Sunday, March 31, 2013

Recording: This Mess

Artist: This Mess

Songs: Lost in Space + [segue supercut] + [ambient version]

Recorded at The White House, March 30, 2011.

This Mess - Lost in Space

This Mess - [segue supercut]

This Mess - [ambient version]

Full review to follow. A night to celebrate the release of States, This Mess' first album (available on tape and at bandcamp) was also a sad occasion, as it also served as a going-away party for drummer Adham, who is heading out of town for a while. Hopefully all the what-if's surrounding the band will someday find pleasant resolutions. Meanwhile, in a parallel universe, there's probably a version of the band that's more interested in the post-punkish textural bits between the songs than in the songs themselves, so I did a little reconstruction to think on what that might me like. And in some even stranger universe, mad scientists are wondering what they'd sound like as glacial feedback sculptors. Or maybe that's just me.

Recording: WTCHS

Artist: WTCHS

Songs: Chinese Hand Cream/Young Girls*

Recorded at The White House, March 30, 2011.

WTCHS - Chinese Hand Cream/Young Girls

Full review to follow. I'd heard their name mentioned here and there, but the discovery of the night at this show was Hamilton's WTCHS, bringing a powerful sound with hints of, say, Fugazi and moodiness and more.

* Thanks to Jag for passing the titles to these along.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Recording: Shotgun Jimmie

Artist: Shotgun Jimmie

Songs: Skype Date + 3212

Recorded at The Monarch Tavern (Wavelength 557), March 29, 2013.

Shotgun Jimmie - Skype Date

Shotgun Jimmie - 3212

Full review to follow. In his dapper shirt and tie, Jim Kilpatrick might look like a young Warren Beatty, but once the clamour of the one man band kicks in, you can tell that it's still Jimmie.

Recording: Dave Schoonderbeek

Artist: Dave Schoonderbeek

Song: Know Your Pills

Recorded at The Monarch Tavern (Wavelength 557), March 29, 2013.

Dave Schoonderbeek - Know Your Pills

Full review to follow. The new "solo" project from Dave Schoonderbeek follows in the trajectory of his past work in Another Blue Door — and has some of the same faces on hand. Several of the songs here sounded like they could slip right in on a compilation of, say, early Merge singles.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Recording: The Besnard Lakes

Artist: The Besnard Lakes

Song: Catalina

Recorded at The Great Hall ("Long Winter, Vol. 5"), March 23, 2013.

The Besnard Lakes - Catalina

Full review to follow. Showing their true clout, Fucked Up managed to extend the winter a few days past the equinox to fit in one last instalment of their curated series, filling the Great Hall with energy pyramids, tiny street meat vendors, ladders to nowhere, piano crooners and a whole heap o' music. This was an admirable experiment in throwing together different kinds of bands (and different crowds), and everyone that helped put it together deserves our heartfelt thanks.

It was a disappointment that original headliners The Sadies and Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet couldn't make it, but it was cool to have a chance to hear Besnard Lakes fill up the space in the Great Hall with some expansive new jams from the forthcoming Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO, which is out on April 2, 2013.

Recording: Andre Ethier

Artist: Andre Ethier

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The Great Hall ("Long Winter, Vol. 5"), March 23, 2013.

Andre Ethier - unknown

Full review to follow. Showing their true clout, Fucked Up managed to extend the winter a few days past the equinox to fit in one last instalment of their curated series, filling the Great Hall with energy pyramids, tiny street meat vendors, ladders to nowhere, piano crooners and a whole heap o' music. This was an admirable experiment in throwing together different kinds of bands (and different crowds), and everyone that helped put it together deserves our heartfelt thanks.

I saw Ethier debut this song in a solo acoutic setting at his Wavelength Festival in-store show, but here is has some pleasingly subtle backing by a hybrid crew that looked on this night as much like Cut Flowers as his "name" band.

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

Recording: Petra Glynt

Artist: Petra Glynt

Song: Sour Paradise

Recorded at The Great Hall ("Long Winter, Vol. 5"), March 23, 2013.

Petra Glynt - Sour Paradise

Full review to follow. Showing their true clout, Fucked Up managed to extend the winter a few days past the equinox to fit in one last instalment of their curated series, filling the Great Hall with energy pyramids, tiny street meat vendors, ladders to nowhere, piano crooners and a whole heap o' music. This was an admirable experiment in throwing together different kinds of bands (and different crowds), and everyone that helped put it together deserves our heartfelt thanks.

Some of the night's more interesting stuff could be found out in the front room, including this set from Alexandra Mackenzie's experimental beat-driven project. The sonic bricolage really comes into focus on this banger, showing the creativity being developed here. There'll be a few more chances to catch her conscious party in the near future, including April 12, 2013 at Rainbow Palace for Exhale's birthday bash and a week later (April 19, 2013) at The White House, part of Silent Shout's Tenderness-headlined must-see showcase.

Recording: Emma McKenna

Artist: Emma McKenna

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The Great Hall ("Long Winter, Vol. 5"), March 23, 2013.

Emma McKenna - unknown

Full review to follow. Showing their true clout, Fucked Up managed to extend the winter a few days past the equinox to fit in one last instalment of their curated series, filling the Great Hall with energy pyramids, tiny street meat vendors, ladders to nowhere, piano crooners and a whole heap o' music. This was an admirable experiment in throwing together different kinds of bands (and different crowds), and everyone that helped put it together deserves our heartfelt thanks.

The mainstage performances were led off with this long-awaited return from McKenna, who hasn't performed in these parts for awhile. The easy comparison might be to her one-time bandmate Katie Stelmanis (now of Austra), but McKenna — leading a new trio in its first public performance — definitely isn't singing from anyone else's songbook.

* Does anyone know the title to this one? It might be something like "Scratching the Surface" — please leave a comment if you know for sure!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Recording: Giant Hand

Artist: Giant Hand

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The Cameron House – backroom (CMW 2013), March 23, 2013.

Giant Hand - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Recording: Xray Eyeballs

Artist: Xray Eyeballs

Song: Nightwalkers

Recorded at The Silver Dollar Room (CMW 2013), March 22, 2013.

Xray Eyeballs - Nightwalkers

My notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Patti Cake

Artist: Patti Cake

Song: Diamonds

Recorded at Velvet Underground (CMW 2013), March 22, 2013.

Patti Cake - Diamonds

My notes for this set can be found here.

Currente calamo: CMW 2013

CMW 2013*

While these shows are fresh in my mind I want to get some quick notes down. There will eventually be a fuller accounting by and by.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

9 p.m.: DIANA @ Mod Club1

Falling somewhere between club-level showcase and one of the big-ticket "event" shows that CMW attaches its name to for unearned cachet, my first sight at this show was of one of the city's more esteemed music writers being told by a functionary that because this was a "key" show — a designation that no one had previously heard of — photographers would not be allowed if if they weren't on a pre-cleared list. I guess at the last moment the international paparazzi didn't show up, and it was begrudgingly deigned that the locals could take their place.

Anyways, inside, there was a decent crowd on hand to check out DIANA. I'd last seen them at their very first live show and was curious to see how things were coming along. Given that their sonic identity was pretty well-established right out of the gate, I wasn't surprised that the changes here were more refinements than transformations. With a lot more miles under their belts (the band had just come off a string of dates opening for Tegan & Sara), everything was smoother on stage. Paul Mathew (on bass + guitar), who had been tucked away at the back in that first show, especially seemed more integrated into the group, now up front and flanking singer/guitarist Carmen Elle. Front and centre, her vocals remain the centre of attention here, but with the band's generally mellower stylings, she does sometimes look at a bit of a loss for how to channel her on-stage energy. While in her other project Army Girls2, she's free to range across the stage, firing off guitar solos and rockstar poses, she paced around more tentatively here. It didn't affect her performance, but it did lend it a more contained vibe. Meanwhile Kieran Adams (drums) and Joseph Shabason (keybs/sax) masterminded the sonic textures.

It felt like the crowd was mostly unfamiliar with the band, but they were mostly willing to be impressed by the 80's-informed jams — Shabason's first sax solo garnered plenty murmurs of approval, though by the set's end there was a lot of background chatter building up. But this was good work, and the band is clearly prepared to start taking rooms by (quiet) storm.

10 p.m.: Chvrches @ Mod Club

This is the sort of act that festivals are useful for, as there's little chance I'd've gone out of my way to see something like this at a normal show. Glasgow's Chvrches have only a few released songs to go with a boatload of hype, though I came to this without having paid much attention to either. The drummerless trio presented with two sets of synthesizers (played by Iain Cook and Martin Doherty) flanking vocalist Lauren Mayberry. Launching with the electro-pop of "Lies", the initial impression was perhaps something like Ladytron covering Samantha Fox. Mayberry's vocal approach was generally light and airy, and the venue's big sound system provided the crunch via plenty dB's. The variations between songs mostly came on how far the band pushed them down the dance-y axis — my personal inclination had me enjoying things less the further they went in that direction. At it's furthest reaches down that path, it sounded like a bad dance remix of a Sundays tune.

All the bandmembers have served in other groups before this, and they were definitely seasoned stage performers, keeping the show moving. But they also weren't particularly engaging — as a frontwoman, Mayberry entertained with some chipper banter about Canada's contributions to the wider pop culture (she came up with Rush and Ryan Gosling) but didn't have much captivating to do during the songs. That was sort of taken care of for them at the set's climax when a cascade of bubbles sprayed across the audience, which seemed to surprise and delight Mayberry as much as anyone else.

I was neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed by the set. (Does a straight-up "whelmed" count as a sort of state of generic neutrality?) I was mildly rankled to note that the club was well-packed for this with excited patrons who'd never bother to come out to any number of local dance-pop units who are generically as good as this, but I guess that's the way of things.3

Listen to a track from this set here.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

[I skipped CMW on Thursday to celebrate Spring with Wavelength instead.]

Friday, March 22, 2013

9 p.m.: Maica Mia @ The Silver Dollar Room

Friday was my one full-on night for CMW, but instead of roaming too far, I planned to mostly stick close to the Dollar. It had been a year since I saw Montréal duo Maica Mia, but they'd left a good impression and I was eager to see what they were up to. Playing a bar rather than a loft was probably one reason that they were louder than I remembered, with drummer Jonny Paradise giving the music some forward thrust. But Maica Armata's voice and guitar still had a languidness that defied any attempts at too much propulsion. The upshot was that the band was a bit more Picastro (and less Mazzy Star) than I recalled — but that's definitely not a complaint. Given how long Armata was willing to crouch in front of her amp holding a single chord, it would be very interesting to hear just how much they could stretch things out outside of the constraints of a short festival set. This reaffirmed that they're worth seeing whenever they venture down the 401 to visit us.

10 p.m.: Patti Cake @ Velvet Underground

My one excursion from the Dollar took me down to Queen Street to see a set that was a striking counterpoint to the glacial sombreness I'd just witnessed. Locals Patti Cake traffic in something closer to exuberance — or at least that's the spirit channelled by frontwoman Kritty Uranowski. The recent fashion cover model sings with a smile and a brassy tone that tugs the whole band into a more cheerful, kodachromed landscape. That fits with plenty touches of classic 60's songcraft — including a pair of swaying backing vocalists. But the retro flourishes were countered by some more modernist signifiers, including one song's paean to Lindsay Lohan. Most of the songs here were quite fab, and the overall spirit was bright and welcoming, just right for a sunny day.

Listen to a track from this set here.

11 p.m.: Filthy Haanz @ The Silver Dollar Room

I didn't see anything else on the schedule grid to call me further afield, so I simply ducked back up to the Dollar to see what was going down. Made it back just in time to catch the start of the set by Filthy Haanz, another Montréal combo. This trio would do a lot of switching around between instruments (bass, guitar and keyboards getting swapped around from song to song) and the music reflected that changeable spirit, moving from mildly angsty rock to squelchy funk to sluggish reggae. I think the band was aiming at a sort of insouciant loucheness, but they projected closer to slacker-ish dilettantism. There was a point or two where they settled into an appealing groove, but they were never quite as funky as they aspired to be.

Midnight: Invasions @ The Silver Dollar Room

These locals brought with them the night's largest crowd, and there was no doubt that the raucous crew of friends were out to dance and shout along. There was a lot of energy in the music, but it never quite worked for me. In one of those totally subjective reactions, guitarist Alex Zenkovich's vocals just didn't appeal, and while I could sense where they were trying to take their music beyond basic surf rock clichés, the parts that didn't sound like they were on the verge of becoming "Stray Cat Strut" seemed like they were on the verge of becoming "House of the Rising Sun". Those are hardly unworthy antecedents to chase after (and neither were the Kinks, whose "Dead End Street" was essayed here) but for now I wouldn't say the band has found a satisfactory synthesis. Still, you might prefer to trust the packed-in crowd jumping and singing along here to my notions.

1 a.m.: Xray Eyeballs @ The Silver Dollar Room

Most of that crowd departed before the night's headliner took the stage, though this was the band the I was basing my night around. Silver Dollar booker Dan Burke can usually be counted on to make a canny choice for his festival hat-trick headliners, and I was all the more interested to hear 'em on finding out they were an offshoot of reverb-surfers Golden Triangle.4 This band foregrounded singer/guitarist O.J. San Felipe, backed by bass, guit/keybs, and a stand-up drummer. Armed with a drumpad alongside his Mo Tucker-ish setup, that hybrid percussion sound brings to mind locals Odonis Odonis, and there are a few appealing points of comparison here in terms of scrappy catchiness. But if OO's surfgaze draws something from the Mary Chain, then Xray Eyeballs have more of a Martin Hannett/early New Order chassis underlying their party rock as well as some art in their rigourously stripped-down aesthetic. That intriguing mix of sounds was enough to have me enjoying this quite a lot.

Listen to a track from this set here.

2 a.m.: The BB Guns @ The Silver Dollar Room

I was starting to wear down, enough so that I was wondering if I should just head home and miss a band that I'd seen on this same stage just a couple weeks ago. But it's hard to slip out on The BB Guns right now, given how they've really hit their stride. The "girl group garage" gang (with their début EP on the way) are pretty confident in their balancing of sock-hop sass and punkish attitude. On stage, that split can be seen in the way guitarist Alana deVee (all kinetic verve) works alongside vocalist Laura Hermiston and keyboard player Charlotte Marie's slightly more demure presence. Playing near the end of a cavalcade of festival acts meant that the vocals were a little buried, so the whole set came out a little more rangy and fierce than usual — but that's a good way to keep people's attention as the hour grows late. This is a band that's thriving in the local dives while playing at a really high level right now — you should see 'em while the moment lasts.5

Saturday, March 23, 2013

7 p.m.: Giant Hand @ Cameron House (Back Room)

My Saturday night was devoted to the final Long Winter show at The Great Hall, but en route I stopped in for one last CMW set — it's always good to try and show support for the folks who get stuck with the early time slots. Kirk Ramsay has been "half hiding, half writing new music," and hasn't been manifesting as Giant Hand much in the past year. That also made this a chance to hear a few of his new songs. On a first hearing, they weren't radically removed from his previous material — the guy who famously decided to take up the guitar after seeing a Daniel Johnston documentary is still working in the same vein of mining internal/external dread and investigating the spaces where the two overlap. A song on the piano, played with one-handed, two-fingered clawed chords was a new touch and a demonstration that just as you don't need more than a flashlight held up to your chin to tell a horror story, you don't need ornate musical backdrops to tell a story in song. Hopefully the next sighting will not be so long in coming.

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.

1 It has been a fair while since I've been to the Mod Club — in fact, I don't think I've been since they've had some corporate sponsor glommed onto the front of their name. I have no plans to acknowledge that, and unless said company is cutting you a cheque, I suggest you don't either.

2 DIANA's recent success has meant things have been quiet in the Army Girls camp as of late, but there's some upcoming dates promised to make up for it. So far, the only one announced is a knock-out of a gig, with the band opening up (alongside Absolutely Free) for Moon King at The Drake Underground on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. Mark that one down as a must-see.

3 Anyone who wants to see some dance-y electronic musicians who are actively pushing things forward should come out for Silent Shout's showcase at The White House on Friday, April 19, 2013, featuring the peerless Tenderness and the rising force of Petra Glynt alongside Violence and Vierance. [FB event] And for those who are swept up in the hype, Chvrches have already announced their return on June 12, 2013.

4 Based on their various internet presences, it looks like Golden Triangle are definitely inactive, if not altogether defunct.

5 The BB Guns will be returning to the Dollar in support of Bleached on Thursday, April 25, 2013 — by which time we'll probably have clearer release details about their EP.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

CMW 2013: Highlights

All right. So, tomorrow I'll talk about the bands that I saw during CMW*, but for now, I just want to think a bit on the experience as a whole — and look at a couple clear highlights.

Same shit, different hotel. Whenever I've headed down to pick up my wristband1, it's always been a case of head down, plow through, get in and get out. Even still, I managed to catch sight of some of the "industry" types that give the festival a bad name — a lounge and lobby full of middle-aged dudes2 — some attired in too-flashy clothes, the smiles a bit too plastic, others with a mellow swagger in that he's-hip-he's-cool-he's-45 kind of way. As always seems to be the case, I saw one of those types sitting down with a group of nineteen year old kids, selling that rock'n'roll dream. A couple tables over, a fauxhawked dude a couple years their senior was sitting impatiently, as if he were waiting for his image consultant to arrive.

Honest Reviews

With that in mind, I can say in full certainty that the best thing to emerge during this year's festival was the Slagging Off tumblr that appeared and quickly went viral. The site spent some time not-so-gently pointing out that a lot of the bands playing the festival really shouldn't be. When that snark is aimed at specific bands — young people who have undoubtedly put a lot of work into their projects — it can easily seem mean-spirited. But let's be honest here: you don't have to dig that deep through the listings to find a lot of bands that seem to be aiming at the blandest sort of mersh mediocrity, at subsuming even the faintest spark of originality to become a fungible widget in "the industry" — and oh, my, they are easy to make fun of.

That said, the site was at its best when it stepped back to make a more systematic critique of the "perpetual motion machine" of self-congratulation that the festival thrives on. This was the best part of the week because it sparked conversations, giving a lot of people cause to consider the festival beyond their own little bubble. It also called out people — people like me — who admit that CMW is on the whole a craptacular festival, but reckon that there's just enough interesting stuff around the edges that one could hold their nose and just sorta plow through it. Doing that, of course, means we — and me — are legitimizing it, letting the festival off the hook with a shrug instead of demanding something better. We're diving for dear life when we could be diving for pearls.3

The Last Pogo Jumps Again

Dir: Colin Brunton and Kire Paputts. Canada, 2013. 212 minutes.

I suppose I should be easier on the "suits" — after all, before they started peddling mediocrity they were on the leading edge once too, right? At least that's what I was thinking a bit while I was waiting outside the screening room of the Lightbox, the other early arrivals with their laminates declaring them to be VIP's, radio insiders or A&R wizards. Hey, maybe they still have some of that rebellious fire in them!

When we walked into the theatre, Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" was playing at ear-splitting volume — and with some sort of harsh white noise behind it.4 "Hotel California" and a few other AOR chestnuts would follow, with that sawing phased-out noise continuing. The people around me started complaining. "IT'S TOO LOUD!" shouted one.

I looked up from my newspaper.


That got me a glare. "BUT THIS IS JUST NOISE!"


At that, one of the middle-aged A&R types stormed out of the theatre to complain. This was a two-hundred-twelve minute movie that had people fleeing the room before it started. I took that as a good sign.

And yes, that duration is correct. Where the original Last Pogo was a half-hour near-verité portrait of a single night, this redux version is a three-and-a-half-hour comprehensive immersion into Toronto's original punk scene. A sort of visual companion piece to Liz Worth's Treat Me Like Dirt, this combines archival footage with new interviews with most of the scene's surviving members to flesh out a portrait of Southern Ontario's vibrant musical subculture. There's a whole pantheon explored here, from bands that are now considered groundbreakers to some that remain obscurities: The Viletones, The Diodes, Teenage Head, The Curse, Simply Saucer, Forgotten Rebels, The B-Girls, The Ugly and more.

A lot of the stories will be familiar to those with an interest in this music (and to readers to Worth's book), and a lot of the footage will also be familiar as well.5 But the real skill here is in the montage, in bringing all this material together into a coherent whole. Brunton, being personally trusted by the scene's original members (many of whom still apparently carry lingering resentments with each other), was able to wrangle facetime and rare source material while Paputts (as editor) shaped it into a cohesive (but never monolithic) narrative.

Along the way there are asides that never feel like an indulgence, such as seeing how the nonconformist "punk" mindset has served some of these people decades later in life, digressions into various outgrowths of the scene6, and above all music, the music, the music.7

A true labour of love, this film is a worthy testimonial to a brief spurt of under-documented and under-appreciated history. The great music that was produced in this little community never had a fair shot the first time around, and the best of it has managed to creep its way up from the bottom through the word-of-mouth and generational rediscovery.

At a personal level, I found this to be a powerful reminder of the importance of witnessing the great music that's going on all around us. Though weeks like CMW remind us of the need to stop coddling awful, bullshit bands (and the infrastructure that feeds them), seeing The Last Pogo Jumps Again also reminded me that we absolutely need to celebrate the amazing things that are going on here and now — not to wait for bands to get "buzz" or any other sort of approval from the States or Europe. I see local bands all the time that are miles better than the trendy, touring ones and we don't have to be shy about saying it. The good stuff shouldn't have to languish and wait to be rediscovered a generation from now. If only we had, say, a festival or something to celebrate the good stuff...

* 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.

1 And why, I might ask passingly, is it that the desk with the wristbands closes at six? Does CMW think that the bulk of the people covering the festival are high-flying international media with nothing better to do during the day, and not people who have to cut out early from work to deal with this?

2 And I use the term "dudes" here deliberately — perhaps for the same reason that in the festival program book's page for out-of-towners, CMW's first recommendation for entertainment was a strip club.

3 There is so much that needs to be said about all of the issues that this website is addressing. But until I can find the time to crank out that essay (tentative title: "The Political Economy of 'Friend Rock' and the Deontology of the Folk Process"), I shall let it rest.

4 It's has been pointed out to me that the tunes were, indeed, mashed up with Metal Machine Music. (Hat-tip to Jamez for the straight facts.)

5 Besides the concert footage of the original Last Pogo, there were clips from the infamous CBC shock report and the underground short An Afternoon With The Viletones at New Rose.

6 I was especially intrigued by the forays into the second wave of Toronto's punk/new wave scene, which remains underexplored terrain. I've been especially grooving on The Government — and if anyone can send me a copy of "I Like Living in Scarborough" by leisure-suited new-wavers Swollen Members (not the Vancouver hip-hop band) — or get that up on youtube — I'd be fully grateful.

7 Also worthy of singling out was a masterfully edited presentation of The Mods' "New Breed", which cut back and forth between live footage from '78 and a reunion show 30 years later with time-melting intensity.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Recording: Chvrches

Artist: Chvrches

Song: Lies

Recorded at The Mod Club (CMW 2013), March 20, 2013.

Chvrches - Lies

My notes for this set can be found here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

CMW 2013: Preview

For my introductory thoughts and some strategic pointers for surviving CMW*, please see yesterday's post.

So, yeah, I bellyache a bit about the overall quality of this festival, but it's nearly impossible to concentrate this many bands in one place and not have some goodness. I went through the festival listings and selected bands that — with just a couple exceptions — I have seen before, and can testify to their entertainment value as live performers. Most of these recommendations come with a live recording from my archive, so you can get some idea of what to expect from them on stage. For more audio previews, you can always drop by showgopher, which has a handy grid and streaming audio for nearly all artists.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Jessica Stuart Few (Courthouse / 9:00 p.m.)

There's far from a full slate on the festival's putative opening night, so no one will question your decision to stay home/head elsewhere. If you did want to check something out, The Jessica Stuart Few are playing in the middle of a jazz showcase. Their sopisticated arrangements will fit in fine in that environment, but don't fence them in — there's going to be a lot more going on in the songs from their just-released Two Sides To Every Story.

Listen! The Jessica Stuart Few - At My Window

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

DIANA (Mod Club / 9:00 p.m.)

Slim pickings on Wednesday as well. Best bet might be the Mod Club, with the Scottish electropop buzz band du jour. But more impressive are openers DIANA, whose '80's-hued shimmering avant soft-rock has quickly become a phenom. Local fave Carmen Elle (also of the excellent Army Girls) is backed up by a band including some remnants of Everything All The Time (Kieran Adams, Joseph Shabason).

Listen! DIANA - Perpetual Surrender

Leif Vollebekk (Rivoli / midnight)

Vollebekk returns with a new album entitled North Americana, finishing off some of the songs he's been previewing live for a while now. There'll be an even better non-CMW shot at seeing him on Thursday, when he plays the Holy Oak Café at Bernice's spring equinox show.

Listen! Leif Vollebekk - Don't Go to Klaksvik

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Danielle Duval (Paintbox Bistro / 10:40 p.m.)

Duval could be your typical singer-songwriter type, but a powerhouse band behind her elevates her music to an exciting rollercoaster ride. (also Saturday at El Mocambo (Upstairs), 1:00 a.m.)

Listen! Danielle Duval - Ambulance

PS I Love You (The Great Hall / 11:00 p.m.)

In a festival-set-sized chunk, Paul Saulnier's guitar heroics always feel like a shot of adrenaline. Real rock for the death dreams set.

Listen! PS I Love You - Don't Go

X-Ray Eyeballs (Silver Dollar / midnight)

One of only two bands on this list that I have not seen perform, I'm confident in recommending them for two reasons: 1) they arose out of the ashes of surf/reverbists Golden Triangle, and 2) they have been hand-picked by Dan Burke as his now-traditional triple-headliner at his festival-within-the-festival NeXT. Simply put, you probably have to go see them on one of their nights — and if your festival options are ever failing you, the Silver Dollar should be your safety pick, cuz you know there's probably gonna be something good on stage. (also Friday at Silver Dollar, 1:00 a.m. and Saturday at Silver Dollar, midnight)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Let's Build Machines / The Wilderness of Manitoba (Revival / 9:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m.)

A double-shot of Will Whitwham, with his textured "solo" project taking the stage a couple hours before Wilderness of Manitoba. The latter has been transforming a bit since the launch of their Island of Echoes album, with some lineup changes to make them a road-ready unit, but I presume the essence of their latest sound — folk harmonies with some new-wave splices to their rootsy grounding — is still intact.

Listen! The Wilderness of Manitoba - Echoes

Maica Mia (Silver Dollar / 9:00 p.m.)

When I saw 'em last year, I noted: "It's no mistake that this Montréal duo's new album is called Sparcity Blues — they make Mazzy Star sound like Motörhead." Maybe my #1 sleeper pick of the whole festival.

Listen! Maica Mia - Jonny-o

Persian Rugs (Rancho Relaxo / 10:00 p.m.)

This is your cardigan-clad antidote to short-attention-span buzz-band-itis. Persian Rug's C86-informed rock might go down like Cotton Candy, but the taste is guaranteed to linger.

Listen! Persian Rugs - Cotton Candy

Digits (Wrongbar / 10:30 p.m.)

Berlin-via-Toronto's Alt Altman creates DOR that's perfectly acceptable to the rockist crowd. His DIY equipment sometimes means that things can — and will — go wrong, but it also keeps his performances strictly in the moment. Add to that some well-written pop tunes, and Digits remains a superior electro-pop live performer.

Listen! Digits - Because It's Wrong

The Besnard Lakes (Lee's Palace / 12:30 a.m.)

If your idea of rock'n'roll includes bombast, fog machines, volume and guitar solos, this is where you want to be.

Listen! The Besnard Lakes - And This Is What We Call Progress

Mac Demarco (Sneaky Dee's / 1:00 a.m.)

Demarco's onstage persona is still somewhat sophomoric, but the craftsmanship of his slightly-bent guitar pop shows there's some sophistication behind that. (also Saturday, Parts & Labour, 1:30 a.m.)

Listen! Mac DeMarco - Baby's Wearing Blue Jeans

The BB Guns (Silver Dollar / 2:00 a.m.)

This self-proclaimed "girl-group garage" gang radiates kick-ass energy on stage, but also has a set filled with satisfying pop songs.

Listen! The BB Guns - Dear Abby

Legato Vipers (Supermarket / 2:00 a.m.)

You might not know the members of Legato Vipers by name, but this is a crew of some of the best players in the Guelph/Toronto axis. You might recognize 'em if you've seen, say, Del Bel, Bry Webb, Skeletones Four or Biblical lately — and this instant party is what happens when such crafty dudes turn their focus to surf-rock.

Listen! Legato Vipers - Brian Wilson's Beard + unknown

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Giant Hand (Cameron House - Backroom / 7:00 p.m.)

Returning to live performance after some time away, it's possible that Kirk Ramsay will bring some new songs about hope and optimism in this world. But were I given to bet, I'd put my money down that you're more likely to hear about demons, both literal and metaphorical.

Listen! Giant Hand - unknown

Beams (Silver Dollar / 9:00 p.m.)

Yeah, there's a banjo, and yeah, you might hear a murder ballad or similar old-timey number during their set — but don't mistake Beams for some sort of grim revivalist roots band. This rambunctious crew is a party, funeral and wake all rolled up in one package. With their debut album on the way, this is a boxcar you want to climb on now.

Listen! Beams - How Wonderful

Castle If & Cell Memory (Comfort Zone / 10:00 p.m.)

One of the most cryptic and intriguing bands in the city right now, Cell Memory brings sheer motorik drone, the songs filled with tension from holding still as much as possible while racing along nowhere Faust. Insistent synth patterns that burble behind floating clouds of guitar with Jess Forrest's vocals buried underneath it all, half-comprehensible phrases rendered more mysterious for being delivered in German. This is just one standout in a Silent Shout-curated night in Comfort Zone, which is well worth heading out for. (also: guitarist Cell Memory brings his solo material to The Garrison on Sunday, 6:30 p.m.)

Listen! Cell Memory & Castle If - Neuwellen

Lioness (Lee's Palace / 11:00 p.m.)

Death Disco as fierce as the animal they're named after, there's a simmering sense of anxiety at play here that you'll only notice once you stop dancing.

Listen! Lioness - Krokodil Tears

Cousins (Parts & Labour / 12:30 a.m.)

This stripped-down Halifax unit — usually a duo — still raises a ruckus. Classic rock as filtered through a clattering garage jam. (also playing, somewhat weirdly, an hour later at Rivoli)

Listen! Cousins - Die

Jesuslesfilles (Silver Dollar / 1:00 a.m.)

Garage-rock party, francophone style, la-la-la-la.

Listen! Jesuslesfilles - unknown

B-17 (Silver Dollar / 2:00 a.m.)

These nocturnal denizens hit the streets once respectable society has gone to bed and serve up a reminder of that every bad trip can be a road to good times.

Listen! B-17 - Another Nocturnal Day

Biblical (Cherry Cola's / 2:00 a.m.)

Splitting the difference between cough syrup and trucker-grade speed, Biblical bring a bad-news boogaloo with just the right evil late-night lurch.

Listen! Biblical - Nickle and Dime

Sunday, March 24, 2014

Revolvers (Annex Live / 11:00 p.m.)

Revolvers have moved beyond their Apocalypse Surfin' to a more confident, spacious psychedelic palette. With a new album in the can, expect to hear plenty of fresh material at this set.

Listen! Revolvers - unknown

Deep Space Cowboys (Annex Live / 11:00 p.m.)

An offshoot of the shockingly young/shockingly proficient Auras collective, this brings some hints of shoegaze along with solid hits of psychedelia.

The Mark Inside (Horseshoe Tavern / midnight)

The tough and uncompromising glare tells you that they've been hurt before — then the band kicks in and suddenly you realize there's a chainsaw being thrust right at your heart. Bourbon, regret and volume.

Listen! The Mark Inside - There is Nothing to Admit

Emma McKenna (The Garrison / 7:15 p.m.)

The Sunday night best-bet is probably this early-evening U-Haul showcase at The Garrison, with a quartet of intriguing acts. Most notable is the return of the talented Emma McKenna, who was seen as being poised for a big breakthrough a few years ago before easing away from the T.O. scene.

Listen! Emma McKenna - unknown

* 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.

Monday, March 18, 2013

CMW 2013: Strategy

[Please note: My opinions haven't changed too much on the matter, so I'm re-running this strategy guide, first posted last year, with some minor alterations. A list of bands that I can vouch for will follow tomorrow.]

Canadian Music Week is not for you.

The powers-that-be want you to think of CMW* as an equal competitor to NXNE — a buffet-style music festival with simultaneous showcases creating the autohype of too-much-to-see. But CMW is first and foremost a gathering for the remnants of the bloated corpse of the mersh music industry:

Now in its 31st year, CANADIAN MUSIC WEEK is recognized as one of the premier entertainment events in North America focusing on the business of music. We bring together Sound Recording, New Media and Broadcast for one spectacular week of events. [...] IF YOU’RE GOING TO ATTEND ANY INTERNATIONAL MUSIC CONVENTION THIS YEAR… Make it CMW 2013 – Where Music Means Business!

Amongst peers and people I pay attention to, there's a huge gulf in anticipation levels, from so-much-goodness delight to over-it eye rolling — a level of enthusiasm that's probably directly proportional to the number of times the individual has gone through this exercise before. I am, admittedly, skewing well towards the latter camp, but I shan't let pessimism get the better of me. Even if for every good band, there appears to be ten that are "industry ready from the shoes up!" it is possible to carve your own little festival out of the whole loopy spectacle and hopefully come out the other end feeling okay about the experience. To that end, tomorrow I'll offer a list of bands playing at the festival that I'm willing to vouch for. But first, here's a list of strategies that I have found useful.

#1: You probably don't want a wristband

For years, I bought into the mystique that a wristband brings. So many possibilities! Unlimited access! Etc. etc. But CMW is reaching a fairly audacious price point. Interestingly, the Festival seems to be acknowledging this a bit, with wristbands on offer for $60 — down from last year's $75. But still, it's not easy to get your money's worth with a full-price wristband. If you're going full-bore from Wednesday to Sunday, your cost per night isn't so crazy. But if you're focused on a more reasonable Thursday-Friday-Saturday the price is quickly getting out of hand. (Also interestingly, the just-plain-goofy one-day wristbands, on sale last year at $35 a pop, don't seem to be on offer any more.)

With a wristband, you're getting yourself into a bit of a crapshoot if you have must-see bands, especially if they're in any sort of high-profile showcase. Over the past few years, CMW has been opening the floodgates on individual show advance sales, which means there's less room for wristband holders. Read the schedule carefully. "Limited wristbands" is just that — sometimes it's not going to be a problem getting in, but at places like Lee's or The 'Shoe, it's just as likely to mean a handful — or even none are admitted. And for the prestige shows that the Festival has attached their name to, you're basically S.O.L. All things considered, if there's a band you simply must see, you're as well off buying a ticket for that and settling in for the night.

#2: Never wait in line

If you are going the wristband route, always have a plan B and be prepared to miss something you had been planning on. If you're show-hopping and you arrive at your next spot to find a line — keep going. Unless it's small and the previous set hasn't finished yet, in which case you can count on a certain between-set turnover. There's nothing worse than being stuck outside, so seeing a second-best option is far better than nothing. Be prepared to cut your losses and move along. Which is easier if you're planned for...

#3: Geographical clumping

You should always have an idea of where your next set is going to be and where it is in relation to other venues. And then plan realistically: if you had a 10 o'clock set at C'est What and an 11 o'clock set at Parts and Labour, ask yourself if it's physically possible to get there by whatever means of transport at your disposal. You should have an idea of how far you can get on your bike, on foot or with your Metropass in twenty minutes or so and never set up anything outside that boundary. And always keep in mind what else is nearby. For me, for example, my festival go-to zone is usually along the Spadina/College axis, simply because there's so many venues close at hand. And if it's packed, say, at the El Mo, then I know I'm only steps away from Rancho or the Silver Dollar, or a short hike to Sneaky Dee's or down to Queen Street.

#4: Know your curators

Having backups is easier when you can carve out the crap in that big grid and focus on showcases put together by a trusted authority. Look over all the "Presented by..." lines in the grid for any familiar names. I always know, for example, that I'm going to get no-bullshit rock'n'roll from Dan Burke at The Silver Dollar. Similarly, even if I don't know any of the bands, I figure I could go up the stairs to Rancho Relaxo and take a chance that Two Way Monologues have dug up something interesting. I'd say I'm open to listen to bands picked by, say, Silent Shout, Exclaim! or M for Montreal. And similarly, the presenters can serve as useful red flags as well: I'm automatically suspicious of anything under the banner of a commercial radio station or "lifestyle" brand.

#5: Ignore the Corporate Bullshit

On that note, there's a lot of weird industry stuff that you should just resolutely ignore. Whether showcases set up by child-exploiting pay-to-play agencies or the weird spectacle knows as "the Indies", just move along.

#6: Look for the Freeness

Especially if you're not busy during the daytime, you can see some top-notch bands playing unofficial shows piggybacking on the festival. The in-store lineup at Sonic Boom is a reliable (and all-ages!) spot to stop by for a spell.

#6: Consider your non-CMW options

As always, there's a lot of good music taking place independent of the festival, so if you're in a show-going mood but don't want to deal with any of the above, don't forget about the other shows at hand. No just name a couple, there's a very interesting Wavelength show on Thursday, and the Fucked Up-curated Long Winter on Saturday. And if you want a real alternative, Toy Piano Composers will be hosting a wonderful show on Saturday night with Montréal's Ensemble Paramirabo.

* 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.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Recording: L CON

Artist: L CON

Song: unknown*

Recorded at Saving Gigi ("The Ballads Reimagined, Part Three: Voice"), March 17, 2013.

L CON - unknown

Full review to follow. Lisa Conway celebrated the release of her Ballads Reimagined collection by reimagining her music even further at a trio of shows focusing on different approaches. This instalment was entitled "voice", and the L CON set was indeed delivered by a vocal trio (featuring Mary Wood and Isla Craig) without microphones to a silent room. I wasn't quite equipped for something so quiet, so be assured that this recording of one of the short pieces only captures a small part of how wonderful it was. The night was made complete with Renée Lear's aqueous projections on the café window.

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

Recording: Caylie Staples

Artist: Caylie Staples

Song: Ten-Ten

Recorded at Saving Gigi ("The Ballads Reimagined, Part Three: Voice"), March 17, 2013.

Caylie Staples - Ten-Ten

Full review to follow. I was unfamiliar with Caylie Staples, but she made a perfect complement to a night celebrating the power of beautiful voices. Had she not said otherwise, one wouldn't have guessed this was her first set done a capella with loop pedal. This song maps out how a particular number (on a price tag, or a licence plate, or a clock) can pop up with an eerie frequency that goes beyond synchronicity.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Recording: Prosimii

Artist: Prosimii

Song: CO*

Recorded at Saving Gigi, March 15, 2013.

Prosimii - CO

Full review to follow. While Bloorcourt's Saving Gigi is known to host a show from time to time, it's usually a sit-down affair with a coffeehouse vibe. This show was not like that, with a trio of bands with some volume and rockin' swagger. The members of Prosimii put this all together and closed out the night, bringing something closer to a mosh pit than I ever thought I'd see in these environs.

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

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Video: Bob Wiseman + Mark Hundevad

Following on the heels of Bob Wiseman's album release show (and talking about Mark Hundevad yesterday), a mysterious source has sent this footage below my way. It features Wiseman and Hundevad in the Tranzac's front room working out the arrangement of "Reform Party at Burning Man". It's a nifty performance in its own right, as well as a cool look at the working process between two savvy improvisers.

If you want to hear more from new album Giulietta Masina at the Oscars Crying, you can grab a download of "Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver Airport" at soundcloud. The album is available over at bandcamp — you should definitely check it out and get yourself a copy for a very reasonable sum.

Bonus! While you're over at bandcamp, you should also dig through Bob's back catalogue. Here's a few of my faves to get you started:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Recording: Pterodactyl

Artist: Pterodactyl

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The Tranzac (Spontaneous Combustion Anniversary Party), July 16, 2011.

Pterodactyl - unknown

My notes for this set can be found here.

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

Recording: Ulama

Artist: Ulama

Song: This Day

Recorded at The Tranzac (Spontaneous Combustion Anniversary Party), July 16, 2011.

Ulama - This Day

My notes for this set can be found here.

Gig: Spontaneous Combustion Anniversary Party

Spontaneous Combustion Anniversary Party (feat. Ulama / Ryan Driver / Colin Fisher + Mark Hundevad / Pterodactyl)

The Tranzac (Southern Cross Lounge). Saturday, July 16, 2011.

Spontaneous Combustion billed itself as a "Toronto underground music and culture magazine". I believe it's now defunct, publishing into May of 2012 — but here it was celebrating its first anniversary with a birthday party and show at The Tranzac.1 There was a cake, as well as some art on hand to celebrate the zine's movement into celebrating the visual as well as the auditory. Plus there were four diverse performances, reflecting the magazine's wide net.

Leading off the night was Tyson Kerr's Ulama, which should be pronounced with an 'ooh' at the start rather than a 'you'. The quartet had a slightly unusual lineup of accordion, violin, flugelhorn and double bass. Gabriella Ciurcovich was on the latter — she'd more recently be seen playing in Kite Hill. But this was generally a vehicle for Kerr's compositions — there's not much more info around on the band, so I'm assuming it was more of a short-term project. His musical background ranges from jazzy ensembles to choral work — he's also performed in Grex — and this material came out something more like lighthearted chamber-jazz.

There was room for variation within that, though, and the set started with a violin-led folk number (whimsically entitled "Reel-ly Jiggy") before moving into the sort of pleasing lightness you could imagine hearing on starry summer night on a romantic Parisian café terrace. It would later even brush up against genteel spirituals on one song. This was pleasing light fare, though perhaps the chatty young crowd at hand took it as being more suitable for background ambiance than something they should pay close attention to.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Ryan Driver was introduced by Ron Gaskin as "one of the greatest treasures in the sonic wilderness of Toronto" but this set turned out to be a bit of a rough ride. Promising to play all covers, an opening Scottish folk song accompanied by guitar was beset by a strange ticking noise in the monitor and abandoned.

Driver moved to the piano to essay Andy Gibb's "I Just Want to Be Your Everything". That and a 'luded-out take on "Up Up and Away" were rather fascinating, but the crowd was becoming increasingly inattentive. That's a very un-Tranzac-y thing and it seemed to throw Driver off his game — during an instrumental passage, he started really pounding at the keys. This material was definitely deserving of a more attentive crowd — I hope to get another chance to hear him interpreting Nat King Cole without so much chatter in my ear. As it is, Driver took it into increasingly abstract instrumental territory before he wrapped it up and promptly headed out of the room.

Fortunately that chatty element of the crowd were gone by the time Colin Fisher + Mark Hundevad started. I was automatically interested in this set to hear anything from Colin Fisher (NTWNTF, Elfin Choirs, etc.). I did not know Hundevad, but he cut an impressive figure, looking, with his rakishly tilted hat, like a noir detective or a refugee from a Tom Waits song.2 But that was countered by the ebullience of his drumkit, which was covered with bright Norval Morriseau-esque paintings. And musically, he was certainly able to conjure up some brightness.

He also had an analog synth at his side, and as the set started, he employed that, generating vrooming zworps to match to Fisher's guitar knob-twiddling. Once Fisher attacked his strings — he was mostly in "shred" mode here — Hundevad took to his kit to build some structure underneath. The noise would occasionally ease off, such as while Fisher captured a chittering loop with his pedal, then played over that.

There was a roughly fifteen-minute crescendo, and then a second half that started again with a pattern of synth and pedal-texture again, now sounding spooky, like the soundtrack to a pulp novel's exploratory excursion on Venus — dry humming winds over a barren and mysterious landscape before Fisher's guitar started hopping with nimble steps to climb over a barbed wire fence, clambering into the murky terra incognita beyond. An excellent set — this is what I came out to this show to see.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Pterodactyl — sardonically self-identified as "a quintessential part of the music created in the fall of 2006" — rounded out the night with playing a reunion set, their first in five years.3 The trio of guit, sax and drums (Nate Renner, Chris Willes and Nico Dann, respectively) had a bit of a punk-jazz feel. Not to be mistaken for a sax-plus-rhythm-section combo, this was a fairly even-handed three-headed beast, and the guitar was as oft the quietest here as Dann's drums were the "lead" instrument. (He'd provide some unmic'd wordless vox as well.)

The set began with a couple clattering numbers, all three jockeying for prominence before the whole equation inverted itself in a quieter composition with the others filling in around Willes' sax work. Picking the energy back up after that, on the next piece Dann paced in a circle around the kit ringing a bell while Renner used a slide to strum his guitar, generating scratchy metallic noises to counter Willes's blats and squeals. Almost as if they were taking requests from each other, Dann called out for Beck's "Devil's Haircut", taking the others by surprise, but they launched into a beat-driven version, enlisting the crowd to song along on the chorus before a spazzy breakdown.

Just as the band seemed to represent one moment in T.O.'s improvised music landscape, Spontaneous Combustion will also now be a marker of a specific stretch of time where some folks banded together to make some noises to — and for — each other. And if "the moment" has passed, the ripples will still be expanding outwards, waiting for someone to hear.

Listen to a track from this set here.

1 Unless you're looking for something in German whose offerings include, um, "livestrip", their website appears to be gone now, but you can stiff out some traces at their facebook page, or see a few PDF'd issues via the wayback machine.

2 Hundevad actually has a thoroughly-impressive CV, playing behind a long list of noteworthy luminaries, as well as leading his own Controlled Demolition ensemble. I'll also be looking at another one of his collaborations here tomorrow.

3 The band also occasionally self-identifies as "Pterodactyl X" to distinguish themselves from an American flying-dinosaur-themed ensemble. Staying inactive since this reunion, you can hear some sounds from their heyday at their myspace.