Posts Tagged ‘New Pornographers’

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

North Star

Review of The Rural Alberta Advantage’s Departing

Photo via Vanessa HeinsVanessa HeinsIt’s fitting that there was on The Rural Albeta Advantage’s debut album Hometowns a song called “The Ballad Of The RAA” because really, theirs was a nearly perfect story. The Toronto trio went from sparsely-attended open mic nights around town through a whirlwind of buzz – including a glorious, crystalline moment in an packed Austin church – that saw them become critical and popular darlings, all on the back of that batch of perfect, almost bewilderingly-simple but heartfelt songs. If this were the feature film adaptation of their story, then the final scene might well have played out at Lee’s Palace in December 2009 with the band playing a jam-packed hometown homecoming show and basking in the love of friends and family, faded to black.

Real life, however, doesn’t get to just let the credits roll and short of disbanding, a sequel was guaranteed and a couple years on, has arrived in Departing. Now for some bands, saying that they’ve made the same record over again would be a slight but for The RAA, at least in this case, it’s meant as high praise. Their sonic signature was distinctive from day one, relying on just a handful of musical tools to bring their songs to life, and success hasn’t been converted into truckloads of new instruments to play with. They just took a break, took a breath, and got back to it.

On the similarities, Departing is still built on Nils Edenloff’s nasal rasp and battered acoustic guitar, Amy Cole’s humming keyboards and sweet harmonies and Paul Banwatt’s insane drumming; elements that might seem at odds with one another on paper yet are perfectly complimentary in practice. The songs are yearning and wistful, still informed by Edenloff’s past life as a young Albertan in love. Even so, Departing is far from redundant – it represents a further honing of the above elements, the sort that you only get from endlessly touring. The production is more consistent throughout the album – Hometowns sometimes bore the fingerprints of its drawn-out gestation – and the arc of the songs from start to finish feels more considered and fluid. And while it covers the same lyrical terrain as its predecessor, the emotional range is broader, featuring some of the band’s most gentle and raging moments. On an individual song basis, Hometowns might retain the edge in highlights but as a collection and an arc, Departing is every bit its equal if not better.

All that said, one has to wonder how much more mileage can be gotten from this formula which has served them so well thus far, both with regards to sound and songwriting. The tidiness of a trilogy aside, it’s hard to imagine a third record of this not entering diminishing returns territory and surely a band as talented as they would want to push their boundaries as well. That, however, is a deliberation for later. All that matters for now is that Departing, while not having the ineffable x-factor that comes with discovering one of your new favourite bands, is another superb record from a singular band and should be treasured.

The Rural Alberta Advantage play their biggest hometown show yet at The Phoenix on April 29. Paste, Spinner and The Wall Street Journal have interviews with the band, NPR a World Cafe session and Billboard coaxes an Abba cover out of them.

MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “North Star”
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Stamp”
Video: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Stamp”

Pitchfork talks to Tom Scharpling about directing the latest New Pornographers video for “Moves”, outtakes from which have now surfaced on Vimeo.

Wireless Bollinger exchanges words with Dan Bejar of Destroyer. He plays Lee’s Palace on March 31.

BBC, The New Zealand Herald and Herald Sun talk to Dan Snaith of Caribou, who has released a new video from last year’s Swim.

Video: Caribou – “Jamelia”

Beatroute has an interview with Born Ruffians, who have a show at The Opera House on April 16.

The New Haven Advocate and Spinner catch up with Tokyo Police Club.

Exclaim rounds up various goings-on in the world of Fucked Up, including a live record and GG Allin tribute 7″. Their next studio record David Comes To Life is due in May.

Spinner talks to John O’Regan of Diamond Rings.

Muzzle Of Bees has premiered a new video from Great Lake Swimmers.

Video: Great Lake Swimmers – “Chorus In The Underground”

PopMatters interview Rolf Klausener of The Acorn. They’ve just announced an April 28 date at The Horseshoe with Evening Hymns.

MP3: The Acorn – “Restoration”

Beatroute discusses Degeneration Street with Murray Lightburn of The Dears.

Soundproof, Prefix and Filter have features on Young Galaxy, playing at Lee’s Palace on Thursday night as part of Canadian Musicfest.

NOW, eye and The Waterloo Record talk to Karkwa in advance of their local appearances next week – March 5 at Lee’s Palace opening for Plants & Animals, March 11 at Wrongbar for Canadian Musicfest and an in-store at Sonic Boom at 9PM on March 12.

Ottawa XPress, The Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen and Brock Press have feature pieces on Jenn Grant.

Monday, February 14th, 2011

5 Chords

Review of The Dears’ Degeneration Street

Photo via DangerbirdDangerbirdThat The Dears never really realized the lofty expectations that accompanied them when they emerged out of Montreal at the turn of the century really isn’t important. Nor is the fact that they turned out to be more foreshadowing of the great Canadian indie renaissance of the past decade rather than leaders of it, or that the drama surrounding the band and its endlessly changing roster often overshadowed their already-quite dramatic music. All that really matters is that they’re still at it and their new record Degeneration Street is, for my money, their best yet.

That should probably be accompanied by the caveat that I’ve never really been a fan of The Dears. Their early albums, for which they were the most feted, had the sort of grandeur that I liked but was lacking in the hooks that would have kept my attention over the course of their sprawling records. 2006’s Gang Of Losers, while hardly perfect, was the first of their releases that I really warmed to. And even though many found it too conventionally “rock” compared to their more expansive efforts, most would agree that 2008’s murkily rambling Missiles, which bore the fingerprints of its difficult birth (most of the band quit or left during its recording), was a low point for the band.

It may have been a necessary nadir, though, as Degeneration Street finds the band – reconstituted with a number of band members from earlier incarnations – striking a lean and focused balance of rock, soul and prog with plenty of pop and just about the right amount of self-indulgence. Tracks like “5 Chords” and “Thrones” are the sort of soaring, guitar-propelled anthems that far too few Canadian acts even attempt, let alone pull off, while opener “Omega Dog” proves that it’s possible for the band to showcase the scope of their ambitions without taking six-plus minutes to do it and the unexpectedly retro bounce of “Yesteryear” shows they’ve still got some surprises up their sleeves. I’m inclined to give veteran producer Tony Hoffer props for helping the band pull it together, though just as much credit must go to Dears leader Murray Lightburn – a man with a bit of a reputation for being artistically controlling – for allowing someone else to take the reins. It might have taken five albums over eleven years, but The Dears may have finally arrived.

Degeneration Street is out tomorrow and currently streaming in its entirety at The Montreal Gazette has a feature piece on the band and the album will be spotlighted in the first Polaris Record Salon, wherein a Polaris juror argues for the record’s inclusion in this year’s longlist/shortlist/ – it takes place Tuesday night at The Drake Underground and will also feature a live interview with Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak. Doors at 7, starts at 8 and will feature a listening party for the album. And if you’d rather hear them play than see them speak, they will play an in-store at Sonic Boom this coming Thursday evening, February 17, at 7PM – admission free with a donation of canned goods.

MP3: The Dears – “Blood”
Video: The Dears – “Omega Dog”
Stream: The Dears / Degeneration Street

The Guardian has a feature interview with Arcade Fire while Pitchfork has details on their upcoming Scenes From The Suburbs short film, helmed by Spike Jonze. And oh yeah congratulations to the band on last night’s “Album Of The Year” Grammy Award. Wait, who? features Young Galaxy in the latest installment of their Camera Music video session series, while Spinner and Chart talk to the band, who will be taking a pregnancy-induced hiatus at the end of April. Best catch them at Lee’s Palace on March 10 while you can.

The Besnard Lakes tell Spinner they’re going back into the studio to work on their next record as soon as this Summer.

Shad has released a new video from TSOL; he’s playing at The Indie Awards during Canadian Musicfest on March 12.

Video: Shad – “Keep Shining”

Self-Titled talks to Tom Scharpling about directing the latest New Pornographers video. You know which one.

Exclaim reports that Destroyer’s Dan Bejar has an impersonator…. and his name is Dan Bejar. For serious. The real(er) Dan Bejar and his Destroyer crew will be at Lee’s Palace on March 31.

With Drums & Colour interviews Mark Hamilton of Woodpigeon.

Forest City Lovers have announced an April 1 show at The Garrison, where they will be accompanied by Slow Down Molasses and Kite Hill. NOW has a feature on Forest City Lovers’ Kat Burns and her artwork-an-hour An Hour Of My Time art project and she’s got a solo show at Holy Oak on March 3.

MP3: Forest City Lovers – “Light You Up”

The Star Phoenix talks to Mike Belitsky and Planet S to Dallas Good of The Sadies. They’ve got a date at The Mod Club on March 11 with a yet-to-be-announced special headliner.

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Peripheral Visionaries

Review of Young Galaxy’s Shapeshifting

Photo By Joseph YarmushJoseph YarmushDespite seeming, on paper at least, as exactly the sort of band I’d like – atmospheric space-rock with male-female vocals – I’ve never really warmed to Montreal’s Young Galaxy. Their self-titled debut made little impression and the most remarkable thing about my live introduction in January 2007 was how singer-guitarist Stephen Ramsay managed to make it through the whole set without falling over, considering how completely glazed-over he looked. Things improved somewhat with their punchier second record Invisible Republic and their more energized performance at the Toronto Islands show opening for Death Cab For Cutie in June 2008, but not quite enough to put me in the ranks of their fandom.

And while their third effort Shapeshifting, out tomorrow, isn’t necessary a Damascene moment for me, it’s a much more interesting and engaging record than I’d have ever thought they’d be capable of. Some have attributed this to the recruitment of Swede Dan Lissvik of Studio to mix the record… and this is where I fess up and admit that I have no idea who Dan Lissvik or Studio are, or why this is important. But if he’s responsible for making this a Young Galaxy record that I feel compelled to listen to out of interest rather than obligation, then credit where credit’s due.

Having the perfect producer, however, means nothing if the band and the material can’t give them something to work with, so ultimately the credit should go to Young Galaxy themselves. There’s a focus in the songwriting that’s new to me, at least, and while Catherine McCandless still has an oddly hard-edge to her phrasing, both her and Ramsay’s vocals have more personality and vitality than I’d heard on past records. That, combined with a distinctive sonic space – tight, clean, dancey and strangely sterile in an otherworldly sort of way – that’s clearly established from the opening notes of “Nth” and thoroughly explored from the pop end to the experimental over the course of eleven songs. Whereas Young Galaxy’s first two records felt like legs of a journey, incomplete when taken on their own, Shapeshifting is very much a destination and one worth revisiting. Welcome.

Young Galaxy’s previously-announced March 4 show at Lee’s Palace was canceled when tourmates You Say Party had to pull out on account of singer Becky Ninkovic’s bronchitis but a new date has been announced as part of Canadian Musicfest; they’ll be anchoring the March 10 showcase at Lee’s with Miracle Fortress and The Wilderness Of Manitoba, amongst others to be announced. Festival wristbands will be admitted, but that’s dependent on capacity – the $16.50 advance ticket is your only guarantee for getting in. Exclaim, Sticky and The National Post have interviews with the band.

MP3: Young Galaxy – “Peripheral Visionaries”
MP3: Young Galaxy – “We Have Everything”
MP3: Young Galaxy – “Cover Your Tracks”
Stream: Young Galaxy / Shapeshifting
Video: Young Galaxy – “We Have Everything”

Stars are all about the video sessions, being featured in a Take-Away Show at Le Blogotheque and Tiny Desk Concert for NPR.

NYC Taper is sharing a recording of Suuns at The Rock Shop in New York a couple weeks ago, and the band have premiered a new video from their debut Zeroes QC. They’ll be at Lee’s Palace on April 14 opening up for The Black Angels.

Video: Suuns – “Pie IX”

Chart talks to Brendan Canning and Spinner to Kevin Drew about Broken Social Scene’s Juno Award nominations.

Paste has premiered a new video from Dan Mangan’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice.

Video: Dan Mangan – “Sold”

Also showing off a shiny new start-studded video – if Jon Wurster, Ted Leo, Donald Glover or John Hodgman are your idea of stars – are The New Pornographers, from last year’s Together.

Video: The New Pornographers – “Moves”

Interview interviews Dan Bejar of Destroyer. He plays Lee’s Palace on March 31.

Beatroute talks to Dallas Good of The Sadies. They’re playing March 11 at The Mod Club as part of Canadian Musicfest with a secret guest headliner who’ll be announced March 8. That usually means it’s someone who’s playing in town on March 7 or thereabouts, but I don’t see any likely candidates. Levon Helm? Lady Gaga? Someone bigger than The Sadies, anyways.

Basia Bulat discusses giving her music the orchestral treatment with Spinner.

And Under The Radar has posted their year-end piece about blogs, hype and blog hype online, including interviews with online peeps Said The Gramophone, Drowned In Sound, My Old Kentucky Blog and yours truly. I’m not as grumpy as I sound in the piece in real life, honestly. Or more accurately I am, but am more charming about it. I think.

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

We Talk Like Machines

Review of Savoir Adore’s In The Wooded Forest

Photo By Shervin LainezShervin LainezThough I’ve no corroborative quantitative evidence, I will posit that this past June 19, 2010 was one of the busiest nights, as far as music entertainment options go, in recent history. You had Iggy & The Stooges inciting mayhem at Yonge-Dundas Square, Pavement and Broken Social Scene holding court out on the Toronto Islands, Queen West was being transformed into Bieber Central for the MMVA’s at MuchMusic the next night and American Idol‘s Adam Lambert was doing whatever the hell he does at the Molson Amphitheatre. Not to mention that NXNE was still raging at most clubs throughout the city. And while I’ve no regrets about bearing witness to the Iggy-powered punk uprising at YDS, I remain sad that it meant missing seeing Brooklyn duo Savoir Adore at Sneaky Dee’s that same evening as part of NXNE, even moreso now that I’ve been spending quality time with their debut album In The Wooded Forest.

Unlike some other he-and-she duos currently on the indie rock circuit, Deirdre Muro and Paul Hammer don’t allow their band configuration define their sound – Forest is as full-sounding a record as anything a more conventionally structured band might make; it definitely boasts a certain home studio fidelity but isn’t lacking in musical depth in any way and the simpler aesthetic suits their earnest brand of pop to a tee. You can hear them experimenting with different musical styles – ’80s New Wave, Americana and disco all get thrown into the mix in varying quantities – but it’s the duo’s songwriting and intuitive hookiness that carries the record. Muro and Hammer’s voices are strong individually and divine in unison, their melodies carrying just the right amount of verve and sugariness, like aural cotton candy that somehow manages to deliver the full nutritional value of a balanced meal. A wholly addictive record.

I don’t know if there’s much chance of Savoir Adore coming back to town anytime soon – Forest is already well over a year old (I never said I discovered them in anything resembling a timely manner) and they’re more likely headed back into the studio than back on the road, but if and when they do return, I can only hope that they’ve got a little less competition on the live music front than last time.

They’ve just made a new non-album single available for download in “Loveliest Creature” and reaching back a bit, there’s also this Daytrotter session which was posted back in the Spring.

MP3: Savoir Adore – “Loveliest Creature”
MP3: Savoir Adore – “Bodies”
MP3: Savoir Adore – “We Talk Like Machines”
MP3: Savoir Adore – “The Garden”
Video: Savoir Adore – “The Scientific Findings of Dr. Rousseau”
Video: Savoir Adore – “Bodies”
Myspace: Savoir Adore

R.E.M. has given a March 8 release date to their new record Collapse Into Now and are giving the first track “Discoverer” away from their website. And while the whole “return to form” thing gets tossed around with every new record, “Discoverer” does have a certain old-school-ness about it… I approve.

Drowned In Sound gets some time with Robert Been of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

The Quietus talks to Brett Anderson and Neil Codling of Suede, who if they’re going to not break up again may as well just hop on a plane and come over here to play Lee’s. Yes, they can bring Fat Richard.

Interview, BBC, Sydney Morning Herald and Scotland On Sunday chat with Duffy.

PitchforkTV has a Tunnel Vision session with Isobel Campbell.

QRO has an interview with Stornoway.

Win Butler of Arcade Fire tells The Scotsman he is now and ever shall be a fan of the album.

It’s a music video! It’s a PSA! It’s both! The New Pornographers have teamed with Oxfam to create a clip for “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” from Together that draws attention to the plight of those affected by the Gulf Coast oil spill earlier this year. There’s more info on the collaboration at Oxfam.

Video: The New Pornographers – “Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk” solicits some holiday memories from The Rural Alberta Advantage. They’re at Lee’s Palace tonight and their new record Departing arrives on March 1. Departing? Arrives? See what I did there?

Thursday, December 9th, 2010


Wye Oak prepares to enter Civilian life

Photo by Natasha TyleaNatasha TyleaWhen Baltimore duo Wye Oak first came onto the scene in 2008 with their debut If Children, I felt they had all the necessary traits to attain most favoured band status – gorgeously melodic and melancholic songs built on a solid foundation of noise and twang – but didn’t pull it together quite enough to knock it out of the park. That they would do so, however, was a question of when and not if.

“When” would be the very next year with their much more dynamic and assured second album The Knot, which delivered on all the promise of the debut and then some, and this year’s My Neighbour/My Creator EP which affirmed that though they’d arrived, they weren’t slowing down even a little.

So expectations for album number three are pretty damn high, and we’ll find out if they’ve been met or exceeded come March 8, when Civilian is released. Falling short is not an option, and from the sounds of the first released MP3 – the title track of the record – there’s no worries on that count. It encapsulates everything that’s great about Wye Oak, starting out quietly folkish, and led by Jenn Wasner’s vocals, builds into an epic guitar freakout that should seem otherworldly given the song’s starting point but feels perfectly natural. Am I keen on this release? Yes.

Merge has details on the album and Winter tour dates, which will include a February 1 appearance at The Sound Academy in Toronto in support of The Decemberists.

MP3: Wye Oak – “Civilian”

And speaking of The Decemberists: while their next album The King Is Dead, out January 18, is apparently a step back from the high concept folk-rock opera of The Hazards Of Love, Colin Meloy’s apparently not done telling stories in song. In conversation with Billboard about the new record, Meloy mentions that he’s talked to a Broadway director about a future project.

Shearwater, with whom Wye Oak toured with when they visited back in the Spring, will be heading into the studio to make a new record this Spring but first, Matablog reports via a note from Jonathan Meiburg that they’ll be playing their last three releases – Palo Santo, Rook and The Golden Archipelago, aka “The Island Arc” – in order and in their entirety at Austin’s Central Presbyterian Church on January 15. I usually have a baseline state of mind of wishing I was in ATX, but I’d especially like to see that – for those of us who can’t, though, Matador has assembled a digital sampler from the three records just to remind us what we’ll be missing. Thanks. The Oklahoma Daily talks to Meiburg about islands.

MP3: Shearwater – “Red Sea, Black Sea”
MP3: Shearwater – “Sing, Little Birdie”
MP3: Shearwater – “The Snow Leopard”
MP3: Shearwater – “South Col”
MP3: Shearwater – “Castaways”
MP3: Shearwater – “God Made Me”

Superchunk make their long-awaited return to Toronto tonight, and the local media is ready to greet them. eye sends Nick Hune-Brown of local popsters Hooded Fang to interview ‘Chunk guitarist Jim Wilbur and also talk to drummer Jon Wurster about how he spent his hiatus. NOW and also get to chat with Wurster. The Detroit News has a piece with frontman Mac McCaughan.

NYC Taper has got audio of Jeff Tweedy’s solo show in New York earlier this week available to download.

Low are giving away a live EP in exchange for your email address. A fine way to get reacquainted before their new record C’Mon arrives early next year.

The first MP3 from J Mascis’ forthcoming solo acoustic record Several Shades Of Why is now available to grab over at Sub Pop. The record comes out March 15 and it looks as though he’ll be at Canadian Musicfest in Toronto the week before.

The New York Times has assembled fourteen short films of actors… acting, soundtracked by Owen Pallett. It’s cooler than I make it sound. Some background on the project at their Lens blog.

NOW dedicates this week’s cover story to The Sadies, who continue their tradition of ringing in the New Year at the Horseshoe this coming December 31. The Press has a conversation with drummer Mike Belitsky.

The Line Of Best Fit and The New Zealand Herald chat with Carl Newman of The New Pornographers.

And also at The Line Of Best Fit is a new Oh! Canada compilation, this one extra special as its a holiday-themed one with a tonne of exclusive seasonal tracks by folk like Basia Bulat, Woodpigeon and Evening Hymns. Even if you don’t like holiday music – and between you and me and the internet, I don’t really – it’s a must-have.