Archive for March, 2008

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

I Know What I’m Looking For Now

Photo by Mark Borthwick

You can’t say that what Tift Merritt was doing wasn’t working – her 2002 debut Bramble Rose was received with great critical acclaim and the follow-up, 2005’s Tambourine, was equally well-received and garnered her a Grammy nomination. And yet, following the exhaustive touring cycle for that record, she felt spent and decamped to Paris to recuperate and rediscover herself. The net outcome of which is Another Country.

While both of her first two efforts were fine examples of the genres into which they were inevitably filed – with the debut, southern rock & soul on the follow-up – there was something about each that didn’t ring entirely true to me. I don’t mean that they weren’t genuine efforts or that she wasn’t convincing in those roles, but more that neither of those particular styles – at least not delivered as straight as they were – seemed quite the right fit for Merritt. And while it’d be far too much of an overstatement to say that Another Country showcases the real Tift Merritt, there’s something very direct and guileless in the new record that wasn’t necessarily there in the first two records.

The country and soul of her earlier works still informs much of what she does, but you’d be hard pressed to pigeonhole Another Country as either of those with a clean conscience. With the exception of a couple more uptempo numbers, the overall tenor is quiet, contemplative and searching and in this context, Merritt’s voice – always a thing of beauty – sounds better than it ever has. When I originally mentioned anticipating this record back in January, I said I’d have been perfectly happy with another record in the vein of her first two. Happily, Merritt delivered something else entirely and in the process, taught me to not presume to know what to expect from an artist.

Tift Merritt is at the El Mocambo on April 1 while The Washington Times and The Independent Weekly have interviews.

MP3: Tift Merritt – “Broken”
MP3: Tift Merritt – “Keep You Happy”
Video: Tift Merritt – “Broken”
MySpace: Tift Merritt

The National Post talks to Sons & Daughters, in town tonight at Lee’s Palace, about the making of their scorching new record This Gift.

JAM! salutes Basia Bulat, champion of the autoharp. She’s at Lee’s Palace on Saturday night. And check out bandmate Holly’s Gas Station Gourmet blog, wherein she keeps a diary of the dubious diet of life on the road.

PopMatters talks to Colin Meloy about the impetus behind Colin Meloy Sings Live!, out April 8, and the accompanying tour which brings him to the Phoenix on April 19.

Exclaim! Q&As Zooey Deschanel of She & Him

Minnesota Public Radio offers up a studio session with British Sea Power. They’re at Lee’s Palace on May 16.

In advance of their show at the El Mocambo that night, The Dodos are doing an in-store at Soundscapes on April 9 at 5PM. These guys really impressed at SxSW – catch one or both of these shows if you can.

I missed their last show in town because I had a date with Neil Young, so I’m glad to see The Blakes are coming back to town for a show at the Horseshoe on April 25. You may recall that I dug their self-titled debut and I hear they put on a pretty scorching show at the Silver Dollar in November, so I’m glad to get a chance to see it for myself.

And you may have noticed that I closed my Beautiful Noise contest a couple days early… short version, it was an invite-only affair and Torontoist decided that meant “invite everybody” and posted the RSVP emails for all to see. These are not guaranteed admissions, but it did mean that the guest lists for the shows were filling up much faster than anticipated, and I had to get my names together ASAP. There is good news and bad news with this – the good news is that I was given more spots to give away than originally planned so many more of you got emails from me last night confirming your attendance and asking for stuff like your names. If you entered, check your emails and your junk mail and your bulk mail for something from me. And if you’ve looked and looked and looked, then sorry, I just couldn’t accommodate everyone. The bad news is that if you were procrastinating for whatever reason… you’re SOL. But on the bright side, you’re free to use the RSVP emails at Torontoist to take a shot at whatever lottery system they’re using to handle those requests. Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

CONTEST – Beach House @ The El Mocambo – March 28, 2008

Photo by Liz Flyntz

If you’re having trouble sleeping of late, you may want to consider heading to the El Mocambo this Friday night when Baltimore guitar-and-keys duo Beach House pays us a visit in support of their new album Devotion. This isn’t to say they’ll put you to sleep from boredom – they simply trade in and excel at the sort of slow-motion, foggy day at a gauze factory, pure aural narcolepsy that could take on the toughest case of insomnia. I totally mean that in a positive sense. I think I dozed off when I saw them a couple years ago but I was sitting in a comfy chair beside a roaring fire (it was an unconventional venue). You try staying awake in that scenario.

Courtesy of Against The Grain, I’ve got a pair of passes to give away to this show, which also features The Papercuts and Sing Leaf. To enter, shoot me an email at contests AT with “I want to live in a Beach House” in the subject line and your full name in the body. Do this by midnight tonight – March 26. And if you don’t happen to win… try some warm milk. Or a shot of brandy. Or two.

My Old Kentucky Blog recently ran an interview with Alex and Victoria of Beach House.

MP3: Beach House – “Gila”
MP3: Beach House – “Heart Of Chamber”
Video: Beach House – “You Came To Me”
Video: Beach House – “Heart Of Chambers”

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Stop The Clocks

No pomp, no ceremony, no skydiving Richard Branson. Just a simple emailed press release with the first salvo of acts for this year’s Virgin Festival Toronto lineup (thankfully not the Virgin Mobile Festival, as they’ve renamed the US edition to).

The dates are September 6 and 7, the venue is once again the Toronto Islands and the theme, apparently, is the rock. Day one will be closed out by Foo Fighters and also feature Bloc Party, Spiritualized, Wintersleep and The Constantines. Day two brings Oasis, Paul Weller, Sterophonics, The Weakerthans and The Pigeon Detectives. Many many more to be announced, obviously, but there’s your big names. A lot of Englishness, a lot of veterans, a lot of dudes, a lot of guitars.

The Foos are no surprise, they’ve been mentioned in the context of the US V Fest plenty. Oasis did catch me off guard but, considering that I’ve been reevaluating my general disdain for them thanks to their eminently listenable best-of Stop The Clocks, I can definitely get behind them. Obviously still a big enough name and when I saw them over a decade ago opening for Neil Young, demonstrated an astonishing amount of live charisma considering they just stood there the whole time. And yay Andy Bell. Spiritualized is always welcome and I hope someone good is scheduled on the other stage opposite Stereophonics. I had sorta hoped there’d be some My Bloody Valentine action but am not really surprised there isn’t – their appeal is probably pointed in a slightly different direction from the festival’s target and, no matter what time they played, would probably be loud enough that the fest would never be welcome back on the islands again… Anyway – your thoughts on the lineup so far? I can’t say I’m displeased at all – a good start, at the very least.

And it’s interesting that we got our lineup announced before either Calgary or Vancouver, even though their festivals go off sooner than ours (June and TBA, respectively), but I’m not complaining. Between them, they’ve got that Pemberton Festival to parse/bitch about. Tickets for V Fest Toronto go on sale this Saturday, $159 for a two-day pass and $87 for a single. Yes, finally a price break for weekenders.

MP3: Bloc Party – “I Still Remember” (acoustic)
MP3: Wintersleep – “Jaws Of Life”
MP3: The Constantines – “Hard Feelings”
MP3: The Weakerthans – “Sun In An Empty Room”
MP3: The Pigeon Detectives – “I’m Not Sorry”
Video: Oasis – “Acquiesce”
Video: Foo Fighters – “Everlong”
Video: Spiritualized – “Stop Your Crying”
Video: Paul Weller – “Sunflower”
Video: Stereophonics – “Dakota”

Crawdaddy considers the influence of ABBA on the works of Jens Lekman, while The San Francisco Bay Guardian caught a quick Q&A with him at SxSW in which he extols the virtues of Wikipedia. Lekman has two shows in Toronto on April 7 and 8 at the Music Gallery. Advance tickets for the second show are already gone, so if you were dithering… quit it.

Those of you who like single-monikered Euro dance divas will be interested to know that Yelle, from France, will be at the Great Hall on April 30 (tickets $17.50 available here) and Robyn, from Sweden, is at the Phoenix on May 5.

Video: Yelle – “Je Veux Te Voir”
Video: Robyn – “Konichiwa Bitches”

The Long Blondes will release Couples on April 8. This is the first MP3 from the record. They are at Lee’s Palace on May 22. I am missing that show.

MP3: The Long Blondes – “Here Comes The Serious Bit”

And I’m also missing this show. The Submarines, fresh off releasing their new record Honeysuckle Weeks on May 13, will be at the Drake Underground on May 24. I liked their first record Declare A New State, and from the sounds of it I’ll like the new one too.

MP3: The Submarines – “You, Me and the Bourgeoisie”

And while I will be back in town by June 4, I won’t be heading to the Phoenix to see Be Your Own Pet, She Wants Revenge, Switches and The Virgins. But you totally can if you want. I won’t judge you. Much.

Mark Kozelek’s June 10 show at Lee’s has been canceled. The new Sun Kil Moon record April is still presumably coming out April 1.

Monday, March 24th, 2008

CONTEST – Owen @ The El Mocambo / Why? @ The Silver Dollar – March 27, 2008

Owen photo by Joe Wigdah
Why? photo via

A quick one here, mostly because I’m almost wholly unfamiliar with the artists in question. Okay, a couple years ago opening for Yo La Tengo and I believe I thought they were alright… but apparently not enough to make a strong impression.

Anyway, they’re coming to town on March 27 for a show at the Silver Dollar in support of their new record Alopecia and just across the street that same night, Owen – about whom I only know his name isn’t actually Owen but Mike – is at the El Mocambo in support of his rather old record At Home With Owen.

But far be it for my general ignorance to keep you from a free show. Courtesy of Against The Grain, I’ve got a pair of passes to give away to each of these shows and I will do so to the first person to email at contests AT with either “You ignoramus, I want to see Owen” or “You ignoramus, I want to see Why?” in the subject line and your full name in the body. Since this is a first come, first serve proposition, the contest will close when I have a winner for each.

Update: Contest closed! Thanks, and congrats to Matt and Neil.

MP3: Owen – “Bad News”
MP3: Why? – “Close To Me”
MP3: Why? – “The Hollows”
Video: Why? – “Song Of The Sad Assassin”
MySpace: Owen
MySpace: Why?

Monday, March 24th, 2008

Beautiful Noise

Photo via YouTube

Over the last couple years, some very cool stuff has been happening at the old Berkeley Church in Toronto, long converted from its original purpose as a house of worship to an event hall. My only experience was the totally insane show the Yeah Yeah Yeahs played there during the Film Festival last year and between being pummeled by the rest of the crowd and having Karen O scream in my face, I can confirm it’s a lovely room.

A room that, for the last few Springs, has also played host to the tapings of the Beautiful Noise television series. It’s a live performance show along the lines of Austin City Limits and has featured the likes of Feist, Voxtrot, Neko Case and Sloan, amongst many others… and if you’ve never seen or even heard of the show, it’s because it’s been broadcast exclusively on the RAVEHD high-def television network in the States (if you live in the States and subscribe to RAVEHD and have seen the show, disregard that last sentence).

That is, until recently. There were some open invites for studio audiences during the tapings of season two last Spring and this past Fall, SUN-TV began broadcasting the show locally on regular cable at 7PM on Saturdays – this I discovered whilst channel surfing one evening and just happened upon the Kathleen Edwards show.

That’s all well and good, you’re saying, but surely I’m not just going to sit here and play commercial for a television show, right? Right. Season three begins taping next week, and if you thought the lineups for past seasons were impressive, check this out.

March 31 – My Morning Jacket
April 1 – Jim White / Sarah Slean
April 2 – Kaki King / Jon Langford / Dr Dog
April 3 – The Constantines / Ted Leo & The Pharmacists
April 4 – The Black Angels / The Donnas
April 5 – Islands / Stars
April 6 – Thriving Ivory / People In Planes
April 7 – British Sea Power / Yo La Tengo

And to answer your first question, no, the artists are not playing any other shows while they’re in town for this. And to answer your second question, yes you can attend… but not easily. There’s not going to be a general public open invite this time but the producers have given me a number of guest list spots for each performance to give away to you, gentle reader, but I’ve been instructed to not make it easy. Hence the conditions of this contest, which some might call fiendishly clever in its intricacies. If said people had an incredibly low standard for fiendish cleverness.

It will work as follows: Leave me a comment below with your correct email in the “email” field – spam-proofed is fine – and list off, in order, the tapings you would like to attend. For each of the multiple-artists shows, you must answer the following: if this were an ultimate fighting-type celebrity grudge match rather than a concert taping, which of the performers that night would triumph and why. Be descriptive. If you want in for the My Morning Jacket taping (which I imagine many of you will), tell me what contemporary artist would be able to best the boys from Kentucky in a mixed martial arts competition. If you want to see People In Planes, well I don’t really know boo about them so just say so. Everyone deserves a bye.

I have two pairs of passes to give away for each show, so winners will be selected randomly from all qualifying entrants (the conditions above are for my and everyone else’s amusement) and each awarded their first available choice until all spots are spoken for. You can only win once. Does that make sense? Note that save for the MMJ taping, which has doors at 8:15PM and show at 9, all shows have doors at 6:30PM and the first performer at 7, second at 9 (or 7, 8 and 9 for the three-fer). So if you’re going to throw your hat in the ring, make sure you can get there – Queen E and Berkeley (Parliament) – on time. Lollygaggers will not be admitted. The contest will be open until 5PM on Thursday, March 27. UPDATE: Contest closed early. Will explain tomorrow. Winners being notified now.

Check out some footage from past seasons of Beautiful Noise at their YouTube channel.

MP3: Jim White – “Crash Into The Sun”
MP3: Kaki King – “Pull Me Out Alive”
MP3: Jon Langford (with the Waco Brothers) – “How Fast The Time”
MP3: Dr. Dog – “The Girl”
MP3: The Constantines – “Hard Feelings”
MP3: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists – “The Sons Of Cain”
MP3: The Black Angels – “Young Men Dead”
MP3: The Donnas – “Don’t Wait Up For Me”
MP3: People In Planes – “Pretty Buildings”
MP3: British Sea Power – “Waving Flags”
MP3: Yo La Tengo – “Pass The Hatchet, I Think I’m Goodkind”

Pitchfork interviews Michael Stipe of R.E.M., NPR also has an interview and Spin offers an excerpt of their forthcoming cover story on the band. Accelerate arrives next Tuesday and they play the Molson Amphitheatre June 8. And you can stream the whole thing right now.

Stream: R.E.M. / Accelerate

Sample another track from DeVotchKa’s new one A Mad And Faithful Telling. The National Post has an interview with frontman Nick Urata.

MP3: DeVotchKa – “Transliterator”

Feist talks to ET Canada about her puppet-powered new video. And look for her to play Dolly to Bry Webb’s Kenny on a cover of “Islands In The Stream” coming out on a 7″ single April 1. More details at Chart.

Billy Bragg, via a New York Times op-ed, challenges social networks to start paying royalties to artists who stream their music on their sites. Commentary (and links to more commentary) on Bragg’s piece at Coolfer. Billy’s new one Mr Love & Justice is out April 8 and he plays Harbourfront Centre on June 17.