Articles posted in April 2009

There’s trouble down on 12th street

I know, I’m pretty much the last one on this bandwagon. Sam Roberts‘s third full-length, Love at the End of the World, was released close to a year ago, and its second single, “Detroit ’67,” hit YouTube in October. Sam Roberts has always struck me as the successor to the Tragically Hip and Sloan: mainstream Canadian meat-and-potatoes rock that doesn’t totally suck. It’s not perhaps the most adventurous music in the world, but it’s an excellent way to start weaning pre-teens off of mall punk and onto less prefabricated music.

“Detroit ’67,” however, serves a much greater purpose. The song is based around a pounding honky tonk piano riff and Roberts’ enigmatic, swaggering vocal performance. With bluesy guitar leads and a massive shout-along chorus, it sounds like something the Rolling Stones would have written in, uh, ’67. The title suggests that the song is about Detroit’s 1967 race riots, but its actual scope is much broader. It comes off more like a series of free-association references to the city, from the auto industry to Motown to the seedy back streets. The song traces Detroit’s history across multiple eras, from pre-European Chippewa settlements to the present day. Although his perspective continually shifts, it always returns to the chorus’s question: “Does anyone here tonight remember those times? Can anyone here tonight just tell me what they felt like?”

The video is a perfect visual representation of the song, with grainy historical clips set against modern day footage of Sam Roberts and his band/posse/ entourage walking around Detroit. Interspersed are shots of Roberts pounding back shots in a pub and leading drunken sing-alongs—naturally, since “Detroit ’67″ is a quintessential bar blues song.

Love at the End of the World won the Juno for best rock album of the year. That’s a bit of a dubious honour, but congratulations I guess. It was released last May via Universal.
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While we wait for a new B&S record

Belle and Sebastian are on what appears to be an indefinite hiatus, but frontman Stuart Murdoch is busying himself with a project called God Help the Girl. It’s a self-described “story set to music,” meaning it’s essentially a rock opera, but without any of the pomposity associated typically associated with the genre. A twee-pop opera? I never thought I’d live to see the day.

The project includes some reworkings of Belle & Sebastian songs (“Funny Little Frog” and “Act of the Apostle”), as well as original songs. The characters are voiced by several different singers, including Murdoch himself, Asya from Smoosh, and a couple of unknowns recruited in an internet talent search.

The lead character (the “Girl”) is sung by Catherine Ireton of the Go Away Birds, and its her vocals that feature on the album’s single “Come Monday Night.” It’s a pleasant chamber folk tune, and isn’t too much of a departure from Belle & Sebastian—it could have conceivably fit onto either Dear Catastrophe Waitress or The Life Pursuit. The lyrics and melody are pure Stuart Murdoch; the trouble is that Ireton’s vocals are a little too self-assured, and lack the poignant charm of Murdoch’s gentle lisp. Still, it’s a nice tune, and gives B&S fans something to do while waiting for the band to reconvene.

God Help the Girl is out June 23 via Matador. The “Come Monday Night” single will be released May 11.
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10.5 on a scale of 10.5

Nathan Moes, a.k.a. the Magician, runs the risk of coming off as a little gimmicky. As well as performing magic tricks on stage, he litters his music with allusions to other artists, from the Unicorns-referencing title of his album (Who Will Cut Your Grass When I’m Gone) to the wonky “Smoke on the Water” riffing of its opening track (“Introducing”). But all the gimmicks in the world can’t distract from the fact that the Magician’s seven-track debut EP is chock-full of indelible pop hooks and witty, captivating lyrics.

“NJ v. NJM” features a fuzzy bassline working around an ominous minor key progression, its blippy keyboards making sense of the titular Unicorns reference (it sounds distinctly similar to “Tuff Ghost”). The lyrics draw from T.I.’s “What You Know,” and its hilarious appropriation of hip-hop slang (“With my kicks, with my slacks, with my cardigan / Yeah, I’m a 10.5 on a scale of 10.5″) comes off about as cool as Weird Al‘s “White & Nerdy.” The best part about Moes’s humour is that it’s unclear to what extent he’s in on the joke; no matter how silly the lyrics get, his delivery is remains resolutely deadpan. But surely he must be kidding…right?

Like his beloved Unicorns, the Magician has a knack for tossing off a moment of pop perfection without seeming to realize it. “Indicator Stop Bath” begins as a focused, upbeat pop song, but after barely a minute it falls apart, the drums taper off, and the piano is left to noodle around on a chord progression for nearly two minutes of daydream sublimity. “Ant/Whale/You & Me” contains an unfathomably catchy bridge, with triumphant piano flourishes and a poignant, rising melody. Placed after the first verse, you wait for the rest of the song hoping it will return; it never does, meaning you’ll have no choice but to listen to the song again.

While you’re at it, better re-listen to the entire EP.

Listen to five of the album’s seven tracks at the Magician’s MySpace (only the first and last are missing). The album isn’t available in stores, but it can be ordered through the website.
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