Articles posted in September 2009

Two Hours Traffic covers familiar Territory

Two Hours Traffic - Territory
In terms of songwriting, Two Hours Traffic‘s new album, Territory, sounds nearly identical to its previous album, 2007′s Little Jabs. Its mix of punchy pop rockers and sugary ballads is so similar, in fact, that many of the tracks on the new album correspond directly with songs from the predecessor: “Noisemaker” is the scorching, electrified opener—a role previously fulfilled by “Nighthawks”; “Territory” is a Strokes-indebted single that evokes “Stuck for the Summer”; the breezy acoustic strummer “Lost Boys” clearly resembles “Sure Can Start.” Not only do these tunes sound similar to tracks from Little Jabs, they even appear in the same order on the album (tracks 1, 3 and 9, respectively).

mp3: “Territory”

Where Territory differs most from Two Hours Traffic’s previous material is in terms of production. Halifax legend Joel Plaskett is once again at the helm, but this time around he draws out an atmospheric element previously unheard in the group’s work. This is especially noticeable in the ballads: “Wicked Side” is a sparse, guitar-free groove driven by a distorted electric piano; “Weightless One” is haunting piano pop with lush baroque guitar flourishes. Still, despite the new-fangled arrangements, these songs don’t sound markedly different from the band’s previous releases—if given a folk-pop makeover, either track could have sounded similar to “Heroes of the Sidewalk.”

Territory‘s best moments are the rare instances when the band moves into new terrain. The two final tracks of the collection are its two biggest departures, and they’re the clear standouts. With its disaffected vocals and fuzzed-out guitars, “Happiness Burns” sounds like a long-lost college rock classic from the ’80s. Closer “Sing a Little Hymn,” meanwhile, features a subtle electro beat and deeply resonating piano chords. Its lyrics achieve a delicate balance between humour and sweetness, pairing its “I don’t know what I’d do without love” refrain with the anti-religion gag “Think Darwin is the tops / I like triceratops.” These songs suggest that the Charlottetown group may have a bigger range than it has previously revealed.

Territory is out now via Bumstead.
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The Wooden Sky preaches the Word

The Wooden Sky - If I Don't Come Home You'll Know I'm Gone
These days, Toronto has more great alt. folk bands than you can shake a stick at (see: Elliott BROOD, Great Bloomers, Great Lake Swimmers). But the Wooden Sky stands out from the pack, largely because the group’s sound draws heavily on gospel and southern soul, as well as the usual rootsy Americana.

If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone is the group’s second album, following When Lost at Sea, which was issued in 2007. It begins with “Oh My God (It Still Means a Lot to Me),” a simple country shuffle that features wheezing harmonica and haunting pedal steel flourishes. But the dense chorus harmonies prevent the song from ever sounding rote, its tumbling vocal melody transforming the titular lyric into a mantra that seems more meaningful with each repetition.

Despite the occasional catchy tune, the album’s sound is characterized by the world weary religiosity of singer Gavin Gardiner. “The Late King Henry” is a baptismal singalong that features a chorus of “Save me / Take me to the river and bathe me / Just don’t let nobody else claim me.” The closing track, “River Song One,” is even more earnest; with sparse paino waltz accompaniment, Gardiner sings “When the water rushed in / I gave into my sins / And found my own way to higher ground.”

The group is near-reverent its seriousness, largely due to Gardiner’s gruff, emotive singing. While his vocals are always impressive, he sounds best on the mellowest tracks, such as the standout “An Evening Hymn.” Over the quiet plucking of a reverb-soaked electric guitar, his lyrical focus is uncharacteristically worldly. “What’s the point in living / If you can’t get what what you want?” he asks, an electric piano tinkling gently in the background. As with much of the album, the emotion is laid on thick, but thanks to the tasteful production and gritty vocals, it never feels manipulative.

mp3: “An Evening Hymn”

If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone is out now via Black Box.

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Arctic Monkeys get cryptic

Arctic Monkeys - Humbug
Not to undersell Arctic Monkeys‘ melodic talents, or their ability to hammer out catchy post-punk riffage, but the group’s greatest asset has always been frontman Alex Turner’s quirky, vibrant lyrics. On the band’s two previous full-lengths, 2006′s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and 2007′s Favourite Worst Nightmare, his lyrics were rich in detail and rife with slang, brilliantly portraying the minutia of British daily life in a thick Yorkshire accent.

It’s a little disappointing that for Humbug, the band’s third album, Turner opted to shift his lyrics into more cryptic terrain. The descriptions of knackered Converse and fascist club bouncers are gone, replaced by oblique metaphors like “And you’re sinking like a stone / But you know what it’s like to hold the jeweller’s hands / That procession of pioneers all drown” (from “The Jeweller’s Hands”). Turner still has a way with words, but lyrics such as this lack the personality and instant gratification of his previous work.

Arctic Monkeys’ sound has changed too. The album was recorded with Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) at a studio in Joshua Tree, California, so it’s fitting that this is the band’s desert rock record. The album opens with “My Propellor,” which shifts between grungy powerchords and haunting, Wild West-inspired riffs. The vocal harmonies on tracks like “Dangerous Animals” and “Secret Door” are swathed in reverb, evoking the lonely, desolate plains of the Mojave Desert. It may lack the charming Britishness of the Arctic Monkeys’ past work, but Humbug is by far their most sonically diverse offering yet, with layers and effects aplenty.

While much of the album finds the band delving into moody hard rock and twangy spaghetti western atmospherics, the collection’s clear standout is its most straightforward offering. “Cornerstone” is a mid-tempo acoustic strummer that could almost pass for the Kinks, its detailed imagery making it the closest the album comes to recreating Turner’s previous poetic triumphs. “I thought I saw you in The Rusty Hook / Huddled up in a wicker chair” he sings, recounting a previous relationship in heart-wrenching detail.

Although it is not as iconic as the band’s previous work, the album proves that Arctic Monkeys have the depth and range to outlast the onslaught of hype that greeted their arrival onto the music scene. As a stylistic experiment that’s clearly intended to test the band’s limitations, Humbug is a consistently enjoyable record that proves that the four lads from Sheffield will long outlast the 15 minutes allotted to many of their Britpop peers.
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This one’s overdue

Mother Mother
There are few songs in recent memory as thoroughly twisted as “Hayloft,” the stand out track from Mother Mother‘s sophomore album, O My Heart. Mixing heavy metal riffs with a female-sung hip-hop chorus, it makes rap rock sound dangerous in a way that it hasn’t since Rage Against the Machine disbanded in 2000. Not only is it the strangest song Mother Mother has ever written, it’s also the catchiest—the hooks come in quick succession, and the moments when the rhythm section suddenly kicks into double time are electrifying.

O My Heart came out a year ago, but it took until now for “Hayloft” to be released as a single. Mother Mother unveiled the new video yesterday, an effects-heavy clip that resembles the credit sequence of a spy film, with flying bullets and lots of fancy green screen effects. There’s not much of a concept other than “lots of bright colours,” but the brilliance of the song more than makes up for the video’s apparent lack of significance.

As of this writing, the video is exclusive to MuchMusic, which means no embed is available. Click here to check it out.

O My Heart is out now via Last Gang.
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The Danks find a winning formula

The Danks - Are You Afraid of the Danks?
The Danks share half of their members with Two Hours Traffic, so it’s no coincidence that the two Charlottetown groups bear a distinct musical similarity. But while THT intersperses its upbeat rock songs with acoustic strummers and sentimental balladry, the Danks never tone down the energy. Their debut, Are You Afraid of the Danks?, is 12 tracks of unrelenting pop rock, each one delivering crunchy guitars and hummable hooks.

The collection kicks off with “What We’re Doing,” a steadily chugging bassline anchoring an impressive display of guitar riffage that includes woozy dive-bombs and nimble vocal-line mimicry. “Planet Beach” is laced with subtle, delicate guitar leads which play off the usual chunky barre chords and chirpy melodies. Frontman Brohan Moore possesses a well-worn rasp, and his vocals imbue the songs with a ragged charm otherwise missing in the group’s bouncy delivery.

The Danks’ only weakness is a lack of variety, since every song here follows a similar, Strokes-indebted formula of choppy guitar chords and titanic chorus hooks. The group occasionally introduces a buzzy keyboard into the mix, but that’s about the closest the album gets to experimentation; aside from the synth-heavy “Automocar,” the dual guitar attack never varies. The only moments of respite comes in brief, half-second pauses, but there are usually followed by cascading drum fills and climactic choruses.

Even upbeat pop rock can get monotonous in such large doses, but there’s no denying that the Danks have enough catchy hooks to make up for the sameness of the material. Perhaps it’s wise of the band not to disturb what’s clearly a winning formula.

The group recently shot a video for the single “Planet Beach,” depicting a weed-smoking, baseball bat-weilding school principal cracking raw eggs and getting up to all sorts of crazy hijinks. The message is slightly unclear, but it’s well-shot and reasonably entertaining clip.

Are You Afraid of the Danks? is out now via Collagen Rock.
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Q&A with Immaculate Machine

Immaculate Machine
Since 2007′s Fables, Victoria pop rock outfit Immaculate Machine has undergone a major overhaul in personnel. The group lost one member and gained three more, with singer/guitarist Brooke Gallupe now handling nearly all of the frontman duties himself (a role he previously shared with part-time New Pornographer Kathryn Calder). The result of these changes is High on Jackson Hill, the riff-heavy new album that scales back the band’s signature guitar/keyboard interplay in favour of noisy classic rock throwbacks and sparse folk ballads.

After taking the summer off, the group will be hitting the road this month for a brief Western Canadian tour. The excursion began yesterday in Prince George, and will wrap up with a performance at the Biltmore Cabaret in Vancouver on September 12th. The group will then fly across the Atlantic for a series of shows in Western Europe.

I recently caught up with Gallupe about the group’s lineup changes, the new album and the joys (and pitfalls) of life on the road.

CH: This summer you’ve had a break from touring. What have you been doing with your time?
BG: We played a series of free shows around Victoria, which felt really good. We tubed down the river, and generally did some summer hangin’, but we are very excited to get back on the road.

CH: Since your last album, drummer Luke Kozlowski left the band and you’ve gained three new members. Also, Kathryn Calder is playing a much smaller role. How did all of these lineup changes come about?
BG: Kathryn and Luke have always been fantastic bandmates, but this was my chance to make the album I always wanted to make, without compromises. Neither Kathryn or Luke, who both play on the album, would be touring because of other commitments, so they offered me full command the recording process. The new touring band is exciting to play with. The change in lineup—change in general—has been very inspiring.

CH: What’s Kathryn’s current and future role in the band?
BG: Kathryn played on High On Jackson Hill. The two of us are already talking about our next recording project. Apart from a couple shows here and there, she will not be touring at all for the album. She spent a year dealing with a serious family illness so she is spending her time now relaxing and working on some other musical projects, including a solo album.

CH: With so many lineup changes, did you consider abandoning the Immaculate Machine name?
BG: It was considered, yes. But in the end, changing the name seemed like not giving much credit to our fans. All my favourite bands evolved over their careers, with changes in sound and often personnel. Some people will lose interest and others will catch on to the new stuff. High on Jackson Hill is our best album and I think it makes things interesting for music fans to accept twists in the road of a band’s journey.

CH: You recorded High on Jackson Hill at your parents’ house in Victoria. Why did you choose to record there, instead of in a studio?
BG: I was looking for a more relaxing atmosphere than a sterile studio. My parents abandoned their home—my childhood home—for a month while we transformed it into a recording studio. I was tired of trying to get things perfect in a recording, and wanted instead to get things sounding spontaneous and different.

CH: The new album has a lot of psychedelic rock influences. (Click here to check out the video for the wah-laden single “Sound the Alarms.”) Exactly how high did you get on Jackson Hill?
BG: We made sure we did a lot of relaxing while we made the album and we looked for recording inspiration in more unusual places. We set up mics in bathrooms and kitchens, recorded the playground next door at school recess and car engine noises.

CH: Immaculate Machine is about to embark upon yet another bout of touring. How do you stay sane on the road?
BG: I love touring. There is nothing so great. Staying sane is not necessarily a high priority.

CH: What’s the shittiest tour food you’ve ever eaten?
BG: I am vegan so I am more likely to not find anything than to find something shitty. The worst, though, was when KFC decided to make a vegan mock chicken burger. It got spat out inadvertantly all over the smelly KFC parking lot. Our drummer once ate a “mammoth burger” in Drumheller, AB. A mammoth burger is five pounds of meat in a bun, and to get it for free you have to eat it in record time—14 minutes. Needless to say, he had to pay for it and meat sweats ensued. He hallucinated through the whole day and our show.
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We’ve all got something to hide

Yo La Tengo
When it comes to Yo La Tengo, the noisier the better. The group got ornate on its last album, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass, with peppy pop songs that augmented the usual three-piece setup with layers of horns, strings and keys. It was an impressive feat, but the lighter material was overshadowed by the first and last songs, both of which were fuzzed-out guitar epics.

The follow-up, Popular Songs, is due next week, and the first video/single is another noisy gem from the New Jersey trio. “Nothing to Hide” taps into the group’s ’80s indie rock roots, pairing white-wash distortion with hazy reverb and a monotonous groove. The tune itself is pure pop bliss, its sunny melodies delivered with gentle boy-girl harmonies and its instantly-hummable refrain supported by cheesy organ flourishes.

The video takes place at a Yo La Tengo in-store performance, but the band doesn’t actually appear. Instead, Times New Viking stands in for the group, miming along to the song while the proprietor busts shoplifters, High Fidelity-style. Times New Viking is an apt choice for the clip—not only because the group has the same three-piece set-up (two guys and a girl), but also because the song’s mixture of lo-fi grime and summery bubblegum pop sounds like something that could have appeared on last year’s Rip It Off (albeit with the crackling overdrive scaled back somewhat). Filmed with grainy, home movie-style cameras, it’s a simple but entertaining video.

Popular Songs is out September 8 via Matador.
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