The Crackling – Mary Magdalene album review

Solo and side projects are always a very interesting ordeal. They put a spotlight on an artist and give them a dignified voice and choice of expression, usually free of the confines of his previous or main roles as a musician in other projects. With side projects, we hear the true and unfiltered expression of an artist which we may have never heard or seen otherwise.  Sometimes not exactly panning out as intended (Chris Cornell) and other times, ending up to be very successful (Brian Eno, we salute you), a solo career move can make or break a career. In terms of Kenton Loewen’s The Crackling and latest release, Mary Magdalene, it would seem that this now underrated Vancouver-native is most certainly headed to fit in the latter of the two.

The Crackling is a group headed by, Kenton Loewen, acclaimed drummer of artists like Dan Mangan and Mother Mother. As well, The Crackling features members from not only those two previously stated, but the Be Good Tanya’s, Gord Grdina Trio, and even throughout their sophomore, Mary Magdalene, features the work of some of Vancouver’s top-notch jazz talent like Peggy Lee, J.P Carter, and Jesse Zubot. The Crackling could be seen as a Vancouver’s who’s who of the music scene and this can be heard throughout the music itself.

To start, Mary Magdalene is an expertly crafted record. Everything not only fits where it needs to, but everything and every note and chord excel in where they fit.  You can really hear the experience in the music, echoing throughout. The record carries this, as Loewen himself put, a “hopefully dark” vibe as the music beholds a very melancholic dapper over a sometimes rambunctious, energetic, emotional rollercoaster of an album. The vocals on this record are sure to capture your attention; Loewen sings like a gruff, roughed-up cowboy with a certain alt-folk influence that creates a sometimes harsh but usually melodic juxtaposition of the softer, harmonious instrumental.  Sometimes layered with backing female vocals which help soften Loewens vocals, it is clear that this man can sing and has the pipes and the means to show it.

Like previously stated, Mary Magdalene is an emotional rollercoaster as stomping, pub sing-alongs like ‘The Harm’, ‘Ashen’, ‘The Crackling’ are fluctuated and coupled with slower, more stripped-down tracks like ‘Keep Me Drunk’, ‘Suicide Is Painless’, and ‘The Cold Sky’. There is a great variety in the tracks and in the composition throughout the album, but it never deviates too far from the core message or sound.

In the midst of a time where it seems like there are an unrelenting wave of folk and folk-rock albums spewing out, Mary Magdalene is a refreshing take from the norm and offers true musicianship and skill that is coupled with raw, and exhilarating emotions that should not be so easily dismissed. Hopefully, Loewen’s name will become more appropriately known in Canadian music, as this multi-talented, well facilitated artist is more than proving his worth.


Capital Cities – In A Tidal Wave Of Mystery album review

Upon hearing Capital Cities In A Tidal Wave Of Mystery, it is quite shocking to learn that it is their debut full-length release. Although having released two EP’s prior, In A Tidal Wave Of Mystery is their first album and it is pretty kickass. It is rare to hear a debut album by an upcoming artist that is so polished, so effectively commercially structured, and that simply sounds so not like a debut album. Now although there are plenty of fantastic debuts, Capital Cities’ just simply does not sound like it could come from a first full-length but more as if the band has already had a few years under their belt. This is a sure sign of great things to come for the duo.

Sebu Simonian and Ryan Merchant make up the L.A based, electronic-pair. Having met through a Craigslist ad, the two began experimenting and messing around with sounds together. The experimentation was met with undeniable chemistry and the friendship eventually evolved into the blogsphere praised, commercial soundtrack credited project, Capital Cities.

Opening up with the irresistibly catchy, swinging, 80’s-disco, layered with dazzling synth single ‘Safe And Sound’, In A Tidal Wave Of Mystery  bursts the doors open in no-holds barred, strobe-light blazing fashion.  The entire album, from end-to-end, is track after track of pure, innocent, and fun energy that seeps its way into you.  The lyrics are simple, yet effective, and well written while the music itself plays out like one great dance party without sacrificing originality and also, without any sort of repetitiveness; some tracks, like ‘Chartreuse’, feature charming French horn while others, like ‘Tell Me How To Live’, feature an odd, yet quite effective interlude featuring a mariachi-style guitar playing.

In a response to what the underlying message of ‘Safe and Sound’ is, the two have been quoted with saying, “It seems like every generation feels like it’s living in the worst of times,” Merchant says. “And of course there are horrible things happening, but the average person is better off now than he or she was 50 years ago. In some ways ‘Safe and Sound’ is an antidote to the human tendency to think in apocalyptic terms and not really look at the logic of the world around us. Things are getting better and there’s a lot to be positive about.” This can clearly be heard in not only their hit single, but throughout the album. Each track seems to be played with a certain care-free, ‘live like there is no tomorrow attitude’ and in a time where we are constantly bombarded with paranoia and fear, it never hurts to loosen up a little, feel the love, feel the energy, and  dance along to the music.


The Belle Game – Ritual Tradition Habit album review

The Belle Game are a Vancouver based quintet who, with their debut full length release Ritual Tradition Habit, have been generating lots of positive buzz. Having previously released two separate EP’s over the past couple of years and with some pretty extensive touring opening up for the likes of Gotye and Hey Ocean!, it would seem fitting that the ‘dark chamber pop’ collective come out with a full, dignified release with all these steam behind them.

To start, Ritual Tradition Habit is a very captivating, wondrous, shadow-filled orchestral romp that is bound to impress.  The Belle Game know exactly what their sound is and it seems that they have a strong sense of identity and direction, and with it, they expand, grow, experiment, and build upon something special.  Creating space, ambience, and art-rock experimentation without teasing patience or instigating bore, as well as implementing violins and trumpets quite effectively without seeming at all forced, this group knows how to craft songs that carry with them a strong sense of artistic integrity while also being very catchy and leave you wanting more.

The Belle Game effortlessly create very mystical and sensually dark imagery with not only their instruments, but Andrea Lo’s vocals as well help paint the portrait of a modern twist entangled in a nostalgic frame. There is a whispery air to Lo’s vocals, a certain static, that adds just that much more texture and depth to the group’s already intensely layered sound and composition. The attention to detail is immaculate and they strive to create a visceral experience when listening; The Belle Game create a space around you through their album and with every listen, never quite stop to continually add upon that space as you are bound to catch something new that you had not previously caught upon. In the case of Ritual Tradition Habit, it is the small things that count.

Opening up the delicate and intricate ‘Ritual’, you are softly lowered into the dark, shadowy depths that make up Ritual Tradition Habit. Filled with lumbering, engrossing violins and bass that act as welcoming, yet somewhat intimidating guides as well as Lo showing off her impressive vocal range on ‘Ritual’, it is hard to really grasp  what exactly you’re in for.  Following up, ‘River’, showcases the group’s ability to really craft not only a triumphantly contagious song, but one filled with so many textures; trumpets praise and sing, a certain organ-like solo flourishes, and electronic voice manipulations all dance together like you have never heard before.  From there, the endearing emotion and pleasantry does not cease and once ‘Habit’ fades off, you will not pause to play the whole album from the start again.

Although the album itself may at times feel a little in-concise or without a clear, backbone concept, the music itself is wonderfully composed and its small faults are easy to forgive. In all, The Belle Game are looking up to become a very promising group and Ritual Tradition Habit is just their first step.


Houses – A Quiet Darkness album review

Some may tend to disagree, but I feel that a strong narrative in a piece of music is not only imperative, but something that is disappearing and fading away in material that is being released. Sure there will always be narrative in music, but it feels as though a lot of new artists push narrative away or more or less ignore it, forget about it and leave it as a last thought which in turn, dumbs down and flattens your art. Houses’ latest album A Quiet Darkness is a wonderful example of not only a prominent, but very strong and enchanting piece of narrative in music that not only lies in the lyrics, but can also be heard in the instrumental as well. It is a story that you will want to hear from start to finish and will not hesitate to revisit.

A pair, Dexter Tortoriello and Megan Messina hailing from Chicago, Houses has an interesting and quite fantastic history battling drug addiction, living off the land in Hawaii, and halfway homes. Houses has released their second full length debut on Downtown Records. Inspired by life on the road while travelling through the United States, A Quiet Darkness is a concept album that tells the heartbreaking yet fantastical tale of a young couple attempting to find each other after having been separated in a post-apocalyptic landscape.

Tortoriello and Messina tell the tale through a duet of haunting, echoing vocals that sound like soft, despaired whispers in an angelic sense of mystery and wanderlust. The two layer their vocals in a very charming and serene way and the two play off each other in a perfect sync and gives the two characters of the story a breath of life that only adds to the narrative visual picture that is helped drawn by not only the vocals, but through the instrumental as well. The pace is slow but it allows you time to fully encapsulate the album in all its depth and it plays out like a soundtrack. Keyboards chime, shower, and sparkle throughout all the tracks and the percussion tempts you into a lullaby and drifts you away into a state of awe and utmost tranquillity.

Houses is able to portray a melancholy and tragedy that is filtered and layered with such a beautiful pallet of joy, grief, happiness, and euphoria where each track plays out like a different chapter in the story and shows off the group’s variety and authenticity. The ambience and atmosphere in the album are stunning, mesmerizing, and hard to tear yourself away from as the duo take you to a place where a post-apocalypse never felt so enticingly blissful.


Wire – Change Becomes Us album review

By 2013, retrospectively and by today’s standards, Wire can certainly be considered a band that has been around the block in the music industry. From helping pioneer and almost pave the way for decades of post-punk to come, to even creating quite a significant, boundary-stepping sound that came out of the British punk wave in the 1970’s and 1980’s, Wire has always kept its respective place in the development of not only post-punk, but rock music in general. Groups such as R.E.M, Blur, Minor Threat, and The Cure all cite Wire as a fairly prominent influence and even inspiration for the artists and musicians they all came to be. Like all great bands that endure the unrelenting stress of balancing time, success, and artistic integrity, this quartet from Britain has suffered breakups and album flops, yet however, have also managed to always see through their differences, compromise, and bring it all back together.

Change Becomes Us is Wire’s thirteenth full album release and was released on the group’s very own record label, named after their debut, Pink Flag. Clocking in at around 48:00 minutes and spanning 13 tracks, Change Becomes Us is a collection of several tracks compiled from the years 1979-1980 that were originally only experimented upon as live sketches or used for live performances.  If you are unfamiliar with Wire, it is possible that on your first listen or so, you will notice a somewhat steep listening curve but fear not; it should not take long at all for this wonderfully weird and odd spectacle of simple yet deep, captivating music to sink its teeth into you. It just may take some time.

Opening up with the blunt, mesmerizing, chugging chords on “Doubles & Trebles”, we are introduced to Colin Newman’s almost metallic-sheened voice shouting terrifying and commanding lyrics over a distorted barrage of garage-punk guitar with a certain ambient echo that amounts to nothing less than awesome. Following up is “Keep Exhaling” which manages a contagiously catchy riff and exposes us to a more haunting, and avant-garde side of Wire that adds so many layers of depth to what on paper, may seem like a one-dimensional blueprint.

From there, it seems as though Wire does not let up on the haunting and ghostly aesthetic. “Time Lock Fog” keeps up a building pace that progressively creates a masterfully crafted tension that could not really be any creepier or dark without straying.  By “As We Go’ and  ending with “Attractive Space”, Wire’s versatility as a band with their sound and song construction entwined with sometimes absurd surrealism, keeps you listening in anticipation with an almost child-like innocence of peering into a forgotten trove of your parent’s record collection.

That is just what this album is; a look into the past. This whole record itself, although enchanted with a certain 1970’s/80’s gleam, holds up astonishingly well and it only gives one hope that maybe, just maybe, there will be even more to come.