Friday, May 31, 2013

TGIF: New Lauryn Hill - "Neurotic Society (Compulsory Mix)"

I'll be the first to say that I'm pretty happy Ms. Lauryn Hill has, quite quietly, sneaked back with a new track. I've had a tumultuous relationship with my feelings about the once-revered artist - who, along with The Fugees, is hugely responsible for shaping my appreciation for both R&B and hip-hop at an early age, but who broke that bond when she went off the rails more than slightly. I don't punish Hill (or any artist) for the struggles she's had, but it was her attitude towards her fans, former group and  music that jolted me during her downfall.

All of that aside, she sure is back. In the new single "Neurotic Society (Compulsory Remix)," which inevitably should help in shoveling her out of unpaid taxes debt, I'll also be the first to admit that - I have not a single clue Hill is talking about throughout the majority of the song.

But, that fact doesn't take away from the fact that the rapid-fire rhyming and tongue-twisting wordsmithery isn't damn impressive. I'd almost rather listen to Hill ear-catchingly pair together almost nonsensical, syllable-heavy rhymes that she thumbed out of her thesaurus, than listen to half of the mindless radio rap that does put together a "message" - a meaningless one about babes, chains and bills.

She spits fast, hard and relentlessly over a classic Hill beat - chunky and elevated by a symphonic funk layers. And maybe the impossibly fast word pairings are actually meant to unleash a subliminal message to listeners about her discomfort with contemporary society as a whole. Because, although the grand picture is really hard to capture at times, bright words and emphases ("Superficial vanity, borderline insanity...Man is not a product if you call it that then stop it") stand out fiercely, piecing together the pieces when you feel the most lost in translation.

The wildly rambling, but intriguing, first single back is an interesting glimpse into the psyche of Hill, and the song title says it all. In the end, I dig it.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Remembering Jeff Buckley

This week, I was thinking about Jeff Buckley - the genius late musician who died tragically 16 years ago at the age of 30 and peak of his groundbreaking career. Anyone who listened to Buckley during his unforeseen rise to fame knew he was going to change just about everything. He already was on his way to doing so when he drowned in the wake of a tugboat, while swimming in the Mississippi River on May 29, 1997.

Jeff Buckley's performing debut was singing at the funeral of his musician father, Tim Buckley, who he had only met once at the age of eight. The young Buckley astounded the funeral audience with his pure, limitless vocals - and so was the beginning of his career and the inception of first and only album, Grace - which featured acclaimed "Hallelujah" and "Lilac Wine" covers, as well as what-would-be classics "Lover, You Should've Come Over" and "Last Goodbye."

Here's my favourite acoustic performance, studio single and poem to remember Buckley by.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

New Smith Westerns: "3am Spiritual"

Smith Westerns

I've been digging this Chicago indie-rock trio and their likable, yesteryear-influenced ditties since their second album dropped a few years back. On the new "3am Spiritual," a lovably melodic rock ballad that sounds like it's straight out of The Hollies or Beatles' 1970s songbooks - lead singer Cullen Omori's syrupy croon is hoisted above all-boy harmonies and fluttering percussion. Mid-song, a Bohemian Rhapsody-esque piano waltz cues a whining electric guitar that could easily be mistaken for any of ELO's middle eight moments 30 years ago.

Soft Will, the third Smith Westerns album, is expected on Mom+Pop Music on June 25. I can already tell this is going to be one of my favourite tracks off it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


Listen: Chvrches:

The little Glaswegian electro-pop outfit that could just keep getting better and cuter. To add more mystery to the widespread adoration, CHVRCHES have released another sugary, synth-soaked teaser that's, once again, orchestrated by Lauren Mayberry's capable sprite-like voice and some playful dance drums.

A single that will be officially released on July 15, "Gun" is yet another addition to the trio's sparse but admired set list - and, the energetic dance ditty is more than enough to tide us over. For a band with not much discography to offer (they've still yet to release their highly anticipated full-length), they sure know how to keep us all hanging on.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Rediscovered: Benoit & Sergio's "What I've Lost"

Benoit & Sergio

My goodness, I forgot how much I loved this song. Lately, it feels like, outside of my regular rock-loving repertoire, I've been infatuated with these airy house tracks that are by no means hyper, fist-pumping trance jams - but just pretty, minimalist beats that feel good for the soul. This romantic house tune from last year has been a happily rediscovered staple.

The Washington duo Benoit & Sergio's sweet concoctions are full of melodic LCD Soundsystem-meets-quieter Daft Punk moments. With "What I've Lost," the handsome pair serenade a "little French girl" over a head-bobbing beat and swirling synth melody that makes my heart flutter every time it chimes in.  Last night, the sun was fading as I rolled back into downtown Toronto after my weekend away, and with this playing - I  couldn't have been happier to be home.

Enjoy the beginning of your week!

Friday, May 24, 2013

TGIF: New Music from Emma Louise

I’m hitting the open road this weekend for a much-needed rest. I’ve got books to read, magazines to finally flip through, and this soft voice as a reminder to just take it easy.

Although there’s certainly no shortage of amazing new tunes to listen to (the new National album, which I literally can’t tear myself away from) – this soothing gal has been a saving grace during the chaos of the past two weeks. Australian artist Emma Louise’s mesmerizing voice is infectious in its heightened pitch, breathing out songs about youth and her mind. She steeps her low-fi beats in spacious synths – a trick that leaves some songs perfectly dazed and others totally electrifying. With her eclectic sounds and range, it's hard not to keep digging through her songs to hear what else she’s capable of.

Here are two tracks from her upcoming album and an alt-J cover to get you through the weekend.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Throwback Thursday: All to All (remix) and Arts & Crafts 10th Anniversary

It really wasn't hard to decide that this song would be my throwback Thursday feature. With festivities gearing up to celebrate legendary Toronto-based label Arts & Crafts' 10th anniversary, my currently reading the Broken Social Scene and Toronto indie music scene story (This Book is Broken) and tonight's Norman Wong art exhibit (featuring photographs of A&C musicians) - I figured it was only right to celebrate the label's legacy with a beautiful song from their flagship act, Broken Social Scene.

Although not a huge throwback - just to 2010's Forgiveness Rock Record - this "All to All" Skeet Skeet remix is the perfect summery twist on the already airy classic. While maintaining the original's delicate synth melody, sweet violins and Lisa Lobsinger's songbird vocals, the subdued Skeet Skeet remix adds only the slightest tropical echoes in between the added pattering beat. Heaven.

I still remember watching the original "All to All" performed live (and brand spanking new) at the Toronto Island Music Festival in 2010, with the whole BSS crew present. I clearly remember deciding that few songs would ever sound as good when played live on a hot summer evening, surrounded by hundreds of other Canadian music lovers.

Enjoy the remix! And see you at the A&C Field Trip Music and Arts Festival for the real anniversary celebrations.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Background Beats: Asaf Avidan & The Mojos

For the past week or so, this has been my saving song.

It's been awhile since life has been this crazy. In every nook and cranny of my existence, there seems to just be so much going on. And, that's fine. Such is life; we adjust, adapt and keep on movin'. But, certainly not without some simple (yet groovy) background beats to help pace the frenzied days and make them feel a little more bearable.

This Wanklemut remix just lifts you higher and higher as the seven minutes pass; the pulsing beat and acoustic guitar, with that screeching and soulful vocal, are cause to stop, enjoy and coast.

Here's the groove of the week:

Friday, May 17, 2013

TGIF: Amazing New Daft Punk Single

Winding down from the hyperactive disco groove of Daft Punk's long-awaited first single, "Get Lucky" featuring Pharrell Williams - the veteran dance music duo leaked their second single, and as expected, it's even better. As the second in their long line of Random Access Memories collaborations, "Doin' It Right" features Animal Collective's Noah Lennox (Panda Bear) on a simple, subdued slice of dance floor bliss that has all of the downtempo ingredients to stay in heavy rotation for years.

Featuring a robotic vocal loop ("If you're doing it right, everybody will be dancing") that winds down into Panda Bear's recognizable chant, the song's steady ticking beat and buzzing keys maintain the perfect and prettiest low-fi cadence meant for a night spent with the shiny downtown.

On those unpredictable evenings when you see where the city takes you, Panda Bear's "If you lose your way tonight, that's how you know the magic's right," might be the new mantra.

img via

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Joel Plaskett Emergency

Joel Plaskett

Every time I hear the opening strums of this little number - it feels like summer. Because, since I first heard this Joel Plaskett classic on a hot summer day almost eight (!) years ago - it's been a steadfast windows-down, late night strolling, campfire building, spirit-raising theme song in my life.

As a huge Joel Plaskett Emergency fan for years, any of his earnest songs easily have the potential to send a nostalgic chill down my spine, but "Face of the Earth," with it's uplifting, sentimental rock chords and memorable coming-of-age lyrics, has really stuck with me through the years the way a real classic does. With Joel, you can't help but hang off his every word when he sings with such conviction.

"True love is always complicated/ Free and easy is overrated/ My classic beauty, the West coast mystery/ Moved out East/ The rest is history/ I got under your rolling thunder/ You’re the lightning/ The right thing/ You got my number."  What an anthem. 


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Savages debut: Silence Yourself

Not since Joy Division or Patti Smith have I liked punk so much, nor since the first time I heard Beach House's vocals have I been more in awe of a throaty female vocal. Until now.

Savages, a London-based female post-punk band fronted by Jehnny Beth's already iconic bellow, put forward the first singles from their forthcoming LP, "She Will", "Husbands" and "Shut Up" - captivating attentions with commanding rock that's carried by jangly drum thunder and bounding bass lines that will shake a venue. Clearly confident on their way to clobbering their male punk-rock counterparts in indie chart placement and ticket sales, the Silence Yourself listen might be a challenging one for the average listener. Even if you don't understand every bit of it, or if the brooding melodies and chaotic uproars aren't for you - you have to appreciate that these girls are going to be relentless in their pursuit of not just being heard, but ruling the rock music landscape this year. Check them out:

Monday, May 13, 2013

An Awesome Wave Monday

If you recall, I added alt-J very high into the mix of my "best songs of 2012" mix, because ... they're incredible. Their critically-acclaimed experimental rock music exploded on to the scene late last year, after their mind-blowing debut album won the coveted debut Mercury Prize - raising much-needed awareness about their unusual, genre-blending approach to atmospheric indie rock. The odd sounds they use, which dabble in everything from bass-heavy rock to folk and electronic, are merely an undertone to Joe Newman's quirky moan - which took the cake as easily the most unique vocal debut in recent years.

With the past two days of gloominess, after being treated to full-on summer for week or so, I've been heavily throwing back to alt-J's eclectic, abstract numbers to provide the soundtrack. In the six months I've loved An Awesome Wave, the unprecedented sounds haven't tired in my rotation yet; always putting me in a better mood, always reminding me of the power of music.

Enjoy the beginning of your week.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Music from Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby": Soundtrack Review

"I began to like New York, the racy, adventurous feel of it at night and the satisfaction that the constant flicker of men and women and machines gives to the restless eye. I liked to walk up Fifth Avenue and pick out romantic women from the crowd and imagine that in a few minutes I was going to enter their lives, and no one would ever know or disapprove. Sometimes, in my mind, I followed them to their apartments on the corners of hidden streets, and they turned and smiled back at me before they faded through a door into warm darkness. At the enchanted metropolitan twilight I felt a haunting loneliness sometimes, and felt it in others - poor young clerks who loitered in front of windows waiting until it was time for the solitary restaurant dinner - young clerks in the dusk, wasting the most poignant moments of night and life.

Again at eight o’clock, when the dark lanes of the Forties were five deep with throbbing taxi cabs, bound for the theatre district, I felt a sinking in my heart. Forms leaned together in the taxis as they waited, and voices sang, and there was laughter from unheard jokes, and lighted cigarettes outlined unintelligible gestures inside. Imagining that I, too, was hurrying toward gaiety and sharing their intimate excitement, I wished them well."

- F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby

Anyone who knows me knows my obsession with the book The Great Gatsby, therefore, this week and all of the hype surrounding what will inevitably be an incredible theatrical debut in the form of Baz Luhrmann's star-studded film, has been very exciting. The above quote doesn't get analyzed on forums or written about often - understandably, considering the hundreds of other genius literary moments in the novel - but, I've always found it to be a special one that seems to capture all of the feelings of thriving, passion and loneliness that I would imagine the roaring 20s held. And, it accurately depicts the dueling tones of The Great Gatsby's pages: success and demise, innocence and guilt, romance and longing.

This week, I re-read that favourite novel, and devoted a large chunk of time to listening to the unspeakably stacked Deluxe Edition soundtrack, produced by Jay-Z.

The highly anticipated soundtrack could have (and should have) been so much better. Some of the biggest names are the ones whose contributions fell flat. Although there are a few satisfactory sound cushions early into the collection - including distracting vampy balladry from Lana Del Rey, who was made for a film soundtrack like this, and Beyonce and Andre 3000's sexy spin on "Back to Black" - they almost aren't enough to recover from the disappointment of the soundtrack's first song, from the producer himself. Jay-Z's sleepy attempt to rhyme bits of the 20s storyline sounds forced, and the snippets of film chatter and waltzy instrumental soundbytes are, sadly, the only things that kept me listening intently for the entirety of the song.

After the compilation quickly dips in to some shallow, electro-infused dance floor contributions from the likes of various Black Eyed Peas and LMFAO members, a lackluster "Crazy in Love" ragtime cover flops, having just heard the real Queen Bey six songs back. I've always loved that Luhrmann decorates his whacky, modernized remakes with contemporary songs - and was actually excited for the film's dance tracks to have hip-hop, trance-filled moments - but the dance jams are unoriginal, especially when the background noises to Gatsby's lavish parties should have been flamboyant and special soundtrack moments. To match what F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote to be the most extravagant, shameless parties the decade would have seen - these songs needed to have layers of upbeat perfection.

The album momentarily redeems itself after Bryan Ferry's swanky and appropriate "Love is the Drug" jazz era number swings in, paving way for the xx's breathy, but typical and slightly out-of-place, "Together." A surprising golden moment came in the form of Gotye, an artist who I never would have expected on the album, but whose "Heart's a Mess" pulls off an aching croon and lyrical longing that narrates Gatsby's wild obsession with Daisy Buchanan in a bang-on way. Jack White's absolutely scorching rendition of U2's "Love is Blindness" marks one of the only moments when a big name actually pulled through; howling his way through the challenging chorus with more Robert Plant-style passion and fire than the entire soundtrack's vocals combined. 

While Florence always amazes me, and her lush ballads never go unappreciated - melodically, I was so disappointed that, what could have been the most moving anthem on the soundtrack, had little to no spine tingling moments. References to the novel ("There's a green light in my eyes/ Cry and cry and cry over the love of you/ You're a hard soul to save, with an ocean in the way") earn extra points for encapsulating Daisy's inner struggle, but the musical progression of the song is full of Florence tricks we've heard before. In terms of brave, cinematic moments, she oddly hit it further out of the park on the Snow White soundtrack.

Thank goodness the album ends on a moving (although, lyrically depressing) note with Sia's beautiful closing statement, "Kill and Run." Her effortless vocals are exquisitely tragic on this piano ballad, with the help of melancholy symphony and lots of subliminal last chapter references. When scanning the song listing prior to listening, I have to admit I was really excited to see the Australian spark plug contributed her syrupy jazz vocals; she's always had a sultry vocal presence that could lend a rich, emotive note to any film, in my mind.

In the end, the soundtrack could have lost the fluff (Nero, Coco O, Emlie Sande) and should have whipped its leading ladies and gentleman (Jay-Z, Florence,, Fergie, Q-Tip) into shape on this momentous soundtrack opportunity. Although I have the utmost respect for Hova's brilliance in every new endeavor, an epic novel calls for more epic sounds. But, then again, maybe it will somehow work wonders on the big screen. I guess I'll believe it when I hear it.

The Great Gatsby opens tomorrow in Canada. Here are four songs I hit it off with:

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Boxer Rebellion: Bringing New Songs to Toronto

The Boxer Rebellion have had a wee bit of a rocky ride. After the London-based indie quartet's inception in 2005, the band was supposed to head on tour with The Killers (although now disbanded, that year was definitely the height of the band's popularity), but was forced to cancel due to lead singer Nathan Nicholson's ruptured appendix while on tour with The Raveonettes. Upon returning to the scene with their debut LP Exits, their Poptones label imploded and the band have survived independently ever since.

None of that really stopped them, though. As of next week, they're back with a lush new release, Promises, which is the follow-up to 2011's critically-acclaimed The Cold Still. I recently had "Diamonds" sent to me, and if the first single is indicative of the group's latest direction, The Boxer Rebellion might finally peak above the radar line they've been hovering around for the past few years. While maintaining the same emotive indie-rock knack that still channels The National or Travis', Nicholson's voice boasts a calm confidence and maturity on the darker new single; maybe because the tune's toe-tapping drums and layers of reverberating guitars are ready for bigger venues, and bigger things. Whether or not the band can top the heaps of rich, romantic indie-rock available in these times is to be determined, but with a new tour and Billy Bush-produced album, the wheels are in motion.

The Boxer Rebellion are scheduled to play The Opera House with Fossil Collective on May 24, 2013. See you there.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Miguel and Mariah Carey Release The Perfect Pop Song

So, when I received my industry news digest earlier this week, I momentarily glanced over a Mariah Carey and Miguel collaboration - because, a young and old R&B icon will inevitably pair up at some point and we can all guess what that will sound like. I sort of expected the duet, from them or a similar pair, sooner or later - and I kind of expected it to be a train wreck. Wrong.

When I got around to listening, what I didn't expect was the song itself. Just a simple and breezy summer anthem, filled with delectable hooks and kind lyrics - "#Beautiful" just happens to feature the voices of impossibly talented R&B superstars who are easily capable of every vocal riff and glitzy production trick in the book. Instead, their big presences coast harmoniously under the radar of the song's beachy pop-rock melody.

Similar to Miguel's "Do You?" off his own Kaleidoscope Dream, the catchy throws back to a charming period of sweet Motown-infused R&B that's a welcome departure from the trance and production-heavy charts nowadays. Through the rustle of dusty-sounding guitars and jangly tambourines, Miguel's howl is oh-so-handsome and Mariah's interjection halfway through the song is lovely and uncharacteristically subdued.

I would have expected the sound of this sunny song to appear at some point throughout the hot months - I just didn't think it would be from these two. What might be the song of this summer, "#Beautiful" is cute, warm and a wisely unexpected move from both of the otherwise racy hit-makers. If I was proved wrong by more popular music headlines, the radio would be a whole lot more interesting.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Favourite Song: Lana Del Rey's "American"

Although this particular song isn't really new, I figured I should post about it, seeing as it's been a long time since I've fallen so in love with a tune. I don't know what it is about Lana Del Rey's old Hollywood-like theme songs - and I've closely followed her career from the very get-go - but with each new release, I really do enjoy her more. Despite the fact that her music continues to spawn so many predictable elements - vampy vocals, theatrical, patriotic lyrics and anthemic melodies - she manages to add delightfully to her self-proclaimed "gangster Nancy Sinatra" (a moniker that, despite making no sense, somehow makes bits of sense) sound with each cheeky plea.

On "American," which was released with her Paradise Deluxe Edition in late 2012, the longing starlet is airy and vulnerable again - telling the familiar story of falling starry-eyed in young love with an idealistic rebel. The lyrics, cooed like a short storybook in their nostalgic narrative, are carelessly liberating, as usual ("Be young, be dope, be proud") - but it's hardly the foreseeable messaging that gets me. It's the gorgeous melody - transitioning between triumphant moments and delicate, shimmering ones - that's so dreamy and brilliant from start to finish. Well, and the fact that she says, "Springsteen is the King, don't you think?" Extra points, always.

I also think the notes of this song bear an uncanny (like, uncanny) resemblance to Hans Zimmer's Pearl Harbour score, which I was always pretty taken by. Right?

Friday, May 3, 2013

TGIF: A-1 and Ryan Hemsworth Remix "Summertime Sadness"

A-1 "Summertime Sadness"

Lana Del Rey's "Summertime Sadness" played a huge part of my playlists last summer, so, I couldn't have been more thrilled when one of my favourite Canadian producers, Ryan Hemsworth, took a mindblowing creative stab at it in March. And then Bay Area emcee A-1 came in and mixed that remix - so, really, it might be time to rename this version "Summertime Radness"? (Sorry...)

Rhyming bravely over top of Del Rey's sultry, sad whisper - which has already been wickedly deformed by DJ Hemsworth's heavy dub beat and spooky synth - A-1 gasps for breath in between his seamless flow and commentary on the spiked rates of mindless violence in the summer months. "God*amn this sadness, you know it's madness/ But we gonna keep on bangin'/ Until we get past this." 

A dope beat, incredible sample, and important, socially-charged message. Rap, ladies and gentleman. TGIF.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

R&B Breakout Artist: SZA

I really do love this era of music. Trip-hop, hipster-hop, alt-R&B - or whatever else you want to call it - is happily blending into the mainstream, mixing pop, electronic, soul and rhymes to reach above-ground and underground audiences who are thirsty for something they can equal parts dance, kiss or cry to, depending on the situation. It seems like weekly, some young gun stirs up something unique and is heralded the next Solange or Theophilus London, thanks to their less conventional approach to a genre that's typically featured standardized radio-ready elements.

While I'm always open to another Devonte Hynes or Jessie Ware, only every now and again does one of these beat-savvy, crooning artists-to-watch really captivate me, showing early onset symptoms of their own superstar potential and production knack. Within 25 seconds of listening to 23 year-old SZA's (born Solana Rowes) debut EP S, I was just about positive that her magical downtown R&B grooves were something to keep a close ear on - similar to the first time I heard Frank Ocean or Blood Orange. Making music for only less than a year, the EP's golden standout, "Aftermath," is a trippy dream of a ballad, her breathy vocals cascading over a kick-drum beat and sparkling 90s synth. Alternating between oddity confessions ("I am not human/ I am made of bacon/ Fairytales/ Pixie dust/ I don't feel") and brave romantic honesty ("You leave me careless/ I like it") - the fearless leader of this storybook track demonstrates she's already way beyond her years. On "Castles," her effortless pipes are fresh and vulnerable, matching the foundation's jangly beat and dream sequence vibe. Warped beats and her vocal licks on "Pray" are noticeably darker than the chillwave brightness heard on "Ice.Moon," a track where SZA's pipes swirl high above the wonky melodic sparkle and bass - confidently telling her subject, "Go to church if you're scared."

I equate discovering SZA to an R&B awakening; she's weird, hopeful and happy to lay it out for you in a creamy soul track and ear-catching array of beats. SZA was quoted to say she's determined to maintain her musical independence throughout her career, saying, "I can literally architect my own life." I mean, this is really true for all of us - but in SZA's case, with one EP under her arm, she's on the path to building herself something that won't waver anytime soon.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Daughter Covers Daft Punk

Easily the most addictive slice of modern disco goodness on the charts these days, Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" has quickly become an international anthem for party-goers young and old. With the flashy appeal of its disco heyday beat and Pharrell Williams' famed R&B croon, I guess it's been determined the electro-pop treat is nearly impossibly for anyone to dislike.

And, if for some reason you don't like it - you know, it's too funky or something (?) - then you now have the  refuge of French duo Daughter's somber cover of the upbeat hit, which they recorded in BBC Radio 1's lounge just a few days ago. Darker instruments, a scattered beat and Elena Tonra's shaky songbird vocals are what give this slowed-down cover its substance - and I think it's safe to say that not only will this be the first of many covers of this wild dance floor favourite, but it will probably be one of the best, too.


Daughter cover

Daft Punk original