Monday, February 28, 2011

Rock at the Oscars

Reznor, accepting the Oscar for Best Original Score
Red carpet, glamour and glitz, little gold statues, old time scream-rocker Trent Reznor. Now that's what I call a party.

I remember first seeing The Social Network in theatres and upon evaluation of why it had an effect on me, why I felt it was such a clever depiction of the Facebook epidemic, why I had these weird feelings of sympathy and sadness for the characters - I came to the realization that the composition of the simplistic and solemn score was bang on in conjuring up these feelings.

I was elated to learn that Trent Reznor, lead singer of blast rock band Nine Inch Nails and film composer for The Social Network, was awarded the highly coveted Oscar for Best Original Score. Reznor, who has grown into a much more composed and tailored version of himself since his earlier days of self and stage-destructive rock n' roll behaviour, deserved this win. To those NIN fans who appreciated his animalistic but intelligent heavy rock concepts, this is no surprise - but to those Academy-following, lovers of the grand romanticized musical scores that tend to take home the gold, this is considered quite the upset.

The soundtrack is an eclectic mix of everything from nearly sub-sonic presses of a handful of piano keys to ambient electro-beats, and it possesses one obviously common strain: darkness. The experimental compilation tells the film's story just as effectively as the actors do - making the corrupt rise and fall of the universe-changing social network a story about human behaviour as much as technology. Success, failure, exhilaration and emptiness are exactly what you can expect to hear across the entire track listing, in particular, my two personal favourites: "Hand Covers Bruise" and "In Motion" (below).

After the Golden Globe recognition and win, I had an inkling that Reznor and co-composer Atticus Ross would receive the highest honour. By adding doses of mystery and sombre confidence, they told the tale of the Facebook empire efficiently, leaving us scratching our heads and wondering how they pulled it off so well. And, they lended a hand in reminding us that at the end of the day, the power of musical story-telling is invaluable.

Listen for Reznor and Ross' next collaboration with The Social Network director David Fincher on the upcoming film adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

Happily Rediscovered

On this blustery winter day, for some reason I found myself thinking about the wonder of the famous 1979 Pink Floyd song "Comfortably Numb", and how it was the first song I wanted to flick on during my inelegant trek down the road. The original, which is known for David Gilmour's soaring electric guitar solo, is both powerful and melancholy - but something about the Van Morrison duet makes the newer version such a hooking and booming progressive rock anthem. The combination of Roger Waters' and Van Morisson's contrasting vocals roaring side by side on the famous chorus is enough to send anyone into a trance. If you haven't heard the duet, first performed at the 1990 concert The Wall - Live in Berlin, be sure to take a listen.

     

My Foolish Heart


The smooth and unpredictable sound of jazz music is one of life's most tender treasures, and whether or not you have the ear for it, I suggest you seek out a few classics to add to your own collection. A fantastic place to start is the influential American jazz pianist Bill Evans, a melodic and harmonic genius whose legendary solo performances were so soft and sweet and will forever be remembered. Despite a lifelong battle with substances that resulted in his physical demise at the age of 51, Evans is a staple of jazz ingenuity that will forever be part of my jazz playlist.

Above is a piece I purchased from a local artist named Robyn Shaw this past week - a black on white print of Evans' famous figure, hunched over the piano, head down, often a cigarette in mouth. Once framed, I can't wait to wake up to those lovely words,  "My Foolish Heart", hanging in front of me. Listen to and love the beautiful Bill Evans below.



Sunday, February 27, 2011

This Gun's For Hire

So, I took a two-day writing hiatus to collect myself. Essentially, I needed to do this because the culmination of all of my Bruce Springsteen-loving years came to one fantastic head two nights ago.

I heard through the grapevine last month that a Tom Petty, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen tribute band would be playing a show at a local grungy watering hole in town. I thought it was amazing at first, but was even more drawn to the ticket stand when I found out that this band, called Tommy Youngsteen, was made up of the supporting members from Stars, The Stills and the Sam Roberts Band. Too good to be true, I thought.

Gearing up for this delicious evening of yesteryear rock hits, I obviously cranked Bruce, loosened up my hip bones and stretched out the ol' dancing ankles. Having a casual glass of vino with friends before, we re-lived (via YouTube) the magnificent music video moment when Springsteen pulls Courteney Cox on stage at the end of "Dancing in the Dark" to sway and shake to the closing beats of the song. Jokingly, I practiced my Courteney Cox 80s moves, you know, just in case...

Once we got there, the band and their jumpy covers of all the old classics were just what the doctor ordered. Of course, The Boss was saved until the end. All of the songs - from "Glory Days" to "Born to Run" - were getting me right out of my seat and into the crowd to thrash around, oblivious to who was around me, oblivious to anything but the sweet sounds of Brucey.

Sure enough, the opening chords to one of the greatest songs ever written, "Dancing in the Dark", began to chime, and things got wild. My friend and I started bouncing aimlessly around the middle of the crowd, screaming every word with all of the breath in our lungs, when the band announced they needed to find their "Courteney Cox for the song." I really am not what you call a "limelight-loving" sort of gal, so I stayed put where I was, head down, hands in the air, mouthing the lyrics and just soaking in the moment.

It was then that I felt a huge tug on my arm, only to realize my friend and I had been hand-picked from the throngs of female fans (who were all pitifully mumbling the wrong lyrics), and were being yanked on stage. A shaker, a tambourine and a mic stand are tossed at us - and into the chorus we go. Remember a second ago when I mentioned I wasn't a limelight kind of girl? Well, maybe it was the blinding stage lights, maybe it was the seven gorgeous backing musicians, or maybe it was just the thrill of Bruce - but let me say, I was living the dream. Shakin' it, screaming, bumping behinds with the keyboardist, all of that good stuff. "You girls know your Bruce," one of them said.

How it is that I just dedicated a few hundred words to sharing this, I'm not sure. But if you know me, you've already heard this story regurgitated and acted out several times since this night. This is one moment I will never forget. I was Courteney Cox, I lived the dream, and I got just about as close to Bruce as I'll ever get.

Long live the Boss.


(If you want to see exactly what I tried to replicate, scroll to 3:20 in the video. That was me.)

                                    

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lykke Leaks

I’m good, I’m gone is right. My favourite Swedish Tinkerbell has taken off with the upcoming release of her second full-length album – and I must say, this one packs a whole new level of punch.

Lykke Li, a 24 year-old indie bombshell, originally caught my attention in September of 2008 when I first heard “Dance, Dance, Dance”, an adorable tinkering confession of a young girl dance, dance, dancing to disguise her meek ways. I jumped on the Lykke train immediately, feeling that her humble but deliberately driven character (someone not only vocally and creatively advanced, but painstakingly fashionable and sweet) was like a disease I wanted to catch.

She made immediate waves with her first album Youth Novels, which is exactly what it was named to be – a collection of quirky indie-pop songs and vocal whispers that if nothing else made our ears perk up and listen closely to this spunky fresh-faced sprite. Her style, both fashion and musical, was progressive and provocative, her chants were soft, and something about Lykke always reminded me that I should be very surprised at her young age.

                                                      

Her latest album, I think, is acting as an updated reminder that she’s got a few years on us now. Entitled Wounded Rhymes, Lykke (born Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson - try saying that with a few marshmallows in your mouth) has brought a new energy and strength to her sound, while still radiating humility and an excitement to grow. At this point, she knows we know who she is, and she’s willing to show us what the big leagues have taught her.

Wounded Rhymes is like a musical score for a one-woman play in which a nightgown-donning teenager croons chin-in-hands love pleas in her bedroom, occasionally hopping to her feet and ripping off her nightgown to reveal skin-tight leather for the sultrier numbers. It really is that much of a mixture. Dark and light, vulnerable but assured – this album is one big melting pot of enchanting dichotomies.

The album opens with “Youth Knows No Pain”, a groovy flower-child dance anthem. Thundering 1960s percussion and flying organs, this song is what the scuba dance was designed for. My personal favourite, “I Follow Rivers” trails right after. An undeniably catchy bump and clap beat that’s equally romantic, dark and fit for a dance floor – I can’t get enough of hearing Lykke shout, “I, I, follow/ I follow you deep sea baby/ I follow you.” It’s already been mixed with the Magician Remix, a revamped ditty that ditches the hippie and tosses in the disco piano and dance beat – a style that 90s Ace of Base and Marky Mark got us hooked on.

                                 

“Love out of Lust” takes a page from the airy ballad book, that was co-authored by The Raveonettes or Camera Obscura, with echoey beats and a go-go-platform vibe. It’s gradual, peaceful and showcases the pixie queen’s vocals. The first single off the new disc, Get Some is a mix of hurried, lusty guitars – an understandably striking track that will put her on the charts. Channeling Nancy Sinatra’s magnetism, you’d expect to hear this while a sexy sisterhood sing down at a group of males, shrinking powerless to their sultry and emotionless luring.

                                              

On the slow side of things, Lykke gave us little ballad bundles of joy in the forms of “Unrequited Love”, the melancholy schoolgirl-strums of “Sadness is a Blessing” and the deep and haunting last track, “Silent my Song”.

This rhythmic and radical throwback collection is a great insight into Lykke’s developing dark undertones. She doesn’t overwhelm with her exposed and sweltering sound, but only announces herself, as sugary and as raw as ever, as a full-blown competitor who’s ready to enter the race.

Look for Wounded Rhymes on music store shelves next Monday, February 28th, 2011.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tiny Taste

We've got ourselves an interesting little combination. Kenna, an Ethiopian-born,Virginia-raised indie-funk artist is back with his first single in almost four years, since the release of his Grammy-nominated track "Say Goodbye to Love". The song, entitled "Chains", is the first of a three-piece EP series - a progression of songs meant to lead up to his much-anticipated album Songs For Flight. "Chains" had a few helping hands on it, some of which included the songwriting skills of Interpol frontman Paul Banks and the chants of one half of N.E.R.D., Chad Hugo, who's now apparently going by Shimmy Hoffa.

What are your thoughts on this jumpy electro-funk track? Is Kenna back in style?


Seattle Strikes Again

I smell an obsession coming on. Seattle-based indie sextet The Head and The Heart have succeeded in recently occupying both of those things of mine, and if you get your hands on their material – they’ll capture yours too.

Sub Pop Records, a label that’s almost single-handedly responsible for that famous “Seattle sound”, signed these indie-folk dreamers onto their notoriously successful alternative rock and indie label early this year. Although as of right now their sound hasn’t stepped far over the Seattle city borders, it’s only a matter of time before it does. Being signed to Sub Pop - a label that's housed the grunge insurgence of Nirvana and indie folk-rock veterans The Shins - is what I would consider starting off on the right foot.

Their self-titled debut, which was released in June 2010, is an almost flawless compilation of silky folk sounds. Some paced differently than others, I found this to be one of the most relaxing and blissful melodic experiences I’d had in some time. Josiah Johnson and Jonathan Russell’s gentle Americana harmonies bundled with Charity Therien's violin strings are rightfully worthy of the comparisons to early Beatles and Neil Young that they’ve been receiving. They deserve the recognition of their thoughtful songwriting that boasts maturity, yet still celebrates their delightful naivety. They will inevitably grow strong and renowned, but are in no rush to do so just yet.

Some highlights off the debut are “Sounds like Hallelujah” which is a combination of sunny strums, Rufus Wainwright-sounding croons, and an advanced mid-song transition. The mid-song transition to soft harmonies, swooping violins and thumping country percussion, is without a doubt a skill these fresh faces have already mastered. “Ghosts”, one of their more jangly tracks, is noticeably uppity with its saloon piano and two-step percussion.

A new level of indie-folk gravity is reached with “Lost in my Mind”, a song that I can only imagine is live perfection - with its hardly-there shaker beat, pleasant keys, and easygoing strums. The song shows ripeness by imitating Wilco’s simplicity, but maintains that multi-faceted and youthful sound with their gathering gospel harmonies. Near the end, they've accomplished the the closeness of a family choir that grows more excited as the instruments layer.

                                                  
                                                         
My personal favourite, “Down in the Valley”, is a summer evening blend of tender guitar picking, sliding violin and countryside piano. Johnson asks the Lord to have mercy on his “rough and rowdy ways” while telling tales of whiskey rivers and ridin’ on rail cars. The interjecting high-pitched “Ooo’s” decorate the building tambourine, tap of the drum and romantic piano uprising. His ranting croons overtop stacked instruments round out the song – making it one of the most breathtaking and picturesque tracks of 2011 so far.         


If you have any interest in the handsome sound of The Acorn, Rufus Wainwright or Fleet Foxes, you will be so lucky to have your attention stolen by these six Seattle souls. Their stories are fruitful, their sounds are scenic and their heads and hearts are in the exact right place.

Check them out live tonight at Zaphod Beeblebrox.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Conspiracy Theory?

A little over a week after the 2011 Grammys, which was without a doubt one of the most widely received programs of live pop music in years, the Academy is being slammed in another department: their distribution of awards.

Steve Stoute, a music executive with 20 years experience and a number of famed pop careers under his wing, took a full-page ad out of the Sunday New York Times to speak his mind on what he feels to be a conspiracy of Grammy distribution in the past five years.

"Interesting that the Grammys understands cultural relevance when it comes to using Eminem's, Kanye West's or Justin Bieber's name in the billing [but not when giving out awards]," says Stoute. "How is it that Justin Bieber, an artist that defines what it means to be a modern artist, did not win best new artist?”

The Academy has thus far refused to respond to Stoute’s qualms with the selection of winners, which tells us one of two things: they aren’t interested in dignifying his foot-stomping with a response, or they recognize that their choices were based on honouring talent only, regardless of how widely known that talent is. I'm going to side with the former...

I have to say, on this particular issue, I have many conflicting thoughts. I think the Grammys are extremely forward-thinking and contemporary in that they recognize people that even I was surprised to see recognized on such a grandiose level. Therefore, I truly believe that Stoute generalizing that the majority of the awards handed out were poorly chosen, is going too far. He can’t argue that the biggest musicians on earth being asked to perform, and then not winning awards, is a conspiracy. It’s the biggest musical night of the year, and the exposure, recognition and praise that the performing artists receive is none other than rewarding and in their favour. It’s just as beneficial to the artists (if we consider the YouTube hits and blog buzz that follows the next day) as it is to the show and their ratings. Did I mention it was the most-watched Grammys since 2001?

I do, however, slightly agree with Stoute’s argument regarding the Best New Artist category. I think the recognition of (without a doubt) unbelievably talented new musicians is merited, but we also need to have a winner that represents the larger audience’s preference and is a depiction of not only skill – but hype, craze and modern-day obsession. He makes a valid point when he says that certain categories, such as the Best New Artist category, need to consider many things – a large one being their effect on pop culture.

Although I personally didn’t want Justin Bieber to win Best New Artist, that doesn’t mean he didn’t deserve to. I also don’t think that the beautiful and mindblowingly talented Esperanza Spalding should have. I think in this sort of category, which clearly needs to have its criteria published from here on out - it’s legitimate to point out that the Academy may seem out of touch. A Grammy “nod” or maybe even a performance from an artist like Spalding is a clear honour and testament to their recognition of her unbelievable ability. But a win in the Best New Artist category, over the top-selling, hysteria-garnering teenager who has, whether we want to admit it or not, taken the music scene by storm and surprise? It didn’t quite add up. Album or Record of the Year for Bieber? Maybe not. But an award that recognizes his scene-crashing career? Perhaps.

Now, on the other hand – Stoute challenged Arcade Fire’s Album of the Year win. All of my biases aside, his argument surrounding this showed Stoute's own bias (Stoute was vouching for the kinds of artists he used to oversee as an executive) and lacked fact. He says, “As the show was coming to a close and just prior to presenting the award for album of the year, the band Arcade Fire performed Month of May — only to ... surprise ... win the category and, in a moment of sheer coincidence, happened to be prepared to perform Ready to Start." Now, as I mentioned in a previous post, the closing performance was uncleared. And without knowing that fact, he could have observed the confused and bumbling (but charming) start to the song, and Kris Kristofferson and Barbara Streisand’s befuddlement, and figured out that this performance was unscheduled. In a category like Album of the Year, the consideration lies in everything from vocal, instrumental and songwriting skill to creativity, innovation and sales. I can’t argue anything other than – Arcade Fire may have upset the other airwaves-dominating pop nominees, but regardless, produced an entire album that was nothing short of unbelievably deserving of this honour. Sorry if you aren't a fan of Arcade Fire, Stoute, but this isn't about you - times are a changin'.

In the end, Stoute insisted the Academy mend their processes to "truly reflect and truly acknowledge your art." Fair enough, and he definitely made himself heard – but this sort of advice needs to be given without generalizing the entire selection process. Certain criteria and selection justification might need tweaking - but for the most part, you shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Return to Sender

Have you ever been lied to? Silly question, of course we all have. Have any latent anger towards anyone? Well, none of that is a good thing, so I might have just the ticket towards a little healthy release with one of my favourite J.P.E. songs. It says, through Canadian rocker Joel Plaskett's plain and sassy wording, what you might not be able to furiously verbalize for yourself. Take a kickboxing class, chant along, and let the pent-up-whatever seep out. Take it away, Joel.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Into The Wild


If you remember, a few months ago I raved about the Toronto-based band Wildlife - the spunky group of youthful indie-rockers that are slowly but surely making their way onto the Canadian music scene. Vibrant and not afraid to take risks, these guys are something I am more than excited to watch evolve. Their debut LP Strike Hard, Young Diamond has gained them a spot on the Canadian equivalent of intimate captured performances series' like Black Cab Sessions or La Blogoteque's Take Away Shows, called Southern Souls. Check out their acoustic performance of my favourite of theirs, "Stand in the Water".


Check out their album and information at http://www.myspace.com/wildlifemusic1!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Chain, Chain, Chain

So, my mind wanders, like everybody elses, to nutty and unexpected places. If I have the time to let it, my brain will start somewhere and end up in a completely different direction - one of the many perks of being alive with an equal parts rational/dreamy brain, if you ask me.

                       

(Un)Fortunately for you, I'm going to run through one of my mind-wandering moments that goes a little something like this: Jake, Jenny and John. Trust me, there's a musical end-point in sight with all of this. Last night I was walking through the market when I came across a newsstand hoisting a photo of the ever-perfect depiction of beauty, Mr. Jake Gyllenhaal. While I let my mind have it's moments as I stared at his twinkling smile, puppy-dog eyes and outback-scruff face - I ended up thinking how interesting it is that he used to date indie-fairy Jenny Lewis, solo artist and sassy female lead of the band Rilo Kiley. 'What an odd pairing,' I thought. Then,  I thought how they must have originally met because he is probably interested in great music, maybe leading him to check out one of her shows - and therefore confirming that him and I have a lot in common and might date someday. Anyway, back on track...



I then thought to myself how Jenny is now, more sensically, dating Scottish-American Johnathan Rice, a fellow indie acoustic and folk musician who is eight years her junior. I was thinking how Rice, who also cameo-ed as Roy Orbison in Walk The Line (2005), has such a tremendously raspy young voice, that is the perfect accompaniment to his heartfelt strums. As you'll hear in my favourite song of Rice's, "The Acrobat" from 2005's Trouble is Real, he has a depth beyond his years and a casually sincere sound. Remembering how much I enjoyed him earned a repeat play of this song in my CD player this morning.

                                         

Lastly, I thought how perfect it was that these two indie lovebirds combined to form the sweet and starry-eyed musical duo Jenny and Johnny. Fun and folky with a debut album under their wings, the upbeat duets make it fairly clear that these two are just genuinely pleased to be singing with each other. How cute.

                                       

So, whether or not you wanted an insight into a minute of my mind's random thought processes, you got it! And, hopefully you learned something new about sexy celebrities, sultry songbirds and the stuff they come up with. Happy weekend!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Where Did Our Love Go?

I have very fond memories of sitting around my friend's basement in the early years of high school, sneaking in sips from the same beer bottle or parents' liquor cabinet concoction, convinced we were feeling the effects - all while making lists. Now, I definitely had my "cute boys" lists among many others, and probably switched the beer for a Bacardi Breezer from time to time. But this list-making exercise was with my two best childhood male friends, and we would sit and meticulously list our top ranked favourite Led Zeppelin songs. That is, if we could get them into a reasonably-sized list.

We loved Zeppelin. We would listen to our Dads' old records, tell stories about the surreal adventures we heard the band had, and squeal Robert Plant impersonations at each other. I don't know what it was, but to our parents' delight, we took Zeppelin very seriously.

Now, the love hasn't died - but it's certainly been in a half-decade-long coma. I still have a few classics on rotation, but over the years and with the limited space my various music players have provided, some of their hundreds of songs have faded to the background. I want to bring them back to the foreground, and recently have - because I love these guys, their mystery, their explosive rock classics and their versatile acoustic and blues talent.

For all of those Zeppelin fans out there, what makes your list?

1. All of My Love: Their most beautiful slow-dance ballad. Romantic synthesizer, Plant's darling vocals and obscure lyrics all lead up to the dreamy chorus, "All of my love, all of my love, oh, all of my love to you." It is, without a doubt, my all-time favourite Zeppelin song. Originally written after Plant's five year-old son Karac suddenly passed away from an unknown virus, this song manages to break and warm your heart all at the same time.



2. Hey Hey What Can I Do

3. Dy'er Mak'er: In the ultimate display of eclecticism, the ska and reggae riff that bounces from Jimmy Page's guitar has been the soundtrack to many car windows down, hand riding in the wind, summer drives.

                                                      

4.  Dazed and Confused: Obviously. The legendary blues guitar and recognizable bass line digs deep into whatever was brewing in the souls of the 1970s dazed and addicted band members.

5. Over the Hills and Far Away: This overcharged rock anthem swoops and swings between calm and artistic love confessions and a stomping, electric hook that jolts you when you're least expecting.

6. Since I've Been Lovin' You

7. That's The Way: Sunshine strums and calm croons are what this typically acoustic Zeppelin tune is comprised of, also making it a perfect candidate for that summer drive playlist.


8. Black Dog

9. Ramble On: Heavily influenced by J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings, this folky classic features mystifying lyrics and Page's unfretted, cowboy chords.

10. Kashmir

11. The Ocean: Boom. Don't be fooled by the quiet intro to this song, it picks up, and it picks up hard. If this follows an acoustic track on your playlist, expect the thumping guitar and Plant's soprano screeches to wake you right up.

                                                     

12. Tangerine

 13. Immigrant Song: Released on the B-side of Hey Hey What Can I Do, this hard-rock marching band thrasher became a rebellious war song for social upheaval in the 1970s.

14. Going to California

15. Stairway to Heaven: You've probably never heard this song before, not many people have. But it's nothing other than pure rock n' roll genius.




Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Stroke's The Word

Strokes and the City
Vijf. Cinco. 5 years. FIVE years. That is how long it's been since we heard any new music from our favourite Manhattan garage-rock revivers The Strokes. Since announcing in early 2009 that they were going to start chipping away at new songs and a new sound, we've waited patiently with bated breath to see what this power quintet would produce.

Finally, the due date for this newborn post-punk baby, known as Angles, has been announced as March 22nd, 2011. After many wonderful solo efforts by the bandmates, including guitarist Albert Hammond Jr.'s two fantastic releases Yours to Keep and ¿Cómo Te Llama?,  as well as lead Julian Casablancas' electro-rock Phrazes for the Young, they promise to at last show us collectively if they've still got it. Guaranteed, they will still have it.

I say this because if last week's leaked single is any indication of the vim and vigour they have packed into the new album, then my bated breath hasn't been without purpose. The song "Under Cover of Darkness" is so perfectly and classically Strokes-sounding. Truly the perfect song for a leisurely, sunny-sidewalked stroll. Upbeat and overtly stylish, Casablancas' fuzzy vibrato, the squealing guitar hooks and Fabrizio Moretti's downtown drumming are the glue that holds together this typically catchy and trendy tune. Take a listen, and join me in the keen countdown for the boys' March release.


Back Down South


Ladies and Gentleman, the festival Gods have spoken. Manchester, Tennessee will be home to the 10th Annual Bonnaroo Music Festival, and let me say, the friends they have attending this wild party are plentiful and talented. If I could road trip down to the great South I would, maybe even over Coachella and California, because apparently the down-to-earth Tennessee setting and campgrounds are phenomenal. Whether it's Buffalo Springfield reuniting for the first time in 40 years, Weezy liberated from his handcuffs or my forever favourites The Strokes, this show promises to be spectacular. Here is who will be rocking the stage in 2011:

Here is the complete line-up:

Eminem
Arcade Fire
Widespread Panic
The Black Keys
Buffalo Springfield featuring Richie Furay, Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Rick Rosas, Joe Vitale
My Morning Jacket
Lil Wayne
String Cheese Incident
Robert Plant & Band of Joy
Mumford & Sons
The Strokes
The Decemberists
Ray Lamontagne
Bassnectar
Iron & Wine
Girl Talk
Primus
Dr. John and The Original Meters performing Desitively Bonnaroo
Alison Krauss & Union Station
Pretty Lights
Florence + the Machine
SuperJam with Dan Auerbach and Dr. John
Explosions In The Sky
STS9
Gogol Bordello
Beirut
Big Boi
Scissor Sisters
Gregg Allman
Ratatat
Global Gypsy Punk Revue curated by Eugene Hütz
Robyn
Warren Haynes Band
Deerhunter
Opeth
Atmosphere
Old Crow Medicine Show
Bootsy Collins & the Funk University
Wiz Khalifa
Matt & Kim
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
The Del McCoury Band & the Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Mavis Staples
Béla Fleck and the Flecktones
Chiddy Bang
Jovanotti
Bruce Hornsby & the Noisemakers
Loretta Lynn
Cold War Kids
The Walkmen
Devotchka
Wanda Jackson
Neon Trees
Portugal. The Man
Sleigh Bells
Amos Lee
Best Coast
Dãm-Funk & Master Blazter
The Sword
The Drums
The Black Angels
School of Seven Bells
J. Cole
Nicole Atkins & the Black Sea
Wavves
!!!
Junip
Freelance Whales
Justin Townes Earle
Ryan Bingham & The Dead Horses
Deer Tick
Band of Skulls
Sharon Van Etten
Abigail Washburn
Omar Souleyman
Twin Shadow
Kylesa
Man Man
The Low Anthem
Alberta Cross
Railroad Earth
Jessica Lea Mayfield
Smith Westerns
The Head and the Heart
Karen Elson
Beats Antique
22-20s
Phosphorescent
Clare Maguire
Hayes Carll

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Fox and The Round


After their debut self-titled album, a wonderful 1960s-reminiscent compilation of trademark spiritual harmonies and earthy lyrical messages, Fleet Foxes have returned to the studio with a preview of what promises to be an equally as heartwarming new addiction of mine.

Their title-track first single, "Helplessness Blues", is already on near-constant repeat for me. Eruptive ranging harmonies and upbeat acoustic guitar begin the song, channeling the Foxes we know and love as well as their equally dreamy and harmonic forefathers, Simon and Garfunkel. Rising and falling trained voices hook you in early before a pleasant transition takes over the last two minutes of the song - a sound consisting of a distant thumping drum, looping country twangs and a whimsical melody fit for rolling hills and spilling sunshine. Lead singer Graham Nash and his vocal perfection dances you through a flower-child story of life's unknown purpose and his own ambivalence, that leads him to a dream: "And you would wait tables/ And soon run the store/ Gold hair in the sunlight/ My light in the dawn/ If I had an orchard/ I'd work till I'm sore."

This song, and inevitably this album, will be worth your time. If by the time you've read this you haven't already pressed "Play" again, do so now!



Look for the album Helplessness Blues from Fleet Foxes on May 3rd, 2011.

Boss-Mixed

With hopes of spring weather around the corner and an unfailing love for Bruce Springsteen, let's make a "SpringMix" (see what I did there). Now, let this be prefaced by saying that I am the number one advocate of leaving Bruce Springsteen's songs alone. But, every now and again I make an exception. I make an exception when the songs are remixed with delicacy and a cool vibe, honouring the original purpose and idea behind his ingenious tunes. It really goes back to the old adage - less is more. So, when it's one of those evenings where you're feeling the legendary, party-pleasing Bauss vibe, but maybe are interested in something saucier with a little modern flare or new twist, check out these examples of Springsteen properly club-remixed. Anyone who knows what they're doing, knows Springsteen doesn't require to much to jazz him up. He's jazzy as it is. 

Coincidentally, the remixes I've found lately have been of three of my favourite Bruce songs. They have a little underlying beat; a little two-step uppity kick to them, if you will. The "State Trooper" remix  is phenomenal, maintaining the original words and low-down cowboy vibe while inputting the slightest of bass lines and quiet keyboard effects. It brings out the bad-ass in this rebellious anthem, which is an essential prerequisite for doing any sort of work with it. The quiet hop and clap-beat that layers slowly is the perfect accompaniment to Springsteen's howls and outlaw whoops.

The "I'm On Fire" remix is probably my top pick of these remixes, featuring the simplest of beats underneath this classic synthesizer pop-flavoured tune. I heard this Cousin Coles remix as a snippet within Vancouver-based DJ Neoteric's new series of hour-long indie/classic mash-ups. Neoteric is amazing and certainly requires a separate conversation of his own, but needless to say - the subdued tapping behind Springsteen's whispers is perfect for this piece of 1980s ultimate cool.

Slightly more upbeat, but still anything but overpowering, is the remix of Springsteen's patriotic classic "Born In The USA". Normally a combination of smashing drums, cymbals and Springsteen's strained growls - this remix sweetly singles out the xylophone, piano and synth introduction to help build momentum before welcoming kickdrum, marching band rhythm and his famous story of the American dream.

Surprisingly, people are smart enough to leave his (and many other classics from his time) material alone, because in my years of music discovery I've always been pleased to find remixes of his songs are few and far between. If there was any more flare globbed on than this, I would try to shut down the whole remix operation with picketing and tireless mockery. These, on the other hand, I find to be cleverly done, appropriate, and a hell of a good time. Enjoy.

"State Trooper" - Springsteen (Trentemøller remix)



"I'm On Fire" - Springsteen (Cousin Coles Bad Desire remix)

    


                               "Born in the USA" - Springsteen (The Freedom Mix)



Monday, February 14, 2011

Where to Begin?

Whether it was sky-high hemlines, Bieber’s vocals hitting puberty, Cee-lo’s peacock impersonation or Lady Gaga arriving on scene in an egg – to say last night’s Grammys were entertaining is an understatement. It was a breathtaking evening of back-to-back performances, surprise collaborations, first-time winners and surprisingly, what seemed like very few awards.

Too much happened to attempt discussing it all, but oh, there were highlights. There were countless moments when the hair stood stiff on my arms, my mental commentary was working overtime, I was confused, I was surprised, I was hungry, I had to pee but wouldn’t leave my seat – but at almost all times, my ears were in a state of auditory nirvana. I’ll mention what stood out to me over the course of the night, because you can always research who won what online. And no matter how much I whine and contest the awards, the Academy could most definitely not care less. If you didn’t catch the ceremony, please listen close!

Perhaps the moment of the night I expected to be least receptive to was Miranda Lambert’s early performance of “The House That Built Me.” One little flaw in my “being unreceptive plan” was that I had never even heard the song before – I'm just not normally a huge mainstream country music fan. Well, I spoke too soon because this song was delicate and beautiful – and her graceful performance earned it a place in my head, humming this morning.

Overwhelming was the magic that accumulated on stage during Mumford and Sons’ flawless and hopping performance of “The Cave”. These equal parts polished and unpolished sexy Londoners stomped and solo’ed to deliver this song with the most exuberance and liveliness imaginable. Then, the equally as tasty Avett Brothers took stage right, and Mr. Bob Dylan waltzed down stage center to form a folk-blues conglomerate powerful enough to claim world dominance. The young indie superstars looked on top of the world and honoured, while the magnificent Dylan sounded raspy and looked his age. But, at the end of the day he’s allowed to sound and look that way. Because he is Bob Dylan.
    
                     

B.O.B. and Bruno Mars dissolved their smash hit “Nothin’ Like You” down to piano acoustic basics, melting women’s hearts everywhere. Unfortunately, when Bruno took the microphone alone to sing “Grenade”, he was pitchy and painful at times, hitting next to none of the big notes. It’s fine though, because his Rat Pack resemblance, spin-on-toes moves and background drumming during Janelle Monae’s performance were impressive enough. With B.O.B. and Mars as her backing band, Monae performed her song “Cold War” like an old veteran – crowd surfing, crooning effortlessly and shaking it like she had it. She does without a doubt have it, and you can expect to see this James Brown-incarnation firecracker winning Grammys for years to come.

An unexpected foursome took the stage to perfectly honour Dolly Parton, this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, and her classic “Jolene”. The sweet jazz of Norah Jones, Keith Urban’s handsome country pipes, John Mayer’s fluttering acoustic fingers and John Mayer’s moustache combined on stage, paying faultless homage to the song with simplistic harmonies and grace. Short and smooth, they put a hush over the crowd.

Cee-lo. Channeling Elton John in wacky glasses and outrageous feather adornment, he performed his larger than life single “F**ck You” with some interesting guests – Muppet-like creatures and our favourite Academy Award-winning actress, Gwyneth Paltrow. She was hot, he was not and the two had a goofy and flamboyant party on stage. That just about sums it up!

Drake and Rihanna oozed sexual chemistry during their performance of one of the world’s catchiest songs “What’s My Name”, further affirming to all of us that regardless of whether or not they have before - these two need to date. Their friends and family need to sit them down, force them to rewind this red hot performance repeatedly, and dare them to try and argue that they’re not compatible. They are pure sex.
   
      

Mick Jagger, in his first Grammy performance ever, proved that he is made of rubber and is in fact the protagonist from Tuck Everlasting. There’s no way that any normal 67 year-old can move better than everyone his junior, without having drank from the fountain of life. Paying tribute to the late and great Solomon Burke, he maintained true Jagger style by hopping, shaking and lip-smacking all over stage, much to the delight of the entire standing ovation.

Last but in no way least, the night ended with my patriotism at an utmost high. Everything about Arcade Fire within the closing minutes of the night was the most glorious highlight. After an electric performance of “Month of May” that featured trick bicyclists zooming all over stage amidst flashing white lights, the most exciting band in the world returned to the stage to accept the top award for Album of The Year. Visibly shocked and admitting “What the Hell?” into the microphone, male lead Win Butler thanked Montreal on behalf of the stunned Canadian collective whose album The Suburbs upset big haunch’s like Eminem and Lady Gaga. Excited and unable to stop smiling, the band played an unscheduled encore of “Ready to Start” while the cameras and credits rolled, closing out the evening for the equally surprised but admiring crowd. Also, Arcade Fire walked into the press room chanting the graduation song in unison, introducing themselves as "The graduating class of Montreal, Canada." It’s confirmed, they’re talented and hilarious - so very Canadian of them.

If this night of Grammy performances and awards is any representation of the innovative contemporary strides the Academy is taking, then no one should ever miss a future ceremony. It was fun, action-packed, musically divine and most importantly, celebratory of the sounds and sights we were blessed with this year.




I get chills, every single time.

L'Amour

Happy Valentine's Day, you little love birds! Although it’s a semi-manufactured holiday (or fully) and there is the whole “every day should be love day” argument - either way, it’s going to be around forever so you should just celebrate it. Who cares if it’s hokey, candy-filled and orchestrated – there’s nothing wrong with a special day in which people everywhere recognize and fulfill their obligation to romance. The fact of the matter is, in this pathetically busy and frenzied life, sometimes we forget that romance, chivalry and (as I’ve said before) the little things really make a difference. If you have someone you love in your life, tell them, or better yet show them today. Today can remind you what it feels like to do that if you don't do it enough. And, if you feel it in you every single day, start telling and showing them over and over again. Because then, if all goes to plan, they’ll give it right back - and love will continue to make the world go round.

It gets complicated as adults – thinking of how not to screw it up, thinking of whether or not you’re serious enough to celebrate it, and thinking of how not to hate it if you're single. Sometimes I wonder about the merit of this whole “holiday”, but then I choose to remember being a little kid. A day when you picked out a pack of cutely decorated cards and handed them out to all of your peers, little boys and little girls alike, to let them know you cared. Now, that's what it all comes down to, and that is just lovely.

Oh, and from a woman’s point of view, I can give you some advice. It really doesn’t matter what you buy or cook on this day. Just make it undeniable how much you love her with every word or every glance.  It’s as simple as that.

Here are some special tunes to tug on your heart strings today:

2. Skeletons (Acoustic) – Yeah Yeah Yeahs






9. All I Need - Mat Kearney







16. Song For You – Alexi Murdoch



19. Poison and Wine - The Civil Wars 



23. Reasons to Love You – Meiko




Breakfast at Tiffany's


Friday, February 11, 2011

Back In The Game

With grace, beauty and punch - she's back at it. I have a longstanding, romanticized relationship with the sweet and girlish croons of Ingrid Michaelson, her quirky melodies and the relateable words which sent me skipping merrily through my late adolescent years.

She's grounded, anything but manufactured and even though sometimes listening to her pleasant and obvious messages might seem too "easy" for some people, I find it quite the opposite. I find her real. In fact, if she was taking applications to be a good friend of hers, I would very seriously look into filling one out.

This plain Jane and versatile sweetheart broke onto the scene in 2006 as part of a popular influx of indie female voices that included the likes of Regina Spektor, Kate Nash and Sara Bareilles. Cute and honest wording paired with catchy riffs, pop rhythm and angelic harmonies scored all of these ladies runaway hits on shows like Greys Anatomy, One Tree Hill and The OC.  Music supervisors, men and women alike ate up every drop of modesty seeping from their words and tinkering intruments. This endearing and appreciated modesty was obvious to all of us - we knew their sound well but never expected to see this clan dating Alex Rodriguez or climbing panty-less out of a limo at any point.

Michaelson, in particular, was often the poster-girl for this type of acoustic indie-gal music. Acclaimed and adorable albums like Girls and Boys (2006) and Be OK (2008) made their respective college radio splashes, scoring her sold-out shows and spots on fellow indie-rocker's tours. Some songs that sculpted my early 20s and will forever remain in my heart are "Giving Up", "The Way I Am" (there's no way you haven't heard this at least once) , "You and I" and "Keep Breathing". These songs are like pixie dust over otherwise gloomy days; visions of happiness, growing old together, and persevering through life's little lightning storms.

A song that broke Michaelson's acoustic guitar mold to feature bursting choral vocals, rapid classical piano and a more serious lyrical message was 2008's "Turn To Stone". Her lyrics are clean and straightforward but encompass an important lesson - and I still get little shivers when the rising anthem heaves itself through your speakers at 2:39.

                                                 

But, the reason I bring Ingrid up today is because she has only just digitally released an equally as magnificent and classically Ingrid track. There are minor upheavals to the old sound in "Parachute"- it's a little more abrupt, a little sassier and to be honest, I love it. She's giving off a a coy indie minx vibe, while still sticking to true Ingrid style and behaviour. At this point, she's married to fellow acoustic-popper Greg Laswell, has done the cute girl-next-door bit long enough, and I think it was time for her to add a little spike to her 2011 drink of choice. I like the taste. Do you?

         

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Little Things Count


There are only a few things I need in life...

Who am I kidding? We all have things we need, in the sense that without them, daily activities just wouldn't be as enjoyable. Now, I don't technically need my iPod and headphones every day, but I feel a little naked and bored on the walk to and from work. And when I'm writing at work, which is most of the time, I like to plug 'em in, tune out the clicking keys and sliding boardroom doors and get my head in the game.


My two children: left and right headphone.
These Sony Studio Headphones, regularly $50 or more, are my life. I happen to know a hidden gem of a store where they are only (drum roll) $20. My previous pair lasted me until two weeks ago, and I had them for three years. They cancel noise, fit comfortably, and trust me - in this frigid weather, I would choose ear-muff-style headphones over buds any day of the week. Well, actually, no matter what I would never use ear buds. Didn't we learn as children not to stick small objects in our ears? I wouldn't stick a marble in my ear (again...) and I certainly wouldn't ever turn to a bud. You may get a little moist exercising with these puppies on, but they don't fall out of place, you don't have to listen to fellow gym bunnies panting, and who cares about a little droplet. If you're not sweating, you're not working!


How cute.
Secondly, a wonderful work day accessory that sits right next to me and compliments music splendidly is my Blue Q travel mug. Recylable, eco-safe and stainless steel - have you ever seen a happier-looking mug? Everytime I pour hot coffee or tea into this first thing in the morning, whether the sun is shining or not, my walk to work brightens with each sip. I really suggest you invest in the happiest morning mug possible - it adds a little hop to your step. Why am I writing about my mug, you ask? Because I like it that much.


You've got to love the simple things!