Posts Tagged ‘Sufjan Stevens’

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

We Need A Myth

Review of Okkervil River’s I Am Very Far

Photo By Alexandra ValentiAlexandra ValentiIf Will Sheff has ever felt too predictable in what people expect from Okkervil River, he’s really got no one to blame but himself. Since their breakout 2005 record Black Sheep Boy, the band in which he’s been the only real constant has made a habit (okay, twice) of releasing literarily-inclined multi-volume sets with a very specific narrative and musical themes; Black Sheep Boy being a mythically-tinged folk-rock study of the Tim Hardin song and the 2007-08 season’s production of The Stage Names/The Stand Ins was his ruminations on fame and the rock’n’roll life set to a soundtrack appropriately indebted to classic sounds of the ’60s and ’70s.

It’s an approach that has worked, clearly; each of Okkervil’s releases has brought the band more and more acclaim and all have been favourites around these parts. But based on their new record I Am Very Far, it’s one that required a little shaking up. Or a lot. While time will tell if there’ll be a companion record released in the near future, those looking for an easy angle on what Very Far is about, thematically, will be disappointed – having essentially put novels and memoirs to song, Sheff has now assembled his short story collection with each of the record’s eleven songs standing self-contained, both lyrically and musically. And it’s on the latter point that I Am Very Far really stands apart from its predecessors.

With a markedly different lineup from their last recordings, it’s inevitable that Okkervil would sound at least a little different. But rather than simply accept those variances, Sheff has opted to exploit them and give the band a new sonic identity. His own perfectly imperfect vocals remain the most identifying trait, but everything around it is bigger and broader-sounding than ever before. This is easily Okkervil’s most produced record ever, but rather than the extra gloss that that usually implies, here it means density. Overdubs and extra players, musical styles heretofore unexplored – dig the almost disco-ish groove of “Piratess” – and crazy echos and reverbs pervade the record as does an almost manic (or maniacal) sense of relentless restlessness; its bloodshot energy is almost as uncomfortable to listen to as it is invigorating. Some might suggest that I Am Very Far is the band’s bid to break into the mainstream but I think that if that was their intention, they’d sound like they’d have gotten a little more sleep before pressing “record”.

But for all the tumult that has obviously gone into making I Am Very Far, after a few acclimatizing listens, something quite beautiful emerges. The freedom gained from putting everything that defined Okkervil on the table with this record combined with Sheff’s already formidable skills as a songwriter, lyricist and arranger have produced the sort of album that I imagine most bands of a certain tenure long for; one that the more you thought you knew what the band were about, the more you’d be surprised by and which is like discovering one of your favourite bands again for the first time.

Spinner talks to Will Sheff and Pat Pestorius about making the new album. They play The Phoenix on June 10.

MP3: Okkervil River – “Wake And Be Fine”
Video: Okkervil River – “Wake And Be Fine”
Stream: Okkervil River / I Am Very Far

San Diego’s Crocodiles, whom I’d begun to think had some personal issue with Toronto for their never touring up this way, will make up for their absence in a big way for NXNE as they will play a three-night residency at The Silver Dollar over the course of the festival, June 17, 18 and 19, with a different undercard each night.

MP3: Crocodiles – “Sleep Forever”

Chicago emo/math-rock veterans Joan Of Arc have a date at The Garrison for August 5, ticket $12.50. Their new record Life Like is out today.

MP3: Joan Of Arc – “Love Life”

The best of news, the worst of news. With their self-titled album due out on June 21, Bon Iver have announced a Summer tour that brings Justin Vernon and company back to Toronto on August 8… to The Sound Academy. Well at least it’ll be warm. Tickets are $35 general admission, $45 VIP and go on sale Friday. Support will come from Vernon’s old bandmates The Rosebuds, who themselves have a new record out in Loud Planes Fly Low, out June 7.

MP3: Bon Iver – “Blood Bank”
MP3: The Rosebuds – “Second Bird Of Paradise”

New York singer-songwriter Lia Ices has announced a date at The Rivoli for August 9, tickets $12, and has also released a video for the title track of her debut album Grown Unknown. The Georgia Straight has a profile.

MP3: Lia Ices – “Daphne”
Video: Lia Ices – “Grown Unknown”

The National have taken their two recent non-album releases – songs from the Win/Win film and Portal 2 video game soundtracks – and put them on a 7″ single for those who like physical things made of vinyl.

Sufjan Stevens talks to The Guardian about the nervous breakdown that informed The Age Of Adz.

NYC Taper is sharing a recording of an Antlers show in New York from earlier this week. Their new record Burst Apart is out today and Pitchfork has an in-studio video performance of one the new songs with an assist from Neon indian. There’s interviews with the band at The Huffington Post, eMusic and Village Voice. They play The Mod Club on June 14.

The AV Club chats with Bon Iver drummer S Carey about his solo work.

Pitchfork talks to Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes. They’re at Massey Hall on July 14 and tonight’s show in Austin is going to be webcast live on NPR.

Richard Buckner fields questions from Aquarium Drunkard about his new record Our Blood, due out August 2.

PopMatters interviews Lissie, in town for a show at The Phoenix on May 28.

Death Cab For Cutie have released a second video from Codes & Keys, out May 31. They’ve got two local dates coming up – May 18 at The Phoenix and July 29 at The Molson Amphitheatre. Tickets for the latter will range from $29.50 to $49.50 and go on sale Friday at 1PM. Black Book talks food with Ben Gibbard.

Video: Death Cab For Cutie – “Home Is A Fire”

NYC Taper has posted a recording of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart’s show at New York’s Webster Hall last week. The band are at The Opera House on August 2.

Beatroute interviews Explosions In The Sky.

Low steps into The AV Club’s Undercover studio and records a cover of Toto’s “Africa”, and damn if they don’t sound amazing.

Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips discusses the viability of gummy skulls as the next medium of music delivery with Billboard.

Monday, January 31st, 2011


Review of Shugo Tokmaru’s Port Entropy

Photo via PolyvinylPolyvinylSo I’ve had to check myself a couple times from taking a, “Shugo Tokumaro‘s music is so weird and wonderful, it must be because he’s Japanese!” angle on this writeup. Because even though it’s not incorrect – Tokumaru IS Japanese and sings entirely in Japanese and many things that come out of Japan are weird and wonderful to Western sensibilities – it’s too reductive and doesn’t give Tokumaru enough credit for what he’s done with his music.

His latest album, Port Entropy is the second of his records I’ve had the pleasure of immersing myself in after 2008’s Exit and like its predecessor, it’s a whimsical whirlwind of instruments and orchestration, almost all played by Tokumaru, that lifts aloft his winsome and dreamlike melodies. For all the musical sophistication and cinematic scope of his recordings, the songs at their core have a childlike simplicity and pop appeal that transcends things like language or culture, and anyways “la la la” pretty much means the same thing universally.

Port Entropy was released in the Spring of 2010 in Japan and will be out in North America on February 15. Tokumaru toured over here behind Exit, assisted in the live setting by members of such acts as Beirut and The National, and word is that he’ll be crossing the Pacific again to support the new record.

MP3: Shugo Tokmaru – “Lahaha”
Video: Shugo Tokmaru – “Lahaha”
Video: Shogu Tokumaru – “Tracking Elevator”
Video: Shugo Tokumaru – “Rum Hee”

Spin talks to Bob Nastanovich about the future of the Pavement reunion, which apparently isn’t as over as though who saw them melt down at Matador 21 might have guessed – but even if they play more shows, don’t expect any new material.

PopMatters, Exclaim and The Star-Tribune talk to Mark Olson of The Jayhawks.

Spinner talks to Nicole Atkins about her Canadian connections while Vol. 1 Brooklyn asks her about her reading habits. Atkin’s second record Mondo Amore is out February 8 and she plays The Horseshoe on February 26.

State and Baltimore Magazine talk to Dean Wareham.

Black Book returns to Chicago’s Wicker Park with Liz Phair. Nashville Scene also has an interview.

The National Post, The Independent and Time talk to Colin Meloy of The Decemberists, who are at The Sound Academy tomorrow night. NYC Taper is sharing a recording of their show in New York from last week.

Paste catches up with Sam Beam of Iron & Wine.

Le Blogotheque serves up an order of Take-Away Show with Spoon, up-sized to include downloadable MP3s of the performance.

The Georgia Straight talks to Daniel Kessler of Interpol, who have a date at The Sound Academy on February 15.

The Strokes make the press rounds in advance of the March 22 release of Angles, offering interviews to Spinner, Myspace and Spin.

Beggars USA reports that Alela Diane will release a new record entitled Alela Diane & Wild Divine on April 5th.

The New Zealand Herald and Pitchfork talk to Sufjan Stevens.

In support of the release of their new record Long Live on February 15, Snowblink will play an in-store at Soundscapes on March 3 followed by a record release show at The Music Gallery on March 5.

MP3: Snowblink – “Ambergris”

Plants & Animals will warm up for their March 5 show at Lee’s Palace with an in-store across the street at Sonic Boom that same afternoon at 4PM.

MP3: Plants & Animals – “Tom Cruz”

The National has words with Dan Bejar of Destroyer. They are at Lee’s Palace on March 31.

NOW checks in with Joel Gibb of The Hidden Cameras.

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Archer On The Beach

Destroyer heads to the beach, Chinatown

Photo via MergeMergeJust a short one today as I’m still recovering from a) replacing all the carpet in my apartment with hardwood (well, laminate) in a single day and b) trying to clean up the enormous mess generated by a). Exhausting stuff, that.

So I’ll let Dan Bejar take it away. Now a couple years removed from Trouble In Dreams and with Pornographer duties largely done with for a while, Dan is getting Destroyer back into gear. Following up last year’s epic-length “Bay Of Pigs” 12″, Bejar released a second limited edition 12″ for the song “Archer On The Beach” earlier this month, but if you haven’t already got your copy secured, then you’re out of luck – all 1000 copies are spoken for. But you can stream the song, and its spoken-word b-side “Grief Point”, courtesy of Merge.

There’s still plenty of time to reserve a copy of the new Destroyer LP Kaputt, though – it’s not out for another two months, on January 25. The first MP3 is now up and while it’s not a cover of the Luna song (how great would that be?), it’s a pretty sweet if chilled out tune that incorporates some of the electronic and atmospheric touches of the aforementioned 12″ releases and some wonderfully questionable saxophone. I’ve been in the mood for a new Destroyer record for a while now – looking forward to hearing the rest of this.

MP3: Destroyer – “Chinatown”
Stream: Destroyer – “Archer On The Beach”/”Grief Point”

Montreal represents on March 5 when Lee’s Palace welcomes 2008 Polaris Prize shortlisters Plants & Animals and 2010 Polaris Prize winners Karkwa. Tickets for the show are $15 in advance.

MP3: Plants & Animals – “Tom Cruz”
MP3: Karkwa – “Dors Dans Mon Sang”

Exclaim has details on a Nick Drake tribute/benefit concert taking place at Trinity-St. Paul’s in Toronto on November 28.

BBC talks to Mark Hamilton of Woodpigeon on the topic of concert taping. Mark has been posting various sundry MP3s to the Woodpigeon site all Fall, including this live solo one from Montreal’s CJLO.

MP3: Woodpigeon – “…And as the Ship Went Down, You’d Never Looked Finer (Live on CJLO)”

S. Carey, in town at the Horseshoe on December 19, is featured in a Daytrotter session.

School Of Seven Bells have released a new video from Disconnect From Desire and have been tapped to open up for Interpol on their North American tour next year – including the February 15 stop at the Sound Academy in Toronto.

Video: School Of Seven Bells – “I L U”

Also with a new video is Sufjan Stevens, who’s taken the song title to heart with regards to the clip’s art direction. Tribute will be paid to a simpler Sufjan by means of a tribute album to his Seven Swans record featuring Bonnie Prince Billy and a number of Asthmatic Kitty artists. Seven Swans Reimagined will be out on March 22.

Video: Sufjan Stevens – “Too Much”

The Radio Dept.’s Martin Carlberg discusses the band’s modest career ambitions with Spinner. Their singles and b-sides compilation Passive Aggressive is out on January 25 and they make their Toronto debut at Lee’s Palace on February 7.

M83 mastermind Anthony Gonzalez talks to Pitchfork about his plans for his next record.

Nick Cave tells Spinner that a new Nick Cave record should be out next year – just as soon as he writes it. In the meantime, Grinderman remains on the front burner – The AV Club talks to Warren Ellis about making Grinderman 2.

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Halifax Pop Explosion 2010 Day Three

Basia Bulat with Symphony Nova Scotia at Halifax Pop Explosion

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangThe “see something new” mandate largely fell apart on the third night of Halifax Pop Explosion, but with good reason; when you get the opportunity to see Basia Bulat perform with a symphony, you take it. Bulat was the third artist to be brought together with Symphony Nova Scotia as part of the Pop Explosion, Ron Sexsmith and Owen Pallett had done so in past years, and it was Pallett who crafted the orchestral arrangements of Bulat’s songs for this performance which took place in the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium on the Dalhousie campus.

The evening was structured more like a symphony concert than a pop one, split into two halves and opening with the symphony performing a piece by Toronto composer Jordan Pal before being joined by Bulat and bandmates Holly Coish on vocals and taropatch and Bobby Bulat on drums. Bulat’s songs have often been called orchestral-pop and often come out of the box lovingly adorned with strings, brass and woodwinds, but the strength of her work comes from the emotional directness of their simple folk hearts. So to hear them with their sonic dressings increased tenfold (or so) was fascinating to witness. Pallett’s treatments took those supporting elements and gave them a new level of animation, sometimes taking hues that were muted and enhancing them to technocolour levels or simply adding all-new shapes and colours and in doing so, inverting the tone of the song completely. The symphony emphasized the shadows lurking on “Heart Of My Own” and practically inverted the usually-joyous “I Was A Daughter” into an elegiac sort of farewell.

For me, the real test would be “The Shore”, which was pretty much perfect in its austere presentation on Heart Of My Own and was even more stunning in its live solo arrangement. The rearranged version pretty much came out of it a draw, with the timpani and percussion giving it a stirring, tidal rumble but the trilling woodwinds distracting from the song’s emotional heft. And that would largely sum up how the collaborative pieces went – a lot of embellishment and some distraction. When they played together, it could feel trepidatious, particularly rhythmically, as though songs that were used to flitting freely in light Summer dresses were now having to move with heavy, fancy formal wear on. But even so, in the end the pieces were always made winners not by the massive orchestra or Pallett’s contributions, but by Bulat and her songs.

In addition to the eight orchestral pieces, Bulat played a number of selections either with Coish and her brother or solo, and those performances – aided by the theatre’s stunning acoustics – were just as much highlights of the night as those with the symphony. In particular, one of two new songs – “It Can’t Be You” – featured a vocal performance from Bulat that was just jaw-dropping, and the encore-closing unamplified stomp-and-clap of “Death Come Creeping” on the fancy auditorium stage in front of the orchestra, was as wonderful as it was incongruous. More, actually.

I won’t say that the symphonic treatments improved Bulat’s songs – I think they’re “right” the way they were originally conceived and presented – but that wasn’t the intention in the first place. Rather, it was an artistic and musical experiment for everyone involved that yielded interesting and frequently beautiful results, and one that I still feel privileged to have gotten to see. Here’s hoping that more orchestral collaborations are in the cards for the future so that others can share that privilege and the works can evolve further as their own entities.

This ended up being the only thing I attended on the third night of HPX – partly because Rebecca Cohn was far enough from any other venue that it would have required a whole lot of effort to get anywhere else, partly because the idea of going to a little club after this show and getting blasted in the face with some punk rock wasn’t very palatable and partly because it was going to be more fun to just kick back and hang out with friends afterwards. I’d make up for it the next night.

The Halifax Chronicle-Herald also has a review of the show. She now opens up a series of cross-Canada shows for Josh Ritter, including tomorrow night at The Phoenix.

Photos: Basia Bulat with Symphony Nova Scotia @ Rebecca Cohn Auditorium – October 22, 2010
MP3: Basia Bulat – “Go On”
MP3: Basia Bulat – “Gold Rush”
MP3: Basia Bulat – “In The Night”
MP3: Basia Bulat – “Snakes & Ladders”
Video: Basia Bulat – “The Pilgriming Vine”
Video: Basia Bulat – “In The Night”
MySpace: Basia Bulat

Rae Spoon rolled out a couple more videos from Love Is A Hunter over the last while.

Video: Rae Spoon – “There is a Light (but it’s not for everyone)”
Video: Rae Spoon – “Joan”

Sufjan Stevens talks about some of the personal issues that informed and delayed The Age Of Adz with Exclaim.

The Vancouver Sun talks to Matt Ward of She & Him.

The Asheville Citizen-Times chats with Band Of Horses’ Bill Reynolds and Tyler Ramsey.

NPR interviews School Of Seven Bells.

The video for Johnny Flynn’s new single is out, featuring a live performance in a garden with Laura Marling covering her parts as she does on the studio version on Been Listening. Flynn will be at Lee’s Palace on November 14.

Video: Johnny Flynn with Laura Marling – “The Water”

A couple of interesting international bands are on the Nu Music Nite bill at The Horseshoe tomorrow night (October 26). From the UK there’s folk singer Alessi’s Ark and all the way from Australia, The Jezebels. Easier for you to give the samples a listen, than for me to try and describe a couple of acts I’m only a little familiar with, but the combination of both on one bill and it being free makes it hard for me to stay cooped up at home, as much as I’d like to.

MP3: The Jezebels – “Mace Spray”
MP3: Alessi’s Ark – “Hands In The Sink”

The Dumbing Of America and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer interview Sky Larkin, who are in town at the Horseshoe on Wednesday night.

Under The Radar talks to Rose Elinor Dougall.

Lykke Li has put out a new single – mainly digital but also as a 7″ for collectors – and you can download the a-side below and the b-side at her website. A new album should be out in the early part of next year.

MP3: Lykke Li – “Get Some”

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Penny Sparkle

Blonde Redhead at The Phoenix in Toronto

Photo By Frank YangFrank YangI loved Blonde Redhead’s 23. Lots of people did. All churning guitars, delicate vocals and big, danceable rhythms, it was like a lost, great Creation Records album and ably scratched an itch that few had been able to reach in years and years. So I understand where people are coming from in not feeling this year’s follow-up, Penny Sparkle, and its synths-first dedication to atmosphere. And the complaints that the record sort of wandered aimlessly and lacked the drive and direction of its predecessor? Truth there as well. But I find that to be one of the album’s strengths, rather than a weakness – if you were going to go for an aimless wander, which I certainly advocate as an activity now and again, I can think of worse soundtracks than Penny Sparkle and its gauzy charms. Point being, it is its own thing and on the terms that it was intended, it’s a pretty good record.

Either way, “aimless” was not going to be a word to describe their performance at The Phoenix on Sunday night. Even before they took the stage, it was clear they were here on business. Their elaborate set dressings included smoke machines, numerous spotlights, decorative overhead reflector umbrellas and numerous incandescent light bulbs with flickering filaments similar in shape to their album artwork – it all looked quite fabulous, though it was a nightmare to shoot in. When they finally did come out to play – 25 minutes later than scheduled – it was with plenty of direction, and that direction was clearly in your face with the bass. Over an hour-long set that went back and forth between 23 and Penny Sparkle like the two sides of the same coin they really are, the trio – occasionally a quartet with the help of a second keyboardist – followed a deep, continuous groove that alternately showcased Kazu Makino’s keening vocals and sinewy dance moves, Amedeo Pace’s otherworldy guitarwork, twin Simone Pace’s acoustic and electronic drum mastery or all at once.

As you’d expect, the Penny Sparkle material was much heavier live, thanks in no small part to the massive amounts of low end being pumped into the decently-filled Phoenix. It was actually excessive and to the sound’s detriment at a few points, but you had to be impressed at the amount of bass a band without a bassist produced. The band was very much in the zone and while that meant that chit-chat was off the agenda – besides some quick hellos and thanks, there was no audience interaction – the musical payoff was worth it. Long-time fans were rewarded with the encore, which I can only assume delved further back into their catalog because a) I didn’t recognize the selections and b) they were much more unhinged than the familiar, recent stuff and certainly sounded like I imagine Blonde Redhead did in their noisier days, before bringing things back to the present for a gentle denouement. And then a final wave and goodbye.

Chart also has a review of the show.

Photos: Blonde Redhead @ The Phoenix – October 17, 2010
MP3: Blonde Redhead – “Here Sometimes”
MP3: Blonde Redhead – “23”
MP3: Blonde Redhead – “Not Getting There”
MP3: Blonde Redhead – “Misery Is A Butterfly”
MP3: Blonde Redhead – “In Particular”
MP3: Blonde Redhead – “A Cure”
MP3: Blonde Redhead – “Missile”
MP3: Blonde Redhead – “Distilled”
Video: Blonde Redhead – “My Impure Hair”
Video: Blonde Redhead – “Top Ranking”
Video: Blonde Redhead – “The Dress”
Video: Blonde Redhead – “Silently”
Video: Blonde Redhead – “23”
Video: Blonde Redhead – “Melody”
Video: Blonde Redhead – “Equus”
MySpace: Blonde Redhead

Exclaim reports that The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart have set a March 2011 release date for their as-yet untitled second album.

Anyone who’s wanted to see Chicago punks Smith Westerns but not trek to (or pay for) the Sound Academy to see them support Florence & The Machine on November 3, take heart – following their opening set they’ll head across town to Parts & Labour the headline their own sweaty show – admission $6 at the door.

MP3: Smith Westerns – “Imagine, Pt 3”

The New York Times talks to Sufjan Stevens.

The title of R.E.M.’s next album has been revealed – Collapse Into Now will be out early next year.

Check out Titus Andronicus turning in a performance of “The Battle of Hampton Roads” in a video session for For No One.

The whole of Warpaint’s debut The Fool is available to stream at Hype Machine a week before its release next Tuesday. The Telegraph has an interview with the band.

Stream: Warpaint / The Fool

NYCTaper is sharing a recording of a live Built To Spill show.

The Los Angeles Times examines the concept of middle-aged rock bands using Superchunk and The Vaselines as case studies; both are coming to town soon(ish) – The Vaselines at The Horseshoe on October 30 and Superchunk at The Sound Academy on December 9, supporting Broken Social Scene. Clash also talks to the Scottish duo about the dangers of nostalgia.

Frightened Rabbit have a new video from The Winter Of Mixed Drinks.

Video: Frightened Rabbit – “The Loneliness And The Scream”

Spinner, and USA Today profile Mumford & Sons, who are playing a sold-out show at The Sound Academy on November 13.

The Guardian interviews Elvis Costello. His new record National Ransom will be out November 2.

Under The Radar has a feature on the sisters of First Aid Kit.

Israel’s Monotonix are better known for their anarchic live shows than anything they’ve ever committed to tape, so even though their new album Not Yet isn’t coming out until January 25 of next year, they’re staging a two-legged North American tour this Fall that will test the structural integrity of Sneaky Dee’s on December 11. I doubt many will be complaining that they don’t know the words to the new material, but one sample of the new record can be had below.

MP3: Monotonix – “Give Me More”