Sunday, January 31, 2010


Originally I wanted to review every album I bought/otherwise listened to last year. Clearly, I've slacked on that. Partially cos there have been a lot of albums that, for whatever reason, I don't feel like writing a full review for. So what I have decided to do is give a few really quick reviews all at once.... in haiku form. Here we go!
And I'm almost done my reviews for 09 albums! Just a few more to go!

Skin of Evil by Blackout Beach (Carey Mercer [Frog Eyes, Swan Lake] solo project)
Theatrical tale
Of "Donna" and her lovers
Quite captivating

Download The Whistle by Blackout Beach

...And The Ever Expanding Universe by The Most Serene Republic
More focused than last
A sonic wall of awesome
The title fits well.

Download Vessels of a Donor Look by The Most Serene Republic
Or watch the awesome video for Heavens to Purgatory

Friends & Total Strangers by The Trews (Live acoustic album)
Stripped down, acoustic
Much better than expected
Shows their true talent

Download Den of Thieves by The Trews

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Zolas w/ We Are The City & Henry and the Nightcrawlers @ Biltmore -- 01/27/10

I am pretty sure half of the Vancouver music scene was at the Biltmore last night for The Zolas CD release party. Spotted in the crowd was half of Said The Whale, half of Bend Sinister, Hannah Georgas and a whole bunch more. But with three excellent bands on the bill, and for such a great price, you'd be silly not to have been there.

Henry & The Nightcrawlers were the first out, with the eponymous Henry being Henry Alcock-White of Bend Sinister. He was backed live by Tom & Zach of The Zolas, as well as Spencer from Said The Whale on drums. The sound was a bit lighter indie pop rock -- a couple times was reminiscent of Jason Collett, but not really all that similar. Some really catchy songs, and I picked up the 5 song EP they had at the show (which seemed so homemade, I'm wondering if they were pressed just for the show) and am looking forward to the full length which may be out this spring. The standout songs were Daytime Friend (which is about exactly as it sounds, a concept I'm sure most can relate to) and one which I didn't catch the name of, but featured the attention grabbing line that was something like "better to be fucked than to do the fucking". I will definitely be interested in checking them out next time they're playing.

Second up was Peak Performance Project winners, We Are The City. And what can I say about them that I haven't already said? Except for tonight they seemed exceptionally awesome. Perhaps it was the venue, or playing with their friends in The Zolas, or the pressure of PPP being off, but they were insanely energetic on stage; probably the most I've seen them. And their having a blast definitely helped the music and banter. I especially liked Cayne's joke: "This coffee is so good, it blows your mind... it takes your head off... it's a de-cappuccino." The set was similar to the last few times I've seen them, but this time they handed out homemade shakers for There Are Very Tiny Beasts In The Ground (which were hilariously made from things like empty chlorine jugs). They also covered Said The Whale's Love Is Art, before segueing to one of theirs. They ended again with Astronomers for another great set.

Right then I could have left and it would have been good enough, and definitely worth the money... but there was more! The Zolas hit the stage, with Henry back out to help them out, even though he was "distracted" by Zach's homemade muffins (not a euphemism). They started things off with You're Too Cool, a song that has a reference to the Biltmore in the second line and just cranked up the energy from there. For their whole set of insanely catchy tunes, they kept everyone moving -- We Are The City jumped on stage for an impromptu dance party during Body Ash -- and involved the crowd -- the aforementioned muffins were eventually shared with the crowd, and Zach even jumped into the middle of the audience with the mic for These Days. By the end of it, just about everyone around him could be heard singing along. They finally finished things off with Cab Driver which somehow, somehow, managed to be the most high-energy-holy-shit-wow song of the night.

Again, an incredible night of music. I hadn't heard much of Henry & The Nightcrawlers before, and I'm glad I was able to catch them. We Are The City is always a treat to see live. And as catchy as The Zolas new album is, they are insanely good live.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Monsters of Folk by Monsters of Folk

The term "super group" seems to be thrown around a lot, especially as of late. And more often than not, they end up being a disappointment; a group of big name musicians banding together, then falling far short than the sum of its parts. Maybe the group members just don't "click", maybe the arrangement leaves something to be desired, but it's almost gotten to the point where "super group" is no longer a draw, but a buzz word. Maybe that's why most super groups now have the customary "don't call us a 'super group'" statement.
So when Jim James (of My Morning Jacket, using his alter ego Yim Yames), M. Ward (of She & Him and, uh, M. Ward) and Conor Oberst & Mike Mogis (of Bright Eyes) joined forces for Monsters of Folk, I was more than a bit skeptical. Especially since I love My Morning Jacket so much, but especially because I have never really cared for Bright Eyes. Sure, these artists all have similar musical backgrounds, but they are all distinct enough that you might not expect them to mix.

The self titled album starts out with "Dear God (sincerely M.O.F.)", which features each member taking parts of the song solo, which is the only time on the album you'll hear a division of their voices this blatant. First single "Say Please" sees Oberst up front in a catchy and upbeat tune, and the first time you hear them all together, any and all worries you may have had just melt away. Each song features either Ward, Oberst or Yames as lead vocals and the other two as backup vocals (Mogis sticks behind the scenes, as it were), and Ward's first track is the infectious alt-country "Whole Lotta Losin'". Oberst's "Temazcal" brings it down a with a song that lives up to its name, but things pick right back up a little with the jaunty "The Right Place", Yames' first "spotlight" song, and Ward's "Baby Boomer", a song that is nigh-impossible not to clap along to. One of my favourites off the album is, surprisingly, an Oberst song: "Man Named Truth", another fast paced and catchy song. "Goodway" is probably the most Ward influenced, though could have done without Oberst doing the spoken word outro, however he redeems himself with "Ahead of the Curve", a rich song which, again, features a great blending of vocals. Which is then almost perfected in Ward's gorgeous "Slow Down Jo". "Losin' Yo' Head" with its energetic country-funk, is the most blatantly Yames song, but then he brings it back down for the mellow "Magic Marker". "Map of the World" is another surprisingly good Oberst song -- not to pick on him or anything, but as I said, I was never really an Oberst fan prior to this album. "The Sandman, the Brakeman and Me" is Ward's great climax which finally perfects the harmonies. The perfected blend of vocals go on to end the album excellently with "His Master's Voice" -- featuring Yames, in a nice bit of symmetry.

The thing I love most about Monsters of Folk is how they all trade off duties. No one member does a specific job for the whole album, but rather everyone does everything at various times. It creates a more eclectic sound, rather than just being something like "Oh, drummer from band-x is playing with guitarist from band-y". Everything seems to flow much more naturally. There are still definitely influences from each band in the tracks, but their various sounds end up blending together so perfectly that it seems more like a band that has been together for years rather than a first-time collaboration.
And I touched on it briefly, but perhaps the most amazing thing this album does is to turn my complete and total apathy of Conor Oberst into somewhat of a liking. I am probably not going to run out and get all the Bright Eyes and Mystic Valley Band I can get my hands on, but I certainly like the man more than I previously did.

Download Man Named Truth

Download Slow Down Jo

Download His Master's Voice

Clicky to exchange monies for music

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Peak Performance Project Finale with Bend Sinister, The Left and We Are The City @ Commodore -- 01/22/10

Where the hell do they go from here? Not the bands. I have no doubt they'll all go on to do great things. I mean The Peak. This was the first year of The Peak Performance Project, a seven month long contest put on by the station and Music BC to nurture local talent. There is no way that next year, or probably most subsequent years, are going to be able to match the great bands that came out of it. Last night was the finale show with the top three bands -- Bend Sinister, We Are The City and The Left -- and unveiling of the grand prize winner. A sold out Commodore waited in anticipation to find out the recipient of $150,000 (second got $75,000 and third got $50,000). But first? Music!

First up was We Are The City. We showed up a bit late, due to my own stupidity, but I think only missed a song -- two at most. They still manage to amaze me with their live sets, with incredible energy and being so tight & seamless. During one of the songs, David even rocked so hard, he managed to break TWO strings on his guitar, while Cayne was so into it he bloodied his lip on the mic. (Andy, however, did not punch himself in the groin). They just seem so comfortable on stage, and if they were nervous, you couldn't tell. They played mostly from In A Quiet World, though threw in their new one, which I really like, This Is A Bad Mistake. They also had fellow PPP alum Adrian Glynn up to help them with their In A Minute song from the music boot camp all bands partook in. Wrapping up their too-short set was the fantastic Astronomers, my favourite of theirs and a perfect song to end a set.

Following this, The Peak's Tamara Stanners was out to emcee a bit, calling up all the other bands and announcing they would each get $500. Kuba Oms then proceeded to upstage everyone by declaring he was donating his to World Vision for Haiti, and adding he pressed 100 CDs for the night with all proceeds also go towards the relief fund.

The Left took the stage next. They were the band I cared least about of the night. Not to say I didn't like them; the few songs that I heard on The Peak were pretty good, but I just never really got into them. Anyway, their set was pretty damn catchy, and I might have to look into more of their stuff. They were even the only band to come back and do an encore, due to the chanting of "The Left" after they... left. Their sound really reminds me of someone, and it has since I first heard them, but I just can't seem to put my finger on it.
And in a completely random turn, at one point, near the end, they were joined on stage by two Green Men*
*Just as an aside, people in Vancouver have been obsessed with the Green Men... but I wonder how many people know they the whole thing is from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

Finally, after one more interlude to talk about the whole process, Bend Sinister was out, and with one of the most crazy elaborate stage setups I've seen in a while. The best part was the floor lamp over the keyboard, but they also had a gong by the drummer and even some lovely backup singers (including Adaline). They opened by teasing The News, but turned it into Yours Truly and followed with a set that included a good sampling of older and newer material. A couple more PPP members even helped out, as Ben Sigston jump on they keys while Adaline came out front and centre to duet with Dan Moxon on Give In To The Night. As always, the band had a crazy intense energy that is damn near unparallelled, and tore the place down. Again, their set seemed far too short as they ended the night with Things Will Get Better, which is a new one I've heard live a few times and can not wait to be able to get on a record.

Finally, it was time to announce the winners. They brought out the big wigs and bean counters before making the announcements, which I am sure most people have heard by now, so I won't drag it out with false suspense. Third place went to Bend Sinister, which was met with an equal amount of cheers and jeers -- it seems like the majority of people there were hoping/thinking they would do better. Second went to The Left, and the place erupted as they realized that only one band remained to claim first place: We Are The City! It couldn't have happened to three nicer, and more talented, guys.

I have enjoyed the hell out of the Performance Project since the start and this show was an incredible way to cap off the event. If they can even get half the talent next year, it'll still be one hell of an event.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

In A Quiet World by We Are The City

I was so sure that, through The Peak Performance Project, the only band I would care about winning would be Bend Sinister, being a fan of them for a while now. But then another Kelownian band, We Are The City, came along and... wow. Suddenly I had two favourites in the competition. (Luckily, both bands ended up in the top three.) With Cayne McKenzie on vocals and keys, David Menzel on guitar, and Andy Huculiak on the drums, they find no need for bass (insert bassist joke here) and create a sound that seems much bigger than just the three of them. I've met them all, and they are incredibly nice guys (hopefully that won't be seen as a bias in the review) as well as fantastically talented young musicians. Their debut album, In A Quiet World was released last May, but it is being re-released this week for any unlucky enough to have missed it.

The aptly titled "Intro" sets the mood for the entire album and flows perfectly into "Feel Is A Word", which draws you in and builds to a grand climax. "There Are Very Tiny Beasts In The Ground" and "There Are Very, Very Big Lights In The Sky" are two of my favourite titles of the year. Both tracks manage to weave cohesively through vastly different sounds, and with a lesser band that could have ended up a muddied mess. "Time, Wasted" brings things down with some soft piano and leads into "You’re A Good Man" which again starts slow then builds to an energetic finish. "My Old Friend" is filled with nostalgia, which seems like it may be a recurring theme through the album.
"Astronomers" was always my favourite track off the album, even before the awesome video (which I had the fantastic opportunity to help with). Starting off with a calm piano and emotional lyrics, it then just launches to an epic climax and a magnificent finale. "April" is another strong song, nostalgic and emotional, while "Peso Loving Squid" has a world-y flavour to it. Both songs again showing the bands unwillingness to be contained by a singular sound. The album draws to a close with "Now For The Rest", mirroring the Intro -- both in apropos titles and mood -- to a near perfect ending.

One of my favourite things about this album is how exceptionally well it flows together. I love listening to albums in full, and when they are this cohesive -- not just a collection of songs -- it always makes them that much stronger. Even without being a concept album, you can almost draw a narrative from it; musically if not lyrically. The band also does a great job of shifting tones and genres without ever sounding like it is trying too hard. Everything comes so completely naturally, it's hard to believe this is a debut album from a band so young.

Download There Are Very Tiny Beasts In The Ground

Download There Are Very, Very Big Lights In The Sky

Download April

(look for the blond zombie!)

Clicky to exchange monies for music

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Originally I wanted to review every album I bought/otherwise listened to this year. Clearly, I've slacked on that. Partially cos there have been a lot of albums that, for whatever reason, I don't feel like writing a full review for. So what I have decided to do is give a few really quick reviews all at once.... in haiku form. Here we go!
And again, I am trying to finish off the reviews of this years albums as quick as possible (without rushing them)... my goal is by the end of the month, so here's hoping!

Rain Machine by Rain Machine (Kyp Malone, from TV On The Radio, solo project)
Sounding like you'd think
Malone has massive talent
Great diversity

Download Hold You Holy by Rain Machine

Masters Of The Burial by Amy Millan (from, of course, Stars and Broken Social Scene)
A beautiful voice
With some good folksy music
But not really great

Download Bury This by Amy Millan

Territory by Two Hours Traffic
A great follow-up
Branching out, not playing safe
Talent keeps growing

Download Happiness Burns by Two Hours Traffic

Backspacer by Pearl Jam
With their ninth album
You know just what to expect
For better or worse

Download Unthought Known by Pearl Jam

The Incident by Porcupine Tree
New double album
Not much of a departure
But still amazing

Download The Blind House by Porcupine Tree

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Irrational Anthems by Ryan Dahle

Even if you don't know the name Ryan Dahle, there is a good chance you have heard something he had been a part of. Damn near everyone who was around in Vancouver in the 90s knows Age of Electric and/or Limblifter; or at the very least have heard a song or two from either. Both were seminal bands in the Vancouver scene and produced a multitude of hits. The common element to both bands were brothers Kurt and Ryan Dahle. With AoE breaking up in '99, the brothers put out one more Limblifter album together before Kurt went on to play with a little group you may have heard of... The New Pornographers. Since then, Ryan has released another Limblifter album in '04 with a new band, including Megan Bradfield & Patrick Steward, along with a multitude of different projects to keep busy. Collaborating with and backing for Matthew Good, playing with Jason Zumpano's Attics & Cellars and producing for bands like Hot Hot Heat (but we won't hold that against him, heh) and The Manvils. After years of more behind the scenes things, Ryan is ready to step back into the spotlight with the release of his first solo album, Irrational Anthems. He's joined by some other fine musicians, including Bradfield on bass & sometimes-vocals and brother Kurt on percussion.

The album opens with lead single "Chop Chop", which is instantly infectious and draws you in immediately. "Windmilling" and "Target Practice" both bring in the strings and start to show you the depth of the album. It continues with the mellow and somewhat minimalistic "Hya", which builds to a grand finish. "Shutdown" may be the most similar to the Limblifter of yore, as it brings the energy back up again with an almost erratic quality to it. "Sixes & Sevens" keeps up the energy before "Awfulizing", perhaps the most influenced by current music. It is the best showcase of Bradfield's vocals on the album and contains one of my favourite lines, "I spoke to my habits and they agreed to be hobbies"
"Agoraphobe" is a rerecording of a song he collaborated on with Matt Good, put out as a demo under Jack Pillowhead. I was slightly disappointed that Good was not on the album version, but every other aspect is a vast improvement, to make what is my favourite song of the album, Good or no Good. The gentle, sweeping songs continue with "Beta King Stilts", starting piano-y before building into a sweetly melodic number. "Eek, It's Hallowe'en" is whimsical and, yes, haunting, and leads into the musically beautiful -- and lyrically intriguing -- "Lion Piano", which ends the album with Dahle hinting at his lyrical depth by asking us "take my jokes seriously / don’t take my jokes seriously."

All of the best aspects of Dahle are on showcase here. His knack for both catchy hooks and sweeping songs; his ability to draw you in; and his great way with words & wordplay -- which has always been one of my favourite things about his songs. Irrational Anthems gives you a sense of familiarity, but not by sacrificing it's currency. Even though it still sounds like Ryan Dahle we all know & love, he's not just going to rest on the past, but keep exploring. People who are looking for a rehash of the 90s will probably be turned off by it (perhaps they should check out Crash Karma for some people stuck in their 90s phase). But fans of the band, or good songwriting in general, will be struck by this, and while it may take a few spins to really appreciate it, the album is definitely worth your time.

Download Awfulizing

Download Agoraphobe

Download Lion Piano

Clicky to exchange monies for music

Friday, January 1, 2010

One Night Stand II @ The Media Club -- 12/31/09

I think the best way to describe what happened last night would be that it was like watching a huge group party of Rock Band. Except instead of your tone deaf, rhythm-less friends, it was actual, talented musicians. And instead of plastic instruments, it was the real thing. One Night Stand saw members of a whole bunch of local bands join forces and celebrate the new year by collaborating for nearly three hours of cover songs. Bands represented included: Bend Sinister, Said The Whale, The Painted Birds, Elias, Poor Places and The Gentle Infidels with Laura Smith and Hannah Georgas. Numbering around a dozen members in total, there was a lot of rotating on and off stage for any given song.

They hit the stage at ten to play the first of three sets, which consisted of:
Gimme Some Lovin' (The Spencer Davis Group)
Want You To Want Me (Cheap Trick)
Bohemian Like You (Dandy Warhols)
I Melt With You (Modern English)
Last Night (The Strokes)
Billie Jean (Michael Jackson)
Lola (The Kinks)
Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springstein)

Gimme Some Lovin' (perhaps best known form The Blues Brothers) had all of them on stage to kick things off, starting things off with a great energy. Maybe it was just cos it was the first set, but they still seemed to be getting into the swing of things, not to say anything was bad, but as the night went on they got looser and more comfortable (and possibly more drunk!) on stage, with the sets getting progressively more energetic. And interestingly enough, this was the second time I'd heard a cover of Dancing in the Dark this year!

They took a short break and were back at Eleven for some more fun:
Sweet Emotion (Aerosmith)
Whip It (Devo)
Crazy (Gnarls Barkley)
Don't You (Forget About Me) (Simple Minds)
Heroes (David Bowie)
Paper Planes (MIA)
El Scorcho (Weezer)
Beat It (Michael Jackson)

Sweet Emotion included not one, but TWO cowbells (one of which was played with such intensity that she broke the drum stick) and Whip It included the Devo hat, which stuck around the rest of the night.
I like that they went into more ambitious covers, with both Crazy and Paper Planes working great. The latter surprisingly awesome and hilarious, with everyone on stage channelling their inner gangsta'. I'm also curious to know how many people in there heard Heroes and thought it was a Wallflowers cover...

Another break just before midnight, for the countdown and celebrations before they were back to the music.
Against All Odds (Phil Collins)
Rebellion (Lies) (Arcade Fire)
The Weight (The Band)
Just What I Needed (The Cars)
Drinking in LA (Bran Van 3000)
Hey Jude (Beatles)

Against All Odds was the first song played after midnight, for people to slow dance... or sway by themselves...
Rebellion was a pretty damn good cover that tore things up, with the whole crowd screaming along to the LIIIEEES LIIIEEESS parts and from then on it was crazy energy til the end. The rest of the songs had most everyone singing along as well, even to Drinkin' In LA -- which was complete with Henry from Bend Sinister "storming" off stage due to his hatred of the song.
The night ended with Hey Jude, which again saw everyone on stage... all the band members AND random people who felt they were entitled to jump on stage too. There was kind of a funny/awkward moment where some drunk girl kept trying to wrestle the mic away from Hannah Georgas. But ultimately, everyone, both on stage and off, was singing/yelling along, especially at the end of the song. It was a pretty damn good way to end the night and welcome the new year.

There is a saying or superstition, I guess, that says that whatever you're doing at midnight is what you'll be doing for the rest of the year. If that's the case, I can't wait for whatever shows & music this next year has in store.