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Archive for December, 2010

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Home For Christmas

Herohill wishes you a very Hall & Oates Christmas

Image via AmazonAmazonThis is probably going to be it for the holidays, so I’ll leave it with a salute to the folks at Herohill, who’ve fulfilled a Christmas wish I didn’t know I had by assembling a tribute album to Hall & Oates featuring a slew of independent Canadian artists including Rae Spoon, Milks & Rectangles, Ox and more. A lot of the names might not be familiar but there’s talent in that there lineup and the material is tops, and there’s more to come – another batch of Can-con covers is coming sometime in January.

Yeah, I grew up listening to Hall & Oates and, as this collection and the Bird & The Bee tribute album Interpreting The Masters from earlier this year have proven, I still do. On my annual Boxing Day record store trawl this weekend, I will be crate digging for a copy of Private Eyes and/or H2O, yes I will.

Switch Mode talks community with Ohbijou’s Ryan Carley.

Conor Oberst goes over some of the science fiction influences on The People’s Key, the next album from Bright Eyes, with Spinner. The album is out February 15 and they play The Sound Academy on March 13.

MP3: Bright Eyes – “Shell Games”

There’s now a video trailer for R.E.M.’s new record Collapse Into Now, due March 8, and while the formula of veteran acts and special guests usually equals artistic calamity, the advance word on this record continues to be very good. Here’s hoping.

Trailer: R.E.M. / Collapse Into Now

Daytrotter have served up a session with Old 97’s, who should be making up their cancelled Miller/Hammond show in October with a full-band show at The Horseshoe sometime in the Spring. Keep an ear open. And in the meantime, read these interviews with Murry Hammond at American Songwriter and Rhett Miller at CNN.

NYC Taper has followed up last week’s post of The National at Maxwell’s in New Jersey with another set of recordings from the same show – for the whats and the whys, read the post and grab the tracks.

NPR has got a World Cafe session with Sharon Van Etten and another one with Janelle Monáe.

And that should do it. See you sometime next week. Safe holidays. Seacrest out.

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Fool's Day

Right-wing media conspiracy spreads rumours of new Blur record

Photo via MyspaceMyspaceAnd as the internet inexorably slows for the holiday season, we have this. Over in the UK, the generally dubious tabloid The Sun cites an anonymous source as saying that Blur are headed back into the studio in the new year to hash out some new material and, if all goes well, release a new record in 2011, their first since 2003’s Think Tank and since 1999 with guitarist Graham Coxon.

While the credibility of the source – of both The Sun and their tipster – is suspect, it does make some sense. Following their triumphant 2009 reunion, the quartet opted to not immediately carry it forward and instead announced the reunion over, though ironically it was Coxon – who left the band in the first place – who kept pushing the idea that there could be more to come. In any case, Damon Albarn went back to wearing his Gorillaz suit, Coxon released his seventh solo record and Dave Rowntree and Alex James went back to doing whatever they were doing, making it look like the unfinished business had been attended to.

But then came their “Fool’s Day” single, released in April for Record Store Day, which proved that a) they weren’t in face done with Blur and b) Blur were still writing good tunes. It wasn’t a song for the ages, certainly more subdued than many had hoped, but I thought it was an honest representation of where Blur was at in their 40s and still boasted a terrific Graham solo – certainly I’d be happy if they put out more of this. So with Gorillaz heading to the back burner and enough time elapsed since the reunion celebrating their past glories, 2011 sounds like a pretty good time to move Blur into the future. Let’s hope that this rumour has more legs than the one last Spring, hinting that they’d be crossing the Atlantic for some North American dates.

MP3: Blur – “Fool’s Day”

Much more certain is the new record from ElbowBBC6 talks to frontman Guy Garvey about the new album, which will be entitled Build A Rocket, Boys and be out March 7 in the UK. Fingers crossed for a simultaneous North American release and touring.

Even though Florence & The Machine really broke out in 2009 and by rights should have gone back into the studio to work on a new record this year, Florence Welch still made her procrastination productive enough for Spin to name her their artist of the year and run a feature piece on her.

British Sea Power previews their new record Valhalla Dancehall acoustic-style with a video session for The Fly. The record is out January 11 and the band ruminate over their back catalog for Spinner.

PJ Harvey has released a video from her new record Let England Shake, due out February 15. Was only a passing PJ Harvey fan in the past but what I’m hearing from the new record is really doing it for me.

Video: PJ Harvey – “The Last Living Rose”

Even though they already had a perfectly good clip for the song, The Joy Formidable have made a new video for “Austere” – one that presumably has the version of the song that will appear on The Big Roar when it comes out on January 24 in the UK and March 15 in North America. Glad to hear that while the arrangement is a bit different, there’s not any excessive major label gloss on it.

Video: The Joy Formidable – “Austere”
Video: The Joy Formidable – “Austere” (original)

The dears at Lucky Soul are giving away their cover of Mud’s “Lonely This Christmas” in all its uncompressed WAV glory over at Soundcloud. Or, if you’ll take something compressed in exchange for manageability, grab the MP3 below.

MP3: Lucky Soul – “Lonely This Christmas”

NPR has complete audio and selected video from yesterday’s hometown holiday throwdown from Glasgow by Belle & Sebastian available to stream.

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

All We Grow

S. Carey and White Hinterland at The Horseshoe in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangTo the person who said they’d hoped S. Carey would play a Bon Iver cover at the Horseshoe on Sunday night – really? Though to be fair, I can understand it – without the angle of Sean Carey also being Justin Vernon’s drummer, there might well have been far fewer people in attendance, and that’d have been a shame as Carey’s solo debut All We Grow is a jewel of a record on entirely its own merits. But even if they didn’t know that in advance, by that point in Carey’s set – nearing the end – any right-thinking person would have been so taken by the performance that they shouldn’t have even been able to muster a “Bon who?”

That should probably say “performances” – plural – because opener White Hinterland was pretty terrific as well. I’d only listened to Casei Dienel’s stuff in passing before, but clearly I’ve been missing out. With Shawn Creeden alongside her, Dienel crafted a set that was earthy and organic despite hardly utilizing a single acoustic instrument. Using keys, samples and loopers, Dienel would subtly loop and layer her birdlike vocals into a swirling cloud of folktronica that had more than a hint of Lykke Li-like sultriness. She also offered up a cover of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream” (how I was able to recognize the song without ever having actually heard it, I do not know) before bringing out S. Carey to back her on a couple of songs, a favour which she would later return. I know I have a copy of her latest album Kairos kicking around somewhere… I really need to find it.

If White Hinterland’s set was an exercise in making something wholly organic-sounding out of inorganic instruments, S. Carey’s was a study in rendering a studio-crafted record entirely live. We All Grow is a record rich with layered sounds, clearly indebted to late-era Talk Talk, and I certainly wouldn’t have expected all of them to be recreated live… so I was very pleasantly surprised when they were. Fronting a five-piece band and sticking mainly to keyboards, Sean Carey led his bandmates through one of the simply prettiest hours of music I’ve experienced in recent memory. Be it the immaculate four-part harmonies or the masterful musicianship of all hands with through the gentlest atmospheric moments or the crashing crescendos, they sounded amazing and the only time the only thing greater than enjoying the moment was anticipating how they’d do the remaining pieces from the album justice. I appreciate this sounds a touch overly effusive but it really was lovely, and perfectly capped in the encore when Dienel came out contribute vocals to their cover of The Notwist’s “Consequences”. Just oh so pretty.

Photos: S. Carey, White Hinterland @ The Horseshoe – December 19, 2010
MP3: S. Carey – “In The Dirt”
MP3: S. Carey – “In The Stream”
MP3: White Hinterland – “No Logic”
MP3: White Hinterland – “Dreaming Of The Plum Trees”
MP3: White Hinterland – “Chant de Grillon”
MP3: White Hinterland – “Icarus”
Video: White Hinterland – “No Logic”
Video: White Hinterland – “Amsterdam”
Video: White Hinterland – “Icarus”
Myspace: S. Carey
Myspace: White Hinterland

Pitchfork and The Telegraph have interviews with The National while NYC Taper is sharing a recording of their set opening for Yo La Tengo during their Hannukah residency at Maxwell’s at the start of the month.

My Old Kentucky Blog interviews Nicole Atkins – her new record Mondo Amore arrives January 25 and she will be at The Horseshoe on February 26.

Interview talks to Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes about the rocking direction of their next record The People’s Key, out February 15 and the first MP3 from which is available in swap for an email over at Pitchfork. They’re at the Sound Academy on March 13.

aux.tv chats with Ra Ra Riot.

Spinner chats with Antony Hegarty of Antony & The Johnsons.

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I was still waiting for Minnesota’s Now Now to make up their cancelled Summer 2009 date; good news is they’re finally making it here on February 13 for a show at the Mod Club, bad news is it’s part of a large bill of emo-punk-pop acts that I’d rather not have anything to do with (Hellogoodbye, Gold Motel, You Me And Everyone We Know) so yeah, maybe next time.

MP3: Now Now – “Neighbors”

Rocky Votolato and Matt Pond (presumably solo, sans PA), will be teaming up for a Spring tour that stops in at the Drake on March 23.

MP3: Rocky Votolato – “Red River”
MP3: Matt Pond PA – “Starting”

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Heirloom

Memoryhouse, Foxes In Fiction, Volcano Playground, Ostrich Tuning and Heartbeat Hotel at Twist Gallery in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangThat I’m a fan of the once-celebreated, then-maligned, now-celebrated-again genre of indie rock called “shoegaze” is no secret (if this is news, then welcome – you’re new around here). But if you think that gives me a soft spot for bands who invest more than is reasonable in effects pedals, you’d be right but also wrong.

Sonic architecture was only part of what those British bands in the early ’90s incredible – they also wrote fantastic songs and that’s something that some of their followers either forget or unable to replicate. Far too often I’ll come across bands that seem promising on paper with all the right RIYLs and while there’s plenty of sturm and/or drang, there’s a woeful lack of hooks or, live, they’ve made the mistake of going so far as to emulate their forebears’ onstage social anxiety disorder.

So Thursday night’s “Wintergaze” mini-festival out at the Twist Gallery in Parkdale was met with both anticipation and trepidation; here we had five acts who were ostensibly among the top new dream-pop purveyors in the greater Toronto area with only a couple sort-of known to me and the rest total unknown quantities. Never been to the venue before, either. A night of mysteries awaited!

Lead-off hitters Heartbeat Hotel weren’t quite a mystery – I’d written up them and their debut album Fetus Dreams back in July but had never seen them live. Most of the pros of the record were present live – songs with a good balance of catchiness and atmospherics and equal dexterity at poppers and drifters. None of the songs were immediately memorable but they had a good sound that good things will come of it.

Ostrich Tuning come by their name, attributed to Lou Reed circa the Velvet Underground, legitimately. Their music utilized a tidal approach, with VU-styled dirges building, cresting and ebbing with the occasional melodic or chordal shift to keep you on your toes. There were vocals but they were buried – probably deliberately so – and while I would like to see their melodic side attended to, their sense of dynamics was impressive.

Volcano Playground‘s set may not have been the most polished but they more than made up for it with an impressive mix that melded synthetic tones, danceable rhythms, emotive vocals and an innate pop sensibility. There was still the sense that there were maybe too many ideas in play for them to juggle effectively but the potential contained in what they’re doing is immense.

Warren Hildebrand, who operates under the name Foxes In Fiction, apparently hails from my own hometown and it seems I have to reconsider my long-held notion that Oakville is a artistic black hole from which nothing of value can emerge. The one-man band, who looked as though he’d been plucked straight out of his bedroom and onto the stage (not that there was a stage), was armed with a guitar, sampler and array of pedals and used the tools on hand to deliver a well-orchestrated if dynamically-limited set of slow-motion dreampop that has more than a little Deerhunter-ish value. It wasn’t hard to see why his debut Swung From The Branches has put him in the radar of sites like Pitchfork.

By the time Memoryhouse came to close things out, things had run well behind schedule and in addition to general exhaustion, the attached dance club was in full swing and the gallery was resonating to the obnoxious dance beat from downstairs. Not the best situation to immerse oneself in their hazy, nostalgic pop but having waited for some time to see them live, it had to be endured. And dance leakage and bouts of feedback aside, they did not disappoint. Performing as a three-piece with an extra guitar augmenting Evan Abeele’s piano and guitar and Denise Nouvion’s vocals, their crisp, clean textures and country-tinged vocals weren’t the standard sonic implements of shoegazing but the net effect of their approach was just as dreamy. They mentioned that this was an unusually stripped-down show for them, and while I’d like to see/hear/feel them in a presumably louder configuration, this was pretty nice. And while on the topic of “wants”, a full album would also be welcome – I suspect that as good as they are with singles, a complete song cycle would be even more impressive.

In the end, any fears of being disappointed by those who’d claim to be worshipping at the alter of Creation were wholly misplaced. None of the bands on the bill were trying to be the second coming of Ride – even the labelling of them as “shoegaze” seemed inaccurate and not giving them nearly enough credit. They’re making new and interesting, atmospheric rock music and if you feel inclined to look at your feet while you listen to it, then that’s your business. Just make sure you listen.

eye was also on hand and has a review.

Photos: Memoryhouse, Foxes In Fiction, Volcano Playground, Ostrich Tuning, Heartbeat Hotel @ Twist Gallery – December 16, 2010
MP3: Memoryhouse – “Lately (Deuxieme)”
MP3: Memoryhouse – “Lately (Troisieme)”
MP3: Memoryhouse – “Gian Lorenzo Bernini”
MP3: Foxes In Fiction – “School Night”
MP3: Foxes In Fiction – “Lately (Deuxieme)”
MP3: Foxes In Fiction – “Flashing Lights Have Ended Now”
MP3: Foxes In Fiction – “15 Ativan (Song For Erika)”
MP3: Volcano Playground – “Anywhere”
MP3: Heartbeat Hotel – “Fins Of A Shark”
MP3: Heartbeat Hotel – “Walls Of Dry Clouds”
MP3: Heartbeat Hotel – “The Hello Barrel”
Video: Memoryhouse – “Heirloom”
Video: Memoryhouse – “Bonfire”
Video: Memoryhouse – “Lately (Deuxieme)”
Video: Volcano Playground – “Waiting”
Myspace: Memoryhouse
MySpace: Heartbeat Hotel

Their sold-out show at Lee’s Palace last week now in the books, it can be announced that The Rural Alberta Advantage will be playing the New Year’s Eve party at The Tranzac alongside the likes of Hooded Fang, Laura Barrett, The Wilderness Of Manitoba and more. Tickets $15 in advance.

PitchforkTV has got videos of Dan Bejar previewing songs from the next Destroyer record Kaputt, due out January 25.

Spinner interviews John O’Regan of Diamond Rings. He opens up for Robyn at the Sound Academy on January 26 and NYC Taper is sharing a recording of his show in New York earlier this month.

Owen Pallett is giving away an EP’s worth of demos, collectively entitled Export, over at Soundcloud. Today Online also has an interview.

Torontoist interviews Mitch Fillion, the video session auteur who runs Southern Souls.

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Mandatory Holiday-themed Covers Post

A bunch of people cover a bunch of Christmas tunes

Photo via ICHCICHCI’m not really a Christmas person. I’m certainly not against it or a conscientious abstainer, at least not from its secular aspects, I just do my best to ignore it for the first couple weeks of December until denial gives way to blind panic when I realize I still have too much to do to the degree in which I do participate. Things end up so hectic that actually enjoying the season, whatever that means, is mostly out of the question.

One thing the holidays are good for, though, are covers as everyone and their mother seems inspired to track a seasonal standard or two. The potential downside of this is that the same tunes crop up, year after year, but I think I’ve collected a bunch of more recent/less ubiquitous tunes that will hopefully come across as a little fresher to your ears. Happy statutory holidays, everyone!

Billy Bragg and Florence Welch of Florence & The Machine teamed up for the BBC last year in taking on the Pogues holiday classic. I’ve mixed feelings about Welch’s parts, and not just because Kirsty MacColl can’t be touched – while it’s nice to hear her not overpower things with her voice for a change, the restrained Flo sounds kind of bored. Billy, however, is wonderful as always.

MP3: Billy Bragg and Florence & The Machine – “Fairytale Of New York”
Video: Billy Bragg and Florence & The Machine – “Fairytale Of New York”
Video: The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl – “Fairytale Of New York”

British duo Slow Club gave their debut album Yeah, So? a North American release this year and followed it up with the holiday-themed Christmas, Thanks For Nothing EP last week, which included this terrific cover this Phil Spector tune (performed by Darlene Love) which allows Rebecca Taylor to show off her pipes in a way she doesn’t get to nearly enough.

MP3: Slow Club – “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”
Stream: Darlene Love – “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”

Another British duo making noise this year was Summer Camp, first thanks to the mysteriousness of their identities and then the retro-pop excellence of their debut EP Young. They got into the Christmas spirit with a cover of the beloved Waitresses tune.

MP3: Summer Camp – “Christmas Wrapping”
Stream: Summer Camp – “Christmas Wrapping”

London’s 6 Day Riot, who released their third record On This Island earlier in the year, wished their fans a merry Christmas with this cover of this Pretenders song which, for my money, is always overlooked/underappreciated when it comes to seasonal songs. It’s one of my very favourites.

MP3: 6 Day Riot – “2000 Miles”
Video: The Pretenders – “2000 Miles” (live)

Bostoninans Wheat are working on their next album, the follow-up to last year’s White Ink, Black Ink, but still found the time to record a couple of Christmas tunes to give away – the b-side is an original composition and the a-side is the song made famous by Judy Garland in Meet Me In St. Louis.

MP3: Wheat – “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”
MP3: Wheat – “It’s Snowing – I Love You”
Video: Judy Garland – “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”

Toronto’s Ohbijou covered Wham!‘s “Last Christmas” as a special treat last year about this time, and yet in the interim it hasn’t been added to the not-quite-definitive index of covers of that song over at www.last-christmas.com. Someone get on that! The band would, but they’re busy making album number three.

MP3: Ohbijou – “Last Christmas”
Video: Wham! – “Last Christmas”

The Rural Alberta Advantage only played this song – which I thought was traditional but actually only dates back to 1941 and was written by Katherine Davis (thanks Wikipedia – this past Thursday night at their hometown show at Lee’s Palace, but it was captured for posterity thanks to Joe at Mechanical Forest Sound. The RAA are set to release album number two in Departing come March 1 and have just been announced as playing the New Year’s Eve show at The Tranzac on, um, New Year’s Eve. Tickets were going fast and will now be going faster.

MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Little Drummer Boy” (live)