Friday, December 30, 2011

Recording: The Whirly Birds

Artist: The Whirly Birds

Song: Holding Ever Still

Recorded at The Garrison (Wavelength 531), December 29, 2011.

The Whirly Birds - Holding Ever Still

Full review to follow. Shorthanded and pressed into service before they were expecting to meet their public, Pete Carmichael (ex-Diableros) and the fine fellows of The Whirly Birds hit the ground running — or, to use a more apt metaphor, successfully fled the nest — at tonight's Wavelength.

Recording: This Mess

Artist: This Mess

Song: ½ Steps*

Recorded at The Garrison (Wavelength 531), December 29, 2011.

This Mess - ½ Steps

Review to follow.

* Thanks to my source who has passed the title of this along to me.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Recording: Paper Lions

Artist: Paper Lions

Song: Ghost Writer

Recorded at Sonic Boom Records (CMW 2011), March 12, 2011.

Paper Lions - Ghost Writer

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Dinosaur Bones

Artist: Dinosaur Bones

Song: Highwire Act

Recorded at The Baitshop (CMW 2011), March 12, 2011.

Dinosaur Bones - Highwire Act

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Zoobombs

Artist: Zoobombs

Song: Dolf*

Recorded at The Baitshop (CMW 2011), March 12, 2011.

Zoobombs - Dolf

My notes for this set can be found here.

* Thanks to a commenter for passing along the title to this one.

Festival: CMW 2011 (Saturday afternoon)

CMW 2011* (Saturday afternoon) (feat. Zoobombs / Dinosaur Bones / Paper Lions)

Friday, March 11, 2011.

This is an expansion of my initial notes from the festival, which can be found here.

4:00 P.M.: Zoobombs @ The Baitshop

Headed out to catch an official daytime show, the somewhat distastefully-titled "Daylight Riot" at The Baitshop. The spot was totally unknown to me — possibly because it's actually a skateboarding shop. Although the store has a Dufferin Street address, it's actually located down Milky Way, a whimsically-named alley that runs parallel to Queen St. Inside, the space gave the vibe that Industry once happened here, but now had a exposed-beam loft vibe, with the shop's wares up on a mezzanine level.1 Obviously equipped for a bit more than just shopping, that area overlooked a six foot high halfpipe. The "stage" was at the top of that, with the crowd both looking down from the shopping area and up from the floor of the halfpipe.

I was on hand for the middle two acts of a four-band bill, but most especially to see Tokyo's Zoobombs. Well-known as an intense live unit, it was a sombre quartet that took the stage. No surprise there, given the tsunami and nuclear calamity back in the band's homeland. On that topic, there were a few quiet words from vocalist/guitarist Don Matsuo before starting: "Japan is facing a really, really tough time... it's really hard to rock and roll." He dedicated opener "My Big Friend" to everyone in Canada who had given them support over the previous couple days.

That one, with a mellow pop vibe and lyrics in English stood on its own from the set, and as it ended Matsuo said "c'mon, let's rock", setting off the band's patented nonstop mo'funky rock'n'roll attack. All at once there were bursts of rapid-fire Japanese lyrics followed by wild solos, and a chance for Matsuo to be a kinetic frontman par excellence, never afraid to jump around, climb the walls, or fall to his knees, playing to the crowd on the balcony above him.

Like the music, the songs' internal logic are sorta nonstop as well — to just listen to them without seeing the performance would be a little perplexing, as it often seemed like they strip away everything except the over-the-top freakout parts of the songs, pausing only for crowd-pleasing fake endings before cranking it back up. A fine bit of spectacle in the universal language of Rock.

Listen to a track from this set here.

5:00 P.M.: Dinosaur Bones @ The Baitshop

Vocalist/guitarist Ben Fox of Dinosaur Bones knew that his crew would be challenged to engage the crowd with the intensity of the previous band: "fuck you for making us play after the Zoobombs," was his joke as the set began. Leading with "Hunters", the five-piece certainly had a more deliberate musical approach, coming more from the simmering/anthemic school of active brooding.

It had been awhile since I'd seen the band a few times back in early-mid 2009, when they were making their initial splash and collecting "watch for these guys to get big" plaudits. In that way of life stretching things out, it had taken them a while to get their ducks in a row, but now with debut album My Divider getting its release, they were back in the public eye. And there's definitely something here that sounds like this is a band that could find a larger audience. It's a bit too mannered to be precisely my sort of thing, but at least on seeing 'em in the flesh, bassist Branko Scekic's propensity to climb up any structure at hand does keep things lively.

It might have just been a function of the non-venue's sound system, but the guits weren't quite punching through the way they should have been, so some of the set kinda slid by without making much impact. Some of the songs did register, like "Royalty", which has perhaps the band's catchiest chorus, even if it is a little indebted to Nirvana. So we'll see where things go from here — if they can come up with some more material on the level of the admittedly-fabulous "N.Y.E.", they'll be a band to be reckoned with.

Listen to a track from this set here.

7:00 P.M.: Paper Lions @ Sonic Boom

After a good walk and a dinner break, I still had enough time to stop in for a set at Sonic Boom before beginning the main night-time sets. The band in the basement turned out to be P.E.I.'s Paper Lions, a young four-piece playing to an equally young crowd. After opener "Don't Touch That Dial" and a couple more songs, I was close to writing them off as a mellow version of a generic, spiky sort of "indie rock" sound. And though the band were engaging on stage, I thought they were getting a little too eager to impress when vocalist/guitarist John MacPhee started a story with, "we played for Gene Simmons of Kiss fame right here in Toronto." But what I thought was going to be marketability-related braggadocio was tempered when the story ended with the report that he didn't particularly like their set, save for the song "Trouble".

That piano-driven number also appealed to me more than their first couple songs, pushing the band more towards the pop classicism of, say, Field Music. Maybe because of the connection to that more sophisticated strain of pop, I found the material with MacPhee on keybs to have the most character. That stuff also meshed with Colin Buchanan's trebly guitar lines better.

Not everything struck me, but there were signs that the band knows how to put a song together fairly decently. Also some good harmonies, like on the newer "Sophomore Slump". If, overall, my take was this was decent poppy fare, but nothing too special, it at least left a positive impression that there's room to expand on the hooky complexity they're showing flashes of here.

Listen to a track from this set here.

* A note on nomenclature: for years both the industry showcase and music festival components were known as Canadian Music Week. But as of 2009, this was deemed to be too simple and straightforward, and the music portion was "rebranded" as Canadian Music Fest, under the aegis of the larger Canadian Music Week. I see no reason to put up with this and will simply refer to everything as CMW — although there was a part of me that also considered using the slightly cumbersome "Canadian Music Fest presented by Canadian Music Week" throughout.

1 Cultural discovery: it turns out that "Vans" is some sort of apparel company, and not just the name of a music tour populated largely with bands that I've never heard of.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sunday Playlist #23

Sunday Playlist #23

Zeus - The Renegade

Broken Bricks - Need You Here

The Pinecones - For in the Shadow of a Moonbeam + Ardmore Jenny

Ghostkeeper - Well Well Well

Terror Lake - Redskin Panic

Sunday Playlist is a semi-regular feature that brings back some of this blog's previously-posted original live recordings for an encore. You can always click the tags below to see what I originally wrote about the shows these songs came from.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Album: Piège / Meter Runs EP

Artist: Piège

Album: Meter Runs EP

Somewhere between a single and EP, these five tracks give us a look ahead to a forthcoming Piège full-length. This release is centred around the title track, which pairs Nick Storring1 with the prolific Thomas Gill2. "Meter Runs" is powered by Gill's soft-power vocal over a subtle elctronic throb which underpins the drifting feeling of being in a cab on a cold winter night, neither here nor there — in a liminal space free of whatever burdens await at the end of the ride.

The song is reprised in a "seized dub" incarnation, Gill's vocals blurring into syllabic component parts before dissipating into a haze of trumpet, as well as an re-recorded re-invention of the song by Gill. The b-sides include the fairly self-explanatory "Dance: Your Nights Are Always Young" and a fab cover of The Blue Nile's "The Downtown Lights", both carried by Storring's vox.

The vibe throughout is a pliant yielding of flesh melting into dreams melting into late-nite streaks of light seen through a car window — a dance soundtrack for long, dark December nights when you feel too lonely to stay home but too de-energized to go out.

This EP is currently available as a free download on Piège's bandcamp.

Track Picks: "Meter Runs", "The Downtown Lights"

1 Storring's work under his own name includes cello-centric electroacoustic scree.

2 Gill records on his own as THOMAS, and can also be found on recent albums by OG Melody, Bernice and Loom, to name but a few.

Recording: catl

Artist: catl

Song: You Can't Blame Me (Ike & Tina Turner cover)

Recorded at the Toronto Fringe Creation Lab (Little Lunchtime Concert), November 18, 2011.

catl - You Can't Blame Me

Last month I was invited out to the Fringe's lovely offices in the new CSI Annex building to capture the sound for the first of a new series of intimate acoustic sessions. The video from the session is now posted (see below), so I thought I'd throw this up as a bonus track from the set. Enjoy!

N.B.: Do note that catl will be playing December 31, 2011 at the Dakota Tavern — a sure bet for a rip-roarin' way to ring in the New Year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Recording: Sloan

Artist: Sloan

Song: Everything You've Done Wrong

Recorded at The Great Hall, December 21, 2011.

Sloan - Everything You've Done Wrong

Full review to follow. A fundraiser organized by Fucked Up to benefit Barriere Lake Legal Defense Fund & COUNTERfit Harm Reduction Services featured excellent sets throughout, but headliners Sloan — playing One Chord to Another in its entirety — also packed an unexpected emotional punch.

I think it'd be fair to say that I listened to that album as much as I listened to anything in 1996, and even if it's been a decade since I've heard it, so much of it was branded into me. '96 was a transitional year, and I have vivid memories of listening to that album on a dubbed cassette in a battery-powered boombox in the cab of the U-Haul that was taking me to Toronto. Hearing the songs brought back those days with an unexpected sharpness, and evoked a weird, ebullient sadness as it also dredged up with heavy immediacy Some Troubles I Had.

But still, the best of the music's uplift is also part of the psychic residue and as I looked around at friends and acquaintances — Anyone Who's Anyone was there — it was hard to feel more bothered with queasy nostalgia than lifted up a bit in the moment.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Recording: Danielle Duval

Artist: Danielle Duval

Song: Ambulance

Recorded at The Dakota Tavern (Jason Collett's Basement Revue), December 20, 2011.

Danielle Duval - Ambulance

Full review to follow.

Recording: Feist

Artist: Feist

Song: Graveyard [solo]

Recorded at The Dakota Tavern (Jason Collett's Basement Revue), December 20, 2011.

Feist - Graveyard [solo]

Full review to follow. Tonight's Basement Revue had a whole lotta Broken Social Scenesters in the crowd — and on stage, too. Besides a trio of new songs from Jason Collett, there were solo spots for Brendan Canning, Kevin Drew and Andrew Whiteman's new AroarA project. Oh, hey, and also a short solo set from Leslie Feist. Let's not even try and pretend that's not pretty cool.

There's a couple minor scuff noises near the start of this, but it otherwise sounds pretty nice.

Recording: AroarA

Artist: AroarA

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The Dakota Tavern (Jason Collett's Basement Revue), December 20, 2011.

AroarA - unknown

Full review to follow. AroarA is Andrew Whiteman (Broken Social Scene, Apostle of Hustle) joined by Ariel Engle to dabble in dabke, bhangra and a whole heap of other rhythms. Intriguing stuff, based on a short set as a part of a cavalcade of BSSers playing at tonight's Basement Revue.

* Does anyone know the title to this one? Please leave a comment!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Recording: Elephant Stone

Artist: Elephant Stone

Song: The Straight Line

Recorded at Rancho Relaxo (CMW), March 11, 2011.

Elephant Stone - The Straight Line

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Amanita Bloom

Artist: Amanita Bloom

Song: Hi Honey

Recorded at El Mocambo (CMW), March 11, 2011.

Amanita Bloom - Hi Honey

My notes for this set can be found here.

Festival: CMW 2011 (Friday)

CMW 2011* (Friday) (feat. Tennis System / Amanita Bloom / The Wilderness / Powers / Elephant Stone)

Friday, March 11, 2011.

This is an expansion of my initial notes from the festival, which can be found here.

9:00 P.M.: Tennis System @ Comfort Zone

For my first night of CMW, I had just settled in at Lee's. On Friday, I was a little more mobile, but mostly sticking along the Spadina/College axis. Or, to start, right at the heart of it in the Silver Dollar's seedy underbelly space known as Comfort Zone. Suffering the unbuzzed-visiting-band's fate, there was barely a handful of people in the room as I came in a few minutes past the hour with The Tennis System already on stage. And those that were on hand were mostly hanging back and seated in the room's shadowy corners, leaving the space in front of the stage very empty as I moved in to check 'em out. Regardless, the L.A.-via-Washington D.C. quartet were playing with bracing volume.

Making their first foreign excursion, Tennis System make what could broadly be termed 90's style alt-guitar rock — informed by shoegaze-type sounds, but more often in a secondhand sort of way — as if, say, filtered through early Smashing Pumpkins. Their vibe was also cut with a blue collar undercarriage that was less art-rock than shoegaze-y bands often deliver: even if the vox were low and textural, the arrangements were mostly reined in and the overall tone wasn't smear-y. They did, though, have a propensity for opacity, evidenced by song titles like "Esoteric" and "Arcane".

That gave a fruitful tension to their sound that paid off in some of the different faucets they brought to the stage: the set's penultimate number was the expansive seven-plus minutes of "The Web", with a big, shoegaze-style instrumental ending which then segued into "What Not to Do", something closer to a garage rock number, to finish up.

Not groundbreaking stuff, but I enjoyed this. More than most of the bands I would see on the night, I would say they're a band worth hearing again — they'd certainly fit right into a psych-garage bill upstairs at The Silver Dollar.1

Listen to a track from this set here.

9:30 P.M.: Amanita Bloom @ El Mocambo

On the other side of College, the El Mo was running its sets on the half-hour, so I managed to hit my next band with pretty much no dead time. This Montréal-based four-piece came recommended to me by the good folks at Optical Sounds, but it seems like the word on them hadn't really reached down the length of the 401 yet as they also had a pretty sparse crowd to play to. But given the band's spacious arrangements and after-hours vibe, this felt more proper with some elbow room than a packed/wired-up crowd would have been.

The band announced themselves with opener "Often in the Springtime", with singer/guitarist Étienne Morin's slightly quavery croon at the centre of things. Backed with a bass/drums/keyb lineup, the band members chatted in french amongst themselves, but Morin sang and bantered en anglais. (Dominic Leclerc, whose sound sometimes veered toward The Doors, had a franco-positive "E" at the end of the "ROLAND" on his keyboard.)

The band stretched out on a few of the songs, like "Hi Honey", which had enough reverb-y twang to lend it some atmosphere, but not so much to peg it solidly as retro. Similarly, there's a certain toughness underneath, but the music isn't in-your-face intense — ultimately, the best invocation here might be noir-ish. Another flavour was the blues-y slide in "Rattle Fish" — in local terms, there was a bit of a sonic common ground here with, say, The Mark Inside.

The set included six songs off their full-length Furniture Music album, and closed with a new one called "The Pharmacist's Pharmacist", which included more saturated psychedelic keyboards and a bit of a raveup to close things out. Definitely a solid set, and I dug it okay, but the band's reserved edge kept them from really getting under my skin at the time. Listening back now, I think I'm starting to appreciate how solid this stuff is.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11:00 P.M.: The Wilderness @ Comfort Zone

By the time I returned to Comfort Zone, where there were a few more people on hand, I just managed to catching the end of the blisteringness of HotKid. That would mark a pivot point in the night's lineup from capital-R Rock to something more akin to one of Alt Altman's electro-friendly Silent Shout events — and indeed I spotted him in the crowd taking this in. There were certainly hints of that in The Wilderness, who came across as a sorta less-grim Joy Division, courtesy of vocalist Lee Piazza's baritone. With a drum at hand for extra percussion, Piazza was in striking red pants and also shoeless — after completing his preparations before the set, he walked barefoot over the soundboard, and I cringed a little internally, hoping he was up to date with his tetanus shots. Though perhaps I was buying into the Comfort Zone's mythos a little too much.

And although there was a downerish vibe from Piazza's vox, that was countered by the decidedly non-mopey bounce in the music, with both guitarist Nate Lyons-Fisher and drummer Chris Mason augmenting their work with synth sleekness while Jami Lefebvre added an e-bow glide to "Systems". The potential for this to veer into mere gloomfunk was also countered when, during "Simon Templar", Piazza tossed out a bag of balloons for the crowd to blow up and bat around.

The songs that the band was playing here would subsequently emerge on their .272 album,2 and to be honest, it didn't leave too much of a mark on me. There was nothing specifically unlikable here, though Piazza hewed a little too close to banter-y unctuousness on one hand and Matt Beringer-isms on the other for me to totally get into it.

Midnight: Powers @ Comfort Zone

With nothing else planned for this timeslot, I stuck in CZ to catch this group. The only thing I knew about them is that they are a reformulation of The Ghost is Dancing, a band that hadn't done much for me in their day ("another sprawling cute-rock collective" was my take). So it's to their credit that the now-four piece is at least not at all like what they used to be.

The room's blacklighting was supplemented by some more that the band brought — they kept things in the dark pretty much otherwise. The sound was electro-fied and processed, with the drummer augmented with a laptop as well as two keyboard players and a vocalist playing a DI'ed guitar. The set's first song didn't have much forward thrust, and just kinda laid there — though it introduced the notion that the band was willing to harness texture as much as anything else.

There was more of a pulse after that, and I got the notion that the band is interested in playing with some big dynamics of tension and release. That would be their biggest stock-in-trade, though there were hints of a more straight-ahead pop sensibility as well, such as the New Order vibe of "Sleeping Patterns". That one made me feel more in sync with the dancers up against the stage. The song had a great groove, although the vocal delivery was a little underwhelming. In fact, the vocals switched back and forth a little bit, but neither vocalist was coming across particularly strongly, though surely some of that can be laid on CZ's sound system.

All things considered, I didn't like any of live takes of these songs as much as the recorded versions that have now emerged. But let's leave that as implying there's room for improvement, and the backhand complement that I think this band is more likely to win some grudging approval from me than its predecessor.

1:00 A.M.: Elephant Stone @ Rancho Relaxo

I closed out the night by ducking around the corner to Rancho, which was a glasses-fogging sweltering sauna as I entered. For a few minutes after I came up the stairs I thought I might simply keel over from the sultry heat. Perhaps it's best then that I had a few minutes to adjust while the band was mired in a prolonged setup, and didn't get things going til about a quarter past the hour. That would leave them being extremely time-conscious for the whole of their set, cutting things back by a couple songs.

But they didn't rush through the stuff that they did play, starting with a couple minutes of sitar drone that slowly ramped up into the funky psychedelic instrumental "The Straight Line". This was genuinely groovy stuff — there should have been a lava lamp at the front of the stage to watch.

The Montréal group is a five piece under the command of Rishi Dhir, who was, at the outset, seated on a raised platform with his sitar. After seven simmering minutes, he switched to bass and the songs became a bit more standard-issue psychedelicized pop, bringing especially to mind an 80's Creation Records-type revisiting of 60's pop styles — it should be noted that their Stone Roses-invoking band name doesn't come by accident. Still, there were plenty nods to the 60's originators of the style as well: while soundchecking, keyboardist Bobby Fraser was noodling with a mellotron setting over the opening of Strawberry Fields, and later, while Dhir switched instruments, he kept the drone up with a harmonium-esque sound.

Because of that long setup ("we have a lot of gear," Dhir noted slightly sheepishly), they only played three songs after the long instrumental opener. The rest of the set was agreeable, but didn't quite engage me as much as "The Straight Line". My biggest wish would be for the sitar-led drive in that jam to be be better integrated with the popsongs. Maybe in a full set that happens more naturally, and closer "Don't You Know" did hint at it, employing a prerecorded sitar loop at the start before Dhir switched back to the live one for the song's lengthy instrumental close. Definitely worthy of further exploration.

Listen to a track from this set here.

* A note on nomenclature: for years both the industry showcase and music festival components were known as Canadian Music Week. But as of 2009, this was deemed to be too simple and straightforward, and the music portion was "rebranded" as Canadian Music Fest, under the aegis of the larger Canadian Music Week. I see no reason to put up with this and will simply refer to everything as CMW — although there was a part of me that also considered using the slightly cumbersome "Canadian Music Fest presented by Canadian Music Week" throughout.

1 The band has a couple albums' worth of agreeable material to check out on their bandcamp.

2 The album is available as a free download at their bandcamp. I note that Rance Mulliniks had a career .272 average, but I presume the recording's title comes from something less obscure.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Playlist #22

Sunday Playlist #22

Let's Wrestle - We Are The Men You'll Grow to Love Soon

Diamond Rings (Featuring PS I Love You) - All Yr Songs

Zebrassieres - Beach Fight

CoCoComa - Water Into Wine

Planet Creature - Ramona

Sunday Playlist is a semi-regular feature that brings back some of this blog's previously-posted original live recordings for an encore. You can always click the tags below to see what I originally wrote about the shows these songs came from.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Recording: Slim Twig

Artist: Slim Twig

Song: I'll Always Be A Child*

Recorded at The Silver Dollar, December 16, 2011.

Slim Twig - I'll Always Be A Child

Full review to follow. In case you hadn't noticed, Slim Twig is back with a new band, doing an excellent job channelling his pop impulses through the funhouse mirror.

* Thanks to Jennifer for passing along the title to this one.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Recording: Kith and Kin

Artist: Kith and Kin

Song: Sorrows Away

Recorded at The Music Gallery, December 15, 2011.

Kith and Kin - Sorrows Away

Full review to follow. You don't have to be aligned with any particular holiday tradition to be captivated by the beautiful voices of this family group. Lovely, lovely stuff.

Recording: Bravestation

Artist: Bravestation

Song: White Wolves

Recorded at Sonic Boom Records (CMW), March 11, 2011.

Bravestation - White Wolves

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Bombay Bicycle Club

Artist: Bombay Bicycle Club

Song: Rinse Me Down

Recorded at Sonic Boom Records (CMW), March 11, 2011.

Bombay Bicycle Club - Rinse Me Down

My notes for this set can be found here.

In-store: CMW 2011/Sonic Boom (Friday)

(Bombay Bicycle Club / J Mascis / Bravestation)

Sonic Boom Records. Friday, March 11, 2011.

Started off a full day of CMW with some more in-store action downstairs at Sonic Boom. There was a decent smattering of folks on hand as I caught the end of a set by local alt-bro yalpers Pkew Pkew Pkew. Looking around, there was an unusual number of highschoolers on hand, many of them sitting down on the floor and lounging like it was a proper basement party.

I was sorta feeling warm-heated towards them for supporting local music when suddenly the casual sprawl turned into a mass of kids up against the stage, jockeying for position as the next band started to set up. That would turn out to be Bombay Bicycle Club, a British band with some buzz-appeal. Once stools and a banjo were brought out, it looked like this was going be an unplugged-style appearance. And as vocalist Jack Steadman casually sang the old bluegrass/gospel standard "I'll Fly Away" as his compadres soundchecked around him, I figured they were going to be one of that new wave of British roots-inspired bands that I'd heard vaguely about. The band's music was more "rock" than that, though, but how much this stripped-down set departed from their usual I can't say — "if this is too quiet for anyone, we're going to be playing at Lee's Palace tonight with some real instruments," was the rocknowledgement from the stage.

The set started with "Evening/Morning", that banjo playing against Steadman's quavery vocals. Otherwise, besides the pleasant-enough lope of "Rinse Me Down", none of the other handful of originals made much of an impression on me, but the young crowd in front of them was suitably impressed. "This is the first audience we've ever played to on this side of the Atlantic," Steadman informed them, whipping them up a little more.

I had the band pegged as earnest, clean-cut types, but perhaps they weren't not so blandly innocent after all: it might be kinda audaciously skeezy to cover Loudon Wainwright III's "Motel Blues", with its baldly-stated ambitions ("come up to my motel room and treat me right") to a crowd full of highschool-aged girls. Well, to the boys, too — I don't want to make groundless assumptions about what kind of groupies they were courting. And, somewhat confounding my notions of who this band might be getting marketed to, it was a dude-heavy crowd, full of enthusiastic lads. Just as I was jotting down "mostly harmless" as a concluding thought about the set in my notepad, I overheard two of them as they were putting on their coats:

Dude #1: That was very legit.

Dude #2: That one? That was the sickest song.

Listen to a track from this set here.

And then there was a weird sort of transference in the room as the large bulk of that young crowd booked it out of there and their spots up front were quickly filled in by members of the older cohort that had been been building up for the last half of Bombay Bicycle Club's set. The net outcome was a slightly smaller crowd, albeit a much taller one, patiently awaiting J Mascis. Mascis, who dared to be an alt-rock guitar hero in a time when such a thing was frowned upon, was playing songs from his newly-released Several Shades of Why. That album is, in some technical sense, his first proper "solo" album — so long as you don't count his albums backed by The Fog or the several of Dinosaur Jr.'s albums where he was essentially a one-man band.

But here, most decidedly playing on his own, Mascis treated the crowd to some hints of wry humour, like leading off set-starting "Listen to Me" with a "this is the first song on the new album" crack. That was pretty audience-engaging for the oft-laconic guitarist — it felt more directly within the bounds of his public persona when the next song (the new album's title track) screeched to a quick halt for an extended bout of tuning with the room holding an awkward silence. Interestingly, Mascis employed a loop pedal for that one to add a static part to hold things steady while he moved off on one of the nimble excursions that are recognized as his most articulate expressions.

Less expected was "Circle of Friends", a cover introduced with what seemed at first some especially random banter: "how many people remember Paul Simon's wife? Edie Brickell? Any fans out there?" Of course, all the randomness is tempered by the moments (like during "Ammaring") when he just plays, and suddenly you're all like, "oh yeah, guitar god. Right."

After that, he asked if there was anything anyone wanted to hear, and "Severed Lips" was the first thing shouted, so he graciously tore that one off and chased it with another (and less obvious) Dino Jr. cut, Green Mind's "Flying Cloud". A really enjoyable set — and it didn't leave my ears ringing afterward, like that time I saw Dinosaur Jr.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Although a lot of the crowd departed, I stuck around to check out local quartet Bravestation. With guitar, bass, drums and electronics/laptop, they presented a pop-forward electro-textured version of rock, the synth-y sounds and click-track percussion rendered vital with plenty of extra percussion.

Starting with "Clocks & Spears", they showcased the five songs from their 2010 EP. Though everything in the short set was well-performed — guitarist Derek Wilson especially showed a nimble touch — none of the tunes really stuck with me. But there were encouraging signs, like closer "White Wolves" which played that frisky rhythm/cold synths duality well. Not a band that I'd rush out to see again right away, but I won't regret having a chance for a progress report a little further down the road.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Recording: Afrafranto

Artist: Afrafranto

Songs: Abrantse + Juliana

Recorded at Lula Lounge ("Highlife Help" Benefit Concert), December 11, 2011.

Afrafranto - Abrantse

Afrafranto - Juliana

Full review to follow. In late October, sudden flash flooding caused major damage in Accra, Ghana. Among those affected was Professor John Collins, musicologist founder of the Bokoor African Popular Music Archive Foundation (BAPMAF), doing important work to preserve Ghana's cultural heritage. His home, housing the archive, was flooded and his family endangered, causing major property damage. This show was put together to help raise funds for repairs. Collins' dedication needs to be celebrated and assisted, so let's hope that the attention and concern raised by this dark event can serve as a catalyst for future support for BAPMAF's work. You can help here.

Some days it feels like an honour to be able to do this. This happens to be a very nice soundboard/microphone mix, so let's start with a couple songs for now. Special thanks to Batuki Music and Howard at Lula Lounge.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Playlist #21

Sunday Playlist #21

Language-Arts - Coughdrop

Germans - Same Old Things

Ghost Trees - From London with Love

The Barcelona Pavilion - How Are You People Going To Have Fun If None Of You People Ever Participate?

Wet Nurse - unknown

Sunday Playlist is a semi-regular feature that brings back some of this blog's previously-posted original live recordings for an encore. You can always click the tags below to see what I originally wrote about the shows these songs came from.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Recording: The Two Koreas

Artist: The Two Koreas

Song: Bad Captains/Boy Teen Oslo*

Recorded at The Silver Dollar, December 9, 2011.

The Two Koreas - Bad Captains/Boy Teen Oslo

Full review to follow. The Two Koreas' bracing dance grooves are stretching out to ever-longer lengths — to rather good effect.

* Thanks to a commenter for passing the titles along.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Recording: Young Galaxy

Artist: Young Galaxy

Song: We Have Everything

Recorded at Lee's Palace (CMW 2011), March 10, 2011.

Young Galaxy - We Have Everything

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Imaginary Cities

Artist: Imaginary Cities

Song: Say Us

Recorded at Lee's Palace (CMW 2011), March 10, 2011.

Imaginary Cities - Say Us

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: The Wilderness of Manitoba

Artist: The Wilderness of Manitoba

Song: Orono Park

Recorded at Lee's Palace (CMW 2011), March 10, 2011.

The Wilderness of Manitoba - Orono Park

My notes for this set can be found here.

Festival: CMW 2011 (Thursday)

CMW 2011* (Thursday) (feat. The Wilderness of Manitoba / Miracle Fortress / Imaginary Cities / Young Galaxy)

Thursday, March 10, 2011.

This is an expansion of my initial notes from the festival, which can be found here.

8:00 P.M.: The Wilderness of Manitoba @ Lee's Palace

For their first time at Lee's, these local folk harmonizers were happy to be playing in their own backyard ("just a twenty minute walk from our house"), making for an easier time than the bands coming from all around the world. They were also playing, at the outset, to a crowd that they could have fit in their house, facing the that typical festival early-slot slightly antiseptic sight of an empty-ish bar with about a half-dozen camera-toting types in front of the stage, snapping away — and not much else.

Showing some awareness of the environment they'd be playing in, the band put together a very well-constructed setlist. After starting with "Hermit", just to announce themselves, they followed with a few quieter songs while the room was quiet — "The Great Hall" got a very nice reading — and after that ramping it up as the place filled in, ending with their more rambunctious material. That meant Will Whitwham's vocals weren't lost along the chatter too much. There was also a nice mix of older and newer material, with "Evening" and the fine new "Chasing Horses" rubbing shoulders before the set closed out with a rollicking version of "Dreamcatchers".1

Listen to a track from this set here.

9:00 P.M.: Miracle Fortress @ Lee's Palace

"We'd like to introduce you to some new songs," said Graham Van Pelt as he finished his preparations. True to his word, he presented a set filled with material that would emerge a couple months later on sophomore album Was I the Wave?. He also brought his own lights, laser-y pinpoints that zigzagged around the dancefloor, occasionally blinding audience members with direct light blasts2 while leaving the stage almost entirely in darkness. The Remain in Light-ish textures of "Tracers", including an extended instrumental intro, showed off Van Pelt's new sound, which brings a definite unified sensibility, although a rather different one than he displayed on his first album. Although I'd had a hint that this was the direction he was going in, one got the sense that some people in the crowd were disappointed that it was different songs and a different sound that what they already knew.

Also on stage was drummer Greg Napier, who also plays alongside Van Pelt in Think About Life as well as in his own project Special Noise. Right up front and facing the singer, he was turned perpendicular to the crowd — a layout that may well bring to mind Woodhands, which can only raise unflattering comparisons to that band's Paul Banwatt. Here, rather than driving things, Napier felt more like window-dressing, adding accents to the rhythm tracks. The show could have gone on without him, but he did add some kineticism on stage.

It turned out to be a relatively quick set — just five songs — ending with the I'll-House-You-isms of "Raw Spectacle". But it was certainly enough to make a bold statement of what his new album would be like.

Listen to a track from this set here.

10:00 P.M.: Imaginary Cities @ Lee's Palace

Weirdly enough, when I had previously seen Winnipeg's Imaginary Cities, it was also while I was waiting to see Young Galaxy. And the most glib evaluation I could give of them would be to say that they are a pleasant diversion to pass the time while you wait for another band.

That last time 'round they were pretty new as a unit and a generally unknown quality, their biggest calling card being Rusty Matyas' known affiliations with The Waking Eyes and as a touring member of The Weakerthans. But less than a year later, they definitely had a few woo-hooing fans, and, impressively, one dude who stood up front, mouthing all the lyrics to himself.

And there were signs of a band with a lot more miles on the road — "Say You" had a bit more belt to it, and the band presented with more swagger generally. Marti Sarbit's soul-referencing vocal stylings are the band's best feature, and she was in good form here.

Some of the material felt like stuck-in-first ballad-fodder, like "Where'd all the Living Go" — even if it gave Matyas and the bassist a chance to show off some co-ordinated "rock" moves. And it was good to see that the band is expanding their songbook with new material like "Cherry Blossom Tree" and "Marry the Sea", but maybe because the set was front-loaded with the older, road-tested stuff and the latter part with more of their newer songs that I found it most pleasant at the start followed by diminishing returns.

They certainly put their all into it. By the time the band went out with slow-dance "That's Where it's at Sam", Sarbit sounded winded. And they'd clearly won over a few more people, though ultimately it just doesn't seem like they're fated to have a particularly electrifying effect on me.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11:00 P.M.: Young Galaxy @ Lee's Palace

Swapping fire for water, Young Galaxy decided to push themselves out of their safety zone, reinventing themselves with a glossier, more-dancefloor/less-rock sound on their Shapeshifting album, which they were launching with a quick tour before pausing for some parental leave. And though it is a sonic departure, it's also a continuing evolution from where they had been. Including, for example, in the increased reliance on Catherine McCandless as the lead vocalist, announced here right from the start on "Blown Minded". She has a striking vocal presence, and puts a more unique stamp on the music than partner Stephen Ramsay. For this show, whether it was the challenge of playing new songs with a new lineup or the added wrinkle of being pronouncedly pregnant, she wasn't quite nailing all her marks here — "Phantoms", for example, felt like it was just hinting at its potential.

"It's all so new for us. It's like a new band, basically... it's the first time we've played these songs live." said Ramsay, who was still in top form in handling the bulk of the banter. Now a five-piece, Ramsay (guit) and McCandless (keyb and electronics) were joined by an additional keyboard player, bass and drums, and for this being the first show for this incarnation of the live band, it went generally well. That Ramsay was pretty open about it all ("we're not slick yet... so thanks for your kindness.") made it feel more endearing than stiff.

"This is the dance test," Ramsay said before "Peripheral Visionaries", and after an opening shapeshift-y trio of songs, there was an "old one", with "Queen Drum" to act as a reminder of the past. Even it had some additional electronic textures in the background, and in another switch, "Long Live the Fallen World", which had served as set closer for the past while, had been supplanted by "B.S.E.". That'd be "Black Swan Event" to the less acronym-minded, and its refrain of being "intoxicated by re-invention" was sort of the key to the whole thing.

Listen to a track from this set here.

* A note on nomenclature: for years both the industry showcase and music festival components were known as Canadian Music Week. But as of 2009, this was deemed to be too simple and straightforward, and the music portion was "rebranded" as Canadian Music Fest, under the aegis of the larger Canadian Music Week. I see no reason to put up with this and will simply refer to everything as CMW — although there was a part of me that also considered using the slightly cumbersome "Canadian Music Fest presented by Canadian Music Week" throughout.

1 No pending live dates for the band, but if you're seasonally inclined, they've just released a couple xmas songs.

2 Miracle Fortress: come for the songs, stay for the free laser eye surgery! It should be noted that at CMW, with so many media types around, a standing-in-the-dark type of stage presentation often has the unintended effect of forcing the photogs to break out the flash, kinda undermining the effect.

Recording: Anna Calvi

Artist: Anna Calvi

Song: Love Won't Be Leaving

Recorded at Lee's Palace, December 8, 2011.

Anna Calvi - Love Won't Be Leaving

Review to follow.

Recording: The New Music Ensemble

Artist: The New Music Ensemble of the Glenn Gould School

Song: In Vain [excerpt] (composer: Georg Friedrich Haas)

Recorded at Conservatory Theatre (Royal Conservatory of Music), December 8, 2011.

The New Music Ensemble of the Glenn Gould School - In Vain [excerpt]

Full review to follow. An excellent night's music from the students of the Conservatory's Glenn Gould School. With composer Haas in attendance, the ensemble navigated the tricky hour-long composition, which was a slowly-unfolding encounter with microtonality. Even more impressive: two sections of the composition (including this extract) were played in total darkness. The light design added an extra layer of drama and structure, and in the later, longer period of darkness, I found myself on the edge of my seat, feeling the tension rachet up as the "silent percussion" of light flashes began. A very impressive night.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Recording: Radiant Brass Ensemble

Artist: Radiant Brass Ensemble

Song: AGOrienteering [excerpt]

Recorded at the Art Gallery of Ontario, December 7, 2011.

Radiant Brass Ensemble - AGOrienteering [excerpt]

Full review to follow. Scott Thomson's "cartographic composition" defined a physical route through the second floor galleries of the AGO for eight musicians, who would occasionally stop and play a dialogue when their paths crossed. If my map-reading and time-keeping skills are right, this snippet is a meeting between Nicole Rampersaud and Jim Lewis. The Galleria Italia turns out to have great sonic qualities — can we get more music there?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Recording: Doug Tielli

Artist: Doug Tielli

Song: Riversea

Recorded at Soundscapes, December 6, 2011.

Doug Tielli - Riversea

Full review to follow. Another fab in-store at Soundscapes, with Doug Tielli presenting some songs from his brand-new Swan Sky Sea Squirrel album (out on Blocks) with what amounts to an all-star backing band: Ryan Driver, Nick Fraser and Scott Peterson.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Recording: Ell V Gore

Artist: Ell V Gore

Song: Lobotomy*

Recorded at Soybomb HQ (Wavelength 530), December 3, 2011.

Ell V Gore - Lobotomy

Review to follow. A raucous Wavelength show was capped off with a set from Ell V Gore, who have tightened up into a pretty fearsome rock machine. You owe it to yourself to go check them out playing on a bill with No Wave legend James Chance at the Silver Dollar on December 16th.

Also: If the person who turned in my Metropass is reading this, please know that I am sending 1000 psychic hugs your way. You have taught me the true meaning of xmas Soybomb.

* I'm pretty sure before it started that Elliott just called out to the band for the "new one"but if anyone knows the title to this, please leave a comment! Thanks to a commenter for passing the title along.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Recording: Hooded Fang

Artist: Hooded Fang

Song: Linus' Boon

Recorded at The Horseshoe Tavern, December 2, 2011.

Hooded Fang - Linus' Boon

Full review to follow. A bittersweet night, with Lorna Wright announcing that this would be the last show for her and Nicholas Hune-Brown. With the shift, the band "retired" some of their Album songs by playing them for the last time, and as one last look back, dug out this early composition, which has recently found its way into the setlists of Hut, vocalist Daniel Lee's other band.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Film: EU Film Festival

Reviews of screenings from The 2011 European Union Film Festival, Toronto, Canada.

Once again the local consulates and cultural associations of European Union nations got together to throw this festival. With free screenings at The Royal, it's a true gift to our city. In a dark hour of financial insecurity, it's good to have a reminder of the continent's abiding cultural wealth.

Lapland Odyssey (Napapiirin sankarit) (Finland, 2010, Dir: Dome Karukoski, 92 min.)

A. picked this one, and I admit I was a little dubious going in, as the blurb made it sound like a pretty insubstantial bro-down. And cross-cultural comedy sometimes just doesn't translate (about which, more anon).

But right from the opening suicide montage, this film had an undercurrent of black comedy that I appreciated. (Bonus points for having a hockey gag therein, too.) Set in the snowy reaches of northern Finland, this film certainly felt like it was taking place in real winter, something that movies so rarely get right.

The film is also set against the backdrop of hard times. Protagonist Janne's business went under a few years back, but he's having a hard time getting motivated to find a new job — assuming there's anything to be found. His girlfriend Irina is getting tired of his slacking ways, and asks him if he's not going to get anything else done, could he at least get out of bed and go buy that new PVR so they could watch a movie together when she gets home from work? Failing in that simple task leads to an ultimatum and the titular odyssey: if Janne doesn't come back by morning with a PVR, Irina plans to move out. Given that he spent the money she gave him for beer, he'll have to come up with some cash, too.

That sets up an all-night roadtrip with buddies Kapu and Raisanen that turns out to be a very loose re-telling of the Homeric epic. Along the way there's a Suitor to be dealt with as well as Sirens to avoid. But also blizzards, mysterious Russians and reindeer. The direction of the plot is pretty predictable, but the gags are well-done and there's a lot of laughs here. The characters are a little thin, but the acting solid and by the final deus ex machina I had laughed far more than I was expecting. Recommended.

Return of Sergeant Lapins (Seržanta Lapina Atgriešanas) (Latvia, 2010, Dir: Gatis Smits, 90 mins.)

This film should not have been on the big screen.

The festival's site doesn't tell us what format they were projecting it in, but it looked like a poorly deinterlaced third generation videotape that wasn't quite properly converted to NTSC — a blurry mess when blown up on The Royal's screen.

I didn't like the film itself at all, either. A light farce about a PTSD-afflicted former soldier, there was an awkward tone throughout, with the broadness of the characterizations feeling entirely at odds with the unaddressed underlying serious issues. Plus, the movie didn't so much have an Idiot Plot1 as take place in an Idiot Version of Latvia. (I'm sure the real place is far more charming.)

It's too much to describe here. At the film's outset Lapins, traumatized by his experiences as a peacekeeper, discharges himself from the hospital, refusing all "chemical" treatments on the advice of rehabbing celebrity Alise, who sets him up with an apartment in Riga, planning to join him later. This leads to a series of misunderstandings with the landlord, complications with Alise's tycoon ex and a would-be gumshoe taxi driver. Oh, and a couple of police officers, one of whom is cheerfully relaxed about the rules and his straitlaced young partner who nevertheless has some police brutality issues.

Trying to set things up, the film employs an unnecessary flashback structure, and then winds things up to a cavalcade of goofy farcical happenstances. I'm guessing there's some cultural commentary wound into all this, but it's really lost in translation and the jokes fall flat in a series of loud thumps. Production values and a music score on a par with '80's TV just add to the general air of shoddiness, meaning this was ultimately painfully unfunny and a chore to get through. This one was my pick, and it didn't go well: A. came out for this one and lasted about an hour before bailing.

The Other Side of Sleep (Ireland, 2011, Dir: Rebecca Daily, 88 mins.)

"I think I've been sleepwalking again," Arlene tells a friend. This might explain the predicament that she finds herself in at the film's outset — waking up in a forest beside a dead body. It doesn't help her to understand how she got there, or, more worryingly, What She Might Have Done.

The film follows Arlene through her waking hours — we never see her on her nocturnal excursions, just the bruises and sense of dislocation that follow afterwards. "Closely follows" would probably be a better phrasing here, as the camera is tight on actor Antonia Campbell-Hughes throughout, often tracking her with Dardenne-like intensity. And slowly, the circumstances of that opening scene start to become clear to us.

Director Daily is admirably patient in letting it unfold, drawing us into Arlene's world, which is slowly coming apart — her worries soon reduce her to virtually sleepwalking through her days as well. How do the web of relationships in her village work? What's the nature of Arlene's strange relationship to the dead woman's younger sister?

The key element in pulling us into her general dissociation is the sound design, the film's strongest element. Background noises buzz and overpower the voices around her — to the point where we're no longer sure if some of the noises are in her head or not. The effect brings to mind Lodge Kerrigan's excellent Clean, Shaven — though not taken as far as that film.

The movie was atmospheric and engrossing, and not overly-concerned with its plot, which can be a turn-off for some viewers — and a deal-breaker when it's not done well. But this is well worth seeing.

Afterthought: At this festival, the film was presented with subtitles, which are unnecessary — the accents and local jargon might muddle a few lines, but it's comprehensible on its own.

1 Idiot Plot: Any plot containing problems which would be solved instantly if all of the characters were not idiots. (source).