Thursday, March 31, 2011

Paint it Black


I don't care how widely known it is that the album Brothers by The Black Keys is revolutionary and scene-changing in the contemporary blues-rock world, but it is - and that's something should be pointed out over and over again. This song, "The Only One", truly rocks my socks - with its slow groove, muffled flick of the bluesy guitar, shaker beat and organ riffs; it really possesses almost every component and feeling I love in a song. The lazy layers of soprano and hazy, heated feel are exactly what a stroll at sundown feels like in the muggy summer city. This song deserves a strut, a smile and an immediate repeat. Enjoy.

 
                   

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Crystal Voice


Contemporary dream-folk artist Marissa Nadler, and her song "Diamond Heart", is without a doubt one my largest and most overplayed auditory treats of the week. This 29 year-old girl has a soft and wispy narrative, similar to but more powerful than Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star's - and it creates some sort of light feeling of being walked through a mystical fairytale by her pixie voice. Sparkling high notes and humble low whispers make up her whimsical countryside hymns, and even though I find her songs took me a few moments to sink into, once I did I was hooked on this one in particular.

"Diamond Hearts" is a gentle acoustic guitar journey that's decorated with her magnificent mezzo-soprano howls. You'll listen to the ballad as it loops like winding roads, because her voice is so impossible not to follow, encompassing everything haunting folk should be: romantic and dark; melancholy and hopeful; sad but happy. The gentle voice of this little songbird promises to be a wonderful backdrop to your serene summer evenings that will be just around the corner with her June 14th new release, and if you like this kind of music, I promise it will blanket you just as warmly as the heat in the night.

Listen to Diamond Hearts - Marissa Nadler:

                     
                                      

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Codes and Keys

After spending half of an adolescence swooning over Ben Gibbard's sweetheart, chiming vocals, I found it to be only necessary that I comment on the newest Death Cab for Cutie release, "You Are A Tourist", which hit the internet only yesterday.

Plans for the song have already started off as highly interesting and moreso unlike the normally subdued and spotlight-shy band, because the group have announced they will be airing the music video on the internet at the same time they're filming it. Risky and attention-grabbing! I like it. The song, on the other hand, is a perfect introduction to the warm spring sun; it honours the carefree, heartfelt indie-rock that walked the better portion of us through our 'emo' high school hallways, but has a mature and aged after-taste to it as well.

Pleasant and light-hearted, Gibbard's fuzzy vocals, the pitter-pattering bass and sunkissed electric guitar loop are delightful and noninvasive against his famous over-pronounced yodels that say, "There's a burning in your heart, don't be alone". Just the kind of words we needed to hear then, and coincidentally, the kind we still appreciate hearing now. The single is the first off the upcoming album Codes and Keys, which promises to be dropped on May 31st, and from the sounds of it - we are in for another sugary sweet indie-rock compilation that is bullseye targeted  to strike our nostalgic chords.

Listen to You Are A Tourist - Death Cab For Cutie:

Monday, March 28, 2011

For The Win

Today is dedicated to honouring and celebrating the wonder that is the Canadian collective Arcade Fire, who as of last night are the newest 2011 Juno recipients of the Songwriter of the Year award. Since their inception, since the first time their complex and breathtaking music blared from my bedroom speakers with "Wake Up", this band has absolutely blown me away.

Their thoughtful and provocative songwriting is, of course, the best of this year. The Suburbs, their most recent release, was undeniably life-changing for people globally, with its wide and eclectic range of advanced sounds that made the world stop and consider new things. They are that one band, for me at least, that represents what contemporary 21st century music means. They are, in a nutshell, the future.

But it didn't start with The Suburbs - and anyone who thinks it did is missing out on a discography foundation and history that will cause their love to blossom more than they could imagine. It began with Funeral in 2004, a dramatic and beautiful album that hopped back and forth across the musical map in terms of its sounds and concepts - while maintaining the same bottom line: breathtaking. If you haven't already, please listen to "Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)", because the first time I heard it, life as I knew it was over - my new favourite band had been found. Who were these people? And how could they do that? The lyrics that read, "And if my parents are crying/ Then I'll dig a tunnel, from my window to yours/ You change all the lead/ Sleepin' in my head/ As the day grows dim/ I hear you sing a golden hymn," are almost too unbelievably perfect to fit with music. A poem put with a tune - bliss.

So, today you should listen to Arcade Fire, and celebrate that they are glorious, Canadian and sound exactly as they do. When it comes to Arcade Fire, we wouldn't change a thing.


                       

                                                   

                                                                        

Friday, March 25, 2011

This Day in History...

Today, in 1996, my favourite Kingston natives, The Tragically Hip, made their SNL debut, blowing away everyone from the tiny Eastern Ontario city of Kingston. Introduced by a fellow Canadian celeb from the limestone region, Dan Akroyd, they slammed the audience with a dose of the heavy-alt track "Grace, Too", and sent K-towners everywhere into a proud, boasting frenzy. I remember this performance, and watching from my living room, listening to my parents comment in awe about how "those were our boys up there", on stage in the Big Apple. And, they still are our boys in some strange hometown family sort of way. And, when they play it loud while Downie gyrates and grooves across stage in the best kind of musical epileptic fit, we still go nuts.

                           

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hush, Darling

Every now and again I fall upon a song, and for a sweet little second - time stalls in the haziest of ways. With music, I'm a hopeless romantic, certain instruments make my arm hairs stand on end, and I love pretty and peculiar melodies that cause my heart to beat heavily and me to think, "How come I didn't think of that?"

When I ask that question, I don't ask it because I'm an unbelievably talented instrumentalist/songwriter with a mile-long scroll of song ideas - I'm not. I ask it because I'm affected so strongly by that heavenly and heartwarming listening moment, that you would think I would cultivate a way to arrange a similar breathtaking progression of sounds on my own. I couldn't, however, because some of the best things that you didn't know you felt or adored are what others manage to drag out of you. And, alas, that's the beauty of listening to music - we put our hearts and delighted expectations into the hands of these musicians, who at one moment, might be able to pull a sound of out their sleeve that causes us to feel something we hadn't anticipated.

I suppose I heard one of those melodies today. One of those songwriting moments when you listen to the first few notes of a tune, feel the slow-down of a single minute, wait for it to continue, hope for it to follow the path you've already laid out in your mind - and then it does. Late today, I heard the song "Need You Now" by one of my favourite synthpop Aussie bands, Cut Copy remixed by Architecture in Helsinki. And, no - there wasn't anything life-changing about it, but at that moment, I felt like I was at the end of a film, waltzing across a dance floor or sifting through an airport crowd to the chiming, romantic beats of this song. It's like the last dance of a 1950s prom - with its doo-wop arpeggio guitar runs, lead Dan Whitford's longing new wave vocals and a feeling like Roy Orbison or The Buddies never left the building. Soaring Enya-esque background hums, sparkling instruments and building volume are actually a hacked-in-half rendition of the original - an equally beautiful version, but one with synth, an uppity beat and Euro-clubbing possibilities. Like most things, it depends on your mood I guess.

As the sun was fading, the sky was laced in pink and I was curled in a big round chair with a still glass of red vino - this song, from an otherwise amped-up band, was just the ticket. One of those melodies that pulled a little happy feeling, from a little unknown place, out of a little gal. Enjoy those rolling strings, you might need them now.

Cut Copy - Need You Now (Architecture in Helsinki version)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Back To The Woods


Hallelujah! The piercing yelps of Bon Iver's founding mastermind, Justin Vernon, are coming back in all of their rural folk glory on a new 10-song LP to be released in June. Vernon has been busy since his last EP, Blood Bank, a chillingly thoughtful and quiet collection that featured such beauties as "Blood Bank" and "Woods". (The lyrics from "Blood Bank" - 'I'm in love with your honour/ I'm in love with your cheeks' - melt me every single time, without fail).

The new and thus-far-untitled release has been described by the artist himself as a collection that features "Perth", a heavier marching band and children's choir blend and "Beth/Rest" which Vernon says in a Rolling Stone article, is the point in the album "where you pick up your joint and re-light it." And, there you go, ladies and gentleman - Bon Iver is back.

Here is the sound that keeps me coming back:

              

Monday, March 21, 2011

Boy Wonder

Lesson of the month: never judge anything, especially James Blake, by its cover. One of my favourite parts of the month of March has been watching the music world, and myself, stumble into an unexpected relationship with the thoughtful singing, songwriting and producing of the 23 year-old baby-faced Brit known as James Blake. Baby-faced he may be, but immature he is not.

In an absolutely unrelated category of music, I have to mention that my first reaction to Blake was (sort of) the same as my first reaction to Christina Aguilera - 'all of that sound came out of that person?' His age and modest appearance aside, it goes without saying that this man packs a lot of vocal punch. The boyish experimentalist garnered early attention from the BBC in the final year of his popular music degree in London, as he was almost immediately coined as a forthcoming electronic producer after some early released tracks. Critical acclaim was an inevitable result of these early releases, seeing as his undeniably powerful pipes (resembling those of an established soul singer or indie artist Antony and The Johnsons) paired with his darling and transcendent production concepts - seemed like a physically and emotionally unlikely capability from a young man of 23. Once you hear his mature and acrobatic vocal ability, you will understand why the noteworthy descriptive word of Blake is, in fact, "young".

A cover of Feist's quiet and sultry single "Limit To Your Love" leaked onto the airwaves early in his career, exploring new possibilities with the overflow of thick, heated groove beneath his soaring vocals. If we thought it took a woman to fulfill the soulful prerequisites of this heavy jazz track, we were wrong.

This month, a single called "The Wilhelm Scream", from his first self-titled 11-track debut was released, featuring two new songs equally worthy of discussion. "The Wilhelm Scream" (below), a jazzy and vocally effortless downtown piece is indeed the focal point, with its humming keyboard effects and clicking drum and guitar combination. A smooth electronic dream, Blake's wise and descending octaves that sing, "I don't know about my dreams anymore," feel like they stay suspended in the air, lingering overtop of the various effects.

By no means does the B-side sit passively in the shadows though - it features short but memorable ballads that truly get your wheels turning about the amount of rising potential this young artist has. "What Was It You Said About Luck" is a simple piano ballad in which his skilled vocal riffs tango around the minimalistic tinkering keys. The end picks up with the accompaniment of gentle orchestral strings, making his lonely heartfelt croons sound theatrical as if they're alone and centre-stage, looking out from the glowing ring of the spotlight. "Half Heat Full" takes place in a higher octave, a howling soprano similar to that of Justin Vernon's. It's a calm, slow-ticking melody fixed with the frill of swooping sounds that echo off the walls of the song. His choir-esque voice is nothing short of soothing. And sometimes, amidst the casual chaos of most music nowadays, I find that I very much appreciate that.

What do you think of this 23 year-old boy wonder?



Friday, March 18, 2011

Lykke Low-Down

New acoustic for "I Follow Rivers". Haunting, quiet little piece for all of your St. Patty's morning-after woes.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Green Grooves

Today is a day for one thing very important thing only (other than March Madness NCAA Basketball), and that is celebrating St. Patrick and all of his Irish glory. What better way to do that than pump yourself up with Irish cheer, fill your belly with suds and stomp your feet in a jig-like fashion. Need some of those foot-stomping songs? Here are nine Irish artists (one Scottish, but a great stomp of a song) that I'm choosing to celebrate today, along with the ol' Saint himself:


1. Dreams - The Cranberries: One of the most beautiful and inspirational songs of all time. Dolores O'Riordan's voice is unprecedented and the cascading pop-rock melody will send you sailing on a sea of happy thoughts.

                                                

2. Angel of Harlem - U2

3. When Your Mind's Made Up - The Frames: The combined purity of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's climbing harmonies are accented perfectly by their Irish twang and sweet chemistry. A powerful song for that St. Patty's walk downtown, since I'm assuming we're all going to try and avoid the hooligans on public transit today.

                                               

4. Gloria - Van Morrison

5. Love You 'Til The End - The Pogues: As I've said before, one of the prettiest, most unrivalled love songs of all time - written by the messiest men in Irish musician history.

                                              

6. Grey Room - Damien Rice: If for some reason you feel like spending the evening soaking in melancholy, mourning the loss of a relationship or love - this lovely ballad should do the trick.

7. Saturday Night - The Thrills

8. I'm Shipping Up To Boston - Dropkick Murphys: These Irish-American boys ooze adrenaline with this pumped-up piece of hard Celtic rock that begins with that legendary thump of the electric flute and accordion riff. If you end up in a drunk tank of sorts tonight, make the most of it by doing chin-ups and tricep dips on your jail cell bed frame to this song, the way heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio did in one of my personal favourite films, The Departed.

                                               

9. It's Beginning To Get To Me - Snow Patrol

10. Fisherman's Blues - The Waterboys: Again, a song I've mentioned before, but let me say - with this list, I've saved my favourite song for a festive day like this until the end. Let me say something else, I realize they are Scottish. Either way, this song is infectious, danceable, heartwarming, lively and exactly the soundtrack a group of friends or a pair of lovers want while slamming their beer mugs together, green ale overflowing, feet pouncing and kisses flying. This is your merry anthem for the day, and I hope it brings you laughter and love during all of your celebrations.

                            

Have a safe and happy St. Pat's Day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Southern Black Sheeps

Long-haired, good-humoured, not interested in taking it all too seriously. Also noteworthy: capable of tearing down any hole-in-the-wall bar with their knee-slapping energy and blunt, comedic Southern stories. That, in a nutshell, seems to be Middle Brother.

I recently stumbled upon this band and grew more interested in them after checking out their live Rolling Stone session which included punchy commentary, collaborative country vocals and dirt-road acoustic melodies. These guys have what it takes to leap onto the alt-country bandwagon that's making runs across national borders on an hourly basis these days.

A lighthearted mix of jangly Bob Dylan-style folk and Band of Horses plain narrative, this wild country jamboree is made up of Americana musicians and songwriters John J. McCauley III of the Deer Tick, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, and Matt Vasquez of Delta Spirit.

A few tunes worth discovering are "Blue Eyes" (below), a Southern love song about a 'good girl who wears black bras' that picks up with summertime strums and strained, soul-searching country vocals piled on top of each other. Happy acoustic licks dance alongside the lyrics, “Just to look at you makes my heart skip/ And to think of you, it does jumping jacks/ Told myself you’re the one and I told you I could get you back/ …I’m so tired of runnin’.”

Middle Brother” seems like a running joke between a group of wrestling country brothers or a lazy jam for some down-south sweltering road trip. Coats of warm vocals and playful bar brawling acoustic riffs lead the way as they tell us about learning to fly a plane, getting good grades and making Mama proud.

Thanks for Nothing” is, as they put it, ‘a song about damaged goods’ sung through stripped down Wilco or Griffin House-reminiscent vocals. Backed by a melancholy and lonely hook, this vulnerable song about parting ways is for when the party dies down, the bar lights come on and the truth comes out. “I got off the plane OK, and now I have the city to myself.” A pretty thought, but a sad one.

To bake up a little taste of country goodness as the weather warms up, check out their self-titled debut full-length, available in stores and on their website now.

Monday, March 14, 2011

En Route To The Station


If and when I have been given the opportunity to check out a band I love, really admire, or feel a strong connection to – I usually have the desire to go alone unless the people I’m with are equally as fond. There’s nothing worse than being overly excited to hear a band live and you’ve pushed yourself right near the front - only to have your guest be uninterested, unappreciative of the music and just waiting for the chance to call it a night.

So, on Saturday night I brought a friend to watch Toronto rising rock gentlemen Bravestation play downtown as openers for Vancouver-based Young Galaxy. I wasn’t sure what his reaction was going to be, seeing as he’s not really the most indie or new age-savvy of listeners. That being said, he does love hearing new things. I could tell within the first two songs, however, that their Brit-pop spunk and contagious experimental melodies stretched far past any audience members' biases – Bravestation were an infectious force that called everyone in the venue aboard.

After hearing the opening anthem “Clocks and Spears”, and seeing how it ignited a flame beneath the crowd, he was instantly hooked. And, so was I, but more so because I was already familiar with their innovative songs and even had the pleasure of speaking with the down-to-earth sweethearts earlier that afternoon. From first strum, first strike of the synthesizer keys, and first wail of lead singer Derek Wilson’s creative voice – anyone who hadn’t heard Bravestation before, knew they were in the presence of something they would be buying into after.

Composed and calm while still enjoying the party on stage, this group really does exude wisdom beyond their years. Their new wave funky melodies are jumpy and multi-faceted, a sound that will make you move in your seat and strain to hear the meaning simultaneously. Something about a group of young twenty-something attractive males from the small city of Brockville, who have managed to re-create a sound made popular by The Smiths and The Doors, really gets your attention.

The band, whose name is partly derived from a Robert J. Hastings essay about “living in the now” and “enjoying the path” on the way to finding “The Station”, have big goals on the itinerary as well as novel approaches to achieving them. They’ve efficiently taken on the responsibility of honouring old concepts while crafting new sounds – a feat that probably wasn’t the easiest growing up in tiny Eastern Ontario.

“Growing up there as a musician, you gravitate towards things that will take you elsewhere,” says Devin Wilson, guitarist and one-half of the Wilson brotherhood. “So, we started to enjoy experimenting with sounds and were liberated by the opportunity to try new things. We’re taking advantage of everything available in this day and age.”

Now based out of Toronto, some of the band is working and some are still in school – which makes this whole up-and-coming rocker bit an interesting juggle. Studies, shifts and grinding away at a debut full-length to follow up their acclaimed EP makes young adulthood less than normal for this quartet.

“We’re recording right now and have plans to get ready for our two-week European tour,” says Derek. “As much as we’re enjoying our glorified hobby, I wouldn’t say we’ve got too much free time.”

However, the tribal tropical sound they're going to blend into the experimental indie rock foundation they’ve laid, promises to make the blood, sweat and Brockville-boredom worth their while. The EP brought us bundles of delicious indie rock including “Colour Us With Youth”, a charming urban melody that’s threaded together by their creamy layered croons, sparkling guitar hooks and a shifting theme. Similarly, the band’s uncanny and modern spin on The Talking Heads' classic “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” is a perfect depiction of the original – contemporary while admiring the memorable elements, something you’ll hear in Andrew Heppner’s wonderfully comparable keys.

And, when they aren’t out there pounding the pavement and doing grassroots promotion, these guys have nailed an integral advantage of their age – being social media savvy, digitally accessible and willing to use the great modern marketing equalizer known as the world wide web.

“In the future we plan to be rehearsing and writing all the time, but while we’re here recording and leading these other lives as well – we’re lucky to have the ability to interact.”

Days spent at Canadian Music Week, a few conversations with Kevin Drew, an in-store performance at Sonic Boom and an upcoming June stint in Europe – you could say they’ve done a grand job of working the preliminary musical circuit. This kind of blossoming success, after forming in only 2009, leaves me nothing but eager to see what two years from now will hold for this mature group of plainly nice and modest young men.

Talking with them made their reiteration of David Byrne’s famous hollers ring true – as they seem to play “never for money, always for love”, while still living the dream. I wish these boys the best of luck pushing towards “The Station” - something tells me they are making the most of the ride, and aren’t far from the platform.


                          


Check out http://www.myspace.com/bravestation and expect Bravestation's new album in fall 2011.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Welcome to Their Nation

On an average work day, if I'm ticking away at anything fairly mundane that doesn't require too much of my thinking cap or creative juices - I'm known to plug in the ol' headphones and stream an online playlist of sorts. Today I was doing something fairly administrative that could be done in my sleep, so on came the earphones, and on went the amped-up beats of California-based electro-rock group AWOLNATION. It's pretty rare that I won't notice when I'm bobbing in my seat, and next to never do I not notice when I'm practically gyrating, heaving my shoulders back and forth and, in the words of sweet little Willow Smith, whippin' my hair back and forth. That happened today, all courtesy of AWOLNATION, a group I never expected to love this much.

Having released the debut EP Back On Earth nearly a year ago, I can't figure out a number of things. I find I can't figure their genre out, I can't figure out how they have that body-heaving effect on me and I can't figure out why I only heard of them in January. This collection is a complete mash-up of genres, follows little-to-no pattern and has one common goal in mind - to get your attention. The debut, which clocks in at only 14 minutes, leaves you begging for more with only the option of starting the playlist right back over again to see if what you heard the first time around was actually as phenomenal as your bouncing muscles seemed to be telling you it was. Verdict: you will find it was, in fact, that phenomenal.

This rabid collection full of hard-hitting snapping, clapping and slamming beats is almost lunatic in it's composition. It's here, it's there, it's everywhere - with lead singer Aaron Bruno's equally screamo and soulful shouts commanding your brain's engrossment on the hurried 5-song EP. The stand-out track, and what I also expect to be the blow-out track, is undoubtedly "Sail" - a thick electronica-rock beat that buzzes and smashes underneath Bruno's unmatched vocals. His voice is scratchy, overexcited and in-your-face while still finishing most notes with an R&B shake to them. Synth, atmospheric guitar strums, "la la la's" and jaunty saloon piano runs dip in and out of the middle of the track - sealing the deal of it being one of the most captivating songs I've heard in some time.


"MF", which stands for what you might think it does (it gets spelled out more explicitly in the song, not to worry), has a screaming dance-floor feel to it - but not in the mainstream Linkin Park way. "Burn it Down" has almost little to no flow, and I never thought I'd say this - but I love the no flow. The ultimate eclectic mash-up, it's got elements of The Clash's urgent punk, a Ting Ting's retro beat and a huge, slamming break-it-down. "Guilty Filthy Soul" is where we hear that soulfulness interject - after the slower clap-beat eases us in, we get tastes of a cute hop-scotch piano melody that decorates the chorus.

Now let's see here. We've covered punk, rock, electronica, screamo, R&B, dance, retro, and even threw in a little mention of Linkin Park (enjoy that because you might not see it happen again). It seems our bases are covered, and it seems my playlist is covered for the next month or so. California-based Bruno, previously from the group Under the Influence of Giants, plans to release the full-length album Megalithic Sympathy from Red Bull Records on March 15, 2011. Get your hands on this EP and the upcoming full-length album, and you'll have tangible possession of the next big thing.



Here's to you, Mr. Young

Today in 1972, Neil Young skyrocketed to No.1 on the Billboard album chart with Harvest, the universe-changing album that featured hit singles like "Heart Of Gold", "Old Man",  "The Needle and The Damage Done", and "Harvest".

Long live Neil Young - his howling transcendent words, his boundaryless harmonica melodies and his profound, timeless strums that make everything just about okay. He's an artist, a legend and the kind of musician who to this day refuses to slow down.

Here's a listen to my personal favourite of his:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Feeling This

Well, well, well - somebody went to sexy summer school! I don't know if any of you have taken a look at the new and improved (hardly, they were already easy on the eyes) Sam Roberts Band, but those boys are looking sharp, pulled-together and noticeably trendier. In particular, the man behind the name has an especially confident and handsome attitude about him - as if he's got a little musical something up his sleeve.

From the sounds of it he does, because the release of the first single, "I Feel You", off his upcoming May LP is sassy, intriguing and downright fiery hot. It has all of the modern soul-rock ingredients that have blasted bands like The Black Keys and Queens of The Stone Age into mainstream rock stardom. People crave soul and sultriness, and Sam Roberts has blended a mesmerizing potion of both with this track.

"All in love and love is war/ Take everything it wants more/....Yeah, I feel you," Roberts breathes at us throughout the electric stomp of his new rock sound. A thumping beat and soaring chord-play begin the ignited tune, before a playful transition to the waltzy pound of the guitar takes over. The cutback of pop-rock and heavier feel of this track are actually an effortless pairing with the raspy, subdued croons of Mr. Roberts.

On that note, the steamier rock sound is also a lovely fit for this equally steamy man. Keep an eye on the upcoming rock charts, I feel like his mod and fashionable rock re-entry will be a grand one.



Watch for Collider on music store shelves in May 2011.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

On National TV

"Conversation 16", the latest single from my favourite acclaimed art-rockers The National, has an odd but amusing little story to go along with its sound as of today. The Brooklyn band has premiered their newest music video - a playful love triangle concept featuring actor John Slattery from Sex and the City, Mad Men and the amazing box-office hit The Adjustment Bureau. Bringing us back to the good ol' days of storyline music videos that hardly feature the band, this one is fairly goofy and pointless - but that being said, it's not the actual video I'm interested in. I'm interested in this song and how it's a perfect example of the moody and thoughtful romance rock that has secured this band in my top five since their inception.

"You're the only thing I ever want anymore/ We'll live on coffee and flowers/ Try not to worry what the weather will be." Mmmm. Those kind of ideas paired with Matt Berninger's honest, longing baritone are all I really need to make me a happy girl. If you aren't yet a fan of these men and all of their past genius glory, please, please promise to listen to less recent favourites of mine like "Slow Show", "Fake Empire" and "Geese of Beverly Road".

So, here it is. And do me a favour - try to focus solely on the song, lyrics and how cool John Slattery is.

                          

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Confirmed: Summer Soundtrack


Orange County, eat your heart out. Like promised, I went home and took a little gander into the self-titled debut album from yesterday's fixation of mine, Young The Giant - only to find it wasn't exactly what I had expected. Based on the one single I had heard, I expected youthful ruckus - but instead, ended up listening to pleasantly lighthearted melodic rock that frontman Sameer Gadhia has described as "eternal summer." These California rockers, who have seen many band members come and go with the sway of the ocean surf, were once formerly known as The Jakes, an acronym generated by the founding members' first names. Either way, Jake or Giant, they're back as themselves - and I am very, very into it.

The physical release of this sunshine-rock compilation was January 25, 2011, and the first (and my favourite) single "My Body" has already peaked in the top ten of Billboard's Alternative Songs Chart. With the oldest band member sitting at only 22 years of age - I smell potential, I see that attractive young twinkle in each of their eyes, and I hear a sound that is only going to grow bigger, then bigger, and more giant with experience.

The album, which has been marketed as a sound that caters to the easygoing demographic of American coastal towns like Orange County, does a spot-on job of echoing the feeling of a lax, buoyant lifestyle punctuated by beach bonfires and sand beneath your toes.

A range of beachy first impressions are made during this rolling wave collection; there are bouncy ditties reflecting the ease of carefree afternoon dock parties, as well as softer hymns that complement crashing waves beside the sand-sitting couple. Sparkling boardwalk tracks like "12 fingers" and "Strings" stand out - blends of acrobatic croons, shiny guitar combos, breezy percussion and bouncy maraca's that create the feeling of grooving on a pop-rock cloud. The erupting rock heard in "My Body" doesn't necessarily reflect the whole track listing, but provides a celebratory exclamation between haunting sunset anthems like "God Made Man" and "Islands".

In the end, "eternal summer" is something I appreciate having stacked into my shelf of albums. By buying into Young The Giant's sweet beach side hums and uppity strums that dance like the sun on the water, I bought into my own little musical time-share up high on the cliffs of California.

   

Come and See


Good, live, Canadian. Three wonderful things about the music you could be seeing this weekend, if you ask me! Make sure to check out West coast indie-rock band Young Galaxy (also a side project of Stars' guitarist Stephen Ramsay) and the dreamy post-pop melodies of Toronto up-and-comers Bravestation. I've been partial to Young Galaxy since first hearing their contagious romance rock in 2007, and Bravestation are something to watch - a foursome of innovative twenty-something lads who have already showed new wave maturity and eclecticism beyond their years with their self-recorded and self-produced debut EP.

Stay tuned for my review of the show next week, as well as my interview with the boys of Bravestation.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Giant Rock


This post has been a few weeks in the making. I knew I wanted to write it, I knew I wanted to share what I’m going to share here this morning, but there was one minor setback – I didn’t know the name of the song I wanted to write about.

I usually have my old stereo on low-volume in my bedroom when I’m puttering around the house. And of course, when cleaning in my underpants and an old soccer jersey it gets cranked at full volume. About three weeks ago I was doing a large please-let-it-be-spring-soon clean of the whole house when this booming, melodic rock anthem came on – putting me in high-time cleaning mode, as well as the absolute best mood. Now, after the song ended I meant to check the radio station’s online playlist to find its name when I got seriously distracted and... never did that.

So, weeks passed and the radio played on, with the song never returning to brighten my day. Two days ago I was getting ready for the evening when I thought I would flick it on, because my musical spidey-sense told me it was going to be playing at that very moment. Sure enough, the radio host’s baritone voice introduced “My Body” from Young The Giant – and the opening chords of my long-lost musical fling began to play.

Since I reunited by chance with my current favourite track, it’s been on near-constant repeat. These Californian alt-rocker cuties have got exactly what it takes - grand instruments, Sameer Gadhia's smooth vibrato and catchy melodies that could hook even the most uninterested listener. My homework tonight is buying the full self-titled album in hard copy to see if these soaring songs continue to wow me with each skip of the track number.

“My Body” is a heavy and harmonious up-tempo piece of rock that will undoubtedly raise you to your feet. Comparisons can be heard in the rising rock rhythm of bands like The Fratellis and Glasvegas, but the pure pleasing vocals and tuneful chord progression are something different than what the mainstream radio airwaves have offered in quite some time. I hope this lovely anthem is an indication of the kind of sunny and boisterous rock we’ll continue to hear from this group in the future – and I’ll be sure to share what the rest of the album does for me. Enjoy!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Roped Right In

THE man, Dave Grohl
Welcome back, boys! We missed you. One of my most beloved Generation Y rock veterans Foo Fighters are back with their seventh release, called Wasting Light - a true-to-form rock n' roll and post-grunge compilation to be released in early April. And, before I forget - I should mention that the album was recorded in a Dave Grohl's garage. Vroom-vroom.

Their first single entitled "Rope" has hit the airwaves at full blast, and feels like some sort of nostalgic reassurance that the remnants of classic rock we held so dearly during the late 90s and early millennium haven't exactly left the building. The tempo and rhythmic patterns of the chorus leave your foot tapping the same as "Learning to Fly" did in 1999, Dave Grohl's trained screeches and "yow's" next to more subdued harmonies ring an old bell, and Taylor Hawkins' concluding drum-off is an evocative trick that dates back a decade or so. Ah, the sweet smell of the Y2K.

Not exactly the in-your-face return we saw with 2008's thick and heavy single "The Pretender", but if anything, it's an illustrative reminder of a sound we once knew that will, like everything else, come knocking all over again. That being said, it's only the first single released - who knows what kind of heat they'll bring with the rest of the release. What do you think of the new Foo?


     

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dig This


New Orleans is in the house. A new discovery of mine is a download from a quirky pop team I can't wait to hear more of - the buzzed-about beats of Lousianan pop-rock group Empress Hotel. Although their available singles are few and far between, this collective has got some Tigger-bounce to them. The sextet and their sweet, easygoing indie-pop exude feelgood musical vibes with their two sunny MySpace songs.

The single that's caught my attention is called "Bells Ring" and, I promise you, it is an undeniably fun listen. Creating the feeling of driving down a palm tree-lined boulevard, this funky ditty is a mixed bag of Beach Boys harmonies, Walkmen-reminiscent lead vocals, smacking drum sticks, slinky guitars and a randomly inserted musical squeak that is either a dialpad of a telephone or some other strange instrument I wish I played. Playing on their influences - which include everything from Dr. Dog dance-rock to The Smiths to Destiny's Child - it sounds like these goofy performers are making music for one of the most important reasons: to simply have a good time. I also get the feeling, however, they're ready to let us in on the party too.

Listen for their debut self-titled EP on March 8th.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Stereofanic


I have a strange but warranted observation to share today: I love the band Stereophonics. If you're wondering, the answer is "No" - they don't have a new album or single out, they're not in the news and there's really no cultural relevance to my posting this right now - but that shouldn't always be the case for discussing good music. They're a great and longstanding band, I love most things they do, and for those who are looking to re-vamp their music library - I highly suggest adding some tunes from this Wales-based group to spruce things up.

Equal parts romantic, rock, boisterous and bare - I'm always quick to appreciate that special combination of a band with a very obvious, recognizable sound who still explore their eclectic possibilities and try new things. The songs I appreciate from Stereophonics are each tiny dots on a wide musical spectrum: some heartbreaking and sweet, some charged and rock-heavy, and others bluesy city grooves that bring you right down to ground level. But perhaps the backbone to the entire operation, the reason I'm repeatedly drawn to their singles (which date back to 1992), is lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Kelly Jones. His famous husky vocal chords are almost matchless on the music scene, so much so that regardless of what side of the sound bed they ever decide to wake up on, I will always be able to tell who it is I'm listening to. Some essential Stereophonics your stereo should know are:


1. I Miss You Now: One of their bluesier gems, this song is the feel and sound of missing someone. Slow-paced, sultry and with a lazy but scorching blues guitar, it's a must-have for those quiet city nights.

                                                     

2. Rewind: This right here is an example of lyrics and melody strolling happily hand-in-hand. The message fits perfectly in the nooks of the obviously pretty tune, which I can always tell is the case when I find myself automatically listening really hard to the words of a song each time it's playing. Preaching about living a complete and love-filled life, this romance-rock track is an everyday walking essential.

3. Maybe Tomorrow: Also a thoughtful lyrical performance, this song is impossible to not relate to. Touching on those lost moments we all fall victim to while sliding in a slinky beat and wicked vocals makes this song the independent young adults anthem. "I wanna breeze and an open mind/ I wanna swim in the ocean/ Wanna take my time for me/ All me" - just about sums up the lax life us kids aspire to.

4. Nothing Compares 2 U (Sinead O'Connor cover): One of the most fabulous covers of the past decade, this unplugged low-down ditty features only the highs and lows of Jones' raspy croons and the spacious strums of an acoustic guitar. It's an excusable way to get the most out of one of our favourite 80s ballads, without having to admit you have Sinead O'Connor on repeat.

5. Dakota: This is the absolute perfect summertime song for a roadtrip down the lengthy highway to a destination unknown. It radiates sunshine, reminiscence, and power blasts of shiny rock. In a few months I'll be encouraging you to whip out your sunglasses, pop your lemonade in the cupholder and crank this at full blast.

                                                        

6. Bright Red Star:  Singing to Mary (what is it with rockers and singing to someone named Mary? It's a pretty name and all, but who is this elusive Mary?), his bright red star, Jones' throaty and soft vocals sway alongside the teeter-totter guitar melody - making this undeniably sugary sweet.

7. You Sexy Thing: Last but most certainly not least, Stereophonics' 2007 take on the Hot Chocolate seductive dance floor classic is a funky taste of something you must stir into your drink. Another way to get the best out of a racy old treasure is through this tune and its healthy dose of Billy Joel-esque piano opening, howling harmonies and floppy licks of the reggae guitar.

Come Pick This Up

Here's a little Wednesday taste of Mr. Ryan Adams, the alt-country author whose pen is famously known to dash out bittersweet lyric after lyric about heartbreak and change. Sliding guitars, easygoing strums and ideas like, "I ain't afraid of hurt/ I've had so much it feels just like normal to me now/ I'm alone and I'm dancin' with you now/ In your old room/ In your old house," have that country song effect while you listen; that feeling like you're sitting on the edge of a bed, thinking big thoughts, in a desolate highway motel. And there's more where this came from - 2005's Cold Roses, the album that birthed this song, is a beautiful collection of Adams' late-night romanticized thoughts and country melodies. Enjoy!


"Now That You're Gone"- Ryan Adams

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Great Unknown

Like so many other music critics who discuss Radiohead - I can't help but feel unprepared to really judge the existential meaning of this new release, the universal significance, the long-term impact it might have, and why I should think I might be qualified to do so. But you know what? We all (those who chit chat about music, and like to think we know what we're talking about) seem to be in this boat when it comes to Radiohead - this ambivalent, rocking craft that won't come to a halt long enough for us to say "A-ha! That's what they want us to hear." But maybe, that's the beauty of it all. Just listening, with a moldable, unknowing sort of ear.

Eight albums, a massive cult-following and heaps of critical acclaim later - Radiohead are equipped to do just about whatever they like. And they will do just that - as well as release their new album digitally, a day early, with only the warning of one single line of script on their website.

King of Limbs, the newest ghoul-covered album from famed British art-rockers Radiohead, has made its splash in the blogosphere and world of online publications since its February 19th release. Most people who know Radiohead, know that it often takes some solid, snack-and-bathroom-break-free listening in order to really soak in the lyrical and melodic significance of anything they release. Their sound - so complex, so artistic and always heralded as one one of the greatest of its era - takes time and consideration to decipher exactly what Thom Yorke is trying to get us to chew on.

I agree with New York magazine pop music critic Nitsuh Abebe, who describes Radiohead as: "The band people will enjoy taking seriously, approaching slowly, and pondering as art rather than entertainment. The whole concept of “serious listening” has somehow become this one act’s brand."

With that thoughtful bit of naivety in mind, I'm still happy to take a whack at an album I've almost already overplayed. I wouldn't say this album is on the same influential playing field as the The Bends (1994) or Kid A (2000) but these stylistically-diverse eight tracks fascinate and pause me the same way that 2007's In Rainbows did. Underlying the album lays a scattering rhythmic foundation, courtesy of some of drummer Phil Selway's best work yet. Something about the factory percussion - conflicting clangs overtop the sped-up ticks of the drum - creates the effect of some sort of hurried scene flashing before your eyes and ears. The groove of the downtown beats and the hollow thumps that impose themselves in between, make for such a modern-sounding, year-appropriate listening experience. With this album, I really feel like I'm listening to 2011.

While the sensual, beat-churning first single "Lotus Flower" promises to to be an underground club favourite, the album also flicks back and forth between much more haunting numbers. Avoiding the ballad build-ups or thick instrumental icing, they still manage to pull a sentimental and mournful chord with their romanticized moments. Winning songs like "Codex" bring you down from the hustle of "Lotus Flower", with silencing vocals and forlorn piano that will wash over you a feeling of tranquility, then rejuvenation. Equally as powerful but subdued is "Give Up The Ghost", a song I believe to be the most worthwhile lullaby on the album. Johnny Greenwood's countryside guitar plucks and Yorke's coined ethereal vibrato and coats of his own backing vocals are the minor ingredients as he asks "Don't haunt me." They hurry to the finish line with the radiant and addictive "Separator", a progression of building instrumental additions, an urban twist and the clever juxtaposition of both wildly uplifting and laid-back sounds.

King of Limbs is a map of Radiohead's abilities - a guide to what they're able to do and the tricks they still have up their sleeves. It's a call to attention but secretive with its meaning. It swarms with energy and answers, but chuckles at us while we look for the bigger picture; while we look to be let in on the pattern of stories and sounds. Because, compared to Radiohead, what do any of us really know?