Posts Tagged ‘Nellie McKay’

Monday, April 16th, 2012

It's Only Life

Review of The Shins’ Port Of Morrow and giveaway

Photo By Annie BeedyAnnie BeedyI’d like to, if I could, refer you back to my writeup of The Shins on the occasion of their visit to Toronto last September. In it, I mused about how this band had a Forrest Gump-like knack for getting pulled into conversations bigger than themselves and how all of that seemed out of scale with James Mercer’s desire to simply write pop songs. That hasn’t necessarily subsided as some of the pieces I’ve read surrounding last month’s release of Port Of Morrow were built around the very questionable thesis that The Shins are already a reunion or nostalgia act (four albums over eleven years is hardly a snail’s pace these days, people).

Having already gotten that end of things out of my system with the aforementioned live review, I’m going to try and just talk about Port Of Morrow in the context of being a new Shins record, and nothing else. And it’s actually not too difficult to do because even with all that’s happened between this record and 2007’s Wincing The Night Away – namely the sacking of the band and shelving the whole thing in favour of Broken Bells – Port makes it feel like nothing has transpired and no time has elapsed.

The sonic aesthetic seems a bit shinier than before, more distinctly in line with ’70s studio pop but still following the path laid out by the albums that came before. Mercer’s distinctive, reedy voice manages to keep up – sometimes barely – with the looping melodies he writes for his cryptically evocative lyrics, accompanied by some ratio of jangly guitars to moody synths. The songwriting is also as solid as before, peaking with lead single “Simple Song” – it easily belongs on any post-career best-of compilation – and while it doesn’t again reach those heights, there’s an admirable lack of filler across the other nine tracks. It seems that it really doesn’t matter who’s along for the ride with James Mercer, The Shins remain as The Shins ever were. It’s funny that a band that was sold to so many as being life-changing should find their greatest strength in their constancy.

The Shins premiered their new video for “The Rifle’s Spiral” on the Nintendo DS platform last week, because they’re cool/annoying like that – it should be available for those of us without portable video game systems this week. They open up for The Black Keys at The Molson Amphitheatre on August 4.

Also, courtesy of With A Bullet, I have several copies of Port Of Morrow to give away – one on LP and three on CD. To enter, email me at contests AT with “I want The Shins” in the subject line and your full name and mailing address in the body, and indicate if you’d like to be eligible for the vinyl, digital or both. Contest is only open to residents of Canada – sorry, rest of the world – and closes at midnight, April 29. Update: The prizing has been upgraded to four LPs; if you’re CD-only, sorry, can no longer oblige. Maybe buy a turntable?

Video: The Shins – “Simple Song”
Video: The Shins – “Bait & Switch”

I still have fond memories of seeing The Shins for the first time back in Summer 2002 – just before this blog came into existence – at The Rivoli in Toronto, opening up for Los Angeles’ psychedelic-country outfit Beachwood Sparks. The Shins would eventually go on to great things while the Sparks went on hiatus shortly afterwards… a hiatus that is now over. Pitchfork reports the reconvened band will return with their third album The Tarnished Gold on June 26. One of the new tracks and a couple of old ones are posted below.

MP3: Beachwood Sparks – “Forget The Song”
MP3: Beachwood Sparks – “Confusion Is Nothing New”
MP3: Beachwood Sparks – “Drinkswater”

The Fly talks to Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast. Her new record The Only Place is out on May 15 and they’re at The Phoenix on July 21.

Wears The Trousers has an interview with Dee Dee of Dum Dum Girls.

School Of Seven Bells have a new video from Ghostory. They’re at The Hoxton on May 2 and are the subject of interviews at The Star-Telegram, The Citizen-Times, The Pitch, and The National.

Video: School Of Seven Bells – “Reappear”

tUnE-yArDs has released a new video from WHOKILL, featuring some face that may be familiar if you’ve seen the old videos from WHOKILL. There’s also interviews with Merril Garbus at OC Weekly and The Santa Barbara Independent; she plays The Phoenix on August 1.

Video: tUnE-yArDs – “My Country”

Lambchop have squeezed a new video out of Mr. M. Indy Week, Magnet, and The Washington Post have chats with Kurt Wagner.

Video: Lambchop – “2B2”

M. Ward is the subject of feature pieces at Spinner, Paste, The Vancouver Sun, Clash, American Songwriter, Ventura County Star, and Flagstaff Live.

NPR welcomes Perfume Genius to WFUV for a radio session featuring a new song. There’s also features at The Georgia Straight and Dazed, and the second part of the interview between Michael Stipe and Mike Hadreas is now up at East Village Boys.

NPR has made The Magnetic Fields’ day show at SXSW available to stream, and also have a radio interview with Stephin Merritt available. There’s also pieces at The Guelph Mercury and Creative Loafing.

Rolling Stone caught up with Annie Clark of St. Vincent to talk about her next album – a collaboration with David Byrne that should be out in the Fall. Pitchfork also points out that her entire Coachella set is available to watch online and a new song which appears on her Record Store Day 7″ makes its live premiere and scorches.

Video: St. Vincent @ Coachella 2012

QRO talks to Jonathan Meiburg of Shearwater.

Greg Dulli talks to DIY about the Afghan Whigs reunion.

New York electro-rock/soul/funk acts Penguin Prison and Class Actress are teaming up for a co-headline tour which brings them to Wrongbar on June 7;

Video: Penguin Prison – “Don’t Fuck With My Money”
Video: Class Actress – “Weekend”

You have the Toronto Jazz Festival to thank for bringing Janelle Monáe back to Toronto for the first time since CMW 2011; she’ll be playing the outdoor stage at Nathan Phillips Square on June 22, and hopefully you can find a spot to watch from the unticketed area because admission is a rather dear $62.50.

Video: Janelle Monáe – “Tightrope”

Also in town for the Jazz Festival is Nellie McKay, whose boycott of Canada in protest of the seal hunts is apparently over. She’ll be at The Horseshoe on June 30, tickets $20 in advance.

Video: Nellie McKay – “Real Life”

San Francisco electronic artist Tycho is back in town on July 10 for a date at The Hoxton.

MP3: Tycho – “Hours”
MP3: Tycho – “Coastal Brake”

And Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – perhaps you’ve heard of them – have finally added a Toronto date for their Wrecking Ball tour. They’ll be at The Rogers Centre on August 24 with tickets going on sale April 20; no pricing as yet but you can bet it won’t be cheap and that it’ll still be worth it. They’ve also released a new video from Wrecking Ball recorded at the Moody Theater show at SXSW in March. If you look really closely, you can see me in the stands! Okay, no you can’t. Update: Tickets are $35 and $115. Nicely done, Bruce.

Video: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – “Death To My Hometown”

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Bones In A Museum

Review of Rae Spoon's Superioryouareinferior

Photo By Amber DawkinsAmber DawkinsSo Polaris Prize ballots are due in less than a week and as is seems to be habit with me, I haven’t listened to nearly as many of the eligible albums as my fellow jurors, or at least that’s how it seems from the discussions going on at our top-secret, private BBS. But besides making me feel inadequate, the forum has been invaluable for pointing me to records that are sitting in my promo piles and might otherwise go uninvestigated for lack of time or whatever.

One such record, and one which may very well make it onto my submissions ballot, was Superioryouareinferior, the 2008 release from Calgary singer-songwriter Rae Spoon. Though Spoon’s fourth album, I’d never heard of him before his name began cropping up in early recommendation lists from other jurors and lo and behold, I had a copy of the CD and so popped it into the player before carrying on with what I was doing. And then I almost immediately stopped what I was doing.

The lead track, “Great Lakes”, just floored me. It’s a simple tune, the simple arrangement led by guitar and slowly built up with glockenspiel, keys and bass and drums, but it’s Spoon’s voice that gives it transcendence. Singing paeans to each of the bodies of water noted in the title, his voice is so wracked with yearning such that if you’re in a place where your emotional defenses are down, just a little, it’ll cut right into the heart, straight and true. I have a feeling that my reaction to that resonance may be disproportionately strong, but there it is.

And if that one song hits the bullseye squarely, the rest of the album doesn’t stray far from the mark. It’s evident that Spoon comes from a folksinger tradition, but he also incorporates electrified instruments, strings and electronic textures in a most subtle and natural manner to make Superioryouareinferior much more than just a folk record. As a songwriter, Spoon is thoughtful and introspective, drawing inspiration from history and identity, and is able evoke a lot with few words. And what’s not explicitly said is implied through the emotiveness and phrasing of his voice, a thing of high, pure beauty with just the right amount of twang and vibrato.

With each listen, Superioryouareinferior reveals more depths beneath its placid surface and I think I just talked myself into putting on the ballot.

MP3: Rae Spoon – “Come On Forest Fire Burn The Disco Down”
Stream: Rae Spoon / Superioryouareinferior
MySpace: Rae Spoon

Clash has a chat with Emmy The Great.

PopMatters checks in to see what Nellie McKay is up to – activisim, theatre, a new album and still refusing to perform in Canada.

Out and New York Press talk to Stephin Merritt about his work on the Coraline musical.

I Am Fuel You Are Friends interviews Thao Nguyen.

Annie Clark of St Vincent talks to The Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Decider about her new record Actor. She’ll be at the Horseshoe on August 8.

JAM discusses the success of Lost Channels with Great Lake Swimmers’ Tony Dekker.

Thick Specs has an interview with Joel Plaskett.

Crawdaddy has questions. Patterson Hood has answers. His new solo record Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs) is out June 23.

Steve Earle talks to The Telegraph and Indy Week about his new album Townes and gives Aquarium Drunkard a track-by-track annotation of the record. Earle is at Massey Hall on July 11 for a solo show.

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

A Mountain Is A Mouth

Bruce Peninsula, Alex Lukashevsky and Snowblink at the Polish Combatants Hall in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangIf there’s an advantage to writing about the same band for the third time in the span of a month, it’s that rather than try and lay down some background, I can just point you here and here and voila – you’re up to speed. If there’s a disadvantage, it’s completely running out of things to say. But I’ll soldier on.

Sunday night was the long-awaited album release party for Bruce Peninsula’s debut A Mountain Is A Mouth and there was simply no better place to be than the Polish Combatants Hall, and that includes in front of a television watching the Academy Awards (though Hugh Jackman’s opening song and dance number was pretty awesome). The hall was decorated with all manner of fake foliage, giving the environs a sort of nature-themed senior prom feel, and filled rows of chairs to accommodate the sold-out house. Indeed, there was an unmistakable sense of occasion in the air.

Considering many of the Bruce Peninsulans do duty in other bands, it wasn’t surprising that one of them would be tapped to open things up – this time, it was recent addition Daniela Gesundheit and her band Snowblink. Although an almost completely unknown quantity to myself and everyone I asked, after seeing them play there’s little chance anyone will soon forget who they are. By means of instruments both conventional and not – I don’t know the last time I saw someone play glasses onstage – she and her shifting lineup of musical compatriots put on a performance that transformed the stage setup into nothing less than an enchanted, fairy tale forest. More descriptively, they crafted ethereal folk-pop that reminded of St Vincent with a dash of Feist, but were entirely their own thing. Utterly beguiling.

This gave middle act Alex Lukashevsky, he of Deep Dark United and writer of the songs on Final Fantasy’s recent Plays To Please EP, a tough act to follow and at least as far as showing me something I’d never seen before, he succeeded. Lukashevsky himself didn’t do anything especially unusual, delivering rough-hewn folk-blues songs via acoustic guitar, but with his two bandmates providing almost orchestral accompaniment with just jazz vocal lines, they took on a theatrical aspect that was certainly unique. I don’t know that I’d find Lukashevsky’s unadorned solo work all that compelling, but definitely enjoyed the live performance.

There’s not a lot I can say about Bruce Peninsula live that I haven’t said before. This show wasn’t necessarily a better performance than any of the others I’ve seen them give – this is not a slight, as all their shows have been pretty incredible – but as mentioned earlier, the context of the night made it extra special. It was a celebration of friends and family, of fans gained by fervent word of mouth, of a band with a sound that manages to be fresh and distinctive while also feeling as old as the earth itself and of a record that implausibly manages to capture it. And with all that going around, it’s no surprise that the band was extra boisterous as they hollered like wild men and sang like angels through pretty much their entire repertoire, welcoming back departed members to join in one more time and filling their spectral songs with joy and life. A remarkable evening.

Chart also has a review of the show. RCRDLBL has some more background on Snowblink and an MP3 to download. Bruce Peninsula play again on March 28 at Lee’s Palace.

Photos: Bruce Peninsula, Alex Lukashevsky, Snowblink @ The Polish Combatants Hall – February 22, 2009
MP3: Bruce Peninsula – “Crabapples”
MySpace: Bruce Peninsula
MySpace: Snowblink

SoundProof talks to Angela Desveaux. She plays the Gladstone on March 12 for CMW.

MP3: Angela Desveaux & The Mighty Ship – “Sure Enough”

NPR is currently streaming the whole of Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone for the week leading up to its release next Tuesday. Her show in Amsterdam this past Sunday was supposed to be streamed live on FabChannel but had to be cancelled due to illness. It’ll be made up this Summer. Neko plays two sold-out shows at Trinity-St Paul’s on April 17 and 18.

Stream: Neko Case / Middle Cyclone

The little digital music store that could – – is celebrating its fifth anniversary as the finest online shop for Canadian music this year, and are celebrating with a party. Thick Specs has details on the show which will take over the Tranzac on June 27 and feature performances from Forest City Lovers and The Violet Archers, among many others. Tickets are $10 and on sale now at Zunior (duh) and advance purchases come with an MP3 compilation of rarities from the artists playing the show. And if you didn’t know, they offer free weekly MP3 mixes via the widget dealie over there on the right. Go get. And check out some recent interviews with Forest City Lovers at The Charlatan and The Silhouette.

MP3: The Violet Archers – “Sunshine At Night”

Keane have made a date at the Sound Academy for May 23. Support will come from Mat Kearney and The Helio Sequence.

Billboard has lineup details for this year’s edition of Edgefest, taking place June 20 at Downsview Park. Acts this year will include Metric, k-os and The Stills.

People will be digging out their threadbare Pretty Hate Machine and Ritual de lo Habitual t-shirts and pretending it’s 1990 again when the Nine Inch Nails/Jane’s Addiction tour rolls (creaks?) into the Molson Amphitheare on June 23. Full dates at The Music Slut.

Daytrotter welcomes Nellie McKay to their studios for a session. Naples News has an interview.

Happy 9th birthday to Bradley’s Almanac, who is marking the occasion by sharing a live Bedhead show circa 1998.

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Fe Fi Fo Fum

Photo by Frank Yang

I am willing to bet that most everyone who was packed into the tiny back room of The Rivoli on Saturday night was there to see Ms Laura Marling, she of the fine Mercury Prize-nominated debut Alas, I Cannot Swim if not of the top billing on this night. But, assuming they arrived early and stayed late and took in the entire show, I am also willing to bet that they weren’t just talking about Marling’s set afterwards, but every single act that performed.

It was the final night of the traveling musical caravan dubbed the “Fe Fi Fo Fum Tour” which had been traversing the continent for the past past three weeks, and in addition to Marling featured Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit and Mumford & Sons for an excellent sampling of the current crop of young, folk-based artists coming out of the UK right now. Though it was evident from the tour anecdotes and in-jokes that popped up in stage banter through the night that all involved had a terrific time discovering and conquering America, it was also obvious that they were tired but prepared to give their all for this one, last show.

And in addition to the three acts listed, there was a surprise opener in the form of Pete Roe, a member of Marling’s band who stepped up to play a quick and impressive two-song set of graceful, finger-picked folkistry that gave a taste of what was to come. And if that was the appetizer, Mumford & Sons was the first course. The four-piece, who would also comprise a large portion of Marling’s band, delivered a raucous yet mournful bluegrass-based sound that was steeped heavily in traditional forms but not at all restricted by them. There’s no overt genre envelope-pushing like introducing heavy electronic elements – banjos, mandolins and fiddles are very much the tools of the trade to say nothing of immaculate four-part harmonies – but there’s also no sense that they’re seeking to recreate the past, simply that they’ve chosen this particular style in which to write their songs. And in any style, their songs would have been strong and affecting.

My expectation for Laura Marling’s set was that it’d be a quiet, almost solemn affair in keeping with the downbeat tone of the album. And while it was far from a dance party, by playing with a full band and focusing on the more fully-arranged pieces from Alas, she far exceeded what you might expect from a conventional singer-songwriter performance. Initially, she evidenced some of the stage fright that she’s been contending with since being thrust into the spotlight, stony-faced and staring off into space whilst singing her songs, as though having an out of body experience. But the sheer love emanating from the audience – the constant singalongs were as endearing as they were annoying – and the joviality of her bandmates eventually pulled her out of her shell and by the end, she was smiling and joking along with them. For me, her performance was less a revelation as a reinforcement of the fact that Alas really is a strong record and Marling is a rare talent worthy of all the accolades she’s gathered in her short career. And though it’s usually the strength of her songwriting that’s praised, she also has a much stronger and versatile voice than you might expect – though she tends to favour the lower register that keeps with the confessional mood of her writing, there were a few points at the show when she went high or falsetto and sounded remarkable.

So with Marling having delivered what most in attendance were there to get, there was probably a bit of pressure on the final act – Johnny Flynn & The Sussex Wit – to prove they were worthy of the top billing and could close things out on just as high a note. And while they didn’t necessarily manage to exceed the bar set by the first acts, they were able to meet it handily and avoid any sort of let down. Drawing on their debut album A Larum, Flynn and company made the Rivoli feel like an olde English pub to which they were the house band. Like the other acts, they demonstrated really remarkable musicianship with Flynn trading off from guitar to trumpet to fiddle while singing his richly detailed folk songs overtop a musical backdrop that was simultaneously delicate and muscular.

Though I’ve used the term ad nauseum out of convenience, I’m not a fan of the “anti-folk” label that’s been attached to a lot of the young, roots-oriented bands coming out of the UK at the moment – all the artists on this night included. It sounds small and reactionary and doesn’t do the undeniable talent of those caught under the label justice. So instead, let’s try a different descriptor – how about “simply wonderful”? Okay, maybe not. But still.

Photos: Johnny Flynn, Laura Marling, Mumford & Sons, Pete Roe @ The Rivoli – October 4, 2008
MP3: Laura Marling – “Ghosts”
MP3: Pete Roe – “Let It Go”
MP3: Pete Roe – “I’ll Only Be Dreaming Of You”
Video: Johnny Flynn – “Tickle Me Pink”
Video: Johnny Flynn – “Leftovers”
Video: Johnny Flynn – “Brown Trout Blues”
Video: Laura Marling – “Night Terror”
Video: Laura Marling – “New Romantic”
Video: Laura Marling – “Ghosts”
Video: Laura Marling – “My Manic & I”
Video: Laura Marling – “Cross Your Fingers”
MySpace: Johnny Flynn
MySpace: Laura Marling
MySpace: Pete Roe

Stay Thirsty interviews Los Campesinos!, whose We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed is out November 11. Pitchfork has details on the bonus goodies that’ll come with the CD.

Thanks to Thierry for pointing out this odd but enjoyable video of Lightspeed Champion and SNL‘s Fred Armisen someone named Fred covering The Strokes. I have no context for this clip, and honestly, I don’t want any.

Video: Lightpeed Champion and Fred – “Someday”

NPR talks to Basia Bulat about the appeal of the autoharp.

PopMatters interviews Nellie McKay.

Daytrotter welcomes Aimee Mann to their studios for a session.

The Boston Herald features Fleet Foxes.

Broken Social Scene have added a second date at the Sound Academy for the end of November, playing on the 28th as well as the 27th. Support for the second date – and perhaps the first? – will be Land Of Talk, which does raise the question of whether or not their cancelled headlining date at Lee’s from the end of September will be made up anytime soon.