Archive for April, 2008

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Blessing In Disguise

Photo via Gary Isaacs

I have mixed feelings about soundtracks. More specifically, about the phenomenon when a perfectly good and respectable band is taken from their organic, upward trajectory on which they were fueled by simply making good records, and launched into a whole new orbit thanks to having a song featured in some film at the cost of being henceforth known as “the band with that song from that movie”.

Okay, in the case of Denver’s DeVotchKa that’s not wholly the case – they didn’t just have a song in the indie comedy Little Miss Sunshine, they scored the film. And while I wouldn’t have thought that their fusion of Gypsy, mariachi and western stylings would have been the most obvious musical accompaniment for a film about a dysfunctional family taking a road trip to a children’s beauty pageant, they definitely gave it a distinctive flavour. So when the film became a breakout hit and Oscar nominee, DeVotchKa’s profile was increased accordingly.

At the time this all started to go down, they were two years removed from their excellent How It Ends and just releasing their Curse Your Little Heart covers EP, so it’s difficult to say how far along they were in writing their next record or what sort of effect that the Sunshine success (and pressure) had on their creative process but after carefully considering A Mad And Faithful Telling, the answer is evidently “not much at all”.

Mind you, it’s probably impossible for DeVotchKa to sound like anything but DeVotchKa. Not without ditching the sousaphone, accordion, horns and strings, pouring copious amounts of red wine down the drain and flattening Nick Urata’s pompadour (the source of his powers). And really, why would you want to? Like its predecessor, Telling is a drunk, dizzying and romantic romp through the music of the world without ever sounding like world music. It’s a touch less grandiose in scope, less over the top but what it loses in spectacle it gains in focus and songwriting. Where Ends was all about the cinematic sweep from start to finish, the compositions that make up Telling are better able to stand on their own. Episodic, rather than epic.

It’s a record that’s strong enough that I’d like to think that, had Little Miss Sunshine not happened, would still have managed to find the audience it deserves but that probably presumes a little too much justice in the world. So, instead, I will accept that people will come to DeVotchKa thinking that they’re “the band with that song from that movie” but am confident they’ll walk away thinking of them as, “the band that just made me fall in love and broke my heart in the span of three minutes”.

DeVotchKa has just kicked off their North American tour which, sadly, bypasses Toronto this go-around. But they’ve got some local flavour with them in the form of opener Basia Bulat and with an appearance set for August 3 in Montreal at the Osheaga festival, I can only hope a local date is in the offing for around then.

MP3: DeVotchKa – “Transliterator”
MP3: DeVotchKa – “Along The Way”
MySpace: DeVotchKa

And it’s fitting that I mentioned DeVotchKa, justice and festivals in the preceding couple paragraphs because DeVotchKa have just been announced as headliners of the Monolith Festival, taking place September 13 and 14 at Red Rocks in Denver, alongside Justice. DeVotchKa will close the Saturday, Justice the Sunday, and they’ll be joined by acts such as TV On The Radio, Neko Case, Band Of Horses, Vampire Weekend and scads of others across five stages in a ridiculously beautiful setting. And the reason I’m singling out this festival announcement amongst the dozens of others littering my RSS reader is that Monolith helped sponsor this year’s Hot Freaks party at SxSW and in return, we helped out with their lineup, offering suggestions, critiques and the occasional “ZOMG THEY’RE THE BEST BAND EVER”. I think it all turned out alright.

And a little closer to home, Exclaim has assembled their annual festival guide, your definitive resource to standing in a field all across Canada.

Super-exciting news – not only will there be a new Radio Dept release this Summer in the form of the Freddie & The Trojan Horse EP, set for released on June 4, but Pitchfork already has the title track from the single available to download and swoon over. While I was initially disappointed in Pet Grief, I’ve since grown to appreciate its glacial beauty. That said, this new song has some more of the kick that made Lesser Matters such a joy. The full-length is due in September. I am stoked.

MP3: The Radio Dept – “Freddie & The Trojan Horse”

The Jealous Girlfriends’ new self-titled record is currently streaming at Spinner. Catch them June 3 at the El Mocambo. And the “Class of 2007” feature in The L Magazine wherein I first discovered the band has been followed up with “The Class of 2008”, their picks for the NYC bands set to break out this year.

Stream: The Jealous Girlfriends / The Jealous Girlfriends

The New York Post talks to Feist and Pitchfork has the video from her appearance and performance the other night on The Colbert Report. Feist plays the Sony Centre on May 13 and the Air Canada Centre on November 3.

Thick Specs gets guest columnist Jay Ferguson of Sloan to talk about the resurrection of murderecords, the label on which they will release Parallel Play on June 10.

Speaking of labels, Drowned In Sound reports that the Beggars Group has gotten a little more compacted, with the Beggars Banquet and Too Pure imprints being rolled into the 4AD which makes labelmates of the likes of The National, The Mountain Goats and Stereolab, who will release their new album Chemical Chords on August 19 (bearing the 4AD logo). Pitchfork talked to Tim Gane about the new record and there’s already a preview MP3 available to download.

MP3: Stereolab – “Three Women”

Also in the Beggars family but in the Rough Trade division are The Long Blondes. They’ve got a new video from Couples and will be at Lee’s Palace on May 22.

Video: The Long Blondes – “Guilt”

This past weekend I caught one of my most-looked forward to movies of the year this weekend in Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay – and it was as smart, dumb, crude, outrageous and offensive as I could have hoped. And it featured a song by another artist appearing at the Monolith Festival – Mickey Avalon – that I was obsessed with for, well, about the duration that it was playing in the film. And yeah, it gets less funny with each listen but that first time? Whoo.

Trailer: Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay
Video: Mickey Avalon – “My Dick”

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Hard Feelings

Photo by Dustin Rabin

So, a couple confessions that could well see me exiled from the Greater Toronto Area… One, I have never seen The Constantines’ legendary live show before. I almost tried once, but there was a storm or something, or it was cold. Two, I’ve never listened to a Constantines album before their latest, Kensington Heights, which has been out in Canada for a couple weeks but only gets its US releast today. Whew. It actually feels good to get that off my chest.

There’s no particular reason our paths haven’t crossed until now – it’s not like I wasn’t aware of them, living in Toronto it’s not really possible to not be aware of the local heroes (though I believe a couple members have now moved away from the city) and I’ve heard a few of the side projects – Steve Lambke’s Baby Eagle, Will Kidman’s Woolly Leaves and even their Neil Young cover incarnation as Horsey Craze – but never the Cons proper.

And so now, with the acquaintance made, what have I been missing out on? In a word, rock. Intense, impassioned rock that I’m pretty sure made my speakers sweat. Bry Webb’s vocals are usually described in degrees of Springsteen, and that’s apt, but I also hear no small amount of Greg Dulli in there as well albeit a bit less greasy. The Cons are incredibly tight, rhythmically unrelenting and propulsive, and the keyboards riff as hard as the guitars, but what impresses me the most is that even though this is the first album of theirs I’ve heard, I can hear the band’s consistency. They know what they do, they do it well and as such don’t sound like they feel they’ve anything to prove. Don’t interpret that as my saying they sound complacent – no, instead they sound utterly confident.

The band are currently on the road and hit the Phoenix in Toronto on May 1. I’m going to have to wait at least until their appearance at the first day of V Fest to experience them live but courtesy of Against The Grain, you can be at the Phoenix on Thursday to give the Cons a hometown welcome. I’ve got two pairs of passes to give away and if you want them, email me at contests AT with “I want to see The Constantines” in the subject line and your full name in the body before midnight, tonight.

And cruising the media circuit, check out Constantine interviews at QRO, Exclaim!, JAM, The London Free Press and Express.

MP3: The Constantines – “Hard Feelings”
Video: The Constantines – “Hard Feelings”
MySpace: The Constantines

So NXNE is still about a month and a half away and while there’s no whiff of an official lineup or schedule announcement yet, some of the bigger names in town the weekend of June 12 through 14 have been trickling out. You already know about These New Puritans and French Kicks at the Reverb and The Young Knives at the Horseshoe on the 12th as well as Swervedriver and The Besnard Lakes at Lee’s on the 13th, but you can now add in Beastie Boys affiliate Money Mark to the Horseshoe lineup on the 12th, Lemonhead alone Evan Dando at the ‘Shoe on the 13th (hopefully he doesn’t cancel the way he did most of his SxSW shows) and on the 14th at Lee’s Palace… Redd Kross. The only record of theirs I know is Phaseshifter, but it’s a plum. A madcap, power-glam popping, sugar-blasting plum.

Video: Redd Kross – “Jimmy’s Fantasy”

And if you’re of an age and demographic that the Redd Kross announcement gets you excited, may I point you to this Aversion piece about a three-disc tribute to The Posies… though I gotta say – the only two names I recognize on that track listing are, um, Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer.

Back to show announcements – that Frog Eyes and Evangelicals gig at the Horseshoe on June 23 just got infinitely more interesting with the addition of Shearwater to the bill – this triple bill will hit a half-dozen east coast stops. Now this was supposed to be Shearwater’s first headlining tour in support of Rook, out June 3, but I’m not sure how the billing for this show will end up shaking out. I just want to see Shearwater play a full, non-opening/non-festival set which, for all the times I’ve seen them, I’ve never experienced. But if you want to see one of those as well, remember they’re still here in a couple weeks on May 11 opening for Clinic at Lee’s Palace.

Ohbijou have a date at Harbourfront Centre on June 28 – presumably a Canada Day festivity of some sort? The band will also be making their New York City debut next week with shows at the Knitting Factory on the 8th and Union Hall on the 9th – Noo Yawkers, go say hello – and hope to have a new album ready for the Fall.

And looking way ahead, October 1 will bring the inimitable Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds to the Kool Haus as part of a tour in support of Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!, thus far the best-reviewed record of the year. The List hangs out with Cave, asks some questions.

MP3: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Bring It On”
MP3: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – “Dig, Lazarus Dig!!!”

PitchforkTV invites Okkervil River to play a song on their New York City rooftop. Okkervil obliges.

Video: Okkervil River – “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe” (live in NYC)

Exclaim talks to Chloe from Smoosh, in town this Friday, opening the first of two nights at the Opera House for Tokyo Police Club and also playing an in-store at Sonic Boom on Friday, May 2, starting at 6PM 7PM.

And finally, Death Cab For Cutie previewed some of their new album Narrow Stairs, out May 13, in a Daytrotter session alongside some older songs. There’s also a new video from the album and they’ll be in town on June 7 headlining the mini-festival on Olympic Island alongside Stars. The Chicago Tribune and Seattle Times chat with the band.

Video: Death Cab For Cutie – “I Will Possess Your Heart”

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Don't Bother Me

Photo by Frank Yang

Most people, before they head out on a Friday night on the town, get primed by drinking at home, maybe at a friend’s place Me? I nap. Yeah, insert three-finger devil salute here. What can I say, the work week is tiring and I’m not such a young man anymore. Anyway, that’s why I missed the first two bands at the Horseshoe on Friday night – Young Rival and Songs From A Room – and our evening begins in media res.

I caught the tail end of a Foxfire performance back in 2006, when they were still known as Foxfire Forest, and they made enough of an impression that I remembered seeing them even a year and a half later. What I remembered from the little I saw was that their lineup was immense in that way that Toronto bands frequently are and also very costumed, but also that for all the zany stage show they were also obviously very good musically. So I was sure to time my nap such that I was able to get to the ‘Shoe in time to see them do a whole set.

And sometimes first impressions are correct – Foxfire definitely have something going on, with two charismatic frontpersons, a tight band and a high energy live show. Musically they seek inspiration from when ’70s became ’80s, all disco danciness and new waving, but run it through some high camp theatrics – think Queen, Meatloaf, Rocky Horror Picture Show. Which is all well and good, it was certainly entertaining and the crowd was totally into it, but if you happened to actually listen to the lyrics they came across as distinctly sophomoric, like something you might read on a high school restroom wall. This isn’t to say that I would expect grand poetry or profundity from someone drenched in fake blood, but assembling the talent that they have to deliver dick jokes did strike me as a bit of a waste.

The Blakes, on the other hand, dwelled at almost the polar opposite end of the musical spectrum. The Seattle power trio had no use for costumes, just rock’n’roll. In re-reading my review of their self-titled debut, I’m at a loss to describe things any better than I did then. The Strokes if they hailed from Seattle? Accurate, but also insufficient. The Blakes’ sound is as lean as it is decadent and decidedly fierce in a live setting. Extensive touring may have addled their brains a bit – at one point, frontman Garnet Keim thanked the crowd and said we were a much better audience than Toronto – but the dividends its paid in terms of tightness can’t be denied. What else can I say? They delivered 40 minutes of unadulterated rock that actually made me glad I was there instead of home in bed. No mean feat.

BlogTO chatted with Foxfire about their shifting identity and musical manifesto.

Photos: The Blakes, Foxfire @ The Horseshoe – April 25, 2008
MP3: The Blakes – “Pistol Grip”
MP3: The Blakes – “Don’t Bother Me”

Paste reports on a couple of forthcoming Husker Du releases covering the very early days of the band – First Strike this Summer, collecting some demos from the band circa 1979 and later on, some Land Speed Record-era live material.

The Times gets to know Nicole Atkins, who is currently on tour in Europe. Which is why Lydverket has this terrific video of her singing “The Way It Is” in the streets of Oslo (via Music Snobbery).

Video: Nicole Atkins – “The Way It Is” (live in Oslo)

NPR has an interview with Portishead’s Adrian Utley. The band made their long-awaited live return this weekend at Coachella and their new record Third is out tomorrow.

Coachella also featured a performance from The Verve, though the AP and NME both drop the ball by calling it the band’s first American show in a decade – after all, they played in San Francisco just two nights previous and Waves & Wire has the audio evidence available to download. Gotta say, from those recordings the band sounds great – I’m getting increasingly stoked for Thursday night’s show at the Ricoh Coliseum, for which congratulations go to Kevin, who won my contest for passes to the show. And Spin just declared them their band of the day. How nice for them.

MP3: The Verve – “Lucky Man”

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Sunday Cleaning – Volume 88

This week – previewing some acts in town this week to play the Over The Top Fest.

Simply Saucer / Half Human Half Live (Sonic Unyon)

Originally active in the 1970s and then relegated to the dusty annals of Canadian punk rock history, Hamilton’s Simply Saucer have resurfaced in recent years and been both collecting and delivering on their legend, most recently with their first, almost-proper album in Half Human Half Live. As the name implies, it’s 50% studio cuts – recordings of songs written over 25 years ago but never committed to tape – and 50% live recordings culled from their recent reunion. And it’s a fascinating melange of styles that could only have happened, un-self consciously, in the ’70s. Surf-inflected instrumentals give way to Television-esque prog excursions at one turn, Floyd-ish psych-folk the next, all built on a simple but solid bed of ’50s, garage-bred rock’n’roll. And while the back story is fascinating, even without it, if this were just a new band coming up today, it’d be a noteworthy record. It’s hard not to listen to this and wonder, if these songs had reached the world’s ears two and a half decades ago, what kind of impact they’d have had. I suspect it’d have been immense.

For more on the band and the reunion, check out features from Chart, The Telegraph Journal, The Hamilton Spectator and View. Simply Saucer are at St. Stephen-in-the Fields Church on Saturday, May 3.

MP3: Simply Saucer – “Exit Plexit”
MP3: Simply Saucer – “Almost Ready Betty”
Stream: Simply Saucer / Half Human Half Live
MySpace: Simply Saucer

Wye Oak / If Children (Merge)

I welcomed my first taste of Baltimore’s Wye Oak, nee Monarch, with such great enthusiasm that is was probably inevitable that their debut album would be something of a let down. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why, though. The record still blends fuzz-lined dream-pop with downbeat country-isms and well-matched co-ed vocals and at their best – the pop blast of “Warning” and the sombre, string-accented “Family Glue” are standouts – recall Yo La Tengo’s finest moments. Across the whole record, however, there’s something that doesn’t quite hit the mark. The overall experience feels just a bit too languid, too soft around the edges to really grab me by the lapels and shake. But factor in the duo’s tender ages, their obvious talent and are working with a musical forumla that to these ears at least, should yield gold soon enough.

Wye Oak are at Sneaky Dee’s on Friday, May 2.

MP3: Wye Oak – “Warning”
MP3: Wye Oak – “I Don’t Feel Young”
Stream: Wye Oak / If Children
MySpace: Wye Oak

Woodhands / Heart Attack (Paper Bag)

Woodhands are here to make you dance, and they will not take no for an answer. The Toronto duo engage this mission with a missionary zeal, and by working heavily with live drums and analog synth tones are able to get right in your face, sonically speaking. Singer-keyboardist Dan Werb is far from your typical electro-soul smooth operator, though. Though the record is bookended with guest appearances from female vocalists that sweeten things up, the bulk of the record is built around his tightly-wound, shredded-vocal delivery he sounds more like he’s got some sort of anxiety disorder rather than a sexy fever, but one where the side-effects are booty shaking.

Beatroute, JAM and BlogTO have all recently run features on Woodhands, who are at Sneaky Dee’s on Thursday, May 1.

MP3: Woodhands – “I Wasn’t Made For Fighting”
MP3: Woodhands – “Dancer”
MySpace: Woodhands

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Welcome To The Night Sky

Photo by Scott Munn

I spent a goodly number of weekends last Summer (okay, three) traversing the Ontario highway system to take in some of the region’s music festivals, as well as make good on my resolution to get the hell out of the city once in a while.

I’m not sure I’m up to doing all that again this year. There’s the matter of fuel costs, car rentals and whatnot being somewhat more prohibitive than they were last year but it’s still fun to see who’s playing what. The first wave of bands for Hillside were announced earlier this week and now I’ve got the list of acts playing this year’s edition of the Wolfe Island Music Fest, a gloriously laid back (and dusty) event that takes place on one of the Thousand Islands just off shore from Kingston, Ontario.

Things begin the evening of August 8 in town, with The Handsome Furs and locals Magic Jordan at the General Wolfe Hotel while the annual kick-off Town Hall Hootenanny Revue will be hosted by Carolyn Mark and a gaggle of guests. The main event goes down on the Saturday starting at 1PM and the lineup will be headlined by Halifax’s Wintersleep, Cadence Weapon, Land Of Talk, Jason Collett, Plants & Animals, Tony Scherr, The Acorn, The D’Urbervilles, Music Maul and P.S. I Love You.

I don’t really know the headliners – they’re an act that has managed to become pretty damn big in this country without me ever having really heard them – but a lot of the rest of the bill certainly comes with a built-in, me-seal-of-approval. Ticket info will be forthcoming shortly, but anyone looking to set up a road trip this Summer could certainly find a worse destination.

MP3: Wintersleep – “Jaws Of Life”
MP3: Cadence Weapon – “Real Estate”
MP3: Land Of Talk – “Speak To Me Bones”
MP3: Jason Collett – “Out Of Time”
MP3: Plants & Animals – “Faerie Dance”
MP3: The Acorn – “The Flood, Pt 1”
MP3: The D’Urbervilles – “Hot Tips”
MP3: Music Maul – “Oilcan Dream”
MP3: Handsome Furs = “What We Had”
MP3: Carolyn Mark – “The 1 That Got Away With It”

The headliners from last year’s festival, Wolf Parade, are back on the road this Summer in support of their new album which may or may not be called Kissing The Beehive but will be out June 17. Their Toronto date is August 9 at the Kool Haus and tickets are $22.50. Update: Pitchfork reports the new album title is At Mount Zoomer.

There’s more in-store goodness coming our way when Aimee Mann stops in at the Sonic Boom rec room on May 9 at 6:30 to preview songs from her new record @#%&! Smilers, out June 3. And for those who can’t make it or just dislike intimate performances, she’ll return on August 28 for a show at the Kool Haus.

MP3: Aimee Mann – “Thirty One Today”

Atmosphere, who had to cancel Thursday night’s gig because of immigration issues, have rescheduled that show for May 28 at the Opera House.

Those who like it loud will be pleased to hear Boris, Torche and Wolves In The Throne Room will be at Lee’s Palace on July 14, tickets $15. I don’t know that last band at all, but judging from the company they keep, I’m guessing they’re heavy.

After an absence of who knows how many years, Stephen Malkmus and his Jicks will be back in Toronto, Real Emotional Trash in tow, for a show at the Phoenix on July 16. Tickets $20 in advance. interviews The National. They’re at the Molson Amphitheatre on June 8 opening for R.E.M. and will release the A Skin, A Night documentary film on DVD come May 20.

Adele, in town at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on July 10, has recorded a session for Spinner’s Interface. 19 is out June 10.

Many thanks to Pete Ohs and The Projectmill for assembling this terrific video of the first day of Hot Freaks! at SxSW last month. Man, brings back memories. Which reminds me, I need to book my flight for 2009. What, you don’t book your trips 10 months in advance?