April 2010

For all of you eagerly anticipating the upcoming New Pornographers album, I have good news – it is available streaming for free at Exclaim.ca or at NPR.  Frankly, I am really liking this trend of having amazing bands stream their albums for free pre-release!

Thoughts so far:

  • Very classic New Pornographers sound – nothing dramatically unexpected (good news for those fans of previous albums)
  • Great use of a cello to really reinforce the bass line on quite a few songs and give them some nice texture (especially on “Moves” and “Crash Years”)
  • “Your Hands (Together)” is clearly a standout – great power chords that blend well into the melody, and frantic energy throughout
  • Really like the finish to the album (last three songs) – they’re a bit more forceful and energetic, starting with the driving guitar in “A Bite Out Of My Bed” and finishing with a similarly rhythmic cello in “We End Up Together”

I recently had the opportunity to have a Q&A with a local up-and-coming favourite, The Darcys.  They’re currently in the process of a bit of a musical metamorphosis, undergoing a lineup change and about to release a new album – the first since the release of their “Endless Water” album back in 2007.  Their new album was recorded with the help of the Dears’ Murray Lightburn, and features guest spots from members of Broken Social Scene, Islands and Stars.  From the looks of it, the Darcys are also touring every single Canadian city with a population of over 50,000, so hopefully most of you should have a chance to catch them on their current tour culminating in a June 3 release party at the Horseshoe in Toronto.

You can download the newest singles from their 7″ by visiting their website, and can also satisfy your auditory desires with a direct download of an older favourite of mine – an amazing cover of Owen Pallett’s “The CN Tower Belongs to the Dead”.  Exchange violins for thundering guitars, and a mellow melody for a lively and energetic refrain, and this is what you get.

[mp3] The Darcys – The CN Tower Belongs to the Dead

And now, without further adieu, some musical Q&A discourse…

You recently finished recording your second album with some veritable Canadian music legends.  What was the experience like?

It was really interesting to have people around that we respected and, inspirationally at least, had a lot to do with why we play music the way we do. Having the Dears’ Murray Lightburn so deeply involved in the project was an incredible experience.  When it came down to moments of suggestion or editing, his opinions were both educated and respected on an artistic level.

An important part of the process was the band (as a whole, and as players) becoming aware of our influences in an attempt to control and shape them consciously, instead of having them manifest in the sound without being specifically considered. I think the finished product has an extremely deliberate tone, which has a lot to do with how thorough we were in examining the elements of a track before settling on a final part. As a band, we have a highly critical internal editing structure, so a lot of what Murray brought to the project involved re-humanizing the songs. He would encourage different states of mind to get us to play beyond a technically perfect take, to find some kind of living character. It became less about execution, and more about feeling. On a conceptual level, this was really healthy for the recording sessions, and I believe that channeling of spontaneous energy really shows up in the end product.

You recently underwent a lineup change with the departure of your former lead singer, Kirby Best. How has the change affected the band?

It set our release back a couple of months, which is significant considering we haven’t released anything (aside from some free singles online) since August 2007, and that is an extremely long time to be in between records for a small band like ours. That being said, it is a great opportunity to refresh our live presence and prepare the material that we will be introducing with the “new” Darcys.

The change has been surprisingly natural, and seems to have sparked a newfound unity amongst the remaining members.  As friends, we are closer than ever, and as musicians, we are working more as a unit than ever before. Musically it has been a welcome challenge to find ways to perform what we once did with 5 people with only 4 sets of hands. This has definitely breathed new life into our live show, making it far more focused and energetic.

Your live show has been described as dramatic and tumultuous. What’s your favourite “dramatic” and/or “tumultuous” song to play live?

Currently the most dramatic part of the live set seems to be when we play a song called “Des Animaux”. Somehow, no matter how sick or unhappy any of us are, or how many onstage gear malfunctions we are experiencing, playing this track saves us. Most of the track is based around a really tense groove with tightly interlocked guitars, but towards the end it releases, almost spills open, in a wash of thick noise and washy cymbals that never fails to offer some sort of mind-clearing moment.

For tumultuous I’d say it is the B side of our upcoming 7” – a song called “Edmonton To Purgatory”. We have been closing with this recently because it’s a real rock and roll moment. The swaths of fuzz and feedback that lead to a kind of soulful chant definitely make it one of the more reckless and satisfying moments in our set.

You’ve garnered a bit of a reputation for being road warriors. Do you have any favourite stories that you’ve accumulated while touring around? Ever taken any interesting non-cash compensation for a gig?

We have had a little taste of all the bad things that can happen to a band on the road in Canada. Attempted grand theft auto (Guelph, ON, an intoxicated 15 yr old with large hunting knife), robbery (Montreal, QC, stopping to get a sandwich in broad daylight and losing $6000 of belongings), engine trouble (Charlottetown, Halifax, Moncton, Ottawa, Kingston, Saskatoon, Thunder Bay, Montreal, mostly to do with our starter motor, massive fuel leak, a leaking radiator, and a busted flywheel), gear trouble (exploding amp in Calgary, AB), freak snowstorm (Edmundston, NB), and roadkill (a chicken near Cornwall, ON). Luckily our attitude towards most of this is that if it doesn’t kill us, it makes us stronger. The title of warrior doesn’t sound so bad.

Aside from the many times we played for beer alone at the University of King’s campus bar, what I remember most (and most fondly) is our show at All Citizens in Bruno, SK. We played to 30 people in a town with a population under 500, which was quite the experience. Instead of paying a cover charge, everyone in attendance contributed to a potluck, sending us off the next day with enough homemade food to get us most of the way home.

When and where can Toronto fans next see the Darcys play?

Our next scheduled Toronto show is going to be our 7” release party at the Horseshoe on June 3 with a bunch of our friends who are all in wicked bands – Germans, All Day Driver, and Buffalo.  Beyond that look out for a full-length release in October, and a whole bunch of dates around then.

Thanks to a hot tip, I’ve found out that the National‘s new album, “High Violet” is available for streaming over at NYTimes – I haven’t gotten a chance to listen through the album straight through, but am looking forward to doing so.  Check it out for a peek at the new album, and also for a good article/interview about the band.

Get the stream/article here.

It’s hard not to fall in love with singer-songwriter Lykke Li.  She has fantastic songwriting prowess, crafting beautiful songs which still retain a good degree of fun and playfulness, and pairs it with an amazingly intimate and delicate voice which entrances and lulls listeners into a state of calm.  Also, she’s cute and Swedish, which is definitely a winning combination.  It should therefore be no surprise that her debut album, “Youth Novels”, released in 2008 was an instant hit.  It contained numerous standouts like the sultry “Little Bit” and the magical “Breaking It Up”, as well as plenty of other great songs.

I unfortunately missed a chance to see her the last time she played in Toronto, but the embedded video of her performing her new song “Possibility” gives me shivers.  If I manage to catch her live show, there is a very good chance that she’ll steal Emily Haines’ spot as my number one indie songstress crush.  High honours.

[mp3] Lykke Li – Possibility

P.S. I’m already aware that this song is on a soundtrack for one of those damn vampire movies

All I can say is, it’s all fun and games until someone invites pandas to the party…

LCD Soundsystem‘s new album, “This is Happening” is due to be released on May 18th, and can be streamed for free here.

Aujourd’hui, I have a bit of a Frenglish mix for you.  Each of the below songs has some French and English mixed together with some rather unique results.

Premierement, Harlan T. Bobo has this quick and quirky song which is as educational as it is fun to listen to.  Watch out Rosetta Stone…

[mp3] Harlan T. Bobo – Mlle. Chatte

Secondement, Buck 65 has this remarkably interesting, film noir-esque alternating duet which moves back and forth between French and English.  Very cool and unique.

[mp3] Buck 65 – Drawing Curtains

Et vois aussi:

Honh-honh-honh… Baguette!

Recently I’ve been doing some thinking about the role and importance of authenticity in music.  The impetus for these thoughts have been a couple of album reviews over at the indier-than-thou music authority that everyone loves to hate, Pitchfork.  The reviews (for Mumford & Sons’ “Sigh No More” and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros’ “Up From Below”) are remarkably scathing, but not for typical reasons.  Rather than faulting the melodies, songwriting, or vocals on these two albums, the reviewers primary disenchantment appears to be disgust at lack of authenticity in the music.

From the Mumford & Sons review (2.1 of 10):

That band name derives from singer/guitarist Marcus Mumford, but the band members aren’t actually his sons. Rather, it’s a play at quaint family businesses run by real people in real small towns, trades passed down through generations: both independent (yes, as in indie) and commercial. It’s a shallow cry of authenticity, but this West London quartet really does sound more like a business than a band, supplying value-added products at discount prices.

And from the Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros review: (4.1 of 10)

Just as you’d feel a little funny if some hippie ideals were being espoused to sell you fancy Kool-Aid, you’d feel a little funny if a jerk-punker– and I hesitate to say failed, but, yeah, failed jerk-punker– reemerged a couple of years on as some kind of robe-donning, beard-rocking guru sort, wouldn’t you? Well, get ready: Ima Robot lead singer Alex Ebert has reeimagined himself in the image of messiah-type Edward Sharpe.

Other reviews for these two albums also espouse similar concerns, albeit not nearly to the same degree.  Album ratings from other reviewers in the music media reflect this, with average ratings on Metacritic of 6.6 and 6.7 out of 10.0.  However, even more interesting is that listener reviews for these two albums are actually quite positive (7.7 and 8.5 out of 10.0).

One of two things appear to come out of this (or both):

1) Your average listener doesn’t seem to be particularly concerned about authenticity, which perhaps isn’t surprising given the popularity of some blatantly manufactured pop groups (although I like to hope that those listening to Mumford & Sons and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros are a bit more discerning?)
2) Pitchfork reviewers will take any difference in opinion between music industry reviewers and your average listener and blow it completely out of proportion in order to continue to lay claim to the fringe of popular opinion and endear themselves to readers who take pride in being as far away from popular thought as possible.  Note that in this case, the Pitchfork reviews look to have been written a few months after other reviews, which lends a bit of support to this view.

Anyways, this all leads us back to the original question.  How important is authenticity in music?  To say the least, it is an interesting question, and one where popular opinion looks to be squarely at odds with the music press.

To judge for yourself:
[mp3] Mumford & Sons – Little Lion Man
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – Home

Next Page »