Articles posted in January 2011

He’ll never hold me in his arms again

Duvet dresses
Vivian Girls are back. But did they ever really go away? Their last album came out just a year and a half ago, but their abundant side projects made it seem like the members had put the band on the back burner. Apparently not. Go to Exclaim! to read my story about the trio’s new album, Share the Joy, due out on April 12.

Here’s the new single “I Heard You Say.” It manages to upbeat while still delving into the dark and dirge-y terrain that the band explored on 2009′s Everything Goes Wrong. It’s a little less distorted than Vivian Girls’ usual fuzzy fare, with a faint whiff of spaghetti western creepiness.

MP3: “I Heard You Say”
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Why do you stand so close to me?

Not a sap
I’ve got a confession: I tend to be kind of dismissive of solo artists. When I hear about a new solo artist, I immediately imagine that he or she (but usually he) is another singer-songwriter in the Jack Johnson mould. Thankfully, that’s not the case with Halifax’s Jon McKiel. Here’s the song “Motion Pictures” from his new EP Confidence Lodge. This isn’t sappy dude-with-acoustic-guitar music. It’s a driving rocker that bristles with lo-fi distortion, distant vocal harmonies and infectious pop hooks. The chorus is catchy as hell, but McKiel only gives us two of them, meaning that the song clocks in at just under two minutes. He could have easily done a third go-around, but his restraint means that you’ll want to listen to this one again.

Incidentally, the track slightly resembles Broken Social Scene, which is about as a far away from sounding like a solo artist as you can possibly get.

MP3: “Motion Pictures”
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She was just seventeen

Doesn't look dirty to me
When I recently posted the new track by Dirty Beaches, I wrote that songwriter Alex Zhang Hungtai used to be based in Vancouver but moved to Montreal. Well, someone recently told me that he has moved back to Vancouver. Can anyone confirm of deny? His MySpace lists his location as East Vancouver, so he could be my next door neighbour for all I know.

Pitchfork has picked up on his upcoming album, Badlands, which means that a new track has been cleared for download. It’s called “Sweet 17,” and it’s a lot more ominous than the title makes it sound. Over a threatening blues groove, our protagonist (I’m going to start referring to singers this way) mumbles and yelps like Elvis on drugs (oh wait). The only real switch-up comes at the 1:32 mark, when a feedback-laden guitar solo floats into the mix. It scarcely has any notes, as it mostly consists of amorphous, reverb-soaked noise.

I think I prefer the gentle stuff, but this is cool too.

MP3: “Sweet 17″
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You’re there and I’m feeling blue

I am the Great Cornholio!
Here’s the bad news: Vancouver fuzz pop duo Makeout Videotape is planning to move to Montreal soon. Here’s the good news: the band just released a slew of tracks for free online. The collection is called Ying Yang, and you can get six of the songs from Bandcamp. There’s also a thirteen-track version floating around; go to Exclaim! to read my interview with singer Mac DeMarco and learn about how to get the whole thing.

Here’s my favourite track of the bunch, “Island Groovies.” It’s a cheery fuzz rocker, with a chugging baseline that provides a steady backdrop for DeMarco’s beautifully spiky guitar line. It’s a good job that the song is called “Island Groovies,” or else I might think that he was singing “I like movies.” Or maybe even “I like boobies.”

MP3: “Island Groovies”
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Sun shines on the Gaza Strip

Dog-chewed shirt collar
John Vanderslice just released White Wilderness, an orchestral folk album that he recorded in just three days. Go to Exclaim! to check out my review.

Here’s the lead track, “Sea Salt.” It begins as a straight-ahead folk rocker, with live-off-the-floor guitar and drums. It goes widescreen at the 40-second mark, when the strings suddenly enter and Vanderslice’s voice is swathed in reverb. It’s pretty stuff, and it comes across like a scrappier version of Beck‘s Sea Change.

MP3: “Sea Salt”
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Throw your penny in my fountain

Remember 1993?
Tiger Trap was the first band fronted by Rose Melberg, the best singer in the universe. The quartet was active only briefly in the early ’90s, releasing an EP and a full-length. I’ve had the LP on heavy rotation for the last few months.

Here’s one of my favourites from that album, “Words and Smiles.” It’s an unrequited love song that’s equal parts hopeful and poignant. The drums are bouncy and the fuzzy surf licks are gorgeous, but there’s no mistaking the desperation in the lyrics, as Rose sings, “I won’t tell you / But if you only knew.” Keep your ears peeled for the awesome moment at 1:40 when her voice briefly rises to a shout.

MP3: “Words and Smiles”
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Go ahead, envy me, I’m rap’s MVP

Elaborately staged promo shot
Here’s one of the best rap hooks I’ve heard in ages. It comes from a Vancouver pop musician, Jay Arner. A member of Fine Mist as well as an occasional solo artist, he used to lead a band called International Falls. In 2008, that band released a remix album, which mashed up songs from the LP Achievement with rap and R&B tracks by Kanye West, R. Kelly and more.

Here’s the International Falls remix of “Hate It or Love It,” originally by the Game with 50 Cent. This version improves on the already-awesome original with a catchy-as-hell chord progression and jaunty drum loop. This is a hip-hop track that’s sure to win over the indie kids.

MP3: “Hate It or Love It”
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What you got, you know I want it

I want what they got
PS I Love You was perhaps my favourite discovery of 2010, and the band’s Meet Me at the Muster Station LP is still on steady rotation on my iPod. (Anyone in Vancouver know where I can get it on vinyl?)

Here’s another track from that collection, “Get Over.” This song is a good introduction the duo’s speaker-fried fuzz guitars, propulsive dance beats and subtle atmospherics.

I’ve never seen the band live, so I couldn’t be more excited about the upcoming tour with Diamond Rings. Go to Exclaim! to read more.

MP3: “Get Over”
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I used to gnaw on every word

What are you looking at, punk?
Cowboy Junkies‘ upcoming record is called Demons and it’s a tribute to the late Vic Chesnutt. It contains eleven cover songs including this one, “Wrong Piano.” It’s a classic country rocker, laden with fuzzed-out guitar leads and whirling organ. Equal parts joy and regret, it’s a fitting tribute to a friend.

Go to Exclaim! to read my list of the top ten most anticipated Canadian albums of the year. Demons comes in at number nine.

Chesnutt’s original version appears on the album Is the Actor Happy? from 1995.

MP3: “Wrong Piano”
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Small but not too small

It's my party and I'll cry if I want to
It’s been almost exactly a year since I last wrote about Vancouver experimentalist Stefana Fratila. Now, she’s broken the silence by releasing an album, Grows Up, for free on Bandcamp. It’s got a whopping 25 songs, some of which I’ve heard before and some of which are new to me.

Here’s one that I already knew. Entitled “Small Fists,” it’s a quirky tune that’s laden with plunky keyboards, girlish vocals and stream-of-consciousness lyrics. It changes completely hallway through, as the gentle atmospherics give way to a brisk drum loop and buzzing electronics. This finally is replaced by a droning, ambient coda. This is some weird stuff.

MP3: “Small Fists”
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