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Archive for September, 2010

Thursday, September 30th, 2010

Crystallised

The xx and Warpaint at Massey Hall in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangWhen it was announced in June that The xx were not only coming back to Toronto for their fourth show in less than 10 months but doing it in a room far bigger and pricier than anything they’d done before, people thought they were mad. Now it doesn’t seem like madness so much as prescience. For starters, two of those three previous shows were support slots for acts who would have had no trouble selling out even without a buzz band opening and the third was at a room – The Phoenix – that was probably already undersized for them (it too was completely sold out). And really, all three of these shows were before the band REALLY blew up outside of indie circles, never mind the Mercury Prize win for their debut XX a few weeks ago. So was staging last night’s show at Massey Hall ambitious and unthinkable even as recently as a few months ago? Maybe. Was it the right thing to do? Yes, yes it was.

And while it would be presumptuous to suggest that Los Angeles’ Warpaint would find the same level of success as The xx in as short amount of time, they similarly didn’t seem to have any concerns about hitting their market saturation point – this was their third local show in less than four months and fourth in a year, and it’s still not enough as far as I’m concerned. Their debut The Fool, due out October 25, actually remains the last 2010 release that I’m looking forward to and haven’t heard yet and the fact that I won’t even contemplate my year-end lists until I’ve heard it should give you some idea of how much I’m anticipating it.

As to their show, it was interesting seeing how they translated into the much larger environs of a theatre having only experienced them in much more intimate club settings, and while the sound was murkier than ideal, their strengths – namely the thundering and undulating (thund-ulating?) rhythm section of Stella Mozgawa and Jenny Lee Lindberg and serpentine guitars and keening vocals of Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman – still came across loud and clear. And while the tempos they operated at made them sound like speed metal relative to The xx, their shared affinity for dark and dreamlike atmospherics should have impressed anyone who showed up in time to catch their 35-minute set; happily, there were quite a few of them but even if Massey had been empty, one suspects the band wouldn’t have noticed – once they started, the quartet were in their own world and seemingly playing just for themselves. We were just fortunate to get to watch.

Any question as to whether The xx could draw enough for a room the size of Massey Hall was moot before the house lights even went down – though not sold out, it was close enough to confirm that The xx were, indeed, huge. Even so, the ongoing complaint from some that their live show was lacking in charisma or stage presence have some basis, although I stand by my standard response of, “well what would you have them do – scissor kicks?” and maintain that their low-key demeanour is fitting to the music they make; they’re a soundtrack to what you get up to in the dark – it’s not about seeing so much as feeling. That said, The xx have improved their live show each time I’ve seen them and this time was the best yet. Perhaps not in terms of actual performance – there were more than a few missed notes and falling out of time with one another, perhaps a consequence of trying to get too loose up there – but for vibe, it was pretty special. For starters, I wager that this was the first time many of the 2500 or so in attendance had seen them play and the excitement in the room was palpable – these folks, who also seemed to have the youngest mean age of any full house I’ve ever seen at Massey Hall – were excited. And though the band were as polite but low-key as ever, when those seated in the floors spontaneously rushed the stage to dance or just get closer to their heroes during “Islands”, they seemed genuinely taken aback by the enthusiasm.

With an intimate delivery that was also possibly even slower and more sensual than on record and playing under a grand yet still somehow dark, meticulously synchronized light show, their set encompassed all of XX plus their cover of Womack & Womack’s “Teardrops”. As they’ve maintained there’s no new material ready to be aired or even any guarantee of a second album, the only “fresh” material came via in the instrumental intros, outros and inter-song segues that they used to expand and differentiate the live renditions from the album versions. The set barely clocked in at an hour including encore, but I didn’t get the sense that anyone felt they didn’t get their money’s worth – they heard everything they could have wanted to.

In a way, you almost hope that they don’t ever make a second record, if just to preserve the purity of their narrative arc thus far. Over a year and a half, these teenagers making music in obscurity have skyrocked to global fame, a Mercury Prize and massive tour of some of North America’s most hallowed venues, and their debut could stand as the single definitive statement of The xx, a document of their youth preserved in amber. In reality, this almost certainly won’t be the last we hear from The xx, but if it were? That’d be okay.

The Toronto Sun also has a review of the show. The Seattle Times has an interview with DJ/producer Jamie Smith, whom Spin reports is releasing a solo single next month.

Photos: The xx, Warpaint @ Massey Hall – September 29, 2010
MP3: The xx – “Basic Space”
MP3: Warpaint – “Undertow”
MP3: Warpaint – “Elephants”
MP3: Warpaint – “Billie Holiday”
Video: The xx – “Islands”
Video: The xx – “Basic Space”
Video: The xx – “Crystalised”
Video: Warpaint – “Stars”
Video: Warpaint – “Elephants”
MySpace: The xx
MySpace: Warpaint

PopMatters talks to the reunited Chapterhous, in town at Lee’s Palace on October 6.

Film School and The Depreciation Guild, both of whom will be at the El Mocambo on October 4, have each released new videos from their latest albums Fission and Spirit Youth, respectively. Wired talks to Film School’s Greg Bertens.

Video: Film School – “Sunny Day”
Video: The Depreciation Guild – “My Chariot”

Spoonfed and The Georgia Straight talk to Benjamin Curtis of School Of Seven Bells.

Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead tells Spinner they’re hoping to get a lot of mileage out of their latest album Penny Sparkle. They play The Phoenix on October 17.

Exclaim’s cover story this month is Deerhunter, whose latest Halcyon Digest came out this week. They are at the Opera House on October 19.

Spoonfed and Austinist have interviews with The Morning Benders, who premiered a new song in their Take-Away Show for Le Blogotheque. It may well be in rotation by the time they play The Mod Club on November 5.

Exclaim has details on the inevitable deluxe edition of The National’s High Violet which will be available on November 22. The good news is all the bonus tracks will be available a la carte via the usual digital retailers.

Muzzle Of Bees interviews Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips.

Exclaim chats with Stephen McBean of Black Mountain, in town at The Phoenix on October 31.

Land Of Talk’s Liz Powell weighs in on the subject of illegal music downloads at Spinner (precis: she doesn’t like it one bit).

Daytrotter has posted a session with Born Ruffians.

Peaches will be celebrating the holiday season this year with her production of Peaches Christ Superstar, the content of which should be self-explanatory (but Spinner explains anyways). The touring production wraps December 21 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto.

And all those Neil Young videos from Le Noise are indeed parts of a larger filmic whole, and it’s available to watch in its entirety over at YouTube starting today. Young discusses the album with The New York Times.

Video: Neil Young / Le Noise – The Film

This is going to be about it for this week; off to Las Vegas tomorrow morning for Matador 21 and I’d normally be reporting all about it but… what happens in Vegas and all that. But you can follow along thanks to the magic of the internet as most of the sets will be streaming at MySpace – details at Matablog. And also check out this oral history of Matador Records at MySpace, with two parts up and the final one tomorrow. ‘Tis good reading.

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Total Life Forever

Foals and Esben & The Witch at Lee’s Palace in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangI’m not going to suggest that there were stars – or planets, as the case may be – in alignment this week over Toronto but it did strike me as interesting that in the span of 72 hours, there’d be no less than four recent Mercury Prize nominees – and two winners – in town to play shows, three of them on Monday night alone. So while fellow 2010 shortlisters Villagers were at The Drake and 2007 champs Klaxons were at the Mod Club, Oxford’s Foals were at Lee’s Palace in support of their shortlisted new record, Total Life Forever (tonight’s xx show at Massey was number four, if you were wondering). And while I’m sure all the other artists made (or will make) solid cases for themselves as the cream of the current British and Irish musical crops, I’m pretty sure none of them managed to get quite as… angry, as Foals did. But more on that in a bit.

First were supporting act and subject of some modest buzz themselves, Brighton’s Esben & The Witch, who made people take notice when it was announced they’d signed to Matador for the release of their debut album next year. And if Matador was looking to up the interesting/odd quotient of their roster, then Esben certainly fit the bill. The lazy comparison – which I’m obviously not above – would be a more primal and primitive Portishead, and not just because of the gender makeup of the trio. By whatever instrumental means necessary – including all three beating the tar out of a single floor tom simultaneously – they focused on creating an unsettling and foreboding atmosphere over which Rachel Davies’ vocals – sometimes like a ghost, other times like a banshee – could ride upon. The songcraft wasn’t as sophisticated as I’d have liked or even as the recordings I’ve heard, but it was evident that it was intensity and not refinement that they were interested in conveying in performance. I’d have preferred a better balance of the two, but will wait to hear the record before firming up any opinions.

I’ve already admitted to being late to the Foals party, but even though it took me until Total Life Forever to appreciate the band, I’d always heard and believed that they put on an impressive live show. And their punchy, dancey math-punk is tailor-made for a great show – powered by a taut, ultra-tight rhythm section and steered by the dueling, palm-muted guitar symphonies of Yannis Philippakis and Jimmy Smith, they’re all about escalation and after about an hour or so of steadily building musical momentum – just about a set length, coincidentally – they’d be ready to explode and send everyone home exhausted and satisfied. I’ve no doubt that that was and is the Foals game plan, when all goes well. On Monday night, Toronto got to see what it’s like when things don’t go according to plan, and it’s actually better.

Playing in front of a completely sold-out house, things got off to a great start with the title track off Total Life Forever – the set was front-loaded with newer material – and the band playing so tightly, it was as though they were tied together by some invisible wire that kept them in perfect synchonicity but also allowed spontaneous outbursts of chaos with a swift, sudden tug. About mid way through, however, it became clear that Smith was having issues with his gear and the rest of band found themselves jamming on extended intros and instrumental passages as he and the guitar tech tried to sort it out. It seemed, from the audience’s point of view at least, that they had things sorted a few times but the look on Smith’s face to side stage made it clear that no matter what guitars, amps or cables they swapped out, things weren’t getting fixed. And while the equipment woes were technically all Smith’s, watching Philippakis while all this was going on was far more interesting.

Though on the surface he seemed to take it all stoically, it became clear that he was getting angrier and more on the edge of violence as things went off-script and was channelling said anger through his guitar; never missing a beat or a note but absolutely raging while remaining stony-faced. Fittingly, as the set progressed and the spikier Antidotes material surfaced, he began acting out; knocking over mics and stands, pounding the hell out of his floor tom, taking advantage of his wireless guitar lead to descend into the audience, climb onto the back bar, set his mic up and play from the far front corner of the room and generally express his frustration in every way he could while keeping the show going – they even came back for their encore – and not completely flipping out and destroying everything. The intensity was not lost on the crowd, who fed on it and reflected it right back at the band and helped ensure that despite the obstacles, the night was a triumph. Though if anyone after the show saw a bonfire in back of Lee’s consisting of a couple of sweet Gibson guitars and guitar amp heads… those might have been Foals’.

Panic Manual, Singing Lamb, Exclaim and Chart have reviews of the show while The Toronto Star has an interview with Foals.

Photos: Foals, Esben & The Witch @ Lee’s Palace – September 27, 2010
MP3: Foals – “Spanish Sahara”
MP3: Foals – “Balloons”
Video: Foals – “2 Trees”
Video: Foals – “Miami”
Video: Foals – “Spanish Sahara”
Video: Foals – “This Orient”
Video: Foals – “Cassius”
Video: Foals – “Balloons”
Video: Foals – “Hummer”
Video: Foals – “Mathletics”
Video: Esben & The Witch – “Marching Song”
MySpace: Foals
MySpace: Esben & The Witch

DCist, The Phoenix and The Miami Herald talk to Tim Booth of James, who will be at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre tomorrow night, September 30.

The Vaselines are the subject of a feature in The Big Issue; they have a date at the Horseshoe on October 30.

The Joy Formidable have released a video for the lead single from their debut album The Big Roar, due early next year. They’ll be at the Horseshoe on November 3.

Video: The Joy Formidable – “I Don’t Want To See You Like This”

Support for Kate Nash’s upcoming Fall tour – which includes a November 13 date at The Phoenix – has been announced as British folk trio Peggy Sue. The Daily Titan has a conversation with Nash.

Video: Peggy Sue – “Watchman”

Ryan Jarman of The Cribs talks to Spinner about the band’s upcoming hiatus.

The Guardian has an update on the condition of Charlatans drummer Jon Brookes and an optimistic timetable for his return to the band.

The Von Pip Musical Express talks to Jim Reid about the 25th anniversary of The Jesus & Mary Chain’s debut Psychocandy.

The Quietus wonders if anyone remembers Irish trio JJ72, who made some noise a decade ago. Former frontman Mark Greaney does, and talks to them about the band’s accomplishments.

Video: JJ72 – “October Swimmer”

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

Slow Riot for New Zerø Kanada

Godspeed You! Black Emperor make appointment to lay waste to Toronto

Photo by Eva VermandelEva VermandelAt first, no one even believed it was happening. Apocalyptic Montreal post-rock godheads Godspeed You! Black Emperor, basically inactive since touring behind 2002’s Yanqui u.x.o. ceased and presumed defunct, out of nowhere announced they were reconvening to curate an All Tomorrow’s Parties in the UK in December 2010. And in typically cryptic Godspeed fashion, the accompanying press release mentioned that there would be additional dates in the UK and Europe and “9 American towns” but offered no further details.

Of course, it was that last bit that threw everyone into simultaneous euphoria and panic. Euphoria that those who missed out on their legendary live experiences would possibly get a chance to have their minds expanded/exploded, and panic that their own town might not be one of the lucky nine. Why nine? Did Manhattan and Brooklyn count as one or two? And the whole “America” thing was also alarming – North? United States of? The idea that the band would leave their home and native land out of the loop was unthinkable, but where Godspeed is concerned, nothing could be taken for granted. So a collective sigh was heard when the first set of dates was finally revealed a couple weeks ago, and there were decidedly more than nine municipalities covered and on both sides of the 49th.

Toronto, however, was conspicuously absent from the itinerary despite their routing coming oh-so close, wrapping in Detroit at the end of March. That there wouldn’t be shows here was unthinkable, but the when and the where… showed up last night. Though their shows at the Palais Royale at the start of the decade are nigh mythical (at least to hear it from those who were there, which doesn’t include me), their return will come at the decidedly cozier environs of Lee’s Palace over three nights next Spring – April 22, 23 and 24, the last of those being a dry, all-ages matinee show – you know, for kids! You’d think that would mean that 1500 people would get the chance to see them, but you can expect more than a few three-peat attendees. It might be almost seven months away, but when the $20 advance tickets go on sale this Thursday, hesitate at your peril.

MySpace: Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Chart talks to The Coast about their new album Queen Cities. It’s streamable at their Facebook (each track is embedded on their wall) and the lead track is available to take home for your very own.

MP3: The Coast – “Heartbreak City”
Stream: The Coast / Queen Cities

Soundproof profiles The Acorn.

As expected, here’s another video from Neil Young’s new record Le Noise, due out today. There’s a video interview with both Young and producer Daniel Lanois over at QTV.

Video: Neil Young – “Walk With Me”

Suuns have rolled out a new video from their forthcoming debut Zeroes QC. It’s out October 12.

Video: Suuns – “Up Past The Nursery”

Olenka & The Autumn Lovers have completed their new album and given it the title of And Now We Sing; it will be available for sale on their upcoming Fall tour which includes an October 17 date at The Garrison. Their show there last year was so good, I’m sad I won’t be able to make this one. One of you out there make it for me.

MP3: Olenka & The Autumn Lovers – “Eggshells”

The Chicago Tribune has an interview with and Baeble Music solicits a mix tape from Basia Bulat. She’s at the Phoenix on October 26 opening up for Josh Ritter.

Pitchfork has got another new track from Diamond Rings’ forthcoming debut Special Affections in advance of its October 26 release. He plays a free show at the Parkdale Branch of the Toronto Public Library on October 8 at 8PM and a record release show at The Garrison on October 26.

MP3: Diamond Rings – “Something Else”

Impact 89 has a chat with and NPR a World Cafe session with Dan Mangan, in town at Trinity-St. Paul’s on October 28.

Woodhands are back for a show at Lee’s Palace on November 19, advance tickets $13.50.

MP3: Woodhands – “Dissembler”

The Line Of Best Fit has assembled a thirteenth Oh! Canada download mix of Canadian artists.

And not quite fitting in with the Can-con meme of the rest of the post but time-sensitive, North Carolina’s Lost In The Trees – introduced and endorsed back in June – have announced a last-minute in-store performance at Soundscapes today – as in today – at 5:30PM. I haven’t yet had the privilege of seeing them live but I’m pretty sure it’ll be great. You should totally go.

MP3: Lost In The Trees – “All Alone In An Empty House”

And less good, tonight’s Bettie Serveert show at the Drake has been cancelled due to passport issues. Le boo.

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Love More

Review of Sharon Van Etten’s Epic

Photo By Allison KayeAllison KayeIt’s hard to reconcile Sharon Van Etten with the exquisitely sad character who crafted her gorgeous debut album Because I Was In Love. On stage and in person, she’s a friendly and outgoing young woman who seems worlds removed from the bruised soul who inhabits her songs, but there’s no questioning the honesty behind the record – built around Van Etten’s skeletal guitarwork, raw lyrics and stunningly emotive voice, it was impossible to imagine that something that came across so intimately and personal could have any guile around it.

It was also a record that as great as it was, for the artist’s sake, you hoped she wouldn’t be able to create a similarly inspired follow-up; navigating the emotional terrain that informed the debut wasn’t the sort of thing you’d wish on anyone twice, and yet there was no denying the want or need to hear more from her, of her voice. Where do you go from there? To Epic. Though clocking in at just seven tracks and barely 32 minutes, it doesn’t quantitatively measure up to its name, the emotional breadth of the music contained therein actually makes the title something of an understatement. Whereas Love‘s voice and primarily acoustic guitar aesthetic suited the material perfectly, Epic takes the necessary step of filling out the arrangements with a full band. It’s a sound that we got a taste of when she last played Toronto in April and tourmates Megafaun backed her up for one song and the greatness of the configuration is borne out by the richer sounds of Epic, and allows her to more fully delve into particular styles, like the rock drive of “Peace Sign” and steel-enhanced country of “Save Yourself”.

But more important than the sonic growth on Epic is the lyrical and emotional growth; whereas Love focused on the titular subject and its aftermath, the follow-up gets up, dusts itself off and fights back. There is a distinct snarl about Epic that’s surprising but also quite welcome, fitting nicely with the more dynamic arrangements and reinforcing the sense of strength that permeates the album without losing any of Van Etten’s trademark vulnerability. Though they only number seven, each song on Epic has a distinct vibe that sets it apart from its peers and together, they make for a complete musical and emotional journey that ends, fittingly, on the gorgeous and hopeful “Love More”; a song which, like the rest of the album, makes any working heart simultaneously break and soar.

Rollo & Grady and Kevchino interview Sharon, who will be opening up for Junip on their Fall tour including the November 5 show at Lee’s Palace in Toronto.

MP3: Sharon Van Etten – “Love More”
MP3: Sharon Van Etten – “Don’t Do It”
MySpace: Sharon Van Etten

Two weeks before it’s due to be released on October 12, Sufjan Stevens’ new album The Age Of Adz is up to stream at NPR. Stevens and company play Massey Hall on October 13.

Stream: Sufjan Stevens / The Age Of Adz

DCist talks to Amy Klein and The Washington Post to Patrick Stickles, both of Titus Andronicus.

Drowned In Sound meets Josh Ritter, who’ll be at the Phoenix on October 26.

The Flaming Lips have released another nudity-replete, NSFW video from Embryonic. Know what would be really groundbreaking from these guys? A clip where everyone keeps their clothes on. Mind. Blown.

Video: The Flaming Lips – “See The Leaves”

Spin checks in with Chris Walla on how the new Death Cab For Cutie album is coming. Don’t expect anything before 2011, obviously.

Incendiary talks to Warpaint, who will be at Massey Hall opening up for The xx on Wednesday night and will release their debut album The Fool on October 26.

NYC Taper was on-hand for at least two of Pavement’s many New York City shows this week – check out recordings from two of the Central Park shows and NPR’s interview with Matthew of Fluxblog about attending all five of the band’s recent New York shows. Update: All five shows are up on NYC Taper’s site.

The Courier-Journal talks inspiration and influence with The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, who has just written an anthem for the Minnesota Twins – details and a stream at Spin.

eMusic chats with Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai.

Southern Souls have posted a video session with The Dø, recorded on their recent visit to Toronto.

Drowned In Sound spends some time with the non-Nick Cave members of Grinderman. They are at the Phoenix on November 11. With Cave. Don’t Worry.

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

"Get Me Away From Here I'm Dying"

Bettie Serveert covers Belle & Sebastian

Photo via MySpaceMySpaceWhen the Matador 21 was announced back in the Summer along with the fact that it would feature performances from label alumni past and present, I thought for sure that Holland’s Bettie Serveert would be part of it. Though never one of Matador’s flagship bands, they had a good, three-album run with them in the ’90s and with the release of their latest Pharmacy Of Love, were planning their first US tour in many years for this Fall – surely the two would be intersecting.

It was not to be, however – though visa issues have rejigged their itinerary such that this Tuesday night’s show at the Drake in Toronto is the kick-off, they still don’t hit the southwest US until a week after Matador’s “Lost Weekend” is over. It’s probably too much to have asked to have been able to see them twice in the span of a week, alongside all of the other great acts who’ll be at the Palms in Vegas, and considering I get to see Belle & Sebastian twice in a fortnight – once in Vegas and once in Toronto at Massey Hall on October 12, the day their new record Belle & Sebastian Write About Love comes out – I have no grounds for complaint.

The Betties and Belles do cross paths on the Matador At 21 charity box set that’s coming out on Tuesday and also on this tune, though, which dates back to who knows when – I think I got it off Napster for god’s sake. It’s Bettie Serveert frontwoman Carol Van Dijk strumming the Sinster tune solo and acoustic.

MP3: Bettie Serveert – “Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying”
Video: Belle & Sebastian – “Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying” (live)