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Ayn Rand’s ghost told me Architects & Builders can go fuck themselves

September 4th, 2012 No comments

Architects and Builders live

~ I forgot my camera so this is a shitty iPad photo

The final show ever performed by Regina’s Architects and Builders made clear all the essential truths about the band: they sucked at self-promotion, they have the worst timing in the world, and they hate Ayn Rand as much as Ayn Rand would’ve hated them — mostly because they were really, really great but despite that individual merit they went nowhere.

Not that they were ever really meant to go anywhere. The band freely acknowledged during their last performance on August 13th that they only really became a “band” (as opposed to what was essentially a recording experiment by Matthew Blackwell) in the last year or so. And even then they really only hit their stride this summer, when they released their final two recordings. The last time I talked about the band I was only starting to get a sense of what we were going to be missing; the show and further spins of The Joy Of Cooking have cemented that sense of impending loss.

Firstly: it’s hard not to love a band that gets up on stage, mentions it’s their last show ever, and then launches in to one of the most spirited Tears For Fears covers I’ve ever seen. The band’s performance of “Shout” set a surprisingly good tone, as bandleader Blackwell yelped out the words at maximum exuberance. Fellow members John Cameron and Mason Pitzel also displayed how keyed-up they were for the show by shouting right alongside him and exerting a lot of energy right off the hop. If one were prone to over-analyzing set list choices one could say the selection was also a pretty apt dig at the Regina music scene; perhaps the things the band could do without are the lack of audience that shows up even when the show is free, the tendency to have no choice but to play to a mostly-empty room, or the studied apathy of a lot of Saskatchewan show-goers. Perhaps Blackwell’s pleadingly-delivered “Am I talking to you?” expressed a deeper desire to connect to the audience or an expression of the futility of giving your all in an indifferent setting. Perhaps starting with a cover was a subtle comment on the tendency of a certain portion of people in Regina to get more excited about good cover bands than burgeoning local talent.

Maybe…but probably not. Regardless, the song put a smile on the trio’s faces and the majority of the crowd.

They blasted into their own material after that, starting with the terrific opener on the new album, “(He’s) Afraid Of Fire.” It was perfect — the slower verses of the song give way to attack-the-instruments bridges, squalls of guitar noise and furious shredding belying the cautious nature of the lyrics. On the stage it was imbued with extra frenzy with Pitzel pushing the tempo on the drums with a startling ferocity.

The Joy Of Cooking played a big part in the set with at least five songs from the final album included. They also reached all the way back to the start when Blackwell introduced the first A&B song he ever wrote, noting that Pitzel was a mere 15 years old at the time. It was delightful to see the band reconfigure as the songs required; each member played each instrument on at least one song as Cameron and Pitzel took the lead on songs they penned. Pitzel appears to be a natural, displaying an easy ability on drums, bass, and guitar. The other two proved capable on the drums, though the concentration was much more palpable on their faces.

Things didn’t go perfectly, of course, and I doubt the band expected them to. The instrument swapping caused a few issues towards the end of the set. When Cameron took the drums his plaid shirt got in the way, hamstringing his playing for a moment before he ripped it off. Cameron’s focus on the drums was intense and he swings HARD when he’s playing; when Blackwell took the kit a few songs later the kick drum seemed to slip over and over, making for a less-than-smooth performance. Their very last song ended with Pitzel, back on the skins, for some reason throwing a drum stick towards Blackwell, hitting him in what appeared to be the foot or lower leg. He hobbled off stage in a noticeable amount of pain. When I left O’Hanlon’s Cameron was at the bar asking for ice as the wound was already beginning to swell.

I’m pretty sure that’s not the ending they envisioned, but I also don’t think any of them would complain. At least it was memorable, right?

Well, The Joy Of Cooking is memorable as well so perhaps it was an appropriate send-off. I had the pleasure of finally meeting the band members face to face before the show and I was struck by how personable, friendly, and excitable they are. Blackwell openly joked about how he hoped that the first Architects and Builders releases would be remembered as “charmingly amateurish,” but even with the fevered recording process behind Joy that identifier simply doesn’t fit any longer. I mentioned in the previous post that I only had a couple of spins of the album when I gave my initial thoughts back on the 14th. Since then I’ve listened to it over and over. And over. And over and over and over. It’s infuriating how much I enjoy it.

I identified the urgency behind it as one of the charms of the record. That still stands after repeated listens but the timeliness of it also resonates. “View From The Top” was introduced during the show as Blackwell’s “fuck you” to Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged, her most notorious work. His take-down of her theory of objectivism and the individual’s ability to succeed on their own merits instead of through a collectivist hand up from the government may be seen as inartful by some (“Do you have sex just so you have someone to climb over?” and “If you like objects so much why don’t you marry one? Is that childish? I don’t care.”) but at a time when the profile of the book is being raised and its lessons lauded by ham-handed Republicans it’s a noble effort. In a similar vein Cameron also manages to take his intense loathing for “ethical oil” blowhard Ezra Levant off of Twitter and onto the record through the remarkably-catchy “Ex-Staffer.” Cameron’s vocals on the muscular, up-tempo riff monster’s chorus remind me of some of Despistado’s more unhinged moments, helping the song achieve a remarkable build through a well-calculated bridge and into the rousing last section’s spelling lesson (“E-t-h-i-c-a-l, come on!”). Regardless of political affiliation it seems difficult to view Levant as anything but a cartoonish puppet; if A&B charged for their songs “Ex-Staffer” could go to #1 if everyone who has sued Levant for libel bought the track.

Blackwell still writes songs about girls too, in case you were wondering. “You’re Inscrutable” is a catchy one that OED-jocking intellectuals can get behind. “In The Shadow” is a more sensitive tale of letting go, with Blackwell and backing vocalist Rhiannon Ward lamenting in tandem, “This time you’re certain what you’re searching for…but I don’t hear your footsteps anymore.” It’s a tender moment that resonates a little louder amidst the larger cacophony of the rest of the album.

So what kind of legacy are Architects and Builders leaving behind? Well, if you listen to the members themselves it might be no legacy at all. They were giving away all 17 copies of their collected discography they had burned onto CD and the members joked before they took the stage that they were ending their tenure as it had begun: as dudes playing to an empty room. The room wasn’t quite empty but they probably could’ve given a CD to just about everyone who was there and paying attention. It may have been somewhat cathartic for a band that insists it was just hitting its stride when life intervened to rend them asunder but I guess when the “group” started as one guy writing, performing, and recording songs just to see if he could do it they could have done a hell of a lot worse.

If nothing else at least this one lone scribe will miss them. Thanks for the tunes, chums.

Despite the band’s dismissive jokes on stage if you google them their Bandcamp page comes up as the seventh result, not after pages and pages of other sites. Get all their music there except for the two parts of “Blues Lawyer,” which seem to have been removed for some reason.

Regina Folk Festival 2012 IS A GO!!!

August 9th, 2012 No comments

Braids folk festival

~Calgary/Quebec’s Braids perform during the 2011 Folk Festival

Good news, readers: I got word yesterday that my accreditation request for the 2012 edition of the Regina Folk Festival has been approved! I’ll be scrambling today to get myself ready for three full days of coverage of the greatest festival these parts have ever known.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out this article by Alex Abboud, a “social scientist” out of Edmonton who took a look at the overall benefit to a city of it’s particular folk festival versus the ticket price to see which one delivers the “best value” overall to those who attend. His findings show that the festival is worth about 400% of what the organizers here actually charge! Definitely an interesting way to look at such an event.

Anyway, on to the line-up! I touched on it briefly when the artists were first announced but there have been a few more acts added since then. You can go to the festival’s web site to check out their terrific schedule page and map out your days and nights so you don’t miss any of the performances that have you excited.

If you aren’t able to make the full festival my recommendation is definitely to get in for the Friday night main stage run. It is pretty much flawless back to front, kicking off in a big way with the much-buzzed-about Cold Specks making their festival debut. Al Spyx has been making the rounds on the folk festival circuit this summer but I haven’t seen anything clarifying if she’s brought her full band along or if she’s making a go of it herself. I’ve heard she’s a somewhat shy performer so I’d be surprised if it’s the latter. If it is though, I think we’ll be in for a treat; the songs on her much-heralded (and Polaris Prize short-listed) album I Predict A Graceful Expulsion are writ so large, orchestrated so thoroughly, it could be quite illuminative to see them performed in a bare-bones fashion.

Timber Timbre is the next to put on a full set and I could not be more excited to see them live, considering their last record was maybe the single greatest of 2011. I’d be lying, however, if I said I didn’t feel slightly ambivalent about the prospect as well. What I love about Timber Timbre is the singular mood their music creates; it envelops you in darkness and mires you in malaise. Having not had the chance to see them live I’m just hoping they can retain some of that disembodied creepiness while the sun is still shining.

Shad is up next on the main stage Friday and it should be another highlight. I think he’s the only performer that can be considered hip-hop this year and I have to tip my cap to Sandra Butel for booking him. If you haven’t seen any of our coverage of Shad before you can dig our reviews of his two previous full-length records, which were in my mind the finest rap releases of 2010 and 2008. If you’re completely unfamiliar you can also get a taste of his work on his bandcamp page, which is currently featuring a brand new EP called Melancholy and The Infinite Shadness that’s available for a pay-what-you-can download. The production is decidedly more lo-fi and sample-based than most of his work but it will still give you an idea of his lyrical dexterity and his delightful wordsmithery.

Mavis at Lolla

~Here’s a terrible photo I took of Mavis and band performing in Chicago in 2010!

Soul maven Mavis Staples is also in the line-up. She’s been singing in funk, soul, and gospel circles for nigh on 40 years, I believe, and she’s a consummate professional. If you’ve seen her perform before you also know she’s incredibly inspirational. Seeing her in Chicago to kick-off the first day of Lollapalooza two years ago was so moving I didn’t even care that my bald dome was getting a premature start on a terrible sunburn. She’s that good!

Friday’s headliner is The Jim Cuddy Band, supporting their album Skyscraper Soul, which was released late last year. You might recognize Cuddy because of that record or from his 25 YEARS AS CO-FRONTMAN OF BLUE FRICKIN’ RODEO. Yeah, it should be a pretty good closing set.

And I haven’t even mentioned the ‘tweener sets that are slated for Friday night! I lobbied for Julia & Her Piano to be selected as a local performer and I’m glad she’s going to be get her 15 minutes on the main stage. I think she has the potential to charm a lot of people. My pal Ashley Martin interviewed Julia in advance of the festival; you can see what she had to say in the most recent QC. The Wooden Sky is also playing a teaser set and I’m excited to see how far their live show has come since they first came to my attention back in 2009. I’m expecting big things; their February release Every Child A Daughter, Every Moon A Sun was a big step forward in their songwriting and a really terrific record. Rich Aucoin plays a ‘tweener as well, having blown Regina’s collective mind away with his live set just a few months ago. Harrison Kennedy is a blues man from way back but I’m sadly ignorant of his work, so it should be a great learning experience.

And, again, that’s just Friday night! The other two days will see buzzed-about Canadian acts like Katie Stelmanis’ robotronica/danceopera juggernaut Austra, Great Lake Swimmers, and the Barr Brothers all take the main stage. I’m also excited to see Elage Diouf (a Senagalese composer who won a Juno a couple of years ago for Best World Music Album) and Pokey LaFarge (whose delightful earworm “Drinkin’ Whiskey Tonight” has been featured on Folk Festival ads on CJTR for months). One of my all-time favourite Canadian groups Stars are also on the main stage — I nearly forgot! And I haven’t even mentioned heralded headliners like Emmylou Harris and Arlo Guthrie! It’s almost too much to bear!

Check below for some preview tracks of some of these acts, but more important check out the festival! Even if you can’t get your hands on main stage passes there is a constant stream of music from numerous tents in Victoria Park all day Saturday and Sunday, not to mention food trucks and merchandise vendors and your friends and neighbours. It’s the place to be!

And keep checking back here over the course of the next week for reviews of the main stage performances, photos, and interviews with some of the artists. I’ll be co-hosting CJTR’s live show once again from 12-3pm, broadcasting live from the park and talking to some of the performers while we mix in some tunes and talk about the atmosphere and expectations of this year’s festival.

Of course for more information on all things RFF check out their spiffy web site for each and every little detail.

It’s been some time since I really felt right

June 16th, 2012 No comments

these-estates-coverThe end is the beginning is the end for These Estates. But really it isn’t far to go for a band that only has eight recorded songs to its name.

The Regina band is the occasional musical outlet for John Cameron, a fellow who has served as a sideman to a few different local bands in recent years. I guess I first became aware of Cameron and the rest of the Urban Planning Records family some four or five years ago when the Polymaths released their marvellous first EP. By the time the Polymaths released their one and only full-length CD, the literally-perfect Coming Home, Cameron was playing second guitar and moustache for the band. I ordered that album from the apparently now-defunct UPR web site, along with records by other Regina bands I was completely ignorant about, including These Estates.

The energy and spirit that Cameron embodied during the Polymaths dizzying last-ever live show is present in spades in his work with These Estates, albeit in two very distinct ways. Their 2009 EP I Can’t Wait is a decidedly spirited affair, a rollicking and energetic power-pop extravaganza. There’s an irrepressible, youthful vigor that runs through the whole mini-album, starting with the insistent “I Can’t Wait.” Cameron and the then-four piece band roll through the song singing only those three words over and over, layering and playing with them, changing the harmonies, the cadence and tempo of their delivery, to reflect the enthusiasm that comes along with creating something new, something exhilarating. Cameron’s songwriting throughout the record is alternately lucid, even sombre, and prone to flights of fancy; “We Got Snakes” is a charming little pogo-rocker that embodies the latter with Cameron imagining himself as a snake gaining its freedom (possibly after the fall of man, depending on how you read it). The remarkable “Anachromance” offers up a sophisticated lyric that equates the allure of old mix tapes with the love of a partner; both have an inexplicable charm that we all spend way too much time trying to decipher. The same drive that makes you repeat a song over and over, soaking up every drop of joy creates in you, is what Cameron is looking for; he feels that, “if I could spin your heart again and again I could figure out what gives it its lasting appeal.” Later, “American Lover” draws a straight line from Cameron to disgraced US politican Elliott Spitzer, rogue KGB agents, and the Hudson’s Bay company using some very broad strokes.

As good as that brief affair is, it only hints at the shift in direction realized on the 7″ single put out early this year. Soiled Hands/Autumn In A Foreign Country shows that Cameron, like a nice brown liquor, has matured with age. The two songs take a more deliberate pace and thus have a longer running time individually, giving These Estates’ revamped three-piece line-up some room to stretch their legs. They also show a continued growth and expansion on the style of the last song on I Can’t Wait, “Regrets,” which saw Cameron lamenting (with increasing severity) “I wish I knew the way you felt before you were with someone else.” Pretty literal song titling, chum! Anyhow, the track is a slow-burner musically, a down-tempo contemplation of love slipped through the cracks

“Soiled Hands” has a similarly-blatant title and a good amount more aggression. The lyrical flipside of “Regrets” outlines something between unrequited love, stalking, and a bad Patrick Duffy movie plot from the 90s. Cameron attacks his guitar at the top of the track, slashing out each chord with the same aggressive vitriol contained in the lyrics: “You’ve been awfully quiet since he came around but I’m keeping tabs on you, got my ear to the ground.” Cameron’s shoutiest singing carries much of the song until a certified guitar freak-out brings things to a haggard, disheveled close.

“Autumn In A Foreign Country,” however, offers a dose of dour sincerity after the A-side’s vindictive suspiciousness and is likely the best song this young group has ever recorded. It builds around an insistent drum pattern that establishes itself well enough, the music becoming nearly hypnotic over the course of the first few minutes and creating a big impact when the band finally breaks away from it. Cameron weaves what appears to be the story of a man who has lost a lover in the last year, giving shape to the shaky balance we all fall into after traumatic events. That means fawn-legged, half-believed self-confidence (the “We got it” part of the claim, “We got it covered like you wouldn’t believe,” is repeated almost ad-nauseum) and self-doubt (“You know, it’s been some time since I really felt right and I have said some stupid shit in the meantime”). It’s relatable; I’m sure we all know exactly what he means when he sings, “I don’t know how I can be expected to keep living my life” (although if the scenario depicted here is true-to-life than the circumstances are much more dire than most of us can know).

It’s a long way to go from, “For God’s sakes, we got snakes!” to a nuanced and mature plea for closure, but both songs are just terrifically-written in their own way. Cameron was good as part of a band but these new songs prove more and more how indispensable he is as a creative leader. If you’re listening, John, keep it up. Full-length, please, as soon as possible!

These Estates records are up for free as high-quality mp3s on Bandcamp, which is a very good thing. You can also buy the physical 7″ through there. If you want more Cameron/Urban Planning Records material you can also check out Architects and Builders, Cameron’s other excellent band.

Reluctant readers make reluctant listeners

August 23rd, 2011 No comments

library_voices_summer_of_lust
It’s a fine line between theme and gimmick. One has to wonder if/when the Library Voices literary bent will come back to bite the group.

The Regina band’s latest album, Summer of Lust, is out today. Like their previous releases it pairs immense pop hooks with wry lyrics stuffed full of literary name-drops, references, and allusions. Roughly equal amounts of press has been given to the band for its catchy musical arrangements and its willingness to play up their apparent bookworminess, be it in song titles (“Things We Stole From Vonnegut’s Grave,” “Reluctant Readers Make Reluctant Lovers,” “If Raymond Carver Was Born In The 90s,” “Bodies Of Fiction,” etc) or in lyrics (authors like Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Joseph Heller and Richard Yates are mentioned in just one single song). It’s a device that plays to a decidedly hipster fan base, but while it might be seen as charming by some it can also be interpreted as pretention, having the potential to drive away listeners before they even push the play button.

That would be a shame, now more than ever. The band has hit a stride, paring down this year to its smallest line-up yet (six people) and quickly recording an album that overtakes its predecessors in nearly every way.

Like their previous albums, the band leads off Summer of Lust with an unimpeachably rock-solid lead track. “If Raymond Carver Was Born In The 90′s” is a terrific piece of pop that is also emblematic of the album as a whole. Awash in keyboard and synth sounds (I’m pretty sure there’s some theremin in there as well), it’s an upbeat rock song that simultaneously laments and celebrates the road-weary life of touring musicians trying to live their dream. I will admit to not being familiar enough with the American short story author referenced in the title to know if the song’s theme echo his work but either way the song starts the album out on a high note, introducing new listeners to the swirling synths and Carl Johnson’s desperate tenor that are the hallmarks of their sound.

From back to front this record is extremely upbeat, taking on galloping rhythms and elements of classic early-era pop and rock songs to give the tracks some backbone. Take for example the early-release track “The Prime Minister’s Daughter,” a song deftly released a month before Canada’s federal election (nearly five months before the album release date). The group’s first blatant protest song, singer Carl Johnson shimmies his way through another pointedly synth-drenched track whose lyric condemns the Tory government for rolling back arts funding. It’s a pretty damn perfect song, an incredibly catchy number that pleads with Stephen Harper’s daughter by name to realize that there are young musicians in Canada that have to work double shifts tending bar just to be able to afford to live while making music. The wryly disingenuous line, “Ordinary people don’t care about art,” is a perfectly back-handed swipe at the Harper government (or any government for that matter) that uses the idea of imaginary “meat and potatoes,” blue-collar citizens who demand to see less “frivolous” spending as a justification for reducing support to areas they don’t like or understand.

The plight of the beleaguered musician is here in full force, but there are other thematic arcs on the record as well. “Anthem For A New Canadia” isn’t as geographically centered as its title may suggest; like single “Generation Handclap” it uses modern technology as a jumping-off point to express something between criticism, concern, and observation about the current state of adults who aren’t quite adults; they’re the people approaching their thirties who don’t have a home, aren’t settling down and having babies, or even have what’s typically considered a “career.” They’re the people who, as lyricist Mike Dawson puts it, “write letters to home and then send them by phone.” It’s a succinct encapsulation of how the times, they are a-changin’.

Like any good poet, Dawson also tends to over-romanticize his sexual dalliances. “Be My Juliette Gréco, Paris 1949″ is a great example in which he compares a lover he is “always coming back to” to Miles Davis and the titular French singer. How a 30 year-old Saskatchewanian has an intimate knowledge of the age “before Photoshopped hips and collagen smiles” is beyond me but it makes for a good, obscure reference (akin to the average John K. Samson song) that will send listeners running for their Google search bar (see what I did there?).

Lyrics aside the album’s production helps feed the more immediate sound the band has cultivated, the studio less of a presence than on their previous full-length. The tracks have a “live from the floor” feel that scrapes off the polish of the last album that glossed up the songs to an almost absurd degree. While synths and keys are the most prominent musical force here Brennan Ross’ guitar also shines with creative leads soaked in reverb that help fill out the arrangements in a wonderful way. Paul Gutheil’s saxophone also continues to be a delightful break from the norm, although it seems to have been used more sparingly this time around.

The liner notes for Summer of Lust feature (surprise!) a quote from Pablo Neruda that sums up the album for me, although probably not in the way the band intended. “I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too,” it reads. That accurately describes my relationship with the band because, while I could not have enjoyed a handful of the songs on their previous records more, they haven’t stuck with me in a very big way. As much as the songs on Denim on Denim were archetypal pop songs of the highest order the album as a whole had no staying power with me; it isn’t something I frequently seek out, something that I crave. Summer of Lust is a different creature altogether, an album that is delightfully cohesive and decidedly memorable. It’s another accomplishment for Regina’s music scene that should have an impact far and wide.

Here’s hoping that unlike Dickinson, Plath, and Thoreau they’re appreciated in their own time. I promise you, reluctant readers, if you can get past their occasionally-cloying literary crutches there’s plenty for you here.

You can buy Library Voices albums through their website or via iTunes. They’re also touring like the dickens with a ton of Canadian dates already booked.

Home is where your shit is

July 27th, 2010 No comments

polymaths home coverParting is such sweet sorrow, you guys. It will be even more so this Thursday night at O’Hanlon’s in Regina, however, as the mighty Polymaths take the stage for the last time. Ever. In the world.

The shame of it all is that they only got one full-length CD out in their time together; one completely incredible full-length CD. It should have made my Best of 2009 list — and likely would’ve been somewhere near the top — but since I’m not as plugged in locally as I used to be I totally missed it’s initial late-December release. I picked up Home Again early this year and it’s been a resounding, poignant listen that I just can’t leave alone.

Keeping in line with their own history (on the So Long, Castle Road EP) there’s a lot of Regina in these songs. The presence of our fair city in Craig Fink’s lyrics shows itself in a variety of forms, from the obvious-to-those-that-are-from-here references in “The Longest Bridge Over The Shortest Span Of Water” (see the wiki for historical footnotes) to more subtle references to prairie life as compared to living in “London-town” or at Queen’s University (both in the comparative mecca of Ontario). There’s almost a thematic arc to the album; softly strummed opener “Age Sixteen” sets the stage with Fink intoning a tale of a young person leaving home for good only to plead ninety seconds later, “Go home.” The album ends with the slow, harmony-draped “Letter From Home,” a spiritual sibling that sees Fink insisting that he can’t/won’t go back to where he’s from.

Those songs, along with the half-dozen or so in between that touch on the same topic, hit close to home for nearly every young Saskatchewanian, I think. Our province’s legacy in the last several decades has been that of a feeder community; our young people inevitably go off to more exciting (re: less flat) places to seek their education and/or fortune. The line, “I’d like to remind you that home is where your shit is piling up” rings true to my generation’s experiences; while we go elsewhere we rarely REALLY leave. For one, the cost-of-living shift between places deemed desirable when compared to Saskatchewan is often stark and makes it tough to take your whole life with you. Moreover, it’s a hard place to get away from. People from other places may not realize it, but the prairies never leave your blood. As blog favourite Emmet Matheson recently opined on the always-delightful Bulldozer With A Wrecking Ball Attached, you’re always from here whether you like it or not.

Fink expertly captures the love/hate relationship that a lot of young people still have about places like Regina. The latter-half track “Winter At Queen’s” sees him lamenting an intense homesickness while studying away from home; the man who once railed against the prairie weather is now idealizing it after seeing the colour of the grass on the other side. Hearing his insistence that he wants to have “a spot to plant his soul” ready and waiting for him is what truly makes Saskatchewanians Saskatchewanians, the cathartic push/pull of needing to experience more but wanting to hold on to that pastoral quietude that defines us as a region and a people.

That’s not to say that this album is unlistenable for anyone that has never seen the sun rise over five hundred kilometres of flat prairie. The other half of the songs here are laudable critiques of love, working retail, and the fragility of dreams. While the Saskatchewan suite of songs stand out to me lyrically, the remainder of the tracks often rise above even those numbers.

Frankly, some of these songs are fucking astounding in how completely amazing they are. The band is firing on all cylinders in this recording, expanding their no-nonsense guitar-bass-drums-keyboard 4/4 rock and roll to incorporate genuine moments of soul music with incredible effect. The two stand-out tracks are both slower songs that begin with patient musical build-ups and Fink’s gentle singing (which transitions into near-growling insistence over their running time). “Unreliable” is the first (and possibly only) truly classic soul number written by Regina’s rock and roll underground, a tense, perfectly-arranged track that gives Fink the opportunity to exorcise the demons of a hundred spurned lovers, culminating in a note-perfect guitar solo that adds just the right amount of chaos into the closing. “Burst Into Flames” is a rumination on personal shortcomings and the conflicting nature of reality versus the dreams of our youth, a genuinely affecting number with a mournful tenor that feels like an ending, and not a good one. “I’m laundry hung out on a line,” Fink admits, before insisting with his last breath that geography might once again be playing a part in how he and his character’s lives end up.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, at least half of the band members are leaving Regina for grad school. If the lyrical content of this album is any indication I have every confidence they’ll be back some day. Saskatchewan might be the one place where you can go home again.

I can’t say enough about this album, and this isn’t future-nostalgia or pre-beak-up hysteria. I’ve been spinning this disc non-stop for months and it is worth every revolution. I don’t understand how this record and this band aren’t getting the acclaim and attention that your Library Voices or your Rah Rah are having showered upon them. No, they don’t have 14 people in the band and they don’t give away free candy at shows. They write the balls off some smart, passionate rock music and make no apologies for it.

Come out to O’Hanlon’s on Thursday and let them know that’s still worth something. Send them off to grad school with some fucking smiles on their faces.

Final show is Thursday night at O’Hanlon’s. BE THERE. Click right here for more information.

Get the record from Regina-based Urban Planning Records; it comes in a crazy paper case!

When you’re ready he’ll be ready

May 5th, 2010 No comments

northcoteSometimes it just feels like you’re listening to something special.

In the last year or so I’ve written about a number of current/former punk rockers that have made the shift to acoustic singer-songwriters. So many, in fact, that even writing those words kind of makes me want to roll my eyes a little bit. Just sayin’.

But Matt Gaud is something else, people. He’s the genuine article, the real deal, the bee’s knees. If the cat wore them, he would be it’s pajamas.

Gaud is a former member of Means, a Regina-based Christian hardcore/metalcore band (no joke, that’s a thing) that did quite well for themselves, having toured through Canada and the U.S. more times than I have (to be certain). After that band’s dissolution he’s played his rootsier, folksier solo material under a couple of different names, including his own.

I had intended to write about his latest iteration back in February after seeing him open for Library Voices, a show that was recorded for broadcast by our friends at CBC Radio 2 (stream that business at their website; you might as well, you’re paying for it, right?). Seated before a half-full Exchange, Gaud fired up his throaty vocals and got to playing a set of mostly-downtrodden, lovelorn, and longing numbers. His melodies and playing are natural and unforced and he’s an understated performer, his great, bushy beard hiding the face of a poet.

Admittedly, I was at first drawn in more by his insanely-good cover of Hot Water Music’s “Trusty Chords” than the originals, but once I heard the cover my attention was piqued.

Like early Dylan or Iron & Wine or Bon Iver he relies on his acoustic guitar and a harmonica for his live performances, choosing to flush out the recorded tracks subtly with bass drum, bass, some electric guitar, and some phenomenal trumpet work. Seriously people, it isn’t that easy to make trumpets sound this plaintive and downtrodden.

Those horns are one of the focal points on the first track featured here, “Energy.” The trumpet melodies swell in the intro and chorus, setting up Gaud’s pained lyric about a patient potential paramour waiting for a shot at love. The percussion is lower in the mix, but the subtle cymbal work also provides some build and cresendo of it’s own. “Wheels,” the other standout track you’ll find below, makes use of an insistent kick drum that propels the song’s tale of an unexpected wrench being thrown into the minutiae of everyday life. The wailing harmonica recalls Springsteen’s Nebraska, but with the benefit of a proper studio to record it.

This record has emotional heft, but Gaud presents it in a relatable, everyman kind of way. No frills, no unnecessary wording or calculated metaphors. He lays it bare and relies on the quality of his songs and his raw talent to carry the results to the listener’s ear. “Worry” is perhaps the best example of this, hinging on the plainly-stated admission, “I don’t know where we’re going/but I like where we are.” Simple and direct but poignant nonetheless.

I was spurred to actually write this piece after reading an incredibly lauditory review on another website. While it’s likely a little premature to agree with Frank Turner’s assessment of Gaud as “a fucking legend,” if you’re a fan of this style of music then Borrowed Chords, Tired Eyes is a pretty fucking good start.

It’s worth noting that Northcote is on the bill for the massive, amazing, incomparable indie rock wank-fest that will be Sled Island Music Festival in Calgary the week of Canada Day. I’ll be there, cheering Matt on from the front row. Help him get there:

Physical: Maple Music
Digital: iTunes is a thing

Pluck and twang meet sturm und drang — Elliott Brood @ The Vinyl

March 25th, 2010 1 comment

In the mood for a little death country? Me too.

So I’m gonna maybe possibly perhaps go see Elliott Brood tonight at The Vinyl.

elliottbrood

It’s cold and dreary and I feel the pressure of make-believe deadlines and no money beating down on me. I’d like to remedy that with a little heat, a little booze, a little power, a little rock and roll. I want to feel that kick drum through the fuckin’ floor and with Elliott Brood taking the stage, I know I will. It’s been two years since they released their Polaris-nominated and me-declared brilliant album, Mountain Meadows, so maybe they’ll be playing some new stuff. Who knows?

I just think it would be a shame for you to miss a chance to see this band live. Because I think they’re one of the best little touring acts in the country right now and they play with an intensity I’ve rarely seen duplicated.

Come see them live! Doors at the Vinyl open at 7:30 p.m. (early show).

Can’t see ‘em in Guelph?

Mar. 26 – Montreal House (MOHO) in Peterborough, ON
Mar. 27 – Avening Community Centre in Creemore, ON
April 15 – Call the Office in London, ON
July 16-18 – Dawson City Music Festival in Dawson City, Yukon

Get their shizz at their official storezunior or iTunes. Get it! Now!

High school confidential

June 13th, 2009 2 comments

I remember watching a band from my high school perform when I was in Grade 10.

“These guys suck,” I thought.

Lo, my first moment of sneering criticism. Sigh. I remember it like it was yesterday! I don’t know if they ever got anywhere with their music. Probably not. Reflecting back, they really were terrible. Their name was ripped off from plenty of punk groups of the day. The letters FX played a role. Bad news bears all around.

Since then, I’ve suffered through more than my fair shair of teeny boppers acting tough and playing terrible music. I became convinced I would never see a good young band. Kids today! They’re either making music that is terrible and pretentious or terrible and twee! Where are my wax cylinders! Harumph! I’m weary of the whining pseudo punk rockers and the uber-precious emo kids. You get, like, so much material from hanging at the mall? You know? Generally, I ignore any music that is made by a person under the age of 20. This means that I can pretend the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus don’t exist! Win-win!

Then The Canned Goods came along.

Clockwise from right: Ben Millar, Elliott Gwynne, Tyler Bersche, Alexis Troyak

photo by Ryan Pfeiffer Photography

I saw their name on a poster for a show last year when I was still writing for the daily rag. Of all the groups on the roster that night, they were the ones that caught my ear. Which is no mean feat when you consider all they had available online at the time was a shakey facebook video with terrible sound.

This band of 13-17 year olds is a throwback to a time before any of its members were born! If the White Stripes and the Black Keys had a baby and that baby grew up listening to the Beatles, the Stones, Led Zeppelin and the Who and started a high school band, the Canned Goods would be it.

Their song Julia is a frickin’ tour de force. From the moody opening bass line to the cranky, stuttering guitar, the song is both familiar and distinctive. The band wears their influences on their thrift-store sleeves and in a lot of ways, you can tell that they’re young, but refreshingly so. They’re not trying to be anything other than what they are: Talented teenagers who are feeling their way through their musical influences and carving out a spot on the local scene. They’re doing a goddamn good job of it, too. They’ve performed alongside a lot of great local groups and it’s only a matter of time before they’re going to be getting national press and headling shows of their own.

Guitarist Tyler Bersche has a strong command of his instrument, carving sharp chords and riffs that cut into a song. He also contributes vocals that compliment singer Lexy Troyak’s wails. When I met her, I literally could not believe she was 13. Her voice is raw and mature and miles better than the warbling bullshit being offered up by fakey divas like Avril Lavigne. I don’t know what Grace Slick sounded like when she was 13, but Lexy sounds an awful lot like her now and I suspect her voice is only going to get better as she gets older.

Where many high school bands fail is in the rhythm section. Often, kids haven’t learned to lock that in yet and as a result, they’re all over the map. Not so here. Bersche and Troyak might command the attention, but Elliott Gwynne on bass and Ben Millar on drums totally knocked me out. They give the group a strong backbone laced with elements of funk and jazz on which they hang the vocal hooks, fuzzy guitars and psychedelic riffs.

I won’t detract from the group’s appeal by saying that they’re good “for their age.” They’re just good. And they’re going to be huge. Get in on the secret early and you can say you knew them when.

Check them out tomorrow at the Guelph Multicultural Festival where they’re playing Riverside Park’s main stage at 4 p.m. They’re also going to be performing at the first ever Sunlight Music Festival on Aug. 18 at Riverside Park. That festival also features local musical guru James Gordon and benefits Guelph-Wellington Women in Crisis, so plan on attending!

Protesting is a riot and remixing is an art

April 16th, 2009 1 comment

So there’s some crazy shit going on in the states right now. A bunch of old, rich, white people are protesting a tax increase by… buying tea bags? Sounds like a bunch of somebodies failed history. And economics.

Since, you know, taxes have actually been cut if you make less than $250,000. And if you don’t make less than that? Fuck you, that’s what. Also, the ORIGINAL Boston Tea Party? Was about taxation without representation. Not whatever this ridiculous display of entitlement and misplaced rage is on about.

Just how stupid is this? Well, Shepherd Smith, an anchor on FOX NEWS, is actively calling for people to get a grip and I quote “read a newspaper with a different viewpoint than your own to get some context.” Let me repeat that: FOX NEWS is calling for reasoned debate and context. And reading. Um, is the earth rotating backwards? Is the sky orange? Do I have a great, bushy beard? Things are getting crazy out.

protesting

This is all just an excuse to run this photo and talk about the original being better than imitators. I’m not a remix fan. It is rare when I like a remix or a mashup. It’s not my fault that they’re usually lame.

But I’ve seen the light recently. You will recall that I loved the Diplo remix of M.I.A.’s Paper Planes. Which was itself, cribbing from Straight to Hell by The Clash.

I was forced to further examine my prejudices concerning remixes when one of my favourite local groups, Green Go, started their remix project, which saw them take several songs, awesome in their own right, and rework them.

Women, Gentleman Reg, The D’Urbervilles, Born Ruffians and the Rural Alberta Advantage all get the remix treatment on the Guelph group’s remix project.

They wisely steer clear of messing with the songs TOO much, but the remixes all enhance what’s there, rather than slapping a drum track behind it.

Somebody else on another blog said it better than me: The best remix, I like better than the original. I believe that person was talking about the Gorillaz 19-2000 soulchild remix, which was released as a b-side. He argued it should have been on the album and called the original something that better fit his idea of a typical remix, that is: “interesting to hear once, inessential, and in the way of the version I’d rather hear.”

That’s not EXACTLY how I’d classify any of the original songs that Green Go chose to remix. Because I love all of them. But probably the best is the updated version of Women’s Black Rice. It’s just a little tastier the second time around. They don’t slouch on any of the other remixes and their version of the Born Ruffians’ song This Sentence Will Save/Ruin Your Life is inspired.

Their original stuff is pretty spiffy, too. It’s like a kinder, gentler, Shout Out Out Out Out or a raunchier Metric. I’ve written about Green Go before and said publically, before they started doing the remix stuff, that they should be added to a Hillside Festival bill. I have a feeling that the remixes might just do the trick for getting them the notice they deserve. They’ve been favourably reviewed in Exclaim! and the Toronto Star and I’d like to think my own little voice shouting from the hilltops that they’re awesome counts for something, too.

If you live in Guelph, be sure to hop down to the eBar TONIGHT, where Green Go, who just signed to Phermone Recordings, are holding a CD release for their new LP, Borders, which will be available to the masses on April 28. But you should come out to this show anyway. For $5 (or PWYC), they promise a good time. Well, they don’t. I do.

Thriftstock a raging success

April 1st, 2009 No comments

Paradise is not always a tropical island in the sun or a luxurious hotel. Sometimes, it’s a store filled floor-to-ceiling with old albums, plaster casts of teeth, racks of second-hand clothing, musical instruments and knick-knacks up the wazoo.

Last night, a bunch of people who love music and the arts, performed in just such a place. The Family Thift Store is downtown Guelph’s least likely, but most fantastic concert venue.

I’ve written about the saga of Ray Mitchell’s junk store here before. But now the end has come. And so for the last week, Ray and his daughter, Jenny Omnichord, have been holding a series of concerts called Thriftstock to try and show the Royal City what it will be missing when the store closes its doors.

Ray is what we in the biz call a character. He always has a good quote, his store, which is filled with “treasures and mysteries” is always great for a photo, and more often than not, people are prone to disregard much of what he says, labelling it hyperbole and balderdash. Which is why I guess it took many months before anybody paid attention to his claims that the city was going to buy up a bunch of property on Wyndham Street and demolish it so the new library could have frontage on a main street.

Ray Mitchell, by Nick Iwanyshyn

It turns out, Ray’s predictions were true. The city does plan to buy up the block, tear it down and build a new library with some greenspace. And who’s going to protest a library? Nobody. But due to some troubles with a landlord, last night was, well, the last night.

Ray has provided this community’s artists, musicians and entertainers with instruments, equipment, friends, materials, a place to perform and a place to sleep. For the last week, they’ve been paying him back with shows. Groups as varied as Knock Knock Ginger, The D’Urbervilles, The Magic, Tacoma Hellfarm Tragedy, Richard Laviolette, Innes Wilson and his Opposition, Greg Denton, The Saltlick Kids and many more have performed at the Thrift Store in the past week.

Tonight, Wax Mannequin, Scott Nightingale of Guelph group Ragg Mopp (who I’m sorry, I can’t find any other information on, though I’m pretty sure they’re on NoFi Militant Records, but somebody correct me if I’m wrong) and The Burning Hell (Pat’s written about them here) performed. All these groups are quite fitting. Scott played the very first show at The Family Thrift Store. At the time, they all assumed it was a one-off. Then Wax Mannequin called because he was on a tour of alternative venues. He’d just played a grocery store and wondered, would the Family Thrift Store host him? Sure, said Jenny, who in addition to releasing solo albums, plays omnichord and sings with The Burning Hell.

It was a bittersweet goodbye, but I think the Burning Hell was a great choice to end it all with.

Their song The Things That People Make (parts one and two) is perfect for Ray, who is famous for his window displays. Once, he was approached by an art student who asked him to display a pig carcass tattooed with images of naked women as a statement on gender politics. Liberal use of an air freshener did not deter the flies. He’s taunted Leafs fans (as should we all), entreated local politicians to retire, called them bigots when they deserved to be called bigots, and just generally stated his mind via the found art he arranges for all to see. The displays may not all be my cuppa tea, but I think they’re great because they’re pushing boundaries and envelopes and buttons and other things that sometimes need to be pushed. Ray makes things and artistic people gravitate toward him. And now that his store is gone, they won’t. It’s as simple as that. Now, Ray could return in a different location, but until he does, there will be a gap and we’ll all be the worse off for it.

Late last night, when all but Burning Hell front man Mathias Kom and Jenny had left the makeshift stage, it got quiet and Jenny said she felt honoured to be the last to sing there. There was a moment of applause for Ray, who stood there, silently holding his sleeping grandson, Otis. Then, Kom announced they were about to retire a song he’d written about Guelph, one of his favourite places besides his hometown of Peterborough. And they sang Municipal Monarchs and at the chorus, the whole place sang along:

We’ll be municipal monarchs
With crowns made of oak leaves and birch bark
Our subjects will be loving and loyal
After all, this city is royal.

Many of these artists are available on Weework Records, Zunior and, yeah, iTunes.