Monday, January 31, 2011

Rabbits and Hares

2011 is heating up.

A new month starts tomorrow, and we’re about to see an influx of the New Year’s music. Countless albums are released at the end of one year or the beginning of a new one – a smart tactic for artists who are looking to start over, artists who are looking to put their musical footprint on the year and it’s sound, those who want to flip their sound and those who want to excite us.

In my opinion, 2010 will be hard to top. I remember in the late 90s and early millenium, searching for those meaningful and fascinating songs was just that – a search. We were in the age of rambunctious teen punk, pop princesses and Chad Kroegers, and looking for a thematically diverse song with thought-provoking lyrics wasn’t as easy. Everything I found to be special was “underground” or really “indie” and hell would freeze over before hearing it on the radio. Aside from a few exceptions (Dave Matthews Band, Foo Fighters, Lauryn Hill, etc.), the quest for gems was a struggle, unlike these past few years where we’ve had the luxury of tripping over them everywhere we step.

I’m already seeing 2011 singles pop up left, right and centre – with or without a fully developed album that’s ready to be released – and I have a little inkling we are off to a very intriguing start. Here is what I mean, or, here is what I’m going to share today:

1. The Stand – Mother Mother: I love this band. Five British Columbian friends, some related and some not, who get up on stage and spread the party far and wide. This new song off Eureka is an absolute blast for all who listen, and I can’t wait to get my hands on those to follow. Founder and lead singer Ryan Guldemond talks back to his sister Molly’s pipsqueak vocals about his corrupt weaknesses on this upbeat dance-rock track. They're infectious, sexy, and a little hilarious.

2. Preservation – Wintersleep: Following in the footsteps of their previous chords struck, these Canadian men hit home with their good-God-what-took-them-so-long new single. Wintersleep needed some new material to show us they’ve still got the magic they had with 2007’s Welcome to the Night Sky. I’ve yet to hear whether or not the rest of the songs off their newest, entitled New Inheritors, are as good as this one – but if it’s any representation of the rest, this is going to be a mature and heartwarming step in the right direction for them. It's an ambient and profound concept, with lead singer Paul Murphy’s droning vocals narrating the story of a woman with a past who isn’t accepting love. He pleads, “And if you ever willed it/ I would embroider you in disaffected kisses/ In bleach reticent sunsets.” Wow.


3. Hey Boy – Mark Ronson and the Business Intl: Famed British DJ, Producer, Musician and jack of all trades Mark Ronson released his latest album Record Collection in September of 2010, but the diverse compilation of hip-hop and dance-trance songs are still continuing to trickle out and gain ground. One song I’ve heard on a number of websites and on certain stations recently is this one, and it’s made me re-visit my copy of Record Collection with avid ears. It’s a sweet mix featuring Theophilus London’s b-boy rhymes, funky electro-backing and the romantic vocals of The Pipettes’ Rose Elinor Dougall, that guarantees a second listen right after the first. Other great tracks that can be checked out off this album are “The Bike Song” and “Bang Bang Bang.” You can’t go wrong with Ronson.


Well, that’s all for now. But the discovery process has only begun!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Song For The Shivers

If you’re feeling the hibernation woes during these frigid winter days, and needing a little comfort or uplifting – I think I have just the ticket. One of my favourite songs that so easily reminds me of the integration of the warm spring season back into our lives is something I promise to drag you out of the dumps. I know we aren’t even close to being there yet – but it’s something to hope for. This whole song stands for having something to hope for, in fact.

"IO (This Time Around)” by Los Angeles-based band Helen Stellar is a stunning mixture of ethereal vocals and transcending piano and guitar. It's just perfect for the time of night when the sun goes down. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Country Bumpkins?

The unthinkable is happening this weekend - my six best friends and I are going to attempt to man the country and cottage life, out in the wilderness, on our own. Now, we all love the escapism aspect of this little weekend getaway and the country - but nonetheless, we also like the city, dressing up, and central heat, to name a few. Lord help us.

In light of my venturing deep into the woods, and even deeper into Quebec, I thought a few country strums might send me off properly. I love nothing more than the long overdue alternative country trend these days - it's a comforting sound that's homegrown, meaningfully worded and beautifully decorated with instruments. Here are some of the songs I am going to force onto the ladies this weekend, hoping that it will provide the same sort of rural tranquility I know it gives me.

1. Empty Shell - Cat Power: This song has beautifully heartbreaking lyrics, and it's a theme we can all relate to in some way. I remember listening to this song during a fairly unpleasant time in my life, and only recently have I been able to revisit it with ease and happiness. Because, at the end of the day, the pleasure of Chan Marshall's sweet and pining "ooo's" and back-up vocals, topped with pretty acoustic guitar and saloon violin are all that matter.

2. My Winding Wheel - Ryan Adams: My favourite guy, country or no country. This track off Adams' brilliant solo album Heartbreaker (2000) recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, is a cascading acoustic plea made by his wholesome and picturesque vocals. Other absolutely golden tracks off this album that you need to hear? "Come Pick Me Up" (my personal favourite), "Oh My Sweet Carolina", and "To Be Young" should be enough to hook you on all of Ryan's country glory.

3. Blue Ridge Mountains - Fleet Foxes: They just don't make music like this anymore. Breathaking choral harmonies, an uppity mid-song transition, harp, and a rustic winter theme - it really has every one of the ingredients to re-create the sound of spiritual 1970s folk-rock.

4. Harvest Moon - Neil Young: One of the most beautiful songs ever written. Naturally, it's meant to be heard in a place where the city lights aren't hiding a full moon blanketed in twinkling stars.

5. Remember the Mountain Bed - Wilco and Billy Bragg: Someone who I consider to be musically intelligent - in that he understands composition, songwriting and progression better than most - once told me that this was one of the most ingenious songs he had ever heard. I agree. The simple acoustic thread and soft percussion aren't meant to steal the show - a reminiscent and full circle story of real love, beautifully descriptive passages, and Wilco's simplistic hum are what do.

6. Luscious Life - Patrick Watson: This song is a sparkling piano-driven piece that is exactly about the title - life and all of it's sweet and luscious greatness. This song is meant to be played when you look out the window to see the sun's sharp rays peaking through a crowd of trees. Watson's lovely, soothing storytelling is perfection when he sings, "Sweet ol' luscious life/ Celebrate your day when you are awake/ Doesn't it taste so sweet/ Like it's growing on the trees."

7. General Specific - Band of Horses: The ultimate bike-riding, dirt road exploring, laughing like kids country jam. The stomping clap beat, square-dance piano and Ben Bridwell's screeching twang is meant for a happy and healthy celebration in the country stretch.

8. Live and Learn - The Cardigans: Hop in the car and put this reflective girl-empowered tune on as you drive down the highway and into the bush - it's a cleverly put together anthem for moving on and moving up. Nina Persson's careless howl dictates exactly what the benefit is of making big mistakes. "Cause no senses remain/ But an ache in my body and regret on my mind/ But I’ll be fine/ Cause I live and I learn."


9. Come Home Loaded Roadie - Amy Millan:  Millan, also the female co-lead of Stars, scored big time with this sentimental country hymn that features only two kinds of pipes: Millan's and a calming organ. In this track off her solo album Honey from the Tombs (2006), she whispers about missing a lover during the lonely and cold Ontario nights, even looking to find a friend in their tired dog by the fire. "It's all wrong while you're gone," she sings.

10. Shuffle Your Feet - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: A scorching country jig that reminds me of many roadtrips past. Sexy vocals and kickback countryside guitar make this song fit for any party in the woods.

11. Hey Hey What Can I Do - Led Zeppelin: Easily one of my favourite Zeppelin gems of all time, this song off 1970's Immigrant Song is absolutely everything a wild drive down the country road should be. Robert Plant's sultry shriek, Jimmy Page's heavy strokes of the acoustic, and some sexual connotation - it's a great backdrop for roughing it in the great outdoors. Roughing it in in style, of course.

12. Your Rocky Spine - Great Lake Swimmers: A song written by Canadian boys, comparing a woman's body and the desire for her to a country terrain? That's about as nature-themed as it gets. Lead singer Tony Dekker's flawless milky vocals sing steamy words like, "The mountains said I could find you here/ They whispered the snow and the leaves in my ear/ I traced my finger along your trails/ Your body was the map, I was lost in it", while the energetic banjo picks up in the background.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Coachella, Campgrounds and Sleigh Bells, Oh My!

There are many things musical to be happy about these days! First, the Coachella line-up has surfaced - and let me tell you, if there's any way I can wrangle the funds for a festival pass out of my bank account, I will be there. This annual three-day Calfiornia festival is a famously perfect and sweaty music-bath that at least every devoted music lover should dip into just once. I have yet to have the chance to experience Coachella, or other famous fests like Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza, but know that when I do - life and live music as I know it will have reached an ultimate height.

The 2011 Coachella line-up is absolutely mind-blowing. If you find a way to get yourself to the star-studded campground in the valley this year, I think you'll find yourself embedded in a little piece of history. Congregants, refer to the poster to the right.

The other upside of this year's festival? The Coachella web page decided to pump Sleigh Bells' first official video for their undeniably slamming and intimidating rock-hop track "Infinity Guitars" on their page. The music video, which represents some sort of dark twist on the cliche inner workings of high school life, serves no real purpose to the page - except maybe to jack up the adrenaline of anyone shopping for a ticket. All I know is, when I hear this song in the gym,
I suddenly feel like a character out of 300 - greasy-muscled and ready for battle.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Welcome to Jurado, USA

Maybe I haven’t been listening, or maybe he isn’t being heard – but either way, I’ve been missing out on the pleasant honesty in Damien Jurado’s acoustic strums.

He hasn’t branched from a wildly popular indie band or appeared out of thin air – he has been paying his own indie dues for the past 15 years and I am suddenly wishing I had been on his soft and rural-sounding bandwagon all along. Jurado, a peaceful but hard-edged solo voice who resembles a Matt Mays and Bon Iver lovechild, is a soothing and provocative slice of alt-country. Ten releases later, this Seattle-born musician sounds every bit more developed and secure in his mellow rustic rock.

I recently heavily familiarized myself with his past two releases: Caught in the Trees (2008) and Saint Bartlett (2010), and have found his country anthems to be something worthy of a mass audience. Off the former album, "Sheets" is a hard-hitting anthem of ruthless infidelity and latent anger towards an unfaithful lover. The simple acoustic guitar that's later bombarded by crashing drums and dancing piano keys is a subtle background for Jurado's pained monotone vocals.

"Arkansas", off his 2010 release, is a doo-wop last dance for contemporary indie lovers. He whines "Taller than trees and brighter than starlight/ I never feel magic unless I'm with you/ Oh, Arkansas," over 1950s clinking piano, cowbell and a kickdrum.

"Cloudy Shoes," also off Saint Bartlett, is an uplifting and atmospheric melody that models what you would think a song called "Cloudy Shoes" is supposed to sound like. Jurado's spiritual croons are echoed by his own autotune vocals throughout the song, while a clap beat orchestrates the floating piano and string background. "Funny how we all can change/ If we just try to/ I thought it was impossible to live and love like you/ ...Trying to fix my mind/ I'm still trying to fix my mind."

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Dirt

Musician Sean Carey, otherwise known as his solo artist moniker S. Carey or "that multi-talented guy from Bon Iver," just debuted his first music video for the song "In the Dirt" off his compelling August solo album All We Grow. A video composed by Swedish brothers and then sent to Carey's manager, he says it matched the meaning of the song perfectly. Made up of gorgeous cinematography and a touching story of two young kids forming a special friendship on a cold winter night, Carey says the images fondly reminded him of his interest in two things that relate to the song: having children and staying in love with somebody your whole life. I tell you, those Bon Iver boys sure are good eggs...

The ambient piano in this song flows like water over the jutting hand-clap percussion - bringing you right back to the happy and carefree adventures we took in childhood. It's an uplifting melody that has moments of slow descent, causing a few reflective and still seconds where memories will stir.

The song is posted below, but please warm your heart by watching the newly released music video HERE.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Roll Out The Red Carpet

Arcade Fire in the spotlight
 One month away, my friends. I'm sure you can tell that I am, and will be, on a bit of a Grammy kick. It's just such a wonderful, celebratory, controversial, shocking and exciting time of year. And, unlike the Academy Awards - which I entirely appreciate but most of the time haven't even been able to go see (meaning been able to afford) half of the movies nominated - I've at least heard these songs. I know these artists and I know them well. And, if I don't - it's a fantastic directory to artists from all over the world that I might have missed out on, and should make a note to look into.

After looking over the nominees, presenters and performers, I think it's only necessary to sum up what stood out to me, what shocked me, and what got my fingers crossed about this year's list.

The Suburbs, Arcade Fire, Best Album
This album was an absolutely golden moment in mid-2010. As if they weren't already elevating to indie-rock global sensations, this album and all of it's perfection shot them to the top of the ranks. This Canadian collective powerhouse stayed true to their larger-than-life orchestral rock sound on this release, while taking melodic and thought-provoking risks. The lyrical theme of the album is, obviously, about the appeal and fear of The Suburbs and all that they encompass - something that proved their songwriting to be intense and beyond their years.

"Need You Now", Lady Antebellum, Best Song, Best Country Song
This really is the epitome of what I (a bit of a naive country fan) think a country song should be. Loneliness, heartache, a bottle of booze and a weary lost soul calling out for the one they love. It's an honest and pensive story that we can all relate to, because the sorrowful country melody is so beautifully sad.

"Only Girl In The World", Rihanna, Best Dance Performance
Anyone who tries to say this isn't one of the catchiest songs out right now clearly has no idea what they're talking about. Talk about girl power! If I had a penny for everytime that I was hardly embarrassed to be caught singing aloud to this mid-workout or having an (obviously) pantless, hairbrush-in-hand-sing-a-long moment in my bedroom - I would be a rich woman.

"Crossroads", John Mayer, Best Solo Rock Performance
I really enjoyed Battle Studies, I did. I thought "Heartbreak Warfare" and "Edge of Desire" were two fantastic tracks. But, "Crossroads", Grammy's? Really? I thought this was such a lackluster cover of a Cream/Clapton classic. I realize that a young grasshopper guitar great should probably cover an older, more legendary guitar great, and Mayer proved himself with 2007's cover of Hendrix's "Bold as Love", but as the kids say nowadays - this cover was an epic fail.

Infinite Arms, Band of Horses, Best Alternative Music Album
My devotion to them is clear, therefore this hurts to say, but I don't think this album deserved a nod. I think that it took the place of at least five other (that I can think of) deserving candidates in this category. Their last two albums were absolutely worthy of the credit, but unfortunately, Infinite Arms wasn't 100 per cent memorable.

"Tighten Up", Black Keys, Best Rock Performance
This is an undoubtedly scorching hot song and hilarious music video, if you haven't seen it yet. These two dirty southern rockers had their finger in everyone's pie this year ( know what I mean), and I would be blown away if they didn't bring home the win. They produced soulful, effortless and mind-blowing music by spicing up traditional hard rock ingredients and pushing a voice that could put even the grumpiest and most resistant at ease.

"Love The Way You Lie", Eminem ft. Rihanna, Best Song
I have no doubt that a group of Academy suits were torn between choosing this and Cee-Lo's "F**k You", but I'm almost certain that due to Rihanna's personal triumphs and the fact that it was out about a week prior to Cee-Lo, this song has a head start. Oh, and I'd also like it to win because I've never heard it before. It's such a rarity. Maybe they should play it, and Cee-Lo for that matter, more often on the radio. I'd love to hear them both more. Again and again.                         ...That was sarcasm.

THE OL' BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN. Yeehaw! Check out the crew who are kicking it together in the Best Solo Rock Performance category. What an incredible reunion:
"Run Back to Your Side", Eric Clapton:  Clapton for the win. A ramblin' blues anthem, punctuated with his coined growls and licks, like always.
"Helter Skelter", Paul McCartney: "You may be a lover but you ain't no dancer." I don't need to convince you on this one.
"Silver Rider", Robert Plant: A quiet and echoey piece of Plant's mind. Soft and reminiscent.
"Angry World", Neil Young: Forever Young. A hardened word to the wise told through Young's shaky howls and the groaning strums of his electric guitar.

"The Only Exception", Paramore, Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group
Oddly enough, this was easily one of my favourite songs of 2010. Lyrically it's about about the plain faithlessness in love felt by a girl who watched her parents' demise, but she's saved by one person and one person only who's restored her belief. Very few songs can almost cause instantaneous tears for me, but this one opens up a whole can of tear-worms with its heartbreaking and captivating tune. I underestimated Paramore until I heard this song.

Mumford and Sons, Best New Artist
Hallelujah! This group of shy pub-stage-preachers sure as hell deserve a nod, and even a win. Their sophomore album Sigh No More made an (at first) unheard entry into the North American music world, before lighting up the entire contemporary folk and indie scene with their spiritual grassroots tales. Harmonic, deep and surprisingly young to possess such wise adages - they're a group to keep a close eye on in the future.

Florence and the Machine, Best New Artist
This shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody. Whether it's Florence alone, Florence with her machine, or Florence and other people's machines - she's taking over the world.

Broken Bells, Broken Bells, Best Alternative Music Album
This pair were a popular mid-year project lead by The Shins frontman James Russell Mercer that had everybody talking and downloading. Featuring spacey melodies and experimental instruments that were like those of The Shins but with less obscure messages, the key to Bells' uniqueness was the second band member, Brian Burton (better known as Danger Mouse).

"Rocket", Goldfrapp, Best Dance Performance
A duo that's held my attention since my 2005 electro-dance addiction to the track "Number One", this nomination makes me happy to hear they're still alive and kicking. As far as I'm concerned, lead singer Alison Goldfrapp started the movement of chill female electronica that's inspired the other gals in this category.

High Violet, The National, Best Everything
This goes down as the biggest and most negligent snub of the year. What stood out to me and many others as one of the most progressive albums of 2010 was the indelible summer release from critically-acclaimed indie-rock prophets The National. They are absolutely nowhere to be found on the list of nominees, and my own personal preferences aside, I find this absurd because High Violet came close to topping many popular artists' and magazines' "Best Of" lists. Artful compositions, hauntingly clever lyrics and Matt Berninger's impeccable baritone are something I would have thought to be impossible to overlook.

Arcade Fire
Bruce and Win, 2007
A performance that promises to ignite a spark underneath the crowd will be that of our favourite eight baroque-rock performers. The undeniable fun and excitement that each band member experiences on stage makes it impossible not to have it as well - with Win and Regine's incessant bopping, instruments sailing high and sweat dripping in all directions. There will also be some sort of surprise. They're too up-and-coming of an act on the world stage not to do something to drive us wild. Why? Because they're big enough to have things up their sleeve. This may be an outlandish prediction, but let's roll with it. If it's anything like the shock of witnessing Win and Regine join Springsteen on stage for "State Trooper" and "Keep The Car Running" in 2007, I'll have my blood pressure medication handy. Or I would have it handy if I owned any.

Who do you think will be tooting their little victory horn in a month today?

Grammy Genius

With the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards quickly approaching on February 13th, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences is starting to push this year's campaign ahead with full force. Announcements of performers and nominees are slowly trickling into the media limelight and hype is budding at a steady pace - but I think that we can expect a huge growth in Grammy popularity in the coming weeks in response to the website they've created.

This year's campaign "Music is Life is Music," is essentially an online digital platform that connects people all over the world by their musical memories and milestones. It allows anyone who has access to a computer to create a "tag" by choosing a location on a global map, connecting a song to that location, and writing a brief reason (optional) as to why that song connects to that location. Anyone from around the world can click on that little multicoloured bubble on the world map, and see why it means something to you. You can create as many as you want, you can be as discrete as you want - and you can, for a short period of time, leave your mark on the world.

I love this kind of stuff. Connecting people from all over the world by single songs and how they were a part of your musical journey is just beautiful. And that's what the Grammy's are all about - celebrating music, it's successes and those who meant something within it - so, thank you to the Academy for opening up the gateway for contribution to us. Want to know what songs I chose? Well, you can find them in five locations (which I won't disclose) on the world map, and these songs were the most obvious connections to those locations:

"Bennie and the Jets" - Elton John, "You Only Live Once" - The Strokes, "One More Night" - Stars, "Love Generation" - Bob Sinclair, and "Strawberry Swing" - Coldplay.

There are a few more locations I've yet to make musical memories for, but I have confidence that those will come to me soon! I really encourage everyone to put their tag on the world - it will make you a part of a global sharing system, a musical field of memories, and inspiring ground for togetherness through music.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Happily Rediscovered...

One of my absolute favourite Youtube finds from two years ago is this tiny cut from the La Blogotheque podcast of Bon Iver in Europe. This spontaneous 2008 acappella version of "For Emma" takes place in a dingy Paris hallway before a house show - to the surprise of many unexpecting bystanders.

Justin Vernon's expertise spearheading of their togetherness, playful snapping and flawless harmonies still, to this day, causes my mood to lighten and finger to hit replay.


More Than A Woman

Heart Attack
As my devotion to learning about music has grown over the years, I've come to appreciate the Seattle rock scene on a very large level. How could you not? The Washington rock capital has produced too many musical greats to ignore: Nirvana, Band of Horses, Pearl Jam, Modest Mouse, and Death Cab for Cutie to name a few. Struggling artists, instruments and music have turned to gold after beginning in the Seattle music hub - which makes it no surprise that it sent two pretty gals skyrocketing to rock n' roll fame almost 40 years ago, forever reassuring my
utmost faith in that city as a scorching musical breeding ground.

In light of their soon-to-be swoop through all of Canada (check for a date near you, there's guaranteed to be something), I thought it would be worthwhile to shout out to the Mamas of rock n' roll, legends of bombastic vocal ability and temptresses of fans young and old - Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart. Yes, they can sing, yes, they were and still are gorgeous, but also - these girls know how to rip an instrument. Thank God that 40 years ago they were given a chance to show us that.

I remember clearly the first time I heard 1975's "Crazy On You" (off Dreamboat Annie) when I was young, and it still is one of the defining moments of my listening experiences. Everything about the electric rock anthem demonstrated to me what it felt like to have your socks knocked off by a piece of music and mind blown by a vocal and instrumental combination. The introduction is forever unforgettable, and future attempts to match it will inevitably fail. Even as a kid, I recognized how the opening acrobatic picking stalled time for 36 seconds, before rushing into a speedy acoustic build-up and setting electric fireworks off into the song. Nancy Wilson, a slender blonde cheerleader-lookalike, tore up the guitar just the same as any buffoon male rock legend. Ann Wilson's seductive vocals coax you into the words, before the shrill chorus oozes an appropriately 1970s message - forget wars and conflict for one night of passion. Check out this performance of "Crazy On You":

Countless other memorable Heart tracks dotted the 1970s, accented by their flipped hair and bellbottom pant-suits, and the female-fronted band (who also partially got their start  in Vancouver) became a respected household rock name. After taking a downward popularity swing in the early 80s, they later returned with hits like "What About Love" and "These Dreams" - resculptured power-rock ballads that applied their guitar and vocal abilities in an obviously 80s-rock way.

Both went on to conquer other solo efforts, a favourite of mine being Nancy Wilson's extensive list of film score compositions for her husband, director Cameron Crowe. Some beautiful pieces by this acoustic goddess are "Elevator Beat" from Vanilla Sky and one of the great loves of my life, "60B" from Elizabethtown. Listen to it - isn't it just preciously perfect? I wish my life was set to 60B, what a sweet life it would be.

Here is a snippet of an interview with Nancy Wilson that highlights the amazing music supervision by Sofia Coppola in her film The Virgin Suicides - where she decided to fittingly use Heart's classic "Magic Man":

Believer Magazine: Another great movie scene is the one in Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides where Josh Hartnett struts through the high school to Heart’s song “Magic Man”—and everyone in America who didn’t already have a crush on him got one. I really felt the power of music, watching that.
Nancy Wilson: That is such a great moment! You know, Sofia contacted me when she was making the film and said, “Listen, I don’t have much of a budget, but would it be OK if I used your song?” She sent a rough cut of the movie and I was so impressed by the way she used the song to make a story point that I said, “Go ahead, it’s yours, no charge.” I also gave her permission to use “Crazy on You.” We didn’t have a manager at the time, so I could get away with handing things out for free. Anything for Sofia. She’s got a musician’s soul.

For more information on tour dates, click here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Ham It Up.

The masterminds met last week
They're here. Last night Hova and Kanye leaked the first track off their superstar combination album Watch The Throne, called "H.A.M". It's an escalating electro-opera track that sounds as if it's set against an epic showdown on the mean streets of the hood. Both Jay-Z and Kanye spit quick rhymes against the rapid beat, talking the usual talk of being Hard As Motherf****rs (hence the mindblowingly clever acronym H.A.M.), and the best in the game.

I personally expected much more from the first release, lyrically and in terms of the beat and sampling these respective geniuses used. But I don't think the point was to blow us all away. I'm suspecting that the point was to give us a taste; an insight into their vision, ruthless intensity and merciless confidence - as if to say, "Just wait, because we're coming."

Expect the rest of the releases in February or March - the official date is still a mystery, despite Kanye saying it will be this week. If you've ever read Kanye's tweets, you can't be entirely sure what he's saying is correct.

What do you think of the brand new hip-hop royalty track?

Monday, January 10, 2011


Well, well, well, what do we have here - news that our favourite indie blossom Florence Welch (of Florence and the Machine) is going to hit the studio with young hip-hop phenom Drake? This could be...neat.

I suppose it seems only natural that the rising subculture stars inevitably pair with the mainstream sensations to send fans and media into a feeding frenzy - but I have to say, this little collab isn't one I expected. It should be interesting to hear Drake's plain monotone toppled by Florence's pounding pipes - and as long as we don't have another "Airplanes" duet situation coming our way, I'll keep an open and eager-to-hear stance on this one.

Bring it on, you two!

Check out a little preview of what the pair will sound like together - a clip of Florence joining Drizzy on stage in London, where she sang what normally are Alicia Keys' vocals on "Fireworks":

The Shining

Long in the game, but would we say he's late to bloom? Ron Sexsmith announced just before Christmas that he was going to be releasing a new compilation on March 1st called Long Player, Late Bloomer - and it's expected to be another homegrown hit from the modest Canadian singer-songwriter. The album features helping hands from other Canadian musical minds including The Barenaked Ladies, The Sadies and Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene, which should mean for intelligent and crafty melodies to match Sexsmith's mesmerizing songwriting. Sexsmith, who is known for his graceful and instrumental indie-folk tunes, has leaked what will be the first song off the new album called "Love Shines," and it's a perfectly predictable piece of him.

Classic Sexsmith is heard in the sweetheart optimism and gentlemanly serenades that make up this flowing and cheery ballad, causing me to think that the rest of the songs are going to be equally as genuine. Sexsmith always manages to find the light within a melancholy concept, helping it shine bright with heavy piano keys and elegant guitar. In "Love Shines", Sexsmith rhymes poetry with his vocal purity - words that are fit for a coffeehouse reading or pocket-quote book. Despite raising his soft croons to howl the end of the song, Sexsmith has admitted in the past he never wants to get in the way of the song and how it plays out - but, if you ask me, he needs to let himself steal the spotlight more often with a voice as enchanting as his.

In every nowhere town/ There are somewhere dreams/ Gracefully reaching out/ To pull love's strings/ I've seen what love can do/ I understand/ Like the candle glowing in the wine/ It fills a heart with silver stars/ That's where my love shines/ When light appears in happy tears/ That's where my love shines.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Down Under Diamond

Every now and again, an artist comes along that you’ve been waiting for. I guess you could say I was patiently and unknowingly waiting to hear Sarah Blasko.

Living with one, sometimes two, sometimes four (with one comes many) Australians, they quickly picked up on the type of music that I insisted on playing throughout the house. They introduced me to all sorts of Australian artists including John Williamson (an Australian comedic folk legend) and their version of cheesy 90s Aussie-rock hits – but nothing that made me wonder, “Where has this been all along?”

Until they put on Sarah. The first song was all I needed to feel hooked, to feel divinely linked to her voice and happily at home in her lullabies. This Ingrid Michaelson, Sarah Slean-resembling fairy princess is pretty and melodic, but also intriguing and obviously clever in her ideas. Her songs – instrumental and relateable performances – play as if they’re set out to soothe the youth of the world with waltzy, majestic words that fly over you like a clean white sheet cast overtop a freshly-made bed. When I first heard her music, I felt like meandering across the globe freely with a pen, paper and open mind.

Simply Sarah

Blasko was born in Sydney and began recording in the mid-90s, only finally making homeland splashes in 2007 with her debut album What the Sea Wants the Sea Will Have. Her album As Day Follows Night is a more progressive type of indie-folk pop that casts a spell on even the most uninterested and protected of hearts with its promenading sleepy ballads and playful ditties. Her sidewalk-storytelling persona and simplistic vocal beauty reminds me not only of the previously mentioned gals, but also of American indie-sweetheart Meiko, who's known for her earnest persona and shy voice. My bond with Blasko may be freshly sealed, but it’s immediately serious because of the breathtaking intimacy I experienced when I first listened to the opening track off her newest album.

The song “Down on Love” is a dream you don’t really want to wake up from – a formula of celestial toy-piano and uncorrupted, silky vocals uttering existential reassurance to humans everywhere that their heart and faith need not be broken. Her advice - although resembling that which we’ve probably been told by our parents, friends, and guidance counselors many times before - hold a new meaning and hard-to-ignore truth when paired with the sweet sauntering of the song’s instruments. Something about this song, and what Blasko says, makes it impossible not to believe and be inspired by the voice behind the lyrics.

The song "All I Want", is equally compelling with its smoky and young sound, piping Western-sounding strings and rolling percussion. Similarities to Michaelson and Regina Spektor's frolicking, bass-driven croons, "We Won't Run" is a catchy pop piece of sunshine. A surprisingly cute and versatile moment is heard on Blasko's cover of Outkast's "Hey Ya!", showing us that her sultry rasp is a secret weapon pulled out when we've gotten comfortable with her as the non-threatening cherub.

Hopefully Blasko will soon make the trek to North America and we can think about keeping her forever as yet the latest Aussie addition to my household. But in the mean time, if you ever need some sweet and flowery uplifting, or if you just want to hear undeniably precious music, please pick up both albums from this adorably talented creature. Or for starters, just listen to this:

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Swan Scores

The allure that comes with the supposed inner darkness of the female mind is an odd one. Maybe being a female myself – a species historically deemed prone to insecurity and fragility – I understand the fascination with…well, a broad who just can’t seem to keep it together. In all seriousness though, it’s like the car crash you decide to look at, the fascination with supernatural stories that you don’t really believe in but want to hear, and in this case – the interest in a film about a young woman, pushed to her limits, shoved into accepting her inner demons.

Black Swan, which I expect to be one of the most highly talked about films of 2011 (it was released on December 17, 2010), is this kind of enthrallment. Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past few weeks, you absolutely know what you’re getting yourself into when you settle into your theatre seat for this one (I don’t suggest popcorn past the first 20 minutes, it won’t be appetizing). You have heard the words used to describe the Golden Globe-nominated film – psycho-sexual thriller, strong sexual content, extremely disturbing images. However, our favourite girl next door Natalie Portman leads the plot, so how bad can it be? Well, without humiliating myself or spoiling too much, I'll say that it has it's moments - trust me.

Darren Aronofsky's melodramatic storyline follows Nina Sayers (Portman), a young ballerina part of an esteemed New York City ballet company who is desperate to shine but often overlooked because of her sweet and quiet demeanor - traits that can probably be attributed to the wrath of her bizarre and overprotective mother (Barbara Hershey). The opportunity arises when she is cast into the role of the swan princess in the famous ballet “Swan Lake,” a production about a white swan who falls in love, only to have her love stolen from her by the black swan. Nina is pushed to her limits to embody the behaviour of both the innocent white swan and the vicious, sensual black swan by her hyper-sexual but brilliant coach Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel). Nina also meets Lily (Mila Kunis), a naturally loose and dangerous dancer who Nina is fascinated with, but highly threatened by. To pull her into the role, Leroy constantly doubts Nina’s ability to find her black swan, telling her to dig within and release the dark, to “lose” herself – further encouraging the delicate perfectionist to morph into both characters. The film progresses along with Nina’s entire descent into a demonic darkness, all for the sake of reaching her ultimate goal – “to be perfect.”

Now, this movie was everything I thought it would be and a little bit more in terms of extreme sexuality and disturbing images. I found myself shielding my face and cranking my head in shock and confusion about a dozen times, and of course, one of the most famous indicators of what an audience should be expecting, scared of and dreading – comes through in the music.

The soundtrack, assembled by Clint Mansell (whom Aronofsky has worked with before on The Wrestler and Requiem for a Dream), is an absolutely jolting and haunting score. Mansell uprooted the original music from Tchaikovsky's ballet, creating a similar but radical and backwards sound. If you watch the film a second time, you'll be able to quickly and readily pick out the instruments used for specific effects. A feminine piano and triumphant strings during Nina's happier moments, dark and crashing horns reveal her inner demon, haunting ballet strings build as her black feathers sprout, and wind instruments blow cold to reflect Nina's introspective struggle with understanding what's happening to her. It is an eerie and sombre score, with moments that throw you back along with your fear of your own mental demise.

The music successfully follows the film around, lingering like the ghost that lingers within the main character. It's the most effective score (without being one that I would recreationally listen to) - in that you, like Nina, also start to question what else hides in the dark corners. Like her psyche, the music seems simple and traditional, resembling a romantic classic ballet - but the dark orchestra and chilling momentum is actually representative of something so much more. Go watch the film, it sets the stage for 2011.

Portman finds her dark side

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Metric Strips Down

Beauty meets Buffalo. In an exclusive iTunes session, Metric recently recorded 8 new tracks – one of which is an elegant but forlorn cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “Expecting to Fly.” One thing’s for sure, you can expect these tracks to soar - at least in my books you can. Emily Haines' vulnerability and delicate music-box vocals are captivating in this three-minute track. Her softness laces through the swooping strings and piano, making this cover of Neil Young’s calm, falsetto hum equally as moving as the original. I’m surprised by the maturity and control of Metric’s adaptation of Springfield’s track, which was released in 1967 as part of the band’s Again album. The original is a transcendent piece of psychedelic rock representative of the year of it’s release, while Metric’s is a sweet and dreamy flickering piece light in the early new year.

There you stood on the edge of your feather/ Expecting to fly/ While I laughed, I wondered whether I could wave goodbye/ Knowin' that you'd gone/ By the summer it was healing/ We had said goodbye/ All the years we'd spent with feeling/ Ended with a cry/ Babe, ended with a cry/

Look for the exclusive iTunes session today!
Emily Haines and Neil Young compare notes