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Archive for June, 2009

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

My Maudlin Career

Camera Obscura and Anni Rossi at Lee's Palace in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangThere were plenty of evening entertainment options in Toronto this past Saturday night, including but not limited to free shows as part of Pride over in the Village and the Zunior Fifth Anniversary festivities at the Tranzac, but I opted to head over to Lee’s Palace to see Camera Obscura – a band I’d already seen live some half-dozen times. Considering that even the most generous fan would be hard-pressed to call them an especially dynamic live act, you might rightly question why I keep going back rather than try something new. To that, all I can say is “I don’t know” and “I like them”.

It also helped that this was their first time back in town since August 2007, their final show in support of Let’s Get Out Of This Country, and they were playing a room half the size of that show despite having released maybe their best album yet in My Maudlin Career. Country had been a definite breakthrough record for the Scottish outfit, shedding once and for all the Belle & Sebastian comparisons by adopting a more Motown-influenced attitude, but while it had a brace of killer singles, across the whole record it sometimes lagged or drifted back into more familiar musical postures. Career‘s highlights don’t quite hit the same heights as its predecessor, but it’s a much more consistent record top to bottom. The band sounds much more comfortable in the richness of their sonic trappings but most importantly, Traceyanne Campbell is doing something different with her voice. It’s still wearied and lovely as ever, but there’s something in her inflection and phrasing on this record that ratchets up the emotional quotient significantly. It’s a little thing, but it means a lot.

And so this is why I was standing at Lee’s Palace on Saturday night, waiting for the show to begin. And waiting. And waiting. Being completely sold out, arriving early was necessary to get a decent vantage point but the set times seemed unnecessarily late. Normally the opening act would serve to pass the time, but Chicago-based Anni Rossi seems to be a firm believer in the adages of “less is more” as well as “leave them wanting more”. Her warm-up set ran just 20 minutes, but she certainly made an impression in that time with her idiosyncratic, sorta-folkish sorta-not songs, distinctive acrobatic vocals and musical accompaniment consisting of violin viola and percussion generated by her stomping on the suitcase on which she stood. With a recipe like that you’d think she’d be a bit difficult for the casual listener but she was actually quite immediately engaging and surely could have played longer without anyone complaining – after her set, I saw a few people scurry back to the merch table to pick up copies of her debut Rockwell. She’ll be back in town on July 14 opening for Micachu at the El Mocambo – fingers crossed she plays a longer set.

The brevity of her performance meant it was another lengthy wait for the main attraction and grumbling could be overheard from all directions, but when the sextet finally strode onstage, the ladies decked out in vintage dresses, all was forgiven. Somewhat surprisingly, it was a different lineup than I’d seen play SxSW just three months prior – trumpeter Nigel Baillie had since gone to part-time status to tend to his new role as a father and bassist Gavin Dunbar had left the tour early due to a death in the family. The stand-ins were more than up to the task, however, and even added a bit of extra energy that might not have been there otherwise.

For as already stated, Camera Obscura will never be mistaken for Gogol Bordello in a live setting. They’re quite content to play their songs well and let their craftsmanship speak for them, so it’s a good thing their songs do that so well. Tracyanne Campbell has become a much better frontperson over the years, though that’s relative to the early days where the odds of her so much as cracking a smile were pretty low and if she did, it’d be at show’s end. On this night, she flashed a smile or two early on – basically guaranteeing a good night – and even cracked a few jokes. Their set covered almost all of My Maudlin Career – the arrangements were somewhat leaner than on record but never sounded lacking – and a lot of Country material also made appearances, particularly later in the set. Big cheers went out for the staples from the first two records, but for my money the new material is just so far superior that it deserves the spotlight. And I was particularly proud of the Hogtown punters for cheering when Toronto got namechecked in “Forests & Sands”, but only the first time – for subsequent choruses we stayed polite and let them do their thing. That’s the way to do it. And that’s how Camera Obscura did it – politely, but excellently. I like them.

There’s interviews with band members at The Georgia Straight and Portland Mercury and Panic Manual also has a review of the show.

Photos: Camera Obscura, Anni Rossi @ Lee’s Palace – June 27, 2009
MP3: Camera Obscura – “My Maudlin Career”
MP3: Camera Obscura – “Let’s Get Out Of This Country”
MP3: Camera Obscura – “If Looks Could Kill”
MP3: Anni Rossi – “Ecology”
MP3: Anni Rossi – “Wheelpusher”
Video: Camera Obscura – “French Navy”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken”
Video: Camera Obscura – “If Looks Could Kill”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Let’s Get Out Of This Country”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Tears For Affairs”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Teenager”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Keep It Clean”
Video: Camera Obscura – “Eighties Fan”
Video: Anni Rossi – “The West Coast”
MySpace: Camera Obscura
MySpace: Anni Rossi

Clash has an advance sneak peak/listen to Forget The Night Ahead, the new album from The Twilight Sad, due out September 22. The new single “I Became A Prostitute” is streaming over at their MySpace.

NME has a Glastonbury-themed interview with Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos.

They’d already played a number of warm-up gigs, but Glastobury was really the first big Blur reunion show, and by all accounts they utterly killed it. A good portion of the set was broadcast on the BBC and Deaf Indie Elephants has pointers to where you might be able to hear it. And if that doesn’t work or just isn’t enough, Pitchfork reports that the band’s shows in Hyde Park this week will be recorded and released as a live record about a week after the shows are performed.

Under The Radar gets a status update on album number two from Lucky Soul’s Andrew Laidlaw. Still being recorded, it’s targeted for October release and is going to be titled Whoa, Billy! – making this the title track. You can also follow the band on Twitter. Update: Band tweet denies that the album is going to be called Whoa Billy – thank goodness.

MP3: Lucky Soul – “Whoa, Billy!”

As part of their “alt.country” week, Drowned In Sound contemplates London’s alt.country scene, which with players such as Lightspeed Champion, Emmy The Great and Laura Marling, looks (and sounds) an awful lot like what they were calling “anti-folk” last year.

A couple of show announcements to wrap – Butthole Surfers are apparently still around and will be at The Phoenix on October 2, tickets $25. But much more exciting is the news that School Of Seven Bells are finally playing a headlining date in Toronto. They’re at Lee’s Palace on October 15 in support of Alpinisms, one of my favourite albums of 2008.

MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Connjur”
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Half Asleep”
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “Chain”
MP3: School Of Seven Bells – “My Cabal” (Robin Guthrie mix)
Video: School Of Seven Bells – “My Cabal”
Video: School Of Seven Bells – “Half Asleep”

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Make It Gold

Ohbijou, Great Bloomers and Evening Hymns at the Opera House in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangYou might say this gig was a long time coming. After their triumphant show at Lee’s Palace last November to wrap their continent-spanning tour with The Acorn, Toronto’s orch-pop heroes Ohbijou went into seclusion to work on their sophomore album and emerged this Spring with Beacons. Or at least they were supposed to – almost as soon as they were announced in late February, the April release date and accompanying tour, including a hometown release party, were all were suddenly cancelled with only vague explanations offered.

As it turned out, the band who had been so successful with the DIY approach on their debut, Swift Feet For Troubling Times, had been successfully courted by labels at home and abroad and the delay was necessary to prepare for the record’s release on Bella Union earlier this month in the UK and Last Gang in North America. The record was unquestionably worth the wait, which only left the show and the band’s return to live action this past Thursday night at the Opera House. And from the moment you walked into the venue, it was clear that this would be special occasion – after all, how often do you arrive at a concert hall to find it decked out huge swathes of fabric meant to make it look like the inside of a volcano? Okay, I probably wouldn’t have realized it was supposed to be a volcano if I wasn’t told – the set dressing was taken from Ohbijou’s recently-filmed and yet-to-be-released video for “New Years” – but whatever I would have assumed it to be otherwise, it would have been impressive.

As is only appropriate for hometown record release shows, Ohbijou invited a few friends along to open up, the first of which was Evening Hymns. Jonas Bonnetta usually performs as a solo artist and that’s how his set began, but perhaps intimidated by the volcano decor, for this night he brought along a few friends to help out – six more, to be precise. And while you might think that songs built for one might be overwhelmed by the addition of a half-dozen sets of helping hands, all of the guest players were remarkably sympathetic to the songs and Bonnetta’s simple and plaintive folk-pop sounded even better “big”, like scratchy 8mm home movies blown up to widescreen and somehow not losing any of its charm. My first experience with Evening Hymns but almost certainly not to be the last.

Great Bloomers, on the other hand, I was pretty well-acquainted with already, both live and on record, via their debut full-length Speak Of Trouble. And while I’ll happily testify to their talent as musicians, they’ve yet to win me over as a band – this performance included. I thought we were making some progress early on when I realized that their country-pop stylings actually had roots in southern soul as well, and that made their rather pristine musicianship – which I had found at odds with what I like to hear in my alt.country – much more appropriate. And they confirmed my thoughts on them, both good and bad, mid-set when they inserted a cover of James Carr’s “The Dark End Of The Street” and, sadly, failed to do it any kind of justice. “Dark End Of The Street” is a stone cold classic and one of the most emotionally resonant songs around, and the Bloomers’ rendering of it as a jaunty pop tune, stripped of all its inherent anguish, was just… wrong. The rest of their set was fine, objectively speaking – they’ve got some good tunes and deliver them with aplomb – but they need to take “covering soul standards” off their “things we do well” list.

The first few times I saw Ohbijou live, what struck me the most was how much louder, effervescent and dynamic the band was on stage relative to the cozy sleepiness of Swift Feet‘s recorded incarnations. Beacons has ensured that that’s no longer a talking point for the band, capturing as it does much more of those peaks and valleys, the grand crescendos and the hushed passages. Instead, discussion will have to focus on just how well the band recreates the sweep of the record in a live setting, which they definitely do, though sidebars about how startlingly loud Casey Mecija’s voice can get when she pushes it are also appropriate. Nominally a six-piece, the band swelled to a 10- or 11-piece at points – it was hard to tell what with all the volcano decor obstructing views – including strings, keys and double bass, adding an extra musical weight that was at the same time weightless. Their set blended material old and new into a perfect statement of why they’re one of the finest young bands Canada has to offer, and while I know I’ll miss the days when they played out around town frequently, it’s no small amount of consolation to know that when they’re not here it’s because they’re now taking their lovely songs and sharing them with the rest of the world. And I know that only we get the volcano decorations.

In addition to their new record, Ohbijou have curated a second volume of their Friends In Bellwoods benefit compilation, due out later this Summer. Just as the first one gathered two CDs worth of the finest independent artists in the southern Ontario region, the second will feature rare and unreleased contributions from the likes of The Acorn, Basia Bulat, Great Lake Swimmers and of course Ohbijou, amongst many many others. And one would hope that the second volume also duplicates the charitable success of the first, which raised over $11,000 in donations for the Daily Bread Food Bank. Stay tuned for information on the release date for the album and the accompanying release show/party.

Photos: Ohbijou, Great Bloomers, Evening Hymns @ The Opera House – June 25 2009
MP3: Ohbijou – “Black Ice”
MP3: Great Bloomers – “The Young Ones Slept”
Video: Ohbijou – “The Woods”
MySpace: Ohbijou

Filter has reprinted their pairing of actor Zach Galifianakis with Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew wherein the former asks the latter about the video/short film he directed for Feist’s “The Water” and movies in general. Broken Social Scene will be playing on the water next Friday – July 11 – for a free show at Harbourfront Centre. Maybe Feist will join them.

Video: Feist – “The Water”

Chart has details on Amy Millan’s second solo record Masters Of The Burial which will be released September 8. Expect to hear the new material when she plays a free show at Harbourfront Centre on July 25.

Exclaim has some info on the next album from The Hidden Cameras Well, just the title – Origin: Orphan – and the fact that it exists. Look for it sometime before the year is out.

You can hear new songs from both Amy Millan and The Hidden Cameras’ albums on the just-released Arts & Crafts Sampler Volume 6, which is yours for the low low price of your email address.

Pitchfork has got a new Fleet Foxes song recorded for the BBC available to download. They’re at Massey Hall on August 4.

MP3: Fleet Foxes – “Blue Spotted Tail” (live on BBC6)

Bishop Allen have released a new video from Grr….

Video: Bishop Allen – “Shanghaied”

Pitchfork has an interview with Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste.

Spoon almost managed to release a new EP this week as a complete surprise, but then the internet got a whiff of it and ruined it. Way to go, internet. It’s called Got Nuffin, it’s out tomorrow and MBV Music has details.

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

"Love Will Keep Us Together"

Wilco cover The Captain & Tenille

Photo via WilcobaseWilcobaseIt was certainly hinted at with Sky Blue Sky, but with the release of Wilco (The Album) this coming Tuesday, there can be no doubt – Wilco loves themselves some ’70s light-rock. It’s not as laid-back and smooth as its AM country-rock predecessor – there’s some proggier detours and some more menacing clouds do darken the blue sky at points – but they seem to have left the rougher sonic waters of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born far behind. Wilco are feeling fine, sailing smooth and they love you baby.

And so if you were one of those who saw the band at Madison Square Garden in New York on New Year’s Eve 2004, when they broke out this Captain & Tenille cover and thought they were being tongue-in-cheek or ironic… apparently not so much. Thankfully Jeff didn’t don a boat captain’s hat for the number – it probably would have looked silly with his pyjamas.

You can currently stream Wilco (The Album) over at NPR.

MP3: Wilco – “Love Will Keep Us Together”
Video: The Captain & Tenille – “Love Will Keep Us Together” (live on the Grammy Awards)
Stream: Wilco / Wilco (The Album)

Friday, June 26th, 2009

What We Know

A lazy day of link dumping featuring Sonic Youth, Pernice Brothers, Phoenix and more

Photo By Michael SchmellingMichael SchmellingI warned you this’d be another one of those days heavy on links, light on context. Let’s begin.

Sonic Youth’s current tour in support of The Eternal has predictably yielded a lot of interviews with various band members. The Quietus scores face time with all save drummer Steve Shelley, while The Detroit Free Press talks only to Shelley. Spinner chats with Lee Ranaldo and Kim Gordon while Time Out Chicago, The Chicago Tribune and Paste each have interviews with Thurston Moore. I could only be called a casual SY fan at best, but The Eternal does continue their late-career streak of releasing albums that I am quite enjoying, balancing their noisier, experimental excursions with more structured songcraft. I approve, and am quite looking forward to seeing them at Massey Hall next Tuesday. Pitchfork has information on forthcoming Sonic Youth box set about which details are slim, but which will contain a cassette tape recording of Beck covering their EVOL album.

The Pernice Brothers website has some more information on the promotional activities – namely combination solo acoustic show and book reading – that will surround the release of Joe’s new novel It Feels So Good When I Stop, and the accompanying soundtrack/covers album of the same name, both out the week of August 4. The most exciting part of the update is the part that says, “we will add a Toronto date at some point”, thus finally making me shut up about the fact that despite Joe’s having lived here for many years now, he’s played live here almost not at all. I guess they’re just working out the intense logistical difficulties of getting him to walk from his house to a venue – any venue – with a guitar. Streetcars may have to be involved.

Pitchfork has an interview with Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars while Minnesota Public Radio welcomed the band to their studios for a session. There’s also feature pieces at The Denver Daily News, PopMatters and The San Francisco Examiner. Apparently they’ve been wowing everyone on this tour just as much as they did in Toronto. Good for them.

To no one’s surprise, Alberta’s media – namely Vue, See, The Calgary Herald and FFWD – all line up to welcome The Rural Alberta Advantage to Alberta. Hometowns gets its re-release on July 7 and the band will play a hometown release show on July 30 at the Horseshoe.

The Dears will be playing a free show at Harbourfront Centre on July 26 as part of their Canadian Voices festival, whose lineup already features performances from Jenn Grant, Gentleman Reg and Amy Millan earlier in the weekend. Reg is also playing Pride this weekend – eye has an interview.

Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler tells NME that the band have begun work on their next album.

Decider talks to Michael Benjamin Lerner of Telekinesis.

A couple Daytrotter sessions of note went up this week. This one featuring White Lies was recorded at SxSW – they’re back in North America this Fall including a date at the Phoenix on September 28 – and this one features Love Is All.

Paste gets to know School Of Seven Bells.

PitchforkTV has a couple new videos – one from The Depreciation Guild, who will be in town on September 7 at the Horseshoe accompanying The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, and Jenny Lewis has released her second video from last year’s Acid Tongue in just over a week. Did she just realize the record was getting old?

Video: The Depreciation Guild – “Dream About Me”
Video: Jenny Lewis – “Carpetbaggers”

Also at PFTVDinosaur Jr’s set from last year’s Pitchfork Festival. They’re at the Phoenix on September 30.

Filter has posted online their recent feature piece on Antony & The Johnsons. They’re releasing a double a-side single on August 4, one of which will be a Beyonce cover. Details at Exclaim.

NME reports that Editors’ next album In This Light And On This Evening has been given a September 21 release date.

Virgin Music has a two-part video interview with Florence Welch of Florence & The Machine, whose debut Lungs is out in the UK on July 6 and October 13 in North America.

Noah & The Whale have set an August 31 release date for their new album First Day Of Spring, and are offering a free download of the title track.

Same Same talks to Patrick Wolf.

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Just The Same But Brand New

St. Vincent sessions up and visits Letterman

Photo By Annabel MehranAnnabel MehranIt’s been a long week – I hope you’ll allow me to decompress with some much-needed link dumping.

And it’ll begin with St. Vincent, who wrap an extensive leg of North American touring tonight in Brooklyn before spending July in Europe in support of her second album Actor. Then come August, it’s back onto the highways of America for a short northeastern jaunt which will wrap with an August 8 show in Toronto at the Horseshoe, a gig which perplexingly isn’t yet sold out, so if you’ve been dithering about whether to go or not, the following should these video sessions with Ms Clark which surfaced over the past week should certainly nudge you off the fence, and if you’ve already got the date saved, they’ll serve to simultaneously whet and appease your appetite to see St Vincent live.

Her Lake Fever Sessions set sees her dazzling in a solo acoustic setting, while the inaugural “Cemetary Gates” series at Pitchfork TV sets Clark and her band in a Brooklyn graveyard (well, in a church in a graveyard), plugged in and presumably with a mandate to wake the dead. She was also on Letterman last night, performing “Marrow” – it’s probably too much to hope that the horn section is coming on tour with her – and You Ain’t No Picasso posted up an interview conducted a few weeks back in Kentucky.

Video: St Vincent – “Marrow” (live on Letterman)

Oregon Public Broadcasting welcomed Neko Case to their studios for a session and interview. Her tourmate Jason Lytle just released a new video. Both are at Massey Hall on July 14.

Video: Jason Lytle – “It’s The Weekend”

SpinEarth talks to Emily Haines of Metric.

Patterson Hood discusses his new solo record Murdering Oscar with Paste and The Washington Examiner. You can currently stream the whole thing at Spinner.

Stream: Patterson Hood / Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs)

Aquarium Drunkard and Paste talk to Jay Farrar about Son Volt’s new record American Central Dust, out July 7.

Acoustic Guitar asks Elvis Costello about his acoustic guitar (and other stuff). Costello is at Massey Hall on August 28.

Also at Massey Hall, this show on July 11, is Steve Earle. He has a Q&A with Magnet.

Interview talks to Swedish singer-songwriter Anna Ternheim. She has been added to the bill alongside Loney Dear and Asobi Seksu at the Horseshoe on October 13. Her new record Leaving On A Mayday will be out in North America on August 11.

MP3: Anna Ternheim – “To Be Gone”

eye talks to Casey Mecija of Ohbijou, who are playing the Opera House tonight.

Woods have a date at Sneaky Dee’s on August 8.

MP3: Woods – “To Clean”
Video: Woods – “To Clean”

Lemonade and Cale Parks will be at the El Mocambo on August 24.

MP3: Lemonade – “Big Weekend”
MP3: Cale Parks – “One At A Time”

Here’s a peculiar bill – The Happy Mondays and The Psychedelic Furs are teaming up for a North American tour this Fall, including a stop at the Kool Haus on October 14. I call it peculiar because the two acts were hardly contemporaries and probably wouldn’t have shared the same fanbase even if they were. But I guess they have the demographic now – nostalgic Anglophiles who wish they were twenty years younger.

They’re here in a couple weeks on July 9 opening up for Beirut at the Phoenix, but since that gig is plum sold out, The Dodos have announced a full North American tour for this Fall in support of their new record Time To Die, out September 15. Their tourmates will be kiwis The Ruby Suns and the local stop will be October 17 at Lee’s Palace.

MP3: The Dodos – “Fools”
MP3: The Ruby Suns – “Tane Mahuta”