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Archive for September, 2011

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Open Arms

Elbow at The Sound Academy in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangI’m sure it’s more coincidence than any kind of conspiracy, but for some reason the last few years have seen late September/early October become the season when a deluge of Mercury Prize rolls through town. Over the past little while, Toronto has hosted performances by Laura Marling, Coldplay, The Horrors, and Wild Beasts with James Blake here tonight and Portishead in just over a week, and Wednesday night saw 2008’s winners Elbow return for their first headline show in over five years.

It wasn’t supposed to have been so long; they were technically here in August 2009 as reigning Mercury champs opening for Coldplay and had a headlining show at The Phoenix all lined up alongside it, but an offer to play Letterman forced them to pull the plug on it and fly to New York – the salt in the wound being that they never got to perform on account of a segment with another guest running long. And personally, though I’d seen them back in November of 2005, I only became any kind of a fan in the intervening years – all of which is to say that the show at The Sound Academy in support of this year’s Build A Rocket Boys was one I’d been waiting for for a long while.

I certainly wasn’t the only one, but with the venue only half full – approximately 1500 punters – and folded into its more intimate configuration, there clearly weren’t as many as some may have hoped. Still enough to offer a roar of welcome to the Manchester quintet and their two backing violinists/vocalists, though. Whereas at the 2005 show I saw, Garvey was hobbled by a bum leg and forced to perform seated for most of the show, he spent this entire evening roaming the stage like the man of the people he is, shaking hands with the front row and pointing and waving to pretty much everyone; I wager that by show’s end, there wasn’t a person in the crowd who hadn’t been personally acknowledged by Garvey. The sort of skills one gains from playing to arena- and stadium-sized crowds, as Elbow do back in the UK, served him well in connecting with the audience whether is was a running theme of getting everyone to wave their hands in the air whenever he did so – perhaps a nod to their latest album’s artwork – or cheekily chastising overeager fans for randomly shouting out the names of English towns or trying to start football singalongs and a offering elocution lessons to those shouting requests inarticulately. All in good fun, of course.

And while I’m sure plenty would have been happy to attend a Guy Garvey speaking tour, this was still a rock concert. At least technically. One of the key realizations in my becoming a fan was that Elbow weren’t actually a conventional rock band, and expecting them to ever “rock out”, as the kids say, was an exercise in frustration. They can pack a wallop when need be, as “Neat Little Rows” and “Grounds For Divorce” – which followed an extended nonsensical ad-libbed audience singalong – aptly demonstrated, but most of the set showcased what has become the band’s forte: the big, open-hearted, sentimental and stately anthems. Opening with “The Birds” and running through the likes of “Mirrorball” and “The Loneliness of a Tower Crane Driver”, all rendered gorgeously and meticulously, it was almost a case of too much beauty to take in.

The heartstring-tugging peaked mid-set when the rest of the band left just Garvey and keyboardist Craig Potter onstage for “The Night Will Always Win” and “Puncture Repair” rendered as piano ballads. Upon their return, the band went big for the final third of the show with grandiose performances of “Weather To Fly”, begun as an acoustic campfire number with all five gathered in a circle before being completed in proper cinematic fashion and set-closing “Open Arms” that was as soaring as one would expect. The encore led off with “Starlings” – Garvey, Mark Potter and Pete Turner handling horn duties – and following “Station Approach” ended with “One Day Like this”, the song that will likely close Elbow shows until the end of time or until they write something even more celebratory.

For all the preceding praise, it could have been better. Hearing something – anything – from Cast Of Thousands would have been glorious and made me feel a little bit less like I was being punished for taking so long to come around on this band. It would also have been nice if they’d worked some of their darker-tinged songs, such as “Audience With The Pope”, into the set if just to break up the sepia-ness of the performance and show off that heavier side just a bit more. A little more variety in the tenor of the set wouldn’t have been a bad thing – after all, when every song is done up big like a set-closer, it can take away from the actual arc of the show and almost make it feel anticlimactic. But these are relatively minor complaints; any time you get to spend almost two hours with one of Britain’s best bands where the prevailing emotion is love in all its permutations, it’s going to be a good time. Check that; great time.

The National Post also has a review of the show and The Globe & Mail, DIY and San Diego City Beat have band interviews.

Photos: Elbow @ The Sound Academy – September 28, 2011
MP3: Elbow – “Open Arms”
MP3: Elbow – “Newborn”
Video: Elbow – “Open Arms”
Video: Elbow – “Neat Little Rows”
Video: Elbow – “The Bones Of You”
Video: Elbow – “One Day Like This”
Video: Elbow – “Grounds For Divorce”
Video: Elbow – “Leaders Of The Free World”
Video: Elbow – “Forget Myself”
Video: Elbow – “Grace Under Pressure”
Video: Elbow – “Not A Job”
Video: Elbow – “Fugitive Motel”
Video: Elbow – “Fallen Angel”
Video: Elbow – “Newborn”
Video: Elbow – “Powder Blue”
Video: Elbow – “Red”
Video: Elbow – “Any Day Now”

Blurt has details on exactly what is going to be in that ridiculously comprehensive (and expensive) Smiths box set entitled Complete due out October 18.

Adele has released a video for the song you’ve been hearing all Summer and which will haunt you through music stores, shopping malls and karaoke bars until the end of time.

Video: Adele – “Someone Like You”

Contact Music reports that after all his various projects, Damon Albarn is finally planning a proper solo record. Which I’m hoping is code for a Blur North American tour, but I suspect is not.

The Line Of Best Fit serves up a video session with Summer Camp, whose Welcome To Condale is out November 8.

Also sessioning up at The Line Of Best Fit is I Break Horses with the second of three performances recorded in Stockholm.

NPR interviews Feist. Metals is out Tuesday and she’s at Massey Hall on December 1.

Exclaim talks to Kathryn Calder about her new album Bright & Vivid. It’s not out until October 25 but the first video is now available.

Video: Kathryn Calder – “Who Are You”

The Toronto Star and NOW talk to Ohbijou in advance of tonight’s release show in support of Metal Meets at Trinity-St. Paul’s.

Exclaim hosts a video session with The Elwins, who have a single release show at The El Mocambo tonight.

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Oceans Burning

The Horrors and The Stepkids at Lee’s Palace in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangThe narrative around The Horrors’ second album Primary Colours was a simple one – the band who made Strange House, with the outlandish costumes and stage names, were no more and in their place was a lean, fearsome combo who weren’t part of a shoegaze revival but a shoegaze revitalization. Primary Colours learned from the sound-sculpting lessons of the past and applied them towards creating something familiar yet undeniably fresh. It was a remarkable thing. Their visit in October 2009 in support of Primary Colours confirmed that even if they’d ditched the accoutrements, they’d kept the punk energy and intensity that came with their earlier incarnation in a live setting. And so for their show on Tuesday night in support of their more textured and impressionistic third album Skying, the only real question was how great was it going to be?

There were still surprises to be had, however, including the support act – a trio from Connecticut, of all places, called The Stepkids. Taking the stage dressed completely in white – to match the sheets draped over their gear and the backdrop behind them – they laid into a set of super-’70s psychedelic disco slow jams while trippy projections that seemed culled from episodes of The Electric Company danced overtop. All three were virtuosic players and singers, alternating lead vocals and combining on impeccable three-part falsetto harmonies, and on top of it all the material from their self-titled debut – which was officially released that same day – was more than solid. Initially the old-school Horrors fans in attendance didn’t look impressed, having come to the show to freak out rather than get their freak on, but by the set’s end there were more than a few brightly-dyed heads bobbing up and down with the groove. Which just goes to show – you can’t fight the funk.

It’d be dishonest to say that the opening of The Horrors’ set didn’t seem a little devoid of occasion, with the band strolling out one by one and kicking into Skying opener “Changing The Rain” without so much as dimming the lights. I can appreciate that they’ve reached a point where their music is strong enough that dressing it up is unnecessary, but a little attention to presentation is always nice, no? As it turned out, they were just doing me a favour in leaving the lights up long enough to get some decent photos. Within a few songs they began to dim and perhaps not coincidentally, the band’s energy levels began to rise and it became clear that this wasn’t just a recital, but a trip – a descent, and one of which the band was in complete control. It was loud and intense but there was no sense of chaos. Instead, their display of power was graceful and elegant and a thing to behold.

The set was divided evenly between Primary Colours and Skying, with lanky frontman Faris Badwan’s limited repertoire of stage moves – either gripping and grimacing into the microphone stand or foot on the monitor, doing the same – more than enough to command the packed house’s attention. It’d have been undivided attention if not for Joshua Hayward proving more and more that he’s as crucial an element in their sound. It’s astonishing that he’s the band’s only guitarist and is able to recreate so many of the records’ textures live and move from atmospheric soundscape to crushing riff at the drop of a hat. And as if to give him his proper due, the set built up to an epic, trance-like finale of Skying centrepiece “Moving Further Away”, which served as a showcase for his talents and brought what had been a rather short set – the main set ran just 45-minutes – to a respectable running length. Not that anyone should have been looking at their watches; that would have meant having to tear your eyes away from the show.

The National Post was also on hand and has a writeup. The Los Angeles Times has an interview with The Stepkids.

Photos: The Horrors, The Stepkids @ Lee’s Palace – September 28, 2011
MP3: The Horrors – “Moving Further Away”
MP3: The Horrors – “Sea Within A Sea”
MP3: The Stepkids – “Legend”
MP3: The Stepkids – “Shadows On Behalf”
Video: The Horrors – “Still Life”
Video: The Horrors – “Whole New Way”
Video: The Horrors – “Mirror’s Image”
Video: The Horrors – “Who Can Say”
Video: The Horrors – “Sea Within A Sea”
Video: The Horrors – “She Is The New Thing”
Video: The Horrors – “Gloves”
Video: The Horrors – “Count In Fives”
Video: The Horrors – “Sheena Is A Parasite”
Video: The Stepkids – “Wonderfox

The Phoenix has an interview with James Blake, who’s at The Phoenix (the venue not the Boston paper) on Friday night. There’s also a piece at Clash.

The Stool Pigeon interviews Veronica Falls, in town at The Mod Club opening for The Drums on October 1 and headlining their own show at Parts & Labour the following night.

Loney Dear has released a new video from Hall Music, out October 4 and followed up with a show at The Drake Underground on November 4.

Video: Loney Dear – “My Heart”

The Skinny talks to We Were Promised Jetpacks about their new record In The Pit Of The Stomach, which is out October 4 and streaming in whole over at Clash.

Stream: We Were Promised Jetpacks / In The Pit Of The Stomach

Drowned In Sound talks to Jim Reid of The Jesus & Mary Chain about their ongoing reissue series, which wraps up next week, and the odds of a new album: not nil, but not great.

BBC talks to Portishead’s Geoff Barrow about their plans for a new record once their North American tour – which includes two nights at the Sound Academy on October 9 and 10 – is done. And The Village Voice talks to him about this long-running relationship with hip-hop.

Pitchfork is streaming another bonus track from the deluxe reissue of Yuck’s debut Yuck, out October 11, and Room 205 has posted the third and final instalment in their video session series with the band.

Stream: Yuck – “Soothe Me”

Florence Welch of Florence & The Machine has a chat with Interview about her forthcoming second album Ceremonials, out November 1.

Noel Gallagher has released a second video from his solo debut Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, out November 7. He’s at Massey Hall on November 7 and 8.

Video: Noel Gallagher – “If I Had A Gun”

Drowned In Sound, The Skinny and MusicOmh talk to Anthony Gonzalez of M83 about their new record Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, out October 18. They’re at Lee’s Palace on November 18.

Belle & Sebastian guitarist Stevie Jackson has released details of his solo debut (I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson, which is available now digitally and will be out physically whenever he gets physical copies back from the pressing plant.

MP3: Stevie Jackson – “Man Of God”

Much drama over the past day about Bloc Party and Kele Okereke’s status within it, but it appears to have shaken out that he’s still their singer, they’re still back in the studio and people are still far too easy to get worked up about rumours.

The Quietus, The Daily Star talk to Brett Anderson about matters solo and Suede.

Sleepover Shows has a video session with Frightened Rabbit.

The AV Club salues Nick Cave on the occasion of his birthday with a beginner’s guide to his works.

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

How Darwinian

Review of Dan Mangan’s Oh Fortune

Photo By Jonathan TaggartJonathan TaggartAs one of the most social media-savvy musicians in the country, it’s not unreasonable to say that Dan Mangan reads his own press and so he’s probably seen the phrases “everyman”, “coffee shop”, “roots-rock” and variants thereof in regards to his breakout 2009 record Nice, Nice, Very Nice many, many times. And while these descriptors were usually meant in most complimentary ways – one does’t make the Polaris shortlist on the back of negative press – his just-released follow-up Oh Fortune gives you the impression that he didn’t take those writeups as incentive to stay the course.

From the very first heavily-reverbed piano chords which open leadoff track “About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All” before giving way to strings, it’s clear that this record is built on a different game plan than its predecessor. Throughout, there’s plenty of elegantly orchestrated horns and woodwinds, but also feedbacking, layered, wall-of-noise guitars – often all side-by-side or on top of one another – and if that sounds like the complete opposite of what you’d have expected a Dan Mangan record to sound like, well I suspect that’s the point. This is not a record that can be pigeonholed as the work of a singer-songwriter or folkie; it’s brimming with full-on pop ambition and if Mangan had kept such lofty musical aspirations in check before, he’s certainly enjoying the artistic freedom that success engenders now.

But for all of that, as soon as the vocals come in it’s unmistakably a Dan Mangan record. Not having the most elastic voice becomes an pro rather than a con as it remains warm and comforting like a woollen blanket, delivering poignant and poetic lyrics that; another Mangan trademark still intact, if perhaps darker in tone this time out. And it’s Mangan’s voice and the words it carries that act as a sturdy, reliable centre amidst the swirling sonic proceedings; it’s as if between Very Nice and Fortune, Mangan was transplanted from the setting of a comfortable stool in his local into… well, it’s hard to say, exactly. The atmosphere of Fortune is consistent but difficult to pin down, also certainly part of the overarching strategy to head off preconceptions and expectations and forces the listener to consider the record on its own merits rather than what they figured a new Dan Mangan record would sound like.

It’s no small thing to shift gears or change lanes immediately after a breakthrough record; the temptation to stick to what worked – at least for the follow-up – must be immense, particularly when what worked was a time-tested, meat-and-potatoes sort of approach. So Mangan should be praised for going as conceptually far afield as he has on Oh Fortune without abandoning his core strengths and lauded for making it work so well. If it wasn’t clear from any of the above, Oh Fortune is an excellent record, expansive in scope yet efficiently delivered and both musically and lyrically rich. No, there’s nothing as immediate as “Robots” but in lieu of that degree of immediacy, you get songs that continue to reveal themselves over repeated listens. Oh Fortune confirms Mangan as one of this country’s best new songwriters and, as a bonus, forces those who’d seek to dismiss him as too conventional to find a new line of criticism. Maybe that he’s too tall. Because he’s pretty tall.

Southern Souls, The Vancouver Sun, The Winnipeg Free Press and Exclaim have interviews with Mangan and he chats with Rolling Stone about his just-released new video; there’s also three four videos from a full-album performance Mangan gave at the CBC presently online, with more to come. His Fall tour brings him to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on October 28.

MP3: Dan Mangan – “Oh Fortune”
Video: Dan Mangan – “Rows Of Houses”
Video: Dan Mangan – “About as Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All” (live at CBC)
Video: Dan Mangan – “Rows Of Houses” (live at CBC)
Video: Dan Mangan – “Post-War Blues” (live at CBC)
Video: Dan Mangan – “Oh Fortune” (live at CBC)
Stream: Dan Mangan / Oh Fortune

Also out this week is Ohbijou’s Metal Meets. Exclaim and Toro talk to bandleader Casey Mecija about making the new record. They play a release show at Trinity-St. Paul’s on September 30.

Boasting a similar album title and gracing this month’s Exclaim cover is Feist; Pitchfork also has an interview. Metals is out October 4 and she plays Massey Hall on December 1. Update: And now the album is available to stream if you sign up for her mailing list. Preview the album AND get emails from Leslie!

Stream: Feist / Metals

Canadian Interviews is playing host to a tour diary from Bruce Peninsula. Open Flames is out October 4 but streamable now at Exclaim – they also have an interview and review – and they play an in-store at Soundscapes that evening, then a proper show at Lee’s Palace on October 27.

Stream: Bruce Peninsula / Open Flames

Their record release show for Tosta Mista safely in the books, Hooded Fang have announced they’ll play a free show at the Sanderson Branch of the Toronto Public Library (Bathurst and Dundas West) on October 1 at 2PM. They’ve also put out a new animated video.

MP3: Hooded Fang – “Den Of Love”
Video: Hooded Fang – “Brahma”

Dev Hynes’ Blood Orange has been announced as support on the upcoming tour for CANT, the solo project from Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear, as well as being part of his band, all of which means that he’ll be at The Garrison on October 21. And to mark it, a new MP3 from Coastal Grooves is available to grab courtesy of Stereogum.

MP3: Blood Orange – “Champagne Coast”

J Mascis will be in town on November 4 as part of the Sleepwalk Guitar Festival taking place at The Great Hall all that weekend and ex-Television guitarist Richard Lloyd leads off the Saturday night bill followed by The Sadies. And if you were wondering just how “ex” Lloyd was with respect to Tom Verlaine and Television, this exchange documented at The Daily Swarm seems to indicate that bridges are pretty well burned. Tickets for each evening show are $25, all-day and weekend passes also available.

MP3: J Mascis – “Is It Done”
MP3: The Sadies – “Another Year Again”

English songwriting legend Ray Davies has made a date at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre for November 25 in support of last year’s See My Friends though it’s unlikely any of his big-name collaborators will be joining him for these shows. Tickets are $49.50 and $69.50 plus fees.

Video: The Kinks – “Waterloo Sunset” (live)

Young Galaxy have been added to the Austra show at The Phoenix on December 1, as well as the rest that tour. They’ve also released a new video from Shapeshifting, an animated sequel to the clip for “We have Everything”.

MP3: Young Galaxy – “Peripheral Visionaries”
Video: Young Galaxy – “Peripheral Visionaries”

The War On Drugs are coming back to town, making a date for December 9 at The Horseshoe; tickets $13.50 in advance. The Washington Post and DCist have interviews and NPR a World Cafe session.

MP3: The War On Drugs – “Come To The City”

Tokyo Police Club, Born Ruffians and Said The Whale appear to be a winning combination as a second show has been added at The Phoenix for December 9, the one for the night before presumably just about sold out. Tickets are again $25 in advance.

MP3: Tokyo Police Club – “Party In The USA”
MP3: Born Ruffians – “Sole Brother”
MP3: Said The Whale – “Camilo (The Magician)”

Ryan Adams’ first show back in Toronto since Summer 2007 – he’s retired and come back out of retirement in the interim – will take place on December 10 at The Winter Garden Theatre; tickets are $45 plus fees, fan presale goes Thursday at 10AM and general onsale Friday, same time. His new record Ashes & Fire is out October 11; Exclaim takes a look back over his prolific career.

Video: Ryan Adams – “New York, New York”

Putting lie to my post in July when they announced it, The Radio Dept. have cancelled their entire Fall tour, which was to include a November 17 show at The Mod Club, “due to family related matters”. They hope to pick up again in 2012, perhaps even with some new material to share. Yeah, right.

Salon, Spinner, The Atlantic, Billboard, Paste, JAM, and aux.tv talk to Jeff Tweedy of Wilco while The Atlanta Journal-Constitution talks to Nels Cline and The Line Of Best Fit to Glenn Kotche. NYC Taper has a recording of their second of two Central Park shows available to download and CBC’s Q has a video studio session with the band.

Spinner talks to Ben Gibbard about the new Death Cab For Cutie video from Codes And Keys.

Video: Death Cab For Cutie – “Stay Young Go Dancing”

Filter, The National Post and NOW have features on Girls.

Spinner talks to The Drums, in town on October 1 with an in-store at Sonic Boom at 7PM and a show at The Mod Club a little later that evening.

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

A Creature I Don't Know

Laura Marling and Alessi’s Ark at The Great Hall in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangSomeday, I don’t know when, but someday, Laura Marling will come to Toronto and play an appropriately-sized venue at a decent point in an album’s promotional cycle. She was already a Mercury Prize shortlister for her debut album Alas I Cannot Swim when she made her local debut at the barely 200-capacity Rivoli in October 2008, and her return engagement in February 2009 was originally booked into the barely-bigger Drake Underground before being sensibly moved to the 500-person Lee’s Palace where it still sold right out. Coming as it did more than a month before her second album I Speak Because I Can – which would again shortlist for the Mercury Prize – was released, it was reasonable to assume that she’d make a return engagement but the closest she came was an appearance at Hillside in Guelph that Summer.

Which leads up to last Friday night, where she made her third local appearance with a show at The Great Hall just a fortnight after the release of album number three, A Creature I Don’t Know. The show was completely sold out, unsurprising considering how high her star has risen and how small the room is; official capacity is no more than 500, and considering the seated balcony was closed off, it was probably even less. Of course, cramming extra people in probably would have been dangerous – not because of any kind if fire hazard but because for its architectural and acoustic qualities, The Great Hall has nothing resembling a working ventilation system and the room was a veritable sauna and more than a few of the less-hardy punters were passing out and needing assistance before the show even began.

Any opener trying to get the attention of the distracted, sweaty masses would have their work cut out for them but Alessi’s Ark was in extra tough. Her latest album Time Travel is a pleasant bit of folk-pop that might have gone over better in quieter environs but in this setting, even backed with an electric guitarist adding a bit of texture, her strummy, languid stylings weren’t nearly forceful enough to grab most peoples’ attention. A couple of numbers where she went to more soulful places cut through a little better, and people definitely paid attention for the one song where she was joined by a cellist and Marling on backing vocals, but largely she was too easily drowned out. It’s odd that someone who’s no stranger to live performance would come across so timidly and frustrating that while she clearly has the talent to do more than she does, doesn’t.

It’s funny that so much discussion around Laura Marling centers around her tender age – still just 21 years old and already on her third critically-acclaimed album – when so much of her appeal comes from the agelessness of her songs. Okay, they’re not completely removed from temporal reference – ’60s and ’70s folk from both sides of the Atlantic figures heavily in her sound and you can tell that prior to writing the new album she’d been spending time with old-school American country records – but combined with her old soul vocals, that’s as close to timeless as you’re going to get. As for the Black Sabbath t-shirt she was sporting when she took the stage… well who doesn’t like a little “Iron Man” now and again?

Playing frontwoman for a six-piece band, she opened with a quartet of older numbers, perhaps cognizant of the fact that Creature was still very new and judging from the number of people clutching vinyl copies (and fanning themselves furiously with them) still unfamiliar to many. It wouldn’t be unfamiliar for much longer, though, as the rest of the set drew heavily from the new record and even included an even newer song – being called “Pray For Me” around the interwebs – when she played solo mid-set. As always, her performance was mesmerizing with this backing band arguably the best she’s had yet – yes, even better than Mumford & Sons – and the richness of the presentation superb; lead Creature single “Sophia” was glorious in its build from winsome to widescreen and the choral vocals on “I Speak Because I Can” were spine-chilling.

Especially pleasing was Marling’s stage presence; back in the day she was shy to the point of catatonia but has gotten progressively more confident as she gains years and experience and while she still apologized for having poor stage banter, she actually evidenced a sharp, dry wit and even effectively targeted and shamed some of the loud talkers by dropping her voice to a whisper mid-song and making their presence very acutely – and embarrassingly – known. But those few aside, most were held rapt by her 70-minute performance which was no mean feat given the stifling atmosphere in the hall. As always, things ended with the “we don’t know if you’ll give us an encore so we’re just going to stay and play our last song” routine which for this evening was a foot-stomping “All My Rage”; of course it was all part of the script, but it was also part of the fun. There wasn’t any way they weren’t getting their encore and there’s definitely the demand to bring Marling and co. back again for another show – but this time if it can’t be in a room that will hold all her fans, can it at least be one with climate control?

BlogTO and Exclaim also have writeups of the show while The Globe & Mail and Edmonton Journal have profile pieces.

Photos: Laura Marling, Alessi’s Ark @ The Great Hall – September 23, 2011
MP3: Laura Marling – “Ghosts”
MP3: Alessi’s Ark – “The Robot”
Video: Laura Marling – “Sophia”
Video: Laura Marling – “The Needle & The Damage Done”
Video: Laura Marling – “Rambling Man”
Video: Laura Marling – “Devil’s Spoke”
Video: Laura Marling – “Night Terror”
Video: Laura Marling – “New Romantic”
Video: Laura Marling – “Ghosts”
Video: Laura Marling – “My Manic & I”
Video: Laura Marling – “Cross Your Fingers”
Video: Alessi’s Ark – “On The Plains”
Video: Alessi’s Ark – “Maybe I Know”
Video: Alessi’s Ark – “The Wire”
Video: Alessi’s Ark – “The Horse”
Video: Alessi’s Ark – “Birdsong”
Video: Alessi’s Ark – “The Asteroids Collide”

Blurt talks to PJ Harvey.

American Songwriter puts aside the first half of their mandate in declaring Emmy The Great their songwriter of the week.

Summer Camp has gone off and made a zine to go with the upcoming release of their debut Welcome To Condale, out November 8.

Bjork has released another video from the forthcoming Biophilia, due out October 11.

Video: Bjork – “Moon”

The Jezabels show up at The Fly and play an acoustic session; The Australian also has a feature on the band. They’re at The Phoenix on November 23 opening up for Hey Rosetta!.

NPR talks to Dominique Durand of Ivy while Magnet has a Q&A with her and Andy Chase in advance of making the band guest editors of their website this week; they’ve also got a new MP3 from their album All Hours to share.

MP3: Ivy – “Make It So Hard”

NOW previewed last night’s tUnE-yArDs with an interview and Metro also has a short piece. There’s also a new video from WHOKILL to gawk at.

Video: tUnE-yArDs – “Gangsta”

DIY, Billboard and Pitchfork all have features on Dum Dum Girls on the occasion of the release of Only In Dreams. There’s also a new video from said record. Dum Dum Girls are at Lee’s Palace on October 16.

Video: Dum Dum Girls – “Bedroom Eyes”

The AV Club and NPR have feature interviews with Wild Flag. They’re at Lee’s Palace on October 12.

Interview talks to Theresa Wayman of Warpaint.

Filter collects a number of random thoughts and observations from Annie Clark of St. Vincent.

Daytrotter has posted a session with Ume.

Monday, September 26th, 2011

The Past & Pending

The Shins and Faces On Film at The Phoenix in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangIf someone were to start one of those, “Who the eff are The Shins?” Tumblrs, there’d be no shortage of content to start with. They were once called Flake Music. They were the band who got a song with lyrics about having “dirt in your fries” to soundtrack a McDonalds commercial. They were the band that helped establish Sub Pop as the sensitive pop label for the new century rather than the sweaty grunge label for the last one. They were the band whose keyboardist was a hero to indie boys for dating one of the contestants on the first season of America’s Next Top Model and then a villain to all when he was arrested for assaulting her. They were the band that would change your life. And following the 2007 release of their third album Wincing The Night Away, which almost topped the charts worldwide (#2 in the US and Canada), they went into hiding and almost disbanded.

Or to be more precise, bandleader James Mercer opted to assert his bandleadership and essentially dismissed the rest of the band, then rather than release a new album went and worked with Danger Mouse on the largely unremarkable Broken Bells instead. Only this Summer did any concrete news about the status of The Shins emerge with a promise of a new record in 2012 and a run of tour dates through this Fall – including this past Thursday night in Toronto – with a new lineup of not-nobodies. Singer/songwriter Richard Swift, Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer, Crystal Skulls bassist Yuuki Matthews and singer/songwriter Jessica Dobson are clearly billed as the touring band for this jaunt and with no permanence implied. For the time being, these would be The Shins but for future reference, The Shins would essentially be a pseudonym for Mercer.

Boston-based openers Faces On Film knew a thing or two about one-man multi-member bands, being the project of one Mike Fiore. It took a few songs to pin down exactly what their slow-burning jangle-pop reminded me of but once I did, it was hard to hear anything else; if you imagined My Morning Jacket or Band Of Horses coming out of a northeastern college rather than the south, you’d have a pretty good sense of what they were about. Fiore has a big voice – far bigger than you’d expect to look at him – and perhaps more importantly, a penchant for interesting and structurally ambitious songwriting without being too obtuse about it. Cribbing a bit of either of those bands’ facilities for big moments wouldn’t hurt – some of the songs were heavy on build, light on payoff – but they were both interesting and entertaining and judging on audience response, left the stage with a few more fans than when they took it. And that’s really all an opener can ask for.

Reaching back in memory to the few times I’ve seen The Shins live – that’d be Summer 2002 at The Rivoli, April 2005 at The Kool Haus and Lollapalooza 2006 – the prevailing recollection was that James Mercer didn’t ever really seem to enjoy being onstage, and was perfectly happy to stand off to the side and let the more gregarious Crandall handle most banter and fan interaction. This jives with the sense that Mercer is a sort of cipher whose intensely catchy pop instincts help disguise the fact that his oblique lyrics, filled with odd and wonderful imagery actually offers little insight into the man himself. Which is not to say that songwriters owe their listeners a piece of themselves in their work, but success to the degree that The Shins achieved usually doesn’t come with the amount of privacy that Mercer has maintained.

None of which is really salient to this show, I suppose, and there’s plenty more relevant points of interest surrounding it to discuss. Like how, even though it’s only been four years since The Shins have been through town or toured to any great extent, that span is akin to a lifetime when your fanbase is on the cusp of adulthood as much of their post-Garden State demographic was when they broke out. Woud a Shins fan circa 2007 still identify as such in 2011? That was answered by the fact that there were enough interested to sell out the Phoenix and most were indeed still pretty young, though sadly most people look pretty young to me these days.

Whether they were diehards or nostalgists, they were all thrilled to hear The Shins live again (or finally, as the case may have been), no matter who was actually in the band. And why not? Whatever there might be to say about James Mercer as a boss, there’s little debate that he’s a gifted songwriter who has penned more than few tunes that are as catchy as they are quirky, and which have endured nicely – even the ones that hadn’t been heard in years and whose existence may even have been forgotten came instantly back within a few chords. Being veteran players all, there was no doubt the new lineup would be able to deliver exactly what was demanded of them and all were performed impeccably, if a bit louder and faster than on record, and with nice multi-part harmonies thrown in for good measure. Mercer was animated and affable in the frontman role, but you couldn’t argue he’d upped the charisma levels to fill Crandall’s absence; he and his crew were there to play the songs and that’s all.

The set included a couple of new songs which sounded identifiably Shins-y though didn’t jump out as instant classics and otherwise balanced equal contributions from Chutes Too Narrow and Wincing The Night Away – four apiece – with a lot of Oh Inverted World filling out the rest. And it was this earliest material that still had the most nuance, even when busied up some by the rhythm section, though it was hard to no remember that back in their salad days, the greatest charm of The Shins was their simplicity and sincerity. And a fixture of past Shins shows, the cover song, not only remained intact but was doubled upon with the encore closing with faithful covers of both Bowie’s “Ashes To Ashes” and Pink Floyd’ “Breathe” – and apparently the latter’s massive upcoming reissue/revival (but not reunion) is well-timed because the indie kids seem primed and ready to get their Floyd on.

If The Shins were using this tour to gauge how much of their audience remained, then based on the Toronto sample group it’s still pretty significant though it was a room half the size of the one they played their last couple times through. Still, it felt like more of a reminder that the band wrote some great songs and was still around rather than a forceful declaration of their continued relevance. Not that forcefulness has ever been The Shins’ forte – it’s been the songs. And if Mercer’s next batch of songs measure up to the work he’s done in the past, then it won’t matter who’s playing with him or even if he wants to be up there playing them at all. He’ll be able to point at the album and say, “this is what matters” and he’ll be right.

The National Post and Exclaim also have writeups of the show and Twentyfourbit has a nice piece on both The Shins’ performance at Outside Lands last month and their transformation from a band into a “James & Someone & Someone & Someone & Someone” t-shirt.

Photos: The Shins, Faces On Film @ The Phoenix – September 22, 2011
MP3: The Shins – “Australia”
MP3: The Shins – “Phantom Limb”
MP3: The Shins – “Kissing The Lipless”
MP3: The Shins – “So Says I”
MP3: The Shins – “Know Your Onion!”
Video: The Shins – “Australia”
Video: The Shins – “Phantom Limb”
Video: The Shins – “So Says I”
Video: The Shins – “Turn On Me”
Video: The Shins – “The Past & Pending”
Video: The Shins – “New Slang”
Video: The Shins – “Kissing The Lipless”
Video: The Shins – “Know Your Onion!”
Video: Faces On Film – “Manitoba”

The Drums’ show at the Mod Club this Saturday night has apparently sold well enough that they’ve added an in-store engagement earlier in the evening to satisfy demand (or do some shopping). They’ll be at Sonic Boom in The Annex at 7PM on October 1. Admission free, canned good donation encouraged.

MP3: The Drums – “Down By The Water”

The band that people initially thought was a Michael Cera project but is really a Man Man/Islands/Modest Mouse (and Shins, if you count Joe Plummer’s hired hand gig) spin-off – Mister Heavenly – have put together a tour in support of their debut Out Of Love and will be at The Great Hall on November 16. Examiner.com talks to Nick Thorburn, the Islands half of the band.

MP3: Mister Heavenly – “Bronx Sniper”
MP3: Mister Heavenly – “Pineapple Girl”

The Baltimore Sun profiles Fleet Foxes.

The Des Moines Register talks to John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats.

NPR can’t get enough Beirut, roping the band in for both a Tiny Desk Concert and World Cafe session. Zach Condon is also chatted up by the likes of The Guardian, The Independent, and The New Zealand Herald.

Stephen Malkmus talks to Pitchfork about choosing the cover art for his latest Mirror Traffic, to The Hook, hour.ca, and Metro about the contents of said album and The Vancouver Sun about Nirvana and R.E.M.

130BPM talks to Dean Wareham about revisiting the Galaxie 500 oeuvre.

The Los Angeles Times marks the release of Wilco’s new record The Whole Love tomorrow with a feature piece in the paper and a couple of extra pieces in their Pop & Hiss blog. And if you’re more the watch and listen than read type, there’s a stream of the complete set they played on Letterman available to watch at The Line Of Best Fit, a recording of their show in Central Park to download at NYC Taper and NPR will have last night’s show in Washington DC up to stream later today.

The Guardian and Billboard talk to Ryan Adams about his new record Ashes & Fire, due out October 11 but now available to stream at NPR.

Stream: Ryan Adams / Ashes & Fire

The AV Club interviews Will Sheff of Okkevil River.

Eric Bachmann of Crooked Fingers selects some sound sculptures for a feature in Impose. The new Crooked Fingers record Breaks In The Armor is out October 11 and they play The Drake Underground on November 4.

Matthew Sweet is giving away an acoustic EP in exchange for an email address over at Noise Trade, but if you want to leave a little something in the tip jar provided, that’s cool too. His new studio album Modern Art is out tomorrow.

How do you let people listen to a six-hour song? By being The Flaming Lips and having fans willing to hack into two-hour blocks and post them on Soundcloud. The Line Of Best Fit has gathered them together in one place… if you dare.

Stream: The Flaming Lips – “I Found This Star On The Ground”

R.E.M.’s disbandment last week led to no shortage of tributes and testimonials to their greatness, the full depth of which will probably be fully appreciated now that their career has that final punctuation point on it. And I don’t refer to their final studio album Collapse Into Now but the just-announced best-of set Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage: 1982-2011 which will be out on November 15 and be the first compilation to compile material from both their IRS and Warner Bros. years. Of course, the label-specific comps – And I Feel Fine for the indie and In Time are more thorough, but the new set will also cover their final three studio albums as well as some extra material from the post-Collapse sessions. And hopefully the double-disc reissue series of their catalog will continue, because those are gold through and through. And if you want to read some of the better R.E.M. tributes, check out pieces at The Atlantic, Rolling Stone and Spin. Update: Rolling Stone also has an exit interview with Mike Mills.