Archive for the ‘ Reviews ’ Category

Record Review: Japandroids – “Celebration Rock”

This review originally appeared at Exclaim.ca

Second time around, Vancouver, BC duo Japandroids come out swinging, creating a record that’s harder, better, faster and stronger than their excellent debut, 2009’s Post Nothing.

Anyone expecting sweeping changes to the duo’s sound – big anthems filtered through Hüsker Dü’s New Day Rising – will be disappointed, as the record lives up to its title, delivering pedal to the metal rock throughout its eight tracks. However, they’d also be missing the point – one listen to barnstorming first single “The House that Heaven Built” and it’s clear that Japandroids aren’t interested in crafting artful soundscapes. Rather, they focus on walls of guitar and big sing-alongs.

A return to the Hive Creative Labs, with producer Jesse Gander, ensures that the band’s second record won’t stray too far from their first, but their songwriting has improved. Where Brian King used to rely on repeated mantras to get his lyrical ideas across,Celebration Rock sees the singer/guitarist fleshing out his notions, as he does on “Younger Us,” which first appeared as part of the act’s seven-inch series back in 2010.

Bookended by crackling fireworks,Celebration Rock is Japandroids’ declaration that they’re here for a good time. Let’s hope they’re here for a long time as well.

Record Review: PS I Love You – “Death Dreams”

Kingston, ON duo PS I Love You blazed a bright and noisy path on their debut, Meet Me at the Muster Station, inventing a type of punk rock prog in the process. Yet singer/guitarist Paul Saulnier has managed to out-noodle himself, delivering more guitar licks per second on Death Dreams.

Stronger songwriting, with hooks that sink in deep upon first listen, gives Saulnier this freedom, while drummer Benjamin Nelson keeps the pair in a locked groove. The album isn’t a total shred fest though ― closing cut “First Contact” starts off with Saulnier alone on acoustic guitar, while half-time rocker “Saskatoon” is a nice antidote to the band’s usual four-on-the-floor tempo and a highlight on the album’s exceptionally strong back half. Cleaner production also gives us a clearer idea as to what Saulnier’s howling on about as well.

Death Dreams is the perfect example of a “same but better” second outing giving fans more of what they love while presenting something new to consider for those who weren’t sucked in the first time around.

“Sentimental Dishes” [Paper Bag Session]

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”

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.

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”

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.

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”