Thursday, May 26, 2016

Throwback Thursday: I Don't Want A World Without The Tragically Hip

This week, I've surprised myself with how many times I've gotten choked up trying to word exactly how much The Tragically Hip mean to me.

Not just what they mean to a Canadian music fan who's witnessed their long, fruitful career as one of the country's most cherished bands. But, what they've meant to me, a girl who also grew up in their native Kingston, Ontario, knowing she wanted to make even the slightest contribution to music outside of our small city limits.

On an average Saturday morning in downtown Kingston, it wasn't uncommon to pass by The Hip and their families. Or see one of them cheering on the sidelines at your soccer finals. Or speaking at your graduation. My high school, which most of the band members attended (as well as their children after them), was decorated with mention of these hometown heroes. They were everywhere, and rightfully so, because they achieved so much more - on a large, powerful scale - than a small city would expect of some high school friends. And after all was said and done, they never stopped being humble, seemingly regular and accessible. They never stopped coming home, and therefore, their music never stopped feeling like home.

Their music, however, and more specifically - Gord Downie - has never been overly accessible. Although it's some of the most widely known rock music in Canadian history, nothing about it has been easy or predictable. It's not sugary radio-rock that people "get" off the bat, which is perhaps why it would be hard to play The Hip for an international friend and have them immediately understand their importance. The band's lyricism, instrumentation, and quirky, formidable frontman have been beautifully non-conformist from the get-go; so much so that placing them alongside anything or anyone else feels futile. Their artwork is distinctly Canadian - and, not just in their frequent mention of Ontario locales, but in so many other ways I've never really been able to articulate. From their 1989 full-length debut through to their 11, soon to be 12, other albums, The Hip have flourished in a complete space of their own, almost effortlessly, because of their depth and originality. They really are heroes for that.

Gord Downie never tried to fit himself nor his band into a box, and because of that, they've grown into something inexplicably special. And Downie has become, hands down, the most memorable Canadian rock frontman of our time.

I don't like the idea of a world where I don't get to see Gord Downie perform once every two years. I don't want them to stop releasing albums. I want to be eternally curious what Gordie is going to say and do in between songs. But, his timeless legacy (including this 11-stop final tour), and the memories painted over most streets of my hometown - where it all began for the band and myself - will have to be enough. And, from here on out - especially after this year in music - I think I'll be a little more conscious of and grateful for the artists we still have with us, making the biggest difference in our lives just by creating.

I've watched the band's perfect SNL performance of "Grace, Too" hundreds of times over the years, and this week in itself, maybe 15 times. I find a little solace in it, and hopefully you can, too.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Listen to Father John Misty's New Song: "Real Love Baby"

I've been a huge Josh Tillman fan all the way from his solo beginnings as J. Tillman, through to his Fleet Foxes days and now as he continues releasing music as eccentric folk-rock persona, Father John Misty.

While I've loved almost everything he's created, after three listens to his brand new single "Real Love Baby" - I think I can already say this is one of my favourite songs he's ever released, under any name.

Father John Misty is no stranger to random song uploads, but they're usually of a parodic nature, unlike this country-rock beauty which is no spoof at all. The earworm melody, harmonies and sugary sentiment ("I want real love baby/ Ooo, don't leave me waiting") tip-toe into Beach Boys territory, while the jangly, sun-streaked stomp is the stuff of unabashed, anthemic folk-pop.

Beneath the song's Soundcloud link, Tillman commented "why not," and after his long string of musical spoofs, I can't help but agree.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Best New Track: Timmy's Prayer - Sampha

Delivering his first solo material since his 2013 Dual EP, celebrated R&B artist Sampha has finally returned with a new single, "Timmy's Prayer." While over the years the UK singer has lent cameos to Drake, Jessie Ware, Katy B and SBTRKT, to name a few, he had kept mum until an Instagram posted on Monday promised new music (which, as it turned out, dropped later that day).

Carried by his throaty croon, "Timmy's Prayer" is a deep-beated soul ballad that thumps along solemnly until electronic components mix their way in midway through. It's an honest, heartbroken song that doesn't explicitly allude to his hiatus, but hints that a part of himself might have spent these three years finding himself.

Friday, May 13, 2016

5 New Songs You Need to Hear Now

After working from NYC most of this week, I'm just bursting with new songs to share. There's far more than this, but here's a mess of beautiful music that should send you off properly into the weekend. Back to regularly scheduled programming on Monday!

1. No Problem - Chance The Rapper (feat. 2 Chainz and Lil Wayne): Today, my beloved Chance The Rapper released his third mixtape Coloring Book, or Chance 3, to already widespread acclaim. Part gospel, hip-hop and dance album, it's brilliant, but I need so much more time with it. So, here' a single that he dropped in advance (yesterday), which proves Lil Wayne isn't done just yet, 2 Chainz is 2 Chainz, and Chano is just killing. the. game.

2. In A Drawer - Band of Horses (feat. J. Mascis): This sunshine-packed new BOH single comes ahead of their fifth album Why Are You OK and features Volkswagen enthusiast and Dinosaur Jr. frontman J. Mascis on the backing vocals. It's a sweet mid-tempo ballad that no doubt will lend well to sticking your head out a car window down an open road.

3. Survive - Mistah F.A.B. (feat. Kendrick Lamar, Crooked I and Kobe Honeycutt): Get Top on the phone! Kendrick joins TDE labelmate Mistah F.A.B. on this triumphant new cut from his forthcoming album Son of a Pimp 2. Kendrick opens the song with (obviously) powerful words about the cycle of youth street violence and crime, before F.A.B. follows up with equally compelling lyricism.

4. True Love Waits - Radiohead: If there's one album I've been playing on repeat up until today (the drop of Coloring Book) it was Radiohead's ninth album, A Moon Shaped Pool. "True Love Waits" has existed in Radiohead's live songbook for over 15 years and this long-overdue studio recording is perfection. Reminiscent of my favourite live Radiohead cut "Fog," this soft, tinkering piano ballad is devastatingly human. It's begging someone to stay, but saying that if they do go, true love will wait. (Here's the live acoustic guitar version - but I highly recommend getting your ears on the studio version over at Apple Music.)

5. Acid Test - River Tiber: Toronto R&B boy wonder Tommy Paxton-Beesley dropped the lush, instrument-packed first single from his forthcoming June LP Indigo yesterday via Zane Lowe's Beats1 show. Lowe's enthusiastic verbal praise of the young artist's efforts to date are all the indication one needs to know that River Tiber is no longer Toronto's best kept secret.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Five New Songs You Need To Hear

1. Casual Party - Band of Horses: Band of Horses, one of my all-time favourite groups, can do little wrong in my books. Even their least memorable albums are still filled with sweet alt-country anthems, and from the sounds of this summery highway-rock gem, we're going to get a solid dose of buoyancy with their forthcoming June release.

2. I Need a Forest Fire - James Blake & Bon Iver: These two indie staples, back at it again with the sultry electro balladry. On this slow-cooked collab, which comes as part of Blake's brand new album The Colour in Anything (out today), the harmonies created by Vernon's unmistakable falsetto churning together with Blake's soulful rasp are striking.

3. Lost Dreamers - Mutual Benefits: This dreamy piece about life on the road sounds exactly like what life on the road feels like. The soft xylophone, strings and barely-there vocals all convey the feeling of getting lost on purpose, finding adventure in nothingness and taking the long way home. If you make it through one listen without wanting to toss your smart phone out a moving car's window, I'll be impressed.

4. Don't Go - Hannah Georgas: Georgas's latest single, from her forthcoming album For Evelyn, is not for the faint of heart. Beginning with echoey coos before sliding into a chugging electronic beat and her melancholic plea, everything about "Don't Go" is darker Georgas than we're used to - yet beautiful, and a surefire way to feel longing. (Interestingly enough, when I first heard this, I immediately thought of my beloved Mom - and later read that Georgas did in fact write "Don't Go" for her Mother.)

5. Dukes - Repartee: Up-and-coming electro-poppers Repartee might hail from Newfoundland, but you won't find a fiddle in the mix here. Blending indie-rock edge with early Dragonette-style dance-pop, this sugary sweet fightin' love song is more and more addictive with each listen.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Five Favourite Tracks from Drake's 'VIEWS'

Each morning, I try to minimize the steps taken between my alarm going off and making it out the door to run - or else it's not happening. I fold my clothes at the end of my bed, put my socks in my untied shoes, hang my keys and my dog's leash at the door, etc. This past Friday, I had one crucial added step: downloading all 20 tracks off Drake's VIEWS to my phone, because I sure as hell wouldn't be listening to anything else.

Nor was the rest of the Toronto, from the sounds of it. Even at 6:30am, I heard it blaring from cars. I assumed other people jogging past me, and later in the day, in line for coffee or stepping on to the street car, were also plugged in with VIEWS. As is the case in many Torontonians, and the rest of the world, we become familiar with new Drake songs pretty quickly.

In my opinion, VIEWS isn't Drake's best album. It's too long and I'm growing a wee bit tired of the themes and corny lyricism. But that doesn't mean it doesn't sound very good. It's an easy listen; an accessible listen. And we owe that to producer/mastermind Noah '40' Shebib and his collaborators as much as we do the 6 God himself. Here are five tracks I've had on rotation all weekend, excluding the singles we've already heard and loved:

1. Weston Road Flows: "Weston Road Flows" is one of the most real, authentic pieces on this album. That old-school Mary J. Blige sample and thumping beat (hats off, 40) lay the perfect foundation for Aubrey reminiscing to his pre-Forest Hill days. As he mentions on "U With Me?," Drake "made a career off reminiscing," and this standout showcases it best.

2. Feel No Ways: I thought OVO signees Majid Jordan missed the mark with their recent debut album, but when I think back to their involvement on "Hold On, We're Going Home" and now this shimmery pop gem, I have renewed faith in their abilities. While Drake crooning about an ex-lover's slight isn't shocking, it's surprisingly welcome when stirred with some Dev Hynes-style synths and retro beats.

3. Views: The title track is one of the strongest on the whole album (as it should be). While Drake usually Dad-dances the fine line between pop and hip-hop, on "Views," he's a triumphant rapper with punchy choice words about loyalty and life in the limelight. Combined with that deep Maneesh beat, "If I was you, I wouldn't like me either" are some of my favourite album-closing words.

4. With You (feat. PartyNextDoor): When you roll with up-and-coming OVO fam like PND on trop-R&B cuts like this, who needs new friends? This album has no shortage of pretty pop singles - I mean, it's sort of a pop album - but this one takes the (cheese) cake as my summer sixteen anthem. (The hokey wordplay is rubbing off - send help.)

5. Grammys (feat. Future): I had a bit of a What a Time To Be Alive flashback with this banger, because, again, Future stole the spotlight. Neither Drake nor Future are groundbreaking lyricists - that's not why we love them so much - but Future's cadence, grimy rasp and character took this song from average to earworm.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Favourite New Track: Beyoncé's "All Night"

Late Saturday night, following the airing of Beyoncé's brilliant HBO special Lemonade, I watched the internet light up with word that she'd done it again; she'd dropped another surprise "visual album" of the same name, centred around emotional themes: family, infidelity, burdens and salvation.

Unsurprisingly, less than ten minutes into my eager first listen at 11:30pm on a Saturday (maybe the only time I've been happy I pay for all the streaming services), it was blatantly clear that Lemonade was game-changing. History-making. Gut-wrenching. Raw and empowering, and nothing less.

For those who didn't get their ears on Lemonade off the bat, they heard the lyrical thread that tied the album together was her husband Jay-Z's alleged infidelity and Beyoncé's formidable response to it. This isn't untrue, but it's so, so much more. It's so much more that I, a white Canadian female, am unqualified to comment on - yet, wholeheartedly tried to recognize. Everything about Lemonade is palpable. Within the hour-long visuals and 12 tracks, she expresses explicit feelings of vulnerability in her own body and soul; a woman sexually and emotionally shunned by her partner, a black woman historically forgotten by society. 

But, no part of her dwells on any of it. She airs out every ounce of insecurity and rage, and ultimately, the man (men) who are at the source of it. She's triumphant in rejecting the personal hand she's been dealt, while shamelessly highlighting her power and spiking the general public's ignorance with a heavy dose of reality about the world we live in. 

The reason I love "All Night," the second last track on Lemonade, isn't because it sounds like the pretty resolve for music's most admired, mysterious and enchanting power couple and their revelation. Although melodically beautiful, I still find it uneasy like the rest of the album where she screams and curses a little more. I love this song because of what it represents; it's realness and sincerity. Even if we'll never really know how real any of this is (because we sure as hell won't be getting an interview out of them anytime soon), "All Night" seems to represent edging towards overcoming. I'm sure that nothing about the couple's ordeal, their struggle, or the ordeals and struggles present in our current civil rights crisis, are close to over - but she helps us believe it's being worked through. That it's just as OK to be very, very angry, as it is to work through it. With "All Night," the anger sounds like it's becoming productive, and hate sounds like it's slowly being replaced with love and acceptance. Art like this feels like it's going to affect change both publicly and behind closed doors, and with all the hurt and confusion happening at any given minute, that's something to feel really good about.