Thursday, February 28, 2013

Throwback Thursday: John Butler's "Ocean"

OceanOver the years, a lot of sounds have come and gone - but the sounds of this John Butler song have always stayed. Whenever I seem to be having a strange day or am in desperate need of some sort of creative boost - without fail, this is one of the steadfast songs in my pocket. This song gives me life.

I remember when I was a kid and trying to justify buying something with my tiny, hard-earned allowance, my Dad would help me mentally work it out, or even add a few dollars to the cause, by telling me that maybe the item I was craving was actually a "soul" buy. Similar to comfort food or time with family, and not limited to material items, my parents taught me early on to recognize things that, for one reason or another, maybe were just good for the soul. As a cheap little kid, a lot of the things I had to justify buying were more and more pieces of music - tapes, CDs, posters - and I think it's plain to see that those things did turn out to be soul buys; there's no doubt those chore dollars went towards something that built up my "soul," if you will.

This is a soul song.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

New AlunaGeorge: "Attracting Flies"

This should help us over the hump. In the countdown to the long-awaited debut album from British electro-pop guy and girl AlunaGeorge (Aluna Francis and George Reid), the duo are having a grand old time keeping us in antsy anticipation with a third sugary and rhythmic single orchestrated by Aluna's pixie R&B vocals and George's keyboard wizardry.

On "Attracting Flies,"  their latest (and perhaps greatest, so far) bubbly dance number, the two spoon feed us another infectious taste of the forthcoming Body Music; a lovable dance floor groove chock full of throbbing beats and whistling synthesizers.

Even rooted in the dance genre, everything about their music manages to pull off some level of adorable; the sweet leading lady is too polite to say someone is full of the "s" word throughout the song, so she coos: "Everything you exhale is attracting flies." Lovely.

Look out for Body Music on June 3, 2013.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New Yeah Yeah Yeahs: "Sacrilege"


Yeah Yeah Yeah's have so far released bits and bites from their upcoming album Mosquito, the first full-length since 2009's It's Blitz, but it's all boiled to a head in the form of the soaring, gospel choir-backed first single and first album track "Sacrilege." Similar to the building momentum of YYYs "Runaway," "Sacrilege" begins with leading lady Karen O's unmistakable vocals - quietly aching and darting in and out of shrieks before picking up alongside climbing percussion and layers of Nick Zinner's swirling electric hooks. And if all of that isn't enough, the song's uprising is livened with the launch of a 24-piece gospel chorus who clap and holler around Karen O's soulful yowl and then slam to a halt at nearly four minutes. "Sacrilege" will inevitably be a powerful part of YYY's stage-rattling live set, but in the mean time, it's the most fearless leap into a new collection of eccentric dance-rock singles.

Enjoy! Look for Mosquito on April 15, 2013. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

The National at Toronto's NXNE 2013

Now, on days like today when I don't have much time to breathe outside of working, I would normally sacrifice a blog post during the chaos.

But, as of now, I'm afraid I had to grant myself a ten minute "lunch" break to announce that this year at Toronto's amazing North by Northeast (NXNE) festival, organizers managed to snag one of my very favourite bands to play the free Friday night Dundas Square concert. The National, ladies and gentlemen.

I've seen these incredible Brooklyn-based indie rockers twice now and it's safe to assume that their five album discography is just about always wedged somewhere into my weekly apartment music rotation. Needless to say, I am a superfan of their atmospheric and gloomily romantic rock. They have glimmers of a few other bands and other bands do of them, but for the most part, their unique, melodic numbers are unprecedented. If you've yet to listen to The National, you've so far missed out on some of the greatest albums of the last decade (AlligatorBoxer and High Violet are timeless). But, it's never too late to become a convert. Feast your ears on this magic, and I'll see you front row on June 14th. Hats off, NXNE!

Friday, February 22, 2013

TGIF: How To Destroy Angels

City LightsHaving a loopy or lazy Friday? I hear you, brothers and sisters. I was away in Collingwood for work and am most certainly ready for the slow crawl to the weekend (read: nap) to end. If you're needing a tiny lift, and haven't yet listened to Trent Reznor's side project How To Destroy Angels, then you might just find everything you're looking for in one place. Or better yet, a few songs.

Despite assembling in 2010, releasing a few EPs and contributing a song to the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo soundtrack, the band's debut full-length, Welcome Oblivion, was released only last month. It's currently streaming for free over at Pitchfork - and trust me, it's just the nifty spoonful of sugar you need to add that hop in your step today. At times dark and beat heavy and other times surprisingly bouncy, HTDA hit the nail on the head with this diverse and experimental release; particularly these two tracks, one of which, quite literally, tells you to wake up.

I mean, did we really expect anything less of the great Trent Reznor, though? No. We didn't. Have a lovely weekend with this one.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Throwback Thursday: "Killing the Blues"


This morning, I was getting ready for the day and looking out over something I hadn't seen in some time - a sunstreaked Toronto. This meant two things: I no longer have to leave the house in the dark (amazing) and for the first time in what feels like weeks, the grey clouds had parted. The sight of the shiny morning city made me ache for summer so badly - a feeling I only felt for the first time last year.

To me, this song is every mild or warm season wrapped up into one toasty country ballad. I love songs that transition nicely through seasons, but the warm romance and hot country sun within the twangs of this song make it the perfect fit for the end-of-winter coming months. I absolutely adored the 2007 Raising The Sand collaboration between Alison Krauss and Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant; in so many ways it seemed like such a departure for the old rock God, but if you think about Zeppelin songs like"Tangerine," "Hey Hey What Can I Do" and "That's The Way," Plant is no stranger to country crooning. Maybe it's just the particular subtlety of his and Alison Krauss' harmonic whispers over the swaying melody, but this bluesy lullaby is precious.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Young Galaxy: "Fall For You"

"Wanna live with love, yeah, live with love," is the plain, but pretty, lyrical proclamation that sums up the feeling you get upon hearing Montreal indie-pop group Young Galaxy's latest soaring single. As the second release from the band's upcoming release Ultramarine, "For You" feels like anything but “dream" pop, as the band’s music has been described in the past; this song oozes a tangible and proud kind of romance. With a tropically-tinted groove that beats beneath layers of Catherine McCandless' triumphant bellow, the melody is chock full of pulsing synth lines and a lasering mid-song uprising. 

"For You" is a stunning dance floor dream that manages to lift in and out of both sexy and sweet moments, while never sacrificing a second of sparkle. A Canadian duo known for their anthemic angles, Young Galaxy has hit it out of the park again – fixing Ultramarine as one of 2013’s must-listen albums.

Listen to the stream over at Stereogum.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Phoenix returns with "Entertainment"

Just yesterday, French alt-rockers Phoenix dropped "Entertainment," the new single off the band's first album in four years, and surprise, surprise - it's toe-tapping and unequivocally likable. I sort of equate Phoenix's comfort with layers of glittery synth-rock to Mumford's banjo-laden ballads; they are tried and tested formulas that help car commercials captivate and women sob, respectively - so, the bands have decided not to fix what doesn't seem broken. Although the sound evolution of Phoenix has seen little to no alterations since the Grammy-winning Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix's rhythmic rock, I'll make no apologies for grooving along to the equally hook-filled and bubbly "Entertainment" - which is caked with more of the anthemic potential that skyrocketed the French foursome in the first place.

What do you think of "Entertainment"? I've always rooted for Thomas Mars' smooth chant, and I think the playful percussion and sparkling "Turning Japanese"-reminiscent synth are charismatic enough to fill stadiums again, as well as rack up a number of repeats in my household.

Watch out for Bankrupt! in stores on April 23, and Phoenix on a world tour this spring.

Friday, February 15, 2013

TGIF: Chvrches

With only a tiny pocketful of songs, Scottish alternative electronic band Chvrches (pronouned Churches) have quickly established themselves as one of the most shamelessly addictive presences in my music library. Lauren Mayberry, the pixie of a front woman whose piercing voice rotates between sugary and assertive, is the perfect juxtaposition against the thundering snaps of percussion and shimmery synth melodies.

Formed in 2011 and with only an EP to boot, the attention the Glasgow threesome have already gathered is impressive - grabbing a spot on one of BBC's Sound of 2013 list and touring as the opening act for fellow synth-pop vets Passion Pit.

Here are a few of (read: some of the only) Chvrches ditties around. Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Throwback Thursday: A Favourite Love Song

Van Morrison At The Movies: Soundtrack Hits

On Valentine's Day, I'll say a few things about romance. I don't have too much of a "type," I don't have a long scroll of prerequisites for dating and I don't expect too many bells and whistles outside of that real connection. But, I do require the person I'm with to love Van Morrison's album Astral Weeks - particularly this song.

This song gives me new-relationship-tingles, without the relationship, every single time. The uplifting strum of Van's guitar and his bare, poetic vow don't come along every day in music - which is why this album and classic ballad will forever be timeless in my eyes. With "Sweet Thing," I like to think I have the ideal relationship; every minute with it feels like Valentine's, and I really do know I'll love it for the rest of my days.

"And I'll never, never, never grow so old again." Oof - what a lyric.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Beach House's "Forever Still"

Concert films are a funny thing. I'd always choose seeing a live band over not seeing a live band, and in some instances - well, many instances - they actually work in my favour seeing as quite literally I wasn't around (alive) for so many of the best live shows and most historically significant music events. But, today in a city like Toronto, chances are I'll be presented with more opportunities than I can count to actually go and see most contemporary or classic artists for myself - meaning there's rarely a need for me to lust over packaged concert footage from the confines of my living room.

Except this morning. Except when one of my generation's most mystical rock bands took a handful of their latest album's tunes and performed them alongside a Texas midnight and sunrise on deserted, dusty plains for  27 brilliant minutes. In collaboration with Pitchfork - a journalistic source I tend to dismiss, but an online broadcast platform that sometimes surprises me - indie dream rockers Beach House staged performances from their acclaimed album Bloom on a vast Southern landscape over the course of three nights. The songs, already intoxicating lullabies that haunt and sparkle by way of Victoria Legrand's husky croon and Alex Scully's gleaming chords, are perfect representations of the cinematically breathtaking backdrop throughout the 27-minute video; shots of a caped Legrand and her band mates perched on a cliff at dawn, driving down a stormy, lightning-painted highway and swinging into "The Hours" in the middle of the night, as mere silhouettes blackened in front of an army of parked cars and their headlights.

With an elongated, countryside Blogotheque feel, Legrand attributes the unusual filming locations and concept to inspiration from Pink Floyd's Live at Pompeii, when the famed prog-rockers performed audience-less from within the ancient Roman amphitheatre. The desolate, spooky tone of Texas' dark-skied setting paired with Bloom's free flowing, melodic anthems - as well as the minimal amount of footage - achieves the exact "concert" film endurance that some of the greatest have. On Forever Still, Victoria Legrand said:

Before releasing Bloom, we decided that we would only participate in “promotional” activities that we could control artistically and give substantial energy. We had previously been involved in too many live sessions, radio tapings, photo shoots, etc., where the outcome was far below our personal artistic standards. We also felt a need to distance ourselves from the “content” culture of the internet that rewards quantity over quality and shock over nuance.

...We wanted to perform in a non-typical setting without losing the spirit of our music. We felt the songs would resonate in a more majestic and spiritual landscap

On Forever Still, I'd say the final full-bodied performance of "Irene" and its repeated howl summarizes the whole feature perfectly: it's a strange paradise.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Beck Remakes "Sound and Vision" Brilliantly

I know that yesterday I made a point of saying I wouldn't be going any further into my dislike of this year's Grammys. I stand by that; I really don't feel like re-hashing the different (and obvious) lackluster moments and ways in which the sleepy spectacle could have been saved.

I will say this, though: yesterday's internet frenzy that resulted from Lincoln releasing a dizzying video of Beck's re-worked version of  Bowie's "Sound and Vision" made me realize that this is exactly the type of baffling musical genius that the Grammys could have used. Shot three different times (shocking, I know - based on the intricacies and seemingly impossible coordination), with the rocker rotating on a circular stage against the 157-piece orchestra and choir-filled backdrop - I have no doubt that every instrument, yodel and gospel chant moved heartbeats to flutter upon click of the viral video.

As part of Lincoln's "Hello Again" launch campaign, Beck (and his father, the famed conductor orchestrating the madness behind him) said that with this re-imagined "Sound and Vision" experience, he wanted to deliver a performance to his invite-only audience that showed "no limitations or restrictions." Thanks for spoon-feeding us the exact descriptors to explain the theatrical 9 minute and 30 second display, Beck - because there's no better way to describe what the entire radical endeavor achieved. It's thousands of light, dark, heavy and airy moments encapsulated into a pleasantly nauseating chaos; one that brings the 1977 song to life in a beautifully twisted and extravagant way.

I love the original, and always will. But this gives me life.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Still "Just Like Honey"

This is a bit exciting. Throughout any given day, I have the urge to post so many different things to this blog - but don't have the time, because I'm busy at work. This week, my staycation will allow me to post as many bits as my little heart desires.

I've talked about this song more times than I can count, but I've really realized what makes it easily one of my top five favourite songs of all-time. Without fail, every single time it comes on, my heart flutters like I'm hearing it for the first or second time ever. I don't think I've ever skipped over this song to get to something else - I sit still while listening to the opening kick drum, and soak in the magic of its melody. Every single time.

Do you have any songs like that in your life? What a rare and special bond to have with an art form.

Monday Music: James Blake's "Retrograde"

I could very easily say one thousand things about last night's Grammy Awards - which had great moments and disappointing ones - but you can take a look at my Twitter if you're curious, because I said one thousand things there. Rather than dwell on the semi-mediocrity of what could have been an astounding evening, I figure it would be more enjoyable for everyone to direct our attention to a new song from an old soul.

As the first day of my staycation (you'll inevitably hear more about this as the long week off progresses), I have many things I want and need to do. But what better luxury than beginning my day by sitting in my slippers, drinking coffee and watching winter drip away off the ceiling of my balcony with the CN Tower tucked behind a blanket of rainy day fog in the background. Weirdly enough, James Blake's edgy new single is the perfect dark groove to bump through the walls of my apartment on a grim Monday. Jumping between his shaky hum and bold chorus chant, Blake's mind-blowing soul vocals are more captivating than ever (which says a lot, based on his critically-acclaimed debut) and still not fitting of a 24 year-old white kid from London. Punctuated with a slow clap beat and climbing surges of synth, "Retrograde" is wholeheartedly an even cooler and richer-sounding approach than Blake's already wise-beyond-his-years offerings - proving that his ability to defy age, appearances and all musical expectations is still totally in tact.

James Blake releases Overgrown on April 8th, and cruises through Toronto to play The Danforth Music Hall on May 4th. See you there.

Friday, February 8, 2013

TGIF: Foals in a Snowstorm

my office window view today.
For a lot of people, today's "snowmageddon" is this kind of chaotic mess that requires them to trudge through the snow and curse Mother Nature. Although not my favourite, it has moments of being kind of beautiful - and I didn't even stay home (like most of Toronto did). Something about a white-washed horizon, very quiet city and pair of headphones doesn't seem so painful to me. Especially when a beauty like this from English rock band Foals is playing.

Foals releases their newest album Holy Fire next week. In the mean time, the office is closing early for the weekend and I'm going to brave the snowy drift with lovely Foals in hand (or ear?).

Have a warm weekend!

55th Grammy Awards: This Sunday

Say what you will about the star-studded event - and the sometimes questionable award winners - but, year after year, I never fail to be so excited for the Grammy's. Although it still is a celebrity parade, it seems that each year a more diverse blend of nominees are added to the mix; the old mingle with the new and the mass-produced perform alongside the misunderstood. In recent years, it hasn't been uncommon for the curtains to raise and reveal artists or bands that, despite their acclaim, didn't cross my mind as acts that would have the chance to top the coveted stage.

Will you be watching the Grammy's this Sunday evening? If this snowstorm keeps up, a night spent plopped in front of the TV with a big glass of wine and endless snacks seems like the best case scenario. This year, I predict that the Levon Helm tribute (featuring an incredible roster of artists), will blow everyone away.

Here are five performers I look forward to cheering on.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Throwback Thursday: My Bloody Valentine

My Bloody Valentine mbv

In light of My Bloody Valentine's 22 year-long hiatus before releasing mbv, their long-awaited new album which nearly broke the internet after going live last Saturday night - I thought it was appropriate to spend this particular Thursday throwing back to the band's seminal last album, Loveless. Released in 1991, Loveless has been rightfully credited by some of the world's greatest musicians as forever changing the alternative rock landscape. Artists ranging from Billy Corgan to Trent Reznor have been quoted to remember the feeling of shock and awe they felt upon first hearing the album's heaps of fuzzy grunge guitars and woozy, nearly inaudible vocals which buried the album's inconspicuously striking melodies. Personally, I was just a kid when Loveless was released - so, I didn't come into loving it until years later. But, even then, after hearing much of the musical evolution that dominoed from Loveless and its obvious influence on some of the greatest 90s mainstream rock sounds - I was able to fully appreciate the album's genius.

Luckily for the My Bloody Valentine diehards, mbv is a welcome addition to the band's sporadic discography with the same distorted and droning, yet emotionally chock full, sounds that rocked the underground scene in the early 90s. Of course, MBV have included sounds and words to convey their 22 years spent pondering its creation - but they've remained comfortably true to the swirling shoegaze magic that Loveless left us wanting more of.

PS. Robert Pollard, of Guided By Voices, once said: "Sometimes when I want to write lyrics, I'll listen to Loveless. Because of the way the vocals are buried, you can almost listen to the songs as if they're instrumental pieces." I love that; isn't it so true?

Here are three of my favourite songs from Loveless.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Night Beds Wows on "Country Sleep"

When you think about it, we're actually lucky that this musical day and age is decorated with so many honey-voiced male songwriters, behind some of the most conceptually riveting and rich melodied albums of our time. Some critics, however, would argue that the sounds begin to blend together, originality can be sacrificed and it becomes hard to differentiate those who palm the key to longevity in a loaded folk-rock and alt-country genre.

This may be true. But great artists never get lost. And, upon first listen to 23 year-old Winston Yellen's "Even If We Try," his first single as Night Beds, through to the welcome arrival of his debut Country Sleep in my inbox yesterday morning - I have every reason to believe he's very, very different - and will prove quickly to any skeptics that this is the case. The dreamy falsetto that echoes through the Nashville native's rustic, emotional Country Sleep tales have rightfully drawn countless comparisons to Bon Iver and Ryan Adams, but also deserve their own credit, coming from an early-20s touring rookie who took it upon himself to drop out of school and rent Johnny Cash and June Carter-Cash's Sycamore homestead to lay down the tracks.

His mysterious songwriting wisdom and diverse melodic offerings are almost confusing. It would be easy to say that his legendary recording location spookily rubbed off on the young gun, but his out-of-left-field, already formidable presence is founded in something probably beyond our explanation; something rooted in a powerful natural vocal ability and his own quiet observations that have translated into ten magical stories. And don't think he sticks to one note or notion, either. With his creamy croon as the time-stopping anchor throughout each track, Yellen flips between feelings; sampling buoyant countryside strings on "Ramona" and jangly Americana on the charming "Borrowed Time," before sliding into the sunset confessional "Cherry Blossoms" - a profound golden moment on the album sweetened with sliding plucks and layers of his lonely vocals uttering, "Longing for a love I've never known...drunk on whiskey, God don't let me go."

And although "Even If We Try" was more than enough to stun as the EP's first taste, it still hasn't been lost amidst the new batch of earthy alt-country sounds. His stunning a capella howl of the song title pulls the same tear-jerking heart strings, solidifying Yellen as a vocal diamond in the rough who deserves the quick skyrocket to critical acclaim.

If this is where the future of the genre lies, we're in good company.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

New Obsession: Caveman


During one of my early 2013 wanders around the worldwide web, I stumbled upon five-piece indie rock group Caveman and, song after song, became so enthralled with their versatile new wave sound; a sound that's really only come into fruition in the last two years. After forming in late 2010 and making their way into some of Brooklyn's finest live music establishments, Caveman took their diverse melodic numbers to the studio and packaged them into a full-length they could shop around to different labels.

Their debut LP Coco Beware was released in late 2011, with the golden standouts being "December 28th" (obviously a favourite of mine), "Easy Water" and "Great Life." With their striking melodies in tow, they wasted no time continuing on their climb to acclaim - gallantly hitting the open road with the likes of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Blue Oyster Cult while their following grew exponentially. The dreamscape guitars, piled harmonies and Michael Iwanusa's beautiful tenor headship are only some of the reasons behind their quickly jumping the long line of bands looking to be in their position; they've nailed down an Arcade Fire or My Morning Jacket flavour of starry-eyed rock that, on any given song, can land anywhere between charming and jangly or gorgeously vast.

Their forthcoming self-titled sophomore release (April 2nd, Fat Possum) and the anthemic first single "In The City" have already proved to be a mature departure from days of record label ambivalence and odd gigs. If this breathtaking tune is any indication, they know exactly who they are and what their sound can accomplish. Above the spacious synth sounds and ricocheting guitar pangs, Iwanusa's brilliant vocals shift gorgeously between a milky undertone and throaty Bono-reminiscent holler - leaving no doubt he's a frontman to watch in coming years.

What do you think of Caveman?

Friday, February 1, 2013

TGIF: Face It, The Strokes Have Changed

Since releasing "One Way Trigger," the first single from old favourite indie rockers The Strokes' forthcoming fifth album, the internet has been alight with blogosphere debate, mixed bag reviews and - more often than not - outrage at the band's 2013 modifications to the famed fuzzy garage sound that put them on the map.

I understand the confusion, people - it must be very hard on you. But, we have to remember that rarely does a musician stick to the same path they set out on 15 years prior; I think we can all agree it's natural for music to evolve, and sometimes, evolve into a mildly controversial, genre-blending entity that divides once die hard fans and critics.

Which brings us to "One Way Trigger." I, for one, am not overly opposed to the new track. I think the spacey pop effects, A-Ha reminiscent guitar and Julian Casablancas' staggering falsetto are actually kind of nifty. No, I won't be listening to it nightly. No, the lead singer probably didn't consider what it would be like to hit those notes live, night after night. And, no, he certainly wasn't clutching his Is This It sound-a-like checklist when putting together the quirky new number.

It hardly resembles the recipe behind those melodic indie classics of days past, but I wouldn't say it's anything to get our panties in a knot about. They've been gradually diverting further from their coined rock ditties since First Impressions (although "You Only Live Once" was a perfect dose of Strokes nostalgia), so it shouldn't come as a surprise that Is This It 2.0 wasn't next on the discography roster.

I think that after 15 years of mastering that hook-filled indie sound and several solo albums (the lead singer's release was also caked in flashy video game effects), we should allow the guys a little wiggle room to re-invent themselves, even if what they had didn't necessarily require upheaval. And five albums in, who's to say another re-invention isn't likely?

What do you think of the new single? I'd love to hear. (PS. If one more review of The Strokes anything is titled "New Strokes: Is This/That It?" I'm going to go bananas! It was funny and creative the first dozen times)