Live Review: JEFF the Brotherhood @ Wrongbar, Toronto 06/21/2011

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

Back in the ’90s, any band the major labels spat out seemed to get tagged as “the next Nirvana,” regardless if they sounded like the Seattle trio. Denials in the press were common, but most found the comparison tough to shake — just ask Bush or Silverchair.
Nashville duo JEFF the Brotherhood actually do sound like Nirvana, and they seemingly couldn’t care less. They even carry themselves with the same fuck-off indie swagger that Kurt and co. famously brought into the mainstream.

Openers White Fence and the Strange Boys did their best to win over the crowd with their individual takes on ’60s rock, but quite frankly, most of the efforts were forgotten once the brothers Orrall hit the stage. It was nice to see that the duo haven’t let their newly inked deal with Warner Bros. change their wardrobe, which resembled a one-stop shopping spree at Value Village.

The pair quickly established their presence, laying down some Sabbath-esque riffs. Guitarist Jake yelled into the mic while staring down the audience before launching into “Hey Friend.” This technically being the band’s album release party for their new disc We Are the Champions, JEFF the Brotherhood’s set leaned heavily on the new record and their previous breakthrough Heavy Days. Jake wandered into the crowd several times during the set without missing a note while the crowd cheered on, camera phones in tow. If the audience were unfamiliar with the new material, they certainly didn’t show it, as a mosh pit quickly opened up near the front of the stage and beer cans started flying.

By the show’s halfway mark, a pair dressed as blue and pink Easter bunnies had made their way into the fray, their heads quickly taken as trophies and tossed around in the crowd. Eventually one landed onstage, knocking Jake’s guitar cable loose. But as they did the entire rambunctious set, the brothers paid no mind to the screaming crowd; drummer Jamin didn’t miss a beat while Jake ditched the rabbit head and quickly plugged in.

Stone-faced throughout, JEFF the Brotherhood bid farewell with a slow and sloppy number before returning for one last tune. Whether their major label deal will bring chart success to the brothers remains to be seen, but it’s clearly done nothing to blunt their formidable live show on which their reputation is based.

“Bone Jam”

Record Review: Snailhouse – “Sentimental Gentleman”

This review originally appeared at Chartattack.com

While its title suggests a more maudlin approach, don’t think Michael Feuerstack’s latest outing as Snailhouse finds the artist going soft. Rather, on his sixth time out, the former Wooden Star has crafted his most direct album to date, proving it’s possible to remain vital and wise in indie rock years into the game.

Feuerstack’s got a tight three-piece backing band for this recording, and invited a number of friends along. But at the end of the day, Sentimental Gentleman is all Feuerstack, balancing the basic songwriter motifs of his previous Snailhouse releases with a more relaxed approach.

The title track is punctuated by pedal steel and a laid-back country vibe, and probably best sums up his current mood when he sings, “We lied to the promoter, said we’d be packing them in/We’re sentimental gentlemen, we’re playing to win.” It’s a telling statement from a Can-rock lifer; yes, he’s aware of his station in the grand scheme of things, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop.

“Sentimental Gentleman”

Record Review: Thurston Moore – “Demolished Thoughts”

This review originally appeared at Chartattack.com

Few would have thought to pair Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and Beck together; the music each made in the ’90s is about as sonically disparate as you can get. But both artists were instrumental in ushering in the sense of detached irony and championing of the obscure past that has prevailed in the decade-and-a-half since each artist’s peak mid-that decade.

Both of Moore’s previous solo records, 1995’s Psychic Hearts and 2007’s Trees Outside The Academy were stood in stark contrast to his work in Sonic Youth as well as to each other. Oddly, Demolished Thoughts most resembles Beck’s own Sea Change, finding Moore in a surprisingly sentimental and reflective mood, backed by crisp, clean production and even some sweeping strings. Only “Circulation” even tries to capture the explosive nature of SY’s feedback attacks, albeit with an oddly tuned acoustic guitar.

But like the musical chameleon he’s always been, Moore wears his new alt.rock troubadour hat well, ensuring the stylistic tropes bend to his needs rather than the other way around.

Yes, Demolished Thoughts feels like a solo album, but it’s one of the highest calibre and it’s even better than some of Sonic Youth’s lesser records.

“Benediction”

Record Review: J Mascis – “Several Shades of Why”

This review originally appeared at Chartattack.com

We’ve known for quite sometime that J Mascis was capable of more delicate musicianship than the fuzzed-out bombast of his guitar histrionics in Dinosaur Jr., but we rarely get a chance to hear the alt.rock legend unencumbered from some form of backing band.

Freed from the guitar squalls that accompany his day job, Several Shades Of Why offers a rare glimpse into Mascis’s soul, since we can actually hear him emoting in his singing. Though he’s invited several high-profile guests to help out, including current muse/sideman Kurt Vile, Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew and Sophie Trudeau of Godspeed/Thee Silver Mt. Zion fame, there’s not a drummer in the bunch. Instead, these guests help bring Mascis’s stark acoustic numbers to life while keeping his laconic drawl front and centre.

Each of these songs could have sat comfortably on the next Dinosaur record. But rather than offer another blast of thundering alt.rock (and don’t get me wrong, I’m very excited for that next blast) Mascis cleverly flipped the script while offering a different piece of himself. And despite his lengthy run in the biz, that’s a seldom-heard treat.

“Not Enough” directed by Chad VanGaalen

Record Review: City & Colour – “Little Hell”

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

Dallas Green’s success as City and Colour was one of the catalysts behind the almost implosion of Alexisonfire and their subsequent rebirth with 2009’s Old Crows/Young Cardinals. Written while on tour for that record, Little Hell (Green’s third solo outing) displays none of the acrimony that birthed his other act’s reinvention.

Instead, it follows in the footsteps of the first two records, chronicling Green’s usual lyrical tropes of love and heartbreak. Little Hell was recorded in late friend Dan Achen’s converted church studio in Hamilton, ON with his regular backing musicians (Dylan Green and Scott Remila from Raising the Fawn and Attack in Black frontman Dan Romano), having all the hallmarks of a professional-sounding studio album. Unfortunately, in smoothing out his compositions with piano, bass and drums, Green has lost much of the intimacy that drew fans to his music in the first place. As well, he didn’t really use the studio for sonic experimentation. “Grand Optimist” and “Fragile Bird,” the two least conventional songs on the record, are also its best.

Little Hell will no doubt satisfy fans that have fallen in love with Green’s plaintive voice. But at best, it’s a benign record that fails to lift Green, a very talented songwriter, to the next artistic level.

“Fragile Bird”

Live Review: Robyn @ Echo Beach, Toronto 06/03/2011

This review originally appeared at Chartattack.com

Robyn‘s made three Toronto stops in the last year, but Hogtown’s appetite for her seemingly knows no bounds.

As people crowded into the rather haphazard and makeshift “new” venue, Echo Beach, it was clear many had caught one of her previous appearances, while another large cloister of fans were just coming around to the Swedish chanteuse’s brand of Euro-disco pop music.

John O’Regan, better known as Diamond Rings, once again opened and it’s easy to see why: his own take on sentimental synth-pop and a penchant for ridiculously loud clothing (red leather jacket, matching Blue Jays cap and some very bagging trousers) put him perfectly in line with Robyn’s own aesthetic.

O’Regan performed on his own, and set failed to match the shimmering recorded power of last year’s Special Affections, though he did give it his best, stalking the stage like the seasoned performer that he is. But O’Reagan appeared to be at his most natural while playing guitar, which suggests his other more rock-leaning band, the rechristened Matters (formerly known as The D’Urbervilles), might ultimately win out in the struggle for O’Reagan’s comfort zone. But for now he appears to want to continue to ride the Diamond Rings wave.

Robyn hit the stage as the sun went down to the pulsing beats of “Fembot.” She was clad in garish tights and a bomber-jacket with “Konichiwa Records,” her label, emblazoned on the back, and quickly set the tone for the night by dancing up a storm on stage.

Her set was heavy on material from the Body Talk trilogy, and was very similar to her past appearances. But as great as songs like “Dancing On My Own” and “Call Your Girlfriend” are, it’s clear it’s Robyn-the-performer that draws fans back again and again.

Though the set needed to be tightly scripted in order for her four-piece band (with two drummers) to keep the beat moving, nothing about Robyn’s performance felt affected, from her dance moves to her interactions with her band. Fierce looks quickly melted into bright smiles as she soaked in the love from the crowd. Her short set was augmented by two encores; the first included “Hang With Me” and “With Every Heart Beat” while the second ended with a slowed down version of ’90s hit “Show Me Love.”

It remains to be seen whether or not Robyn can carry the goodwill and dedication of her core fans further into the pop mainstream. But it’s clear from this night, that as a performer she’s ready for the big stages and bright lights that pop stardom brings.

“Dream On” with Christian Falk

Record Review: Let’s Wrestle – “Nursing Home”

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

Let’s Wrestle’s debut was a wonderfully ramshackle record filled with smart-ass lyrics. But the problem with crafting such a naively brilliant debut? Just ask Art Brut.

For their sophomore release, the London, UK trio once again try to strike gold, raising the indie-cred quotient by enlisting Steve Albini to produce. Ditching the breezy bounce of In the Court of Wrestling, Let’s, Nursing Home is unsurprisingly a more muscular record, filled with plenty of Albini’s trademark lo-fi rattle. Starting things off, “In Dreams Part II” chronicles singer/guitarist Wesley Patrick Gonzalez’s warped late night visions of fighting Pokémon. But things quickly fall apart and by fourth track “Bad Mammaries,” with its half-baked chorus, you’ll be looking for the skip button. Where their debut’s lyrics were loaded with clever observations on pop culture and pulling girls, the lyrics on Nursing Home feel forced, as Gonzalez hides behind his meaningless tales of woe.

Only on dark and slow numbers “For My Mother” and “I’m Useful” do we get the real Gonzalez, revealing the tragic upheaval in both his family and love lives. Coming off such a winning debut,Nursing Home is a disappointment. But don’t write this young band off yet ― there are enough flashes of their former brilliance to hold out hope for album number three.

“I’m So Lazy”

Live Review: Neil Young @ Massey Hall, Toronto 05/10/2011

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

As with everything Neil Young, the announcement of two shows at Toronto’s storied Massey Hall was coupled with a great deal of mystery. The concerts were set to be filmed by director Jonathan Demme as the finale to his trilogy of Young concert films. Heart of Gold captured the songwriter in all his country glory while Trunk Show showed Young’s hard-rocking and jammier side. So which Young would the fans get this time?

Unsurprisingly, Young’s ability to avoid being pinned down carried over to his song selection this night. Rather than choosing to be defined by his sonics, Young cashed in some of his post-Juno adoration for a set focused on the personal and introspective side of his weighty catalogue, leaning on a similar set list to the one he’s used on his recent solo tours.

Sauntering onstage alone, decked out in jeans, a black T-shirt, cream sports coat and matching hat, he appeared to take stock of the setup — a colourfully decorated grand piano, pump organ, battered-looking standup piano and wooden statue of an American Indian — before he took his seat. Lit by a pair of spotlights, his acoustic in hand, Young delivered “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue),” “Tell Me Why” and the CSNY classic “Helpless,” much to the delight of the packed audience.

But any thoughts that Young was seeking to recreate his famed 1971 acoustic performance at the same venue were quickly dashed. Young soon ditched his guitar for an acoustic-electric hybrid on the beautiful “You Never Call,” a song that was recorded for last year’s Le Noise but was axed from its final tracklisting, as well as a pair of tunes that did make the cut. Switching guitars again, Young ripped through passionate, overdriven versions of “Down by the River” and “Ohio.”

Young let his music do the talking for the majority of the set while fans cried out between song lulls or at any mention of Canada, Ontario, Toronto or hockey. He finally spoke as he sat down at the upright piano. “Here’s a song for all the little people — they’re too small to be here tonight,” he joked. “Mamma said ‘nope’ but Grandpa’s here.”

The main set ended with solo-electric versions of “Cortez the Killer” and “Cinnamon Girl.” Young briefly left the stage before returning for a feedback-drenched version of Le Noise‘s “Walk with Me.” How Demme eventually chooses to frame the evening remains to be seen, but the show itself showed that however varied Young’s songs are in instrumentation, they remain highly personal snapshots of time.


Record Review: Ponytail – “Do Whatever You Want All the Time”

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

Baltimore, MD noisemakers Ponytail have a knack for creating jam-y tunes that never feel like actual jams.

Third time out, the group more or less stick with the script they perfected on previous release Ice Cream Spiritual: math-y guitars, pulsing rhythms and singer Molly Siegel’s unintelligible vocals are still present. What have changed are the raw production values that Jawbox’s J. Robbins brought to that record. In their place, Robbins (who again produces) gives the band a much more measured sound.

The blunted visceral blows of Ice Cream Spiritual are replaced with more textured tones and even space. While all this is likely to turn off fans that enjoyed the immediacy of the quartet’s previous work, those who like the band’s ability to build to a joyous climax, filled with uplifting chants and rhythms, won’t be disappointed.

 

“Honey Touches”

Download Laura Stevenson and the Cans’ “Sit Resist”

Laura Stevenson and the Cans join the most excellent Lemuria on a growing list of indie rock leaning bands putting out records on punk and hardcore labels. Sit Resist, their second disc is out now on Don Giovani Records but is availalbe as a free download all month via their Souncloud (see below). The band will be swinging through Toronto this weekend – you can check them out at the El Mo May 7 with Fake Problems and Into It, Over It.

Laura Stevenson & the Cans “Sit Resist” by Riot Act