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Monday, February 4th, 2008

Reunion Tour

I don’t understand what there is to celebrate about Winter. It’s a cold, dreary season that seems to last far longer than the time allotted to it by the calendar and the only sensible way to spend it is indoors, with double-paned windows and central heat. So, of course, the city decides that it’s the perfect time to throw an outdoor festival and to make sure that it can’t simply be ignored (from indoors), they get The Weakerthans to play a free show. Outside. Of course.

Taking place at at Nathan Phillips Square, aka City Hall (of Toronto or Raccoon City, whichever), they did this last year as well. That show starred Sloan and was an excruciatingly cold night. This year’s forecast was considerably warmer but I made the mistake of interpreting that as warm, which it most certainly was not. Which is why I was wearing neither my boots nor my warm socks on Saturday night. Yeah. I is smart. Anyway, though I wasn’t as bowled over by Reunion Tour as many were (something about it seemed just a little too precious, too consciously maple leaf pin Canadian), I’m still a huge fan of the band and was sad to have missed both their shows back in November (on account of exhaustion) so I was pleased to get a chance to make that up, even at the risk of losing a toe or two to frostbite (okay, I exaggerate but I really couldn’t feel my feet).

Though Winnipegers theoretically have a greater tolerance for cold than your typical Torontonian – not for nothing is it nicknamed “Winter-peg” – John K Samson seemed a bit alarmed that the onstage heaters were cutting out almost as soon as the show began and attempts by the crew to get them working was a running theme through the night. Regardless, the Weakerthans soldiered on. Bassist Greg Smith and guitarist Stephen Carroll kept their circulation going with the rock moves – guitar necks aloft! – Samson was his typically reserved self, staying close to the mic and singing his songs of curlers, cats and Antarctic explorers. The set started off with selections from the more recent records but began wandering further back into their repertoire as the show went on and over the course of an hour and change, via their seamless blend of pop, rock, punk and folk, made yet another compelling argument for declaring them one of the best bands the country has to offer, a fact that the fairly massive crowd gathered in the shadows of City Hall would certainly testify to and probably with less whining about the weather than I’ve done.

Photos: The Weakerthans @ Nathan Phillips Square – February 2, 2008
MP3: The Weakerthans – “Sun In An Empty Room”
MP3: The Weakerthans – “Night Windows”
MP3: The Weakerthans – “Plea From A Cat Named Virtue”
MP3: The Weakerthans – “Aside”
MP3: The Weakerthans – “The Last Last One”
Video: The Weakerthans – “Civil Twilight”
Video: The Weakerthans – “The Reasons”
Video: The Weakerthans – “Psalm For The Elks Lodge”
Video: The Weakerthans – “Our Retired Explorer”
Video: The Weakerthans – “Aside”
Video: The Weakerthans – “Watermark”
Video: The Weakerthans – “Diagnosis”
MySpace: The Weakerthans

A few of the bigger Canadian Music Week showcases are starting to come together. On the Thursday, March 6, the Horseshoe is hosting what’s shaping up to be a sterling lineup of Canadian talent with Immaculate Machine, Katie Stelmanis, Dog Day and The Acorn along with two secret acts that Chart (who are presenting the showcase) swears will be worth the wait when they’re revealed in three weeks or so. Uh huh. Dog Day are also at the Rivoli on the Saturday night along with Jenn Grant and over at Lee’s Palace that night, it’s a UK thing with Yoav, Archive, The Pigeon Detectives and The Duke Spirit.

Wish I’d noticed this when I did the American Music Club post on FridayMerge is now streaming all of The Golden Age in advance of its release on February 19. Yay.

Stream: American Music Club / The Golden Age

Weekend America challenges The Mountain Goats to write a song about Super Tuesday. The Mountain Goats accept. Their new album of songs they weren’t dared to write – Heretic Pride – is out February 19.

Band Of Horses keeps a tour diary for Filter.

DCist talks to Aimee Mann about her next album Smilers, due out in March.

The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt talks Distortion with Chart

The San Francisco Chronicle has an interview with Bob Mould. NPR has a streamable concert. NPR wins. District Line is out tomorrow and he plays the Mod Club on March 10.

Magnet talks to Beach House. Their second album, Devotion, is out February 26 and they have a show at the El Mocambo on March 28.

Tuesday, January 15th, 2008

Audience In The Room

Though not the big release of the day – I’ll get to that just below – as of today Dirty On Purpose’s new EP Like Bees is now out. As good as their debut Hallelujah Sirens was, Like Bees does a better job of crystallizing what’s great about the band, namely the way they balance their noisier inclinations with their innate pop sense. It’s something many attempt, some do well but few do really well.

Over the course of five tracks, DoP prove they’re one of the few leading off with the gentle squall of “Audience In The Room”, hearkening to their early days with the boy-girl duet of the title track, jogging a memory of a song long forgotten with their cover of ’80s Aussie outfit Real Life’s “Send Me An Angel” and closing with the unexpected post-rock instrumental sprawl of “Airshow Disaster” – the title may well be a nod to Explosions In The Sky because the song is certainly inspired by them. Dirty On Purpose may have gotten lost amongst the deluge of briefly buzzed-about new bands last year, but these 23 minutes prove they’re worthy of your long-term attention.

They’ve also made a video for “Audience In the Room”, which is all well and good but still doesn’t touch the trebuchet-powered goodness of their clip for “Car No Driver”, and you can stream the whole of the EP at Spinner this week. And as previously reported, they still have plans for another release this year – a download-only EP called Dead Volcanoes which they’re still offering a preview of at RCRDLBL. Paper Thin Walls talks to guitarist George Wilson about the choice to cover the song from BMX flick Rad.

Stream: Dirty On Purpose / Like Bees
Video: Dirty On Purpose – “Audience In The Room”
Video: Dirty On Purpose – “Car No Driver”

And if you’re the sort to play Brooklyn musician-spotting, you may have noticed Au Revoir Simone’s Annie Hart in the video – that’s on account of her being married to DoP drummer/vocalist Doug Marvin (happy birthday, Doug) and refusing to appear probably would have been awkward. SF Station has an interview with bandmate Heather D’Angelo and Au Revoir Simone are kicking off a brief bi-coastal tour tomorrow night here in Toronto at Lee’s Palace.

As for the week’s big release, that’d be The Magnetic Fields’ new one Distortion. It’s also streaming in its entirety at Spinner and there’s a feature piece on Stephin Merritt at the New York Times.

Stream: The Magnetic Fields / Distortion

For The Records points out that the skeletal schedule for this year’s Canadian Music Week is now up though there’s little there besides a list of presumably confirmed acts and venues (with showcase sponsors) but hardly any actual lineups around which to plan your evenings from March 6 through 8. One that does have some familiar names is the Indie Awards ceremony on the 8th, held this time at the Royal York rather than The Docks (thank goodness). The lineup there will feature The Cliks, The Lowest Of The Low, Tokyo Police Club and The New Pornographers. To anyone looking at the Low’s name in that list and thinking, “hey, you fuckers broke up – I was there” – namely, me – Steve Stanley clarifies by saying that this is an induction into the Canadian Indie Hall of Fame (really? We have one of those?) and that they will “show up, play a couple of songs and graciously and gratefully accept this honour”. Cruising the list of bands I see mostly the usual suspects that I’d expect to be playing though Mike’s singling out of Finns Pooma could be a good recommendation. I’ll investigate the acts more closely over the next few weeks, leading up to the fest, and report back on my findings as I do.

Spinner Interfaces with Earlimart.

Harp, Athens Exchange, Creative Loafing and Red & Black get lessons in freewheeling from Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan.

PopMatters talks to Magnolia Electrician Jason Molina.

Sad news if you’re a Weakerthans fan – their February 1 in-store at Sonic Boom is off. If you want to see them, you’ll have to freeze your buns off at Nathan Phillips Square on the 2nd. Just think of it like the complete Winnipeg experience.

Good news if you’re a Metric fan – they’re shifting back into live performance mode with a gig at the Sound Academy (nee The Docks) on February 7. Tickets are on sale now for $20 plus vague facility charges.

Austin ambient outfit Stars Of The Lid are heading out on tour this Spring and that includes a date at the Music Gallery on April 28.

DCist offers up an interview with Tom Smith of Editors. He also talks to XFM about their odds of winning a Brit Award (not good). They’re in town at the Kool Haus next Tuesday, January 22.

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

Night Walks

Drowned In Sound and NOW have rung in 2008 with year-start lists that rounds up their picks of new albums scheduled for release this year that are worth keeping an eye on. The DiS one is a bit Brit-centric (that’s British, not Britney) and NOW‘s more mainstream but they cover a lot of ground so get your new release spreadsheets updated, kids! What, you mean I’m the only one who keeps one of those? Now I just feel… awkward. also previews the upcoming year in record releases.

One of the records near the top of DiS’ list (though that’s because it’s ordered chronologically) is the new one from Vancouver’s Black Mountain. In The Future is slated for a January 22 release in North America and will be available in both a regular edition and a fancy-pants deluxe edition with a second disc and three bonus tracks.

The band are also hitting the road this Winter to promote, and that jaunt will bring them to town on March 5 for a show at Lee’s Palace. Fellow Jagjaguwar-ian Bon Iver will support on that leg of the tour, drumming up anticipation for his debut For Emma, Forever Ago, out February 19. Get a taste (or in the case of the epic-length Black Mountain track, a three-course meal) below.

MP3: Black Mountain – “Tyrants”
MP3: Bon Iver – “Skinny Love”

Also namechecked on the DiS list is Atlas Sound, the solo project of Deerhunter Bradford Cox. The debut album from that project, Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See but Cannot Feel, is out February 19 and he will bring it to the Horseshoe on February 28.

The Magnetic Fields are unleashing Distortion on January 15 and you can grab an MP3 from it at RCRDLBL.

One of the most anticipated new records for the first part of the year for me, personally, is the new one from The Mountain GoatsHeretic Pride – also out February 19. Over the holidays, Darnielle gave fans a nice gift via the Goats’ website – a sample of a long-awaited but probably not forthcoming anytime soon collaboration with John Vanderslice, which they’ve apparently dubbed “The Comedians”. It sounds like a JD solo piece but if he says the ‘Slice was involved, then the ‘Slice was involved. And Goats fans would do check back later in the day. I should have a treat for you. Operative word “should”.

M4A: The Comedians (John Darnielle & John Vanderslice) – “Surrounded”

The Tripwire recounts some words from Guy Garvey about choosing the title of Elbow’s new album, The Seldom Seen Kid, and their reasoning between switching labels in the UK. They currently have none in North America so while the album drops in March over there, there’s nothing on the radar for here.

Pitchfork talks to Bjork about her new single “Declare Independence” and the Michel Gondry-helmed video for it. Which you can watch below.

Video: Bjork – “Declare Independence”

Radio Free Canuckistan welcomes 2008 by reaching way back into the middle of 2007 and posting the transcript of an interview with Weakerthan John K Samson. They’re in town for a free show at Nathan Phillips Square on February 2.

Monday, December 17th, 2007

All You Bellydancers! Unite! We Are But Sorrowed Men

In hindsight, its kind of laughable that I was so torn about where to spend last Thursday night because, as it turned out (and with all respect to the Vampire Weekend-ers, who I’m sure were also lovely), ye olde Rancho Relaxo and the last Two-Way Monologues showcase for the year was the absolute best place to be. The lineup, featuring Amos The Transparent, Oh No Forest Fires and The Craft Economy, wasn’t necessarily one that looks impressive or rings many bells at first glance but come back in a year and run it up the flagpole – I bet a whole lot more people will be saluting.

The Craft Economy kicked things off with their illuminated bar graph t-shirts, co-ed frontpersons and breakneck New Wave/twee-pop/post-punk hybrid, they radiated relentless fun and came across as maybe the coolest Summer camp counselors you never had. The whole of their debut EP All In C is available to download from their website and as peppy as the recordings are, they barely capture the energy of the band live. Their next show is January 9 at The Boat, it’s recommended you be there.

The name of Oh No Forest Fires may stick with you at first by virtue of it being a really terrible band name, but after you hear them, you’ll remember them because they’re a rather amazingly good band. They’re a relatively new outfit but comprised of veterans, with members drawn from local acts like Five Blank Pages, The Most Serene Republic and Fox Jaws and if that sounds like a recipe for a fractured neighbourly setting (synonyms ahem), wait till you hear them. With glorious, guitar-driven anthems that make prog-pop seem like the most natural thing in the world and an energetic live show that the stage couldn’t contain (though the tiny Rancho stage can’t contain an awful lot), ONFF were one of the most impressive new things I’ve seen in a long time. That their four-song EP is as good as it is and is still just a demo is both exciting and frightening. I’m keeping a very close eye (and ear) on these guys. They’re playing the Gladstone on January 10 and, again, it’s recommended you be there.

Which leaves headliners Amos The Transparent, whom I’d seen before and whose album Everything I’ve Forgotten To Forget I have and have been enjoying, so you’d think they’d be the most known quantity to me. As it turned out, not so much. At Pop Montreal they were legion, a many-headed beast of guitars and drums and keys, adding eloquent bombast to Everything‘s already grand arrangements but on this night, there were only four of them and they took a more conventional tactic for making an impression – volume, alcohol and rock. And it’s a testament to both the writing and the players that songs that seemed made for widescreen presentation translated so well in a smaller format. The melodic melancholy that rests at the core of Amos’ sound remained intact but was delivered with an extra visceralness that may have previously been hidden behind the layers of sound. Remarkably though, for all the rawness of the set the crucial little details of the record – the keyboard flourishes, the vocal harmonies – were still there and if there was extra angst in the air you wouldn’t have known it from frontman Jonathan Chandler’s cheery disposition. Or maybe that was just the drink. Either way, they capped off as a stellar night of music that could go down as one of this bills you look at in a couple years and think, “man – imagine seeing those bands in a tiny club”. It could happen. It certainly should.

Photos: Amos The Transparent, Oh No Forest Fires, The Craft Economy @ Rancho Relaxo – December 13, 2007
MP3: Amos The Transparent – “Title Track”
MP3: Amos The Transparent – “After All That Its Come To This”
MP3: Oh No Forest Fires – “We Fit Our Charm”
MP3: The Craft Economy – “Drag-On”
MP3: The Craft Economy – “The Crash, The Wagon, The Dying Horses”
MySpace: Amos The Transparent
MySpace: The Craft Economy

For The Records has a couple of the acts for this year’s free shows at Nathan Phillips Square as part of the WinterCity FestivalTokyo Police Club on January 26 and The Weakerthans on February 2. Hopefully next year will be warmer than last year – I bloody well froze my ass of seeing Sloan.

Incendiary interviews Kevin Drew.

Young & Sexy talk to Chart about the joys of Christmas and set a target of mid-April for the release of their next album, working title of Sunrise On The Shazzie Bazzie.

Acoustic Guitar features Steve Earle, in town at Massey Hall on March 4.

Band Of Horse-man Ben Bridwell talks to Drowned In Sound.

Neu! speaks to an unnamed member of British Sea Power about their new album Do You Like Rock Music?, out February 12. They’ll be visiting our fair continent thereabouts as well – dates still to be announced but they will be at Noise Pop in San Francisco around the last weekend of February, so look for more dates around then. There’s also a preview track from the new album kicking around. Sounds like BSP has made up their minds how they feel about rock music… they like it.

MP3: British Sea Power – “No Lucifer”

Whilst putting up this week’s MP3 of the week featuring Charlotte Hatherley, I was pleased to see that another video from The Deep Blue has been released – and for one of my favourite tracks from the record, no less. Not crazy for the hairdo, Charlotte. Gotta say.

Video: Charlotte Hatherley – “Siberia”

Elbow tell NME their next album, due out in March, will be entitled The Seldom Seen Kid.

NME reports that their latest single, “Flux”, is not a sign of things to come for the next Bloc Party record. The vocoder is going back into the closet, thankfully.

It’s big gun time in year-end list-land. Pitchfork has their top 100 songs of the year and PopMatters their top 60 records of 2007. Neither, thankfully, is milking them by posting a portion of the list every day. And I spent a better part of the weekend tabulating Reader’s Poll results and the outcome is very interesting… and by very interesting, I mean almost exactly what I expected.

Hey, I just realized something. Post-I’m Not There, you could think of The Dark Knight as starring Bob Dylan versus Bob Dylan. Hmm. And oh yeah, the new trailer is up. Woot.

Trailer: The Dark Knight