Articles posted in May 2009

Happy fucking congratulations

Considering how forgettable most of We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank was, Modest Mouse‘s decision to release an EP of outtakes is a little questionable. After all, if a dud like “Little Motel” made the final (and was released as a single, no less), how much hope can there be for the rejects? Regardless, the indie rock legends will issue a collection of eight unreleased tracks this August, entitled No One’s First and You’re Next (yes, Modest Mouse still rules at album titles). The EP also includes outtakes from 2004′s excellent Good News for People Who Love Bad News (so maybe there’s hope yet).

The first single, “Satellite Skin,” makes things look a lot more promising. It borrows its phrasing from Pavement‘s “Here” and its artwork from the Bravery (proof). But mostly, it sounds like pure Modest Mouse, recalling the jaggedness of the group’s pre-millennial output. Only the intermittently tinkling piano and some subtle slide guitar work (presumably contributed by Johnny Marr) serve as reminders that this is the major-label incarnation of the group. Isaac Brock’s singing is as fractured as ever, as he shouts and slurs his way through some of his most memorable lyrics in years: “You can say what you want, you’re forgiven / Well happy fucking congratulations.”

A video for “Satellite Skin” has been released, featuring a group of stop-animation tree houses running around a forest. It’s every bit as weird as it sounds, with lots of surreal imagery, including a baby dressed as a monk putting easter eggs into the empty eye sockets of an alien. It’s not clear what (if anything) it’s supposed to mean, but I’m pretty sure that at 2:05, somebody reaches their entire arm inside of a massive vagina.

Watch it here.

“Satellite Skin” is being released on 7″ on May 26, via Epic. The B-side is called “Guilty Cocker Spaniels,” and thanks to Stereogum, you can listen to it now.
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Being a good person takes a lot of energy

With futuristic synth lines and the ominously deadpan vocals of husband-and-wife duo of Seth Smith and Nancy Urich, Halifax’s Dog Day runs the risk of sounding like just another new wave throwback band, along the lines of Metric—and especially pertinent comparison since Urich bears a distinct vocal similarity to Emily Haines. But unlike the hyper-compressed glitz of bands like Black Kids or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (circa 2009, that is), Dog Day still have one foot in the garage. The guitars are raw and scuzzy and placed high in the mix, probably thanks to producer John Agnello, who also worked on recent albums by Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth.

These competing aesthetics are married perfectly in the lead single, “Happiness,” which begins with a spacey keyboard line and the unsettling ca-chunk of muted guitars. This soon explodes explodes into a vibrant chorus, with Smith’s vocals jumping from baritone to falsetto within the space of a single breath. “Wait It Out” is equally infectious, with handclaps and a sing-along chorus that’s as close as the band ever gets to sounding jaunty.

The album is only 11 songs long (totaling 45 minutes), but even at that length, the somberness becomes a little oppressive. There isn’t much in the way of sonic variety, and many of the lyrics read like self-help lists—”Do whatever you want / But don’t get carried away / Give whatever you gotta give / But don’t just throw it away” advises the chorus of “Youth of Destruction.” With instructional checklists such as this, it’s hard not to wish that Dog Day wouldn’t lighten the mood every once in a while. As a result, Concentration is album best enjoyed in small doses, and any one of these songs would fair well in a playlist.

The band also shot a charmingly retro video for “Happiness,” which features lots of ’80s-style green screen effects.

Concentration is out now via Outside / Black Mountain.
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Getting caught up

Toronto roots rockers Great Bloomers recently released their debut full-length, Speak of Trouble. It’s an excellent album that I’ll be talking about soon, but in the meantime, I’ve become completely obsessed the song “Catching Up” (from the group’s 2007 self-titled EP). Since I’ve spent the past two days listening to almost nothing else, I feel I owe the song it’s due recognition.

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch of call “Catching Up” one of the best songs of the past few years. It’s a sweeping piano pop epic, beginning as an aching ballad before suddenly transforming two minutes in, breaking out into an upbeat rock groove that recalls Broken Social Scene at its most straight-forward. It’s an infectious arrangement, but it’s really the lyrics that make the song so memorable. Frontman Lowell Sostomi directly addresses an old friend, asking “Has it been a year or has it been three?” It’s the kind of story that almost anyone can instantly relate to, but it also comes across as deeply personal, thanks to its detail-rich imagery (“We used to build fires in our back yards / And hike through the forest when the mud got hard”). Sostomi’s voice is deep and double-tracked, and his deadpan vocals provide the perfect counterpoint for the lyrics, preventing the song from ever sounding syrupy or manipulatively sentimental.

mp3: “Catching Up”
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Art pop is for fruits

Pomegranates are typically classified as art-pop, but in many ways, the Cincinnati four-piece sounds more like a straight-up pop/rock band. Their latest album, Everybody, Come Outside!, features beautiful melodies and shimmering guitars; combined with singer Joey Cook’s high, effeminate vocals, the band is sonically similar to Stars—a flattering comparison, but not one that suggests boundary-pushing avant pop.

But Pomegranates are distinguished by their complete disregard for typical pop song structures—there are plenty of memorable hooks, but Everybody, Come Outside! contains no choruses and scarcely even any recurring melodic patterns. Musical ideas are rarely ever repeated, which can be initially frustrating—moments such as shouted outro of “This Land Used to Be My Land, But Now I Hate This Land” are so infectious, you’ll wish they could be repeated a few more times.

With so many different ideas, it’s a lot to take in all at once, but the Pomegranates’ complex songwriting become easier to follow on repeated listens; you’ll find yourself waiting for the chanted group vocals on “Southern Ocean,” and for the heavily delayed guitar leads on (the misspelled) “Corriander.” Pomegranates’ gameplan seems to be similar to that of the Unicorns—to condense a lifetime’s worth of hooks onto a single album. Thankfully, Everybody, Come Outside! is Pomegranates’ second full-length, meaning that their career arc won’t be similarly short-lived.

mp3: “Corriander”

It’s out now via Lujo Records.
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Searching for our spirit animals

It seems like only a few weeks ago that I wrote about a new Hey Ocean! video. Oh right, it was. Well, the Vancouver funk-folk outfit has released yet another new clip from its 2008 album It’s Easier to Be Somebody Else, this time for “Too Soon.”

In the video, the band plays in a wide, pillared hall with bright back-lighting and lots of sudden cuts. It doesn’t have the same candy-coated appeal of the MuchMore Top 10-cracking “A Song About California,” instead opting for art-house imagery, including tribal dancers, an anonymous painter, and a white-clad figure holding up lyrical cue cards. It’s a perfect fit for the song, with its hypnotically repetitive guitar riff and spiritually cryptic lyrics (“We sat there searching for / Our spirit animals / Mine appeared on the shore / We never once saw yours”). This ominous groove eventually gives way to a joyous chorus, with funky strumming and what sounds like djembe percussion.

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Garfunkel & Oates (enough said)

If the band name Garfunkel & Oates doesn’t make you at least a little bit curious, then there’s something wrong with you. If you’ve never heard of them until now, you’re probably asking a few questions: A) Is it a real band? B) Is it the actual Art Garkunkel and John Oates? C) Are they a gimmick/novelty band?

To answer the above: A) Yes. B) No. C) Sort of. The duo is based out of LA, and is made up of guitarist Riki Lindhome (“Garfunkel”) and ukuleleist Kate Micucci (“Oates”), both of whom have worked extensively in TV and film—Garfunkel was in Million Dollar Baby, and Oates appeared on Scrubs. Together, they play minimalist folk songs that are as charming as they are ridiculous.

The most immediately memorable tune is “Worst Song Medley,” which is exactly what it sounds like—a two-minute medley of twelve terrible songs. It’s funny, despite feeling a little bit like shooting fish in a barrel (do we really need to make fun of “Barbie Girl”?). The duo is better when they play it more serious—but, of course, serious is a relative term with these ladies. “Only You” is sweet and poignant, with the pair trading off lines as they sing about the disappointments that come with growing old (“I used to think that I’d have sex / At some point in my adult life”).

mp3: “Only You”

It’s more along the lines of a quirky little curio than anything that’s likely to make your year-end best-of list. But Oates looks kind of like a younger, hotter Rachel Dratch, so that’s more than enough reason to check them out.
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Mother Mother @ the Commodore Ballroom

This show was a major coup for local music. The Commodore Ballroom is the biggest and best rock club in Vancouver, with a capacity of 900 (according to this website). So when Mother Mother announced that it would be playing the Commodore along with Said the Whale, Hannah Georgas, and Gang Violence, some eyebrows were raised. But the show sold out—weeks in advance no less—meaning that the street outside the venue was littered with scalpers and assorted poor saps asking around for extra tickets.

Dance punk trio Gang Violence got things off to an energetic start, with feedback-laden rave-ups that evoked You Say Party! We Say Die! and the Rapture. Rob Andow was particularly impressive, splitting duties between guitar, keyboard, and synthesizer—often all within the same song. Unfortunately, the set got derailed after only a few songs when the synth malfunctioned. After several minutes of tinkering, the band gave up and abruptly left the stage. It was especially baffling considering the guitar was still in full working order; apparently the group doesn’t subscribe to the “show must go on” axiom.

Things turned around quickly once Said the Whale took the stage, starting things off with an epic take on “Love Is Art/Sleep Through Fire” (a mashup of two songs from the EP Let’s Have Sound). Beginning as a gentle acoustic ballad, the song suddenly exploded halfway through, with heart-stopping crescendos and cascading drum fills. “B.C. Orienteering” was another standout, an upbeat folk song with lyrics that read like a survival handbook for a backwoods game of capture the flag.

During the set, local singer-songwriter Hannah Georgas played Feist to Said the Whale’s Broken Social Scene, joining the band mid-set to contribute backup vocals. The collective also played a cut from Hannah’s upcoming album called “The Deep End,” which featured choppy banjo strumming and dazzling group harmonies.

Mother Mother took the stage near 11, with large screens on either side of the stage showing videos of swimming fish and still-beating hearts, shot entirely in black and red. In previous years, Mother Mother’s arrangements were almost entirely acoustic, but the group’s setup now features a keyboard and a synthesizer, which provided an atmospheric backup for the group’s recent new wave-inspired direction. “Touch Up” was reinvented as a Pixies-style rocker, with a lumbering bassline and sing-song boy-girl harmonies, while “O My Heart” featured squalling electronics and a distorted drum pad. Bassist Jeremy Page doubled as a horn player, offering up a jazzy sax solo during a haunting version of “Try to Change.” But it was the group’s three-part harmonies that stole the show, particularly during a chilling take on “Angry Sea.”

By the end of the show, it no longer seemed so remarkable that the venue was sold out; in fact, it seemed stupidly obvious. The guys and girls of Mother Mother came across as fully-fledged rock stars, every bit as charismatic and overpowering as you’d expect Commodore headliners to be. By selling out and blowing away the Commodore, the group has graduated from its previous status of local secret; Mother Mother, welcome to the big leagues.
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Romantic melodrama, but not really

Stephen McBean has claimed that Outside Love, his latest album under the Pink Mountaintops moniker, sounds like a Danielle Steel romance novel set to music. But I’m not sure I entirely agree. Sure, the album is sexy and dramatic–just take the opening track, “Axis: Thrones of Love,” an anthemic fuzz rocker with gorgeous boy-girl vocals and a chorus of “How deep is your love?” (Deep? Oh, I get it.)

But the reason the Danielle Steel comparison doesn’t quite jive with me is that there is nothing tacky or trite about Outside Love. Rather, it’s a heartfelt album, full of poignant ballads and noisy, propulsive rock. “Holiday” is one of the sweetest and most heartfelt songs of the year so far, an uncharacteristically poppy waltz-time strum-along, with a refrain of “Everyone I love deserves a holiday.”

I guess what I’m really try to say is that Danielle Steel novels suck, and this doesn’t. At all. Outside Love plays like one extended payoff, and any one of the ten songs here could have had a similar impact if taken out of the context of the album. Even “Vampire,” which initially seems like a plesantly innocuous mid-tempo campfire song, explodes in its final minute, with a breathtaking outro of group-sung vocals. And unlike previous Pink Mountaintops albums, which sounded like scuzzy bedroom recordings, Outside Love is beautifully produced–I don’t recall ever hearing a piano sound as deep and heavy as on “Axis: Thrones of Love,” nor harmonies as lush as on “Close to Heaven.”

mp3: “Vampire”

It’s as good as any album McBean has ever made, including even In the Future (his 2008 album with Black Mountain). Outside Love has greater sonic and stylistic diversity than ever before–”And I Thank You” is southern-fried country (the backup vocalist could almost pass for Loretta Lynn), while “The Gayest of Sunrises” is feedback-laden punk. The only apparent weakness is that ill-fitting Danielle Steele comparison. It sure does make for a memorable album cover though.

Outside Love is out now via Jagjaguwar. As of this posting, the entire album is streaming at Pink Mountaintops’ MySpace.
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New Wavves single definitely not overpriced

About two weeks ago, I entered to win of 500 copies of the new split 7-inch single from FADER/Southern Comfort, featuring new tracks from Wavves and Windsurf, respectively. I haven’t heard anything back, so I don’t think I won (probably racism/shipping costs, since I live in Canada. But it’s no biggie—the tracks are available here as a free download (newsletter signup required).

The A-side, “Friends Were Gone,” is pretty much exactly what you’d expect it to be, based on previous Wavves releases. Like this year’s Wavvves, it’s a an ultra lo-fi home recording, with pounding drums and punkish powerchord strumming. At first, it sounds cleaner and better produced than anything Nathan Williams has produced before, with reverb-y guitar licks that evoke classic ’60s surf—the Ventures, the Surfaris, etc. That is, until the vocals enter, double-tracked and so distorted that they’re scarcely recognizable as human. It isn’t likely to convert any skeptics, but fans of Wavves’ previous work (such as myself) are bound to be fans of this one.

As for the Windsurf song, I can only assume it was included to preserve the aquatic theme, since that’s the only thing the group has in common with Wavves. “Vapour Trails” is an easy listening funk-lite groove, with syrupy keyboard riffs and vaguely tropical percussion. It’s entirely instrumental, and sounds more suited to a Livelinks commercial than split single with a lo-fi fuzz pop artist such as Wavves.
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Collected works

Today I’m preparing for an interview with the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, which I’m writing for next month’s BeatRoute. In the meantime, here’s a brief roundup of some recently published works:

I interviewed Apollo Ghosts for BeatRoute. I had a chance to ask them about their (awesome) debut LP, Hastings Sunrise, as well as their lounge rock roots and self-described “musical ADD.” Read the article here.

For this month’s Discorder, I reviewed the RedsEarly Nothing (here) and Clues‘ self-titled album (here). Clues sound a lot like the Unicorns, which makes sense since the group is fronted by Alden Penner. I also blogged about Clues last month.

And here’s something new for the day: the Streets released a new music video called “He’s Right Behind You, He’s Got Swine Flu.” Pandemic humour is always hilarious, especially when it involves zombies and excessive slapstick gore. It’s not exactly Beethoven, but you’ve got to admire the quick turnaround on this one.

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