London Grammar – Metal & Dust album review

With only an EP spanning four tracks (one of which is a remix), the London-based trio appropriately named, London Grammar, have already made wavelengths through the internet and have even reached billboard charts in Australia and the U.K. Not bad for having barely over 10 minutes of recorded material.

Metal & Dust is their first release and in a very short amount of time, received great praise and garnered much viral popularity. The group’s sound is subtle, offering hints of varying samples and sounds that add up to their overall dark and ambient aesthetic. It is a very engaging and interesting mix but what really capture the spotlight are Hannah Reid’s vocals. The instrumental seems to act as only an aid in helping Reid just add that much more power to her already strong and confident vocals.

Despite the minimalistic nature of the music, Reid’s voice is brought forth full tilt with emotion, never holding back and the music itself seems to be under the tow and sway of her voice. Borrowing easy to identify influences from fellow U.K indie stars such as Alt-J and The XX, it would appear as though there is a certain love affair with drum pads and echoing vocals being sprinkled with spitfire guitar picking however despite the similarities, London Grammar bring their own individualistic strengths to the table.

It is hard to exactly say how a full length album would turn out with this group. Although they do what they do well, it unfortunately ends up sounding just a little repetitive and that is only with 3 songs. The promise is all there but their EP is not yet a fair assessment of the band. Even the remix ‘Hey Now’ by Dot Major is the most engaging and interesting listen, and it’s not always a good sign when the remix is one of, if not, the better tracks. They can certainly do it, but it will be interesting to see if the group can come out with a full length that will truly set them apart from their counterparts.

Calexico – Spiritoso album review

I am a little torn when it comes to live albums. Sometimes they are put together impeccably and add great depth to the artist’s music and offers interesting insight into how they sound when the barrier of audio mixing and mastering is stripped away. Other times however, the final product may in fact just sound flat, disappointing, and well, terrible. With Calexico’s Spiritoso, the result is certainly that of the former.

Calexico are a band whom have been around for several years and have released 9 full length albums. They hail from Arizona and the southern flair is clearly present in their music and is a a part of what makes them so unique. Their sound as been describes as a blend of ‘Americana, Tex-Mex, and indie-rock’. Originally only supposed to be released a limited edition vinyl for Record Store Day 2013, Spiritoso was recorded live in Germany on June 2012 with the Radio Symphonic Orchestra Vienna and the Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg.

The inclusion of this fantastic symphony really added so much to the group’s sound and to all their songs. This live recording offers such varying audible textures, and has so much depth, and is truly, a very one-of-a-kind listen. It would be hard to really find anything like it. The orchestral influence that is so seamlessly entwined with the band’s original mariachi-inspired sound is very fun to listen to. Very dynamic, yet so easy and simple to listen to at the same time, it is very common to find yourself forgetting that this is a live album you are listening to.

Mariachi guitar strumming, blaring trumpets which soar and descend, violins and cellos softly construct and deconstruct the atmosphere, and all the while Joey Burns’ vocals offer a very soft yet rugged tone to the whole production. The song writing effortlessly paints a picture in your head; one of you looking over a deep canyon abyss at sunset whilst in the middle of your favourite spaghetti-western, poncho, cowboy boots, cowboy hat and all.  The music is very visual.

The song compositions are truly astounding and just offer a real fun ride. Some begin so soft and slow before launching into a full on top-speed pursuit, like on ‘Crystal Frontier’, that you may find you are out of breath by the end. Others build up with an anticipatory drawl before exploding into an audible ecstasy like on ‘Epic’. With Spiritoso, Calexico offer a very enjoyable and cinematic adventure through their entire discography. It is a journey fit for the John Wayne or Clint Eastwood in all of us and soon you just may find yourself looking for the same wild, noble experiences that could only have inspired such a wonderful and cascading escapade as the one which Calexico have presented.

Said The Whale – I Love You EP review

Canada’s indie-folk bopping kids, Said The Whale are a group whom you ask anyone in Canada if they have heard them, and 9 times out of a 10, they will have at least heard the name float here or there. However, ask anyone outside of Canada, and well, let us just say that that number may drop by like 7 people or so. They are big in Canada, but hardly known anywhere else. Known for their indie sound infused with folk which at this point in time just comes off as pretty stereotypical and really not anything too special, Said The Whale are a group pretty much for adolescent teens just getting into music that is not what is playing out of their parents’ radio and makes them feel ‘hip’ or ‘cool’.

Their latest release, I Love You is a quick, short little EP with three tracks. Each track sort of sounds the same, if not very similar, but have their own little bubblegum hook or catch that makes them sort of bearable in a very shallow way. They do stray away from their more folky-acoustic sound and have introduced a far more quickened, plugged-in sound, but there still is not a whole lot of depth. Super easy to digest, super poppy, and really just not that interesting to listen to, this EP is a sort of an experiment of sorts in terms of branching out into a new sound and new image, but really, it is not anything too drastic.

If you are a fan of their older material, maybe you will welcome the change in pace and sound or maybe not but despite the change, it is clear that the group knows how to make music that is sure to find some sort of audience. Very radio friendly and accessible, I Love You is music one may listen to at a pool party or something that may be playing whilst shopping for a bathing suit at H&M but other than that, it’s not really music that has enough depth to truly divulge or dig into. The EP does everything right, but it is just sort of boring and lacking in areas that make okay music great; character, originality, and something to make you want more. For all of you Canadian readers that are probably reading this considering the band is probably only really important to those of you who live in the Great White North; like having to opt for a Tim Horton’s coffee instead of a Starbucks latte, it’s not bad but it’s not really that good or anything special either.

Gena Perala – Exactly Nowhere album review

As an artist who had grown up amidst uncertainty, diversity, and character as the child of two parents who worked in the carnival circuit, Gena Perala transfers this experience into her music, whether intentional or not, seamlessly and to a great degree of skills and musicianship. Having previously released three books of poetry and a debut album, This Ain’t Pretty (2008), Perala has now released her second full length and has further established herself as a signified musician and songwriter. Exactly Nowhere plays out exactly as her childhood may have; full of uncertainty, diversity, character, and is also a very honest, no-holds barred record.

Gena Perala is not your average songwriter and helps blow away barriers and stereotypes that one may associate with a solo musician who sings and writes about the themes of love, heartbreak, and emotional struggles. Every song is so unique and differs so much in scale (yet none being any more significant that the other), sound, and it can really be hard, if not close to impossible, to properly identify Perala without sounding pretentious and a little ridiculous at the expense of multiple genre-headings and sub-headings. From the French themed and sung ‘La Fin’ to the pop-punk, bass driven ‘My Match’, to the country-inspired, prairie romp ‘Tell It To The Stars’, to ‘On Second Thought’ which could fit perfectly well in any 80’s musical, you never really know where the album will take you or what you are up for next. Perala shows off her musical diversity and fearless exploration and adventurism without exactly ‘showing off’, but instead does so with confidence, charm, and great modesty, never reaching for anything out of step or out of reach and as a result each track, no matter what direction she decides to go in, is just as good as the last.

Despite the immense diversity on the album, Perala is always able to tie it all together with her darling, strong, comforting, Southern-rooted vocals that add to not only each song, but each track, her own touch of personality and character. As well, her songs are intensely honest and Perala never strays away from touchy subjects or beats around the bush, always upfront and concise, her willingness to sing things, thoughts, and ideas that we may at first think of ‘weak’ or ‘desperate’, come off as stronger and more charismatic than ever. Never sugar-coating anything yet always able to sing with a sweetness that is hard to match, Perala has a natural knack for storytelling and opening up about certain subjects that others just cannot pull off or whom would never dare.

Whether you are looking to share a tear, enjoy the sun, hibernate in your bed, or feel some empowerment and outright fun, Exactly Nowhere has something for everyone and for any situation but no matter which that may be, Perala will never fail to bring out a creeping smile on your face.

Bear Mountain – XO album review

Opening up with a Chilly Gonzales- inspired tropical percussive assortment filled with maracas, cow-bell, and other various sounds that one may hear in their mind when thinking of the Caribbean on ‘Two Step’, which is followed by pleasantly droning synths and catchy vocal cheers, it becomes clear that Bear Mountain is a group whom it can sometimes be a little tricky to exactly pinpoint and properly classify.  At one point in this opening track, there is even a dubstep bass-wobble interlude while chiming, crystal-like shimmering plays over top and although this rambunctious concoction of sound may sound a little overwhelming and incongruent, the end result is an adventurous and brave experiment through the avant-garde of musical exploration.

XO is this Vancouver-based quartet’s first full-length album, and although it is short, at only seven tracks and clocking in at around half an hour, it contains a ton of depth and seemingly never ending layers of sound, sample and live instrumental alike, while also varying greatly in song structure and composition while still retaining overarching themes and feelings of wanderlust, joy, discovery, and celebration.

The group compares their music to that of Ray Lamontagne and Damien Rice, both of which can be heard without looking too far in but also never really sticking it in your face as these sensibilities, while present, are skillfully entwined with their own unique sound. Bear Mountain has crafted a really neat electronic album with catchy and contagious dance qualities without sacrificing any of the faults that may be seen in dance music like repetition and shallowness. Synthesizers beep, blop, shine, and fuzz along with beats that can lull anyone into a head-bobbing trance, all while being integrated with a tribal vibe that will make you feel as though you just stumbled upon an Amazonian rave treasure.

On ‘Congo’, the group meticulously loops pleasurably fun vocal samples atop a really interesting mix of bongo tapping, analogue synth tickling, and even some electric guitar. What Bear Mountain shine at is their ability to construct and deconstruct tracks as they continuously strip down and add upon their songs at just the right moments, making sure everything hits right yet also making sure never to have anything sound too rushed or forced. With ‘Sing’, the group again shows just how well they are able to craft their songs as they continually work upon backbone bass lines and percussion while always allowing their shimmery, psychedelic front to keep the sparks going and your body grooving along, never letting a song go stale.

Seemingly carrying the torch where Caribou left off, Bear Mountain makes a great introductory step into the experimental/dance electronic scene with XO and although its length may feel a little unsatisfactory, let’s just hope there’s much more to come.

Ell V Gore Interview

Ell V Gore has slowly but surely been creating rifts in the Toronto music scene. With the recent release of his debut EP, Sex Static, Ell V has enveloped the darkness and has been sending gothic chills of pure no-wave and punk-inspired darkwave bliss to anyone willing to lose themselves in the seedy, ethereal black world of Gore. With blood-curdling howls, scathing guitar, and frantic, paranoid percussion, Sex Static is a very well composed EP that could be filed along with a Joy Division that maybe spent a little too much time at that one industrial rave warehouse that you have always felt uncomfortable walking by. Having played a couple of showcases at NXNE, opening up for the likes of Iceage, I recently got a chance to sit down with the lead madman himself, Ell V. Seated on a eerily yet hysterically appropriate leopard print chair, I spoke to Elliot about his past, his influences, and he even gave a nod to my Sonic Youth shirt, which is a definite thumbs-up.

Ell V: Sorry about this leopard print chair, which was here, I didn’t put it here.

MV: No don’t worry about it, it looks awesome.

So how have you been liking the festival so far?

Well it’s only the second night, so I haven’t really checked anything out too much yet. I saw Merchandise the other night; there were a few songs that were good.

Yeah, that was the secret show right?

Yeah, well they were playing the same night as us so I wanted to catch them at least once. At first I wasn’t really into them, but then I found out that they have a full drummer now so I thought I would check it out. There were a couple good tunes.

Are there any acts that you are really looking forward to?

The next act going on after this band, Cellphone, they’re like one of my favourite Toronto bands. They’re crazy and need to get out there. Wild, spastic, punk shit. Really cool.

You probably know Iceage right? I really want to check them out.

Oh yeah, we’re playing with them! On Sunday at The Garrison.  They’re the “secret band”.

Oh wow, thanks for that! That’ll be awesome.

[Laughs] Totally. Iceage is cool but I haven’t seen them live. Their records are pretty good though,

I hear their shows get pretty wild. Congratulations on the EP, I’m a really big fan.

Cool, man, glad you dig it.

Can you tell me how Ell V Gore got started?

I was in a nosier, no-wave punk band a couple of years ago called Brides. We were recording a record but then broke up during that and I still wanted to do my own thing so I started doing some solo stuff. My middle name is Vincent so I kept the Ell-V and then just added ‘Gore’ on the end because why the fuck not, like it doesn’t really make any sense, but I just did it and kept it going. I got a band together and it took a while to get started and eventually release an EP but I had done other recordings, but I just was not happy with them. Now I have learned that when you record something, to just put it out and not to be a fucking diva.

Ell V Gore is a badass name though.

Is it? [Laughs] Nobody really knows what it is though yet but like it was hard getting shows or getting my record label to pass that name through, they thought I was a Spanish rocker or something.

What would you say inspires your sound, musically or otherwise?

I have always been into that really abrasive, jarring 80’s stuff like Swans but I wanted to put my own take on the aggressive punk sound. I have also been listening to a lot of synth stuff too, so I just blended the two together. And influences… I don’t really know. I guess when I started working at the strip club and seeing a certain side of Toronto like every day, going to work and not seeing the sun for 24 hours, and getting in a weird head space. It wasn’t angry, but I don’t know, I just sort of threw it out there.

Exactly, I wouldn’t call your music angry per se, but there is just a lot of energy behind it.

Yeah, there’s a lot of energy and is sort of like hyper ‘rock’, fuck, I don’t even know.

I would consider your sound dark right?

Sure.

And what would you say attracts people to the darker side of things?

I guess it’s just some sort of taboo, like it just may not be your average, everyday lifestyle but everyone has their own dark side. It’s good to get it out sometimes.

What sort of music were you into growing up?

My father was into jazz, so I grew up listening to a lot of jazz stuff and that led to me getting into more ‘out-there’ experimental jazz and avant-garde shit like certain Cole Train records and Sun Re and all that weird junk stuff. So I got into that and that led to me, well you’re wearing a Sonic Youth t-shirt, and Sonic Youth was one of those influences. I had an older brother who listened to them and I was terrified at first when I listened to them because I was a little kid. They’re one of the bands that altered a lot of things. I grew up listening to a lot of no-wave and all that crap.

I find that Sonic Youth is a great entry point for more abstract music. And so Pretty Pretty, that was a monthly party at first?

Yeah, at first.

How did it evolve into a label?

This friend just came in, my friend Cam who was recording a record, Kontravoid, I don’t know if you know him?

I spoke with him a couple of weeks ago. He’s a really cool guy.

Yeah, he’s a cool guy. And basically friend John was looking to put out a record and Kontravoid had finished his and then I was doing these parties and they I guess they wanted to bring me in and there was already this momentum behind it and we just decided to put the records out as Pretty Pretty Records.

I loved that video where Ell V Gore and Kontravoid played ‘Lobotomy’ together.

That was funny and a while ago actually. Yeah, that was a completely different version of the song.

I loved the cheesiness and the vibe from it. [laughs]

Oh yeah, it’s cheesy. You can’t take everything too seriously.

Did you always want to go into music?

Sure. I wasn’t really good at anything else. I got a guitar one day and started banging on it and experimented until I found something that I thought sounded good.

If it weren’t for music, where could you see yourself?

I don’t know how to answer that, man. Drug addict maybe? It keeps me busy during the day and at night.

King Creosote – That Might Well Be It, Darling album review

Kenny Anderson, or King Creosote, is a singer/song writer from Fife, Scotland. Having been releasing music for over a decade, Anderson has a very expansive and comprehensive discography which includes roughly, an astonishing 40 total albums.  This Might Well Be It, Darling is his latest full-length release and despite having pumped out so many albums and songs before it, Anderson has managed to keep things fresh, exciting, and interesting, as he further explores and builds upon his already established foundation, making sure to deliver a fun yet matured and expertly crafted yet retaining a sense of innocence styled record.

Opening up with the fuzzy, garage-rock chords of ‘Little-Man’, which plays out with a much more ‘classic rock’ vibe as compared to the rest of the more folk-centred album, we get a taste of Anderson’s comfortable playing, introspective and reflective song writing and it’s a track that is easy to digest and leaves you looking to dig deeper, making sure to leave enough accessibility in his music despite his depth of experience and extensive discography.

Following up with ‘Single Cheep’, Anderson takes away the distortion and fuzz and opens up with a more upbeat, folk, nostalgia-entwined track that carries with it a certain bounce, hop, and swing. Anderson’s voice is calm, controlled, and smooth and lets his charming and gentlemanly Scottish accent shine through.

From there, it seems the record retains the folk-influence and keeps with it the soft yet handsome sounds that King Creosote is known for. It’s easy to listen to, but the music keeps you engaged and Anderson’s voice carries his words and lets them roll off with sweeping melodies and swooning harmonies that are warming and easy to romanticize with.

Throughout the record, acoustic guitars are pleasantly layered and strummed, drums are played quick and to the point, electric guitars are intricately plucked and picked, and there are even keyboards with help add and build upon different moods and atmospheres that give each track their very own distinct sound and feel.

That Might Well Be It, Darling is a playful yet very intimate album that projects a looming sense of melancholy that muddles with a constant reflection throughout Anderson’s writing. ‘The Right Form’ is a dreary, sleepy track that is accented with the ever slightest Radiohead influence and ‘On The Night Of The Bonfire’ is a much more upbeat and celebratory song with a happy-go-lucky vibe, whereas we see Anderson holding on and not slipping into a total sob fest of an album.  However, with ‘I Am Cellist’, we really see Anderson’s writing at its best where he crafts his words to flow and roll off in near perfect sync with the instrumental and the two components, lyrics and instrumental, flirt and flourish delicately but with a strong sense of skill and identity and with his latest release, let us just hope that Anderson does not stay true to the album’s title, as it seems he still has a lot of strength and steam behind himself.

Fitz and the Tantrums – More Than Just A Dream album review

A group hailing from Los Angeles California, Fitz and the Tantrums have already garnered much critical acclaim and appeal in 2010 with their heralded debut, Pickin’ Up the Pieces. Their unique, fun, and colourful sound launched them a spot as the openers for a Maroon 5 tour across the United States. Rolling Stone called them “a band to watch” in 2011 and three years later, the flamboyant group have released their anticipated sophomore record, More Than Just A Dream, and it seems that despite their extensive touring and media cycle of multiple late night talk show appearances that Fitz and the Tantrums are showing no signs of slowing down and that they are just getting started.

The band’s lead, Michael Fitzpatrick, has loosely defined their band as “soul-influenced indie pop” and also, wished to create music that stayed away from more traditional methods; such as a total absence of any sort of guitar throughout any of his music. Now, when some groups lack prominent traditional ‘band’ instruments like guitars, their sound can sometimes feel a little empty or as if they are missing something, or at the very least, quite noticeable. This is certainly not the case for Fitz and the Tantrums.  Throughout More Than Just A Dream, layers of thundering, mountainous percussion provides a solid, guiding backbone as keys and synthesizer sprinkles, sparkles, whirls and twirls, as well as playfully leads hooks and melodies. Not only that, but appearances made by saxophone and trumpet help propel the underlying soul vibe that Fitzpatrick had mentioned. The music sounds full of energy, excitement, emotion, and never leaves you with a dull moment.  Fitzpatrick has a slick and theatrical, as well as a very expansive, vocal tone with a voice that is quite similar to The Killers’ Brandon Flowers. Fitzpatrick’s voice is also consistently mirrored and accented with vocals from Noelle Scaggs who really emphasizes the soul influence and really adds the sound’s overall aesthetic and feel.

Fitz and the Tantrums have a very intriguing knack for blending sounds of the past such as 70’s disco and a lot of soul with more electronic, indie charm and sensibility of the present and it creates a sound that offers so much variety in song structure in a single record. More Than Just A Dream sounds like a lot of familiar and comfortable ingredients skillfully put together and comes out as something that surely stands out. It is an album where if you like it, you will end up loving it. If not, well it is sort of an acquired taste but nevertheless, it a very interesting listen at the very least.

Saskatchewan – Occasion album review

There are some bands that cement themselves within a clear and defined genre. They play true to their roots, their predecessors, and continue to help perpetuate a sound for those to come as they continually build upon that which has already been clearly established. Then there are bands that like to dabble, pick and choose, and experiment upon various sounds and genres, some of which emerge triumphant in their pioneering quest and unfortunately, some fall short and end up producing a bubbling mess of sound that does not particularly play-out all too well. In this particular case, Saskatchewan are the dabblers and succeed in many ways but also, blur and linger on so many lines that it can become a little confusing but  nonetheless their debut release, Occasion, although it may not be a full-fledged golden triumph, rises up with a mountain of potential and a great sounding list of tracks.

When looking into the Orlando, Florid based group that is weirdly and unflatteringly named after a Canadian province, a certain set of words to describe the group float around; ‘nostalgia’, ‘dream’, ‘chill’, all of which end with a dash followed by either ‘wave’ or ‘pop’. Now, these ‘genres’ can get pretty annoying seeming as though there are literally dozens of bands springing up all using the exact same non-genre adjectives. If you are someone, like I, who is easily annoyed and turned off by such terms, try and let go of those prejudices for Occasion, because although there is certainly a ‘dream-pop’ influence, Saskatchewan have a lot to offer in a quite a unique and, at the very least, interesting regard.

Occasion, for the most part, is very heavily 80’s inspired piece of music. Lots of fluttery, shimmery analog synths play long with grooving bass lines which in turn, compliment rolling, dramatic drum samples all atop an echoing, chamber aesthetic that sounds as though it is being played inside a dark, cave-like atmosphere. Some of the instrumentals, like on ‘Fronting’ or ‘Destroy’, you would be sure Twin Shadow was behind them and that is the sort of sound the album projects; a modern, more glossier take on a pop sound reborn and re-imagined. This is where terms like ‘nostalgia-pop’ come about.

At certain points on Occasion, like on tracks ‘Youth Ministry’, if you are a listener like me and were very attracted to the first few opening songs, you will feel a pang of dread and disappointment as the group seemingly retreats upon an all too familiar and well tread upon sound that is reminiscent of Wild Nothing or Craft Spells and soon that cool, slick yet shadowy and mysterious original sound is replaced with a done-to-death sun-ray drenched, lo-fi sample that fades. Thankfully however, Saskatchewan retains their independent, stand-alone sound throughout the rest of the album, but it’s examples of those, where the group treads and blurs the lines of various genres and non-genres and muddle between a line of explorer and settler, that I am just hoping in the future, they can prove to all of us that they are certainly and unmistakably the former.

Gold and Youth – Beyond Wilderness album review

Hailing from Vancouver, the four-piece group, Gold and Youth, have been raising anticipation and hype with their trio of EP’s that they have trickled out in the past couple of years. Playing cross-continental, the group managed to garner critical acclaim on a global basis even before they had a full length out. Signed to the Canadian label, Arts and Crafts (Broken Social Scene, Stars, Timber Timbre), Gold and Youth have kicked off their career with Beyond Wilderness and from the hearing of things, it becomes apparent that the hype and acclaim was, and is, all rightfully beheld.

Beyond Wilderness had a healthy host of talent working behind the scenes; Colin Stewart (Black Mountain, New Pornographers, Destroyer) and mixed by Gareth Jones (Depeche Mode, Interpol, Grizzly Bear) and Damian Taylor (Björk, Robyn, Arcade Fire). With such creative powerhouses backing this project, it would seem that Beyond Wilderness would be a recipe for success, and in the end, it certainly is.

The album opens up with welcoming, warming synths that are being backboned by a simple, yet effective percussive loop which soon expands and introduces some guitar pickings that are laden with a golden aura of pure hook and 80’s nostalgia with a modern twist on ‘City of Quartz’. The track immediately pulls you in and leaves you to be swooned and carried by Matthew Lyall’s deep, towering, yet all too handsome vocals that impressively manage to keep with the 80’s nostalgia and which are also eerily reminiscent of White Lies’ Harry McVeigh. The track is a perfect introduction the group’s dark, sleek mystique all presented in an irresistibly catchy form.

From there, Gold and Youth continually stay strong. With ‘Tan Lines’, the group slows it down a bit with thick, sharp bass riffs, wonderful male and female vocal shadowing, and fantastically alluring synthesizers. On ‘Cut Lip’, Gold and Youth really slow it down as this track serves as an interlude of sorts. It’s a nice attempt, but it sort of takes away from the momentum that the previous tracks help build. ‘Cut Lip’ is bold yet ambient and eventually leads into the cinematic ‘Come To Admire’, a track which relentlessly constructs, deconstructs, constructs again, and eventually leaves the listener amidst an audio climax which is quite brilliant. Ever so layered and textured, with three sets of vocals, the group shows off their adventurous song writing spirits and absolutely captivating song writing.

Gold and Youth have a very strong debut with Beyond Wilderness, their ability to blend elements of the past so seamlessly with that of the present results in a record which is well inspired, yet all too unique in its own right. Very catchy, very melodic, it’s an album sure worth getting stuck in your head.