Posts Tagged ‘Ladyhawke’

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

I Know What Love Isn't

Jens Lekman and Taken By Trees at The Phoenix in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangTechnically, the Swedish consulate in Toronto is in the office tower on the northeast corner of Yonge and Bloor, but on Thursday night it was unofficially relocated to the Phoenix Concert Theatre, and their ambassadors for the evening were Jens Lekman and Victoria Bergsman of Taken By Trees, both with acclaimed new records just out – Lekman with I Know What Love Isn’t and Bergsman with Other Worlds.

As mentioned when this show was originally announced, it was exciting on a number of levels beyond Lekman’s first return to Toronto since April 2008; it would also be the first time he’d be performing with his own band rather than a collection of local players assembled for the occasion. Make no mistake, it’s fun and unique to see him playing with, say, The Hidden Cameras in a little room, but you’re not going to get a better actual performance than with the band with whom he’s been rehearsing and touring.

Taken By Trees were already a four-piece when they last visited in 2010 (supporting another Swede in El Perro Del Mar), and whereas for that show the band succeeded in giving the East Of Eden material some extra kick, this time they took the marginally more energetic Other Worlds and toned it down for a more languid and low key presentation. The arrangements felt more stripped down, the world music flavours still detectable but not as strong. Perhaps aware that her charms weren’t the same as charisma, Bergsman had the 1970 film A Swedish Love Story projected onto a side screen while they played, perhaps to offer something more visual to pay attention to while they played. Their set closer of “Dreams”, off the new record, was the most energized of the set and offered a taste of what they were capable of but for the most part, they were just kind of inertly pretty.

Stage presence would never be a problem for Jens Lekman, a real-life personality as charming and endearing as the characters in his songs. A late soundcheck meant the band was still scurrying around on stage come set time, but they still made a proper entrance of it with the keyboardist playing the instrumental “Every Little Hair Knows Your Name” as the all took the stage – Lekman last, of course – and started into “Become Someone Else’s”. The front third of the show was dedicated to the bigger numbers of I Know What Love Isn’t – totally fine with me as I love the record – and reinforced how great it was that it was a full-band Lekman here to play these songs; it’s hard to imagine hearing them without all the little touches that the piano, violin, bass, and drums added to Lekman’s supple voice and guitar.

Unreleased but Isn’t-era selection “Golden Key” marked the set’s pivot point, the sequenced backing track transmorgifying itself to lead into “The Opposite Of Hallelujah” and raising the enthusiasm of the crowd several more notches, particularly when Lekman finished the song at the edge of the stake playing some air glockenspiel. From there it was a string of highlights including the backstory of “Waiting For Kirsten” (about stalking Kirsten Dunst in Gothenburg), a big singalong “Black Cab”, and a “Maple Leaves” dance party – it’s funny that for all the sonic richness that playing as a five-piece band offered, the tone of the show would still be set by the sampler perched at Lekman’s right, cueing up one joyous pop song after another.

The encore gave us the title track of last year’s An Argument With Myself EP and Lekman song/story fixture “A Postcard To Nina” which somehow came with an almost entirely different story from when he was touring Night Falls Over Kortedala, though the plot itself remained the same. An unexpected twist came, however, when Lekman’s mic stand collapsed mid-song and he had to continue playing from his knees. I don’t think even he saw that one coming. A second encore brought Lekman out one more time to play “Every Little Hair Knows Your Name” solo, bringing the show full circle and to a close. The only way it could have been better is if the Swedish consulate had put out immigration forms by the door; I’m pretty sure everyone there would have taken one.

Panic Manual, Exclaim, and The National Post also have reviews of the show while Mechanical Forest Sound has some recordings. The Village Voice and The Philadelphia Inquirer have interviews with Lekman.

Photos: Jens Lekman, Taken By Trees @ The Phoenix – October 4, 2012
MP3: Jens Lekman – “Erica America”
MP3: Jens Lekman – “An Argument With Myself”
MP3: Jens Lekman – “A Higher Power”
MP3: Jens Lekman – “The Opposite Of Hallelujah”
MP3: Jens Lekman – “Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo”
MP3: Jens Lekman – “Black Cab”
MP3: Jens Lekman – “You Are The Light”
MP3: Jens Lekman – “A Sweet Summer’s Night On Hammer Hill”
MP3: Taken By Trees – “Dreams”
MP3: Taken By Trees – “Anna”
MP3: Taken By Trees – “My Boys”
MP3: Taken By Trees – “Watch The Waves”
MP3: Taken By Trees – “Lost & Found”
Video: Jens Lekman – “Become Someone Else’s”
Video: Jens Lekman – “I Know What Love Isn’t”
Video: Jens Lekman – “Erica America”
Video: Jens Lekman – “Sipping On The Sweet Nectar”
Video: Jens Lekman – “You Are The Light”
Video: Taken By Trees – “Large”
Video: Taken By Trees – “Dreams”
Video: Taken By Trees – “My Boys”
Video: Taken By Trees – “Lost And Found”

El Perro Del Mar has rolled out a new video from her forthcoming album Pale Fire, out November 13.

Video: El Perro Del Mar – “Walk On By”

The Skinny has an interview with Efterklang, who’ve released a new video from Piramada.

Video: Efterklang – “Apples”

Interview and The Boston Globe talk to The Raveonettes.

The Sigur Rós “Mystery Film Experiment” for Valtari has gotten another installment bigger.

Video: Sigur Rós – “Dauðalogn”

Daytrotter has a session with Ladyhawke, The San Francisco Examiner an interview.

Monday, September 17th, 2012

Black White & Blue

Ladyhawke and Computer Magic at The Hoxton in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangIt would have been nice to think that the many well-dressed folks milling about on King West Saturday evening were winding their way to The Hoxton, where New Zealand’s Pip Browne – aka Ladyhawke – was set to make her first Toronto appearance in almost three years exactly. But no, they were probably just out taking in the final night of TIFF, because The Hoxton was basically empty when I got there.

Being an early show with a curfew, waiting around for the more fashionably late wasn’t an option to Computer Magic got to play for a mere handful of people. The project of Brooklyite Danielle Johnson, they played as a two-piece with Johnson on keys and vox and a drummer. It wasn’t much and their on-stage mobility was decidedly limited, but they more than made do. Johnson’s synth-pop melodies were both hooky and interesting, and while her drummer favoured the pads on his hybrid acoustic/electronic drum kit, the fact that he could hit the conventional drums and hit them hard gave it all a lot more power and presence than you would have expected. My understanding is that some live versions of the band have guitar and bass to fill things out, and while I don’t doubt the extra bodies make for a more compelling live show, Computer Magic as a duo had all they really needed to make a good impression – namely, solid tunes.

For reasons entirely not her fault, Ladyhawke’s first Toronto show in September 2009 was something of a clusterfuck. It was part of a seemingly-cursed tour presented by celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, beset by low attendance, a patchwork bill, and a self-destructing headliner in Ida Maria who bailed from the tour entirely the day of the Toronto show. Ladyhawke’s first set as the de facto sole headliner of the tour was actually fine, showcasing the ridiculously catchy ’80s-styled pop of her self-titled debut, but it’s hard to separate the performance in memory from the circus that surrounded it.

This outing came without the sideshow, thankfully, but also without the degree of buzz that was there the first time around. Her second album Anxiety has been rather unjustly dismissed for being built more on guitars than synths, but the electro-pop movement that she was lumped into back in 2009 was no longer fashionable anyways and if she’d stuck with the same formula, the complaints would probably be that she was sounding dated. Fact is, the change in instrumentation is more cosmetic than fundamental; the songs on Anxiety are less immediate than those on Ladyhawke, but also less obvious. Pip Browne’s melodic instincts are still more than intact, though, and it’s a solid work that will age quite nicely.

It also meant that the couple hundred people in attendance – the room had thankfully filled in some – were genuine fans, else three years behind on hearing what was supposed to be hip. Fronting a five-piece band where, perhaps fittingly given their shift in direction, the massive drum sounds and big, fuzzy guitars often drowned out the keyboardist, the Ladyhawke live experience hadn’t necessarily become more exciting. Though friendly, they’re still very businesslike on stage, having evidently drawn on plenty of glittery/glammy ’80s sonic influence but not the excess of presentation. Browne’s vintage Bryan Adams t-shirt got the most audience approval and the guitarist Danny Blanco provided most of the on-stage animation, which wasn’t really much. But the low-key presentation meant that they were able to power through an extensive set list, cramming eighteen songs into an hour and change including an unexpected cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” to open the encore. See, she knows her ’60s as well! And she knows how to write great songs that don’t need the benefit of a gossip blogger patron or fleeting musical fashionability to impress.

Computer Magic has a bunch of EPs available for free download.

Photos: Ladyhawke, Computer Magic @ The Hoxton – September 15, 2012
MP3: Ladyhawke – “Sunday Drive”
MP3: Ladyhawke – “Sunday Drive” (acoustic)
MP3: Ladyhawke – “Black White & Blue” (acoustic)
MP3: Computer Magic – “Grand Junction”
MP3: Computer Magic – “Electric Fences”
Video: Ladyhawke – “Blue Eyes”
Video: Ladyhawke – “Sunday Drive”
Video: Ladyhawke – “Black White & Blue”
Video: Ladyhawke – “Magic”
Video: Ladyhawke – “Paris Is Burning”
Video: Ladyhawke – “My Delirium”
Video: Ladyhawke – “Dusk Till Dawn”
Video: Ladyhawke – “Back Of The Van”
Video: Computer Magic – “Trinity”
Video: Computer Magic – “The End Of Time”

Evidently with a little time to kill before hitting the stage at The Great Hall on the evening of September 18, DIIV will be setting up at Sonic Boom’s Kensington location for an in-store on Tuesday afternoon at 5PM. They just released a new video from their debut Oshin last week.

MP3: DIIV – “Sometime”
Video: DIIV – “Doused”

Australian folkies Husky have a date at The Drake Underground on November 12 in support of their debut Forever So. They were here back during Canadian Musicfest, if you think you might had seen or heard them before. A Daytrotter session with the band also just went up.

MP3: Husky – “Tidal Wave”
MP3: Husky – “History’s Door”

NPR’s big-deal advance album stream this week is Piramida, the latest from Denmark’s Efterklang. It’s out September 25.

MP3: Efterklang – “Apples”
Stream: Efterklang / Pirmada

Even though their latest Observator just came out, Sune Rose Wagner of The Raveonettes tells Paste he’s already compiling ideas for their next album. They’re at The Phoenix on October 2.

Interview has an interview and I Love Sweden a video session with Amanda Mair.

The Quietus has an exit interview with the retiring Soundtrack Of Our Lives.

Interview talks to ascendent Swedish electro-pop duo Icona Pop.

PopMatters poses twenty questions to múm.

Rolling Stone has premiered a new video from Of Monsters & Men’s debut My Head Is An Animal.

Video: Of Monsters & Men – “Mountain Sound”

Dash Shaw and John Cameron Mitchell offer more a short film than video as their contribution to Sigur Rós’ Valtari “Mystery Film Experiment”, using both “Rembihnútur” and “Ekki múkk” as a soundtrack to their clip.

Video: Sigur Rós – “Seraph”

Laetitia Sadier has premiered a new video from Silencio. She plays The Drake on September 18 and Laetitia Sadier – “Find Me The Pulse Of The Universe”

NPR is streaming M83’s recent concert at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

FME 2012 Day Two

Feist, Louis-Jean Cormier, and more at Festival de musique émergente 2012

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangSo yesterday I talked about where and what Rouyn-Noranda was; today I will do the same for FME. You don’t need to be bilingual to discern that “Festival de musique émergente” implies a mandate of focusing on new and upcoming artists, primarily but not exclusively from Québec, with a few relatively big names to bring in the less musically adventurous. It was started ten years ago when the organizers were tired of driving to Montréal eight hours away to see shows and so they started a festival as a pretence to bring bands to them.

From drawing around 3000 people in its first year to an estimated 20,000 this year, it’s concentrated on growing in scale while maintaining its intimate and sometimes impromptu vibe and also become an important showcase for European festival bookers to discover Francophone talent. It’s definitely a grassroots/boutique-type festival – think Hillside meets Iceland Airwaves, but much smaller – that brings a few days of great music and arts to a community that has an immense appetite for it but is well away from conventional touring routes and for Anglophones like myself, provide a fascinating window into the often opaque world of Québec popular music.

After a Friday morning spent ziplining in a forest a little out of town – no broken bones! A triumph! – it was into town to catch some of their “5 á 7” series of free day shows. Well, one of them – they were all at 5PM so conflicts were going to happen. I hit up Avec pas d’casque at Salle Evolu-Son on account of their latest Astronomie having made the Polaris long list this year, giving them more name recognition than anyone else playing. Lost list benefits in action! But while I knew who they were, I didn’t actually know what they sounded like so their slightly creaky country-pop was a total surprise to me. Of course, if they’d been a straightahead rock band or metal-reggae group, I’d have been just as surprised so whatever. Their down-home songwriting was augmented by some interesting instrument choices – steel and bowed guitars, a euphonium, autoharp, and kazoo were all drafted into service at some point in their set and while they demonstrated the ability to make their sound swell dramatically if they wanted to, they mostly kept it pretty mellow.

Photos: Avec pas d’casque @ Salle Evolu-Son – August 31, 2012
Video: Avec pas d’casque – “En attendant que ça paye”
Video: Avec pas d’casque – “Talent”
Video: Avec pas d’casque – “Dans les bras de la femme bionique”
Video: Avec pas d’casque – “Dans la nature jusqu’au cou”

For the evening programme, there wasn’t really anywhere else to be than the outdoor stage erected on 7e rue – this was where the festival’s headliner, save the special Sunday night performance, was going to be. Louis-Jean Cormier would have known what it was to be one of FME’s main draws – his band Karkwa had played the fest a number of times (their manager being the founder), most recently in 2010 – the year they won the Polaris Prize. With the band on the backburner for the foreseeable future, Cormier was using this occasion to showcase material which would appear on his solo debut, out on September 18, and while I’d seen him perform a number of times, it was always in the context of trying to introduce himself to unfamiliar audiences and win them over; it was quite different to see him in front of those who were already won over. Playing in a light, steady rain and fronting a five-piece band, Cormier gave ample proof that he was the melodic, pop heart of Karkwa. His stuff was more immediate and the fussier elements, while still present, were dialed down significantly. It was guitar pop of the sort that you didn’t need to understand the lyrics to enjoy, though the closing number’s chorus of “Goodbye Charest” made its sentiment pretty clear, along with Cormier’s political leanings and from the shouts of approval, the audience’s as well.

Photos: Louis-Jean Cormier @ Scène extérieur desjardins 7e rue – August 31, 2012
Stream: Louis-Jean Cormier – “L’ascenseur”

Being an international star, Feist has played a lot of places in Canada and abroad but it was probably safe to say she’d never played Rouyn-Noranda before. That, plus the fact that it was a festival headlining set towards the end of the touring cycle for Metals made me wonder if she might deviate from the consistent (read: same) set she’d been performing for most of the past year and maybe acquiesce to playing a few more of the hits? Not that I’d seen the set in question; I’d caught a bit of her at Osheaga but the last time I saw her perform was last October at the CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio, and that was a decidedly unique and guest star-laden show.

One look at the stage showed at least one way in which this would be different; Mountain Man, the trio who had been Feist’s backing singers for the entirety of the Metals tours, were absent and instead it was a four-piece band who would be playing tonight, though both Brian LeBarton and Charles Spearin’s musical workstations flanking Feist’s spot centre-stage were loaded with gear. They may have been small, but they were hardly unequipped.

Once they got started – the skies had cleared and a full moon shone – another benefit to the smaller band became evident: it gave them space. It’s difficult to be spontaneous with a big band but a lean unit – particularly one that’s been playing countless show for months – can turn on a dime and given this freedom and the casual vibe of the festival, Feist turned in an energized, exuberant set that proved that she stil knew where her indie rock roots were. Unsurprisingly, Metals material made up the bulk of the set, some of the selections had already mutated into new forms from the past year of live interpretations. I would have expected her French to be better given the time spent in Paris, but Feist was still able to engage the audience and invite them to act as choral vocalists on a few songs. The outro of “How Come You Never Go There” went alright – “whoa whoa” isn’t too hard to do – but the multi-octave harmonies on “So Sorry” were well beyond their abilities and were a kind of charming disaster.

It was the older material that really stood out, though, and not just because it was more familiar. “My Moon My Man” was a near-rager, replete with healthy guitar abuse, and “Feel It All” was a veritable punk rock number. The encore kept this up, with Feist and LeBarton – swapping keys for drums – turning “When I Was A Young Girl” into a garage rock-y White Stripes tribute and, with the rest of the band back on stage, making “Sea Lion Woman” a free-form jam before ending with an impressively big, “Let It Die”. It will probably be a while before Feist ever returns to Rouyn, but until then she left the town with a lot of lasting musical memories.

Spinner grabbed an interview with Feist prior to the show.

Photos: Feist @ Scène extérieur desjardins 7e rue – August 31, 2012
Video: Feist – “Anti-Pioneer”
Video: Feist – “Cicadas & Gulls”
Video: Feist – “The Bad In Each Other”
Video: Feist – “I Feel It All”
Video: Feist – “Honey Honey”
Video: Feist – “My Moon My Man”
Video: Feist – “Mushaboom”
Video: Feist – “1, 2, 3, 4”
Video: Feist – “One Evening”
Video: Feist – “It’s Cool To Love Your Family”

It would be hard to top that show, so Kandle’s midnight set at Agora des arts was doomed to pale by comparison, but even if that hadn’t been the context it probably still would have underwhelmed. The offspring of 54-40 frontman Neil Osbourne, Kandle Osborne should be commended for trying something completely different musically, but the moody, country-noir sound she’s going for is, for now at least, beyond her reach. Her voice may have the right smoky timbre but she didn’t demonstrate any of the range necessary to imbue it with emotion and her songwriting also lacked the maturity and sophistication needed to sell it. Maybe with time and experience, both musical and life, she’ll get more convincing but for now she comes across as an ingenue trying to play the femme fatale role and it’s not working.

And then we went for poutine.

Photos: Kandle @ Agora des arts – August 31, 2012
Video: Kandle – “Small”
Video: Kandle – “Knew You’d Never”
Video: Kandle – “Know My Name”

A brace of concert announcements following the long weekend yesterday. Starting with the quick and free, know that Bloc Party will augment their two-night stand at the Danforth Music Hall with a free show at Sugar Beach – that’s down at the Corus/CFNY/Edge building on Lakeshore – on September 11 at 7:30PM. Details at Arts & Crafts.

Video: Bloc Party – “Octopus”

West coast lo-fi fellows Craft Spells have a date at The Shop under Parts & Labour on September 23, tickets $12.50 for those who plan ahead.

MP3: Craft Spells – “You Should Close The Door”
MP3: Craft Spells – “Party Talk”

Aussies enamoured of their Kiwi neighbours’ jangle-pop traditions – read: Flying Nun et al – The Twerps will be at The Silver Dollar on October 22. Don’t know who they are? eMusic finds out.

Video: The Twerps – “Through The Day”

Portland’s Blitzen Trapper will find some time amidst their tour with Brandi Carlile to play a headlining show of their own at Lee’s Palace on October 22. Tickets $17.50.

MP3: Blitzen Trapper – “Black River Killer”
MP3: Blitzen Trapper – “Love The Way You Walk Away”

Texas psych-rock pioneer Roky Erickson is at Lee’s Palace on November 3, tickets $29.50. His last release was 2010’s Will Sheff-produced, Okkervil River-backed True Love Cast Out All Evil. The Advocate talks to Sheff about working with Erickson and what’s next for Okkervil.

Stream: Roky Erickson – “Be And Bring Me Home”

More Portlanders coming to town in the form of ornate folk outfit Horse Feathers. Their latest Cynics New Year came out in the Spring and they’ll be playing selections from it at The Drake on November 8, tickets $15.

MP3: Horse Feathers – “Fit Against The Country”
MP3: Horse Feathers – “Cascades”

And again from Australia, Tame Impala have announced a local date in support of their new record Lonerism, out October 9. Look for them and their psychedelically jammy ways at The Phoenix on November 12, tickets $20. SF Weekly has an interview.

MP3: Tame Impala – “Runway, Houses, City, Clouds”

The Twilight Sad brought No One Can Ever Know to town back in March and they’ll do so again with fellow Scots Errors in tow for a show at The Horseshoe on November 18, tickets $13.50.

MP3: The Twilight Sad – “Another Bed”
Video: Errors – “Ammaboa Glass”

Spinner talks Lawless with Nick Cave, screenwriter.

The Vinyl District interviews Pip Browne of Ladyhawke. She’s at The Hoxton on September 15.

The National Post interviews Torq Campbell of Stars. They support Metric at The Air Canada Centre on November 24.

Daytrotter sessions up an a capella Futureheads.

Friday, August 10th, 2012

Osheaga 2012 Day Three

Bloc Party, The Shins, Passion Pit, and more at Osheaga 2012

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangYou may have noticed my first two dispatches from Osheaga dwelled a bit on the hot, humid weather – this was partly because it was one of the defining factors of the weekend and certainly affected mine and everyone else’s experience, but also for some context. Because for the third and final day of the festival, things went from just hot to hot and wet – great adjectives for search engine optimization, not so great for spending the day outside. Indeed, the same storm system that shut down Lollapalooza the day before looked like it was aiming to put another notch in its belt and wallop Montréal and while it wasn’t sever enough to consider cancelling anything pre-emptively – the forecast was mainly for scattered thundershowers – it certainly had people keeping an eye on the sky as well as on the stages.

The stage manager at the Forest stage certainly was, and though Nika Danilova of Zola Jesus was certainly taking the weather in stride – soundchecking with a bit of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” was cute – but just two songs in and under a steady but not excessive rainfall, the stage lights went off and they declared the set over even though at that point the sky was actually beginning to clear. Danilova pleaded her case but for naught, and much to the vocal dismay of the audience, the show was over. Now I can appreciate wanting to err on the side of caution, particularly in light of the rash of stage collapses at festivals in the last couple years, but this seemed excessively paranoid and raised the question of what the festival’s “rain or shine” policy actually meant – people couldn’t get their money back, but they weren’t necessarily entitled to any of the performances they paid for? Troubling. If there was any silver lining to these rain clouds, it’s that in the 10 minutes that Zola Jesus performed – I’d never heard her save her contribution to the last M83 record – I quite liked what I heard of her operatic goth-pop and would be seeking some more out. So there was that.

DIY and The Moscow News have feature interviews with Danilova.

Photos: Zola Jesus @ Scène des arbes- August 5, 2012
MP3: Zola Jesus – “Vessel”
MP3: Zola Jesus – “Sea Talk”
Video: Zola Jesus – “Seekir”
Video: Zola Jesus – “Vessel”
Video: Zola Jesus – “Sea Talk”
Video: Zola Jesus – “Night”
Video: Zola Jesus – “Clay Bodies”

Also in them “I’d never really heard them or paid much attention but I’ll go see them anyways” category was Cambridge, Massachusetts’ Passion Pit, though I’ll admit that my curiosity was more due to the drama that had surrounded frontman Michael Angelakos as they released their second album Gossamer a couple weeks earlier – specifically the announcement that he was battling a bipolar disorder and cancelling a swath of tour dates as a result. Not that I went to gawk – I just found it interesting that this date, along with a few other festival dates, were still on and even though what I had heard of their first record Manners was at best annoying – Angelakos’ falsetto and I did not get along – most accounts were that this new record was much better.

Not that I know what a bipolar condition looks like – probably nothing overt – but Angelakos looked pretty hale and hearty on stage, and certainly energetic. As his bandmates pounded out declarative synth-rock riffs, he was leaping on monitors, waving around mic stands, and generally working the crowd like a pro. And happily, there was minimal to no falsetto to be heard, or at least I didn’t notice it. The guy’s got a reasonably soulful voice in its normal range, it was nice to hear him use it instead of resorting to gimmickry. And though I’m sure it was just coincidence, there was something fitting about how the weather went from overcast to a downpour to sunshine in the first 15 minutes of their set. Because it stayed sunny.

Rolling Stone has an in depth interview with Angelkos about his mental health issues.

Photos: Passion Pit @ Scène de la montagne – August 5, 2012
Video: Passion Pit – “Take A Walk”
Video: Passion Pit – “Constant Conversations”
Video: Passion Pit – “Little Secrets”
Video: Passion Pit – “To Kingdom Come”
Video: Passion Pit – “The Reeling”
Video: Passion Pit – “Sleepyhead”

One of the festival’s bleach-blonde witch-pop artists had already been taken down by the weather; what were the odds that both would? Thankfully, pretty bad. I had thought that the otherworldly environs of Iceland, where I last saw them, was the perfect setting for Toronto’s Austra but it turns out a suddenly sunny Montréal Summer afternoon worked pretty well, too. Dressed for the season in brightly-coloured dresses, Katie Stelmanis and her bandmates successfully got those assembled at the Green stage to ignore the burgeoning mud pit at their feet and dance. There was one new song in her set which from a single cursory listen shouldn’t alienate any fans, and I want to say that some of the lyrics were sung in French, but honestly with Stelmanis’ operatic delivery it was hard to say for sure.

Exclaim has a video session with the band where they perform the aforementioned new song “Painful Like” and Spinner has an interview. And to the surprise of absolutely no one, Austra have been announced as the special guest for the Saturday, September 29 lineup at Paper Bag Records’ 10th anniversary show at The Great Hall.

Photos: Austra @ Scène vertes – August 5, 2012
MP3: Austra – “Lose It”
MP3: Austra – “Beat & The Pulse”
Video: Austra – “Spellwork”
Video: Austra – “Lose It”
Video: Austra – “Beat & The Pulse”

I like Australia’s Tame Impala alright – their 2010 debut Innerspeaker was a nice bit of psychedelic space-rock – but that they were not only popular enough to be playing a late afternoon mainstage slot at a festival of this size but draw a pretty big and enthusiastic audience genuinely surprised me. Their fans clearly knew and liked their prog rock and they like it chilled out and spacey, seemingly cheering every key and tempo change and certainly every extended guitar solo. They’ve a big sound, but not an aggressive one, and their stage presence is similarly subdued. I wouldn’t say they’re much to look at or watch up there, but you’d have to open your eyes from you reverie to notice, and not many of those listening were prepared to do that. Enjoyable overall, but not quite able to keep my festival-ADD interest for the duration. And considering that the last time I saw them in May 2011, frontman Kevin Parker felt obliged to inform us all that Osama Bin Laden had been killed – the least he could have done this time out was announce the official fall of the al-Assad regime. Alas, no dice, but at least there was that evening’s episode of The Newsroom ready to indulge my nostalgia.

Stereogum and Spin talk to Parker about their new record Lonerism, due out October 9.

Photos: Tame Impala @ Scène de la rivière – August 5, 2012
MP3: Tame Impala – “Runway, Houses, City, Clouds”
Video: Tame Impala – “Expectation”
Video: Tame Impala – “Lucidity”
Video: Tame Impala – “Solitude Is Bliss”

When James Mercer and his reconstituted Shins came through Toronto last September – fully six months before their new record Port Of Morrow would be released – there were a lot of questions, not least of which being that it had almost been a half-decade since their last album came out; did anyone still care? The success of that record and the fact that the band were playing as large stages as they did before they went on hiatus proved quite unequivocally that they still did, and was a testament to the power of a good pop song. And if there’s one thing The Shins have, it’s good pop songs.

They also had some bad luck with the weather. Though the skies stayed fairly clear through Tame Impala’s set, they darkened in a hurry as soon as The Shins took the stage and as opener “Kissing The Lipless” built to the first big chorus, they opened up and utterly drenched everyone and everything. Everything save their spirits – the fans seemed to love it and if the band were concerned about little details like electrocution, it didn’t show. Mercer was as animated and energized up there as I’d ever seen him, and certainly seemed more integrated with his bandmates than in the Fall where they looked very much like hired hands. I stuck around for a while, savouring all the old, familiar tunes, but my tolerance for getting soaked was apparently lower than everyone elses.

The Wall Street Journal and Entertainment Weekly have conversations with James Mercer.

Photos: The Shins @ Scène de la montagne – August 5, 2012
MP3: The Shins – “Australia”
MP3: The Shins – “Phantom Limb”
MP3: The Shins – “Kissing The Lipless”
MP3: The Shins – “So Says I”
MP3: The Shins – “Know Your Onion!”
Video: The Shins – “It’s Only Life”
Video: The Shins – “No Way Down”
Video: The Shins – “The Rifle’s Spiral”
Video: The Shins – “Simple Song”
Video: The Shins – “Bait & Switch”
Video: The Shins – “Australia”
Video: The Shins – “Phantom Limb”
Video: The Shins – “So Says I”
Video: The Shins – “Turn On Me”
Video: The Shins – “The Past & Pending”
Video: The Shins – “New Slang”
Video: The Shins – “Kissing The Lipless”
Video: The Shins – “Know Your Onion!”

With my obsessions with the weather pretty much established, I’ve no problem admitting that I’d spent much of the day tracking the incoming storm via satellite radar maps. Based on the accumulated data, I figured that I would be able to take in Bloc Party relatively unscathed and then skip out on mainstage headliners Metric and The Black Keys just when the brunt of the storm hit. Science! That it was already raining moderately to heavily by the time I got to the Green stage certainly didn’t fit the plan, but it was good to see that the conservative attitude towards the weather that opened the day had seemingly been replaced with a sturdy, “the show must go on” attitude – the roadies were wrapping just about everything electronic on stage in plastic sheeting, but showed no signs that they weren’t going to go ahead with the set.

Kele Okereke was certainly up for it. Clad in a colourful shirt louder than some of the PAs at the festival and sans guitar, the Bloc Party frontman was all party, rain be damned, and led the London quartet through a ripping reading of “Octopus”, the lead single from their forthcoming album Four. It was – and is – an odd song, with its stuttering riff and loopy vocals, and taken as a representative of the new material does indicate that the random and experimental (and polarizing) direction of 2008’s Intimacy was more a signpost than a detour. Live, however, it was delivered with enough energy and conviction to persuade even the hardest skeptic that it was a winner.

Only one other track from Four made the set – the power chord-heavy “Kettling” – with the rest dedicated to older material and rewarding the audience for their willingness to wait in the weather by soundtracking their collective decision to ignore the “no crowd surfing” signs with gusto – Okereke thanked security for their diligence in making sure no one got hurt by dedicating “This Modern Love” to them; I’m sure they appreciated the gesture. It was certainly the most raucous audience I’d seen all weekend, with no one caring about the rain but instead revelling in it and the mud, both figuratively and literally. Though allotted a full hour for their set, Bloc Party wrapped their set at 45 minutes with a thundering and exhausting “Helicopter”; I would have liked for them to keep playing, sure, but that was also as perfect a place to wrap the set as any. And the fest. Though the rain had let up by this point – apparently the storm that I’d expected to hit the headliners had gotten there early and instead soaked me – I was tired, hungry, wet, and just done. Osheaga was the first big outdoor fest I’d done in over two years, and as much fun as it was, I’ve got a feeling it might have been my last.

Four is out August 21, and in addition to their September 10 show at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto, Bloc Party have added a second show on September 11 – tickets $25 and $35 in advance. BBC and The Fly talk to them about their new record. Their set from New York earlier this week will be available to stream on demand today – sometime – at YouTube.

Photos: Bloc Party @ Scène vertes – August 5, 2012
MP3: Bloc Party – “Banquet”
Video: Bloc Party – “Octopus”
Video: Bloc Party – “One More Chance”
Video: Bloc Party – “One Month Off”
Video: Bloc Party – “Talons”
Video: Bloc Party – “Mercury”
Video: Bloc Party – “Flux”
Video: Bloc Party – “Hunting For Witches”
Video: Bloc Party – “I Still Remember”
Video: Bloc Party – “The Prayer”
Video: Bloc Party – “Helicopter”
Video: Bloc Party – “Two More Years”
Video: Bloc Party – “Pioneers”
Video: Bloc Party – “Banquet”
Video: Bloc Party – “So Here We Are”
Video: Bloc Party – “Tulips”
Video: Bloc Party – “Little Thoughts”

The Quietus has details on the next album from Patrick Wolf. A double album entitled Sundark & Riverlight, it doesn’t feature new songs but completely acoustic re-recordings of selections from throughout his recording career, all of which makes the intimate and acoustic setup of his upcoming Fall tour so much more logical. The album comes out on September 25, which just happens to be the day that Wolf is in Toronto at the Music Gallery, and support on this tour comes from Canada’s own Woodpigeon. More special than you can shake a stick at. Same Same and Q News both have interviews with Wolf.

MP3: Woodpigeon – “For Paolo”

Ladyhawke has made a date at The Hoxton on September 15 as part of a North American tour in support of her second album Anxiety.

Video: Ladyhawke – “Blue Eyes”

Monday, July 30th, 2012


The xx and Jacques Greene at The Phoenix in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangThe arc around The xx’s 2009 debut xx was a narratively perfect one, rich with mystery, sex, and drama as the London trio vaulted from obscurity to Mercury and, most prestigiously, a place on my year-end list. And perhaps most crucially for a perfect story, they ended. Or at least went away for a while.

Real life differs from stories, however, in that it generally doesn’t let you just ride off into the sunset, and so after some deserved downtime – okay, Jamie Smith, aka Jamie xx, continued to establish himself as a highly sought-after DJ, remixer, and producer but his bandmates Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim did a pretty good job of staying out of sight – the trio announced their second album would be entitled Coexist and be out on September 11. But before that and between a slew of European festival appearances, a compact tour of the new world to refresh their fans’ memories, if it was needed. And if you don’t feel like reading the rest of the review, I’ll offer a spoiler – it wasn’t.

Support for the tour came from Montreal’s Jacques Greene, and while he’s done a job of establishing his name as both a producer and artist, live he was a two-man operation, accompanied by labelmate Ango on working the samplers and sequencers to create solid grooves of electronic, R&B beats. He was also the de facto frontman when the pair shifted gears a couple times for some slow jams that didn’t astonish, but did offer a nice change of pace from the rest of their set. If you came to The xx from their indie guitar-based side, it might have been a bit unexpected as an opener but if you focused on their dancier side and turned the BPM up a bit, it made perfect sense. And both Greene and Ango looked like they could be stunt doubles for Oliver Sim, so there was that too.

Considering that by the end of the xx cycle, The xx were selling out Massey Hall, returning to a room the size of The Phoenix where they made their Toronto debut opening for Friendly Fires in December 2009 should have been a great chance to recapture some of the intimacy that so suits their music before they’re lost forever to much larger venues, but one of the things that this show made quite clear is that it’s very difficult to create that sort of intense, minimalist vibe when you have a thousand people singing along – and that wasn’t only for the old material. The show opened with the first official taste of Coexist, the week-old “Angels”, and even on that Madley-Croft had an unofficial backing choir of hundreds who’d already committed its lyrics to heart.

The one-hour, ten-minute show gave the audience pretty much everything they could have wanted. There was xx in its entirety, but with a few tracks essentially remixed live – “Crystalised” was essentially transformed into an ambient piece and others were more subtly transformed for greater dynamics and dramatic effect – and a half dozen selections to preview Coexist. In broad strokes, the new material doesn’t sound too far removed from the old – certainly it will take a copy of the finished album and a good pair of speakers or headphones to fully appreciate the growth in their songwriting and production – but comments that Smith had made in the press about this record being more dance-influenced were not idle. While Madley-Croft and Sim’s roles as frontpersons remained as they ever were, Smith made it clear through how his beats – including some on acoustic drums – drove the show that he was their musical backbone, their man behind the curtain (or perspex ‘X’ DJ tables), and wherever he wanted to take them would be where they went. And circa Coexist, he’s feeling the dance – main set closer “Swept Away” was pretty much a rave.

While neither Madley-Croft or Sims have ever seemed particularly fussed about their onstage charisma – some complain about their understatedness but I’ve always found it to be perfectly suited to their music – they certainly seemed to have more presence this time than their past visits. Certainly part of this was the elaborate lighting effects, projections, and smoke machines that accompany them onstage, but also a result of their continued growth and comfort level as performers. And it’s a good thing they seem to be feeling comfortable up there – based on the strength of this preview of Coexist and the obvious appetite their fanbase still has for them, The xx are going to be on the road for a long time.

The Toronto Sun, The National Post, Exclaim, and NOW were also in attendance and has some thoughts.

Photos: The xx, Jacques Greene @ The Phoenix – July 28, 2012
MP3: The xx – “Angels”
MP3: The xx – “Open Eyes” (demo)
MP3: The xx – “Basic Space”
MP3: Jacques Greene – “Motivation”
MP3: Jacques Greene – “Sorted”
MP3: Jacques Greene – “Arrow”
MP3: Jacques Greene – “Another Girl”
Video: The xx – “Islands”
Video: The xx – “Basic Space”
Video: The xx – “Crystalised”
Video: Jacques Greene – “Another Girl”
Video: Jacques Greene – “Tell Me”

Bloc Party are streaming a new track from Four, out August 21. They play The Danforth Music Hall on September 10.

Stream: Bloc Party – “Day Four”

Japanese classical post-rock quartet Mono will release their new album For My Parents on September 4 and stage a massive North American tour with a stop at The Horseshoe on September 12; Chris Brokaw of Come/Codeine/The New Year fame will open up. Mono’s last visit in May 2010 was epic, and not in that hyperbolic way that the word is typically used nowadays. It was literally epic.

MP3: Mono – “Ashes In The Snow”
MP3: Chris Brokaw – “Bricks”

The Quietus has an interview with Lætitia Sadier, in town at The Drake on September 18.

Very disappointed to report that I Break Horses have cancelled the whole of their Fall North American tour, including September 19 at The Drake. They’re promising to make it up in 2013 though, so there’s that.

Daytrotter has a session with Blood Red Shoes, in town at The Drake Underground on September 26.

Taken By Trees have released the first video from Other Worlds, out October 2. She plays The Phoenix on October 4.

Video: Taken By Trees – “Dreams”

The first single from Bat For Lashes’ new album The Haunted Man is now available to download. It’s out October 23.

MP3: Bat For Lashes – “Laura”

Rolling Stone has premiered the new video from Ladyhawke’s Anxiety.

Video: Ladyhawke – “Blue Eyes”

The Sun talks to the members of Blur about their thoughts on the Olympics and the state of their reunion.

Loud & Quiet have an interview with Mica Levi of Micachu & The Shapes.

Gameological talks games with Elizabeth Morris of Allo Darlin’.

Uprooted Music Revue and Drowned In Sound talk to Stevie Jackson about his solo efforts.

Spinner has a feature on 2:54.