Archive for August, 2010

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Too Dramatic

Ra Ra Riot at The Mod Club in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangSyracuse’s Ra Ra Riot have found success largely by maintaining a delicate stylistic balancing act; one that relies on the sextet’s energy and musical dexterity to offset their more ostentatious proclivities. In particular, the tendency to allow the strengths that made them distinct – the vocal acrobatics of Wes Miles and string section of Alexandra Lawn and Rebecca Zeller – to run away with things. At their best, they were a dizzyingly nimble orchestral rock ensemble; at their worst, overly indulgent and precious. Their 2008 debut The Rhumb Line deftly walked this line and on the whole, came out on the winning side.

The just-released follow-up The Orchard doesn’t get to make the same claim. As sophomore efforts demand, the band’s sound has grown from the debut but it’s done so in the direction of giving Miles more room to stretch out, vocally, and the result is a general sense of oversinging. Similarly, it sounds as though the faders on the strings have been pushed up sufficiently that rather than dance in and out of the mix equally with the other instruments, they seem to be overtop of things more often than not. Neither are major, game-changing shifts but as stated, it was a fragile state of equilibrium and one easily upset. It’s by no means a catastrophe, though – still intact is their collective musical chemistry and sense of melody and songcraft and underneath the slightly overcooked presentation are still some instantly catchy tunes. The Orchard‘s best moments are the uptempo ones that sound like they could have come straight off The Rhumb Line, which I prefer to interpret not as that they’ve already peaked creatively but instead have a strong foundation from which to grow in the right direction come record number three.

They’ve still got it just right on the stage, however, as Monday night’s free show at the Mod Club attested. Offered as a gift to fans who didn’t want to see them turn in a brief opening set at the Molson Amphitheatre on Saturday night, they delivered a full and proper show that served to remind that they’re an exceptional live act. Delivered with unrelenting energy and a punchiness that’s not really captured on record, nary a member of the band stopped moving for the better part of an hour, seemingly enthralled and compelled to dance by their music. That probably sounds more flowery than its intended, but it when the band is completely caught up in the sounds they’re making, it really sets the tone for the show and there was plenty of bopping up and down in the audience as well. The set list wisely stuck to the most up tempo songs in their repertoire and really showcased the talents of bassist Mathieu Santos, guitarist Milo Bonacci and drummer Gabriel Duquette. Though Miles, Lawn and Zeller understandably get the most attention, its those three who really lay down the rhythmic and melodic backbone of the band. But it’s the six of them operating as a single musical entity that impresses most with Ra Ra Riot and no reservations about their recorded work can diminish that.

There’s a decent recording of the show up at Hater High and according to the band, we can expect another local date some time in December. Seattle Weekly interviews guitarist Milo Bonacci.

Photos: Ra Ra Riot @ The Mod Club – August 30, 2010
MP3: Ra Ra Riot – “Boy”
MP3: Ra Ra Riot – “Dying Is Fine”
MP3: Ra Ra Riot – “Each Year” (EP version)
Video: Ra Ra Riot – “Boy”
Video: Ra Ra Riot – “Can You Tell?”
Video: Ra Ra Riot – “Ghost Under Rocks”
Video: Ra Ra Riot – “Dying Is Fine”
MySpace: Ra Ra Riot

Magnet interviews Versus in anticipation of the band taking over the editorial reins of the website this week.

Arcade Fire continue to be disinterested in making conventional music videos, and the world is a better place for it. The clip ostensibly for “We Used To Wait” can be found at The Wilderness Downtown and uses a fascinating mash-up of HTML 5 and Google Earth to take you back to the neighbourhood you grew up in. My own personal experience was surprisingly powerful, but even if yours isn’t as much so, it’s still pretty cool. There’s some background about the technologies at play over at Chrome Experiments. Oh yeah, you’ll need the Google Chrome browser for it to work properly. It’s a good browser. Worth the download.

Video: Arcade Fire – “We Used To Wait”

Interpol are also getting into the neat video racket with a POV multi-camera session over at PitchforkTV. Their self-titled album is out next week.

Also out next week is The Thermals’ new record Personal Life, which is currently streaming in whole at NPR. They’re at Lee’s Palace October 9.

Stream: The Thermals / Personal Life

Film School’s new album Fission is available to stream over at Spinner, as is Jenny & Johnny’s debut I’m Having Fun Now; both are out this week. Film School are at the El Mocambo on October 4 and Jenny & Johnny open up for Band Of Horses at the Kool Haus on October 21.

Stream: Film School / Fission
Stream: Jenny & Johnny / I’m Having Fun Now

Stereogum has premiered the new video from The Drums’ self-titled debut, which is either out now if like vinyl or on September 14 if you like CD. They’re at the Mod Club on October 21.

Video: The Drums – “Down By The Water”

Cleveland Scene talks to Doug Martsch of Built To Spill.

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Follow Me Into The Hills

Review of Kathryn Calder’s Are You My Mother?

Photo By Caleb ByersCaleb ByersIt’s been a half-decade since Kathryn Calder joined The New Pornographers in 2005, and in that time she’s gone from handling the impossible task of pinch-hitting on tours for Neko Case to appearing on their last three albums and becoming an as integral part of the band – her parts may not have the force of personality as Case’s, but her more delicate approach offers an important contrast and gives Carl Newman another invaluable tool in assembling his power pop symphonies. But prior to joining the Pornographers, Calder had her own creative outlet in Immaculate Machine and while she retains a membership card for the Victoria-based band, she’s largely ceded that outfit to guitarist Brooke Gallupe. Which basically meant that a solo album was pretty much an inevitability, but that doesn’t make Are You My Mother? any less of a surprise.

My experience with Calder as a songwriter goes back as far as the first couple Immaculate Machine records and while they were decent enough pop records, they weren’t particularly exceptional within the realm of Canadian indie. The years of apprenticing to Carl Newman have clearly paid off, however, as Mother is a remarkably fully-realized solo debut, and while it features plentiful contributions from various Pornographers and other Vancouver-based musicians, Calder is clearly in the driver’s seat throughout. One might be forgiven for assuming that given her role as singer and keyboardist in the Pornographers, Calder solo might turn out a record of singer-songwriter-oriented girl-and-piano material. And while at its quieter moment Mother does strip things down to just that, numbers like album opener “Slip Away” and the barreling “Castor And Pollux” are as grandiose pop as anything the New Pornographers might create and just as instantly memorable. Mother is rangy and engaging, built around Calder’s crystalline, pitch-perfect yet expressive voice and perhaps more importantly, her impressive songwriting chops.

The New Pornographers are frequently called a “super-group”, implying that each of their members are as equally accomplished on their own as they are in the band – with Are You My Mother?, Kathryn Calder steps up and makes that even more true.

MP3: Kathryn Calder – “Arrow”
MP3: Kathryn Calder – “Slip Away”
Video: Kathryn Calder – “Slip Away”
MySpace: Kathryn Calder

If you missed North Carolina’s Lost In The Trees when they played a free show here back in June (which I previewed but did not manage to attend), they’re back on September 27 at the Drake Underground in support of Mercury shortlisted Irish act Villagers. They’ve also got a new Daytrotter session up for grabs.

MP3: Lost In The Trees – “Fireplace”
MP3: Lost In The Trees – “All Alone In An Empty House”

Winter Gloves will mark the September 7 release of their second album All Red with an acoustic in-store performance at Kops Records that same night at 5:30PM.

MP3: Winter Gloves – “Plastic Slides”

Toronto power-pop aficionados The Golden Dogs will follow up their September 17 show at the Drake Underground with a September 23 in-store performance at Soundscapes at 7PM. Their new record Coat Of Arms came out last month.

MP3: The Golden Dogs – “Permanent Record”

The Great Hall will certainly be the scene of mayhem on October 12 when the tour teaming Lightning Bolt and Dan Deacon hits Toronto. Those wanting to be out of the line of fire can take refuge on the stage because neither performer will be setting up there.

MP3: Lightning Bolt – “Colossus”
MP3: Dan Deacon – “Get Older”

LA duo No Age will be releasing their second album Everything In Between on September 28 and have announced an extensive Fall tour to support – the Toronto date comes November 18 at the Polish Combatants Hall.

MP3: No Age – “Glitter”

The Toronto Star talks to Peelander Yellow of Peelander-Z, in town to make things silly at the Velvet Underground on September 1 and The Silver Dollar on September 2.

Spinner talks to Lissie about the attention her penchant for covers has gotten her and her debut album Catching A Tiger; The Independent also has a feature. She’s at the El Mocambo on October 19.

Spinner talks to Interpol drummer Sam Fogarino and Black Book solicits a list of the band’s favourite NYC hang outs. The band’s self-titled effort will be out September 7 and they’ve just released a second video from it.

Video: Interpol – “Barricade”

Ted Leo talks to Billboard about the making of the off-off-off-off-Broadway video for “Bottled In Cork”.

NPR is streaming a World Cafe session with LCD Soundsystem.

The Guardian salutes 4AD on the occasion of the legendary label’s 30th anniversary.

And a note to folks in Toronto that if you’re looking for something to do of the cinematic variety this week, you could do much worse than to check out No Heart Feelings at the Royal, where it’s screening through Thursday of this week. It’s a romantic comedy (but not really a rom-com) set in an eminently familiar Toronto from three local first-time directors and though imperfect – it suffers from the atmosphere-and-dialogue-in-lieu-of-plot vagueness that’s all too common in independent film – it’s still a winner thanks to its charm and authenticity (though I don’t do as much in and around the city nearly as much as their characters do, I have no problem believing that people actually DO these things and that I’m really just a shut-in). Don’t take my word for it, check out positive reviews in The Globe & Mail, The Toronto Star and The National Post.

Trailer: No Heart Feelings

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

"Roll Away Your Stone"

Laura Marling covers Mumford & Sons

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangI can’t count the number of times (okay, I suppose via a text search I could) I’ve looked back to the evening of October 4, 2008 and shaken my head at the quality of the bill that played the Rivoli that night. Amongst the van full of exhausted young British folk revivalists wrapping up a North American tour were Laura Marling, at the time the marquee name on the bill with having her debut Alas I Cannot Swim being shortlisted for a Mercury Prize, headliner Johnny Flynn riding a well-received debut of his own in A Larum and the third act on the bill were there as Marling’s backing band, but had a few songs of their own they wanted to show off – that was Mumford & Sons.

Fast-forward a couple of years – Flynn has a second album in Been Listening, though it still awaits a North American release. Marling has gone two-for-two in Mercury Prize nominations with this year’s I Speak Because I Can and already has a third album in the can. And the boys in Mumford & Sons? Even though they had nothing released at the time of that Rivoli show save for an impossible-to-find EP, their anthemic bluegrass-rock has clearly struck a chord as they’ve gone on to be bigger than either of their tourmates, at least on this side of the Atlantic, where they’ve gone from unheralded opener to filling venues the capacity of Toronto’s Sound Academy, as they’ll almost certainly do on November 13. And oh yeah, their debut Sigh No More is also up for a Mercury Prize, which will be awarded next Tuesday, September 7.

So if Marling was looking to give her bandmates a bit of a leg up in terms of exposure when she covered “Roll Away Your Stone” months and months in advance of Sigh No More‘s release when she played a World Cafe session for NPR… I’d say it worked.

The Independent talks to a number of this year’s Mercury nominees, including Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons about the honour.

MP3 Laura Marling – “Roll Away Your Stone”
Video: Mumford & Sons – “Roll Away Your Stone”

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

CONTEST – The Dø @ The Mod Club – September 11, 2010

Photo By Frank YangFrank Yang
Who: The Dø
What: French-Finnish duo covered hereabouts back in May who are impossible to pigeonhole and just as hard to resist
Why: Released in France to wide acclaim in 2008, their debut A Mouthful was released in North America this past May – they are touring to support
When: Saturday, September 11, 2010
Where: The Mod Club in Toronto (19+)
Who else: Local singer-songwriter Allie Hughes previews songs from her debut album, due out next year
How: Tickets for the show are $15.00 in advance, but courtesy of Embrace and The Musebox, I have one grand prize consisting of a pair of passes to the show, a copy of The Dø’s A Mouthful on CD and a copy of Allie Hughes’ self-titled EP and two secondary prizes of a pair of passes each to give away. To enter, email me at contests AT with “I want to do The Do” in the subject line and your full name and mailing address in the body, and have that in to me before midnight, September 8.

MP3: The Dø – “At Last”
Video: The Dø – “At Last”

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

CONTEST – Sam Amidon @ The Drake Underground – September 4, 2010

Photo By Samantha WestSamantha WestWho: Sam Amidon
What: American singer-songwriter who ranges from dense, avant-garde orchestrations as sparse, haunting folk and all points in between.
Why: Hitting the road in support of the release of I See The Sign this past Spring
When: Saturday, September 4, 2010
Where: The Drake Underground in Toronto (19+)
Who else: Forest City Lover frontwoman Kat Burns supports solo
How: Tickets for the show are $13.50 in advance and $15.00 at the door, but courtesy of Collective Concerts, I have two pairs of passes to give away for the show. To enter, email me at contests AT with “I want to see Sam Amidon” in the subject line and your full name in the body before midnight, September 1.

MP3: Sam Amidon – “Cabin In The Corner”