Sofia StolpeNXNE-spotting happens on two levels: there’s the micro, where you pore over the year’s lineup and try to figure out how you’ll spend the four hopefully-warm nights in June club-hopping and seeing bands new and familiar; and there’s the macro, where you see how this year’s festival as a whole experience measures up against past years and assess how the event is trending as Toronto’s flagbearer in a world where cities are increasingly judged by the quality of their music festivals. Or at least, that’s how I look at things. I may well be a freak.
First, the bands my strongest recommendation for the fest because it’d have be strong enough to convince you to a) miss a whole hell of a lot of great stuff including part of that free Flaming Lips show and b) brave the shitshow that will be a closed-off Queen St. W as MuchMusic tools up for the Bieber-fied MMVAs the following night. But that said, I still think that seeing Sweden’s Deer Tracks would be worth it. The duo of David Lehnberg and Elin Lindfors craft the sort of eclectically airy, hybrid electronic-orchestral pop that might have you looking for the Morr logo on the spine (they’re actually on The Control Group, if it matters), but tied together and given both weight and lift by their buoyant melodies and harmonies. If I can be allowed to invoke some Scandinavian stereotypes, they marry the otherworldliness one would expect of Icelandic acts with the impeccable pop sense of the best the Swedes have to offer.
They’re in the midst of a three-part album cycle entitled The Archer Trilogy, Part 2 with the third part coming later this year. It’s kind of a shame that their tour is hitting during NXNE because had it been any other time of year, or even any other night or time slot of the fest, they’d be getting a lot more attention. But as it is, if you find your way to The Rivoli at 10PM on Saturday, June 16, I suspect it’ll be worth your time and effort. The Georgia Straight had an interview with them ahead of their Vancouver show earlier this week.
MP3: The Deer Tracks – “W”
MP3: The Deer Tracks – “Dark Passenger”
Video: The Deer Tracks – “Meant To Be”
Video: The Deer Tracks – “Tiger”
Video: The Deer Tracks – “Fall With Me”
Video: The Deer Tracks – “Fra Ro Raa / Ro Ra Fraa”
Video: The Deer Tracks – “Ram Ram”
Video: The Deer Tracks – “Slow Collision”
Video: The Deer Tracks – “12sxfrya”
And the official though surely incomplete day-by-day, hour-by-hour, “hey you should maybe go to some of these” is as follows:
Tuesday, June 12
The Weather Station @ Kops/Lavish & Squalor, 4PM – Another highlight of this year’s CMF, Tamara Lindeman will play selections from her excellent All Of It Was Mine at this in-store before her official show at The Great Hall Lower Theatre at 10PM Wednesday night.
MP3: The Weather Station – “Everything I Saw”
Wednesday, June 13
Army Girls @ Supermarket, 9PM – I can’t foresee a day when I won’t recommend you go see this Toronto duo, though hopefully soon enough my recommendation won’t be necessary – everyone will just know. They’re also at Jang Bang the afternoon of the 14th for a day show, The El Mocamobo at 10PM that night, and a day show in Trinity Bellwoods on Sunday afternoon at 3:45PM. And don’t be surprised if they add a few more appearances before the week is done – the benefits of traveling light and rocking hard.
MP3: Army Girls – “T W I C E”
Eternal Summers @ The Drake Underground, 10PM – Virginia-based trio who make hazy, lo-fi pop that doesn’t care that Altered Zones doesn’t exist anymore. Their second album Correct Behavior will be out July 24.
Video: Eternal Summers – “Millions”
July Talk @ The Horseshoe, 10PM – Toronto punkabilly outfit who flat-out stole the show/fest at this year’s Canadian Musicfest; can they do it again? Don’t bet against them. They’re also at Lee’s Palace on Saturday night at 9:30PM.
M4A: July Talk – “Paper Girl”
Porcelain Raft @ The Drake Underground, 12AM – Pseudonym of New York-based Mauro Remiddi who crafted his debut Strange Weekend from a lifetime of globetrotting, sound-collecting and genre-defying. So what does he do for a follow-up?
MP3: Porcelain Raft – “Unless You Speak From The Heart”
Thursday, June 14
The Men @ Grasshopper Records, 3PM – New York band whose latest effort Open Your Heart sounds like the best of Sonic Youth and Mission Of Burma being mashed into your eardrums with extreme prejudice. A can’t-miss for the fest, and besides this in-store – if you haven’t heard of the store, consult The Grid – they also have official showcases Thursday night at The Garrison at 1AM and Friday night at Wrongbar at 12AM, and will also be appearing at the NXNEXPERIMENT BBQ on Friday afternoon.
MP3: The Men – “Ex-Dreams”
Smith Westerns @ Gibralter Point, 5:30PM – We don’t see many acts being shipped in for one-off, non-festival parties but that’s what’s happening with this Noisey/Jansport to-do on the Toronto Islands where Chicago’s glam-garage punks will do their thing amongst what is sure to be tastefully-executed branding.
MP3: Smith Westerns – “Still New”
Boxer The Horse @ The El Mocambo Upstairs, 8PM – Scrappy guitar pop from Prince Edward Island that’s a happy blend of Plaskett and Malkmus; their second full-length French Residency was released back in March.
MP3: Boxer The Horse – “Rattle Your Cage”
The Seedy Seeds @ The Painted Lady, 10PM – Trio proves that smart pop can be fun and fun pop can be smart and good bands have come from Cincinnati since The Afghan Whigs. Their last record Verb Noun came out in early 2011 and it’s still turning out videos.
Video: The Seedy Seeds – “Telephone The Constrictor”
Exitmusic @ Wrongbar, 10PM – Darkly cinematic electro-pop from a husband-and-wife duo based out of New York (but half-Canadian!). They were just here in May but have since released their debut full-length Passage, so hey – welcome back.
MP3: Exitmusic – “The Sea”
Cousins @ The Velvet Underground, 11PM – Halifax lo-fi garage-pop duo whose The Palm At The End Of The Mind is making friends and annoying neighbours everywhere. They’re doing a double-header Thursday night, with a 2AM show at The Annex Live.
Stream: Cousins / The Palm At The End Of The Mind
The Hundred In The Hands @ Wrongbar, 12AM – Los Angeles synth-rock duo whose new record Red Night arrives this Tuesday, just in time for the festival. Clash has a feature on the band and Hype Machine is streaming the album, though that metaphorical baton may get passed to another site once the album is officially out tomorrow.
MP3: The Hundred In The Hands – “Keep It Low”
Stream: The Hundred In The Hands / Red Night
A Place To Bury Strangers @ The El Mocambo, 1AM – Legendarily loud and strobe-happy New York industri-rock outfit who will be previewing their new record Worship, due out on June 26 and from which they’ve begun streaming another new song. Pity the band who’re supposed to be playing upstairs from them at the same time slot (that’d be Revolvers, who deserve better).
MP3: A Place To Bury Strangers – “You Are The One”
Stream: A Place To Bury Strangers – “And I’m Up”
Friday, June 15
2:54 @ Lee’s Palace, 9PM – British sister act bringing the spirit of dark, goth-gaze guitar-pop from the ’80s and ’90s back on their just-released self-titled debut. There’s interviews at Loud & Quiet and NOW and Daytrotter just posted a session.
MP3: 2:54 – “The March”
The Danks @ The Dakota Tavern, 10PM – Garage-y pop from the Two Hours Traffic family who’re getting an awful lot of mileage out of their 2009 debut Are You Afraid Of The Danks?, though apparently it’s just come out in the US so I guess they’re excused.
MP3: The Danks – “Die Young”
Hooded Fang @ The Silver Dollar, 10PM – One of Toronto’s premiere retro-pop fun factories in band form, their second album Tosta Mista is nearly a year old so they’ve surely got five or six more albums ready to go. They’re also playing The Horseshoe on Thursday night at 10PM.
MP3: Hooded Fang – “Den Of Love”
Útidúr @ The Gladstone, 11PM – Even if I didn’t simply like upping Icelandic acts (and writing out their wonderful accents), I’d be endorsing this Reykjavik collective because the big, Beirut-y/Fanfarlo-y orch-folk sounds of their debut This Mess We’ve Made is all kinds of charming.
Stream: Útidúr / This Mess We’ve Made
Friends @ Lee’s Palace, 11PM – Brooklyn outfit specializing in buzz of both the synth and hype varieties have just dropped their debut album Manifest! and will be looking to make Lee’s look like Bedford Station on a Saturday night. Vulture has an interview with singer Samantha Urbani and The Guardian has a stream of the album.
Video: Friends – “Mind Control”
Stream: Friends / Manifest!
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan @ The Garrison, 12AM – Audaciously arty and yet visceral Montreal collective whose debut YT//ST will probably be celebrating a Polaris long list nomination by the time they take the stage. And odds are that’ll only be the beginning. They’ve also got an in-store at Sonic Boom confirmed though dates and times for those have still to be confirmed.
Stream: Yamantaka//Sonic Titan / YT//ST
Widowspeak @ The Garrison, 1AM – Brooklyn quartet whose self-titled debut ahs made my long-term dreams of forming a country/shoegaze band and creating a genre called “bootgaze” utterly redundant. Thanks a lot, Widowspeak.
MP3: Widowspeak – “Harsh Realm”
John Maus @ Lee’s Palace, 1AM – Unintentionally controversial university professor and electro-classical composer whose last album We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves came out in the Fall.
MP3: John Maus – “Head For The Country”
Saturday, June 16
Brasstronaut @ Yonge-Dundas Square, 1PM – Vancouver prog-pop outfit whose second album Mean Sun came out just last month. They’re also at The Gladstone on Friday night at midnight and The Vancouver Sun, Spinner, NOW have interviews.
MP3: Brasstronaut – “Hollow Trees”
Zulu Winter @ Urban Outfitters, 2PM – A rare UK signing to Arts & Crafts, this Oxfordshire-bred band’s peppy, guitar-and-synth-laden debut Language – out June 19 – files nicely alongside the likes of Phoenix and Bombay Bicycle Club. In other words, “stuff the kids like”. They’ve also got evening showcases at The Rivoli on June 14 at 12AM and Lee’s Palace on June 15 at 2AM.
Video: Zulu Winter – “Silver Tongue”
Of Montreal @ Yonge-Dundas Square, 7PM – Veteran Athens, GA, Elephant 6 survivor psych-freaks who’d have made a mind-bending one-two punch with The Flaming Lips if someone hadn’t gone and booked Portugal. The Man between them. Pssh. Their latest Paralytic Stalks came out earlier this year.
MP3: Of Montreal – “Wintered Debts”
Robyn Dell’Unto @ The Cameron House, 8PM – Mississauga-based pop singer who impressed when guesting with Rose Cousins at The Rivoli last monthI’m Here Every Night came out in 2010 – I did, it’s fun. You should too.
Video: Robyn Dell’Unto – “Just A Bird”
The Flaming Lips @ Yonge-Dundas Square, 9PM – If you need an introduction to The Flaming Lips then clearly you’ve gotten to this website by accident. Note that the allotted 20 minute set up time between the preceding act and theirs is ridiculous and I wouldn’t expect Wayne Coyne’s bubble walk to begin any earlier than 9:15. There’s Lips interviews at NOW, Spinner, and The Toronto Star, Coyne writes a piece about creativity for NPR, and while their Record Store Day-exclusive collaborative album Heady Fwends – amongst whom Erykah Badu no longer counts herself – will be getting a wide release June 26, The Lips are also planning a proper (?) studio album for release later this year.
Video: The Flaming Lips – “Fight Test”
Revolver @ The Gladstone, 10PM – A relatively late addition to the fest, the French pop outfit known for multi-part harmonies and cellos will be showing off their latest album Let Go, released back in March. The schedule also has them on at 1AM at The Painted Lady that same night, though it’s in conflict with another band’s set so…
MP3: Revolver – “Get Around Town”
The Lumineers @ The Horseshoe, 11PM – Denver-based trio whose self-titled debut has made them one of the alt.country/folk/roots stories of the year. The Horseshoe is kind of the perfect place for them.
Video: The Lumineers – “Ho Hey”
Limblifter @ The El Mocambo, 12AM – It’s not a festival without some kind of ’90s reunion; this year it’s Limblifter, which is several steps up from last year’s Rusty. Yes it is. Spinner talks to Ryan Dahle about getting the old band out of mothballs.
Video: Limblifter – “Tinfoil”
Bleached @ The Silver Dollar, 1AM – The three-night, garage-rock Silver Dollar residency is kind of a NXNE/CMF fixture now, and this year that honour goes to California’s Clavin sisters in Bleached. In addition to the Silver Dollar dates – the Thursday and Friday shows are at midnight, as opposed the 1AM slot on Saturday – they’re playing the Bruise Cruise the afternoon of the 16th, bringing the rock to the Toronto harbour.
Video: Bleached – “Think Of You”
Sunday, June 17
Raekwon & Ghostface Killah @ Yonge-Dundas Square, 9PM – Things are mostly wound down on Sunday but the traditional hip-hopping of the Yonge-Dundas mainstage continues with a little Wu-Tang flavour; Raekwon the Chef recently relocated to Toronto so there’s a hometown angle to this one as well.
Video: Raekwon featuring Ghostface Killah – “New Wu”
That’s just a handful – okay, a couple handfuls – of recommendations for the week; there’s certainly more to see and for more tips, check out these festival minisites at Spinner and NOW and the feature pieces at The Grid, The AV Club, BlogTO, and Hype Machine.
As for what I was saying earlier about how NXNE is faring as a festival, the fact that there’s many more day shows than even last year, which had more than the year before that, is an encouraging trend. We’re not yet seeing conventional venues opening up during the day, but the number of in-stores, parties in unconventional spaces, and just more stuff going on during the day before the official programme starts up – it’s all very encouraging and while those who seek to compare NXNE to its similarly-acronymed Texan cousin will still find it pales in comparison, it’s getting pretty damn good up here; all we need is a better infrastructure for tracking and disseminating information about them. There’s a list of officially-endorsed/recognized day shows at NXNE.com and BlogTO has rounded up some more events. And Unofficial NXNE is also good.
And if I’m allowed a bit of self-promotion, I’m one of the photographers with some work on display at the #Hashtag Gallery this week for Live @ NXNE, a photographic exhibition of NXNE artists, past and present. The exhibition runs till June 27 but the opening party thing is Tuesday night at 7PM. Drop by, have a look. If you like.
And remember – particularly if you’re planning on getting around via transit or taxi or otherwise street-bound vehicle, College St. is closed Friday and Saturday nights from Bathurst to Shaw for Taste Of Little Italy and Queen St. W is closed between Beverley and McCaul on Friday and Saturday nights to set up for the MMVAs.