Posts Tagged ‘K’Naan’

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Half Light

The hottest bands in Canada 2010

Photo via FacebookFacebookA bit of a “wow” moment last night when I went archive digging and found that I Heart Music had been running his “Hottest Bands In Canada” poll for five years running already, making the 2010 edition – unveiled last week – the sixth one. An impressive feat that I’d like to salute Matthew for before proceeding. Okay, done.

As always, Matt put out the call to an assortment of Canadian and Canuckophile music writers and bloggers to submit their top ten acts with Canadian passports that they would declare to be “the hottest” by whatever standard they chose to use, the rankings weighted and enumerated and the top 33 artists tallied. Not nearly as mysterious or intensive as the Polaris process, but a good barometer of what folks are talking about approximately midway through that prize’s eligibility period. And, more importantly, it allows me to use my already-written ballot as the basis for a post, thus freeing up more time to watch television. Everybody wins. And off we go.

1. Arcade Fire – It was almost a scientifically controlled experiment with the three biggest indie bands in Canada releasing new albums in the span of three months, and as much attention as the New Pornographers and Broken Social Scene records got, it was nothing compared to the appetite for The Suburbs. Arcade Fire = hottest band in Canada. QED.

Video: Arcade Fire – “We Used To Wait”

2. K’Naan – There’s not much bigger stage than the World Cup and the only thing better than having your song used as its official anthem is having it be a song that remains uplifting even after being played a billion times over a month. K’Naan did this.

Video: K’Naan – “Waving Flag”

3. Diamond Rings – No one expected a D’Urbervilles solo project to get the attention that it did, but over the past year John O’Reagan’s electro-glam alter ego has become a bona fide phenomenon and his debut album Special Affections has somehow managed to live up to the hype.

MP3: Diamond Rings – “Something Else”

4. Karkwa – In terms of increased profile over the last year, no one can top Karkwa because before they surprised many by taking this year’s Polaris Music Prize, most of English Canada had never even heard of them. Can’t say that anymore.

Video: Karkwa – “Le pyromane”

5. Shad – The downside of being the presumptive best record in Canada for months and then not winning – for the second time – is perhaps being cast ast the Susan Lucci of the Polaris Prize. The upside is that TSOL was called the best record in Canada for months, and people heard it – the praise and the album. Not a bad consolation prize.

MP3: Shad – “Yaa I Get It”

6. Dan Mangan – Though some may argue that there’s nothing really special about Mangan’s everyman singer-songwriter, they can’t argue that there’s few who work or social network as hard as Mangan and its paid off in a huge and loyal fanbase.

MP3: Dan Mangan – “Road Regrets”

7. Land Of Talk – After a few false starts, Land Of Talk’s new record Cloak & Cipher should allow them to drop the “next” from their perpetual “next big thing” status, though if their career stays true to form they’ll blow up via the slow burn.

MP3: Land Of Talk – “Quarry Hymns”

8. Metric – They’ve always had their eyes set on the big time and what with getting tapped to record the new Twilight theme song and playing multi-night stands at theatres and outdoor amphitheatres, they might well have finally gotten there.

Video: Metric – “Black Sheep”

9. Broken Social Scene
This slot could have gone to any of BSS, Wolf Parade, Stars, New Pornographers or any other Canadian A-list band who released a solid but hardly game-changing record. But BSS managed to get a Polaris short-list spot out of theirs, so circle gets the square.

MP3: Broken Social Scene – “World Sick”

10. The Rural Alberta Advantage – Relatively quiet in 2010, but deserving of a mention if just for topping last year’s poll; their second album is in the can and there’s been enough touring to remind people of why they love this band so.

MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Don’t Haunt This Place”

Arcade Fire’s Will Butler talks to The Wall Street Journal and Win and R&eacute.gine to Clash.

Toronto’s Hooded Fang, who scored the #23 spot on the poll despite having just released their debut Album, will be promoting said record with an in-store at Sonic Boom this Saturday, November 13, at 6PM and then following an Ontario tour through November, play a hometown release show for the record at The Drake on December 9.

MP3: Hooded Fang – “Laughing”

Elliott Brood and The Sadies may not have been ranked, but that won’t stop them from continuing their New Year’s Eve traditions by ringing in 2011 at Lee’s Palace and The Horseshoe, respectively. Tickets for the Elliott Brood show are $20 in advance, Sadies ticket info forthcoming.

MP3: The Sadies – “Another Year Again”
Video: Elliott Brood – “Fingers & Tongues”

Julie Doiron, who didn’t place on the poll herself but whose Daniel Fred & Julie bandmate Daniel Romano tied for 27, has set a date at the Horseshoe for February 3, tickets $12 in advance.

MP3: Julie Doiron – “Consolation Prize”

Hannah Georgas (number 17) talks to QRO; she is at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on November 26.

And though Feist is unsurprisingly nowhere to be found on the list – not releasing an album in three years does temper one’s hotness – expect her to be back at or near the top next year, as she’s getting back into action. Starting with the release of the Look At What The Light Did Now documentary film, which is coming out as a DVD/CD package on December 7 but will be screening at The Royal Ontario Museum on November 21, followed by a Q&A with Miss Leslie herself. Limited tickets are $20, on sale now.

Trailer: Look At What The Light Did Now

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

Our Own Pretty Ways

First Aid Kit and Samantha Crain at The Rivoli in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangThis past Saturday night was one of those evenings with absolutely no shortage of options for Toronto concert-goers – and that’s even before Arcade Fire showed up to siphon off another 1000 people or so to the east end – so I wasn’t sure how well the Toronto debut for both Sweden’s First Aid Kit and Oklahoma’s Samantha Crain at The Rivoli would do, particularly since I heard that First Aid Kit’s free in-store at Criminal Records earlier that afternoon – which I had to miss – was only lightly attended. Any concerns about possibly being the only one there, however, evaporated when I got to the Rivoli’s back room and literally had to squeeze my way through throngs of attendees to get near the front. Yeah, people were there.

I was there to see the headliners but the addition of Samantha Crain & The Midnight Shivers to the bill – which required them to drive for 14 hours straight following their set at Bonnaroo the night before – actually had me more excited. I’d been hearing great things about Crain for over a year – before last year’s SxSW, I think – but had managed to not get around to hearing any of her music beyond a few drive-by MySpace visits, so her set promised to combine the joy of a new discovery with the assurance that it’d be good. And it was. Classifying Crain as a folk-pop singer-songwriter type is technically accurate, but really doesn’t do the scope of her talents justice. As her set ably demonstrated, in addition to writing songs that are both melodic and affecting, she delivers them in a voice rich with soul and a touch of twang and on top of all that, she’s a fierce guitarist – acoustic and electric, thanks. And she’s funny. Needless to say, everyone who’s been telling me that she’s great over the last however long – you were right. And to everyone who hasn’t heard her yet… you should. Her latest album is the just-released You (Understood). Seek it out.

Crain might have set the bar high, and First Aid Kit were well-set to clear it, thanks in no small part to being frighteningly tall. Both Klara and Johanna Söderberg measure in at close to six feet tall (the former just shorter, the latter a good deal taller) and considering they’re just 20 and 17 years old respectively, they might have a spurt or two left in them. But even so, their statures aren’t the most remarkable things about them – that’d be their voices. I’ve talked about how their respective quirks complimented each other perfectly on record, but it’s live that you really can’t help but be impressed by how perfect their pitch was – hearing them sing was like a master class in harmony. Accompanying themselves simply but effectively on acoustic guitar and keyboard (and occasionally accordion and autoharp), the duo and touring drummer showcased material from their debut Drunken Trees EP and the full-length follow-up The Big Black & The Blue, punctuated by sharp and sassy between-song banter (“we’d like to do a cover by a band called Fleet…. wood Mac”). The set highlight came about midway through when they stepped away from the mics to sing the beautifully sad “Ghost Town” unamplified to the full house. A close second was their encore, for which they brought out Samantha Crain and performed her “Dam Song”, complete with absurdly great three-part harmonies. There may have been plenty of other higher-profile entertainment options in town on Saturday, but I don’t think any of the hundred or so people who chose to hit the Rivoli had any regrets.

First Aid Kit have added another installment to their Filter tour blog (though the Toronto show only gets a passing mention – apparently we have nice architecture). Samantha Crain is profiled by The San Francisco Examiner, Oklahoma Gazette and The Oklahoman and also recently recorded a session for Daytrotter.

Photos: First Aid Kit, Samantha Crain @ The Rivoli – June 12, 2010
MP3: First Aid Kit – “I Met Up With The King”
MP3: First Aid Kit – “You’re Not Coming Home Tonight”
MP3: Samantha Crain – “Traipsing Through The Aisles”
Video: First Aid Kit – “Hard Believer”
Video: First Aid Kit – “I Met Up With The King”
Video: Samantha Crain – “Santa Fe”
Video: Samantha Crain – “Traipsing Through The Aisles”
MySpace: Samantha Crain

The St. Louis Tribune, Uptown and AV Club talk to John Darnielle and Peter Hughes of The Mountain Goats.

Spinner talks to Joe Pernice about the new Pernice Brothers record, Goodbye, Killer. It’s out today and available to stream for the next week at Spinner.

Stream: Pernice Brothers / Goodbye, Killer

The Flaming Lips have a new video from Embryonic available to gawk at. You can gawk at the band in real life at the Molson Amphitheatre on July 8 and get a preview of what to expect via this NPR stream of this past weekend’s Bonnaroo set, though you really need to get all your senses in play when experiencing a Flaming Lips show.

Video: The Flaming Lips – “The Sparrow Looks Up At The Machine”

The Books will be on tour this Fall in support of their new record The Way Out, out July 20, and will be at the Mod Club on October 25.

MP3: The Books – “Beautiful People”

PitchforkTV solicits a live performance of “The Sweet Part Of The City” from The Hold Steady. They have a July 17 date at the Kool Haus.

Spinner is hosting a series of web videos from Fanfarlo entitled Under The Reservoir.

Magnet talks to Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake as the Fannies prepare to take over the editor’s desk of their website this week. Blake also talks to The AV Club about their new record Shadows and to Metro about moving to Canada (he now resides in Kitchener-Waterloo).

Spinner talks to The Joy Formidable about making their debut EP A Balloon Called Moaning.

Kele gives an interview to The Quietus and eye about his solo debut The Boxer, due out next week. He’s at the Mod Club on July 29.

Chart sics Narduwar on Florence Welch of Florence & The Machine.

That The xx are coming back to town isn’t remarkable in and of itself – they’ve already been here thrice since last December. What is remarkable is that for their Fall tour, they’ve booked their September 29 date… for Massey Hall. Tickets will be $25 to $45 with presale starting tomorrow, regular onsale come Friday. Presumably there’ll be a new record released between now and then, and say what you will about their suitability for such a not-so-basic space, but there’s no question that their show will sound great. Their Bonnaroo set is also up to stream at NPR.

MP3: The xx – “Basic Space”

Islands have set a date at the Mod Club for July 14 – tickets $13.50 in advance.

MP3: Islands – “Vapours”

July 21 brings Jason Collett out for a show at the Mod Club supported by Daniel, Fred & Julie; tickets $16.50 in advance.

MP3: Jason Collett – “Love Is A Dirty Word”
MP3: Daniel, Fred & Julie – “The Gambler & His Bride”

With his own show at the Opera House last Saturday in the books, Shad has been announced as support for K’Naan’s October 1 show at the Kool Haus. Best of Canadian hip-hop, anyone?

Miike Snow have a date at the Kool Haus on October 9, tickets $25.

Video: Miike Snow – “Black & Blue”

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

The Chemistry Of Common Life

Fucked Up win 2009 Polaris Music Prize to delight of critics and dismay of censors

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangThroughout this year’s process for the Polaris Music Prize, I’ve been saying that I’m thankful that I was on the Grand Jury last year – when there were no shortage of albums on the short list that I could get behind and the one I felt most deserving, Caribou’s Andorra, won – rather than this year, where the nominees by and large leave me feeling cold. That’s not saying that they’re not good or great albums worthy of the prize, just that I don’t think that I could come up with a real heartfelt advocacy for any of them. So while I’m glad I wasn’t sequestered in the jury room, I do sort of wish I had been a fly on the wall to see just how they decided to award this year’s prize to Fucked Up’s The Chemistry Of Common Life.

Make no mistake – I am thrilled that they won. Not necessarily because I’m a fan – hardcore is not my thing – but because if I were to have a horse in this race, it’d either have been them or K’Naan for no other reason than they would be the most surprising and interesting winners (though also, somehow, the least controversial). Both represent genres that most would have thought would be too niche to actually win the big prize, too outlier to win over a jury (theoretically) representing a broad cross-section of a diverse country. And yet here we are – a band with a name that can’t be printed or pronounced in most media outlets and a record that has more screaming than singing – has been declared the best this country has to offer. Fun-fucking-tastic.

So while Fucked Up improbably took the competition portion of the evening, the almost three hours of celebration leading up to it belonged to pretty much everyone. For the first time in the four-year history of the gala, all ten nominees were slated to perform – which made the scheduled allotment of two hours pretty absurd. Things were definitely going to go to overtime. Things started off with Metric – at least the James and Emily half of the band – performing acoustic renditions of “Help, I’m Alive” and “Gimme Sympathy”, trading the slick synth-powered album arrangements for something simpler and prettier, a side of the band not often seen. Great Lake Swimmers and Malajube followed up with solid but fairly typical two-song sets that were enjoyable and certainly reaffirmed that they belonged on the short list, but were not revelatory – especially not after being followed by Patrick Watson. The 2007 Polaris winner is a bit of a punching bag in some quarters precisely because he won the 2007 prize, but stunts like the one he pulled on this evening – leading his band into the hall like a marching band while decked out in a harness of megaphones and lights, all weird and wonderful – can’t help but generate good will. You’re winning me over, Watson, though it’s got little to do with your music.

If there was a prize to be awarded by the audience based on the performances, though, the Polaris would have gone to K’Naan. The man had an irresistible charisma onstage and his selections from Troubadour so powerful and anthemic, you wanted to give him the award – hell, every award – right then and there. Joel Plaskett followed up by taking things down a few notches, his first selection a downbeat and mellow piece performed with his father and then inviting Three collaborators Ana Egge and Rose Cousins out for a more upbeat “Deny Deny Deny”, and in the process reaffirming the fact that it’s impossible to dislike Joel Plaskett. It’s also impossible to keep a straight face whenever Chad Van Gaalen gets near a microphone. Though his set showcasing the noisy and delicate sides of Soft Airplane – which are often the same side – was fine, it was the introduction from Radio Free Canuckistan’s Michael Barclay and Van Gaalen’s own demented and rambling thank-you speech – both paying tribute to Leonard Cohen in the process – that were the real highlights of his moment in the spotlight. If you’re inclined to think that someone who makes the sort of animations that he does isn’t quite right in the head… you’re probably right.

Windsor’s Elliott Brood ratcheted up the audience participation quotient, handing out metal baking trays and wooden spoons and encouraging the house to clatter along, making for a righteous racket and turning the gala into a hoe-down. As the band gave shout-outs to the other nine nominees, it seemed clear they weren’t here to win – just to have a good time. Newfoundland’s Hey Rosetta! were pretty much an unknown quantity to me, but did their part to reaffirm as a land that likes big bands. They numbered 14, and I’m not sure if they played one song or two, but the first half was a down, piano-led dirge that thankfully blossomed into a grander, orchestral sort of thing. Maybe it was the lateness of the hour, but my attention was starting to wander. Hey Rosetta made little impression.

And then Fucked Up. The fact that they were scheduled to play last had less to do with their impending coronation – no one knew about that – but for the fact that they would be an impossible act to follow. Mayhem is to be expected at their shows and mayhem is what they brought. With inaugural Polaris winner Final Fantasy and Lullabye Arkestra along for the ride, they turned the heretofore genteel gala into something, well, fucked up. Frontman Damian Abraham wasted no time in stripping down to his underwear while performing and even gave himself a wedgie. They played just one song – I believe Chemistry lead track “Son The Father” – but that was all they needed to basically blow everyone away. Though I’d heard tale of their live energy, I’d never seen it before and wow. That’s all.

It was ironic that that this performance and this achievement would come at the Masonic Temple, a room they’d been been previously banned from by for causing a couple thousand dollars of damage. I think they can afford to pay that off now. During their acceptance speech, Abraham mentioned that the band had been frisked by security every time they came into the building for the gala. If they get searched on the way out, they’d better have an explanation for why Abraham’s got that giant cheque shoved into his pants (assuming he’s wearing pants). Because I don’t really have an explanation for how they won, just a hearty congratulations that they did.

The Toronto Star talked to Abraham post-win about their plans for the $20,000 prize. Spinner also reports back from the post-show press conference.

Here’s some photos from the night and after the jump, a recap of all the short list nominees, with attendant A/V materials.

Photos: 2009 Polaris Music Prize Gala @ The Masonic Temple – September 21, 2009


Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

No Epiphany

2009 Polaris Prize Short List nominees announced

Photo By David WaldmanDavid WaldmanSo yesterday was P-Day – the announcement of the short list for the fourth annual Polaris Music Prize – and perhaps the biggest surprise with the results was the fact that there weren’t any surprises. Of the ten, six were previously nominees from years past which, some might say, just shows they’re among the country’s elite artists and while they may well be, I can say personally that few of the final ten albums really stirred me in a significant way – certainly not as much as any of the ones on my final ballot. I should note that between my first ballot and final ballot, I dropped Metric in favour of Coeur De Pirate so my picks are actually not represented at all in the final tally.

But anyways. Perusing the list, all I can think is that I’m glad I was a member of the grand jury last year and not this year because I’d have trouble really getting impassioned about championing any of the nominees – of course, you could argue that would make a more ideal, objective juror, but that’s someone else’s problem this year. And I’ll tell you this – having been in that room, anyone who thinks that they can guess who will walk away with the big cheque this year based on, well, anything at all, is just wrong. It is fascinating what some people like and use as criteria for this stuff, and they’re generally not nearly as adventurous, safe, predictable or random as you might expect.

My thoughts on the nominees are random at best. As mentioned both above and previously, I think the Metric record is a superb pop record – hence its inclusion on my first ballot – but I can’t say it has that ephemeral something special that would make me go to bat for it as the best the country has produced in the past year. The Great Lake Swimmers nomination has a whiff of lifetime achievement recognition about it – even just four albums in – but I also think it’s their best yet so I can get behind that, although its adherence to such traditional song forms may work against it. Same for Plaskett. By the same token, I think that being so untraditional – at least in terms of what people think of as “Canadian music” – might work against Fucked Up and K’Naan. I’m no expert in either hardcore or hip-hop, but enough who are get behind those two records that I will happily accept that they’re outstanding examples of their respective genres. Chad Van Gaalen I’m on record as just not getting the way many others do, and I’ve accepted that and moved on. The Malajube I thought was just okay and not as good as their last nominated record. The rest of the nominees, I have no strong feelings about one way or the other. And that’s my immediate overall reaction to the whole list – just, “huh”.

So yes, here’s the nominees in alphabetical order with some A/V accompaniment. I do feel compelled to point out that since there’s not actually anyone in the band named Elliott Brood, they should probably be filed under “E” rather than “B”. But anyways.

Elliott Brood / Mountain Meadow
MP3: Elliott Brood – “Write It All Down For You”

Fucked Up / The Chemistry Of Common Life
MP3: Fucked Up – “No Epiphany”

Great Lake Swimmers / Lost Channels
MP3: Great Lake Swimmers – “Pulling On A Line” (zip)

Hey Rosetta! / Into Your Lungs (and around your heart and on through your blood)
Video: Hey Rosetta – “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

K’Naan / Troubadour
Video: K’Naan – “ABC’s

Malajube / Labyrinthes
MP3: Malajube – “Porte Disparu”

Metric / Fantasies
Video: Metric – “Gimme Sympathy”

Joel Plaskett / Three
Video: Joel Plaskett – “Through & Through & Through”

Chad Van Gaalen / Soft Airplane
MP3: Chad Van Gaalen – “Willow Tree”

Patrick Watson / Wooden Arms
Video: Patrick Watson – “Fireweed”

More Polaris commentary at Zoilus, where Carl has a typically insightful look at how and why he thinks Polaris year four shook out the way it did, Exclaim and eye were slinking around the announcement ceremony yesterday, notebooks in hand, talking to whomever and Chart got to talk to Damien Abraham of Fucked Up about the nomination. They’re pictured above not because I’m particularly biased towards them, but because I’ve never used one of their photos before and they are about as much of a dark horse as you’re going to find in the class of 2009. The winner will be chosen on September 21 in a ceremony to be held at the Masonic Temple in Toronto – a different and smaller locale than the Phoenix, where it’s been the last three years. Maybe they’re cutting down on the attendees…? Or maybe just our cheese platters?

But what I find most interesting/ironic about the timing of the Polaris announcement was that it came on the same day as the official release of what was, for my nickel, easily the most interesting, heartfelt and altogether excellent Canadian album of the second half of 2008 and first half of 2009 – Hometowns by The Rural Alberta Advantage. Perhaps you’ve heard of them. They failed to meet the eligibility requirements on account of having made their self-release of the album available for sale via their website and at shows a couple of months before the May 31, 2008 cut-off. This probably netted them a few hundred sales, if even, but cost them a shot at the Polaris, although I did nominate them last year, obviously to no avail. But they’re doing alright – regardless of what you think of Pitchfork, the 8.0 score bestowed upon them yesterday can only help their wonderfully upwards trajectory. In fact, this piece at Hit Singularity uses the band as a case study of how to become a “buzz band”, thankfully in a non-cynical context. Exclaim has a video interview and live performance, The Edmonton Journal an interview and Spinner has an interview as well as a stream of the album. Their label has also made another MP3 available to sample. And if you didn’t think their July 30 show at the Horseshoe was going to be totally sold-out, you’d better think so now.

MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Frank, AB”
Stream: The Rural Alberta Advantage / Hometowns

NXEW interviews Matt Cully of Bruce Peninsula, who surprised some/many by not making the short list – I’ll pin that one on simple geography, as though they made a pretty huge impression on those in their hometown Toronto area, they’re only just now beginning to spread the gospel through the rest of the country.

NPR has a Tiny Desk concert with Julie Doiron, one of the few (?) eligible past nominees who didn’t make the short list. Actually, I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day didn’t make the long list either.

New York Press talks to Dan Boeckner of Handsome Furs, another act many thought would be on the short list.

Buzzgrinder has part the third of the Reverie Sound Revue blog tour – a live performance of “Prelude To A Debut” from their self-titled debut. They’re also sharing up another MP3.

MP3: Reverie Sound Revue – “Opposite Of Thieves”

A release date for the second Friends In Bellwoods charity compilation, mentioned last week, has been given a release date of August 25. It’s 40 songs across two CDs and, if you want to stick with the Polaris theme, features no shortage of artists who’ve already been nominated for the prize and plenty more who surely will be in the future – think of it as a snapshot of everything that’s musically great in Toronto right now. Release shows have already been scheduled – a pre-release shin-dig August 19 at the Gladstone, and a two-part party at the end of the month – August 28 at Lee’s Palace and on the 29th in Trinity-Bellwoods Park. Details on performers and whatnot forthcoming.