Monday, September 30, 2013

Groovy Monday: Storm Queen

"Day after day after day - it goes on."

Those work-appropriate lyrics, mixed with the funky, downtempo beat of this soulful dance track, are making my non-stop Monday feel a little more bearable. Take a listen to this infectious Storm Queen groove and tell me you aren't suddenly elated that the chaos of your post-weekend office is slowly winding down. What a tune!

Friday, September 27, 2013

TGIF: Lucy Schwartz's "My Friend"

When I was a kid listening to music, I loved the feel-good elements of old school pop songs. With bands like The Beach Boys and The Supremes, I ate up every energized clap-beat, delectably sugary harmony, whistling choir or foot tap I heard - promising myself that if I ever made it in the big leagues, I'd write a song that layered all of these onto each other. It could have been my kindergarten teachings at a time when xylophones and finger snapping were highly encouraged - but my toddler cup of tea included just about any girl troop or syrupy 60s undertone.

On this crisp, sunny Friday, you could say I had an extra hop in my step after riding into work on the high of Los Angeles' Lucy Schwartz's brand new single, "My Friend" - a tune that brings me right back to my kids-on-a-rope music days. The short, but oh-so-sweet, contemporary Shirelles-style ditty is a grown-up spin on sassy playground declarations. The "you'll never be my friend" singer balances 1990s Beck-reminiscent percussion and boardwalk piano with her girl-group harmonies - creating what just might be the edgiest little doo-wop of the fall.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Best New Music: Moby's "Innocents"

When I first put on an album, I can only hope to have the type of reaction I had within the first 80 seconds of Moby's Innocents. That visceral reaction to the sonic landscape I'm wading through – a gut feeling, an overwhelming wave of emotion as the melody progresses and an urge to share the feeling right away – is what I consider to be the homerun of first listens.

Innocents, electronic mastermind Richard Melville Hall's 11th album and the most collaborative release to date, is nothing less than consistently intriguing. The first bundle of Innocents’ tracks are versatile, yet stunning; song-after-song solidifying the emotional accessibility felt after the first minute. "Everything That Rises," the instrumental that begins with the dusty pangs of a sitar before blossoming into one of the artist’s coined synth swells, melodically immobilizes you outright in the way that some of the Play’s wordless balladry did in 1999. Compared to uninviting contemporary electronic, Innocents' expansive instrumentation and gorgeous vocal cameos are universally emotional without sacrificing any of Moby’s experimentation or quirks.

After the beauty of the first track fades, Moby invites his friends to play. Raspy Canadian Al Spx (Cold Specks) is haunting and soulful on the second song and first single, “A Case for Shame,” in which she softly rumbles over fluttering piano and a shadowy downtown beat (she shows up similarly down the line on “Tell Me”). Possibly my favourite track is the Damien Jurado-led “Almost Home” - a heartening blend of his tenor and strings that’s one of his more unequivocally pretty and less challenging tracks. The astounding piano-guided ballad “Going Wrong” momentarily rests the album on a downtempo voiceless note with dramatic keys and strings that sound right out of a film score.

Swinging back up into buoyancy, Moby exchanges verses with Flaming Lips ringleader Wayne Coyne on the celebratory, choir and clap-orchestrated “The Perfect Life” – a track that’s just as much soulful as it is deliciously poppy. Moby adds female pop vocalist Skylar Grey to achily sing against a “Honey”-reminiscent blues singer sample on “The Last Day,” resembling the angsty electro-rock pioneered in Nina Persson or Shirley Manson’s mid-90s efforts. “A Long Time” is one of the album’s most typically Moby tracks – balancing eccentric samples and Kavinsky-style synth thumps, while never losing an ounce of cohesiveness. Innocents winds down appropriately once Mark Lanegan’s vibrato baritone drifts in and around the dazzling, revelatory “The Lonely Night,” ending on a dimmer note than the album started – something I expected after the stellar intro.

Despite straying from envelope-pushing musical territory, this album is anything but boring or unfocused; every song remains melodically and lyrically in reach, without layering pop elements out of desperation to find new listeners. It satisfies those of us who’ve stayed with him, and it engages those who can’t connect to modern oddball electronica. Throughout the robust Innocents collection, and all of its guests, I never once lose sight of Moby.

The album, out on Arts & Crafts on October 1, can be streamed on NPR.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Post-Polaris '13: Colin Stetson Enamored

Last night was a trip.

Working at the 2013 Polaris Prize gala last night, I obviously had a number of pre-conceived notions of which short-listed artists I thought were worthy of assuming the coveted title. Listening to the various critics' rationales, personal opinions and visceral reactions to the artistic merit behind each nominated album proved interesting; some well-argued positions I strongly agreed with, while others, I just couldn't get on board with. Going into the gala, I was hoping that A Tribe Called Red's album - the First Nations music and dance-blended release that I thought most meaningfully represented triumph in Canadian music this year - would take home the grand prize.

While I remained fairly unwavering in my choice, being surrounded by so many thoughtful, passionate and differing opinions - all while catching glimpses of the extraordinary performances - had me back and forth and up and down, and eventually strongly leaning towards Colin Stetson's influential (and athletic) experimental jazz album, New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light. While I'd listened to (and really enjoyed) this album before, some very assured opinions reminded me of its genius, and the special role it played in Canadian music this year.

The Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Feist and TV On The Radio (to name a few) band member's long pieces of saxophone-driven instrumentation are challenging; they can be dark and chaotic, while also melodically uplifting. Thanks to his rigorous touring and fitness routines, Stetson is able to produce uninterrupted and intricate wind suites that include acrobatic rallies with the album's guest vocalists, including Justin Vernon. Although the complicated bouts of saxophone gymnastics might be too oddball and inaccessible for an unsuspecting listener - I think that, outside of the sheer impressiveness of Stetson's musical athleticism, this music is actually brilliant.

Not for everyone, but certainly for me. Here's a taste of Stetson, who didn't receive the prize, but deserves another tremendous nod:

Monday, September 23, 2013

Happy Third Birthday, In The Round.

Happy Birthday, baby! Three years ago I fulfilled every writer cliche while sitting in Starbucks, toying around with a Blogger template, feverishly penciling different blog names into a notebook - all the while wondering if I would actually end up writing on this thing at all. I knew I wanted an open forum to share sounds that didn't entail forcing suggestions onto friends and strangers alike. But, after one other lacklustre blogging attempt, I had no way of knowing if I would actually stick with it. 

Sure enough, three years and hundreds upon hundreds of posts and songs later, my little music portal is still happily kicking. I'll forever go to bed at night or wake up every day brimming with excitement to tell people about something new, or remind them of something old, that I genuinely think they need to hear. 

People ask me all the time what prompted a life spent writing about music. I don't actively play any instruments. I can only sort of read music. I don't sing in a band on the side. Most of my passion for music comes from a peculiar place - a place that neither I nor those I grew up with can explicitly explain. It could have been the first time I heard Mariah Carey's voice, and wondered where those wild and grandiose sounds came from. It could have been my Mom's old Led Zeppelin and CCR cassettes that were heavily rotated at the kitchen stereo. It could have been a childhood spent pasted to MuchMusic, incessantly requesting songs from the local radio station with my brother or buying the soundtrack to every movie I watched. Either way, beginning at a young age, I cared intensely about what I heard around me; how it sounded, how it made me feel, the cultural effects it had on groups of people. I loved when something sounded gorgeous, and I still do.

I'm quite confident I'll always want to know more, hear more and find more songs that might change people's lives in the slightest, but loveliest, way. Thank you so much for visiting me here over the course of the past three years. Your continued interest in what I have to say, and your mutual support of what I think makes the world go 'round, is so special - and means more to me than words can express.

See you tomorrow.

(Here's one of my first very favourite songs.)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Kulkid Remixes Bon Iver

Although the ethereal "Flume" from Bon Iver’s debut album is going on five years old, French DJ Kulkid painted his electronic touch on the acoustic ballad just this past spring – repurposing it to sound shiny and new. While maintaining Justin Vernon’s haunting vocals and the reverberating guitar twangs, Kulkid expertly infused a melange of beats that knock and clap around the gorgeous original – opening doors to a more upbeat side of this melancholy classic.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

New Music: Lorde's "Team"

Damn, this kid is unstoppably catchy. 16 year-old (!) Ella Yelich-O’Connor, otherwise known as rising pop star Lorde, has just released the follow-up single to her wildfire first hit "Royals," and let me tell you - eight listens later, it's just as shamelessly addictive as her first radio hit. While the teenager's first edgy pop single was orchestrated by a dark beat and harmonic layers of her smoky vocals, "Team," written for her loved ones back home in New Zealand, is a more melodic and upbeat number which promises to be the fall friendship anthem for enthusiastic new fans. With a clap beat and lots of sunny synth, Lorde's attractive vocals are (again) completely on point and hardly indicative of her young age - and consistent goodies like these tell me we can all look forward to the rest of Pure Heroine's track listing.

Pick up her debut album on September 27 (on Universal).

PS. Today, this post about a New Zealand artist, goes out to my friend Joanna - who is currently missing in New Zealand and I'm hoping will be returned safely to her family soon. She's part of my "team," and she's in my heart.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Best New Music: Blood Orange's "Chamakay"

Well, this song is an absolute dream.

The newest single from Blood Orange, the moniker of musical jack-of-all-trades Devonte Hynes, is “Chamakay” – a mid-tempo retro piece carried by an all-star duet of Hynes himself and Chairlift’s leading lady Caroline Polachek. Throughout the beautiful ballad, Hynes' R&B soulfulness and Polachek’s breathy howl whirl together gorgeously over a barely-there, 80s-reminiscent tropical tap and synth - allowing for emphasis on their seamless vocal pairing. While Hynes has been actively working with Solange, Sky Ferreira and other rising indie stars, "Chamakay" is the first step back into creating his own Blood Orange magic, and will appear on Cupid Deluxe - the forthcoming follow-up to his rich 2011 debut. And, as an artist who's dipped his songwriting pen in everyone's ink pot these past few years, while being capable of stunning solo efforts like this, Hynes is quickly solidifying himself as one of the most refreshing - and sought after - talents in the business.

With regards to the equally striking Adam Bainbridge (of Kindness)-directed video, which features Hynes touring and vogueing his way through his mother’s native Guyana, the artist said: 
I decided to visit Georgetown, Guyana for the first time, the town where my mother is from. She, herself has not been back for 30 years, 3 years before I was born. I tracked down family members, including my 92 year old grandfather, who I had never met before. In this video you will see our first ever meeting.”

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Correatown: "Sunset & Echo"

Since I’m working out of another city this week, I figured one gorgeous dream-pop ballad would fit the bill until I’m back and actively perusing music news. This Correatown single is a goodie from the vault, but I’ve recently been all over it again and can’t wait to share. Let me tell you, it is just lovely to listen to above the clouds. Enjoy!



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

New Arcade Fire: "Reflektor"

On the heels of genius indie-rock collective Arcade Fire's secret show at Montreal's Club Salsathèque last night (the result of their "9/9/9" promotion) - let's (obviously) talk "Reflektor." The brilliant first dance-rock single from the band's forthcoming album of the same name is easily one of their coolest songs yet; not only because of the underground disco beat that screams producer James Murphy's influence (he's the LCD Soundsystem ringleader), or because David Bowie's bellowing vocal interjects alongside Win and Regine mid-song, but also because the captivating hype built by the modest band ended up being the farthest thing from a let down.

After a small album promo was released a week ago, devotees have been waiting with bated breath for more of the Montreal group's latest endeavour - a wait that's been only minorly appeased by lyric snippets, Bowie's guest vocal Facebook confirmation and talk of a limited two track vinyl. While anything is better than nothing, I think we can all agree that October 29th just needs to get here faster.

Here's the rad video for "Reflektor" (watch it quick before it gets taken down!), which was directed by renowned rock video director Anton Corbijn. Also, you can head on over to where you'll find a supposedly "interactive" video by filmmaker Vincent Morisset, which lets you control the video effects. This hasn't worked for me yet, but you might have better luck...

Long live Arcade Fire.


Monday, September 9, 2013

The Wild Feathers: "The Ceiling"

I only stumbled across the first sounds from The Wild Feathers' debut album recently, and I've been waiting for them to pick up speed ever since. "The Ceiling" is a little poppier than what I normally take to, but I'm so easily sold on any tune with layers of twang and spirited harmonies that I gave it a shot. Resembling a more anthemic Head and the Heart (sans female lead) song, this Americana Austin quintet's first single is full of kind lyrics and swelling instruments; a truly feel-good melody that would do well on radio, as well as a September countryside drive.

What do you think?


Friday, September 6, 2013

TGIF: Twin Shadow Covers The Boss

Ah, nothing like starting the weekend with a little Bruce cover. Especially when it's a cover of one of my very favourite Boss songs, "I'm on Fire," which I've coincidentally been treated to by a few different bands in recent weeks (Mumford & Sons took a whack at the hit during the finale of their Gentlemen of the Road set - I melted).

New Yorker George Lewis Jr., otherwise known as Twin Shadow, recently announced he'll be releasing cover songs monthly as part of a series called "UNDER THE CVRS". His spin on "I'm On Fire" is every bit as melodic as any take on the 80s classic should be, yet sounds wholeheartedly Twin Shadow under its shiny coat of new wave. Lewis' soulful voice hides behind the pulse of the synth and tapping beat for the short 2-minute cover, but is still audibly beautiful from start to finish.

Happy Friday!

PS Listen to his pretty "Not in Love" cover here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Best New Hip-Hop Track: Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean's "Sunday"


Earl Sweatshirt and Frank Ocean are just meant for each other right now.

While the other players in the rap game are more riled up and ready to spit fiery antagonism than they've been in years – these calm young guns and Kendrick cohorts (who teamed up on an equally bumping, but lethargic, “Super Rich Kids” last year) are content slow-cooking their disses to perfection on collaborations like this.

On “Sunday,” in typical Sweatshirt fashion, the 1994-born emcee's casual delivery slithers around a whirring sample and kickdrum thump – enunciating flawlessly on rundown rhymes like “my dreams got dimmer when I stopped smoking pot/... And loving you is a little different, I don't like you a lot.” His easy drawl is amusingly deceiving, though; although the wordsmithing sounds simple and sluggish to the untrained ear, clever word-after-word, the blasé 19-year old showcases exactly the opposite. Like Lamar, Earl is a natural-born whiz kid.

The 90s-reminiscent sample gets a sugary twist when Ocean’s (non-singing) verse drops – gleaming while he recounts memories with a cunning aim (“I mean he called me a f***ot/ I was just calling his bluff/ I mean how anal am I gonna be when I’m aiming my gun”). Like Sweatshirt’s, Ocean’s nonchalant turn at the mic is, again, more complex than a lazy listener might hear.  Disguised with calm demeanor and cool melody, Ocean shows up - rounding out a crafty victory for two masterminds good enough to forego the loudspeaker.



Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Best New Music: Múm's Smilewound

For about ten years, I've been in love with the delicate electronica from Icelandic group Múm - one of the countless Nordic practitioners of progressive songwriting (Sigur Ros and Bjork to name another few). Experimenting with oddball electro-pop for over 15 years, Múm are back with Smilewound - their sixth, typically peculiar but entrancing album that spotlights bouts of twinkling keyboard ("Slow Down" and "Underwater Snow") and sporadic glitch-pop ("One Smile") - flowing unconventionally, but beautifully, from the first beat onward.

Although Múm's dynamic new release is exactly as unique as fans would expect with their track record, Smilewound might be their most perfect balance of eccentricity and accessibility to date; the recipe to netting new followers and getting back on the map. So many "hot" new electronica and house acts are trying to do just what Múm's done here - weave in layers of orchestral magic, sonic weirdness and melody all into one and somehow make it cohesive - but Múm's trusted efforts and new tricks sound so much more effortless. Combining their own quirky history (the return of founding member Gyða Valtýsdóttir) with new ventures (a Kylie Minogue cameo) - I think Smilewound might be the late-career comeback no one saw coming.

Grab Smilewound on September 17.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

New Sleigh Bells: "Bitter Rivals"

Just in time for first semester, hallway rivalry and football games, electro-pop rebels Sleigh Bells have released the details of their forthcoming album Bitter Rivals and its title track - a typically Sleigh Bells stomp of a fight song that’s fit to rule school and its angsty cliques.

Like all of the Brooklyn duo’s previous singles, “Bitter Rivals” sticks to the same recipe that catapulted them to the spotlight in 2009 – swapping back and forth between rattling noise-pop, melodic instrumental breakdowns and the many voices of frontwoman Alexis Krauss. Whether berating us with her girly shouts or seductively cooing seconds later, Krauss remains a fearless ringleader in these formulaic and rhythmic rebel anthems – despite the fact that, without any real musical revolution or curve ball, the whole Sleigh Bells game is on its way to sounding a little tired. Look out for Bitter Rivals from Mom + Pop on October 8.