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Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Northern Lights

Olenka & The Autumn Lovers, The Wilderness Of Manitoba and Slow Down Molasses at The Garrison in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangLast Thursday night was spent at The Garrison, the newlyopened west-end venue that’ll be home to the final year of Wavelength as well as a plethora of other local music happenings. A fine example of this was this evening’s bill, featuring bands with long names from near, far and sorta-near-but-not-that-close: The Wilderness Of Manitoba, Slow Down Molasses and Olenka & The Autumn Lovers.

Slow Down Molasses represented the “far”, hailing from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and were up first. I’d spent some time with their debut I’m An Old Believer in advance of the show and while the seven-piece outfit obviously has no shortage of ideas, largely revolving around a heartbreaking, widescreen country-rock epic I can definitely get behind, but I didn’t find Believer to be as focused or immersive a listening experience as it’d have probably needed to be to really wow me. Live, however, they make it work a lot better – all the many pieces come together nicely and the punchier delivery makes up for some of the thinner/wispier production choices and sometimes hesitant delivery on record. And bonus points for not only thinking to use a typewriter as a musical instrument but for making it work.

The Wilderness Of Manitoba got some face time here last week and were certainly a big part of the draw for this show. Though still a relatively new act, the word of mouth around them and the harmony-laden folk songs of their debut mini-album Hymns Of Love And Spirits has been spreading quickly so there was a pretty good size crowd assembled for their performance. And, indeed, the harmonies were pretty impressive – not divine, as the more hyperbolic might want to believe, but certainly rich and well-arranged. They brought more to the table than just their voices, though, and tastefully filled out their sound with cello, singing bowls and ukulele in addition to the more traditional guitar, bass and drums. As with the preceding band, I found the live Wilderness Of Manitoba more engaging than the recorded one, mostly thanks to the additional sonic weight of the live instrumentation – whereas Hymns seems to float above, on stage they sounded decidedly more anchored and some of the new material would certainly seem to demand that extra oomph. I know the EP just came out but I look forward to hearing what they do next.

I know I’d been intending to see London, Ontario’s Olenka & The Autumn Lovers for a long time – at least a year, and certainly they’re on my schedule every time CMW or NXNE rolls around – but it just hasn’t happened until now. So I won’t dwell on time and opportunities lost and just be thankful that finally, I am enlightened to their myriad charms. Calling them a folk band is accurate but insufficient; however trying to get more specific can be tricky. Their musical roots are Olenka Krakus’, which is to say the Old World/Eastern European/Balkan traditions which have been well-plied by the likes of Beirut and DeVotchKa in recent years, but rather than destinations as they are for those acts, for the Autumn Lovers they’re more of a starting point and they go wherever Krakus’ rich voice and vivid songwriting would go – brassy country twang one moment, mysterious Gallic chanteuse the next and all points in between. All of that was on display on Thursday night, as Krakus led her band through a spirited set which showed off their musicality and versatility and the sort of tightness that a couple weeks on the road tends to provide. I can’t provide much more specifics than that on account of not really knowing their material at the time but I’ve been rectifying that, having already put their recent Papillonette EP on heavy rotation and can say that what the cover of “Dancing In The Dark”, with which they closed the encore, lacked in polish, it more than made up for in enthusiasm and manpower. Joyous stuff, and be assured I won’t be missing them again.

Olenka’s just-wrapped eastern Canadian tour yielded features in BlogTO, JAM and The Chronicle Herald while BlogTO also talked to Slow Down, Molasses in advance of their show.

Photos: Olenka & The Autumn Lovers, The Wilderness Of Manitoba, Slow Down Molasses @ The Garrison – October 29, 2009
MP3: Olenka & The Autumn Lovers – “Eggshells”
MP3: The Wilderness Of Manitoba – “Bluebirds”
MP3: Slow Down, Molasses – “I’m An Old Believer”
MySpace: Olenka & The Autumn Lovers
MySpace: Slow Down Molasses

And this segues nicely into the second half of this post as Olenka & The Autumn Lovers placed an impressive 27th in the 2009 edition of I Heart Music’s “Hottest Bands In Canada” poll, the results of which were announced at the end of last week and which was topped by The Rural Alberta Advantage – which, really, was the only possible sensible outcome. As always, it’s a far from comprehensive survey of Canadian online music writer/blogger types, but does give a decent impression of who’s being talked about… by Canadian online music writer/blogger types. Eight of my ten picks made the final list, and as in past years, my picks were a melange of subjective opinion and objective fact, served with a healthy dose of rushing to get it in before the deadline. My full ballot with pithy blurbage is below.

1. The Rural Alberta Advantage – To hear them or see them is to love them, and while buzz had been growing steadily since last Fall, it was a storybook SxSW this past Spring that made them arguably one of the hottest Canadian exports of the year and it’s a tale that shows no signs of ending anytime soon.

MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Don’t Haunt This Place”

2. Fucked Up – Winning the Polaris Prize should pretty much guarantee you a top-5 spot in this poll, and by doing so, Fucked Up have taken hardcore just a little bit further into the mainstream and are as unlikely and appropriate ambassadors for Canadian music as you’ll find.

MP3: Fucked Up – “No Epiphany”

3. Metric – The tale of the tape doesn’t lie – they scored their second Polaris nomination for “Fantasies”, sold tens of thousands of records and are selling out large theatres across the country. they may be hated by many but are loved by even more.

Video: Metric – “Sick Muse”

4. Ohbijou – They released a glittering jewel of a sophomore effort in “Beacons”, toured relentlessly across Canada, the United States and Europe and with their Bellwoods house, now a thing of myth, essentially acted as a fulcrum for a new wave of bands coming out of Toronto. And somehow managed to raise almost $20,000 for the food bank at the same time.

MP3: Ohbijou – “Black Ice”

5. Woodpigeon – Calgary’s best-kept secret has started getting the sort of accolades at home that they’ve been earning abroad and turned a limited run record of non-album tracks into a Polaris long-listed record. Just imagine what they’ll do when they release Die Stadt Muzikanten in January, an album that’s actually meant to be an album.

MP3: Woodpigeon – “Love In The Time Of Hopscotch”

6. Final Fantasy – Getting ranked for a record that’s not out yet and a hot year that’s not actually occurred yet is a bit like winning the Nobel Peace Prize without having actually brokered any peace, but the anticipation for Owen Pallet’s first record in almost four years is substantial enough to warrant it.

MP3: Final Fantasy – “Ultimatum”

7. Chad Van Gaalen – I will personally probably never take a seat on this particular bandwagon, but there’s no denying that the cult of Chad continues to grow with every record he puts out. And if this were a poll of Canada’s oddest musicians, he’d be number one with a bullet.

MP3: Chad Van Gaalen – “City Of Electric Light”

8. The Wooden Sky – Long-time fixtures of the Toronto scene, their new record “If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone” feels like a game-changer for the band in every sense. They’ve made records, they’ve toured their asses off and now, people are talking. A lot.

MP3: The Wooden Sky – “Bit Part”

9. Dan Mangan – while I still think that declaring him “artist of the year”, as Verge XM did, is a bit premature, there’s no question that “Nice, Nice, Very Nice” is a watershed record for the Vancouver artist and one that could and should elevate him to the ranks of the finest new songwriters in the country.

MP3: Dan Mangan – “Road Regrets”

10. The Balconies – “Hottest in Canada” is probably an overstatement as they’re still hardly known outside of Ottawa and Toronto, but this power trio have got the songs and the style to ensure that by the time this poll runs next year, they’ll have made a much bigger name for themselves. Consider this a pre-emptive move.

MP3: The Balconies – “300 Pages”

And a couple related notes – The Rural Alberta Advantage will play an in-store at Soundscapes on November 17 at 7PM as a warm-up to their big show at Lee’s Palace on the 20th. Oh, and they’re playing the Olympics, too.

The Torture Garden has an interview with Final Fantasy’s Owen Pallett. Heartland is out January 12.

Dan Mangan has released a new video for “Robots” from Nice, Nice, Very Nice. Brace yourself for adorableness.

Video: Dan Mangan – “Robots”

The Line Of Best Fit has posted a sixth “Oh! Canada” downloadable mixtape, chock full of the best new Canadiana as judged by the British.

By : Frank Yang at 8:10 am
Category: Concert Reviews

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

RSS Feed for this post5 Responses.
  1. Luke Andrews says:

    I was also at the Olenka & The Autumn Lovers show, and I mostly agree with your assessment — I enjoyed all three bands. My enjoyment was tempered a bit by the fairly lousy sound mix, however, especially for the first and third bands (The Wilderness of Manitoba seemed to have their mix right). I’d be happy to chalk it up to the newness of The Garrison, and hopefully future shows will be better, but it’s always unfortunate when the sound board gets in the way of a good performance.

  2. Frank Yang says:

    yeah, definitely feels like they’re still learning to tune the room, sound-wise. There was more feedback through the night than there really should be. I can’t comment on the mix, though, as being up front I tend to hear the stage volume more than the house.

  3. Bruce says:

    Thanks for sharing your Hottest Band picks. Nice to see you standing by Metric, even if on a purely objective basis. Metric haters should go back to the 90s when Canadians were uncomfortable/hostile about a local band’s success, they’ll feel right at home.

    By the way, I once knew a girl named Pithy Blurbage. She had an endearing lisp…

  4. thomaus says:

    So what I don’t get is why the RAA show at Lee’s is still not sold out. Maybe they’re the Hottest Canadian band outside of Canada? Is Toronto bored with them already?

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