Archive for October, 2010

Sunday, October 31st, 2010

"Strange Powers"

The Shins cover The Magnetic Fields

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangTo all outward appearances, Stephin Merritt is a prickly (to put it mildly) curmudgeon whilst James Mercer is unassuming, shy and friendly. And yet while Merritt has somehow managed to maintain the same circle of Magnetic Fields bandmates and collaborators for the better part of two decades and ten albums (plus countless side projects), Mercer’s Shins have had not small amount of musician turnover over just three albums in nine years. Album number four, which should see the light of day in 2011, will retain only bassist Dave Hernandez from past lineups – or so Hernandez hopes.

But managerial styles aside, both Merritt and Mercer have a gift for pop music and a fixture on The Shins’ 2007 tour set list was early Magnetic Fields single “Strange Powers”, which dated back to 1994’s Holiday. Its synthetic nature translates nicely to the traditional guitar-bass-drums format and though Mercer’s voice lives several octaves away from Merritt’s, it doesn’t really sound a lot different from the original. I’m sure more than a few performances were captured on tape/HD, but the two I’ve got are an acoustic studio performance and a live show recording. The former sounds better, the latter has drums.

The Magnetic Fields released Realism earlier this year and Strange Powers, the documentary film on Merritt and his works, makes its Canadian premiere opens a run at TIFF Lightbox in Toronto this Thursday. James Mercer’s 2010 was devoted to Broken Bells, his project with Danger Mouse.

MP3: The Shins – “Strange Powers”
MP3: The Shins – “Strange Powers” (live)
Video: The Magnetic Fields – “Strange Powers”

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

CONTEST – Dawes @ The Horseshoe – November 8, 2010

Photo By Matt JacobyMatt JacobyWho: Dawes
What: Los Angeles quartet whose jangly, melodic pop-rock comes with distinctly rustic overtones. Assuming that they hail from the Laurel Canyon is not unjustified, and not just because they do.
Why: Their debut album North Hills was released in August of last year and a second album is already in the can, targeted for a Spring 2011 release. So in the meantime, they may as well tour. Which is what they’re doing.
When: Monday, November 8, 2010
Where: The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto
Who else: Also on the bill are Peter Wolf Crier and Vetiver
How: Tickets are $13.50 in advance, but courtesy of Collective Concerts, I’ve got two pairs of passes to the show to give away. To enter, email me at contests AT with “I want to see Dawes” in the subject line and your full name in the body. The contest will close at midnight, November 4.
What else: Charleston City Paper has an interview

MP3: Dawes – “Love Is All I Am”
MP3: Dawes – “When My Time Comes”

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

CONTEST – The Morning Benders @ The Mod Club – November 5, 2010

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangWho: The Morning Benders
What: Bay Area power-poppers who are enjoying a pretty good year on the strength of their breakout record Big Echo.
Why: Not believing in such a thing as market saturation, they’re returning to Toronto for their sixth show of 2010 which included opening stints for Broken Bells and The Black Keys (a two-fer) and an in-store at an ice cream parlour sandwiched between headlining gigs.
When: Friday, November 5, 2010
Where: The Mod Club in Toronto (19+)
Who else: Twin Sister and Oberhofer will open things up
How: Tickets are $15 in advance, but courtesy of Collective Concerts, I’ve got two pairs of passes to the show to give away. To enter, email me at contests AT with “I want my Morning Bent” in the subject line and your full name in the body. The contest will close at midnight, November 2.
What else: The band talks to The San Jose Mercury News about their name and to about the joys of eating on the road.

MP3: The Morning Benders – “Promises”
Video: The Morning Benders – “Promises”

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

CONTEST – Junip @ Lee’s Palace – November 5, 2010

Photo By Jon BergmanJon BergmanWho: Junip
What: Before Jose Gonzalez found fame as Jose Gonzalez, he was frontman for this Swedish trio who sound – surprise – like Jose Gonazlez backed by a band. Which is to say hypnotic folk-pop, but with electronic textures and a rhythm section.
Why: Five years after releasing their debut EP and an extended break, Junip have finally released their debut album Fields and are taking said record on tour around the world.
When: Friday, November 5, 2010
Where: Lee’s Palace in Toronto (19+)
Who else: Sharon Van Etten is opening up on this tour and is worth the price of admission alone.
How: Tickets are $15 in advance, but courtesy of Mute Records and Collective Concerts, I’ve got goodies to give away. One winner will get two copies of the deluxe, triple-disc edition of Fields on CD and two copies of the Rope & Summit EP on 12″ vinyl to go with a pair of passes to the show, and two runner-up winners will get a pair of passes to the show. To enter, email me at contests AT with “I want to see Junip” in the subject line and your full name and mailing address in the body. The contest will close at midnight, November 2.

MP3: Junip – “Rope & Summit
Video: Junip – “Always”

Friday, October 29th, 2010

Fire Like This

Blood Red Shoes and Sky Larkin at The Horseshoe in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangIs it possible for a band to steal their own show? It is when you’re far more interested in the support act than the headliner, as I was Wednesday night at The Horseshoe. I had already planned to attend even when it was just Brighton, UK’s Blood Red Shoes on the bill – I liked their two albums, including their latest and first North American release Fire Like This, well enough – but when Sky Larkin were announced as support, well it became an absolute must-see.

I had loved the Leeds trio’s 2009 debut The Golden Spike and rate this year’s follow-up Kaleide only slightly behind it, though at only a few months old it’s got lots of time to curry more favour. The difference between the two is really just degrees, as both are packed with wiry, spiky pop whose melodic qualities make them immediate and yet whose quirkiness allows them to continue to grow and unfold with repeated listens. And while these traits are very much in evidence in the live setting, what you notice most about the band on stage is just how much fun they’re having and how effortless they make it all seem.

When they’re playing, you just have to watch frontwoman Katie Harkin and how she seems at one with her guitar whilst dancing, hopping and swaying around the stage without missing a beat or note, or maybe drummer Nestor Matthews as he gives some epic drummer face while punishing his kit for some heinous transgressions. And between songs, their bantering with the audience and each other was just as entertaining – bassist Doug Adams may have been generally more placid on stage than his bandmates, but he did offer some choice words about Toronto’s new mayor-elect (“I’ve been reading about this Rob Ford guy – he’s an asshole!”). Their set didn’t crackle quite and fiercely as their visit to the Cameron Houe down the street a year and a day earlier, but it was still plenty great and Matthews got to celebrate his birthday without bleeding all over his kit.

So even before the headliners even set foot on stage, the night was deemed a success but even if, on paper, you preferred Sky Larkin’s more classically indie guitar-pop, there wasn’t going to be any resisting of Blood Red Shoes’ blunt instrument, ’90s alt rock-saluting attack. With Laura-Mary Carter on guitar, Steven Ansell on drums and both on vocals, their musical approach may have been less nuanced than their openers, but they understood the effectiveness of coming on strong and not letting up for a moment. And so it was that their relentless set focused on the most aggressive moments of Fire Like This and their debut Box Of Secrets and the permutations of their simple musical recipe – thick riffs and spidery lines from Carter’s Telecaster and steady, heavy rhythms from Ansell’s kit. On record, the balance of the vocals seems to favour Ansell, his hollers coming across more forcefully than Carter’s dulcet singing style, but live, it was much more evenly split and it was for the better. There may have only the two of them but they roared like a much larger band and in response, the smallish but enthusiastic audience cheered like a packed stadium. Go for the Sky Larkin, stay for the Blood Red Shoes, leave dazed and satisfied.

The Valley Star, Georgia Straight and San Francisco Examiner have features on Blood Red Shoes.

Photos: Blood Red Shoes, Sky Larkin @ The Horseshoe – October 27, 2010
MP3: Blood Red Shoes – “Light It Up”
MP3: Sky Larkin – “Kaleide”
MP3: Sky Larkin – “Molten”
Video: Blood Red Shoes – “Heartsink”
Video: Blood Red Shoes – “Don’t Ask”
Video: Blood Red Shoes – “Colours Fade”
Video: Blood Red Shoes – “This Is Not For You”
Video: Blood Red Shoes – “Say Something, Say Anything”
Video: Blood Red Shoes – “I Wish I Was Someone Better”
Video: Blood Red Shoes – “It’s Getting Boring By The Sea”
Video: Sky Larkin – “Still Windmills”
Video: Sky Larkin – “Antibodies”
Video: Sky Larkin – “Beeline”
Video: Sky Larkin – “Fossil, I”
Video: Sky Larkin – “Molten”
Video: Sky Larkin – “One Of Two”
MySpace: Blood Red Shoes
MySpace: Sky Larkin

Interview talks to Elly Jackson of La Roux.

Clash and Dallas Voice have feature interviews with Antony Hegarty of Antony & The Johnsons.

Prefix has an interview with The Drums, who’ve just released a new video from their self-titled debut.

Video: The Drums – “Me & The Moon”

The Daily Iowan and Interview discover Phantogram.

The Walrus and Consequence Of Sound catch up with Liz Phair, who tries to explain every song on her mostly awful new record Funstyle to New York Magazine.

The Lissie show originally scheduled for last Tuesday and then cancelled when she lost her voice has now been rescheduled for January 18 of next year, but moved from the relatively cozy confines of the El Mocambo to the more spacious Opera House. Tickets for the new show are $15 and tickets for the old one will still be honoured.

MP3: Lissie – “Everywhere I Go”

New York Magazine gets some choice words from Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields. Strange Powers, the documentary on Merritt and his music, opens in Toronto next Thursday.