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Mike Doughty – Dubious Luxury review

Mike Doughty – “Dubious Luxury” Clearly Luxurious

The sign of a true electronic artist is the ability to mix, loop, and sample multiple riffs and clips, while at the same time removing them from their original context and making them his own. The big names you probably know include Kid Koala, The Avalanches, and of course DJ Shadow. These artists have made impressions in countless performers, and it’s all down to putting their personal spin on hundreds of records on just one of their own.

Mike Doughty is another great example, and his style is somewhere between those last two – not too poppy and accessible, but not so laid-back that you fall asleep in your beanbag chair. His latest, Dubious Luxury, is “weird noises, chopped up voices, and large freaky beats” (Doughty’s words). It features regularly utilises vocal tracks as a beat (Gimme the Cake), and trippy minimalist notes that he HAS to have picked up from somewhere but you’ve never heard them before. “Are You Here? I Am Here” is a little spooky with beat poet Joanne Kryger’s extended “Helloooo” lurking under the beat, but that’s not to say it isn’t an enjoyable track. “I Just Wanna be Mellow, Man” blooms into a bouncy song that really makes you appreciate Doughty’s talent. Best Track award goes the awesomely named “More Bacon Than The Pan Can Handle”, a funky tune that has the perfect beat to walk down the street to. (Honestly, you feel like a big shot when it’s playing on your iPod!) Though most of the tracks are around the 2 minute mark, it’s certainly a hallmark of quality, not quantity, and the album flows easily; in fact, unless you have iTunes sitting open right in front of you, you’d be hard pressed to tell where “…Mellow, Man” ends and “Do You Find Me Sexy” begins.

Mike Doughty has clear talent; his blog can be found at http://mkdo.co/ and it’s obvious he’s an intelligent guy. Dubious Luxury is, according to the man himself, “an appetizer to the singing/songing album YES AND ALSO YES”. So… watch this space!

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Richard Buckner – Our Blood review

A great American storyteller is hard to find. In today’s world of LOL’s and text speak, someone that can paint a picture with their phrases should be cherished. I actually informed my little sister some years ago that if she expects a response to her emails she cannot “rite lyk dis lmao”. Similarly, it has been years since a powerful folk singer has shaken the scene, and Richard Buckner’s new album has returned to his country roots, revealing the inner poet once more. “Our Blood” is the long awaited release from Buckner, after a series of mishaps involving everything from burglary to equipment failure to a grisly murder scene. It wears the scars well; Buckner’s voice is strong and unwavering like a warm breeze – but you can tell that he’s seen some things, man.

It is impossible to talk about this album without highlighting the words contained – it’s poetry in the most meaningful sense of the word, and a joy to ponder over. Often, the lyrics are not best thought of as line by line but as a contiguous story, undulating and full of meaning. “Thief” is a high point, (The branded charged ahead of the warnings rising beyond their due…). “Escape” is poignant, yet liberating, with little more than a guitar and a backing vocal to create an atmosphere you wish would never end. “Collusion”, like many of the songs, never specifically refers to an event but rather alludes to loss of a friend over the course of time (think terminal illness or drug addiction), and it’s wrenching stuff.

As a purveyor of the written word myself, it’s refreshing to discover a modern day troubadour championing the cause in the music world. Part country, part folk, all emotion, Richard Buckner has struck gold in his simplicity.

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Autre Ne Veut – Body EP review

I know exactly nothing about the mind or minds behind Autre Ne Veut. I don’t know where he, she, or they hail from, and I don’t know how far along the mortal coil they are. What I do know is that they are elusive, and real info on the artist as a person (rather than as a project) is tough to find without delving into other review sites, something I am loathe to do for fear of tainting my own article with unintentionally borrowed ideas and perceptions. I also know that this EP, a follow on from last year’s self-titled excursion, kicks ass.

Combining washing bass and jarring synths, “Sweetheart” opens the EP in a way that makes you notice… and you don’t mind it. Lengthy, broad, and floating, yet paradoxically would do well on the dustup scene with minimal tweaking.

Your clothes is the meat and potatoes of the album, definitely the “heaviest” track. It’s sassy and soulful, with that piano loop going over and over beneath.

She Wolf makes an appearance on Track 3, “Not the One”, and her inclusion gives the track an acid trip kind of feel, but cast aside Lucy in the Sky – this is a bad trip where the insects have faces and sing to you (and yet, still enjoyable). My sole concern with the whole EP is that, at just over 2 minutes, “Not The One” strikes the listener as an interlude, something half-formed, or at least half-recorded. It always feels like it’s going to go somewhere, and turns around just before it takes that step into the unknown, yet sought after higher level.

Just Return rounds this piece out. Slightly off-beat (in both senses of the word), it still adheres to the acoustically pleasing melodies found in R’n’B, and its themes of strength and survival are apparent with the passion and pain in the singer’s voice bubbling just below the surface.

Overall, this is a very well constructed piece of work. Autre Ne Veut explores different avenues of avant-pop, without compromising any of the other tracks by comparison. (And just to put your mind at rest, yes, that album art is a very intimate part of a woman. Do you feel better knowing, or not knowing?)

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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.

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SBTRKT review

SBTRKT – SBTRKT

“…let the music speak for itself.” – Aaron Jerome

Out of London, England comes one of the freshest new names in the dance scene, that really isn’t a name at all. Aaron Jerome’s alias is about “giving them (DJs) a record as an anonymous person and seeing whether they like it or not. If they play it, they play it.” A cunning move in today’s scene, where it seems everyone wants to be a household name, SBTRKT even wears tribal masks and headdresses to portray himself less as a person and more of a spirit. He has been behind some noteworthy remixes in the past, and SBTRKT has taken a different approach to the process, using various vocalists with their own distinct personalities in his

His self titled album opens with a banging remix that’s almost 20 minutes long. “From Arctic To Alpine” is a bonus track full of alternate versions and all-new material. It’s forward thinking, and unlike most tracks now labeled “dubstep” it isn’t just about sounding like electronic power tools. “Hold On” evokes the other end of the mid 90’s house anthems, focussing on bass beats and chimes. Trials Of The Past” has a cool, relaxing feel, while personal favourite “Wildfire” is powerful and empowering.

The whole album is quintessentialy ideal for after hours fun, the perfect soundtrack for the late hours of the night and the early hours of the morning. The BBC’s Natalie Shaw has described him as a potential successor to Timbaland in terms of production value and possible demand, an enormous accolade for someone that only started up in 2010. Dubstep is definitely in, and SBTRKT has reworked into something beautiful rather than boisterous. The trick is making almost a lack of grinding noise and cacophony, and using the minimalism to tell its own story.

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Washed Out – Within and Without review

Washed Out, anything but.

A couple of people have commented on my being a lyrically driven music listener. To an extent it’s true; sometimes you need someone else to say the words you want to hear. Take country music for example. I don’t know how I would have made it through my last big breakup without Willie Nelson’s classic “Red Headed Stranger” album. And, as a writer, of course I am drawn more towards music with poetry, part of the reason I love me some hip hop. Sometimes you need the words.

Not so with Washed Out’s new album, “Within and Without”. Sure, there’s a vocal in there somewhere, but it is only technically a vocal by virtue of the fact that it’s produced by a human voice – it could just as easily be another instrument or effect. Much like adding a pinch of salt to a recipe, the minimal use of this breezy voice (real name; Ernest Greene) adds so much to an incredible piece of work.

Evidence is rampant throughout the album, but for a real pleasure you’ll want to listen to “Far Away”, a track that I noted half a dozen instruments varying from glockenspiel to violin to some sort of beat that almost sounds like a shred on a muted electric guitar. The layering in “Amor Fati” and “You and I” will make you feel warm during this “summer” we’re having here on the Wet Coast, and “A Dedication” has a morose, Ben Folds style that you’ll savour.

So what if I like my lyrics, I know good music when I hear it. Greene’s delivery is spot-on, with drawn out syllables that only add to the mix. Pick this up, it came out last week on Subpop. No need to say “thank you”.

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The Naked and Famous – Passive Me, Aggressive You album review

Coming to our shores on a wave of home success, New Zealand’s The Naked and Famous seek to conquer the North American charts with Passive Me, Aggressive You in their artillery, their debut album that pretty much speaks for itself on every track. The album debuted at Number 1 in NZ, with single “Young Blood” also hitting the top spot in the singles chart. It seems TNAF aren’t messing around.

Opening on a post-punk heartbeat, “All of This” gives you an insight into what’s in store (there may or may not have been air drums in my office for a bit). “Girls Like You” , another of the singles “back home”, juxtaposes a heavy bass synth with a thought provoking theme and vocals that build into something almost religious. Between these two songs one finds catchy hooks and summery singing. “Frayed” sounds just that; a nerve-jangling pop song that explodes into despondency. “No Way” has this wistful nostalgia about it, and through some minor emotional masochism on my behalf I found myself going back and listening to it again. It almost sounds like the credits to that episode where your heart was broken for the first time.

You’ll definitely recognize the aforementioned “Young Blood” (though I can’t for the life of me remember where from) and will make you glad we’re heading into summer up here in the Northern Hemisphere. Young Blood will make you remember the summers you had as a carefree teenager, unsure of yourself but ready to find out. For me, it’s the best track on an album full of great tracks.

The Naked and Famous are surely ones to watch this summer. One gets the feeling that their live shows would be a treat aurally and visually; while they won’t be playing Vancouver until October, they have a full line up of festivals including Lollapalooza, Reading and Leeds, and the Parklife Festival series in Australia. They’ve also managed to fit in a stop in both Toronto (Lee’s Palace Aug. 9th) and Montreal (La Salla Rossa Aug. 10th) so if you’re in town I recommend checking them out before they get so big you have to trade a kidney on Craigslist for a pair of tickets.

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Robag Wruhme – Thora Vukk album review

Oxymorons are everywhere, often with humorous results. Military Intelligence. Family Holiday. Married Life. Another i wish to present to you is “Ambient Techno.” Some may find this a contradiction in terms – what is it, a rave at a nursery? Actually, Robag Wruhme’s latest “Thora Vukk” could be the perfect soundtrack to that bizarre scenario.

Wruhme’s use of unorthodox sounds and percussion as beats and instruments is apparent throughout the album. Track 4, Bommsen Boff, has something that sounds like an anvil, and some definite keyboard “notes” but of the ‘QWERTY’ rather than Casio variety. “Prognosen Bomm” uses a great carryover of knuckles on a door, and what almost sounds like knives being sharpened. Elements of creepiness are explored: Brucke Vier and the opener “Wupp Dek”are unsettling; don’t listen if you’re stoned and paranoid. “Ende”, oddly, isn’t the finale, despite both its name and the song itself. It sounds as if it’s the perfect signoff to this eclectic album, with its singsong nonsensical “lyrics”, and baby gargle. Just then, “Brucke Funf” happens to your ears, and any pleasant dreams you may be having after nodding off to “Thora Vukk” are replaced with a pathway down an acid trip nightmare. It even ends the album with the phrase “Isn’t it quiet all of a sudden” with the echoes of emptiness all that follows.

This album really is good, well produced, different, not something I would choose to listen to. It checks all the boxes for an exciting artist. But music is all about exploring emotions in ways that words can’t, and even the “scary” parts of Thora Vukk are right on target in that respect: you feel something that borders on fear, in the way the music makes the mood change. Consider that violin in Hitchcock’s “Psycho”; we know some shit is about to go down whenever we hear it.

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Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra EP review

New Zealand and Portland are unlikely bedfellows. Ruban Neilson moved to Oregon with his band the Mint Chicks (a longtime representative of NZ’s music scene; I first heard them long ago on the John Peel show). Started as a side project for Neilson to explore “a new musical dimension”, the group has gained momentum, and this wave is taking them around the world.

I’ve extolled the virtues of the humble EP in a previous post, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s newest is no exception. “How Can U Luv Me” is a standalone great; expect it to heavily feature in remixes. “Nerve Damage” treads the line between rock and electronica, and does it so well you struggle to put it into a group. “Thought Ballune” is cool, sunny, simple. Their flagship single, the one that started Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s rise, is “Ffunny Ffrends”, and it’s the closer on the self-titled EP. Sweet and evocative of the Go! Team, you can really see why they’ve done so well in only one year since their inception.

Currently on tour, touting their debut album, you can check out their website to see if they’re playing near you. West Coast, they’ll be playing the Biltmore Cabaret on July 23rd, one of my favourite venues to catch an act in Vancouver.

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Com Truise – Galactic Melt album review

The first MP3 player I owned was small. Both in size and memory. The Samsung YP N30S (Google it) boasted a whopping 128mb of memory, enough for about 30 songs. If I really put my mind to it, I could probably recreate that playlist. That was about 8 years ago. Now I have music on my frigging cell phone, and my sister has 160gb of iPod to fill. So imagine going back to the 80’s (if you were even alive back then) on the same technological curve, and chances are you’ll be imagining something that sounds like Com Truise’s Galactic Melt.

If you ever watched a PBS special on outer space when you were growing up, or seen a montage segment from a fantasy kids movie, you’ll feel you’ve heard Galactic Melt before. Every track sounds like a sequence where the grown-ups running the show weren’t sure on what kids would like, so they just threw some space lasers in and called it a day. Maybe I missed the chillwave… wave? but to me, with the exception of VHS Sex, these songs are indistinguishable to one another. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t actively dislike this album; I’ll happily admit I caught myself bobbing along to “Glawio”. But the whole album just kind of… happened… to my ears while I was “working” (read: Facebook and webcomics with the article on the side).

Admittedly, it’s impressive that creator Haley is able to make these tracks sound like they’re 30 years old and played with a computer you used at elementary school (iTunes for the Atari, anyone?) and for that I applaud him. But I would be hard pressed to buy Galactic Melt, on the grounds that, frankly, I heard it when I was a kid.

I bet it would be sweet live though.