Articles posted in January 2010

Squishing pennies and kissing girls

The group therapy sessions were a failure
In December, Vancouver’s Said the Whale took home a Bucky Award in the category of Most Canadian Song for the tune “Emerad Lake, AB.” A joyous romp about lake hunting on a summer’s day, it begins with jazzy, syncopated verses and a pared-down chorus of “What a fine life we are living.” This refrain eventually explodes, with thundering drums and droning horns propelling it to a euphoric conclusion.

I recently caught up with songwriter Tyler Bancroft, who explained how the funk rock outfit Hey Ocean! inspired “Emerald Lake, AB.”

CH: Where and when was the song written?
TB: Written in my bedroom just a few days after getting home from a summer tour with our friends Hey Ocean in 2008.

CH: What inspired the lyrics?
TB: The aforementioned summer tour with friends Hey Ocean was the inspiration for the song—that and the overwhelming feeling of peace and happiness that comes along with travelling in a van with a group of amazing friends, playing music, and just enjoying life in general.

CH: The first verse mentions the names Jimmy and Dave. Who are they?
TB: Jimmy was the nickname given to Hey Ocean drummer at the time, Dan Klenner. Dave could be either the bass player [Dave Vertesi] or guitar player [David Beckingham] of Hey Ocean.

MP3: “Emerald Lake, AB”
 
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A sack of skin you’re lacking in

Singer Casey Wei won the limbo contest handily
Remember a couple years ago, when a bunch of Karen O‘s demos leaked online? It seemed like a really exciting idea at first, but the disc didn’t contain as many actual songs as it did random sound doodles.

Vancouver’s Kick Evrything is what you wish those demos had sounded like. This genre-mashing, vowel-omitting duo has found an unlikely common ground between fuzzy blues, sun-scotched folk and jarring electro punk. The opening track off the band’s album This I Is Demented and Possibly Deceased is called “Dusty,” and it’s the bluesiest tune of the lot, a lo-fi acoustic stomp that comes off a bit like a Dead Weather song recorded over an answering machine.

MP3: “Dusty”
 
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Like I overdosed on heroin

Straight edge? Not quite.
In high school, I had a computer teacher named Mr. Cheung. A couple of times, when he was feeling too sick or tired to teach, he would say, “Cheung is a skeleton today,” and give us free time on the computers. It was pretty funny, not to mention awesome, since we got to play computer games (gotta love those Breakout clones).

Alex is a skeleton today.

Have some free time with “Let Go,” the new age-y single from Sweden’s jj. It will appear on the album jj n° 3, due out March 9 via Secretly Canadian.

MP3: “Let Go”
 
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The elliptical condition of Tobias Grey

Not pictured: the other band member
Postdata is the side project of Wintersleep frontman Paul Murphy, who started the band as a collaboration with his brother Michael. They initially convened to record some songs as a present for their mother, and, pleased with the results, rented better equipment and set about making an official album.

The duo’s self-titled debut is due out on January 26, and it’s a hushed collection of acoustic folk songs overlayed with spacy electronics. The lead single is called “Tobias Grey,” and it’s a typically bare-bones offering. Murphy’s voice is scarcely louder than a whisper as he sings over a sparse arrangement of acoustic arpeggios and quietly purring keyboards. During the bridge, Murphy’s voice is layered with a dense wash of harmonies, which is about the closest any song on the album gets to a crescendo. This is one for the morning after.

MP3: “Tobias Grey”
 
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Just an irrational feeling

There's a large, out-of-focus rock band roaming the countryside
A couple of years ago, I decided to cover my old nylon string guitar in stickers. Among the free stickers I managed to pick up at record stores and concerts was one promoting the New Zealand electropop outfit the Ruby Suns. Even though I hadn’t heard the band at the time, its bright yellow and red font made it the most eye-catching sticker on the guitar.

Given that my guitar advertises their name so prominently, it’s lucky that the Ruby Suns actually write good music. Their latest single is called “Cranberry,” a synth-drenched tropical jam that sounds a bit like Animal Collective mashing up Paul Simon and Dirty Projectors‘ “Stillness is the Move.” Below is the radio edit (people still listen to the radio?); you’ll be able to hear the full version on the album Fight Softly, due March 2 via Sub Pop.

I reviewed the Ruby Suns for Guttersnipe when they opened up for the Dodos in the fall. At the time, I claimed, “don’t be surprised if the group’s upcoming album (due out early next year) earns them a bigger following on this side of the Pacific.”

MP3: “Cranberry (Radio Edit)”
 
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Soon I’ll be in county jail

Looks like they're gonna need a sidecar
“Jail La La” is the first single from Dum Dum Girls‘ debut album, I Will Be, due out March 30 via Sub Pop. It’s a little cleaner sounding than Dum Dum Girls’ previous recordings (but not by much), and it contains a blast of fuzzy guitars, punchy drum loops and vintage ’60s girl group-style harmonies.

In other words, it sounds a lot like Vivian Girls, except, y’know, more Dum Dum.

MP3: “Jail La La”
 
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How things used to be

R.I.P. Jay Reatard
Jesus. So, as you’ve probably heard, Jay Reatard died yesterday at the age of 29. This reminds me of when Mitch Hedberg died; it’s the kind of news where you check about five different websites, just to confirm that it’s actually true.

I’m not a die hard Jay Reatard fan by anyone’s standards (although I did own and enjoy the LP version of his Matador Singles ’08 compilation). Regardless, it’s always shocking when a prominent musician passes away in his (or her) prime. Given his prolific output and the recent changes in his band’s lineup, I had grown accustomed to seeing Jay’s name in the news every few weeks. It’s sad to think that, from now on, any stories about him will be written in the past tense.

Download the peppy punk rocker “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me” below, which was released last year on the album Watch Me Fall. The gloomy lyrics are perhaps a little too fitting, given the circumstances (“All is lost, there is no hope for me”), but the bouncy rhythm means it’s more of a celebration that a downer.

MP3: “It Ain’t Gonna Save Me”
 
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A feeling you thought you’d forgotten

Vampire Weekend's messy dorm room
We’re only in the second week of the year, and already we’ve got our first must-hear album. Vampire Weekend‘s sophomore LP, Contra, was released yesterday, and it’s ever better than the band’s 2008 debut. Mixing tropical pop with 8-bit electronics and the occasional foray into jittery reggae, it expands the group’s sound while retaining the good-natured charm that made the first album so much fun.

I spent last month listening to it on repeat, and you can read my review in BeatRoute. It’s the feature review of the month, meaning I had 800 words with which to espouse the album’s awesomeness.

Download the marimba-driven “Horchata” below. You’ll need headphones to fully appreciate this one, as it subtly transforms every few bars, with vocals and instruments shifting between speakers and alternating between effects.

Also be sure to head over to the band’s MySpace and listen to “White Sky,” which is the true standout of the album. (Unfortunately, I can’t legally offer it as a download.)

MP3: “Horchata”
 
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Leave it on your own two feet

Guys...I don't think we're all gonna fit
Most bands wait until after achieving commercial success to release a best-of album. Not Bend Sinister, however; the Vancouver indie rock outfit has released three albums, and while it has earned a strong local following, it is yet to achieve widespread recognition. Nevertheless, the five-piece has selected eight songs for a best-of compilation, which is currently being offered as a free download from the band’s website.

“Time Breaks Down” begins as a gentle ballad before suddenly bursting into a jaunty bounce that’s part Paul McCartney, part Ben Folds. This soon speeds up into a bizarre prog metal jig, with overlapping guitar solos that alternately duel and harmonize. It makes a compelling case to suggest that, by the next time Bend Sinister gets around to releasing a best-of collection, the band may have earned a larger audience.

MP3: “Time Breaks Down”
 
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Making out for the first time

Stefana Fratila
Like most bloggers, I can occasionally be prone to journalistic hyperbole. Still, I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that Stefana Fratila is one of the most unique artists I’ve ever encountered. Her music is downright bizarre, ranging from soft ukulele ballads to quirky electro noodling, and this weirdness is intensified by her ultra lo-fi home recording techniques.

Case in point: “Steady,” a brand new track recorded during the final days of 2009. Static rustles in the background as Fratila plays a plunky kalimba riff, offering free-association lyrics in a childlike wail that recalls Joanna Newsom at her most esoteric.

I interviewed Fratila for the Georgia Straight, and spoke with her about her favourite records in BeatRoute.

MP3: “Steady”
 
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