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Archive for August, 2009

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

The East Coast

The Daredevil Christopher Wright plans in-store derring-do and cross-border shopping

Photo ByColey Beekman & Jeremy NelsonYou might not think it – I certainly didn’t – but the shortest path between the exotic locales of DeKalb, Illinois and Winooski, Vermont runs directly through Toronto, Ontario. And that’s what brings Wisconsin-based trio The Daredevil Christopher Wright through town tomorrow evening, August 28, for a free in-store at Criminal Records on Queen West.

It’s not their first visit to the city – they were here in June during NXNE and made friends and fans as well as a fine impression at both at their official showcase and an in-store, also at Criminal Records, and it’s not hard to see why. Their debut In Deference To A Broken Back – steaming in full at their MySpace – is full of rich and whimsical orchestral-pop that’s eminently likeable, well-suited to spontaneous bouts of humming or clapping along or just soundtracking these last days of Summer (and don’t think I haven’t noticed we’ve lost about 10 degrees in ambient temperature these last few days. Nature, you’re on my list).

The show begins at 6PM and is free as our health care system. The band is just starting a massive tour so if you live anywhere in the eastern US or midwest, you’ll probably get a chance to check them. Probably not for free, though. On Milwaukee has an interview with the band, who were named “Band Of The Week” by Paste back in May and recorded a Daytrotter session last year.

MP3: The Daredevil Christopher Wright – “The East Coast”
MP3: The Daredevil Christopher Wright – “How To Get My Head Back On My Shoulders”
Stream: The Daredevil Christopher Wright / In Deference To A Broken Back
MySpace: The Daredevil Christopher Wright

Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, who produced much of the Daredevil Christopher Wright record, has a new project called Volcano Choir who will release their debut album Unmap on September 22. It kind of sounds like this.

MP3: The Volcano Choir – “Island Is”

Spinner welcomes Joe Pernice to their studios for an Interface session and The San Francisco Chronicle has an interview. Joe is at the Dakota Tavern on September 24.

Magnet Q&As Richard Thompson about his new box set, Walking On A Wire: 1968-2009

Islands will release their new record Vapours on September 22 and the first MP3 is available below. The second can be had at Stereogum. They’re at the Kool Haus on October 14 opening up for The Happy Mondays and The Psychedelic Furs.

MP3: Islands – “Vapours”

White Hinterland will be in town at a venue to be announced on October 10. Casey Deinel’s last release was last year’s Luniculaire EP.

MP3: White Hinterland – “Chante de Grillon”
MP3: White Hinterland – “Dreaming Of The Plum Trees”

Decider and The Boston Herald talks to members of Wheat.

The Line Of Best Fit interviews Charlie Fink of Noah & The Whale, whose First Days Of Spring, is out on Monday in the UK and domestically on October 6.

Mumford & Sons have released the first video from their debut album Sigh No More, due out October 5. From this, I daresay the record will be worth the long, long wait.

Video: Mumford & Sons – “Little Lion Man”

Clash talks to Arctic Monkeys, in town at the Kool Haus on September 29.

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

If I Don't Come Home You'll Know I'm Gone

The Wooden Sky at Sonic Boom in Toronto

Photo by Frank YangFrank YangIt’s funny that though I offered readers an introduction to The Wooden Sky just last month, watching them play an in-store at Sonic Boom on Monday night, the eve of release for their new album If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone, it felt like I was the one being introduced to them for the first time.

Previously, I’d regarded them as very good with moments of great roots-rock band – terrific at what they did but unlikely to turn anyone’s world upside down. And initial listens to the new record backed that up – it was a definite step forward for the band in terms of concept and execution, but not a giant leap. But this understated show in the sweaty basement of a local record store was a real eye- and ear-opener. Just coming off a cross-country tour that saw them playing unusual and intimate venues – not for nothing was it called the “Bedrooms and Backtstreets Tour” – The Wooden Sky were perfectly comfortable in the cozy setting and their performance mesmerizing.

Drawing heavily on the new record with a couple selections from When Lost At Sea and a Townes Van Zandt cover thrown in for good measure, The Wooden Sky focused on their quieter side to stunning effect. In stripping things down and trading some of the crescendos on the record for a slow burn, they were able to emphasize their more emotionally resonant side. And while Gavin Gardiner’s raw twang has always been front and centre, I was particularly impressed with how effective and musically sympathetic his bandmates were – guitarist/keyboardist Simon Walker, in particular, was nothing short of astonishing with his high harmonies and the tones and textures he coaxed out of his instruments. It was like he was able to take the ghosts and bittersweet memories that inhabit Gardiner’s lyrics and give them sound and form.

In talking about the Wooden Sky in the past, I inevitable mention that I’ve been following them for over half a decade, as though that gave me some particular insight into the band that newcomers might not have. Now I think that it might have actually clouded my perceptions, convincing me I knew what to expect and what they were capable of when I quite obviously didn’t. Either way, with If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone and the way they’re translating it to the stage, The Wooden Sky are set to take their place as one of the finest bands this city has to offer – or maybe they already were, and we’re only now noticing.

Aux.tv has a rooftop video performance with the band from late last year and the same director – Scott Cudmore – accompanied the band on their recent tour, filming all the while – that footage will be coming out in the coming weeks. There’s also an interview with the band at Sky. Aside from an appearance at the Friends In Bellwoods launch party at the Tranzac on Saturday, The Wooden Sky have no upcoming hometown dates. Americans can get a taste in October, however, as they’re heading south as support for Elliott Brood.

Photos: The Wooden Sky @ Sonic Boom – August 24, 2009
MP3: The Wooden Sky – “Something Hiding For Us In The Night”
MP3: The Wooden Sky – “North Dakota”
MP3: The Wooden Sky – “The Wooden Sky”
Video: The Wooden Sky – “Oh My God (It Still Means A Lot To Me)”
Video: The Wooden Sky – “When Lost At Sea”

That Elliott Brood tour covers more than the US – they’re also going to be traversing most of Canada this Fall including an October 30 date at the Opera House.

MP3: Elliott Brood – “Write It All Down For You”

Final Fantasy recently taped a Black Cab Session while in the UK for the Field Day Festival. Final Fantasy plays an unrevealed location in Toronto September 5 and his new album Heartland is out in early 2010. Ambiguous much?

Thick Specs and Exclaim have interviews with Amy Millan, whose Masters Of The Burial is out September 22 and who will be at the Mod Club on October 14.

Cover boys for this month’s Exclaim are Two Hours Traffic. Their new one Territory is out September 8 and they play Lee’s Palace on October 16.

Spinner is streaming all ten nominees for the Polaris Music Prize this week – though I suspect they’re only available in Canada. The prize will be awarded on September 21.

Blurt talks to Kevin Barnes of Of Montreal.

Bradley’s Almanac is sharing live MP3s from The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, recorded in Vermont way back in February on Valentine’s Day. Awwwww. They’ll be at the Horseshoe on September 7.

Laundromatinee is sharing a video session with The Avett Brothers. Look for them at the Horseshoe on September 30 and their new album I And Love And You in stores the day before.

Magnet plays over/under with The National. Interestingly, four of their five most overrated picks are some of my least favourite National tunes – I stand by “Green Gloves” – and their five most underrated are some of my most favourite. Make of that what you will.

The Wooden Birds have released a new MP3 and video from Magnolia. They’ve also announced Fall tour dates with Great Lake Swimmers but nothing in this neck of the woods.

MP3: The Wooden Birds – “Hometown Fantasy”
Video: The Wooden Birds – “Hometown Fantasy”

Uber-producer John Leckie reflects on the making of The Stone Roses’ debut album for The Quietus.

Grand Crew has an acoustic session with Camera Obscura. They’re at the Phoenix on November 26.

The Quietus talks to The xx. Their debut XX is out domestically on October 20 and they play the Phoenix on December 2.

The Mars Volta have a date at The Kool Haus on October 4 in support of their latest album Octahedron.

Video: The Mars Volta – “Since We’ve Been Wrong”

Silversun Pickups’ new record Swoon bring them to the Sound Academy on October 15 with Cage The Elephant and An Horse as support, tickets $29.50. There’s interviews with the band at Canada.com, The Examiner and The Georgia Straight.

MP3: Silversun Pickups – “Panic Switch” (Bobby Evans remix)
Video: Silversun Pickups – “Panic Switch”

Rain Machine, the new project from TV On The Radio’s Kyp Malone, will release their self-titled debut on September 8 and play Lee’s Palace on October 19 as part of a North American tour. Pitchfork premiered the first track from the album.

MP3: Rain Machine – “Give Blood”

La Roux returns to Toronto for her third show in seven months with a gig at the Guvernment on October 23, tickets $20.

MP3: La Roux – “Bulletproof” (Joe & Will Ask remix)
Video: La Roux – “Bulletproof”

The King Khan & BBQ Show will release Invisible Girl on November 3 and tour to support, including a December 4 date at Lee’s Palace.

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

The Kids Are Sick Again

Review of Maximo Park's Quicken The Heart

Photo via BeboBeboThough it came out back in May, I had intended to hold off on reviewing Maximo Park’s latest Quicken The Heart until next month when they were scheduled to play Lee’s Palace, but seeing as how they’ve just cancelled the whole North American tour – first The Charlatans, now Maximo, it’s been a bad week for Anglophiles over here – that seems a bit pointless. The other reason I was procrastinating on putting thoughts to paper (such as it were) was that I wanted to give it time to grow on me. Because if I’d tossed off a review when I first got a copy of the album back in the Spring, it probably wouldn’t have been too kind.

Here was an album that I’d been quite looking forward to from a band that had a pretty decent track record – though I was one of the few who preferred the follow-up Our Earthly Pleasures over their debut A Certain Trigger, both were undeniably solid records and even the b-sides compilation Missing Songs was better than many bands’ proper albums. So why did Quicken seem to drift by without leaving much impression at all? Best I can come up with is this.

Maximo Park made their name with wonderfully hyperactive and angular post-punk tunes served up with a healthy dose of melodicism and literate, heartfelt lyricism. Though the sharp edges were smoothed out a bit for the second record, they could still cut and the hooks and anthemic delivery more than compensated. On Quicken, however, the balance tilts too heavily towards articulating singer-songwriter Paul Smith’s emotional issues and the finished product just sags under the weight. Rather than lean and nimble as they are at their best, the songs feel like they’re distended to accommodate the words and while there’s still some solid melodies and hooks, they’re just not big enough this time out. Extended listens over the Summer have softened my opinion of the record as there’s certainly decent songs on offer, but the absence of an irresistible single or two to prop the whole thing up is keenly felt.

Even so, there wasn’t any doubt that they’d put on a good show – their last visit in 2007 was killer – so the fact that they’ve nixed this jaunt is a bummer, regardless of how good the last record is. Here’s hoping they’re good to their word and make it up in 2010.

MP3: Maximo Park – “Wraithlike”
MP3: Maximo Park – “Let’s Get Clinical”
Video: Maximo Park – “Questing, Not Coasting”
MySpace: Maximo Park

Speaking of cancellations, here’s one that apparently was and then wasn’t. For The Records pointed out that a September visit from Micachu had appeared briefly on their MySpace and then disappeared – and some digging revealed this piece at the Phoenix New Times which seemed to confirm that a tour had been planned and then canned. But apparently not the whole thing – Micachu & The Shapes will indeed be in town on September 29 for a show at the El Mocambo, where they totally impressed back in July. Tickets are $13 in advance.

MP3: Micachu – “Lips”

The Times talks to members of The xx about the possibility of the school that they and numerous other current UK artists attended closing its doors while Tourdates.co.uk asks them about their taste in covers. The xx will release their debut XX on October 20 and play the Phoenix on December 2.

That gig is in support of Friendly Fires, who are the subject of interviews with The Advertiser and The Guardian.

Charlie Fink of Noah & The Whale tells The Guardian about the heartbreak that informs the whole of their new album First Days Of Spring, out domestically on October 6. He also contributes a piece about creating the film component of the record and there’s another interview at I Like Music. Fall North American tour dates are forthcoming – in the meantime, check out the first video and grab the title track courtesy of The Times.

MP3: Noah & The Whale – “The First Days Of Spring” (.zip)
Video: Noah & The Whale – “Blue Skies”

Bat For Lashes will be releasing a deluxe edition of Two Suns that comes with a documentary DVD and eight bonus tracks. Well, I suppose if you’re going to milk the fan for every penny they’re worth, you may as well offer some value. The new package is out September 7 in the UK with North American and worldwide release dates forthcoming – assuming the DVD will have various video formats and regions, fans are recommended to wait for their own domestic release before buying. The Georgia Straight has an interview with Natasha Khan.

JAM, Canada.com Billboard talk to Arctic Monkeys about their new album Humbug, out today. They’re at the Kool Haus on September 29.

Elvis Costello may be in town this Friday night at stately Massey Hall, but Exclaim reports that an upcoming series of live bootleg reissues – I guess they’ve finally given up on re-re-re-re-releasing his studio albums – will kick off with Elvis’ oft-bootlegged 1978 appearance at T.O.’s El Mocambo. Live at the El Mocambo was previously released as part of the 2-1/2 Years box set but will finally see a wide release on its own as of September 29. What do you think the odds of Declan snarling, “these guys got the right idea they’re standing UP” on Friday are? Yeah, not great. And oh yeah, happy 55th birthday Dec.

MP3: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “Radio Radio” (live at the El Mocambo)

The National Post talks to Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, who will be playing day one of V Fest this Saturday at the Molson Amphitheatre.

And playing day two will be Mew, whose new album No More Stories is out today and who are featured in a Daytrotter.

And speaking of V Fest this weekend, the schedule is up and everyone who was anxious about possibly losing their seats in running between stages can relax – pretty much everyone is playing the main stage. Set lengths have surely been truncated a bit relative to what they’d have been with a proper two-stage setup at Burl’s Creek, but they’re still pretty reasonable. And I have to say I’m pleased to see that both Nine Inch Nails and Pet Shop Boys are playing back to back because if there are two fanbases that need to be mashed together, its theirs. And if anyone is wondering, the forecast currently calls for 10 to 15 mm of rain on Saturday and 5 mm on Sunday, though the Saturday forecast dropped from 40mm in the last 15 minutes so it’s probably not too reliable. However if it proves true, everyone moaning about the move to the Amphitheatre may find themselves thankful for the canopy. Those on the lawns will still find themselves wet.

Finally, The Dumbing Of America has posted a little interview conducted with yours truly a couple weeks back. It’s gripping stuff, really.

Monday, August 24th, 2009

Smells Like Secrets

An introduction to The Balconies

Photo By Ben WellandBen WellandI’m not sure why it’s taking me so long to try and come up with words to describe The Balconies and their debut album – also called The Balconies and out September 15. It could be this epic nap that I woke up from a few hours ago but still haven’t shaken loose, or maybe it’s because whenever I start playing the record, that’s 37 minutes that I’d rather just sit and listen instead of write.

The Balconies stick to the tried-and-true power-trio format and on top of that, favour of a dry, in-your-face approach that eschews any sort of studio hijinks. They’re a confident crew, these Balconies, and why not? All three are superb musicians and guitarist Jacqui Neville has got a most impressive set of pipes, with power and expressiveness to spare but thankfully uninterested in showy over-singing. Sibling and bassist Steve Neville is an effective vocal foil, though I find myself wishing I wasn’t reminded so much of the B-52s’ Fred Schneider at points. Their songwriting is also at its sharpest when they plough straight ahead with the power-pop, all punch and vigor and demonstrating a knack for the not-so-obvious-but-indelibly-catchy hook. But even the lesser tracks have at least one riff, melody or moment to justify its place amongst the stronger numbers and oft times, they’re the ones that stick in the head the most. In fact, on the first few listens, I thought I was able to easily distinguish the standouts from the filler, but subsequent listens have blurred those distinctions significantly. What hasn’t changed, however, is the first impression – that The Balconies have turned out a cracking debut record and more than merit my – and your – attention.

Seeing as how they hail from Ottawa, it’s only natural that I Heart Music was first up with effusive praise for the outfit, which has been echoed by both Herohill and Dave Allen of Gang Of Four at Pampelmoose. There’s also an interview from earlier this Summer at BlogTO and a more recent one at Soundproof, both addressing the band’s upcoming move from Ottawa to Toronto.

I’m not sure if that’s already happened, but their live itinerary has them in town quite a bit in the next while regardless. They’re at the Horseshoe this Wednesday night with Everything All The Time and The Magic, then are doing a free show as part of the TARA Secret Sessions the evening of August 29 with The Books Elusive and Modernboys Moderngirls. Then they’re back on September 25 at Lee’s Palace for a release party throwdown with Oh No Forest Fires, Fox Jaws and Whale Tooth. Good times guaranteed.

MP3: The Balconies – “300 Pages”
MP3: The Balconies – “Smells Like Secrets”

Final Fantasy is going to be touring across Canada next month but the eagle-eyed – or simply sighted – will notice the absence of any Toronto dates on his itinerary. But he will in fact be playing a hometown show on September 5 at– well, they’re not telling. As part of what they’re calling Bite Your Tongue, Final Fantasy and a handful of others are playing at an undisclosed location that evening and ticket buyers will only be informed of the location the day before the show by returning to wherever they bought their tickets ($10 at Soundscapes or Rotate This) for the 411. They do promise that it’s accessible by TTC (about a 70-minute commute each way) and presumably have made sure that the buses and whatnot are still running when the show is over and people aren’t stranded at this allegedly majestic locale. Adventure! Final Fantasy’s Heartland is due out the first week of 2010 or so.

Spiral Beach will release their new album The Only Really Thing on September 22 and follow that up with a whackload of touring, including a cross-country jaunt with Two Hours Traffic and they’ll preface their October 16 date at Lee’s Palace with an in-store at Sonic Boom that evening.

MP3: Spiral Beach – “Domino”
Video: Spiral Beach – “Domino”

There’s a new track available from Grand Archives’ forthcoming second album Keep In Mind Frankenstein, out September 8. They play the Mod Cub on October 15.

MP3: Grand Archives – “Oslo Novelist”

Also sharing a new tune are Headlights, who’re releasing their third album Wildlife, out October 6.

MP3: Headlights – “Get Going”

Isthmus and Express have words with Justin Townes Earle, who has a date at the Phoenix on November 7.

Spinner talks to Grizzly Bear, in town for day one of V Fest this Saturday at the Molson Amphitheatre.

Stereogum has premiered the MP3 for the a-side from a new Asobi Seksu 10″ coming out this week, a different version of “Transparence” from their latest album Hush. Asobi Seksu are at the Horseshoe on October 13.

Also at the ‘Shoe that night is Anna Ternheim, with whom Baeble Music has a Guest Apartment video session.

The Antlers have released a new video from Hospice. There’s also interviews at Exclaim and The Village Voice. They’re at the Horseshoe on September 24.

Video: The Antlers – “Two”

Stereogum gets a status update from Thao Nguyen of Thao with The Get Down Stay Down on their new album Know Better Learn Faster , due out October 13. They play the El Mocambo on November 1.

CMJ reports that Venice Is Sinking are soliciting pre-orders for their third album The Georgia Theatre Sessions, proceeds from which will go towards rebuilding the titular theatre where the album was recorded and which burned down earlier this Summer. Chip in via Kickstarter.com. This record would be the follow-up to AZAR, released earlier this year and just lovely.

MP3: Venice Is Sinking – “Ryan’s Song”
MP3: Venice Is Sinking – “Okay”
Video: Venice Is Sinking – “Ryan’s Song”

While I like the piece by Adrian Tomine they ultimately used for the cover art to Luna’s Best Of (and which you can buy for just $1500), I like this rejected cover better.

Newsweek Q&As The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne about their new album Embryonic, out October 13.

Spinner talks sexism in music with St Vincent’s Annie Clark, who also recorded an acoustic session for Grand Crew.

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

"Oh! Sweet Nuthin'"

Bry Webb & Casey Mecija cover The Velvet Underground

Image via friendsinbellwoods.comfriendsinbellwoods.comI suppose you can be forgiven if the names above are unfamiliar at first glance, but if you don’t recognize either of Bry Webb or Casey Mecija’s day jobs as frontpersons for Constantines and Ohbijou respectively, then you must be new and not from around here. Welcome, sit a spell. The Cons’ white-knuckle, blue-collar rock and Ohbijou’s sweeping orch-pop don’t have much in common, stylistically, but on this Velvet Underground cover, Webb’s hard-living rasp and Mecija’s honeyed voice come together like the most natural thing in the world, turning the last song on the last proper Velvet’s album into a delectable duet.

The track appeared on the first Friends In Bellwoods compilation, released in the early part of 2007 as a fundraising effort for Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank and not only did it succeed admirably in that – over $11,000 has been raised to date – it also served as a time capsule of a period when a new wave of up-and-coming acts based in and around Toronto were set to make their mark on the local, national and for some, international stage. And since that went over so well, they’ve done it again – Friends In Bellwoods 2 will be released this week with an even more stellar lineup of talent collaborating and contributing songs to the double-CD set. The release shows for the collection started last week but the parties go this coming weekend – Friday night at Lee’s Palace with Ohbijou, Bocce, Forest City Lovers and Evening Hymns and then all day Saturday at the Tranzac with many of the artists on the album playing short sets.

A few of the songs from the new comp were previewed last week and Exclaim is streaming Ohbijou’s contribution to the record. Ohbijou talks to Metro about the Friends In Bellwoods project.

MP3: Bry Webb & Casey Mecija – “Oh! Sweet Nuthin'”
Stream: The Velvet Underground – “Oh! Sweet Nuthin'”