Thursday, January 31, 2013

Throwback Thursday: "Lover, You Should Have Come Over"

Jeff Buckley and Rebecca Moore

Although in May I'll honour the passing of Jeff Buckley in much further detail, I listen to so much of his music that it becomes hard not to write as often as possible about the genius, career-defining body of work he recorded. Like so many of the greats, Buckley had such a tragically short-lived musical career; one that began when he performed at the funeral of his estranged father, Tim Buckley, and one that ended all-too-soon after an accidental drowning in the Mississippi River beneath the wake of a passing tugboat.

With his musical legacy and acclaim from the likes of Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Jimmy Page, the rising star left behind his one seminal album, Grace, which featured this beautifully heartbroken ode, written for his muse and lover Rebecca Moore. Buckley's unfinished collection of songs, which his band mates were en route to complete with him when he passed away, would eventually be released posthumously in 1998 as Sketches for My Sweetheart The Drunk.

Whether the first public performance in which he bode farewell to the father he never knew, his awe-inspiring tenor vibrato or the haunting, poetic tales (like this) heard on Grace - it can be hard to accept that such a profound contributor to the last two decades of music won't be making any more of it.

But, with those gorgeous contributions, all we can do is celebrate and commemorate the mark he made; because, really, it's better to have had a Jeff Buckley than to have not had him at all.

Here's one of my very favourite songs off Grace:

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Ryan Hemsworth Remixes Cat Power's "Manhattan"

Two artists who recently popped up at Toronto venues - Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth (at Wrongbar for the WA Magazine launch) and Cat Power (stumbling around Kool Haus) - are now on the same song credit, thanks to Hemsworth and Angel Haze's savvy remix spin on Chan Marshall's dreamy single "Manhattan."

Forewarning: Hemsworth hardly maintained the original, but then again, no fascinating remixers do. Featuring a slow jam beat that smacks beneath Angel Haze's sassy intro rhymes, Cat Power's raspy howl darts lazily in and out of the chill groove - transitioning her from rock goddess into acid-jazz seductress for the 4-minute number.

Personally, my favourite elements of the Sun original are the gentle tapping beat and sweetly minimalistic pulse of the piano keys. So, although the hip-hop-infused second take would fit trendily into a lounge or club setting - I find myself longing for remnants of Power's airy melody. Either way, Cat is assuredly cool with the new twist - seeing as Angel Haze is opening for her in NYC tomorrow night.

I'd love to know what you think of the different versions. Original or remix? Or both?


Monday, January 28, 2013

HAIM Covers Fleetwood Mac

"Hold Me" - From Fleetwood to HAIM

In light of the classic rock collective's return to the limelight for their upcoming reunion tour, I've been sifting through Fleetwood Mac's discography avidly; specifically Rumours, the eighth highest selling album of all-time and the masterpiece that's being re-released tomorrow.

With such a timeless, defining album, it obviously doesn't take a reunion tour or re-issue to remind audiences of their 70s rock genius. I mean, everyone loves the Mac. But, to know that the equal parts tumultuous and incestuous foursome will reconvene to ignite stage magic for the first time in 16 years - it not only arouses a giddy excitement in the old-time devotees, but also satisfies the young fans who probably never thought they'd see the crew tackle a live bit. And, couple their forthcoming tour with last summer's release of splendid contemporary tributes - featuring whacks by indie superstars Modest Mouse, The Kills and Lykke Li, to name a few - the Fleetwood buzz is undoubtedly flaring.

Anyone who knows me knows that lately, three sisters named Este, Alana and Danielle of the group HAIM have grabbed my musical attention with their Pretenders-esque, upbeat 80s-rock repertoire and hook-laden numbers, like the single "Don't Save Me." Before realizing the Californian Haim (rhymes with time [poet and I know it]) ladies were capable of their own melodic singles, I became an immediate fan of their simple and modern take on Fleetwood's jangly 1982 radio hit "Hold Me." While maintaining the rich, soulful harmonies (even keeping the same guitar solo and bellowing men who chant "Come on and..." before the chorus), but toying with new age keyboard funk and a little sultriness - the sisters absolutely nailed it.

So, as the always-amusing sagas of Fleetwood Mac continue to unfold publicly in promotional preparation for the 2013 stage return, and especially to honour the re-release of Rumours - let's take a listen to a delightful 2012 Fleetwood tribute from a family act who have plenty of their own potential.

What do you think of HAIM's take on it?

Friday, January 25, 2013

TGIF: Sondre Lerche Covers Beyonce

This hilarious and charming throwback cover only came to my attention last week, and I had to laugh, because I didn't realize what the original song was until about one minute in. Hats off to Sondre Lerche, a Norwegian singer/songwriter, who bravely went where no man has gone - deciding to acoustically dive into the fabulous world of Queen B and take a whack at words like "boo" and "grind up on it" while solemnly strumming along.

For me, this weekend will be a busy one. My calendar is literally bursting with things; meeting realtors, interviewing, writing and, essentially, running all over town. That being said, I also know that a night at the theatre, a few glasses of red vino, and most likely a good amount of Beyonce, will squeeze their way in.

What do you think of this funny little cover?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Simple Songbird: Soko

It's rare that a song can pull of equal parts precious and haunting, but quirky French songbird St├ęphanie Sokolinski (singing under her nickname Soko) proves it can be done well. Leaving home at the young age of 16 to pursue acting in Paris, the quiet sprite began to write songs - many of which formed the song listing of her 2012 album I Thought I Was An Alien. This dark ditty, in particular, stood out to me upon first listen as a bare glimpse into the 26 year-old's journey out of solitude and own coming of age - featuring her cracking vocals and rolling guitar chords, and resembling the minimalistic beauty of Nico's "These Days" cover.

She took a brief hiatus in 2009, while harbouring this unreleased album, citing that she was 'dead' and wanted time away from the music industry. Songs like this easily demonstrate her inner conflict at that point, with her tinkering guitar picks and hushed pixie croons almost telling people to look away. I'm happy she released this though, because, despite her tiny-voiced sound and attempts to sneak out of the scene - "I've Been Alone Too Long" is proof that Soko is something to see and hear.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Band to Watch: The 1975

the 1975
The 1975

Although difficult to Google and even harder to YouTube (if I ever had a band, I would make sure I was readily searchable), young Manchester rockers The 1975 are worth the internet hunt to find.

The four-piece indie-rock crew and their likable debut EP Facedown only found a name and official EP release in the late fall of last year - originally calling themselves something else and dropping their first uppity single "Sex" without any real forewarning or apparent web presence. Now that they've found a name, a home online and some blogosphere notoriety, they're off to the races - chock full of catchy guitar hooks, lusty lyrics and that same accent-laden yodel that Scottish rockers Glasvegas melted hearts with before semi-fizzling on their second album.

It's a simple recipe they follow, but a great one - especially on the charming single "You." The achy vocals hollering about young love ("You're a liar/ At least all of your friends are/ So am I/ Typically a child in my heart") are bare and seemingly filterless, appropriately speaking on behalf of their frank generation and coming across as nothing less than refreshing. On "You," layers of harmonic delivery from four hip post-teen band mates and echoing, stadium-ready Jesus and Mary Chain-like guitar lines that ricochet off the corners of your brain for hours are ingredients that, in concept, seem easy to master - yet time and again, it's been proved only a select few can pull them off. These mystery boys already have it down pat.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Cover Song Evolution: "Lilac Wine"

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Since yesterday was supposed to be the most depressing day of the year (I actually felt quite the opposite), and it was alarmingly brisk, I decided it was excusable to abandon all notions of running errands and head straight home to a pile of magazines, piping bowl of tomato soup and my couch.

In between bouts of laundry sorting and flipping through pages, I ended up on one of those pathetic, long-winded YouTube peruses - you know, the ones where the minutes turn into an hour and you don't even know how you ended up where you are. Well, this particular video crawl ended up centering around a favourite song of mine which has had a lengthy musical evolution since it's inception. "Lilac Wine," the lonely ballad first sung by Hope Foye in the short-lived theatre revue, Dance Me a Song (1950) was quickly taken on by Eartha Kitt (1953), made famous by the bellowing Nina Simone (1966) and cheesily modernized by Elkie Brooks (1978) before changing hands and voices to reflect younger new age phenomenons.

While listening to the tune last night and uncovering its musical journey, I fell even more in love with the thick emotion and tender melody; particularly, three artists' versions which I thought maintained its essential elements while adding new flavour. The poetic words and swaying summertime sound are what I consider to be the essence of a Nina Simone ballad, while the gone-too-soon Jeff Buckley's lovelorn croon was the perfect subsequent remastering, and surprisingly, none other than "Party in the USA" pop star Miley Cyrus' controlled vibrato and smooth rasp during her 'Backyard Sessions' were incredibly well-suited to the vintage heartache narrative. I never thought I would necessarily sit through a Miley video, but the muggy outdoor setting and her mature vocals did it justice.

Here you can hear where this favourite of mine began, and where it's ended up. What do you think? I think all are beautiful, but the Jeff Buckley version will forever have my heart.

Friday, January 18, 2013

TGIF: "Magic" by The Knocks

Photo: toronto friday morning #nofilter
6:00am Toronto

"Magic" from New York City-based The Knocks completely encapsulates the romantic downtown feeling I get everytime I step out my front door. The glittery melody reminds me of  delicious 80s R&B blended with contemporary electro-rock, and it's just the perfect way to start two days out of office. Have a fabulous weekend!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Throwback Thursday: "Like A Ship"

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Considering the heavy influence this genre had on some of the best blues and rock 'n roll of the century, sometimes it's only right to throw back to gospel and the magnificent, groundbreaking sounds it oozed. Although the slight sermonizing within gospel might not be everyone's cup of tea - surely between the groovy melodies, choral uprisings and universal love preaching there's something for everyone.

When I'm having a down day, or begging for Friday to come faster (today), I throw on some of the most nourishing soul or gospel-infused Motown I can think of - organs, clap beats, choir and all - and before you know it, it's as if the clouds part and all feels good in the hood again. Gospel and soul music, maybe because of their intended purpose, are always good for what ails you.

Especially this terrific Pastor T.L. Barrett song. I could snap and two-step my way across sunny downtown if this were playing on city loudspeakers.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Walkmen: Tonight in Toronto

I love this picture.

Funny fact. The Walkmen are one of my very favourite bands - as well as the brains behind one of 2012's most incredible albums - and I've seen them twice. But, I've only ever seen them as the opening band; opening for bands who I easily like less than The Walkmen. Of course I also liked the other two headliners enough to snag tickets, but like I said - I love The Walkmen so much, that it was almost painful to only get an opening set out of them.

Which is why I am so excited that tonight, here in Toronto, these alt-rock Gods are taking the stage last - not first (Father John Misty has that handled) - to reign as the incredible, melodic, impassioned main event. Finally, the all-too-familiar scenario of me dashing through the bustling concert grounds towards the stage (while the rest of the patrons are milling about, not paying attention and getting in their beer purchasing or final bathroom break before the headlining act), desperate to catch every song of The Walkmen's opening set, is no more.

Do you like The Walkmen? I find, more often than not, everyone claims to have heard of them - when really, this band has been an integral part of indie and alternative-rock discussions since the millennium. Go out and buy their most recent album, Heaven, immediately; you'll agree that you've heard them before, and that they're most definitely nothing less than headline material.

Here are five of my favourite Walkmen songs (I originally had only three, but I just couldn't choose three. I'm also going to send you to their #3 spot on my Top 50 Best Songs of 2012...which makes this six songs. Sue me.):

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Girls, Girls, Girls: "Fool to Cry" by Tegan and Sara

In light of the hilarious HBO series Girls sweeping their categories at Sunday's Golden Globes (unexpectedly, might I add), I can't think of a better way to celebrate than with one of the fabulous cover songs from the television show's soundtrack. On this Rolling Stones cover, quirky Quin sisters Tegan and Sara revert back to a more classic yesteryear rock sound following months of feeding their electro-pop addiction in preparation for their new synth-laden January album.

On "Fool to Cry," the taste of bluesy rock makes it hard to accept the Montreal twins' new danceable route, when they pull this style off so seamlessly ("It makes me wonder why" they've changed, in fact. See what I did there). The songbird sisters harmonically double team the melancholy rock ballad as the perfect thematic addition to the soundtrack, injecting just the same amount of sadness, sway and achy vocals that the boys did on the 1976 original. Only on this cover, it sounds as if the perfectly vulnerable daughters are singing instead of Daddy.
What do you think of this cover? (Congratulatons, Girls!)

Friday, January 11, 2013

TGIF: Alabama Shakes' "I Found You"

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I know I said that Van Morrison was the sole source of my healing after rising from what felt like my death bed last week, but Brittany Howard's super soulful howl is very much to thank as well. This song, off Alabama Shakes' golden first album Boys and Girls, sounds like a triumphant and harmonic taste of Motown; a tender anthem about finding the best friends, the love, the whatever you're looking for. It's simple yet impassioned, just like the powerful leading lady.

My best friends - a bunch of women I'm lucky to have "found" - are joining me this weekend in the big city. They most definitely deserve a ditty like this.

Have a lovely weekend!

"Ya made my house a home." - Alabama Shakes

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Favourite New Song: Jim James' "A New Life"

Well, I've never heard this side of Jim James. And I'm pleasantly floored. On "A New Life," the most recent single off the My Morning Jacket front man's February solo album, I'm delighted to say that James has penned another instant classic. Over prom dance chords, twinkling xylophone and painfully sweet lyrics, the veteran front man reveals an uncharacteristically tender plotline - narrated by doo-wop croons that are starry-eyed, optimistic and all sorts of lovestruck.

With his decades of proven ability to craft eclectic rock classics, there's no denying James always has something compelling to say; but this intimate, sugary glance into his romantic psyche isn't the type of tale that comes with each new album. In a discussion with Rolling Stone magazine, James revealed the exposed ballad came from a mish-mash of revelations; namely his 2008 fall off stage, reading an inspiring old book and being struck by cupid himself.

On "A New Life", James told Rolling Stone: "It's about making a conscious choice to open a new door for oneself. To step forward out of safe stagnation or fear and into beauty or peace or whatever you would like to call truth in your heart in order to begin a new life in and of love."

Wowzas. Those words alone are enough to coax fans into falling more in love with the dynamic scruffy legend, but paired with the gentle stomp build-up and slow song potential - I could go for an entire song listing filled with more of these sounds.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New Night Beds: Ramona


In preparation for his February debut Country Sleep, Night Beds' Winston Yellen has released another beautiful single, "Ramona," as part of the teasing trail that will soon lead to his crop of highly-anticipated indie rock gems. Unlike the soothing first sample, "Even If We Try," Night Beds' latest tune is a falsetto-streaked country-rock story, upbeatedly drifting over echoey sliding guitars and jangly percussion. Resembling beautiful Bon Iver-like rustic chords, Yellen's falsetto treads similar territory but with a crystal clear resonance that channels the late, and equally gorgeous songbird, Jeff Buckley. With each new taste, however, Yellen refreshingly sounds more and more like one of a kind.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Healing Music: Van Morrison

As much as I love the buzz around new releases and contemporary critic's favourites, I've always been such a huge advocate of reverting back to the classics. Whether rock, blues, soul or pop, I try to never neglect my favourite staple albums of years past - because they are, after all, exactly what's shaped my present day taste and the sounds that now rule the airwaves. Sometimes, I truly do believe that they don't make 'em like they used to.

A good example of that little belief is one of the most beautiful and timeless albums ever made - Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. Almost all Van Morrison's writing can be considered classic, but this particular 1968 release is perfection in every which way. This past week, I felt the weakest I have in ages with a terrible bout of strep throat and the flu (just a wonderful way to kick off the New Year), and Van - sweet, sweet, Van - is part of the medicine that nursed me back to health. If I listened to this album once through, I must have listened to it 50 times while I lay horizontal trying to kick this illness.

So many of the songs, specifically "Astral Weeks", "Beside You" and one of my all-time favourites, "Sweet Thing" (one of the most gorgeous ballads of all time) just can't be replicated. Their simple chord progression, poetic lyrics and Van's flawlessly husky vocals are something of a wonderful era in music; an era that's taught so much to us about what music really is.

Friday, January 4, 2013

TGIF: Who Knows Who Cares

In preparation for Local Natives' much-anticipated upcoming release, I can't stop listening to the newest single "Breakers"... and this old gem. The piano, the violin and the way they all swell up with the band-wide harmonies reminds me so much of the past two summers. It's sublime for the summertime, the beach and the open road - but sounds pretty darn good alongside the snow-covered city side streets too, if you ask me. In conclusion, it's always a perfect day for Local Natives.