Archive for January, 2008

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Icing Sugar

Since discovering The Airfields way back in Summer of 2005, it’s been a treat watching them evolve. The trip may have been slow and occasionally difficult but each signpost along the way, from the whispery 4-track under the bedcovers charm of their debut City-State through the unexpected confidence of 2006’s Laneways EP and then last year’s limited edition teaser Yr So Wonderful, pointed to great things just down the road. And now, with the release of their debut full-length Up All Night, that promise has been delivered on.

The sounds of shyness that hid behind tape hiss on the debut has grown into a healthy musical extrovert, happy to embrace the awkward charm of its youth as well as revel in the more visceral joys of plugging in and turning up loud. The record pays homage to the classic British jangle-and-drone pop that the band so obviously holds dear, but applies an aesthetic that’s very much of the modern. The production is remarkable with sonics that are as much a part of the personality of the record as the songs – it’s not overbearing, but definitely jumped out at me at first listen (and all subsequent ones). The reverbs, in particular, should have liner note credits. And on the songwriting end, David Lush again proves his gift for memorable melodies and guitarist Ian Jackson’s two turns in the writer’s seat may come off more hesitantly and less polished, but evidence much of the latent potential that was present in the band’s first recordings.

Up All Night is officially out on February 5 but the band will have copies available at their CD release show this Saturday night, February 2, at Sneaky Dee’s with Love Kills and Terror Lake. Cover is $6 but you can get a copy of the album for just an extra $4. That’s $10 total, if your math skills aren’t working right now – which is okay. Yesterday I completely forgot how to do long division. And if you can’t make it out this weekend, circle March 6 on your calendar as they play a Canadian Music Week showcase at the Wrong Bar (the shiny new club out Parkdale way). Also stop by Skatterbrain for a nice interview with the whole band wherein they cover the origins of the band, the recording of the album and their plans for 2008 and both eye and NOW gave the record shiny four-star reviews.

MP3: The Airfields – “Never See You Smile”
MP3: The Airfields – “Yr So Wonderful”
MySpace: The Airfields

Fans of Canadian power pop (or power pop from anywhere) will also be happy to learn that Vancouver’s Salteens, last heard from on 2003’s Let Go Of Your Bad Days, are back in action after a five-year absence not with a new album, per se, but a whack of singles. For 2008, the band will be posting two tracks – an a-side and a b-side – on their website on or around the end of each month as a sort of digital 45 and they’re free to do what you will with them. The first a-side is below, the b-side should be available on their website sometime today and I’ve also posted a couple choice tracks from the last full-length. Clap along at your leisure.

MP3: The Salteens – “Hallowed Ways” (link fixed – sorry)
MP3: The Salteens – “Let Go Of Your Bad Days”
MP3: The Salteens – “Thoughts From Sound”

Staying out on the left coast, BrooklynVegan has Destroyer tour dates following the release of Trouble In Dreams on March 18. Bejar and crew will be in Toronto at Lee’s Palace on April 19, a fact which is cause for celebration but also confirms that he won’t be with The New Pornographers on their Spring tour which will be ongoing at the same time. Neko Case, however, will still be along for the ride and the openers for that jaunt are Okkervil River, which is certainly one of the odder pairings I’ve ever seen. But if we’re lucky, having Okkervil kick ass and take names every night before they take the stage will force the Pornos to raise their game a notch – last time around, they were phoning it in a bit. Look for a local date in early April but before then, they’re performing at the Indie Awards at the Royal York on March 8 as part of Canadian Music Week. You can also enjoy this World Cafe session at NPR.

Everyone’s talking about Black Mountain and their new album In The Future. There’s features and interviews with the band at The Globe & Mail, Exclaim!, Wireless Bollinger, SF Weekly, The Times Online and Harp. They’re at Lee’s Palace on March 5.

Spin recently named Basia Bulat their artist of the day and in their latest issue, they apparently give big love props to Toronto. I haven’t seen the piece yet. Basia plays Lee’s Palace on March 29.

ClickMusic talks to Land Of Talk’s Liz Powell. They’re still working the European release of Applause Cheer Boo Hiss but I would hope the new record will be along sooner rather than later this year.

Kevin Drew talks to Prefix about Kevin Drew.

Chart chats with Laura Barrett, who is also working an older EP in Earth Sciences, slated for re-release on February 26, but also has a full-length in the can and is looking at a late Spring/early Summer release for that. But in the meantime, she’s got a new Pravda-powered video. In Soviet Russia, pony robots you!

Video: Laura Barrett – “Robot Ponies”

Junkmedia talks to Rolf Klausener of The Acorn.

Born Ruffians’ tour finale/release party for their debut full-length Red, Yellow & Blue at Lee’s Palace on April 26 now also features Miracle Fortress on the bill.

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Bring The Noise

Last week, I made a vague, arm-waving attempt to round up the various outdoor festivals taking place around North America this year (and since it went up, a few dates have been updated and one fest has been cancelled) and consciously avoided including their mutli-day, club-hopping, running water-friendly brethren.

That’s because aside from the obvious big ones – SxSW and CMJ – they tend to be smaller or more regional events and thus largely off the radar of anyone who doesn’t live in the vicinity. On top of that, they’re also more likely to be industry hack-scummy rather than corporate sponsorship-scummy (though certainly not exclusively so) though there are happy exceptions. Pop Montreal has been a fine example of an in-city festival that can be very fan- and artist-friendly and one that I’ve had the pleasure to both attend and by putting on a show last year, participate in.

And next month, as part of The Hot Freaks music blogger collective, I’m excited to be a sponsor/partner/friend to the Noise Pop festival running from February 26 to March 2 in San Francisco. Celebrating its 16th year, Noise Pop has generally marked the start of the festival season with many bands kicking off tours of the west/southwestern US there en route to SxSW a couple of weeks later. Though they may not boast the same overall quantity of acts as some fests, the level of quality is always high and this year’s no different with the centrepieces being a two-night stand from The Magnetic Fields and three shows from The Mountain Goats, as well as the first live show from She & Him and appearances from such acts British Sea Power, The Walkmen, The Gutter Twins and A Place To Bury Strangers (who ably represent the “noise” part of the equation) and Minipop, Tilly & The Wall and The Rosebuds to handle the “pop”.

On top of this, there are film and art components which will include a screening of director Vincent Moon’s film about The National (from whence these performances come), A Skin, A Night, an art installation from Yoko Ono and an exhibition of rare Elliott Smith photographs from Autumn de Wilde’s book on the late singer. Sadly, I’m only going to be able to attend a couple days of the affair – stupid real life getting in the way of my fun – but am really looking forward not only to seeing as many of the performances as I can, but to visit San Francisco again – I haven’t been there in some sixteen years, which is really far too long.

And in perfect timing with this, we have the new video from The Mountain Goats’ forthcoming Heretic Pride, out February 19. As you can see in the wonderful clip, which allows you to sing along without having to follow the bouncing ball, the Goats are now officially a three-piece with Superchunk stickman Jon Wurster in the fold. But those fearing that this will upset the delicate Goats balance need not worry – Heretic Pride is no rock monolith, though relative to Get Lonely it’s decidedly more lively and the drums are part of that. No, to my ears the arrangements are bigger in exactly the right places and right amounts and the record marks the next logical step in the evolution of the Mountain Goats sound, since Tallahassee, at least.

Video: The Mountain Goats – “Sax Rohmer #1”

Exclaim! discusses Distortion with The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt.

From the dormant Field Music comes School Of Language and from School Of Language comes a new record entitled Sea From Shore, out February 5, and a show at Sneaky Dee’s on March 12.

MP3: School Of Language – “Rockist, Part 1”
Stream: School Of Language / Sea From Shore

And from their Sunderland, England cohorts in The Futureheads comes a new video and a third album due out in May. And an interview with Ross Millard by The Chorley Citizen.

Video: The Futureheads – “The Beginning Of The Twist”

The Von Pip Musical Express lands an interview with Miki Berenyi, formerly of Lush, and is told (again) to not hold one’s breath for a reunion. They also talk to a few of her recent and rare collaborators.

Patrick Wolf has updated all his MySpace friends on going-ons in Patrick Wolf-land, namely prepping a new live DVD and working on his next album.

Decemberist Colin Meloy chats with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

PopMatters has a long inteview with The Drive-By Truckers, Exclaim! a short one. The Truckers are at the Opera House on March 19.

Bradley’s Almanac is offering up live recordings of the all-star benefit concert for Callum Robbins, son of Jawbox’s J. Robbins. Head over for the recordings and full details on the reasons for the benefit and ways to donate.

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

From Here To Eternity

I’m not quite old enough to have lived through The Clash – I mean I did, but at the time they didn’t mean anything my 7-year old self – but even discovering them properly as I did some 15 years after their dissolution, it was obvious how powerful their music is and why you could argue the epithet, “the only band that matters”, still applies today. But I was never a Clash fanatic and so it’s just as well you don’t need to be to appreciate Julien Temple’s new documentary on the band’s late frontman, Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten.

Opening locally this Friday, it’s a fairly straight biopic tracking John Mellor’s life from his childhood through to becoming Joe Strummer and musical journey until his untimely death in 2002 of a heart attack. Opening powerfully with footage of a young Strummer tracking vocals for “White Riot”, Temple attempts to deviate from the standard video clip/talking head format by interspersing footage from films such as Animal Farm to illustrate the political climate in which Strummer grew up and also eschews adding the names of the onscreen interviewees as they relate stories about the man and his life. Sadly, neither of these devices helps the film at all. The former is both unnecessary and patronizing – the audience understands what fascism is without needing animated pigs to explain it – and the latter is just unhelpful. Except for the obvious appearances from the likes of Bono, Johnny Depp and Steve Buscemi, it’s frustrating to not be able to place an individual’s reminiscences into the context of who the hell they are. I can appreciate how the tactic was probably intended to level the playing field, to show that Martin Scorcese’s thoughts weren’t any more important than Joe’s old squatmate’s, but there’s something wrong when I couldn’t be sure that I was looking at Clash drummer Topper Headon until nearly halfway through the film.

Those complaints, however, are minor relative to the film’s strengths, which lay simply with the subject matter. Joe Strummer was like a force of nature whether fronting his first rockabilly outfit The 101’ers, cementing his place in rock’n’roll history with The Clash or his late-life creative resurgence with The Mescaleros (whom I had the privilege of seeing at the Warehouse in Toronto way back in November of 1999) and Unwritten successfully captures that energy. And frustrating anonymity notwithstanding, the testimonials from friends, associates and followers which were shot around Strummer’s beloved campfires under the Brooklyn Bridge and on the banks of the Thames are genuinely moving and enlightening. The man’s flaws aren’t glossed over – blame for The Clash’s dissolution are laid pretty much squarely on him and his departure from and disavowal of the 101’ers and his lifestyle during that time is recounted in all its ruthlessness.

But the overwhelming emotional content of the film is of affection and joy for Strummer, both the man and his music. And while it’s beyond understatement to say that he died far too early, at least there now exists a document and tribute as fitting as this one. Recommended for anyone who was a fan of The Clash, Strummer or just appreciates musical passion.

Trailer: Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten
Video: Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros – “Coma Girl”
Video: Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros – “Johnny Appleseed”
Video: The Clash – “London Calling”

As for Strummer’s co-conspirator in The Clash, Mick Jones has a new band called Carbon/Silicon and they released an album called Last Post last year. See and hear below.

MP3: Carbon/Silicon – “What The Fuck”
Video: Carbon/Silicon – “The News”

Bob Mould’s District Line is in stores next week and he’s at the Mod Club on March 10. Harp and Spin talk to the man about the new record.

It takes a lot to get me to go to a show at the Molson Amphitheatre, but June 8’s bill of R.E.M., Modest Mouse and The National could well be enough. I’m intending on catching them at Stubbs’ on March 12 on the opening eve of SxSW so even though Accelerate isn’t out till April 1, I should know if this talk of them bringing back the rock – and we’re talking Life’s Rich Pageant-ry, not more Monster-osities – is for real or not. Billboard has full tour dates, Goldenfiddle has the artwork.

Dean Wareham sits down and shuffles music with The AV Club. Dean & Britta are at the Mod Club February 9.

Some good news/bad news for Neil Young fans who’ve been waiting patiently for the release of Archives for the past two decades or so – the good news is that the project hasn’t been abandoned and is still marching along at a snail’s pace (okay, that’s not really news). The bad news is that it won’t be released on CD – they’ve opted to put it out only in DVD and Blu-Ray formats. It’s not clear from the Billboard piece if that means two different-quality formats – standard DVD-Audio and high-capacity Blu-Ray – or HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, nuts to the regular ol’ DVD. Surely more details will be forthcoming before the now-projected October release date. Well look at it this way – all the old Rusties out there now have an excuse to go and get a PlayStation 3.

And finally, anyone planning on going to the Sonic Boom in-store at Sonic Boom this weekend, be advised it’s been moved from 5PM on Sunday the 3rd to 7PM on Monday, February 4. The Saturday night show at the Silver Dollar is unchanged.

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Ghost Under Rocks

So the sabbatical I’ve been taking from seeing live music for the past few weeks has evidently done me a world of good because not only was my narcolepsy under control before heading into Saturday night’s triple-bill at the El Mocambo, but I was actually eager to get out and see some bands play. And the lineup that was going to ease me back into things was a varied one. You had the headliners – Syracuse’s Ra Ra Riot – whom I covered last week, Toronto’s own The Coast, whom I’ve covered many times before, and from New York City The Virgins – whom I’d never heard of before this show.

But just because they were a blank slate to me, it was obvious right away that they weren’t unknowns as the front of the stage was packed with showgoers ignoring the proud Toronto tradition of standing at least 10 feet back during opening acts. And when the four piece got started, they broke another hallowed Toronto custom – and danced. Which is good, because it was pretty obvious that The Virgins’ manifesto is to get the pretty girls to dance, and there’s nothing wrong with that. With an air of insousciant cool that was pure NYC, the played a sort of post-Strokes-y, Velvets-y guitar rock with a healthy dose of groove that got the crowd moving early and when their half-hour set wrapped up with the unabashed disco of “Rich Girls”, the crowd up front either dispersed to other partying venues or swarmed the band for photos and autographs (and then dispersed to other partying venues). Apparently these guys already have quite the following.

And with that crowd cleared out, an almost completely new one swarmed the front of the stage for local boys The Coast. They’d been relatively quiet during the latter part of 2007 what with working on their debut full-length but with that in the can and set for release on April 1 (Expatriate – ask for it by name), the band is looking to deliver on the promise of their self-titled EP from a couple years ago and if this performance was any bellwether, they’re ready. I’d seen them a number of times before but not in over a year and in that time, they’ve certainly grown as a band. Actually, in the past their perfectly show suited the sustained, melancholic mood of the EP but as the new material – of which the set almost completely consisted of – is more diverse and energetic, it makes sense that the band’s performance would follow… or maybe it’s the other way around. Whatever the case, they impressed me all over again and I’ll happily join the chorus of those calling for 2008 to be a breakout year for The Coast.

When The Coast were done, the front of the stage once again cleared out – I’ve never seen a turnover like that at a show before – but was pretty much full when the headliners came out, which is good because it’d have been a bit awkward otherwise (“yeah, the mostly full house? Not here to see you. Sorry”) and for those of us lucky enough to be up front, we got a faceful one of the most energetic live shows I’ve seen in recent memory (and that’s not just relative to the very few shows I’ve seen lately). Usually when someone says a band is really high-energy, they mean that there’s one or two extroverts who’re the centre of attention while the rest of the band sits back, does their thing and ponders the cold cuts awaiting them backstage. Not so, Ra Ra Riot. With them, everyone is a dervish onstage, dancing and playing and just exhibiting such pure joy at being up there and playing music with each other (okay, drummer Cameron Wisch is kind of anchored but you know that if he could, he’d be all over the place as well). It really was something to see. Led by the hyper-animated Wesley Miles on vocals and occasional keys, the band tore through most everything on their self-titled EP as well as a smattering of new material, though not as much as I’d expected considering that their debut full-length is already done, and a Kate Bush cover they’d done at their Daytrotter session last year. As a result, their set was over in a lightning-quick 35 minutes – far too short for as much fun as I was having – but given the response they got, when the album drops later this Spring, I’m sure they’ll be back.

Photos: Ra Ra Riot, The Coast, The Virgins @ The El Mocambo – January 26, 2008
MP3: Ra Ra Riot – “Each Year”
MP3: Ra Ra Riot – “St Peter’s Day Festival” (Daytrotter Session)
MP3: Ra Ra Riot – “Each Year” (Daytrotter Session)
MP3: Ra Ra Riot – “Suspended In Gaffa” (Daytrotter Session)
MP3: Ra Ra Riot – “Dying Is Fine” (Daytrotter Session)
MP3: The Coast – “Circles”
MP3: The Coast – “The Lines Are Cut”
Video: Ra Ra Riot – “Dying Is Fine”
MySpace: Ra Ra Riot
MySpace: The Coast
MySpace: The Virgins

Thanks to Jack in the comments for pointing out the other day that No Rock & Roll Fun had themselves a Ride weekend, searching out and embedding various YouTube clips from the band – live and promo – and generally waxing nostalgic. Oh, Ride, why do you have to be so noble? Just cash in and do the reunion for the money. And do it in London sometime between May 20 and 24 of this year. And save me a ticket.

Pitchfork reports that Mogwai will celebrate the tenth anniversary of their debut Young Team with a deluxe reissue set sometime in April, complete with requisite remastering, liner notes and bonus tracks. Hey, maybe the 43-minute version of “Mogwai Fear Satan” will finally see the light of day. Back in the present, work continues on their next album with recording slated to wrap up next month, mixing in March, a release sometime in the Summer/Fall and gobs of touring to follow.

The Scotsman profiles The Twilight Sad, who wish to never be called “Highland emo” again.

Drowned In Sound talks to the principles of Pin Me Down, half of whom are Russell Lissack of Bloc Party. BlogParty talks to the other half, NYC singer/guitarist Milena Mepris. How’s it sound? Like a danced-up, female-fronted Bloc Party which, at first blush, works for me. Samples at their MySpace. First single out in March.

MySpace: Pin Me Down

Drowned In Sound, The Scotsman and Harp converse with Dev Hynes of Lightspeed Champion, in town March 4 at the Horseshoe in a 2-piece configuration – Hynes on acoustic guitar, guy from Hope Of The States on violin.

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

CONTEST – Zaki Ibrahim @ The Mod Club – January 29. 2008

It’s hard to believe that there was a time when being compared to Amy Winehouse could be considered complimentary, but NOW meant it in the best possible way when they compared this week’s cover girl, Toronto soul singer Zaki Ibrahim to the troubled British diva. Even so, I don’t necessarily hear it – where Winehouse trades in deliberately modern-retro soul, Ibrahim has got more of a contemporarily urban R&B, hip-hop thing going on. But if Winehouse-scale success is in the cards – preferably without the substance abuse problems or terrible dye jobs – I’m sure she’ll take the comparisons.

Ibrahim is playing the Mod Club this Tuesday night, January 29, and courtesy of REMG I’ve got two pairs of passes to give away to the show. To enter, send me an email at contests AT with “I want to see Zaki Ibrahim” in the subject line and your full name in the body and do it before 5PM tomorrow, Monday 28. Grok the poster for the show here.

MySpace: Zaki Ibrahim