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Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Meet Me In The Basement

Broken Social Scene at Criminal Records in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangA local scribe much wiser than I recently pointed out that everyone – in Canada and Toronto specifically – has some baggage when it comes to Broken Social Scene, and you can take it from the fact that I’m quoting him that I wholly agree. This is the band that, for good and bad, came to be the musical ambassadors for Toronto to the world, would become pretty much inescapable both in the music world and the real world (swing a stick in Toronto, hit a BSS-er) and launched a thousand bands with far more members than they needed.

For my part, I was almost as taken with You Forgot It In People as everyone else in 2002 and 2003 – I say “almost” because some people love(d) this record A LOT – and was as excited as anyone to see the attention that it brought on a city that, to that point, didn’t seem to have a real face in the burgeoning indie rock world and for a while, they and their offshoots – anyone remember the show at Lee’s in June 2003 featuring BSS, Stars, Feist, Apostle Of Hustle, Jason Collett and Amy Millan? Seriously – theres photographic evidence – could do no wrong.

But that perfect, You Forgot It moment could only sustain for so long, and when the self-titled follow-up came out in 2005, the bloom was coming off the rose, at least from my point of view. Though it had some epic high points, Broken Social Scene felt overly long and meandering; there may have been a great record buried in there but it was in desperate need of an editor. These are points that only became clear to me later – the record still made my 2005 year-end list and 2006 Polaris Prize ballot – but that was more me wanting to like it more than I did at the time. By this point, the band seemed to have become even more ubiquitous than before – something I’d have not thought possible – and when they closed out the inaugural Virgin Festival Canada in 2006, I was grateful for both their amazing full-band performance and promise to take a break and go away for a little while.

They didn’t, of course. Rather than hibernate, they multiplied and both Broken bandleaders – Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning – released sorta-solo records that were essentially Broken albums, but without the weight of expectation that would accompany a proper BSS release. Neither really grabbed my attention, but to be fair my Broken Social burnout was still very much in effect and the records would have had to be pretty spectacular to get me past that… which they weren’t. And, of course, they continued toured as Broken Social Scene albeit with relatively pared-down lineups. Hiatus? Not so much.

And so seemingly without ever actually going away, they’ve returned with Forgiveness Rock Record and I, well I can’t say as that I’ve been hankering for a new Broken Social Scene record, but would like to think that I’m in a place where I can again regard them objectively. The decision to record with Tortoise’s John McEntire behind the boards rather than longtime sonic architect Dave Newfeld has an interesting effect on their sound, as McEntire’s more tidy and precise aesthetic is rather diametrically opposed to the “capture the chaos on tape” approach that’s defined their recordings thus far. Quantitatively speaking, Forgiveness is definitely cleaner than past efforts, with the sonic spaces more clearly defined and songs marginally more structured and compact, but just as you can’t catch water with a net, even a shiny new net, you can’t contain Broken Social Scene.

With the new record, there’s still a sense that the band are throwing things into the pot, creatively speaking, and seeing what kind of alchemy (if any) results. As such, it has the sort of maddening unevenness that’s practically a BSS signature, where really the most you can hope is that the highs are enough to offset the lows. Amongst the peaks on Forgiveness are the sprawling leadoff jam “World Sick”, punchy jangle anthem “Texico Bitches” and “All Is All”, a shimmering, almost completely un-BSS-like electro-pop jewel starring Reverie Sound Revue’s Lisa Lobsinger. And as for the valleys… well the record isn’t filler-free but it never gets as lost as Broken Social Scene did and all things considered, that’ll do. It doesn’t recreate the glorious sense of possibility and excitement that existed around the band circa 2002 and 2003 – which are completely unrealistic expectations, I will be the first to admit – but it does provide a solid argument that any reservations I have over all things Broken and Social may be my issues and not theirs.

I’ve talked before about the wonderful in-store culture that’s developed in Toronto, and on Sunday, Broken Social Scene helped push that along with an ambitious four-shows-in-one-day itinerary that saw them play sets in each of the city’s four major independent record stores, starting at Criminal Records and winding down Queen West to Rotate This, up to Little Italy’s Soundscapes and wrapping up in the Annex basement of Sonic Boom. With tickets given out to those who purchased copies of Forgiveness Rock Record, I’m not sure how anyone would manage to hit all four performances – short of buying four copies of the record – but I’m sure some found a way. I do find it remarkable that even though my relationship with BSS has waxed and waned over the years, so many remain utterly devoted to the band. And so it was that Criminal Records was packed front to back on Sunday afternoon as the band – numbering seven or eight, I think there was a horn player hidden behind one of the monitors – shook off the previous night’s drive back from New York to kick off their mini-tour.

They started off easy like Sunday morning (or early afternoon) with You Forgot It‘s “Lover’s Spit”, giving themselves the space to get tuned in for the marathon day to come before moving into the new material. Interestingly, Kevin Drew went guitar-less, instead working a bank of keyboards or just handling vocals. I hadn’t seen BSS live in almost four years so I didn’t know if this was a new development or something that had been in the works for a while. Either way, it wasn’t as though there was any sort of stringed instrument deficit up there – all of Brendan Canning, Andrew Whiteman, Charles Spearin and Sam Goldberg were armed with guitars or basses, but unlike past performances where it seemed that many guitars were just piled on top of one another, they seemed to be working with very precise arrangements. It wasn’t math-rock, but definitely not just jamming it out. All of the Forgiveness material – “Texico Bitches”, “Ungrateful Little Father” and “Forced To Love” sounded pretty solid if delivered a bit low-energy though Whiteman did more than his part to liven things up with some running man moves and jumping jacks. He also took the mic for the final song of the set, another return to Forgot It with “Looks Just Like The Sun” though it was preceded with some debate amongst the band as to exactly how the song went and what the lyrics were. Not that tidy, then, and I’m sure that they picked up some steam with each subsequent show as well as members as they woke up, but this was a pretty cool start to a very cool idea and a great hello and thanks from the band to their fans, their record stores and their city.

Broken Social Scene play a full and proper hometown show on June 19 at the Toronto Islands, and just announced a massive North American tour for the Fall. Dose, Beatroute, Torontoist, Pitchfork, Macleans, Blurt, The Aquarian, Interview and Chart have feature pieces on the band and their return.

Photos: Broken Social Scene @ Criminal Records – May 9, 2010
MP3: Broken Social Scene – “World Sick”
MP3: Broken Social Scene – “Fire Eye’d Boy”
MP3: Broken Social Scene – “Hotel”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “7/4 (Shoreline)”
Video: Broken Social Scene -“Fire Eye’d Boy”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “Ibi Dreams Of Pavement (A Better Day)”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “Her Disappearing Scene”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “Major Label Debut”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “Cause = Time”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “Almost Crimes”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “Lover’s Spit”
Video: Broken Social Scene – “I’m Still Your Fag”
MySpace: Broken Social Scene

Torq Campbell of Stars talks to Spinner about the power of Twitter. Their new record The Five Ghosts is out on June 22.

Damian Abraham of Fucked Up, who helped Mr Campbell understand said power of Twitter, tells Pffffft his favourite things about Toronto. Not listed is the Toronto Reference Library, but you can be sure that Abraham likes it enough to undress – respectfully – when Fucked Up play a free show there on May 28. Beatroute also has a chat with the FU frontman.

Resonancity, In Your Speakers and Spinner all talk to Holy Fuck on the occasion of today’s release of Latin. They’re at the Molson Amphitheatre on July 9 in support of Metric.

Chart and Beatroute have features on Caribou, whose show in Washington DC last night is now available to stream on NPR.

The Besnard Lakes have released a new video from The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night. Beatroute and SF Station have interviews with the band, who are at the Mod Club on June 17.

Video: The Besnard Lakes – “Albatross”

Also with a new video are The New Pornographers, for the sort-of title track from Together. Beatroute, eMusic, Metro and The Quietus have interviews with Carl Newman, whose band will be at the Sound Academy on June 15.

Video: The New Pornographers – “(Your Hands) Together”

Clash talks to Mark Hamilton of Woodpigeon.

Beatroute has a feature piece on Hannah Georgas.

Previews of The Acorn’s forthcoming No Ghost just keep coming; the record is out June 1 and they play Lee’s Palace on June 11.

MP3: The Acorn – “Restoration”

Shad’s excellent new record TSOL is streaming at Exclaim this week, leading up to its release in two Tuesdays – May 25. He plays the Opera House on June 12.

Stream: Shad / TSOL

The Wilderness Of Manitoba has scheduled a record release show for their full-length debut When You Left The Fire, due out June 22 – they’ll be at the Music Gallery on June 25 with Evening Hymns as support. Before that, they’ll support Matthew Barber at the Mod Club on May 12 and Basia Bulat at the Phoenix on June 4.

MP3: The Wilderness Of Manitoba – “Hermit”

The lineup for this year’s Wolfe Island Music Festival has been announced and as always, it’s a great sampling of some of the best in Canadian music set in about as laid-back and chilled-out environs as you’ll find anywhere. Taking place in the Thousand Islands just offshore from Kingston, Ontario on the weekend of August 6 and 7, the Friday night will feature performances in the town of Marysville from The Sadies and Cuff The Duke, amongst others, and the Saturday lineup will feature The Weakerthans, Shad, Think About Life, Bahamas, The Acorn, Diamond Rings, Memoryhouse and Jim Bryson. I attended the 2007 edition of this festival, and it was a marvelous time – highly recommended.

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Inside/Outside

Review of Bruce Peninsula's A Mountain Is A Mouth

Photo ByYuula BenivolskiYuula Benivolski When you’ve become gotten to know a band exclusively through their live performances, it can be difficult to accept them as a recorded entity. Especially so when the band in a live setting possess a sort of elemental energy that you can’t imagine being done justice in a studio environment. This was the case with Toronto’s Bruce Peninsula, who made a serious impression with a series of shows back in 2007 which established the band, ten members deep when at full strength, as a potent new force on the local music scene.

A listen to their first recorded output last Summer – a 7″ of traditional folk recordings – verified that they’d somehow managed to capture their sonic potency, but it took some time with their debut album A Mountain Is A Mouth – out on Tuesday – to confirm that they’d really made a record that fulfilled all the expectations that had accumulated since August of 2007. And they have.

Mountain seems to have been crafted to emulate nothing less than a massive gathering storm. Opener “Inside/Outside” coalesces from a gentle, ghostly breeze into an ominous stomp whose energy remains mostly unrelenting through the whole of side one. Pounding yet surprisingly nimble percussion alongside singer Neil Haverty’s gruff field holler provides the foundation from which the choir’s angelic voices rise. And these aren’t the touchy-feely kind of angels – they’re the flaming sword-wielding kind. But for all the effectiveness of their sound and fury, it’s the eye of the storm – the delicate “Weave Myself A Dress” – that really pulls it all together. Misha Bower’s weary-beyond-her-years vocals are devastatingly vulnerable in contrast to tumult that surrounds them. The song provides a brief but essential respite before the winds again begin to whip.

The other revelation of the album is how solid the songwriting is. By choosing to work in such an old sort of blues/gospel/folk aesthetic, the band had to face the conundrum of how to sound authentic and yet still bring something new to the table and it’s saying something that the two traditional songs they’ve included in the set fit seamlessly with the original material. It’d have been easy enough to just rely on the intensity of their delivery to impress, but they’ve still taken the time to create something richly melodic and with real depth. It’s safe to say that A Mountain Is A Mouth is most unlike anything else you’ll hear this year, and for that reason alone it’s worth your attention. And if you need another, I’ll throw in the fact that it’s excellent.

Bruce Peninsula play the Horseshoe tomorrow night in support of The Tom Fun Orchestra, play an in-store at Soundscapes on February 4 to mark the album’s release and do a proper record release show on February 22 at the Polish Combatants Hall. You can miss one, or even two of these shows. But miss all three? Not an option. Exclaim documents the formation and formulation of the band, they talk to NOW about the process of capturing their sound on tape and there’s further interviews over at Echo and The Hamilton Spectator.

MySpace: Bruce Peninsula

Stereogum is offering up an MP3 from the new Great Lake Swimmers record Lost Channels, due out March 31. They play the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on April 25.

The Globe & Mail profiles Laura Barrett, complete with awful, awful headline.

Rolling Stone reports that Metric will release their new album Fantasies on April 14.

Final Fantasy have a new video from his Plays To Please EP.

Video: Final Fantasy – “Horsetail Feathers”

The Seattle Post-Intelligencier talks to Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene.

Paste and Exclaim have features on AC Newman, playing Lee’s Palace on March 11.

Neko Case sounds off on animal rights to Spinner and verifies that you shouldn’t expect to see her in any PETA ads anytime soon. Her April 18 show at Trinity-St Paul’s is almost sold out and the April 17 date probably won’t be far behind. Hesitate and lose.

Popmatters plays 20 questions with Jason Isbell. He has a date at the Horseshoe on March 4 and is swapping an MP3 from forthcoming album Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, out February 17, in exchange for your email.

Drowned In Sound finds out what’s next for The Magnolia Electric Co.

The Daily Texan speaks briefly to Jonathan Meiburg of Shearwater, who aim to have a new album out this year.

NOW talks to Gary Louris on the circumstances surrounding Ready For The Flood, his collaboration with former Jayhawks partner Mark Olson. They play the Mod Club February 4 and you can stream the album right now at Spinner.

Stream: Mark Olson and Gary Louris / Ready For the Flood

Drowned In Sound offers up a three-part interview with M Ward. Hold Time is out February 17.

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Come On, Come Out

Strange contrast in musical experiences Tuesday night. Within the span of two hours I went from simple in-store performance from a veteran performer making a comeback of sorts to an industry-only showcase in a ritzy lounge featuring an up-and-coming young artist in a coming out party of sorts. And then I went home, ate a frozen pizza and did laundry.

The former was Mark Olson, in town for a show at the El Mocambo in support of his solo debut The Salvation Blues and offering up a teaser via a half-hour set at Soundscapes. I hadn’t heard anything Olson had done since leaving The Jayhawks but he eased me into things by opening with “Over My Shoulder” from Tomorrow The Green Grass. The band obviously sounded different but the song still sounded as lovely as it did when I first heard it over a decade ago.

Olson himself has obviously aged but his voice still sounds great. And as befits someone whose personal life has gone through the turmoil that his recently has, it was good to see him with the demeanor of someone who’s just come out of a long, dark tunnel and is learning to take joy in life again. The new songs reflected that vibe and didn’t sound a bit out of place alongside his ‘Hawks material though he still knew what everyone wanted to hear and finished off with a nice reading of “Blue”, a classic song if ever there was one. And while the touring backing vocalist/drummer filled in ably, you couldn’t help missing Gary Louris’ harmonies – the forthcoming Olson/Louris album, due out next year, can’t come soon enough.

And as soon as the in-store was done, it was time to zip across town to Club 279 on the top floor of the Hard Rock Cafe at Dundas Square where A Fine Frenzy was playing a private showcase during an off night from opening for Rufus Wainwright. I enjoyed listening to Alison Sudol’s debut record One Cell In The Sea enough when reviewing it to accept an invite to said shindig and to be reminded of how weird music industry events are. Grabbing a spring roll and drink from the open bar, I settled onto one of the leather couches in front of the stage and waited for the show to start. Not quite another night at the Horseshoe.

Playing as a three-piece, A Fine Frenzy kept their set short perhaps as befit a room full of industry folk in schmooze mode. Seeing her/them (damned pronouns) live didn’t really offer any new revelations or disappointments relative to my impressions from the record – Sudol’s rich voice and piano sounded great and her sharp melodic sense helped make some of the more generic songs at least very pretty and the standout songs – “Almost Lover” and especially “Rangers” – sound pretty damn spectacular. That Sudol is talented is undeniable – for me, the question is whether she’s got it in her to step out of the adult-contemporary singer-songwriter box and do something really interesting and unexpected. It’s perfectly fine if she doesn’t – a good song is a good song and the world always needs more of those – but if she did it could be really excellent. She returns to town with Brandi Carlile on October 9 at the Phoenix and The London Free Press has a brief chat with Sudol.

That frozen pizza really hit the spot, too.

Photos: Mark Olson @ Soundscapes – August 28, 2007
Photos: A Fine Frenzy @ Club 279 – August 28, 2007
MP3: A Fine Frenzy – “Come On Come Out” (live At MPR)
MP3: A Fine Frenzy – “Almost Lovers” (live At MPR)
Video: Mark Olson – “National Express” (YouTube)
Video: A Fine Frenzy – “Rangers” (YouTube)
Video: A Fine Frenzy – “Almost Lover” (YouTube)
MySpace: A Fine Frenzy

Thanks to Spinner for offering up Elvis Perkins’ new video for “While You Were Sleeping” without restricting it to US residents only.

Tripwire reports that British Sea Power will make up for delaying the release of album number three, Now That’s What I Call World War One Joy Division, by releasing a five-song, two-video EP in October to coincide with a short, Toronto-free tour of the east coast. Apparently they don’t seem to think they owe us for that cancelled show last Fall – they’re wrong, of course. We will have our British Sea Power. One way or another.

New York North Carolina singer-songwriter Alina Simone, who has a raw Cat Power meets PJ Harvey sort of angle going on, is in town for a show at Rancho Relaxo this Saturday, September 1 in support of her new album Placelessness. And speaking of being without a place, they need a place to crash.

MP3: Alina Simone – “Black Water”
MP3: Alina Simone – “Saw-Edged Grass”

Robbers On High Street, who’ve just released Grand Animals, have a September 24 date at The Horseshoe. At least part of that show will sound a little like this:

MP3: Robbers On High Street – “Crown Victoria”

Sam Beam discusses the sonic expansion of The Shepherd’s Dog with Harp. Iron & Wine are at the Danforth Music Hall on September 25, the same day the album is released.

Monday, August 6th, 2007

Couple Of Pops

Going into Thursday night, I’d seen approximately 176 bands live this year. Give or take (this is based on my Flickr set which has one shot of each act, if you’re curious). Despite the volume, most of whom I’ve seen was at least sort of familiar to me either by reputation or by pre-show research. The point of this is that it’s fairly rare that I see a band without knowing at least something about them or with some idea of what to expect, and even rarer that one of the unknown quantities really manages to impress me. There’s a word for this – jaded.

But even so, it can happen still that I’m taken completely off guard and totally floored by a band. Case in point, Thursday night and an outfit called Ryuichi. Hailing from right here in Toronto but unlike most acts, not seeming to share members with a dozen other bands or a side project of a side project. They may not even be within six degrees of Broken Social Scene – I can’t say for sure since the band’s MySpace uses nicknames and pseudonyms for the members and offers only a vague bio. But the tracks available to stream were promising if rather rough so I made a point of showing up at the Tiger Bar in time to catch their set. Good call.

They were playing only their second gig but despite a few flubbed notes – the bassist was playing from crib notes – Ryuichi demonstrated a confidence, tightness and even some showmanship way beyond what you’d expect from a rookie act. And the songs, musn’t forget the songs. Take the restless creativity of To La Tengo and replace the jazz odysseys with danceable rhythms and a good dose of adrenaline and you’re in the ballpark. Their osund ran a gamut of styles from synth-pop, shoegaze and post-punk and distilled it into delectable power pop-sized servings garnished with melodic boy-girl vocals of a calibre that the MySpace recordings only hinted at. I can’t remember the last time I was so blindsidedly impressed by a band and am eagerly awaiting proper recordings and more shows. Their next gig (their fourth, if I’m counting right) is August 14 at the Reverb.

So with that as a first course, Barrie’s Fox Jaws – the act I’d actually come to see – had a bit of a tough act to follow. I’d Sunday Cleaned their debut album Goodbye Doris last month and really enjoyed it so it was time to see if the live show – which I’d heard good things about elsewhere – measured up. Happily, they measured up just fine to the album if not the openers, but those “who the hell are these guys?” bonus points scored by Ryuichi would have been tough to make up.

As on record, the centrepiece of the show was singer Carleigh Aikens’ wonderfully raw and expressive vocals with just the right balance of reined in and belted out. Co-vocalist Daniel Allen also did a fine job when called to step up and in harmony, but it’s Aikens’ presence that elevates Fox Jaws’ game and injects a healthy dose of soul to their rootsy indie rock, giving them a unique and distinctive angle. The intensity of the show took a hit when they lost several minutes trying to sort out a malfunctioning guitar amp but they got mostly back on track and turned in a solid performance. I mentioned in my initial review of the record that big things were inevitable – I stand by that but want to expand that sentiment out to include both bands I saw that night. I left before headliner One Heart Many Hands but hey – big things could be inevitable for them/him too. Three for three, why not?

Photos: Fox Jaws, Ryuichi @ Tiger Bar – August 2, 2007
MP3: Fox Jaws – “Karmonica”
MP3: Fox Jaws – “Quarantine Girl”
MySpace: Fox Jaws

The Toronto Star talks to Tad Kubler of The Hold Steady, in town for a show at the Opera House tonight.

Pitchfork finds out what’s going on with Cat Power these days, including news about her forthcoming The Covers Record 2, currently slated for a January 2008 release.

BrooklynVegan has got Fall tour dates from Jens Lekman and while the gaps between October 29 and November 1 originally gave me hope that there’d be some local dates scheduled between Boston and Cleveland, the dates on Lekman’s website have him in Purchase, NY on the 30th. I suppose a Hallowe’en date is still feasible but I’m not so optimistic. This is the second or third time in the last couple years that Lekman has been in the area and skipped Hogtown. Why no love, Jens? But on the plus side, you can pre-order his forthcoming album Night Falls Over Kortadela from his Swedish label for $18 USD (including shipping) and not only receive a bonus CD but get it on the Swedish release date of September 5, rather than the North American one of October 9. Via Sixty Watt, via Mark.

JamBase chats with Explosions In The Sky drummer Christopher Hratsky. They’re in town on September 9 playing V Fest.

Some show announcements – Mark Olson will be playing an in-store at Soundscapes on August 28 starting at 6PM before heading off for his show at the El Mocambo that night. Marissa Nadler will be in town September 7 for an early PWYC show (7PM) at the Tranzac with with Picastro and Klaxons return October 10 for a show at the Opera House.

Lee Hazlewood, RIP. More at Pitchfork.