Archive for the ‘ Record Review ’ Category

Record Review: Japandroids – “Celebration Rock”

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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”

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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”

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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.

Record Review: The Men – “Open Your Heart”

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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…”

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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.

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

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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”

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

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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”

Record Review: Lemonheads – “Hotel Sessions”

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Evan Dando’s reconstituted Lemonheads line-up haven’t sparked his creative juices. Instead of new material, this latest release offers a collection of demos from the height of the band’s early ’90s popularity.

Recorded to four-track while on tour in Australia, Hotel Sessions is billed as the Lemonheads at their most stripped down. These 14 tracks find Dando, then still riding the first wave of alt-rock fame, laying down demoes for what would becomeCome on Feel… for the band’s manager. Come on Feel… would be their most elaborately produced effort, but its glossy style isn’t far removed from these surprisingly fleshed out sketches.

More than two-thirds of the final record is already here and most of the tracks sound more or less as they appear on the finished product. Dando delivers two songs that didn’t make the cut (“Superhero” and a track written by at-the-time bass player Nick Dalton, “And So the Story Goes”), while “Dawn Can’t Decide,” which Dalton also wrote, “Rick James Style,” “Favourite T” and “The Jello Fund” are all missing. More than anything, Hotel Sessions sounds like one of Dando’s solo acoustic tours of recent years.

What’s of value for fans is Dando’s commentary, as he intros each song, describing what each is about or his plans for it in the studio. Far from essential, Hotel Sessions is a glimpse of a once great songwriter in mid-process.

“Into Your Arms” (Come on Feel… Version)