Selah Sue – Rarities album review

Warm, soft, controlled…all of these are good words to describe the voice of Selah Sue. Rarities is the new full length album from Selah,and I have to say…it is pretty impressive. Filled with songs that reflect influences from soul, reggae, hip-hop and maybe even a hint of dubstep here and there,  Rarities is an album that is rich in atmosphere and style.

With the help of some other artists lending their own style and sound, the tracks sound pretty fully flushed out. Zanna (Music For Life), which is a cover of a Luc Van Acker song, has Tom Barman and The Subs joining Sue laying down a song that could happily stay on my repeat for hours. Smooth and hypnotic the song just flows effortlessly. Ragamuffin feats J. Cole and is one of Selah’s better known songs and really showcases the reggae influence earlier cited. The overall sound here is something that puts me in mind of The Roots and that is by no means a bad thing.

Selah shows, though, that she is more than capable of making great music without the support of guest artists. Fade Away is a tremendously strong song that showcases Sue’s voice well. The vocal layers are well executed and the repetitive pattern of the percussion underneath serve to support the song in a strong but not distractive way.

Break was another song that really struck me as being powerful, this time based on its simplicity. Focusing on just a single guitar and the Selah Sue’s voice it had a wonderful singer/songwriter feel that should have been at odds with the rest of the album but instead just showed the versatility and ease with which Selah can move from one sound to the next.

All in all, Selah Sue is someone worth watching. Her career is still young and fresh feeling but based upon this album, she has some serious staying power and I can’t see her fading away. Great songs, great production, and great support. I’m not sure what more a musician could ask for.

Lone Wolf – The Lovers album review

It’s been three years since Paul Marshall’s last release under the name Lone Wolf, but 2012 marked the release of the much anticipated The Lovers…anticipated enough that Marshall was able to raise funds for the album fairly quickly through crowd sourcing site PledgeMusic. With a collection of dark and gritty ballad type songs, there is a sense of deep introspection that undercuts Lovers, giving us a sense that Marshall is baring himself to us here.

Listening to The Lovers it isn’t hard to see a collection of influences at work. The songs seem to combine a folk sensibility with an electronic foundation which calls to mind bands such as Joy Division and New World Order. This is felt the most in the opening couple of tracks. Ghosts Of Holloway launches the album with a great mixture of electronic support, some engaging riffs and Marshall’s reverb-laden voice rising effortlessly over it all. The title track itself, The Lovers, is an interesting arrangement, keeping the music very minimalist and simple while letting the lyrics and vocal melody carry the weight. It really works well to create an intimate atmosphere, which with a title like this, is appropriate.

Needles and Threads was the track that stood out the most to me. I’m not sure what I connected with the most here, the simple guitar that supported the song, the hypnotizing melody…whatever it was…it was effective. Needles and Threads pulled me in deeply enough that all I could do was close my eyes and nod along with it. It was far from the only noteworthy song though. The falsetto driven chorus of Good Life stood out in sharp contrast to the verse and it was simply brilliant.

If I have any complaints about The Lovers it is that I would love to hear what Marshall were he to take the tempo up a bit. The Lovers hovers around the same pace for the majority of it…but to tinker with that too much would destroy some of the effectiveness of what Marshall has crafted here, so as criticisms go, it isn’t a big one. Despite being under the guise of Lone Wolf, Marshall has given us an insight into himself here. This is a very personal feeling album and that honesty is a large part of why it is great.

Bjork – bastards album review

If the songs off of Bjork’s latest release, bastards, it would be because that this album is comprised of remixed versions of songs found on her 2011 release, Biophilia. Not only that, all the remixes found here were also previously released on either The Crystalline Series or the Biophilia Remix Series. What Bjork has done with bastards is release a collection of songs that form a strong atmosphere when put together.

Bjork has long been known for an unconventional approach to music and her willingness to step beyond the norms and bastards is no different. Her songs, though, are not necessarily easily accessible to the casual music listener and the remixes add yet another other-worldly element to the songs. That being said, when the album is looked at as a whole, there is something that is powerful at work.

By the time I was midway through the second track, Virus (Hudson Mohawke Peaches and Guacamol Remix), I had to stop what I was doing and give my full attention to what was happening in my ears. Dark Synths, slow tempo with a drum machine, and through it all, Bjork’s voice sounding as if she was having a one sided conversation with me. It provided a strange but effective contrast to the almost formless remix by Omar Souleyman of the opening track, Crystalline.

This continuous movement of order and chaos through the tracks is what brings it all together. There is a sense of an emotional journey throughout, bastards, and it is pretty potent if you let yourself get immersed in it. For me, the journey hit its climactic moment when I hit the song Mutual Core, remixed by These New Puritans. Bjork’s voice is front and centre here, singing out loudly and earnestly at times while supported by a strange chorus of chanting voices in a language I could not identify. The minimalist approach to the musical accompaniment here was powerful and chilling.

I appreciate what was done here, the remixes are extremely well executed and Bjork has chosen wisely amongst them to fill out the track list for bastards. When put together this album is an intense listening experience. It is not for the casual music listener, however. If you are looking for something to just round out your daily playlist I suggest you might want to keep searching.

Deftones – Koi No Yokan album review

A few days ago I loaded Koi No Yokan, the latest album by the Deftones, onto my phone as I went out running. As my feet the ground, music hit my ears and I was in love. I can’t help but feel that love is an appropriate emotion to feel for this release because love is the theme that runs throughout. Love, and all the joy and pain that can go with it.

Deftones have always been a band that can tap deeply into emotion in their music. Chino Moreno’s vocals can scream out frustration and fury, or softly sing out hope…or despair. With the heavy sound that defines the Deftones, it would be easy for these vocals to get lost or overpowered in the mix but the band is so tight and precise in what they do that they always remain in perfect balance with what is happening around.

Koi No Yokan is an engaging album. The fury and power of songs like Swerve City, Poltergeist, or Gauze is palpable. Sharp pounding drums, thundering bass lines, power chords that hover on the edge of dissonance without ever taking the plunge. These are the hooks and riffs that make it impossible to stop listening. They aren’t the defining moments though. What makes the album really work are the dynamics. Songs such as Entombed, or Romantic Dreams still carry the same passion but at a slower more thoughtful pace.

If you want to hear where the magic of Koi No Yokan truly comes together, put on the track Tempest. The song starts with soft vocals and a guitar that is felt more than heard. When the rest of the band enters, they come in strong and are relentless in their execution.

Over the last decade, many of the Nu-Metal bands like Limp Bizkit gradually faded to the wayside or dissolved. Deftones have shown that they not only are sticking it out but that they are still relevant and capable of making truly great music.

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.

Little Andrew – Bloodrush album review

There is something that is just satisfying about sitting and listening to an album filled with slightly dirty guitars rocking out some twelve bar blues. The feel and sway of blues rock done well is captivating and soothing and this is something that Little Andrew does well. Bloodrush is such a great showcase of blues rock…that it can be somewhat mentally jarring when you realize that this is from a band that hails from Norway.

For me, it didn’t take too long to get hooked on this album. The first few tracks were good solid tunes with blues riffs that knew when to back off and knew when to shine. The fourth song, was when Little Andrew really rolled up the shirt sleeves and got to work though. Secret Love opens with a driving groove that reminds me of Golden Earring’s Radar Love. This is the type of song that forces your foot down on the gas pedal. Following this you have Fighting For A Living, which is a bit of a slower song that pulls off some guitar breaks that would make Stevie Ray Vaughn proud.

One of the highlights of the album is She’s So Fine. Just try to listen to this song and not sing along with it by the end. You can’t. It isn’t possible. And here, added to the established guitars and drums of Bloodrush, we are exposed to some great piano that is threatening to steal the spotlight. This track feels like a well deserved climax to the album, nestled in right before the final song.

What truly makes the album shine, is the quick and dirty feel to it. When you listen to Bloodrush you can almost imagine that you are in a small barroom with Little Andrew as they light up the stage in front of you. The album has a raunchy tone to it that almost sneers at highly polished studio works. Given the genre that they are playing in…it really works to their benefit.

If I have any complaints about this album, it is that I’m left wanting more. Ten tracks (one of which is only a 17 second intro) only adds up to about half an hour worth of music. With Little Andrew, that just doesn’t feel like nearly enough.

Great Big Sea – XX album review

Twenty years can be a long time. It can mark the growth from child to adulthood. For Newfoundland Celtic –Folk rockers, it marks two decades of touring, recording, and selling it shows be…be it pubs, festivals, or arenas. XX  is the trio’s celebration of the big twenty year mark.

The album is mostly a greatest hits collection, with songs pulled from all of their albums. With a tracklist of forty titles, XX is a very full release. All the audience favourites show here…Old Black Rum, Mari-Mac, General Taylor, and the boisterous cover of the Oysterband’s When I’m Up.

Greatest Hits collections can be tricky. On one hand, they are great for newer audiences, giving you all of the best songs in one tidy package. One stop shopping at its best. On the other hand, though, the people that are most likely to spend money on the band…the tried and true fans, already have these tunes. So…how do you get them to shell out more money? Give them a few new songs.

XX offers up six new tracks on its listing and as far as these songs go, they do show the range of sound and styles that the band has flirted with over the decades. Those that have seen GBS live are probably familiar with Le Bon Vin. A Newfoundland version of an old traditional French Canadian song  that they have been performing for years and have finally recorded. Josephine The Baker has all the makings of a pub favourite allowing for clapping and singing along. Heart of Hearts is a tune that is rather stripped down and simple. Just some acoustic instruments and tight harmonies.

There are a couple of other new tracks here and plenty to keep a listener occupied for a couple of hours. The biggest problem, though, is that unless you are a fresh listener…you have all or most of these songs already. That being said, it is a solid collection, and at the price…you can’t argue. Forty songs for the price of an LP and about half a regular album’s worth of new material. I just wish it didn’t feel so buried under older tunes.

Menomena – Moms album review

Where once stood a trio of rockers, Menomena now stands as a duo of rockers from Portland. Though, from the full sound of their 5th studio album, Mom, you would really never guess it. Their attack is aggressive at times, and their sound is never less than full.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from the sound of Menomena at first. Even after having listened to the first couple of tracks, Plumage, and Capsule, I still wasn’t quite sure what it was that I was experience. Not familiar with the band, I assumed this was a first album. The approach to the songs seemed to be that of “Let’s see how many instruments and sounds we can throw in here”. Oddly, it worked though. What should have been a jangled mess emerged into something that was oddly cohesive. Distorted guitars, saxophones, loud bass…all coming together effortlessly.

After these almost experimental sounding tracks I was really surprised when I came to the track, Pique. I was just not expecting the level of sophistication I was hearing in the composition here. The song intro was just effortless and engaging, relying on a simple drone and gradual addition of other instruments into a melody that was simple and sweet. Heavy Is As Heavy Does, again, showcased a band that is fully aware how to construct a memorable song. The piano work is the focus for most of the beginning, in a subdued manner, but by the end, the song has built to full epic levels with some guitar work that sounds like controlled chaos.

I’m really not sure that I could pick my favourite tracks off of Moms. The album is one that, quite simply, just keeps getting better each time I listen to it. The first time, I really loved Baton and the incredible opening drum riffs that drove it. The next time I listened, it was the 70’s rock meets acid jazz feel of Giftshoppe that I was captivated by.

If Menomena has been flying under your radar like it has mine, do yourself a serious favour and listen to them. Do it now. Have you listened yet? Ok. Now you see what I mean.

Go listen to it again.

All Time Low – Don’t Panic album review

Though I’ve always been aware of All Time Low they’ve always been a band that flitted around my periphery without ever really grabbing my attention, so when I sat down to listen to their fifth album, Don’t Panic, I wasn’t entirely certain of what I would be hearing. I have to say though, it wasn’t a bad experience at all.

Don’t Panic is an album that shows a band that has been playing together for a while and can move as a well oiled machine. All the parts seem to come together really easily and you get a sound that is tight, polished, and feels effortless. The ease with which the songs move, from one to the next , is really quite notable.

The overall sound of the album is a solid pop-rock. Good up beat tempos, tight harmonies, drum fills and guitar licks in all the right places. Songs like Backseat Serenade, and If These Sheets Were States have the feel of your standard songs of lust and love (respectively). They are very well done variations on a theme though and work well enough to hold my attention. Tracks like The Irony Of Chocking on a Lifesaver, Thanks To You, Paint You Wings…these songs all fit well together and carry the same consistent sound of a band that is having fun doing what they like.

For me, the highlight was the track Outlines. I’m not quite sure what was different about this track that made it stand out to me. It certainly wasn’t jarring in amongst the other tracks, but everything just seemed to hit the right notes for me here. Good drum breakdown moments, solid drumming…it all worked for me.

Don’t Panic, coming in at only around forty minutes, isn’t a long album but rather it seems to be perfect. This album isn’t the next The Wall. It isn’t supposed to be an intense, thoughtful experience. What All Time Low has served up here is a fun album that you can toss on and just dig the hell out of.

Ellie Goulding – Halcyon album review

I went into this review knowing nothing of Ellie Goulding. I had not listened to her first album Lights and had not heard any of her music on the radio (which could be because I never listen to the radio anymore). So…when the opening song of her sophomore album Halcyon started playing I was kind of caught completely off guard. I might not be able to write in a manner that compares this album to her previous album, but I can tell you that this is strong all by itself.

Goulding’s control of her vocals and the tone of her voice is quite exceptional and this is apparent right from the get go. As Don’t Say A Word opens, her voice creates an ethereal atmosphere. It immediately sets the tone for an album that is powerful and fraught with emotion. The song builds around these haunting sounds and quickly gains intensity with the addition of some heavy percussion. It is a device that Goulding employs a few times on the album and it works to her benefit.

Halcyon is punctuated with songs of love, loss, and heartbreak. That feeling that doesn’t go away just did is the lyrical line that opens the song My Blood and here, like everywhere else, Goulding conveys a sincerity and a sense of mourning. It isn’t all darkness though. Anything Could Happen infuses the album with a sense of hope and light. This song puts me in mind of Passion Pit in the choice of arrangement and instrumentation. The song still continues the idea of life after a relationship but with the exploration of the thought that things will get better.

One of the tracks that stands out the most for me on this album is the song I Know You Care. Nestled in amongst the rest of this songs, this one is noteworthy for how stripped down it feels. Gone are the heavy synths and the drums…there exists very little vocal layering here. Just her and a piano and it provides a wonderful contrast to everything around it.

Ellie Goulding is certainly not the first person to write a breakup album. Seems most of Taylor Swift’s songs are based on that in fact, but Goulding has made an album that is very personal, very powerful, and more than worth listening to.