Archive for May, 2009

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

Belle & Sebastian cover Elvis Costello & The Attractions

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangIt’s almost laughable how Belle & Sebastian spent the first part of its career shrouded in mystery and eschewing live performance because as anyone who’s ever seen the Scots onstage can attest, they are no wallflowers. Both Stuart Murdoch and Stevie Jackson are fine frontmen, charismatic in their own ways and perfect foils for one another and they’re a very tight and polished musical group, prone to spontaneous covers that, for how off the cuff they seem to be, generally come off much better than they should.

I recall their 2003 Toronto show at Massey Hall where during a break between songs, an audience member called out a request for the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” and rather than shrug it off, they actually started to jam it out and before you knew it, they were covering it and doing it pretty dam well. I can imagine that’s how this Elvis Costello cover came about, considering how initially hesitant they are going into it but then pulling it off with goofy gusto.

With B&S on indefinite hiatus, Stuart Murdoch will be releasing the album from his God Help The Girl project on June 23 and while B&S fans will no doubt find much to enjoy in it, it doesn’t quite manage to fill that Belle & Sebastian-shaped hole in this indie kid’s soul. Elvis Costello, on the other hand, never really goes away even when he says he’s going away. He releases his second album in as many years this week with Secret, Profane & Sugarcane and will play Massey Hall on August 28. I will bet that if someone calls out a request for, “I Want You Back”, Declan will ignore it.

I miss Belle & Sebastian.

MP3: Belle & Sebastian – “Oliver’s Army”
Video: Elvis Costello & The Attractions – “Oliver’s Army”

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

CONTEST – Limited edition National t-shirt

Image via InsoundInsoundEarlier this week I talked about some of the downsides of The National’s increased popularity as it applied to the larger shows they’re now playing – the poorer sound and sightlines of the venues, the chattier, drunker punters there less for the music than to be seen – but forgot to mention another: increased merch prices. As I understand it, larger rooms like the Kool Haus take a cut of the merch sales so to maintain margins, the band has to raise the prices of their swag, which explains why a t-shirt I bought in 2007 at the Phoenix for $20 was now selling for $30.

But thanks to Insound, I’m pleased to be able to offer y’all a shot at a National t-shirt – for free. They’ve commissioned Soundscreen Design to design a series of t-shirts, hoodies and totes for nine indie rock acts and I’m pleased to be giving away a t-shirt for The National designed by Jay Ryan of The Bird Machine. It’s printed on high-quality, 100% organic cotton and of a limited edition, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to be the coolest kid on your block. To enter the contest, just follow the link and fill out the entry form – a winner will be announced on June 5.

Also check out the other designs in the series and perhaps fill out your Summer wardrobe.

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Forever Changes

'60s resurrection/reconstitution tours featuring Love and The Zombies come to Toronto

Photo via always seem to be talking about (relatively) new music hereabouts. Let’s talk about some old. A few acts with legendary names recently announced tours that are coming through town, but as is the case more often than not, the actual product bears some extra scrutiny.

First, you’ve got ’60s British pop giants The Zombies, who have a date at the Mod Club on July 15 – tickets $39.50. Though four of the five original members still survive – guitarist Paul Atkinson died in 2004 – and they’ve reunited for special shows in the UK in recent years, this touring outfit boasts just two original members. Those members are singer Colin Blunstone and pianist Rod Argent, though, so it’s probably reasonable to think that they’ll sound pretty damn good when running through their stone-cold yet still probably underappreciated classic tunes like “She’s Not There”, “Tell Her No”, “Care Of Cell 44” and “Time Of The Season”. I think The Zombies have toured through Ontario in the past, but usually well out of town at casino resorts and such – their playing a show in downtown Toronto could well draw a completely different but hopefully appreciative audience.

Slightly more questionable in the credentials department is the California ’66 Revue, which will be at Lee’s Palace a month later on August 14, tickets $25. That bill is topped by psych-rock forebears The Electric Prunes and also features Sky Saxon, who once fronted garage rockers The Seeds, but it’s the middle act that is simultaneously the most intriguing and most probably disappointing – Love.

When I was younger and was far more keen on amassing a more comprehensive musical education, I spent a lot of time with albums that had been acknowledged as “classics” but I think one of the only ones that I really, really grew to love beyond the historical context – and that includes from the Beatles and the Stones – was Love’s Forever Changes. It’s such a unique record, towering with ambition and somehow delivering on every promise – glorious both for its singles and as a single, unified artistic statement. With a number of reissues over the last few years, each with different bonus goodies, as well as a live CD/DVD set, one could argue that it’s no longer the criminally overlooked treasure it once was, but it’s also so good a record that you could also argue that it’s simply not possible for it to get the praise it actually deserves. I hold this record in that high esteem.

And so on one level, it’s exciting that Love is coming to town, but also problematic due to the fact that Love frontman and mastermind, Arthur Lee, died three years ago. The current outfit isn’t without some claim to the name – they boast guitarist Johnny Echols and drummer Michael Stuart-Ware, both of whom played on Forever Changes and are otherwise comprised of Baby Lemonade, who were Lee’s backing band in his later years while performing as Love with Arthur Lee but they also actually fired Lee in 2005, citing his unpredictable and unprofessional behaviour, and continued on as The Love Band. It later turned out that this was due, in part at least, to Lee’s battle with leukemia which he would eventually succumb to the following year.

The point of all this being that though they’re called Love, and have members of Love, and may even sound a helluva lot like Love (I don’t know who’s handling vocals), it’s just not Love. But that doesn’t mean it won’t be good, just not Love. And it makes me wistful about the show that Lee and the band had originally scheduled for Lee’s Palace back in 2002 but had to cancel on account of immigration issues – apparently Canada took exception to Lee’s criminal record for firearms offenses. That would have been something.

Video: The Zombies – “Time Of The Season”
Video: Love – “Alone Again Or” (live)
Video: The Electric Prunes – “”You Never Had It Better/I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)”
Video: The Seeds – “Can’t Seem To Make You Mine”

Blurt reports that in addition to the upcoming reissues of Big Star’s seminal Number One Record and Radio City albums – as a remastered single CD or individual LPs – on June 16, there’ll be a four-disc box set chock full of unreleased goodies due out September 15. Update: Pitchfork has box set details, including the title – Keep An Eye On The Sky.

Magnet plays over/under with Elvis Costello’s oeuvre, hoping to point out that Declan’s post-2000 output is worth your time. I wonder if that’ll apply to his new one, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, when it’s released next week. There’s an interview at The Wall Street Journal as well as a feature piece and The Irish Times also has a chat. Costello plays Massey Hall on August 28.

Jambase talks to Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. No, I don’t know when he’s coming back to town, stop asking me.

Exclaim puts Apostle Of Hustle on their cover, eye just gives them an inside story. They play the Music Gallery tonight and tomorrow night.

State, The Journal-Sentinel and Decider interview various Decemberists. They’re at the Kool Haus on August 3.

Aquarium Drunkard is offering a recent Neko Case session from CBC Radio 3 for download. Neko is at Massey Hall on July 14 with Jason Lytle as support. The Georgia Straight and Paste have interviews with the former Grandaddy frontman.

Pitchfork talks to Jason Molina of Magnolia Electric Co about their new album Josephine, due out July 21. The title track from said record is now available to download.

MP3: The Magnolia Electric Co – “Josephine”

See, and The Calgary Sun interview The Dears.

The whole of the star-studded Dark Was The Night benefit concert at Radio City Music Hall earlier this month is now available to stream at NPR.

Thursday, May 28th, 2009


Review of Phoenix's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and giveaway

Photo via GlassnoteGlassnoteSo ever since my indie-pop clubbing days – and we’re talking almost a decade ago now – there was a song that I thought was “Too Young” by Phoenix, and it informed my entire opinion of the band – namely that they were far too slick and catchy and melodic to be trusted. And that’s largely been the impression I’ve had through most of this century until just recently, so when I actually found the video for “Too Young” and realized that I had never heard this song before, well my reality changed just a bit on two counts. One, that to the best of my knowledge, I’d never actually heard Phoenix before their latest record and two, that I have no idea whatsoever what that song that’s been embedded in my head all these years actually is.

And that’s really funny because even though I went into Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix with fresh ears, though not realizing it, my impression of the just-released record from the French quartet was that it was far too slick and catchy and melodic to be trusted. I am, however, much less suspicious these days and so rather than back away cautiously from the perfectly-assembled pop package, I have happily embraced it. Wolfgang is the sort of record that makes you glad you’ve invested in a decent sound system – the production is absolutely meticulous without crossing the line into antiseptic. There’s not a stray sound or squeak, each palm-muted guitar strum and cymbal crash has the perfect decay so as to not disturb the frequencies of the one that follows and Thomas Mars’ vocals are pitch-perfect without any tell-tale autotune artifacts. It sounds perfect.

And usually this sort of sonic perfection would, as mentioned, get my spider-sense tingling – don’t ask me for what, I’m not that rational – but when coupled with tunes as intensely melodic as these, it’s like chocolate and peanut butter, assuming you like chocolate and don’t have a fatal nut allergy. Similarly, the lyrics may be nonsensical but the syllables fit the melodies so flawlessly that criticizing them for not having any deeper meaning seems declasse. After all, this band has just delivered a pure pop record the likes of which may not be topped this calendar year – solid, infectious and utterly danceable from start to finish (well, maybe not the “Love Like A Sunset” interludes, but everyone needs a breather). With that much going for it, who needs profundity?

Phoenix are set to launch a North American tour in a couple weeks and have a date set for June 15 in Toronto at the Phoenix, which is I believe their first local performance since the inaugural Virgin Festival in 2006. Courtesy of REMG and Universal Music Canada, I’ve got a pretty sweet prize pack to give away consisting of a pair of passes to said show and a copy of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix on vinyl. To enter, email me at contests AT with “I want Phoenix and Phoenix at the Phoenix” in the subject line and your full name and mailing address in the body, and have that in to me by midnight, June 9.

There’s interviews with band members at Paper and CCTV. Also, via Gorilla Vs Bear, there’s a band minisite wherein you can listen to streams of demo versions of Wolfgang tracks – the password is “concorde”, mais certainment.

Video: Phoenix – “1901”
Video: Phoenix – “Lisztomania”
Stream: Phoenix / Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
MySpace: Phoenix

Prefix reports that in conjunction with their now-underway North American tour, A Camp are releasing a digital EP of covers entitled Covers EP on June 9 via iTunes and June 16 via other digital outlets. If you’d ever wanted to hear Nina Persson sing Pink Floyd, your ship has come in. They’re at the Mod Club on June 1 and there’s interviews with the band at Windy City and amNY.

The lead track from The Radio Dept’s forthcoming “David” EP – out June 24 – is now available to download. It’s mellower than last year’s sample from Clinging To A Scheme, “Freddie & The Trojan Horse”, but offers a good counterpoint and perhaps stakes out the two ends of what album number might have to offer if and when it finally comes out, hopefully late Summer or early Fall.

MP3: The Radio Dept – “David”

Los Campesinos! drop hints about album number three, currently in progress, to Pitchfork.

Manic Street Preachers provide a track-by-track video annotation of their new record Journal For Plague Lovers to NMETV.

NOW and The Detroit Free Press speak to Doves, in town at the Kool Haus on June 1.

The first video from The Rumble Strips’ forthcoming Welcome To The Walk Alone, out July 13, is now out. Clash reports that the song was inspired by a mugging attempt on singer Charlie Waller.

Video: The Rumble Strips – “Not The Only Person”

Another “live session in an unusual setting” series has cropped up online, and Off The Beaten Tracks makes itself notable with an episode featuring Frightened Rabbit, complete with new song. Frightened Rabbit will be at the Horseshoe on July 22.

Tripwire asks five questions of Ladytron and take a set of the least flattering photos ever while they’re at it.

NME gets Jarvis Cocker to provide a song-by-song guide to Further Complications, while Billboard solicits a Q&A. A handful of North American tour dates have trickled out – don’t get excited, Toronto, we’re not amongst them – but what is interesting is that Jarv is slated to play the Virgin Festival in Vancouver on July 26, which confirms that a) the dates of Vancouver’s V edition are July 25 and 26 and b) their lineup is NOT being geared to the suck. Hopefully this augurs well for Toronto and if not, maybe a trip out west is in order. Also uncovered are the dates and venue of V Calgary, which will be August 8 and 9 at their Olympic Park. It’s all slowly coming together, people.

Ear Farm interviews The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart.

eye and Chart talk to Dog Day, who are playing a CD release show for Concentration at Lee’s Palace tonight.

Under The Radar talks to Andrew Kenny of The Wooden Birds.

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

In Spades

Review of Key Witness' Seven Across The Sea

Photo via MySpaceMySpaceIt takes a lot to get me past my aversion to slap bass. I have no fondness for the technique, in fact it’s pretty much anathema to me – so it’s no small thing when I say that on Seven Across the Sea, the second album from Toronto’s Key Witness, it works. The lead track, “Brother John”, kicks off with a pretty intense slap attack before segueing into a barnstorming country rock number, and that approach – the melding of seemingly incongruous styles onto a raw, roots-rock core – is what makes Key Witness unique.

In theory, what makes roots-inflected music such is a no frills approach, but Key Witness’ creative restlessness never compromises the underlying simplicity of it all. Even when shifting from genre to genre within each song – at various points throughout the record, atmospheric, prog, funk, post and chamber are all appropriate descriptors – things remain impressively focused, anchored by J.M. McNabb’s authentically hoary rasp, the band’s taut musical prowess and their rollicking yet hook-laden songwriting.

There’s never the sense of experimentation for experimentation’s sake – Sea may take an unexpected route to get where they’re going, but considering the intense and frequently exhilarating record that results, there’s no doubt that they’ve got the map and know exactly where they’re going.

Seven Across The Sea was released back in March, but doesn’t seem to have made its way into any online outlets I can find, but I’m sure the band would be happy to hook you up with a CD copy and it’s lovely, wax-sealed (!) packaging. Or, pick one up when Key Witness play the Drake Underground tomorrow evening, May 28, as part of the Pitter Patter Festival.

MP3: Key Witness – “First Wave”
MP3: Key Witness – “Overnight”
MP3: Key Witness – “Pinebox”
MP3: Key Witness – “Seeing Things”
MySpace: Key Witness

Drowned In Sound interviews Jason Lytle, who will be opening up for Neko Case at Massey Hall on July 14.

Explosions In The sky talk to Spinner about the state of their new album and confess that they still haven’t seen Friday Night Lights, the show that’s no doubt bankrolling at least some of the new record.

Perhaps Mark Kolzelek can fill them in on what they’ve been missing – he tells Pitchfork that Friday Night Lights is his favourite TV show.

State interviews Friendly Fires, in town at Lee’s Palace on August 10.

Words that do not belong together: “Patrick Wolf“, “video” and “boring”. Wolf has released the second video from The Bachelor, out June 1 or August 11 depending what side of the Atlantic you reside on, and while it’s not as NSFW as the first one for “Vulture”, it’s still pretty trippy. Can’t wait to see what sort of visuals Wolf has in store for his North American tour – he’s at the Mod Club on June 15. Maybe he’ll drop some hints on Twitter.

Video: Patrick Wolf – “Hard Times”

Spinner Canada talks to Metric.

Adam Franklin has a solo date at the El Mocambo on July 6.

Exclaim has a feature piece on Grizzly Bear. They have a sold-out show at the Phoenix on June 5.

Check out the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs video.

Video: Yeah Yeah Yeahs – “Heads Will Roll”

The Independent talks to Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon. The Eternal is out June 9 and they play Massey Hall on June 30.

Quiet day, yes.