Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sera Cahoone: Back to Basics

Sera Cahoone's new album, Deer Creek Canyon, comes out Sept. 25.

Last night, those of us in Toronto were expecting the worst of Sandy's Canadian wrath, but instead saw only less-detrimental power outages, whipping wind and a light sheet of rain across the province; a little hectic, but surely nothing compared to the chaos inflicted on others around the world. Either way, I took it upon myself to warm up with a good book, comfort fall cooking, great songs and an astonishing view of the brightly lit downtown core nestled next to the patchy blacked out wings of the city. Something about a short blackout is actually kind of thrilling, don't you think? I had my power - but I weirdly/secretly wished I didn't.

I think part of the reason some of us delight in a brief power outage is because it forces us to revert back to basics for even a mere moment; something that we're rarely encouraged to do at this hyper-connected point in time. Save for said playlist, I opted to turn off the devices and appreciate a simple, disconnected sort of evening that mimicked the minimalism others were experiencing across the border. I did so with a little known (but highly experienced) artist named Sera Cahoone, based out of my favourite musical breeding ground - Seattle.

Cahoone, who actually found her footing as a drummer playing with the likes of Patrick Park and Band of Horses, has recently released her first solo record, Deer Creek Canyon, under Seattle golden label Sub Pop Records. The album, as well as this first title track, sounds exactly like you'd expect - a heartbroken and homesick story, floating acoustically alongside her throaty Aimee Mann-reminiscent vocals and rustic melody. The song, an autumn ode to her rural home in the Colorado foothills, is the classic and most pleasing kind of country-folk arrangement with flecks of banjo and rolling hill piano. Her sweet, back-to-basics solo sound is, without a doubt, proof Cahoone isn't meant to play on the sidelines any longer.

Stay safe, stay dry and let Sera Cahoone lift your spirits on this dreary Tuesday.

Friday, October 26, 2012

TGIF: New Jets Overhead

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Isn't this the jolliest song for weekend gallavanting? Don't you want to take your jacket off, slap it on the ground and march down the street to this tune - "Bittersweet Symphony" style? I do.

A fantastically raspy rock voice paired with alt-rock kickdrum is hard to come by these days, which is why I've embraced the newest from Jets Overhead - a Canadian group that's actually been kicking around for a decade - as the suppliers of my feel-good Friday tune. Spin Doctors meets The Zutons meets Jess-air-kicking, is what this rad anthem is.

I hope you dress up and make a total fool of yourself this weekend! Head on over to my other website for a Monster Mash playlist featuring some of this year's darkest party tunes.

Happiest of Fridays!

Smoke and Jackal

I've always thought that it must be hard for a guitarist with vocal flair and front man potential to be in a band, on the wings of the stage, watching someone else take the lead on the musical project. Don't get me wrong, I'm very, very aware that each band is a concerted effort and everyone plays a dynamic role - but, naturally, the lead singer becomes the sort of face of the project. And when the face is that of your brother's - a notoriously fascinating rock character - I would understand motivation to branch out and embark on your own musical mission for a change.

Jared Folowill, the fresh-faced (read: beautiful) 25 year-old bassist brother from Southern-rock superstar group Kings of Leon, hopped into the studio this summer to work on a collaboration project called Smoke and Jackal, with Mona lead singer Nick Brown - and the result is an agreeable pop-rock listen in the form of "No Tell," the duo's first single.

Stadium-ready electric guitar echoes through the simple balladry, and although little Followill has the right ingredients in place for his own catchy side stint, I'd look forward to hearing something with a few more layers - namely thoughtful storytelling and more invasive percussion. It's nice to hear the bassist twist his talent into something outside of KOL stardom, but as of now, it still sounds leans towards mimicking the commercialized recent releases from his native rock foursome. Either way, the song is enjoyable radio rock, and I sense that as an eager, front man-ready newlywed - who is, after all, still a Followill - he has the potential to give us a little more to work with down the road.

What do you think?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Daughter: New Music

Elena Tonra
Daughter front woman Elena Tonra

What a beautiful fall it's been for music. If you shut off all the noise, Toronto is particularly charming in the fall. The quiet side streets are lined with leaves, the overcast skies fit right in against the bright skyline and the brisk city has never smelled better. I've made the mistake of listening to this autumn-appropriate band mid-afternoon when the "Is it home time?" blues are kicking in, and they've nearly put me to sleep with their feather light melodies and dreamy words. That being said, when I'm getting ready for bed or perching on my chilly balcony at night - I'm game for a dose of these hushed songs, and any others, from London-based band Daughters' set list.

What they compose is so full of meaning, every time; the lyrics are heartbreakingly real, and the accompanying instrumental arrangements never fail to haunt from first lovelorn pluck of the acoustic. This new track "Smother" follows that ethereal formula again, but Elena Tonra's vocals have never been more enchanting. My older favourites are "Medicine" and "Run." Take a listen to all of their songs, if you can.




Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ellie Goulding: Sophomore Success

Ellie Goulding has grown right up.

I admired the 25 year-old electropop singer after dabbling in her debut album Lights in 2009, but never would have called myself a devoted fan - although I now feel that might change. With the recent critical acclaim surrounding her second album Halcyon, I was drawn to find out how the breathy soprano has aged - and was consequently blown away by the maturation of her full-bodied, richer sound. Less electronic and more anthemic than I could have expected, Halycon boasts a number of spine-tingling piano ballads and confident lyrical declarations that prove the once pixie-voiced Brit is no longer hiding behind fluorescent beats and keyboard effects. She's poetic and proud.

Halcyon"My Blood," in particular, is astounding. The initial pound of the drum and tribal chant could dictate where the song will curve, until Goulding's shaky vibrato seeps in, stealing all attention to her prose about redemption and healing. The chorus - possibly one of the most triumphant I've heard in a pop song recently - is the selling point of the confident ballad; her electric echoes piercing through the gospel serenade. This soulfulness, embodied in words like "All the blood I lost with you/ It drowns the love I thought I knew," mirror the conviction of fellow Brit female superstars Florence Welch and Adele, proving Ellie might be ready for the big leagues with this one.

Another handful of powerful orchestral numbers on the track listing later, it's evident Halcyon is Goulding's coming-of-age sophomore release - and clearly only the beginning of her climb.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Obsession: The Lighthouse and the Whaler

This song "Venice" by The Lighthouse and the Whaler has been a fixture in my head, ears and heart for the past month straight. I find it to be the most addictive and delightful combination of sounds and words - and it's walked me all over creation in recent days, putting a hop in my step every time the ditty loops back around.

Out of Cleveland, with a new September album to boot - this foursome of eclectic indie musicians have every ingredient to hook the masses, with the primary binding agent being their pleasing and effortless knack for melodic songwriting, evident from their earlier discography credits. Having recently dabbled with a producer who's worked alongside The Lumineers and Ra Ra Riot, it's only a matter of time before these sweet songs are igniting crammed festival fields like the other aforementioned runaway hits.

Their newest album, This Is An Adventure, seems appropriately named - don't you think?

Rainy Day Playlist

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My feet are soaked, it's Tuesday (almost, just almost worse than Monday) and my hot coffee hasn't seeped into my brain yet. It also looks like it's midnight outside. But these few songs are providing but the loveliest of October warmth this morning, making me feel like being hunkered down at the dim light of my desk isn't the worst way to spend a stormy day. Laura Gibson, Sharon Van Etten and Dave Hosking's milky vocals paired with these toasty fall strums make for the coziest of companions today.

Hope you find some soggy morning relief in these folky goodies.

Friday, October 19, 2012

TGIF: Savoir Adore

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In the city, there are so very few things that a person can do on the street or subway which would shock onlookers. As the Canadian equivalent to New York City, Torontonians are a little jaded, a little weird themselves, and therefore innately prepared for whatever.

I'm a pretty together little lady for the most part. But when I woke up this morning, I felt good. Real good. No idea why. Well, Friday obviously had something to do with it. But let me just say, all collectedness fell apart when this song came on my iPod on the subway into work. My body became groove city. The sun had barely risen, I had nearly an entire car to myself, and this completely contagious new age dance-rock was cranked to the highest notch. I hip thrusted ever-so-discretely in my seat, head bobbed, toe tapped and grinned to myself - for 30 minutes of repeat. No shame; boy versus girl vocals and a retro beat are a total Friday morning necessity.

 Isn't this song just so enjoyable? Have a wonderful weekend!

Finally Seeing Cat Power Live

The day is almost here! A decade spent loving the tortured blues-rock of indie’s veteran goddess, Cat Power, is finally being topped with the first live performance of hers I’ve ever witnessed.

Nerd alert. I used to have a ratty scrap notebook that I'd use to keep track of favourite songs, bands and albums – as well as live show bucket lists detailing the performers I absolutely had to see in coming years. Most I’ve been lucky enough to tick off, while some very important ones still remain (Ryan Adams, Regina Spektor, The Cardigans, to name a few). Barring any unforeseen circumstances between now and Saturday night, Cat Power – the lady, the legend – will be ticked off that list at last.

Chan Marshall will most likely play the entirety of her incredible new album Sun – but here’s a little bucket list in itself, entitled “Other Songs Cat Power Might (But Probably Won't) Play Causing Jess’ Heart To Stop”:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Throwback Thursday

This faithful 2001 single makes me feel just desperate to hit the open road. Probably because it's been on over a decade of road trips with me, often as the first song on the first playlist, starting the ride off on one of those infectious feel-good notes. Pete Yorn, the smouldering singer-songwriter whose growly alt-rock jams once decorated the entirety of the early millenium for me, is the man behind one of the most overplayed and trusted albums in my music collection, Musicforthemorningafter. In case you haven't heard it, the album is just what its title suggests; a handful of sounds, hardly similar from one track to the next, that walk you through those days when it feels like life yanks you in a handful of different directions.

And on this track, when he shouts, "So, leave out the others baby/ Say I'm the only one"? Well, that might be one of my favourite moments in song history. Thanks for the anthem, Pete.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Leading Ladies: No Question About It

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My taste in music is, most definitely, something that remains unlabelled. I suppose "eclectic" would be the best way to describe it, but in social situations I seem to always answer "everything" when asked what genres I'm devoted to. That doesn't really get anyone anywhere - I'm aware. But, as much as I love appreciate people who want to introduce me with thoughtful details including my love for music and tendency to lean towards music journalism, when meeting new people who discover I appreciate this vital art form (who doesn't?), it often turns into the "name game." Have you heard this band? Well, if you've heard them - do you like that band? That's who your all-time favourite artist is? It can be a bit overwhelming. It's almost as if upon learning that someone is invested in a particular medium - whether sports, music, film, visual art - certain personality types see it as a challenge. Trust me, it can make for a rather unattractive first impression. Maybe this is why I prefer writing about music; it's, most often, a fairly laid-back conversation - with the hopes that a few people in the universe might listen, enjoy and think about music in their own right. With any kind of journalism, the thrill of the dialogue and discourse surrounding a topic is ever-present - I always appreciate a leisurely chat about good tunes - but I'll take it without a side of rapid-fire "history of music" exam questions, please and thanks. Let's all just have fun and get along.

Ranting aside, one staple type of music that always pops into mind - almost genreless, in a way - and one that I've always been drawn to, is that of rock or indie female artists. Quirky, provocative ladybirds and female lead singers who've mastered such compelling storytelling and some of the sweetest melodies the ear could imagine always manage to rope me in. I don't know if it has to do with my species-loyalty, hormones or romantic taste, but it's a tendency that's remained in tact since my growing up listening to Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Regina Spektor, Amy Millan, Ingrid Michaelson and so many more of their fellow songstresses. I just love these gals.

So, on this (finally) sunny Tuesday, let's just agree to agree that nice-sounding music is wonderful. Whatever your tastes may be, there's no question about that. Here are only a handful of the raddest chicks to hit the studio:

Monday, October 15, 2012

Exitmusic: The Night

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As the seasons flip and sunny 7am mornings disappear, it really does feel like I leave for work in the middle of the night. Do you feel like that? Despite the fact that Torontonians prefer to start their day a little later than what I've become accustomed to in my previous lives, I've vowed to continue my routine regardless of the geography change; meaning, I still like to get moving early on weekdays.

But, in early October, that means stepping out my front door to downtown streets still shining under the streetlights (it's been a rainy month so far), few other passersby and a very quiet city. I make my way to the subway, which is nearly empty - a huge difference from the dinnertime station full of crowds that beat you up as they try to get home faster than their seatmate - and then proceed to ride along in the navy morning until I make it to the office. It's bizarre, really - and no other seasonal change jolts me as much as this one because, unlike waking up in the dark, longer days and brighter mornings in the springtime are normally welcomed with open arms. Waking up in the dark, and sometimes leaving in the dark, is all very odd.

It's a little peculiar, and I'll miss the uppity summer morning playlists , but I don't mind the mellow, cool beats that accompany these crack-of-dawn rides through the city. Here's a goodie, if you haven't heard it; one that's perfect for the nighttime mornings.

Friday, October 12, 2012

TGIF: The Mountain Goats

Underrated and always amusing, news of inconscpicuous veteran folk-rockers The Mountain Goats, as well as their notched belt of collaborations, always peaks my interest. With new album Transcendental Youth sounding and reading more eccentric, honest and weirdly poetic than ever, I felt inclined to peak into their previous albums to see how far their champer-pop oddities have come. I won't lie; I no longer follow them closely, and don't even always have an ear for the idiosyncratic indie and unusual (/sometimes dark) plotlines, but nonetheless, I like to keep track of the evolution of any genre's forerunners. And their are a few gems throughout that evolution.

Somewhere between The Shins, New Pornographers,The Decemberists and their own unique blend of horn and key-driven quirky indie-rock, The Goats have managed to release fourteen studio albums with their first television appearance only airing in 2009, a huge testament to their under-the-radar industry presence. As The Goats age, the prose matures and so do they; every one of John Darnielle's songs a modest and borderline bizarre new story, every melody more peculiar and wonky than the last. But if you take the time to listen - maybe even delving into the thick discography and piles of storylines - you'll hear some of the quintessential indie sounds that shaped the songwriting of this contemporary genre. And then you'll remark at never knowing The Goats had a big hand in it. They aren't for everyone, but who is?

Here's a little Goat love, new and old, in light of their fourteenth (fourteenth!) studio album. Happy Friday!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mother Mother: Sticks

I’ve only seen Vancouver’s Mother Mother twice, but both times the memory of my pouncing maniacally is what continues to stand out after the fact. I like their songs, there’s no doubt about that, but the live show – the duelling brother-sister harmonies, danceable layers of keyboard effects and spellbinding togetherness – is actually what continues to sell me on their (now longstanding) dance-rock sound. I’m convinced the energetic love affairs I have with them each time I catch a live set is what keeps me from overlooking their tunes amidst the newly populated music charts – and are what feed my evolving enjoyment of the likable anthems and cool group dynamic. Pardon the obviousness, but there’s something to be said about a live band that delivers. Even in the overflowing sea of music, some bands somehow still fail to do just that.

Perched at the front of the stage are the usual vocal ringleaders – metro-alpha-male Ryan Guldemond, his cute sister Molly and the equally cute Jasmin Parkin – and from the first kick of the drum and colourful keyboard stunt, the band explodes into their coined power-pop performance, theatrically shouting playful lyrics and prompts at the crowd. Insert pouncing. With two members a given, their wholehearted togetherness is evidence that the entire indie troop are actually one big musically ecstatic family up there; as well as a proud Canadian one that tastes like no other flavour the Canuck music charts have offered in recent years, as far as I’m concerned. Toe-tapping, weird, pretty and pounce-inducing.

Mother Mother’s newest album The Sticks is now available for your listening pleasure; the first release, a sassy love jab, perfectly embodies the fivesome's funky take on new-age rock. And the other two songs you'll find below are equally wonderful new treats.

I’ll be interviewing front man Ryan Guldemond for the magazine next week – so be sure to stay tuned for tidbits on what the family's next chapter brings.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Adele and James Bond

Last week, the smoothest voice in the industry met the smoothest intelligence agent of all time during the international release of "Skyfall," Adele's whack at the newest James Bond movie anthem. With her bellow channeling Shirley Bassey overtop the haunting orchestral army and swooping melody, it only seems fitting that the UK's young gun vocal superstar should provide the powerful soundtrack to Britain's iconic fictional hero and his dangerous Blockbuster escapades.

What do you think? While I'm not overly drawn to the melody, I can't deny that the grand vocal and instrumental arrangement - as well as serious star quality - is already that of legendary.

Friday, October 5, 2012

TGIF: Thanksgiving

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Although a few newsworthy songs and music happenings hit the headlines this week, I'd rather keep up with the series of fall favourites to go along with this wonderfully seasonal weekend.

I'll get to the newsy stuff next week.

In the mean time, I'm finishing up a long work day before taking off for the best kind of trip home - one in a car. Me, mixed CDs, loved ones, starlit roads and a hometown I haven't seen in almost six months. Perfect. I hope you have a cozy, food, wine and cuddle-filled weekend - I'm very thankful for everything mine will encompass. Have a lovely break!


Thursday, October 4, 2012

Merry Go 'Round

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Well, this is cute.

Not normally a candy country kind of  girl, but this chick is pretty cool - and her voice is the sunniest accompaniment on a cloudy Fall day. Bundle up!

Fall Favourites: Part 2

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Is your playlist ready for the long weekend festivities? I have about three. One upbeat (for the libations that will be had), one soft and rustic (for the colourful drive) and one a little edgier (for the hours spent in the kitchen). Don't you find you always have the best time in the kitchen? Whether at a party, whether catching up with a friend, cooking, perching - I always have the best time in kitchens. This is a good weekend for kitchens. Kitchens and tunes. Happy listening!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fall Favourites: Part 1

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Currently my desktop wallpaper.

Leading up to my favourite long weekend, I thought I'd share the first handful of cozy classics perfect for your drive down the road, family dinners or days spent inside with a mug of coffee and pumpkin flavoured dessert. Whether old or new, something about the crisp weather mixed with these oh-so-warm ditties is exactly what the doctor ordered. Counting down the days, you?

Home - Mumford and Sons
Or just the entire new album. Or anything they've ever written.

Your Love Means Everything - Coldplay and Faultline
A chilly but breathtaking fall essential that I revisit year after year after year. All evidence points to it being entirely impossible for me to exhaust it.

These Arms of Mine - Otis Redding:

In case you're needing a slow dance in the kitchen, Otis is always your man.

Invisible Riverside - Ryan Adams:

His voice, his strums, his lyrics, his twang. Fall, completely. All of these years later, Cardinology is still a September and October delight; pick it up if you haven't already.

Agent Zero - The Arkells
I've been completely rediscovering my love for The Arkells lately. I've adored them for years, but overdid the obsession slightly after attending the JUNOS with the Hamilton bunch in March. So, like many things in life, it just took a little time apart to realize how incredible they are - and this anthem did the trick. The mellow beginning, building momentum and cheerful crash into the last half of the song are just infectious.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Be Gentle With Me

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Despite the fact that the weekend just ended, and the fact that Thanksgiving weekend isn't here for another five days - I woke up today already thankful that the forthcoming holiday was nearing. Words can't describe my love for Thanksgiving weekend. The memories, the family, the weather, the cozy cups of whatever - it's all just too good to be true. The leaves will have turned, the knits will  be out and the music choices will be endless.

Needless to say, regardless of it being Monday, I am in a fabulous mood today. On the subway into work this morning, all I wanted to do was listen to this versatile little ditty. Perfect for beach sitting, leaf kicking or tree decorating - this song has been a year-round staple for many years and seasons past.

Have a wonderful week!