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Monday, February 14th, 2011

5 Chords

Review of The Dears’ Degeneration Street

Photo via DangerbirdDangerbirdThat The Dears never really realized the lofty expectations that accompanied them when they emerged out of Montreal at the turn of the century really isn’t important. Nor is the fact that they turned out to be more foreshadowing of the great Canadian indie renaissance of the past decade rather than leaders of it, or that the drama surrounding the band and its endlessly changing roster often overshadowed their already-quite dramatic music. All that really matters is that they’re still at it and their new record Degeneration Street is, for my money, their best yet.

That should probably be accompanied by the caveat that I’ve never really been a fan of The Dears. Their early albums, for which they were the most feted, had the sort of grandeur that I liked but was lacking in the hooks that would have kept my attention over the course of their sprawling records. 2006’s Gang Of Losers, while hardly perfect, was the first of their releases that I really warmed to. And even though many found it too conventionally “rock” compared to their more expansive efforts, most would agree that 2008’s murkily rambling Missiles, which bore the fingerprints of its difficult birth (most of the band quit or left during its recording), was a low point for the band.

It may have been a necessary nadir, though, as Degeneration Street finds the band – reconstituted with a number of band members from earlier incarnations – striking a lean and focused balance of rock, soul and prog with plenty of pop and just about the right amount of self-indulgence. Tracks like “5 Chords” and “Thrones” are the sort of soaring, guitar-propelled anthems that far too few Canadian acts even attempt, let alone pull off, while opener “Omega Dog” proves that it’s possible for the band to showcase the scope of their ambitions without taking six-plus minutes to do it and the unexpectedly retro bounce of “Yesteryear” shows they’ve still got some surprises up their sleeves. I’m inclined to give veteran producer Tony Hoffer props for helping the band pull it together, though just as much credit must go to Dears leader Murray Lightburn – a man with a bit of a reputation for being artistically controlling – for allowing someone else to take the reins. It might have taken five albums over eleven years, but The Dears may have finally arrived.

Degeneration Street is out tomorrow and currently streaming in its entirety at aux.tv. The Montreal Gazette has a feature piece on the band and the album will be spotlighted in the first Polaris Record Salon, wherein a Polaris juror argues for the record’s inclusion in this year’s longlist/shortlist/ – it takes place Tuesday night at The Drake Underground and will also feature a live interview with Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak. Doors at 7, starts at 8 and will feature a listening party for the album. And if you’d rather hear them play than see them speak, they will play an in-store at Sonic Boom this coming Thursday evening, February 17, at 7PM – admission free with a donation of canned goods.

MP3: The Dears – “Blood”
Video: The Dears – “Omega Dog”
Stream: The Dears / Degeneration Street

The Guardian has a feature interview with Arcade Fire while Pitchfork has details on their upcoming Scenes From The Suburbs short film, helmed by Spike Jonze. And oh yeah congratulations to the band on last night’s “Album Of The Year” Grammy Award. Wait, who?

aux.tv features Young Galaxy in the latest installment of their Camera Music video session series, while Spinner and Chart talk to the band, who will be taking a pregnancy-induced hiatus at the end of April. Best catch them at Lee’s Palace on March 10 while you can.

The Besnard Lakes tell Spinner they’re going back into the studio to work on their next record as soon as this Summer.

Shad has released a new video from TSOL; he’s playing at The Indie Awards during Canadian Musicfest on March 12.

Video: Shad – “Keep Shining”

Self-Titled talks to Tom Scharpling about directing the latest New Pornographers video. You know which one.

Exclaim reports that Destroyer’s Dan Bejar has an impersonator…. and his name is Dan Bejar. For serious. The real(er) Dan Bejar and his Destroyer crew will be at Lee’s Palace on March 31.

With Drums & Colour interviews Mark Hamilton of Woodpigeon.

Forest City Lovers have announced an April 1 show at The Garrison, where they will be accompanied by Slow Down Molasses and Kite Hill. NOW has a feature on Forest City Lovers’ Kat Burns and her artwork-an-hour An Hour Of My Time art project and she’s got a solo show at Holy Oak on March 3.

MP3: Forest City Lovers – “Light You Up”

The Star Phoenix talks to Mike Belitsky and Planet S to Dallas Good of The Sadies. They’ve got a date at The Mod Club on March 11 with a yet-to-be-announced special headliner.

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Half Light

The hottest bands in Canada 2010

Photo via FacebookFacebookA bit of a “wow” moment last night when I went archive digging and found that I Heart Music had been running his “Hottest Bands In Canada” poll for five years running already, making the 2010 edition – unveiled last week – the sixth one. An impressive feat that I’d like to salute Matthew for before proceeding. Okay, done.

As always, Matt put out the call to an assortment of Canadian and Canuckophile music writers and bloggers to submit their top ten acts with Canadian passports that they would declare to be “the hottest” by whatever standard they chose to use, the rankings weighted and enumerated and the top 33 artists tallied. Not nearly as mysterious or intensive as the Polaris process, but a good barometer of what folks are talking about approximately midway through that prize’s eligibility period. And, more importantly, it allows me to use my already-written ballot as the basis for a post, thus freeing up more time to watch television. Everybody wins. And off we go.

1. Arcade Fire – It was almost a scientifically controlled experiment with the three biggest indie bands in Canada releasing new albums in the span of three months, and as much attention as the New Pornographers and Broken Social Scene records got, it was nothing compared to the appetite for The Suburbs. Arcade Fire = hottest band in Canada. QED.

Video: Arcade Fire – “We Used To Wait”

2. K’Naan – There’s not much bigger stage than the World Cup and the only thing better than having your song used as its official anthem is having it be a song that remains uplifting even after being played a billion times over a month. K’Naan did this.

Video: K’Naan – “Waving Flag”

3. Diamond Rings – No one expected a D’Urbervilles solo project to get the attention that it did, but over the past year John O’Reagan’s electro-glam alter ego has become a bona fide phenomenon and his debut album Special Affections has somehow managed to live up to the hype.

MP3: Diamond Rings – “Something Else”

4. Karkwa – In terms of increased profile over the last year, no one can top Karkwa because before they surprised many by taking this year’s Polaris Music Prize, most of English Canada had never even heard of them. Can’t say that anymore.

Video: Karkwa – “Le pyromane”

5. Shad – The downside of being the presumptive best record in Canada for months and then not winning – for the second time – is perhaps being cast ast the Susan Lucci of the Polaris Prize. The upside is that TSOL was called the best record in Canada for months, and people heard it – the praise and the album. Not a bad consolation prize.

MP3: Shad – “Yaa I Get It”

6. Dan Mangan – Though some may argue that there’s nothing really special about Mangan’s everyman singer-songwriter, they can’t argue that there’s few who work or social network as hard as Mangan and its paid off in a huge and loyal fanbase.

MP3: Dan Mangan – “Road Regrets”

7. Land Of Talk – After a few false starts, Land Of Talk’s new record Cloak & Cipher should allow them to drop the “next” from their perpetual “next big thing” status, though if their career stays true to form they’ll blow up via the slow burn.

MP3: Land Of Talk – “Quarry Hymns”

8. Metric – They’ve always had their eyes set on the big time and what with getting tapped to record the new Twilight theme song and playing multi-night stands at theatres and outdoor amphitheatres, they might well have finally gotten there.

Video: Metric – “Black Sheep”

9. Broken Social Scene
This slot could have gone to any of BSS, Wolf Parade, Stars, New Pornographers or any other Canadian A-list band who released a solid but hardly game-changing record. But BSS managed to get a Polaris short-list spot out of theirs, so circle gets the square.

MP3: Broken Social Scene – “World Sick”

10. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Relatively quiet in 2010, but deserving of a mention if just for topping last year’s poll; their second album is in the can and there’s been enough touring to remind people of why they love this band so.

MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Don’t Haunt This Place”

Arcade Fire’s Will Butler talks to The Wall Street Journal and Win and R&eacute.gine to Clash.

Toronto’s Hooded Fang, who scored the #23 spot on the poll despite having just released their debut Album, will be promoting said record with an in-store at Sonic Boom this Saturday, November 13, at 6PM and then following an Ontario tour through November, play a hometown release show for the record at The Drake on December 9.

MP3: Hooded Fang – “Laughing”

Elliott Brood and The Sadies may not have been ranked, but that won’t stop them from continuing their New Year’s Eve traditions by ringing in 2011 at Lee’s Palace and The Horseshoe, respectively. Tickets for the Elliott Brood show are $20 in advance, Sadies ticket info forthcoming.

MP3: The Sadies – “Another Year Again”
Video: Elliott Brood – “Fingers & Tongues”

Julie Doiron, who didn’t place on the poll herself but whose Daniel Fred & Julie bandmate Daniel Romano tied for 27, has set a date at the Horseshoe for February 3, tickets $12 in advance.

MP3: Julie Doiron – “Consolation Prize”

Hannah Georgas (number 17) talks to QRO; she is at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on November 26.

And though Feist is unsurprisingly nowhere to be found on the list – not releasing an album in three years does temper one’s hotness – expect her to be back at or near the top next year, as she’s getting back into action. Starting with the release of the Look At What The Light Did Now documentary film, which is coming out as a DVD/CD package on December 7 but will be screening at The Royal Ontario Museum on November 21, followed by a Q&A with Miss Leslie herself. Limited tickets are $20, on sale now.

Trailer: Look At What The Light Did Now

Monday, November 1st, 2010

Jailbird Blues

Ohbijou, Rock Plaza Central and $100 rally to raise funds for Tranzac Club

Photo By Jess BaumungJess BaumungToronto’s Tranzac may have been founded as the gathering place for the Toronto Australia New Zealand Club, but for the city’s musical community its role extends far beyond a place to discuss the mysteries of the Coriolis effect. It’s also one of the city’s all-ages venues and as such, has been both an incubator for many of Toronto’s up-and-coming acts and a low-key stop for bands touring through town.

I personally have fond memories of seeing Beach House’s first show here in November 2006 with about a dozen people in the building’s front room, an intimate performance from then-reigning Polaris winner Final Fantasy in February 2007, a matinee throw-down to maybe 30 people by Matt & Kim later that May, the release show for Evening Hymns’ debut Spirit Guides just last Fall – a lot of great stuff has gone down in that room

And, like many/most/all things run for love over profit, it needs money. The hows and whys of its finances go well beyond its role as a music venue, but needless to say if the city were to lose the venue, it’d be poorer for it. So with an eye towards doing what they can, a number of bands are returning to their roots over the next couple months by holding some fundraiser shows. On November 19, Rock Plaza Central will come out of their vague hiatus for a show of their own songs and collaborations with other city musicians – tickets $12 in advance, $15 at the door. The following evening, November 20, Ohbijou will hopefully offer a preview of their forthcoming third record in what is, I believe, their only hometown show of the year. Support comes from Lisa Bozikovic and tickets are $15 in advance, $17 at the door. And a couple weeks later, $100 will get up close and personal in the venue’s tiny Southern Cross Lounge, supported by Doug Paisley – tickets $12 in advance, $15 at the door.

So whatever incentive works for you, be it the opportunity to see some acts who’ve generally graduated to playing bigger rooms in more intimate environs or just helping out a local cultural hub while getting some entertainment out of the deal, hit up one/some/all of these shows if you can. It’s the right thing to do and the easy way to do it.

MP3: Ohbijou – “Black Ice”
MP3: Rock Plaza Central – “Handsome Men”

Vancouver’s Yukon Blonde will be making the most of their stop in Toronto on their Fall tour, adding an in-store performance at Sonic Boom at 3:30 on November 6 before their show across the street at Lee’s Palace later that night with The Wooden Sky. Admission to the in-store is free with a donation of canned good.

MP3: Yukon Blonde – “Wind Blows”

NYC Taper is sharing a recording of Diamond Rings’ short set at CMJ in New York last week. He’s the subject of feature pieces in The Toronto Sun, Vancouver Sun, Montreal Mirror and Queens Journal.

Uptown and The Gateway get into the head of Owen Pallett.

Liz Powell tells Spin how Land Of Talk got their name.

Look At What The Light Did Now, the documentary film on Feist, is still without a Toronto screening date and it appears that fans might get to watch the film in the comfort of their own homes before they see it in a theatre – Exclaim reports that the DVD edition of the film will be released on December 7 and come with a 13-track bonus CD. Just in time for Christmas – fancy that.

Daytrotter has posted up a session with Tokyo Police Club.

aux.tv asks Hallowe’en-related things of Fucked Up’s Damien Abraham.

NOW devoted this week’s cover story to visiting Vancouverites Black Mountain.

The Take and Sticky talk to Dan Mangan while eye tries to figure out why he’s so darned popular.

This weekend, The Toronto Star ran a terrific feature about the realities of being a touring musician in Canada – the main feature is worth a read, as are the side-pieces including a Q&A with Dallas Good of The Sadies, the collection of touring stories, collection of road-related health risks and piece on the problems with not being on the road.

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Mouthful Of Diamonds

An introduction to Phantogram

Photo By Doron GildDoron GildThere’s a lot of New York in Eyelid Movies, the debut album from the duo of Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel known as Phantogram, and while the pair do indeed have Empire State license plates on their cars, they don’t hail from a Brooklyn bedsit or East Village walk-up, but the town of Greenwich way upstate – as close to Montreal as it is to Manhattan.

But you couldn’t tell that from just listening to the record – Its synthetic dream-pop owes a lot to bands who hail from Gotham, recalling in particular recent Blonde Redhead, though poppier and dancier than that trio. The similarities lie in their borrowing ideas liberally from a wide range of styles, incorporating meaty synth textures, cut-and-paste sampled hip-hop beats and guitars that are as inclined to jangle as drone and tying them together with a devotion to melody and Barthel and Carter’s contrasting vocals – hers dulcet and emotive, his rougher and anguished. It’s a combination that makes for an interesting yet accessible listen that’s honest in its influences while crafting its own identity.

Eyelid Movies is out February 9, and is currently streaming in its entirety at NPR. They set out on an east coast tour this week that stops at the Drake Underground in Toronto on February 20. Bloginity.com has an interview with Josh Carter.

MP3: Phantogram – “When I’m Small”
Stream: Phantogram / Eyelid Movies

PitchforkTV has a fancy video session with Beach House while Daytrotter has posted an audio session you can download for your very own. Not wanting to feel left out, Grand Crew points out they’ve got a complete show from last Summer in Paris to watch. The San Francisco Chronicle also has an interview with the duo, whom you can see at the Opera House on March 30.

Pitchfork talks to The National’s Matt Berninger about their new album, which is due out in May and has yet to be titled. They are at Massey Hall on June 8.

Filter has a two-part interview with The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt, while Exclaim reveals that one of his upcoming projects will be performing a live score to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea – the 1916 silent film, not the Kirk Douglas-powered Disney version. Also newsworthy is the fact that 69 Love Songs is being reissued as a set of six 10″ LPs limited to only 3000 editions. You can pre-order it now with delivery coming around the April 20 release date. The Magnetic Fields are at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre next Monday evening.

MTV gets The Shins’ James Mercer to clarify statements made to NME about the band’s hiatus and his current involvement in Broken Bells with Danger Mouse, whose self-titled debut comes out March 9. Short version – Broken Bells now, Shins next year. Probably. Here’s their first video.

Video: Broken Bells – “The High Road”

JamBase converses with John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats.

If you missed the free download of The Denton Sessions from The Guardian this weekend, it’s up for grabs at the Midlake website and the interview at The Guardian is still up. Their new album The Courage Of Others is out today.

Spinner talks to Shearwater frontman Jonathan Meiburg about The Golden Dossier booklet which will accompany The Golden Archipelago on its release come February 23. They play Lee’s Palace on April 1.

NPR is streaming a live show by Ted Leo & The Pharmacists on the World Cafe last week. Their new album The Brutalist Bricks is out March 9.

And moving onto the concert announcements portion of the post – Snailhouse and Evening Hymns team up for a show at the Tranzac on March 25, admission $10 at the door.

MP3: Evening Hymns – “Broken Rifle”
Video: Snailhouse – “Salvation Army”

Jon Langford will team up with his Sadies for a show at the Horseshoe on March 26, tickets $13.50.

It’s ladies’ night at the Phoenix on April 9, when Girls and Dum Dum Girls roll in as part of a Spring tour. Girls are still riding last year’s Album while Dum Dum Girls’ debut I Will Be arrives March 30.

MP3: Girls – “Laura”
MP3: Girls – “Lust For Life””
MP3: Dum Dum Girls – “Jail La La”

The Album Leaf will set out this Winter and Spring on a North American tour in support of their new album A Chorus Of Storytellers, out today, and stop in at Lee’s Palace on April 28 – tickets $12.50, Sea Wolf support.

MP3: The Album Leaf – “Falling From The Sun”
MP3: Sea Wolf – “Wicked Blood”

Let’s Wrestlediscussed previously – have been added as support for Quasi’s upcoming east coast tour, including the April 18 date at the Horseshoe. Let’s Wrestle’s debut In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s gets a North American release on March 23 while Quasi’s American Gong is out February 23.

MP3: Quasi – “Repulsion”
MP3: Let’s Wrestle – “We Are The Men You’ll Grow To Love Soon”

Anyone who’s ever asked exactly what is meant by “gypsy punk” would do well to be at the Sound Academy on April 20 when Gogol Bordello and DeVotchKa come to town. Gogol’s live Live From Axis Mundi came out last year while DeVotchKa’s last release was 2008’s A Mad And Faithful Telling, though they haven’t been to Toronto since June 2006 – far, far too long.

MP3: Gogol Bordello – “Wonderlust King” (BBC Sessions)
MP3: Gogol Bordello – “Troubled Friends” (Gypsy Punk Sessions)
MP3: DeVotchKa – “Transliterator”
MP3: DeVotchKa – “Along The Way”

Sigur Ros can easily sell out Massey Hall, but for frontman gone solo Jonsi to schedule two (2) nights at the Sound Academy – April 30 and May 1 – to perform numbers from his solo album Go… well it’s ambitious. To say the least. The album is out March 23. Either they’re expecting it to be a hit or want their fans to have lots of elbow room.

MP3: Jonsi – “Boy Lilikoi”

Monday, December 10th, 2007

The Horseshoe

All of the local media articles commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Horseshoe Tavern (officially celebrating its birthday yesterday) have run off a list of the unforgettable shows that have earned the Queen West institution its adjective “Legendary” – Golden Smog, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Rolling Stones”, to name a few. And while I’ve seen my share of great shows there over the years – hell, over the past week – the venue’s own birthday party on Thursday night was one for the ages.

Though the performers were kept secret when the invite-only party was announced, it got out pretty quickly that it was going to be Chicagoan country-rock shitkickers The Waco Brothers – an outfit beloved by the Horseshoe owners – and the closest thing the ‘Shoe has to a house band, Toronto’s own Sadies. And, of course, where go The Sadies, special guests are sure to follow.

And follow they did. Their set could well have been released as the follow-up to their In Concert: Volume One live set as they called friends and family onstage to play with them including the Good brothers’ parents, Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor, The Skydiggers’ Andy Maize and Josh Finlayson, Waco Brothers (from different mothers) Jon Langford and Tracy Dear – all of whom came as no huge surprise – and one who did: The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie. I wouldn’t say I’ve been any sort of Hip fan for over a decade but there’s no denying the band – and especially their frontman – hold a special place in Canadiana so you could feel the energy levels in the bar, already well into the red, soar when he bounded onstage.

In hindsight, it probably shouldn’t have been a shock to see him – he had played with the Sadies just last month in a performance for CBC’s Fuse and here they reprised some of that set, opening with “Fire In The Hole” from 1994’s Day For Night and closing with an absolutely searing cover of The Stooges’ “Search And Destroy” (a reasonable-quality video of which you cans see below). Maybe it’s been a while since Downie’s played a stage as small and intimate as this one but he absolutely tore it up. It’s not often that it’s the audience that needs to take a breath after a performance while the band just won’t stop.

Calling The Sadies a tough act to follow is the very definition of understatement, but the Waco Brothers are no slouches in owning a stage. I was only minimally familiar with the Wacos before this night – basically I knew who they were and what they did, on paper anyways – but thankfully there’s not that much to get. If you can appreciate the magic of country and old-school rock’n’roll welded together by sweat and margaritas, you can appreciate the Waco Brothers. With an all-request set list made up of originals and covers, they were the perfect band to play a birthday party for a bar with the musical pedigree that the ‘Shoe has. I had to bail at 1AM but have no doubt they kept their word to keep the music and beer flowing till 2AM.

Happy 60th, Horseshoe.

Glide and The Vancouver Sun have interviews with The Sadies, who will once again be at the Horseshoe for their annual New Years Eve celebrations. And the final show of the Horseshoe’s 60th anniversary celebrations, scheduled for next Monday December 17, is set to be announced today. I’ve already basically told you who it is, but when the official word is out I’ll update accordingly.

Photos: The Waco Brothers, The Sadies @ The Horseshoe – December 6, 2007
MP3: The Sadies – “The Horseshoe”
Video: The Sadies – “The Horseshoe”
Video: Gord Downie with The Sadies – “Search & Destroy” (live at the Horseshoe)
MySpace: The Waco Brothers
MySpace: The Sadies

And after a pretty packed week of ‘Shoe shows, I capped things off with Jose Gonzalez’s in-store at Sonic Boom on Friday evening. I’ve no doubt his show that same night at the Mod Club was good but I found the intimate atmosphere of the in-store, with its wood-paneled rec room vibe and polite and attentive audience, to be the perfect setting for Gonzalez. Cross-legged on the floor is the right way to enjoy his music, which was hypnotically lovely over his short set.

JAM! and The New York Daily News have conversations with Gonzalez about the political and religious undertones of his music.

Photos: Jose Gonzalez @ Sonic Boom – December 7, 2007
MP3: Jose Gonzalez – “Teardrop” (live)
MP3: Jose Gonzalez – “Crosses”
Video: Jose Gonzalez – “Teardrop”
Video: Jose Gonzalez – “Down The Line”
Video: Jose Gonzalez – “Killing For Love”
MySpace: Jose Gonzalez

Spinner interfaces with Jens Lekman

CMJ talks a bit to The Acorn’s Rolf Klausener about Glory Hope Mountain, which is set for a US release on March 4 of next year and will apparently feature a bonus track, presumably not tied into the narrative thread of the rest of the record.

The New Pollution features Plants & Animals, in town Friday at the Mod Club opening for Patrick Watson. Their debut full-length Parc Avenue is out March 25 and you can check out an MP3 from said record below.

MP3: Plants & Animals – “Faerie Dance”

Win Butler of The Arcade Fire tells The Australian that getting hit in the head with a shoe can really put a damper on one’s evening.

Stay Thirsty gives Feist some travel tips for Japan.
Losing Today talks to Owen Pallet of Final Fantasy. Final Fantasy, along with Laura Barrett and The Blankket, will be performing at the Gladstone on January 9 as part of a release party for Carl Wilson’s contribution to the 33 1/3 series of books, the much-anticipated tome Celine Dion’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey To The End Of Taste. And yes, all the performers will be doing Celine covers. Of course. The book is out this week.

Crawdaddy talks to author Jim Walsh about his book The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting: An Oral History.

The Boston Herald chats with The Fiery Furnaces, in town at Lee’s Palace on Wednesday night.

Jonathan Richman will be in town February 28 for a show at the Phoenix – quite a step up from his usual digs at the Lula Lounge. Update: Never mind – Pollstar was wrong, Jonathan Rice opening for Matt Costa, which is more logical but less interesting.

The new Harold and Kumar film has a new title – Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay – and a new, decidedly non-PG trailer. It’s in theatres April 28.

Trailer: Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay