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Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

Lights Off


Photo by Liam Maloney

Say you’re a band who’s been around a while and whose last album got a good amount of critical and popular acclaim and a nomination for a major music prize in your home country. How do you follow that up? Well, if you’re Murray Lightburn of The Dears, you dissolve the whole band with the exception of your wife (that would probably have been too awkward) and make the follow-up entirely on your own. That is the context for Missiles, the fourth proper album released under the Dears name, out October 21.

The whys of it all are unclear – interviews between Lightburn and Hour.ca and Spinner hint at the usual “creative differences” (as well as referencing a sorta funny and almost certainly fake thread at Stille Post) – but having cut the rest of the gang loose, the net result is an album with a creative process considerably different from past efforts, done entirely by the remaining two members.

Compared to Gang of Losers, which was a fairly concise and straight full band rock record, Missiles is more stripped down and introspective. Rock outs are few and arrangements, while still on the lush side, are decidedly leaner and more prone to wander. It’s not nearly a stark, singer-songwriter record – though there are some decidedly raw voice and acoustic guitar moments, there’s still sonic indulgences like soaring guitar solos, sweeping synths and a children’s choir – but it is a far cry from the grandiose musical statements that defined the band in their early days. It’ll take more listens than I’ve been able to give it to determine if this is a creative step forward, backwards or just a sort of contemplative pause, but considering that The Dears will be hitting the road this Fall as a seven-piece, it’s safe to say that keeping things small isn’t in Lightburn’s long-term plans.

Chart talks to Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak about the album and the fact that it’s apparently now leaked to the internets.

The Autumn tour will bring the all-new, all-different Dears to the Music Gallery next week for two shows, October 9 and 10, and courtesy of Maple Music and Filter, I’ve got a pair of passes to give away to each show. To enter, email me at contests AT chromewaves.net with “I want to see The Dears on the 9th/10th” (only put one of the dates, please) and your full name in the body. Contest closes at midnight, October 5th.

MySpace: The Dears

Exclaim features Land Of Talk, whose Chris McCarron is a touring member of The Dears. Some Are Lakes is out next Tuesday.

Chart talks to Chad Van Gaalen about his two new records out this Fall – Soft Airplane, out now under his own name, and an electronic record to come out under the Black Mold moniker. The Georgia Straight, Metro, The Hour also have interviews. Van Gaalen is playing the El Mocambo on Saturday night and will do a brief in-store beforehand at Sonic Boom at 6PM. And congrats to Matt who won the contest for passes and a copy of the album on LP.

And Van Gaalen’s tourmates/bandmates in Women will also be doing an in-store, this one at Soundscapes on October 5 at 1PM. Their self-titled debut has been out in Canada since July but gets a US release on October 7.

MP3: Women – “Black Rice”
MP3: Women – “Group Transport Hall”

The UK discovers the wonders of Woodpigeon, with writeups in The Guardian, Q and Metro. If you haven’t grabbed a copy of their limited-edition Treasury Canada Library album, you really really really should.

The New Pornographers have made a new video, though not of pornography.

Video: The New Pornographers – “Mutiny, I Promise You”

Also with the new video action – Final Fantasy, with a clip for one of the tracks from his new Spectrum, 14th Century EP. Still forthcoming is Plays To Please, out October 21. Not entirely sure where you get them in physical form right now, but checking in at his label will surely yield some info in that direction.

Video: Final Fantasy – “The Butcher”

LAist talks to Stars frontman Torq Campbell. They’re at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on December 12 and 13.

PitchforkTV has a twopart video session with Broken Social Scene, who will be at the Sound Academy on November 27.

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

At Constant Speed


Photo by Frank Yang

So technically, I was correct a few weeks ago about there being a surprise appearance involving My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields and Gemma Hayes while the two were in town last week. Except instead of Shields sitting in on Hayes’ show at Supermarket on Friday, it was Hayes making an unannounced appearance as support at the My Bloody Valentine show at the Kool Haus the night before. A set I missed because I was elsewhere.

Friday’s was a much more suitable setting, however, even with the usual chatty crowds in the restaurant area of the venue. Shortly after taking the stage, Hayes asked the audience, “so what are you all doing here?” in reference to the fact that she’d never been to Toronto before, even though that was exactly why we were there. And it was a surprisingly large crowd that showed up to welcome her – maybe no more than fifty, but considering the short notice of the show’s announcement and her general low profile in North America, still impressive.

For her part, Hayes played acoustically but accompanied by multi-instrumentalist Joe Chester who added much-welcome electric guitar and keyboard accents to the songs, reproducing some of the depth and texture of the studio versions. Even so, the setup kept her more in her singer-songwriter guise than the rock side that evidences itself far too rarely, opting to stick to the quieter material of her last two records though the fact that her voice cracked a couple times in the set perhaps indicated that there was some exhaustion involved as well. The set was a bit on the short side – forty-five minutes or so – but she largely sounded wonderful in that time and I felt fortunate that she was even playing a show of her own at all. With her new record The Hollow Of Morning getting a domestic release this week, perhaps it’ll get a proper push and she’ll be back to play some more before long.

Photos: Gemma Hayes @ Supermarket – September 26, 2008
MP3: Gemma Hayes – “Happy Sad”
Video: Gemma Hayes – “Back Of My Hand”
Video: Gemma Hayes – “Hanging Around”
Video: Gemma Hayes – “Let A Good Thing Go”
Video: Gemma Hayes – “Happy Sad”
MySpace: Gemma Hayes

Ah the best laid plans… part of my intention for going to New York City during CMJ was to catch Emmy The Great in addition to Lucky Soul – I was hoping that she’d be playing one of the three days of the festival that i was in town but alas, she’s playing the BrooklynVegan showcase on the 21st, fully two days before I arrive, so unless she’s got more shows lined up there will be no Emmy for me. As a consolation, The Brother Kite have a show on the 23rd, when I arrive, so that’s something. Anyways, though the targeted September release date for Emmy’s debut First Love has come and gone with no new date announced, there’s a single for “We Almost Had A Baby” coming out on November 10 and hopefully the album will be out this calendar year. You can stream a few new tracks, presumably from the new record, at her MySpace and there’s a new video for the single.

Video: Emmy The Great – “We Almost Had A Baby”

Duffy tells Wales Online that she’s a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian, Metro and LAist interview David Berman of Silver Jews.

The new Okkervil River vid was actually released to the internets last week, but only in the US. It now belongs to the world. They’re at the Phoenix on October 12.

Video: Okkervil River – “Lost Coastlines”

And via Matablog, information about a forthcoming Shearwater digital-only release in the form of an EP for “The Snow Leopard” from Rook. It will be released October 14 and in addition to the album track (which you can hear below), it will contain some b-sides and live recordings.

MP3: Shearwater – “The Snow Leopard”

A couple new videos from Fleet Foxes and The Jealous Girlfriends.

Video: Fleet Foxes – “He Doesn’t Know Why”
Video: The Jealous Girlfriends – “Organs On The Kitchen Floor”

Blurt chats with Kurt Wagner of Lambchop, whose OH (ohio) hits the streets on October 7. And at the same time Wagner hits the road for a solo tour which brings him to the Drake Underground on October 6.

The Los Angeles Times and Wireless Bollinger talk to Joey Burns of Calexico, in town at the Phoenix on November 18.

Norwegian crooner Sonde Lerche has a date at the Mod Club on November 14. Tickets $18.50.

CSS will ride Donkey into the Opera House on December 15. Full tour dates at BrooklynVegan.

MP3: CSS – “Alala”
MP3: CSS – “Rat Is Dead (Rage)

This Is Fake DIY has a video session and a video interview with Sky Larkin.

The Huffington Post gets political with Ted Leo.

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

Melody Day


Photo by Frank Yang

I’m immensely relieved that Caribou won this year’s Polaris Music Prize for last year’s Andorra, because if he didn’t then I’d have had to find a new post title. Because so confident I was that this is how things would turn out, I’d already committed to… typing it. And I didn’t want to have to hit that backspace key soooo many times.

So there’s your winner. And though I’m sure that some people figured they knew which way my vote was going to go, despite the fact that I’d not really written about the Caribou record at all, it was my top choice for the prize and I’m very pleased that it came through in the end. I detail the specifics on what I thought of each of the nominated albums, through the filter of what the Polaris criteria was supposed to be, after the jump. And here, I’m not really sure what I can write about. Because though as a member of this year’s Grand Jury, I’ve got a lot I’d like to talk about, I’m not actually allowed to do so. What happens in the jury room, stays in the jury room And since I was sequestered away for most of the gala, I didn’t get to see the show either. So. I guess I’ll just cover what I’m allowed to say about the process.

It started on Sunday night with a dinner with all the Grand Jurists, ostensibly to meet and greet each other and have an informal discussion about the nominated albums. What it turned out to be was a very revealing look at where everyone’s inclinations lay, and which albums would be serious contenders and which would likely be saying, “it was an honour just to be nominated”. It was as essential to the process as the official jury session the night of the gala and I think gave everyone the inclination to revisit at least one of the nominated records that they might have thought their minds made up on

Though the mission statement of the prize, to seek the album of the “highest artistic integrity”, is pretty straightforward (if impossible to actually define), everyone’s criteria for picking a winner was obviously different. While my picks for initial balloting was pretty straightforward – what were my favourite eligible albums and in what order? – for the final round, I took the criteria more seriously. Personal biases would be checked as much as possible, but while I definitely analyzed each album more objectively than I normally might, it still came down to a gut feeling. I wanted something that was more than just a good album – they’re all good albums – and that was for lack of a better, less cheesy word, transcendent. Something that was more than just a good example of its respective style or genre. Something that I’d be comfortable having as a sort of ambassador for Canadian music for the next year.

So going into things on Monday night, I already had the top contenders already sorted out – the middle of the pack could certainly jockey back and forth but they likely wouldn’t end up making much of a difference. My mind was pretty much made up what I was going to pull for and I think most everyone else was as well. The actual jury session result was a very interesting (and civil) discussion about each record, but not so much the knock-down, drag-out argument that you might have expected (or hoped for). Working as I do in mostly isolation, it was a really interesting exercise to actually discuss and debate the merits and flaws of the records, getting different points of view in real time. It was like a book club. And it was amusing to have read some of the more conspiracist theories as to what records we might pick and why, based on agendas that had nothing to do with the albums themselves – Give the finger to the Conservatives! Punish the successful label! They don’t need the money! It’s time for a woman! A rapper! A westerner! Blah blah blah. There was more than enough to talk about in just about the music without getting off-topic.

So when we were finally let out of the jury room and a winner selected (though not revealed to us), I managed to catch the very end of the gala and performances from Shad and Holy Fuck, both so good that I was sorry I missed the rest of the proceedings, even for the privilege of being on the Grand Jury. Holy Fuck were also the only act I got any photos of. But being right up front beside Caribou’s table and seeing the shock and disbelief on Dan Snaith’s face when he was announced as the winner was a real treat. And yes, I was feeling quite good and validated in my opinions.

I’m a bit sad that now having done the Grand Jury thing and having wholly enjoying the experience, I know I won’t get to do it again. It was a real pleasure and honour to have been a part of the process, for something that I think has done a fine job of establishing its credibility as a worthy award and has quickly become an important part of the Canadian music machine. Sure, there are complaints about the records that make the short list (or don’t make the short list) or the Polaris process in general, but now having seen how it all works, I can honestly say that its doing its very best and strives to be as open and fair as possible.

Plenty of coverage on Caribou’s win in the media today, but I found this piece in The Guardian, from a UK perspective, particularly interesting. And as mentioned, I only got a handful of photos of Holy Fuck but there’re some more from the end of the gala at my Flickr.

Photos: Holy Fuck @ The Phoenix – September 29, 2008
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Monday, September 29th, 2008

Feed Me With Your Kiss


Photo by Frank Yang

It had never occurred to me, in the decade plus that I’ve been listening to Loveless, that I’d ever experience it live. For starters, My Bloody Valentine were completely defunct for almost all of that time, Kevin Shields’ reclusiveness and eccentricities having become a topic of musical urban legend.

No, like much of the music I’d discovered in the ’90s, I was at least a few years to late to the party to experience it in real time and so I’d have to make do with the recordings. And those songs existed as that single, definitive recording – I’d never heard any live material, any alternate versions, I don’t even know if any exist. Loveless was Loveless, like the statues on Easter Island – unique and monolithic, able to be experienced and wondered at, but not ever fully understood. And I was okay with that.

So when the news came last November that the band were not only back together but planning live shows for this year and releasing new recordings, followed this May by the announcement of a brief North American tour that included a Toronto date, the response was disbelief, excitement, disbelief again, then a general sense of confusion. Would it be good? Would it be awful? Where would they play? Would it sell out? Do people still care? In time, the answers came – reviews of the first London shows were a blend of awestruck and rapturous. The band were still deafening loud but amidst that din, sounded amazing. And when the Toronto show was downgraded last week from the 5000-capacity Ricoh Coliseum to the cozier 2000-capacity Kool Haus, well there was the other answer. But this venue shift made it a near-sell out, with the atmosphere that goes with such events – a feeling that would have been lost in a cavernous arena. Rarely do I cheer about having to go to the Kool Haus to see a show, but this was one of those times.

Though there really wasn’t a need for an opening act, we got one anyways. Two, actually. The first was The Flowers Of Hell, a sprawling instrumental ensemble based half in Toronto and half in the UK that sounded like an orchestral tribute to Spacemen 3 and The Velvet Underground, but without the pop angle. And interesting and ambitious project, they sounded like a series of phrases, beautifully elocuted but lacking any underlying narrative. The second opener was unbilled and thus, missed by me as I was out in the lobby sorting out press access business. And so what I thought was the DJ playing a Gemma Hayes CD – an odd choice for entertaining the masses – was actually Gemma Hayes playing a short solo set. If not for the fact that I was going to see her do her own show the next night, I’d have been absolutely gutted to miss her play. As it was, I was just a bit miffed.

But that was all preamble. A little after 10PM, the band strolled onstage – all looking remarkably well-preserved – and with “I Only Said” from Loveless, the onslaught began. Actually, that’s not true. For all the talk about how unbelievably loud My Bloody Valentine once were and were yet again, my earplugs did a fine job of bringing things down to a manageable level and from the photo pit at least, the mix was actually quite good – vocals were audible, the rhythm section of Deb Googe and Colm O’Coisig much louder and urgent live than they ever were on record and the guitars… By my count, Kevin Shields had something on the order of 700W of guitar amplification run through some 32 12″ speakers (that’s 25 square feet of speaker cone) and an ungodly amount of pedals. That’s a lot of sound-wielding potential.

And what sound. Listening to the band as they drew evenly from both Loveless and Isn’t Anything plus some b-sides from the You Made Me Realise EP, you realize that as legendary as they are and much as they’re used as a reference point for countless bands that followed them, no one has ever managed to sound like them. Many have picked up a Fender Jazzmaster, run it through mountains of fuzz and volume and worked the vibrato bar just so (myself included), but unless you’re Kevin Shields or Belinda Butcher, it just doesn’t sound the same. There is only one My Bloody Valentine, and they were most definitely back. Accompanied by blinding light show and projections, the band were able to give new meaning to the phrase, “sound wave”. I’ve heard that standing in a tall building during an earthquake creates a sensation not unlike surfing, a feeling of undulation while remaining stationary – when My Bloody Valentine played, it felt like surfing (or swimming) in an ocean of sound.

Dwelling on the volume, however, is to only get part of the picture. My Bloody Valentine have also always been about the pop song, the blend of breathy, dream-state vocals with hazy (and deafening) guitars. For all the bludgeoning decibels they generate, at the core their songs are unbelievably delicate, like a butterfly in the eye of a hurricane. Gems like “When You Sleep”, “To Here Knows When” and “Soon” – oh my goodness “Soon” – certainly attest to that.

And yet you cannot discount the loud. If there was one prevalent topic of discussion leading up to the show, it was the anticipated hearing loss amongst attendees. Anyone who didn’t fully understand why people were excited about going to see this band may have wondered why we didn’t just get someone to punch us in the kidneys and save us the $50, so anticipated the impending injuries seemed to be. The thing is, My Bloody Valentine don’t indulge in volume for volume’s sake. Shields has said in interviews that he believes that there’s a a sonic quality, an interaction between musician, instrument, amplifier and listener, that can only be achieved at a certain decibel level. It probably sounds at least a little crazy, but it’s this experience that he’s seeking to create – not simply to deafen. That’s just a pleasant side-effect.

And it’s in set-closer “You Made Me Realise”, and in particular the infamous portion of the song dubbed “the holocaust” that this is most clear. Starting earlier in the song than I’d anticipated, it began as a slowly but steadily growing wall of sound – not in the metaphorical Phil Spector sense, but in a very literal and tangible one. You were actually feeling the air in the room move past you, reflect back off the walls and ceiling and basically envelop you, all from the band. Again, thanks to my earplugs I was able to contemplate this experience without doubling over in pain or needing to flee, as many of the concert-goers around me were doing. And after a while, the wall began to shift, to expand, to modulate. It was like a magic eye picture of a space shuttle engine at take-off, but for the ears. It was a 24-minute look into the mind of Kevin Shields, and while some found it unbearable, I found it fascinating. I also couldn’t feel my teeth and had the inexplicable desire to adopt a chinchilla.

Despite the enormous weight of expectation on this show and the very real possibility that the band today would be unable to live up to the myth that’s grown around them in the past fifteen years, the reality of it was, in a word, amazing. Unlike anything I’ve ever experienced and unless I get the opportunity to see them play again, probably unlike anything I’ll ever experience again.

The Toronto Star, The Toronto Sun, eye and Exclaim! have rave reviews of the show. Chart opts to play fifth dentist. Guitar Player Gear Guide has an expansive analysis of the tools of My Bloody Valentine’s trade, complete with photos and updated for the current touring setup (warning: heavy guitar geek content) and Audio Pro International has an interview with the band’s live sound engineer that covers just how they manage to keep “Realise” constantly building and shifting for the length of an episode of Seinfeld.

Photos: My Bloody Valentine @ The Kool Haus – September 25, 2008
Video: My Bloody Valentine – “Only Shallow”
Video: My Bloody Valentine – “Soon”
Video: My Bloody Valentine – “To Here Knows When”
Video: My Bloody Valentine – “Swallow”
Video: My Bloody Valentine – “You Made Me Realise”
Video: My Bloody Valentine – “Feed Me With Your Kiss”
MySpace: My Bloody Valentine
MySpace: Flowers Of Hell

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

CONTEST – Halifax Pop Explosion 2008


Photo via Wikipedia

While Pop Montreal kicks off this week, it doesn’t mark the end of the Canadian music festival calendar – that privilege goes to the Halifax Pop Explosion, set for October 21 through 25 in – you guessed it – Halifax. I’ve always looked for an excuse to go visit the Maritimes and Halifax in particular, and while that won’t be happening this year – booked my flight to New York City for that week last night – I’m sure it will eventually. Though I suspect that the Atlantic coast isn’t necessarily the warmest place to be in late October.

Commandeering seven venues in Halifax for five nights, this year’s Pop Explosion features a lineup of the cream of the crop of up and coming Canadian talent with the likes of Holy Fuck, Basia Bulat, The Rural Alberta Advantage and Amos The Transparent, as well as a smattering of import acts such as Jay Reatard, Monotonix and GZA. Actually, now that I look over the lineup, I’m thinking maybe this should be my Autumn trip for next year…

But first this year. Courtesy of Pigeon Row, I’ve got a pair of festival passes to give away that will get you access to all Pop Explosion shows. If you’re from out east, going to be out east or are looking for an excuse to go out east, I am your hook up. To enter, email me at contests AT chromewaves.net with “I want to explode with pop in Halifax” in the subject line and your personal info in the body. Passes will be picked up at the festival offices so you’ll have to get out to Halifax to collect. And attend. Though that part’s probably a no-brainer. Contest closes at midnight, October 5.

MySpace: Halifax Pop Explosion