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Monday, December 5th, 2011

Hotel Plaster

Nicole Atkins at The Drake Underground in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangA little into her show at The Drake Underground on Saturday evening, Nicole Atkins mentioned that this was her first-ever solo show in Canada, and that performances of this format were usually reserved for more casual one-off performances back home in New Jersey during the holidays. Indeed, though Ms Atkins has been no stranger to Toronto stages since releasing her debut Neptune City back in 2007, she’s always been accompanied by some iteration of her band The (Black) Sea. I’d have to go back to SXSW 2007 to recall the last time I saw her in a stripped-down acoustic format (also the very first time overall), and even then she was backed by a hastily-recruited drummer and second guitarist because The Sea had gotten lost en route.

The call for backing players is a reasonable one as both her records – Neptune City and this year’s Mondo Amore – are pretty produced affairs, but it’s key to remember at her core Atkins is a folk/blues-rooted singer-songwriter and has had more than her share of experience performing with just her guitar, voice and songs. That’s all she brought with her on this evening and it was more than enough. Well, those and some hilarious anecdotes; for serious, the evening could have just been her sitting there – no guitar – and telling stories and it would have been worth the price of admission. But yes, she sang too.

Brassy set opener “Maybe Tonight” set the tone for the night, which is to say it wouldn’t be a quiet, navel-gazey affair. She promised that the set would mostly be country versions of her songs – and indeed, “Cry Cry Cry” was extra honky-tonky-ish – but most songs retained their basic stylistic personalities and there were a fair number of what she called the “sad bastard” songs, but even those were delivered with energy and conviction thanks to her room-filling voice. The set was all over the place as far as where it drew from, covering both albums, the rarely-heard title track of her debut Bleeding Diamonds EP, a new song entitled “Call Me The Witch”, and covers of Leadbelly, Benji Hughes and Cotton Mather (about whom she spilled the beans regarding an upcoming reunion at SXSW). After complimenting the audience on how quiet and attentive they were all night, she invited all to join in on “The Way It Is” and for the show closer and in what’s becoming a bit of a Drake tradition, came offstage to play “Neptune City” in the audience with everyone singing along.

Make no mistake, I loved both the widescreen, ornate presentation of Neptune City and the rawer, rockier Mondo Amore but if for her third record Nicole Atkins decides to peel things back to little more than what we saw on Saturday night, I’ve no doubt it’d be just as sublime.

Hater High was also in attendance and has the whole show recorded and available to download; it all sounds great but the banter prior to “Hotel Plaster” is especially worth hearing. The Free Lance-Star also has an interview.

Photos: Nicole Atkins @ The Drake Underground – December 3, 2011
MP3: Nicole Atkins – “Vultures”
MP3: Nicole Atkins – “Vitamin C”
Video: Nicole Atkins – “Vultures”
Video: Nicole Atkins – “Maybe Tonight”
Video: Nicole Atkins – “The Way It Is”
Video: Nicole Atkins – “Neptune City”

The Quietus talks to Janet Weiss of Wild Flag.

NPR has a Tiny Desk Concert with tUnE-yArDs.

The Quietus interviews both Erika Anderson of EMA and Nika Roza Danilova of Zola Jesus.

Kind of an odd bill, but together The Black Keys and Arctic Monkeys get to cross “go on an arena tour of North America” off their to-do lists. They’re at the Air Canada Centre on March 14 – presale goes December 6 at 10AM, public onsale on December 9. The Black Keys’ new album El Camino is out Tuesday.

Video: The Black Keys – “Tighten Up”
Video: Arctic Monkeys – “Suck It And See”

Austin 360 talks to Jeff Tweedy of Wilco.

The second Archers Of Loaf reissue – Vee Vee – has an official release date of February 21, and The AV Club has all the salient info. And they’ve also got Eric Bachmann doing a
One Track Mind performance and interview for “Web In Front”. Meanwhile, Bachmann puts his Crooked Fingers hat on to chat with Creative Loafing and The Phoenix New Times.

MP3: Archers Of Loaf – “Harnessed In Slums”

The first official single from Guided By Voices’ reunion record Let’s Go Eat The Factory is now available to download, all 1:44 of it. It will probably take you longer to read this interview with Bob Pollard at The AV Club than to listen to the song.

MP3: Guided By Voices – “Doughtnut For A Snowman”

Loud & Quiet interviews Ryan Adams, in town at the Winter Garden Theatre on December 10.

Blurt talks to Britta Phillips of Dean & Britta about being the voice of Jem (of Jem & The Holograms) back in the ’80s while Listgeeks chats with both her and Dean Wareham. And over at Captain’s Dead, they’ve got a downloadable recording of the “Plays Galaxie 500″ set they did at Primavera in Barcelona back in May.

The Daily Beast talks to Michael Stipe and Mike Mills about the end of R.E.M..

Charles Bradley has released a new MP3 from No Time For Dreaming. He and his Extraordinaires are at Lee’s Palace on February 11.

MP3: Charles Bradley – “Heartaches & Pain”

Wye Oak stops in by Berlin Sessions for a video session. They open up for The National at The Air Canada Centre on Thursday night.

NPR has a World Cafe session with Dum Dum Girls.

Spin points out that Sleigh Bells’ website has been highjacked by a trailer for what is presumed to be their new album. It’s called Reign of Terror and it’ll be out when it’s out.

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Mondo Amore

Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea and Cotton Jones at The Horseshoe in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangIt was an evening of familiar faces and (slightly) unfamiliar names at The Horseshoe on Saturday night. The familiar being Nicole Atkins, whom despite playing here four times in just eight months, hadn’t been back to visit in over three years and in the interim, changed her backing band entirely and renamed them from The Sea to The Black Sea. Nor were support act Cotton Jones strangers locally, having come through a number of times in their old incarnation of Page France and a few times since.

Of the two, Cotton Jones represented the more dramatic break from their former selves. Whereas Page France were a winsome if overly saccharine indie pop outfit, Cotton Jones was the sound of that band grown up and having traded tea parties for whiskey shots. That was applicable to both frontman Michael Nau’s voice, which used to be a nasally sort of thing but was now well and proper raspy, and the band’s songwriting in general, inflected as it now was with blues, soul and assorted Southern accents. Still, it was good to see that he and fellow Page France holdover Whitney McGraw hadn’t forgotten the melodic lessons learned in that band, and I generally enjoyed Cotton Jones’ set more than I ever did anything Page France did, though I have to say that “Somehow To Keep It Going” isn’t really a grand enough song to merit as extended a reading as it got.

The circumstances and significance of Nicole Atkins’ persona and personnel changes are well reflected in her new record Mondo Amore, what with the big orchestral approach of her debut Neptune City having been shelved in favour of something decidedly leaner and meaner. Accordingly, The Black Sea numbered just three plus Atkins in conventional two-guitar, bass and drums setup and the sound they made was even more stripped down than the album.

Their set included the entirety of Mondo Amore as well as some choice selections from Neptune City and a trio of covers that really spoke to the band’s versatility – not many bands can range from Krautrock (Can), country-pop (Cotton Mather) and funk-soul (Marie Queenie Lyons) and sound perfectly natural at all of them. Props especially go to guitarist Irina Yalkowsky, who had lots of room to move and space to fill and did so without getting flashy, though her solo in I believe “The Tower” earned her an ovation – I don’t know the last time I saw that happen.

But it was still Atkins’ show and though she and her bandmates had been plagued with illness over the course of the tour, you couldn’t tell it. Her voice was as strong as it’d ever been, rough and raucous on rockers like “My Baby Don’t Lie” and “This Is For Love” and richly emotive on the torchier numbers like set opener “Heavy Boots” and closer “The Tower”, and between songs, her spirits were high and banter sharp. If the past few years have been tumultuous ones for Atkins, then judging from the record she got out of it, the confidence and charisma she’s carrying and the shows she’s now delivering, they were worthwhile.

Chart also has a review of the show. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Boston Globe and Washington Post have interviews with Atkins while Baeble Music has a Guest Apartment video session. The Colorado Springs Independent has a feature on Cotton Jones.

Photos: Nicole Atkins & The Black Sea, Cotton Jones @ The Horseshoe – February 26, 2011
MP3: Nicole Atkins – “Vultures”
MP3: Nicole Atkins – “Vitamin C”
MP3: Cotton Jones – “Gotta Cheer Up”
MP3: Cotton Jones – “Glorylight & Christie”
MP3: Cotton Jones – “Somehow To Keep It Going”
MP3: Cotton Jones – “Blood Red Sentimental Blues”
Video: Nicole Atkins – “Vultures”
Video: Nicole Atkins – “Maybe Tonight”
Video: Nicole Atkins – “The Way It Is”
Video: Nicole Atkins – “Neptune City”

The Wall Street Journal talks to Tom Scharpling, who is directing the new New Jersey-saluting video for Titus Andronicus’ “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future”. They play The Horseshoe on April 1.

One of the great music magazines of the ’90s is back in online form – Option, for whom my cousin worked for a while and got me a free subscription, introduced me a tonne of bands that I didn’t realize I’d love until many years later but I’d like to think there was some subliminal effect. Hopefully they will again be a forum for great long-form music writing, and this piece on Yo La Tengo certainly makes it seem so. Welcome back!

NPR has a World Cafe session with Sharon Van Etten. She plays The Drake Underground on April 12.

Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack talk to Spinner about their new record Civilian. It’s out next week and they play The El Mocambo on April 9,

Paste, PopMatters, The Calgary Herald and The New Zealand Herald catche up with Lucinda Williams, whose new record Blessed is out today. She is at Massey Hall this week, on March 4 and 5.

Spinner interviews Ume.

DeVotchKa’s latest 100 Lovers is out today; canada.com and Spinner have interviews. They’re at The Mod Club on March 30.

And since Toronto is generally hard-up for festivals of late, anything that offers locals the opportunity to hang out en masse getting heat stroke while soundtracked by live music is worth noting – like the return of the sort-of tradition of The Tragically Hip on Canada Day. This year, they’ll be at Downsview Park and be joined by Weezer, Broken Social Scene, Hey Rosetta! and Buck 65. Tickets are $59.50 plus fees and go on sale Friday. The last time I did The Tragically Hip on Canada Day was Molson Park in Barrie back in 1994… oh god. My memories of that show are now old enough to drive.

MP3: Broken Social Scene – “World Sick”
Video: The Tragically Hip – “My Music At Work”
Video: Weezer – “Keep Fishin'”
Video: Hey Rosetta! – “Yer Spring”
Video: Buck 65 – “Shutterbuggin'”

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

We Are The Pipettes

In advance of Sunday night’s Pipettes show at Lee’s Palace, I was told that missing the opening set from Monster Bobby – the solo project of Robert Barry of Pipettes backing band The Cassettes – would be no great tragedy. In fact, I was advised to miss his set. Now I had every intention of catching his set regardless, but as it turns out my DSLR camera wasn’t allowed in the venue and I had to bring it home and swap it for my trusty old (operative word: old) point-and-shoot. I guess it simply wasn’t meant to be.

But catching Nicole Atkins & The Sea was – they were just starting their set when I got back to the club and I realize that I crossed the line between impartial faux-critic and gushing fanboy some shows ago but I speak truth when I say that every time I see her and her band, they’re better than the last time. Which is paradoxical since each time I see them, I can’t imagine them playing better than just did. But they do and they did and from the sounds of the audience, they not only won over a slew of new fans but brought some of their own out – maybe there’s something to be said for playing the same city three times in five months? This time, the highlight of the show was their absolutely incendiery closing cover of Patti Smith’s “Pissing In A River”. Check out the video of Nicole performing it at a tribute show in Copenhagen down below, then turn the intensity up tenfold (nb – I have no scientific method of measuring musical intensity, this is an estimate). Amazing. She’ll be back once again in February for a headlining tour (finally), and I know that’s a little ways off to make plans but don’t worry – I’ll remind you. Incessantly.

While I’d seen Atkins countless times this year (okay, five), I’d managed to miss The Pipettes something like a dozen times since March. Every one of their shows at SxSW, which I think was nine or ten, and both their previous Toronto dates. I’d have missed this one as well if it hadn’t been postponed from early October due to visa issues. I wouldn’t say I’m a Pipettes fan – I’ve heard the album once via the stream on their website – but I was curious. Was the buzz that surrounded them back in March still potent? Did their act work live? Would they be able to transcend the gimmickiness of their admittedly contrived origins? I’ll admit it, I was prepared to come out of the show and dismiss them on any of the above grounds but… I couldn’t.

Even though the downgrading of their venue from the Opera House to the cozier Lee’s might have spoken to a stall in the growth of their fanbase, those who did show up were highly enthusiastic and certainly hadn’t abandoned them once they were no longer the band du jour. And in performance, it was obvious that they didn’t take themselves or the Pipettes act too seriously and were just having a good time with it, turning out some really sharp pop songs and surprisingly strong singing. Why was I surprised? I don’t know, really. I guess that in a time when things that are meant to appear genuine are really meticulously manufactured, I don’t expect that something that appears meticulously manufactured would actually turn out to be quite genuine. Makes my head explode just a little. I still don’t feel the compulsion to pick up the album – after their 60 minute set I felt I had more than enough sugar in my musical diet to last a while – but I did indeed have a bit of a buzz on the way home.

Billboard profiles Nicole Atkins, Spinner talks to RiotBecki of The Pipettes about their costumes.

Photos: The Pipettes, Nicole Atkins & The Sea @ Lee’s Palace – November 18, 2007
MP3: Nicole Atkins & The Sea – “Party’s Over”
MP3: Nicole Atkins – “Bleeding Diamonds”
MP3: Nicole Atkins – “Carouselle”
Video: The Pipettes – “Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me” (YouTube)
Video: The Pipettes – “Pull Shapes” (YouTube)
Video: The Pipettes – “ABC” (YouTube)
Video: The Pipettes – “Judy” (YouTube)
Video: Nicole Atkins – “Pissing In A River” (live in Copenhagen)
Video: Nicole Atkins & The Sea – “The Way It Is” (MySpace)
Video: Nicole Atkins – “Neptune City” (YouTube)
MySpace: The Pipettes
MySpace: Nicole Atkins

And moving to the UK’s other – and still, in my mind, superior – throwback Motown/girl-group pop act, Lucky Soul, the band is Last FM’s candidate to take a run at the much-coveted top spot of the UK’s pop charts for the week of Christmas. Scenta reports on what the campaign is and what it hopes to accomplish, but basically Last FM is trying to throw the full weight of their 20,000,000 members behind the band and get their single release of “Lips Are Unhappy” to #1 for the week of December 25. They’re asking fans the band and enemies of bad music to pre-order the single, which will be b-sided by a cover of “Lonely This Christmas” by Mud, for a mere 40p. That comes out to 85 cents US by today’s exchange rates. The single itself will be available to download on December 17. Check out the video for the song below, as well as their recent performance on the rooftop of Last FM’s offices. And if you don’t know who Lucky Soul are… read this and this.

Video: Lucky Soul – “Lips Are Unhappy” (YouTube)
Video: Lucky Soul – “Ain’t Never Been Cool” live from Last FM (YouTube)
Video: Lucky Soul – “Get Outta Town!” live from Last FM (YouTube)
Video: Lucky Soul – “Lips Are Unhappy” live from Last FM (YouTube)

Spinner is streaming Bloc Party’s new EP, Flux. Musicrooms.net reports that the band recently had to abandon a gig in the Netherlands after a couple began having sex in the balcony. Oh, those crazy Dutch.

Stream: Bloc Party / Flux

Filter talks Ouija with The Fiery Furnaces. They’re at the Phoenix Lee’s Palace on December 12.

St Vincent discusses the title and artwork for Marry Me with The Scotsman. And the music. They also talk about the music.

If P Then Dirt offers up some interviews with the likes of Dean & Britta and Mac McCaughan in their original handwritten, snail-mailed forms. I wouldn’t have expected Dean Wareham to have had tidier handwriting than Britta Phillips, but it doesn’t really surprise me that Mac’s is illegible.

Austinist talks to Tad Kubler of The Hold Steady.

MySpace Canada is giving away tickets to see Neil Young at Massey Hall next week and to win, you only need to dress up your profile in some sort of Neil-related theme. Might I suggest skipping the obvious Harvest tones and going for some Shocking Pinks or perhaps some re-ac-tor spartanism? You’ll have to take down the dancing hamster wallpaper you’ve currently got up but hey – sacrifices must be made.

Pitchfork delves into the dark recesses of Of Montreal-er Kevin Barnes’ mind. And via Stereogum, Barnes pre-emptively calls everyone else a sell-out. Even you.

Though it was as inevitable as the sun rising in the east, it’s now official that The Sadies will once again ring out 2007 and ring in 2008 and generally make your ears ring at the Horseshoe on New Year’s Eve, tickets $20.

Friday, November 14th, 2008

Moody Motorcycle

Human Highway home for the holidays

Photo By Jaime HoggeJaime HoggeI don’t know if a duo can really be called a “supergroup”, but if so then the combined resumes of Nick Thorburn and Jim Guthrie, they who go by Human Highway, would certainly qualify them. Guthrie cut his teeth in the dearly departed and wholly underappreciated Royal City before a fruitful solo career that included a stint in Thorburn’s Islands, the band which followed his first outfit – the much beloved by people other than me Unicorns.

Though I reserve the right to be entirely wrong about this, I don’t believe that Guthrie’s stint in Islands went beyond live duties. So Moody Motorcycle, the debut album from Human Highway released back in August, constitutes the first recorded collaboration between these two artists. And fittingly, it sounds exactly as you’d think a collaboration between the two – and named for a Neil Young film – should. It’s simple and homespun-sounding, unsurprising considering it was knocked off in a week, rich in melody and harmony and faithful to the pair’s folk and pop roots. It’s a bit understated in delivery, but there’s a definite bounce to it.

While most humans of Canadian persuasion know that traversing the country’s highways in December can be a bit risky, Human Highway are setting out on a short Canadian tour in the middle of next month. Only four dates, though, including a December 16 date at the Tranzac – tickets $10 in advance, $12 at the door, though I am guessing there won’t be too many of the latter. Chart and Exclaim! talk to Guthrie about the project’s origins, while NPR declares Moody Motorcycle one of the year’s “overlooked gems”.

MP3: Human Highway – “Sleep Talking”

Exclaim has details on the next Handsome Furs record Take Control, out February 3.

Asobi Seksu’s next album has a release date to go with the previously announced title. Look for Hush on February 17.

The Quietus speculates about the possibility of a Condo Fucks record entitled Fuckbook appearing on the Matador release calendar as really being a new Yo La Tengo record. Because goodness knows that Matador/Beggars have no record of signing bands with “Fuck” in their name (though Condo Fucks don’t appear to hail from Toronto, so that’s a strike against).

The Rice Thresher talks to Matt Berninger from The National.

am/fm and Metro talk New Jersey with Nicole Atkins.

There’s much Calexico in the newswires – check out features on the band at Express Night Out, Metro, The Montreal Gazette, Chart and eye. They’re at the Phoenix on Tuesday, and congratulations go out to Fotis and Marius for winning passes to the show.

Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips chats with PopMatters and JAM.

The best part of this two-part video interview with Nick Cave at PitchforkTV is the “I will eviscerate you” look on Nick’s face at the very beginning. Though I suspect he always looks like that.

Pitchfork reports that The Pipettes are once again down a Pipette.

Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke talks to The Sun, complains about John Lydon being a meanie.

Drowned In Sound gets a new album status report from Maximo Park’s Paul Smith.

Pitchfork has got an MP3 from Los Campesinos’ new record We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed

MP3: Los Campesinos! – “Miserabilia”

Paste offers up the complete transcript of their recent interview with Of Montreal mastermind Kevin Barnes.

MySpace Transmissions offers up a downloadable session with Bon Iver.

Le Blogotheque takes away a show with Fleet Foxes.

Daytrotter sessions up with The Dutchess & The Duke.

PopMatters interviews The Secret Machines.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette catches up with Robyn Hitchcock.

The Santa Barbara Independent sees how Jason Isbell is doing out on his own.

Mates Of State discuss the balance between rocking out and bringing up baby with Nashville Scene.

Drowned In Sound prognosticates about what 2009 will bring for music.

Saturday, December 8th, 2007

Neptune City

That I’m a huge fan of Nicole Atkins and her debut album Neptune City is not news to anyone who’s been around the last few months, so when I was offered the opportunity to do an email interview with her, I went against my usual “no interviews” policy (not because I’m against them, but because I usually don’t have the time to a proper job of it) and put together some – I hope – intelligent questions for her about the new record and her year of extensive touring.

Neptune City was released in the US on October 30 but if you’ve been looking for a copy in Canada and having no luck, that’s because it’s technically not out here – until this Tuesday, anyway. And she and The Sea will be back in town for a show this February.

CW: Neptune City is a far more stylistically diverse record than I expected – Bleeding Diamonds seemed to want to emphasize your old school, torchy side. Was it a conscious decision to broaden the sound of the album or just something that happened naturally over the course of writing and recording?

NA: it was something that just happened naturally. i had a bigger studio to work in and the use of an orchestra at my disposal so i were more than excited to take advantage of it. my producer tore and i also blended my band, the sea, together with the studio musicians he used (swedish band, the mopeds). i really think the style of the record reflected our enviroment physically and mentally at that specific time in our lives.

Is the record representative of who Nicole Atkins is and what she sounds like, or are there more sounds and styles you want to explore on future records?

this record sounds exactly what my head sounded like last year. so its definitely a portrait of my life from the last couple years. thats why the sounds morph around a little. neptune city the song was written two years before brooklyn’s on fire, and you can tell because the mood is so different. i listen to so many different types of music so its only natural that in future songs and records many styles will show up.

Your musical career has had you traveling a fair bit with extended stops in North Carolina and New York City, but now you’re back in New Jersey. What’s it mean to you to have your home and history figure so heavily into your debut record?

i think its a bit ironic that a place i’ve been trying to distance myself my whole life ends up being the starter marker for my career and now my current residence that i’ve grown to love. i didnt really choose this, i got chosen.

Was your home always a prevalent theme in your songwriting or was it that something that developed only after you’d left?

every place i’ve lived has always ended up being a major theme of my writing. but i can only write about places after i’ve left for a long time. i was in charlotte, nc in 2004 for a spell and i’m only beginning to write about it now.

Los Parasols. The Summer Of Love. Paperhouses. (ed: Nicole’s old band and independent releases, respectively) If a particularly dedicated fan were to track down these records, what would they find? Any chance of making these available someday, somehow?

these were my first forays into songwriting and leading a band. its basically me wanting to be the band big star. pretty basic alt country twang. i’m probably not going to put it out again. it would be like going to art school, and then after graduation becoming a gallery artist and then 10 years later putting the conte crayon drawings you did in Intro to Drawing I class on display. not a good idea. hahah.

You’ve had a pretty eclectic bunch of tour mates over the course of the year – The Long Blondes, The Raveonettes and The Pipettes, to name just the ones that have come through Toronto. On the surface, they don’t seem to be the sort of acts you’d naturally pair up with. How have you found the response from audiences at those shows versus, say, the ones on the Chris Isaak tour? Do you relish the opportunity to try and win over an audience that might not normally listen to your style of music?

we just like touring. and we pack so many styles even into just one song that i feel like we could tour with anyone and it wouldnt be devestating. the crowds from all the bands were really receptive and kind so far. the biggest difference between those bands crowds and chris isaak’s crowd was basically the age difference. also, older people buy more cds which was really awesome.

2007 seemed to lay a lot of the groundwork and spread the word about you, culminating in Neptune City‘s release (though it’s still not officially out in Canada…) – what’s 2008 have in store for Nicole Atkins?

to get released in canada! haha! it should be soon. also, more touring, doing some summer festivals and i’m sure more touring. fyi- toronto is probably our favorite place to play. can’t wait to get back there!

MP3: Nicole Atkins & The Sea – “Party’s Over”
MP3: Nicole Atkins – “Bleeding Diamonds”
MP3: Nicole Atkins – “Carouselle”
Video: Nicole Atkins – “Pissing In A River” (live in Copenhagen)
Video: Nicole Atkins & The Sea – “The Way It Is” (MySpace)
Video: Nicole Atkins – “Neptune City” (YouTube)
MySpace: Nicole Atkins