” The feeling fades fast, though, as the album proves itself to have more substance than your standard girls-and-heartbreak fare.

Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing is set up like a book. It tells the story of The Wonder Years’ first year as a full-time touring band. Opening track Came Out Swinging, rather aptly-named considering its aggressive nature, serves as a “prelude,” according to lead singer Dan “Soupy” Campbell; it quickly recounts what-all went on between 2010 release The Upsides and this one. From there, the story begins.

The songs deal with anxiety, displacement and questions. In “Woke Up Older,” Campbell’s moved from his now-ex girlfriend’s apartment, thus no longer necessarily making Philadelphia his home, though later in “Don’t Let Me Cave In” he realizes there’s nowhere else that’d work out for him (though he ties it with Chicago), and “Hoodie Weather” regards everyone else’s will to leave the city they’re in. Alternately, “Coffee Eyes” is about belonging and having a place to return. “I Won’t Say The Lord’s Prayer” is somewhat of a rarity in the genre: where most would avoid religion unless they were practicing, The Wonder Years express very clear anti-Christian views.

Interspersed through the timeline are the three tracks that make up the title – “Suburbia,” “I’ve Given You All” and “And Now I’m Nothing.” They act as three parts of a cohesive song, detailing the band’s hometown in Pennsylvania. “Suburbia” is a short description of how run down everything is and “I’ve Given You All” about a murdered man and alcoholics. “And Now I’m Nothing,” the final part of the series and final track of the album, is the perfect finisher – Campbell stays in Philadelphia and has an apartment and is working on songs, more okay than he was a year ago and in a better place overall.

Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing is a good album. Like the best kinds of kids cartoons, it speaks to multiple age groups – the classic pop-punk sound conjuring images of confused teenagers pushing and shouting and singing and reaching for the stage at a crowded show, but the lyrics relatable to people of any age.

Revelstoke – My-Oh-My EP review

A one-man-band can be its own worst enemy. As opposed to solitary singer/songwriter acts, the one-man-band can often get lost in a cacophony of multi-instrumentation, loops, and vocal effects. Revelstoke, the name of Toronto-based act Andrew Seale, walks that line between convoluted and beautiful in his most recent EP – My-O- My.

This is Revelstoke’s second output, his first LP, Espirit d’Escalier, was released last year. The most recent EP is very much an extension of the sound he laid out in his inaugural offering. Seale is a doing a little less whispering vocals and the songs are a bit more complex. Still, if you enjoy mildly melancholic songs and…let’s say…watching autumnal leaves spiral down to the ground on a crisp fall day…you will probably be happy.

The opening track sounds like it could have come off of the first album; save for the production on the vocals is cleaner and louder. Seale’s voice coupled with the sparse instrumentation lends “Colony Collapse Disorder” a haunting Jeff Buckley element. The lyrics also aid in this effect, “Growin’ out my hair because I want to be a ghost.”

From here the album lifts in tempo but is still locked in a nostalgic-longing. “San Sebastian” is a cold day at the beach strum along and reveals the album’s clearest vocals. The lyrics and chorus are in lockstep with Seale’s pathos: “When I get old I’m going to go where the summer ends.”

“Dan La Mar” is a charming, nautical-sounding song. Seale’s one-man-band talents shine on the 4-minute track. It opens with the cadence and harmonica of a sea shanty. His vocals are some of the cleanest on the album and reveal a tenor much like Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. As the songs floats along Seale  folds in xylophones, harmonica, strumming and a multitude vocal loops that take the tune on a nice departure from the album’s set course.

“It’s Flawed Because it’s True” closes the album in much the same vain we have seen throughout. The album’s only horns make their appearance and fill in a nice space for the song. Its refrain feels much like other lines we have heard and could have easily been dropped into any one of the other tracks, “Tear the statues down.”

In the end, My-Oh-My does what an EP is sometimes designed to do. It gives listeners a taste of what direction the artist is moving – be that a blazing a new trail or mining the same well. That said, given the brevity and inoffensiveness of My-Oh-My some listens will eat it up and feel satiated while other will be hungry for much more.

Andy Shauf – The Bearer of Bad News album review

Andy Shauf is a prairie boy, and it shows. From a voice that carries just a hint of a hooser inflection to the simplicity of his style, everything about the Regina-based singer-songwriter’s sound resonates with the homeliness of central Canada. But in spite of the fact that his latest album, the first in four years, is called The Bearer of Bad News, Andy Shauf just might be doing some good for the region’s rep. If there’s one message the album delivers, it’s that even if the prairie terrain is flat, the music doesn’t have to be.

That’s not to say that The Bearer of Bad News is bursting with the kind of energy that will make you get up out of your seat and move — because it’s not. It’s a simple, sleepy record that’s everything you’d expect from someone who hails from Saskatchewan. Shauf, on his website, claims to have recorded it in a basement alone, using only a piano, a guitar and a clarinet for all songs, with the exception of “You’re Out Wasting” which features drums. The resultant intimacy makes it hard not to believe him, and it’s certainly an overwhelming presence on this album. Every instrument, every sound comes cross so whole and pure, you can’t help but feel that Shauf is right up close, that the songs are just for you.

This effect is only heightened by Shauf’s lyrical style. He alternates between narrative ballads that spin tales about characters (“Hometown Hero”) and descriptions of the mundanities of his own life (“I’m Not Falling Asleep”). In either case, the words roll off his tongue as if he has hardly thought about them at all, beautiful in their simplicity and intimate in their honesty. Shauf comes across as a friend, and his fragmented voice singing lines like “I am not a poet, I’m a broken heart” become all the more emotive as a result.

The record is slow and, for the most part, steady, although Shauf has a penchant for incongruously swelling introductions that stand in jarring opposition to the primarily acoustic middles. Regardless, The Bearer of Bad News is proof that the prairies are not all wheat, beef and predictability. Shauf may be single-handedly injecting appeal to the often written-off centre of Canada, one heart-wrenching lyric at a time.

Dirty Projectors – About To Die EP review

Let’s get this out of the way at the start, Dirty Projectors are not a band for those that are fans of music that is accessible to the masses. Dirty Projectors are strange and as far as I can tell…they are ok with this fact. About To Die is the four song EP that follows their summer release Swing Lo Magellan is where the title track originally comes from. The rest of the EP is all new material though.

Kicking off the four song EP is the rerelease of the title track. About to Die is a quirky and strange tune and is the perfect opener to the mini album. This is a track that tells you everything you need to know about the band’s musical sensibilities. The song has a great experimental feel to it where an almost reggae feel to the bass and percussion support a smooth vocal melody that rises and falls all over the place. Don’t let the title deceive you, About To Die is a cheery sounding tune and triumphant in tone.

From here we move to While You’re Here and the experimental sound isn’t finished yet. This song builds off of a string instrumentation that hovers on the edge of discordance without ever quite plunging over. Added to this is a vocal line that moves all over the place. This song isn’t soothing background music, yet it remains oddly compelling sounding almost like a plea to the song’s audience.

Washed out guitars and a strong bass line are the sounds that capture my ear on Here Til It Says I’m Not. Vocally, it feels that this is where Dave Longstreth really lets himself cut loose. His melody moves all over the place with all his usual flourishes and embellishments but when he gets to the chorus it grabs your attention and refuses to let go.

The EP finishes on what is perhaps the most conventional of the songs, Simple Request. The acoustic guitar, the drums, the reverbed vocals…all of this feels like a song with retro 60s roots. Unfortunately, by this point I’ve become used to the risk taking musical adventures of The Dirty Projectors and this feels a bit disappointing. A song that is fine by its own merits but doesn’t quite match the level of the previous tracks. In comparison it is left a little bland.

All in all, About To Die is an impressive EP that stands as a cheap and worthwhile introduction for new listeners. The band is quirky, and strange, but I will be damned if that change isn’t refreshing.

The Mary Onettes premiere “Evil Coast” video & share full album details

“True to its name, the song sounds dark but buoyant, riding an easy bounce that sounds almost balearic despite the apparent and luxurious malaise that consumes the tune.”-PITCHFORK

“…wonderfully mournful, melancholic, gorgeous, impeccably constructed indie pop.” STEREOGUM

“Evil Coast” – the first single from Hit the Waves has been getting rave reviews and quickly placed at #1 on the Hype Machine charts. Today the band shares the official music video for the track, via the Guardian, as well as the album cover art and track list for Hit The Waves, out March 12, 2013.

VIDEO: “Evil Coast”

STREAM: “Evil Coast” (Radio Edit) –

The Mary Onettes went into the studio determined to create something different from the previous albums. Breaking new ground can be a scary thing and the band admits that a great deal of anxiety and confusion followed. Singer Philip Ekström claims he found inspiration in everything from Vangelis to Whitney Houston(!) during the recording process.

Hit the Waves was produced by Dan Lissvik (Studio, The Embassy, Young Galaxy etc.). This is the first time The Mary Onettes works with an outside producer and the process has been everything but smooth. Conflicts and artistic differences have created a dynamic and hypnotic blend. The result is nothing less than brilliant – The Mary Onettes’ most interesting album to date.

The band has released two previous albums – The Mary Onettes (2007) and Islands (2009), toured around the world and been featured in major TV-series.
Hit The Waves is out worldwide on March 12th 2013.

The Mary Onettes
Evil Coast
(Labrador)
Street Date: November 27, 2012

A: “Evil Coast”

The Mary Onettes
Hit The Waves
(Labrador)
Street Date: March 12, 2013

1. Intro
2. Evil Coast
3. Hit the Waves
4. Years
5. Don’t Forget (to Forget about me)
6. Black Sunset
7. Blues
8. Can’t Stop the Aching
9. Unblessed
10. How it all Ends