Record Review: The Babies – “Cry Along With…”

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

Our current need to document and release our every waking activity hasn’t spared the music industry ― a quick YouTube search reveals dozens of shaky camera phone vids of even the most unproductive and inconsequential groups.

The Babies aren’t an inconsequential band; their membership, which includes Vivian Girls’ Cassie Ramone and Woods’ Kevin Morby, requires at least a passing mention for fans of the du jour lo-fi indie rock. But with only last year’s debut and a few singles under their belts, the band can hardly be called prolific, which makes this collection of demos from 2010 and 2011 a questionable follow-up.

The six tracks are demos in the most classic sense ― poorly recorded acoustic numbers, some of which feel more like sketches than completed songs. Sounding whole, despite being a solo acoustic number by Morby, closing track “That Boy” is the best of the bunch. Both “Trouble” and “My Tears,” where a bird can be heard chirping in the background, were eventually rerecorded for a seven-inch, while “Hey Mama” found new life as “Sick Kid” on the band’s debut.

Interesting as a piece of musical archaeology, Cry Along With the Babies will make a nice addition to an expansive reissue package in a decade or so. As a standalone EP, it’s unnecessary.

New Video: Grimes – “Oblivion”

I’ve written about my love for Grimes in the past, so I’ve been easing off a little with the release of her latest, most excellent album Visions. However I felt compelled to post this latest video for the track “Oblivion” because it’s the first time we get to see Grimes, aka Claire Boucher acting playful and more or less being herself in a sense.

In previous vids, Boucher comes across as aloof and mysterious, which is part of what has made her so appealing – we don’t just want more of her music, we want more of her.  With “Oblivion” she gives it to us, but just enough to satiate our appetites. The scenes in the sports stadiums are the most off-the-cuff, while the staged scenes with the buffed up body-builders and the jarhead football fans reinforce her mysteriousness and power.

Boucher and director Emily Kai Bock sat down with Pitchfork to discuss the clip for P4K’s Director’s Cut. Check out “Oblivion” below.

Live Review: Daps Records Revue, Great Hall, Toronto 02/24/2012

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

Anyone wondering how Daps Records so quickly gathered international buzz around its burgeoning roster need only have witnessed this show. The label — run by Ian Chai, along with Hooded Fang’s Daniel Lee and April Aliermo — has rekindled Toronto’s DIY spirit, producing and releasing records from their friends and like-minded artists.

After L Con opened the night, former Spiral Beach members Maddy Wilde and Daniel Woodhead took the stage as Moon King. Woodhead opened their set, back turned to the crowd singing a Peter Gabriel-esque version of “Walk on By.” With Wilde on guitar and Woodhead playing a tom and snare drum while triggering beats and samples, they delivered a tight set of tracks off an upcoming album that matched the Jesus & Mary Chain’s swagger with the shimmering shoegaze of Lush, quickly finding a groove that Spiral Beach always lacked. Their energy and charisma was palpable, and the anthemic nature of so many of their songs made it very easy to imagine the duo playing much further up the bill soon.

Woodhead remained onstage for his brother Airick’s solo projectDoldrums, who quickly shot to indie notoriety through their split single with England’s Portishead. With Daniel on keyboards and a live drummer, they worked through the chopped and sampled grooves of Doldrums’ debut, Empire Sound. Recalling Primal Scream’s dubbiest moments tossed into a blender, Airick proved to be a formidable frontman, and their set, backed a pastiche of video images projected onto the stage, captured the groove and hedonistic spirit of acid house’s halcyon days.

Hooded Fang felt like the night’s de facto headliners; the longest running of the Daps roster, the band already have a pair of records under their belt. But a massive lineup shift (they’ve downsized from eight members to four) and an abandoning of their original glock rock sound in favour of surf-inspired garage has alienated some of their original fan base. Ignoring their debut, Album, the band played a tight set that on most other bills would have been a triumph. But the songs didn’t quite transcend the ’60s garage trappings and lacked the enthusiasm of the night’s earlier performances even if Hooded Fang’s trademark hooky songcraft remained.

After an extra long break, Phèdre marked their debut performance by literally emerging from the womb of a digital projection of Monty Python’s the Meaning of Life on their massive handmade screen. The trio unites Lee and Aliermo with Airick Woodhead in a sleazy and decadent take on electro pop. Throughout their quick set, they were flanked by an entourage of courtesans covered in gold who performed purposely stiff dance routines while similarly garbed performers threw feathers and gold-glitter-filled condoms into the audience. At times, the performance threatened to overshadow the music itself, but their final track “In Decay” proved that Phèdre are more than an excuse to wear gold lamé, as half the crowd joined the band onstage to close the night in a glitter-covered haze.

Phèdre – “In Decay”

Record Review: Long Weekends – “Don’t Reach Out”

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

It didn’t take long for Halifax crew Long Weekends to find their stride. After dropping a handful of online tracks, their debut seven-inch doles out some stellar post-punk-influenced garage rock.

The title track is a driving, mid-tempo blast of helplessness; “Why would you reach out when there’s nothing I can do?” asks Noel MacDonald, the band’s singer and a former member of Tomcat Combat and A History Of. B-Side “Show Your Face” demonstrates the group’s ability to rein in their sound, featuring some nice rumbling bass and plenty of space to let the song breathe.

Finding a happy medium between the fuzzy shoegaze of Bloodhouse and the pop ambitions of Cold Warps, Long Weekends have staked out a nice piece of real estate in the busy and prolific Halifax scene. Don’t Reach Out offers a great pair of tunes from a promising young band.

Record Review: Marvelous Darlings – “Single Life”

Damian “Pink Eyes” Abraham may get most of the attention but third guitarist Ben Cook is certainly the busiest member of Toronto psychedelic-punks Fucked Up.

In between the steady stream of singles with his day job, Cook has released his own army of EPs and seven-inches as Young Governor, the Bitters and Marvelous Darlings, the latter of whom gets the compilation treatment on Single Life.

Formed in 2007 and rarely playing live, the quartet released half-a-dozen seven-inch slabs of punked up power pop, in the vein of the Exploding Hearts and White Wires, each performed with the abandon of a band playing for its life. Cook proves to be a formidable singer; opener “I Don’t Want to Go To the Party” bubbles over with bratty energy while “Teenage Targets” shows-off his knack for complicated arrangements without losing the band’s visceral edge.

Cook and co split the record in half, with A-sides at the beginning and B-sides at the end, meaning that the Single Life’s back half is a tad weaker (emphasis on “a tad”) than its front. But the overall quality of material will leave listeners hoping this isn’t this group’s swan song.

“I’ll Stand By Her”

Live Review: Eamon McGrath @ Bovine Sex Club, Toronto 02/18/2012

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

Playing exclusively new material is a ballsy move, even for the most established artists. So when Toronto-based musician Eamon McGrath announced he’d be playing his forthcoming album, Young Canadians, in its entirety, in order, it seemed to indicate that he was either extremely confident in the new songs or lacked basic business sense.

The ploy seemed to pay off, though, as the bar was packed by the time McGrath and his three-piece band took the stage around midnight. “This is Young Canadians,” he announced as they launched into album opener “Eternal Adolescence.” While McGrath could be seen flitting about the bar chatting with friends and supporters before the show, once at the mic, the 23-year-old maintained an incredible focus, his raspy vocals cutting through his overdriven guitars.

The record’s more upbeat numbers, such “Rabid Dog” and the title track, were unsurprising crowd pleasers. McGrath’s years in Edmonton’s punk underground reared their head as he leaped and thrashed around the stage. His backing band did a good job of toughening up the slower, more delicate compositions, the lap steel/keyboard player seated to McGrath’s left doing and excellent job delivering some of the album’s more subtle textures.

“Auditorium,” a haunting paean to the concept of punk, proved to be the evening’s highlight before the band finished their set with album closer “Saskatoon, SK.” McGrath and co. started to pack up but were quickly coaxed backed to their instruments for a three-song encore that included covers of Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane” and “Fuckin’ Up,” and ended abruptly when the drummer hopped over his kit to tackle McGrath to the stage floor.

The night proved that McGrath has the rare combination of both talent and ambition with a stellar album in the can, and the driven personality to deliver it to the masses. When Young Canadians drops at the end of next month, it’s hard to imagine the singer not graduating to larger venues as his star rises on the Canadian music scene. Best get in on the ground floor now — you’ll thank yourself for it later.

Record Review: Islands – “A Sleep & A Forgetting”

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

No matter how much we want them to be, Islands are not the Unicorns. Since Nick Thorburn and Jamie Thompson struck out on their own, the group have been viewed as an extension of the famed Montreal trio, rather than a separate entity.Thorburn, in particular, spent the band’s first three records simultaneously embracing and running from that expectation, but fourth time out finally finds his voice.

A break-up record written on a keyboard, A Sleep & a Forgetting features some of Thorburn’s most personal songwriting and it’s difficult as a listener to decide where the line between band and reality lies ― is “Never Go Solo” about his lost love or his music? Islands have always had an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach to their arrangements, but here the group hold back, peppering songs with splashes of horns, handclaps and what have you only when necessary, allowing individual tracks to stand on their own instead of smearing the album with a wall of noise. Their brand of quirky indie pop runs throughout, but the slower numbers are as effective as the upbeat tunes.

There’s a streak of R&B and even soul buried in these songs ― “This is Not a Song” could easily find new life as a torch song to a leaving lover. The press release explains that Thorburn started writing A Sleep last Valentine’s Day and is releasing it this Valentine’s Day to bookend the process. Gimmicky? Yes, but given the subject matter, not altogether inappropriate.

“This is Not a Song”

Photo: Eamon McGrath @ the Bovine, Toronto 02/18/2012

Incoming: The Men – “Ex-Dreams”

Brooklyn’s The Men (not to be confused with Le Tigre-related band MEN) hit my radar sometime last year with their excellent sophomore release Leave Home, a record that blended the best bits of hardcore, psychedelia and general noise. So its no surprise that I’ve been eagerly anticipating their next album Open Your Heart. 

The title track hit the internet at the end of last month and revealed that the band had turned themselves into an SST loving punk act without losing their core identity. Now “Ex-Dreams” ups the anti further, wrapping the band in the swirling noise and catchy hooks of Hükser Dü’s Zen Arcade.

Open Your Heart drops March 6 on Sacred Bones.

 

Incoming: Moonlight Bride – “Lemonade”

Chattanooga, TN (yes, that’s a real place) crew Moonlight Bride have found a nice middle ground in the indie world walking a thin line between the slinky post-punk of Joy Division and the swirling shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine.

“Lemonade” is the first song released off the band’s forthcoming EP Twin Lake. On top of perfectly showcasing the band’s musical dichotomy it’s got a nice anthemic quality to it, and kind of feels like the soundtrack to a deleted  One Tree Hill Scene (in my world, this is a compliment).

Twin Lake is out  Feb. 28.