Record Review: Eamon McGrath – “Young Canadians”

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

On his third album proper, Eamon McGrath blazes a jingoistic path in an attempt to capture what defines Canada and its music. And while it’s up for debate as to whether the album lives up to such lofty ambitions, there’s no doubt that Young Canadians is easily McGrath’s best effort yet.

More sonically varied than 2010’s Peacemaker, the record namechecks influences both figuratively (Neil Young, the Band) and literally (Ramones, Minor Threat) while laying bare the close ties shared by folk and punk rock. His trademark howl finds great company with the raging guitars of “Rabid Dog,” while he showcases a rarely seen soulful side on “Instrument of My Release.” The title track, inspired by Sidney Crosby’s game-winning Olympic Hockey goal, is the most on the nose of the bunch, but it’s thundering pace and “pour one for the young Canadians” refrain prove that McGrath is capable of walking the line between rock anthem and nationalistic schmaltz.

However, for all its bluster, the sparse “Auditorium” comes across as the album’s most rousing song, a paean to a life spent in punk. It would be easy to pick on Young Canadians for its overt sonic references and McGrath’s reverence for his heroes, but doing so misses the point entirely. And, more importantly, ruins the fun of listening to a great record.

“Great Lakes”

New Video: Kitty Pryde – “Okay Cupid”

Teenage MC Kitty Pryde is what happens when you give Ellen Paige’s Juno the mic. A brilliant mix of self-awareness wrapped in a protective blanket of pop-culture name-dropping and self-obsession. This song reveals more about teenage girls in 2012 than any social network, vampire novel or magazine article.

Record Review: Ringo Deathstarr – “Shadow EP”

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

Austin, TX’s Ringo Deathstarr are doing a good job of making themselves inescapable. After dropping their excellent debut, Colour Trip, last March, then bundling together a bunch of EPs and singles as Sparkler in the fall, we get the Shadow EP, four songs showcasing their growing fame and willingness to push beyond the My Bloody Valentine-esque shoegaze forming the basis of their sound.

The title track, features …And you will Know Us by the Trail of Dead’s Jason Reece’s trademark howl, screaming “Don’t fade out” over some beautiful swirling guitars. “New Way” is a minute-and-18 seconds of childish rants while a pounding beat drives the tune and “Prisms” finds the band at their most ambient.

But the surprise is “Just You,” an Angelo Badalamenti cover from the television show Twin Peaks. They turn the ’50s-style song into a gorgeous, fuzzed-up power ballad. According to a press release, these tracks will appear on the band’s forthcoming second record.

Based on these selections, the album is unlikely to dissuade comparisons to the Creation Records catalogue, but the band are increasingly up for experimenting within their self-made box while honing their pop hooks.

Stream: Hermetic – “Civilized City”

Given the recent reunion of Kingston via Halifax duo, the Inbreds, now seems as good a time as any to mention lo-fi indie pair Hermetic.

Like the Inbreds, and Winnipeg’s Duotang, Hermetic rock the high-end of the low-end, delivering some melodic bass lines along with their fuzzed up indie pop a la the mid-90s Halifax pop explosion spearheaded by Murder Records.

Made up of bassist- singer Eric Axen and drummer-singer Bart Newman, the pair have been playing together since 2007. Civilized City is their debut.

 

Photo: EMA @ the Garrison, Toronto 03/13/2012

Photo: Nü Sensae @ the Garrison, Toronto 03/13/2012

Live Review: EMA w/ Nü Sensae, the Garrison, Toronto 03/13/2012

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

Erika M. Anderson’s emergence as a solo artist was both surprising and quick; her work with doomy folk group Gowns never really hinted at the highly intimate creative impulses the singer was concealing. Yet with a host of year-end accolades for her full-length debut proper, Anderson’s live appearances now come shackled with some pretty lofty ambitions.

Opening act Nü Sensae from Vancouver seemed a tip of the hat to Anderson’s noisier tendencies while testing the patience of those who’ve fallen for her more intimate moments. The three-piece carried themselves with an unassuming manner, but were blisteringly loud once they got going. One of the leading lights in Vancouver’s DIY punk scene, Nü Sensae’s records have always felt a tad thrown together, as if they were making things up as they went along. Live, though, the group are a razor-sharp force to be reckoned with.

After briefly taking the stage to set up her gear while playfully singing along to Beyoncé, Anderson disappeared only to reappear to the droning sounds of her three-piece backing band, who deftly recreated (or reinterpreted) selections from Past Life Martyred Saints. She came across as both playful and confident, and her enthusiasm clearly rubbed off on the packed venue.

Framed by a collection of coloured LED lanterns crafted and triggered by multi-instrumentalist Leif Shackelford, the band, taking cues from Anderson, delivered stellar stabs at “The Grey Ship” and “Anteroom.” By the time they reached pulsing album highlight “Milkman,” Anderson jokingly complained about how hard it was to sing the song live, then asked the crowd, “Is it weird that I feel less dorky gasping like a dying animal than I do dancing onstage?”

Anderson went solo for “Cherylee,” a track from Gown’s last recordRed State, and recent anti-bullying song “Take One Two,” before her band returned for set stopper “Redstar” and finished with “California.” Visibly moved by the crowd’s reaction, she returned for two more songs, capping the night off with another Gowns track, “White Like Heaven.”

Unfazed by her growing profile, Anderson seems right at home sharing her most personal thoughts with an audience, and thanks to a crack group of backing musicians, she’s able to make that experience simultaneously intimate and larger than life.

Record Review: The Men – “Open Your Heart”

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

Brooklyn, NY four-piece the Men have made a habit out of confounding expectations, abandoning sounds quicker than a pop star changes costumes. Just as the bleak noise of their debut gave way to the warped hardcore of last year’s much lauded Leave Home, their third effort sounds like a lost collaboration between Bob Mould and the Replacements.

Linking these disparate styles is the visceral power the Men bring to everything they do. Even on their surprise detour into country, on appropriately titled instrumental “Country Song,” the reverb ripples around your eardrums as if you were standing next to an amp in the studio. During their latest transformation, the band developed some tremendous hook writing chops that until now were barely hinted at. Jam-y album closer “Ex-Dreams” contains some of the record’s best melodies, while “Please Don’t Go Away” and the title track could have been alt-rock radio hits two decades ago.

But Open Your Heart‘s greatest triumph is its ability to hearken back without feeling retro. The comparisons to ’80s American underground luminaries come more from the live-off-the-floor feel than any stylistic trope the Men have absorbed into their arsenal of sounds.

“Open Your Heart”

Incoming: California X – “Sucker” & “Mummy”

In case it hasn’t been made clear through some of my recent posts, I’ve been really digging the resurgence in interest in distorted, heavy guitars in underground circles. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given that I grew up a riff-obsessed teenager in the 90s post-grunge distortion-a-thon.

But bands like the Men and now Amherst, MA’s California X harken back to the 80s American indie underground, as glorified by Michael Azzerad’s influential book, Our Band Could Be Your Life.

Their debut single “Sucker” an epic riff fest, was recorded by  Justin Pizzoferrato, who worked on both of Dinosaur Jr.’s post reunion albums Beyond and Farm and Sonic Youth’s The Eternal as well as Thurston Moore and J. Mascis’s recent solo albums. It’s out now on the Sounds of Sweet Nothing.

Check out “Sucker” and its B-side “Mummy” below.

“Sucker”

“Mummy”

Video: Rich Aucoin – “P:U:S:H”

Look, I really like Rich Aucoin, okay?