Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Paolo Nutini's Best Music Yet

I have to say, while I've always understood the appeal of Scottish singer Paolo Nutini - I've never really taken to some of his poppier past releases. That's not to say they weren't good - or that I couldn't recognize how absolutely unbelievable his young pipes were when the hit the scene seven years ago - but, I just always felt indifferent towards him.

Until now. I listened to his newest release, Caustic Love, when it first came out and nearly had the same nonchalant reaction to it - despite the fact that it is still sitting at #1 on the UK charts. But, after a few listens, and some persistent (read: forceful) repeats played for me by a friend of mine - I've been able to come around to the fact that this is certainly Nutini's most groundbreaking material yet. While some of the Caustic Love songs dabble in lighthearted pop territory, there's so much more depth than was ever gained before - specifically on songs like "Better Man," "One Day," and, most obviously, the slow-burning new classic "Iron Sky." The handsome Scot's growl - which dabbles in Curtis Mayfield or Charles Bradley territory - is explosive over the deep soul melody; one that's flawlessly fleshed out through the grit of echoing guitars and a full horn section. It's real, hard soul, and it's evidence that although he's been undeniably talented for years now - Nutini has finally arrived.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Fleetwood Mac

You know, sometimes, when you're having a rough day - you just need a little Mac.

At just over two minutes, this is probably my favourite Fleetwood Mac song ever. And that's a hard statement to make - given the fact that classics like "The Chain," "Dreams," "Hold On," "Over My Head" and "Songbird" exist. But, "Never Going Back Again" puts me in just the right mood wherever I am - whether it's out for a jog, holed up on a rainy day or (what I'll be doing this weekend) cottaging with five of my best friends.

Like so many other Fleetwood songs, I strongly believe that almost every song from Rumours and their self-titled album would be a huge hit if released today; but, this one especially. The plucking chords of the hopeful ditty, crooned by Lindsey Buckingham (one of the biggest cuties to ever enter into music), would fit right into the booming folk-rock and Americana industry that's crept into the mainstream these past few years. Either way, at any age, this absolute classic sounds so perfect to me.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On The Rise Again: Chad VanGaalen

One of my favourite Canadian music oddballs, Chad VanGaalen, is set to release his newest album on April 29. One thing's for sure, the stream I've heard is initial proof that it's going to be another wild concoction of the inventive bits and pieces that solidified him as someone to watch when he was first picked up by Sub Pop in 2005.

On Shrink Dust, the Albertan's mixed bag of songs range from hypnotic psych-rock (Where Are You?) to choral folk (Lila and Weighed Sin) - all of which are drenched in a beautiful kind of melancholy, if not full-fledge darkness. But, that's what VanGaalen does with his self-produced albums; he somehow finds a way to make darkness sound lighthearted.

Looking forward to more of this comeback. Check out the full album stream over at Exclaim.ca.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Arkells Sing Motown

Everyone should be back from the long weekend now, myself included, and needing something to slap them out of their gloomy Tuesday daze. Enter one of my favourite bands, Arkells, and a special 7 inch vinyl called Arkells Sing Motown, which they released for this past weekend's Record Store Day.

Speaking as someone who's seen these covers performed live, let me tell you that this unsuspecting crew of Motown lovers are entirely up to the task of putting their own spin on a handful of soulful classics. The rock group clearly have an affinity for the genre - always sliding one or two old ditties into their upbeat repertoire and causing the crowd to go wild. Listen to the Hamilton boys concoct rock versions of both Stevie Wonder and Temptations hits here:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Boy & Bear, The Most Underrated Band

I took one of those stupid Buzzfeed quizzes yesterday. It was sent to me because it was supposed to determine, with 100 questions, how much of a music nerd or snob you are. I really don't consider myself one, because I don't rub music in people's faces (outside of this blog...) or provoke debate in public over asinine musical things. Sure, I love talking about music - but only in a lighthearted, anecdotal sort of way. As lame as that sounds. I really don't identify with a lot of people as interested in music as I am.

That being said, a few parts of that quiz I did check off - and all of them, in some way, apply to a band like the one above, and the songs from their under-celebrated (in North America) 2011 release, titled Moonfire. The quiz asked if I'd ever:

Forced someone to listen to something because you wanted to educate them.

✓ Acquired a copy of every single thing a band has ever released (everything).

✓ Remembered parts of your own life based mainly on what you were listening to at the time.

✓ Said “there’s nothing good on the radio.”

✓ Loaded your phone with new songs before a party or road trip, just in case?

A band like Boy & Bear garner a big ol' "hell yes" with all of these things. They're one of the most underrated bands I can think of. Sure, plenty of bands undeservedly fly under the radar - but, the thing is, Boy & Bear are actually not under the radar at all - down under in their homeland, at least. The Australian quintet, who've been around for about five years now, have scooped up every esteemed musical accolade available in their native Oz - yet, somehow, only played their first Canadian shows last month. When I saw them in Toronto, I was floored during every second of their robust live show. I mean really, really moved. There was certainly a gathering of other eager Canadian fans, seeing as their show was bumped from a smaller bar to mid-sized concert theatre, yet watching them only reminded me of how many people are oblivious to the effortless sounds penned by this folk-rock group.

Dave Hosking has probably my favourite singing voice out there today (huge statement). Their instrument-packed ballads make time slow down a little. But, I've never heard them on the radio and often have to send people a roster of their songs to acquaint them with the band I constantly rave about. I own everything they've ever released, and still find myself scouring the internet for more. I associate them with every bit of my adult life, in some way or another, and last (but not least) - I'll be taking them with me this weekend on a roadtrip with friends. So, maybe I didn't qualify as a music nerd, but when it comes to this group of handsome and talented Aussies - I will shamelessly nerd out any day. They deserve that much.

Here are two old songs from their gorgeous debut album; coming-of-age classics that will most definitely stock my iPhone this weekend:

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Last Night in Toronto: The War on Drugs

In my line of work, I'm not really allowed to fan girl (openly) at the sight of musicians or bands. But, last night, as we shivered in line under the dark of Bloor Street following an hour-long blackout, and The War on Drugs front man Adam Granduciel lit up on the curb next to me - I found it surprisingly hard not to get a little weird.

The front man and already-legendary guitarist has been one of my most admired musicians for about five years now, and seeing him there, so accessible and unsuspecting as he sucked back a pre-show smoke - his presence felt oddly surreal. Maybe even more surreal considering my refreshed love for War On Drugs following what, I think is, the best album of their career - and maybe even the year.

Lost in the Dream was even more spectacular than I could have imagined, rattling and electric from atop a live stage. Despite the 1.5 hour delayed start and his own perfectionist set-up routine, Granduciel was flawless. His fingers were fire and his chords alight. His voice was like milk and somehow managed to peel over top of his acrobatic shredding. Every melody felt timeless and the stuff of history-making.

I feel this often, but especially last night, I was unable to understand the tiny pockets of frozen concert goers who weren't as much as twitching to the infectious, real rock. My body vibrated, head unhinged from my neck, riff-after-riff, sax solo after sax solo. Every time he softly squealed a pretty highway rock anthem, I was alive - wondering if the grand, stadium-ready new songs felt suffocated by the four theatre walls of Lee's. For probably the first time since I last saw Springsteen, I felt like rock 'n roll was alive and impossibly well.

Go see on The War on Drugs if you know what's good for your heart, brain and every muscle. Here's a performance that drove me wild.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

New Black Keys single: "Turn Blue"

In continuing to build anticipation around their forthcoming album Turn Blue, The Black Keys dropped the second single of the same title yesterday morning - re-affirming that the new release might actually double as a contemporary take on a 1970s crime drama soundtrack. The midtempo blues track packs echoey drums and psychedelic guitar into a slow-strutting four minutes, along with other slick effects that paint a moodier, sleepless-night-kind-of picture when held against the sexier first single.

One thing's for sure: neither the upbeat or downbeat cool of either single, with their funky background bass lines, have really made it clear what the direction of Turn Blue is looking like at this point. While both tracks have separate intrigue, I'm still anxiously waiting for something that knocks me off my feet, the way the duo have managed to in past albums. Who knows though? That moment could still be buried deep in Turn Blue's song listing, which is one of the many reasons I'll be snatching it up on May 13.

Friday, April 11, 2014

TGIF: New Music from Ray Lamontagne

I couldn't think of a better way to start a warm, productive Friday. It's a lovely day to be alive, and I'd like to think this song playing is one of the reasons.

American singer-songwriter Ray Lamontagne's fifth album Supernova is shaping up to be something pretty special. Produced with the golden touch of The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, each new single is more evidence that Lamontagne is taking a 70s-inspired route with this new release. On the first self-titled single, he toys with colourful, Van Morrison-sounding chords that set an upbeat tone. But, with "Airwaves" (which I can't get enough of), Lamontagne strips down to smooth bossa nova plucks and airy whispers - all of which are groovy enough to seduce someone four decades ago, or now.

Listen to Lamontagne breathe his way through this gorgeous ditty, and look out for the new album on May 6.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Two Old Gems from The National

I remember my first summer after high school, sitting in my Mom's living room reading some (now discontinued) music magazine that had come with a compilation mix. I tore the plastic disc out of the fold and scanned the song list, seeing existing favourites on there - My Morning Jacket, Sufjan Stevens, Franz Ferdinand - before coming across a band called The National. Never heard of 'em.

I trotted up to my room, popped in the CD and sat cross-legged while Matt Berninger's baritone growl purred through my speakers. I remember thinking his register was so unique, that it was almost goofy; the voice had to be coming from some large, theatrical figure. As the melody flowed on, it became evident that a vocal like this one was the only possible option to accompany the sounds I was hearing: grandiose, romantic arrangements that dipped into quiet, haunting territory before flaring back up, like explosions of fireworks in the sky popping over and over again. The voice, although already iconic in my ears, became only a part of this genius equation that hadn't been written in my books previously. Within a few minutes of "Lit Up," The National were one of the greatest things I'd ever heard.

It's nice to remember little musical moments like that one. I always liken them to the first time our parents heard Robert Plant yowl or Bruce Springsteen preach from a 45. I am 100% confident I'm able to compare The National to the aforementioned legends, because their brilliant 15-year career is really only getting started.

Tomorrow, I see the Brooklyn rockers for the fourth time, and I can guarantee I'll be just as giddy as the starry-eyed 17 year-old who felt like she struck gold.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Coldplay Drops "Magic" Video

If we're going off number of unabashed repeats and the inability to tire of it, I would easily say that Coldplay's "Magic" is one of my favourite songs of the year so far. Really. The downtempo vibe, starry melody and Chris Martin's sexy whisper have definitely made it one of the more intriguing Coldplay songs released in some time.

And, while it's a little goofy in concept, I love that they dropped a music video to accompany the song yesterday. I miss the days of real music videos - you know, the ones with storylines that made it impossible to turn away from the weekly countdown and that couldn't be found on YouTube. From about 1980 to the first decade of the millennium, music videos and television were such an essential pairing, and I find it a little sad that kids growing up today have missed the opportunity to understand how significant it was, because so many music channels play such shitty shows 'round the clock. Oh well. In fear of out-aging myself, here's the video, if you'd like to see.

PS. Chris Martin has never looked better? Clearly he's been having some of whatever Pharrell's serving up.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Finally: New Music from Arkells


It's about time!

Since Arkells' 2012 JUNO-celebrated release, Hamilton's finest are finally back with a little taste of what's to come on their forthcoming third album. Only minutes ago, the band released the official lyric video for the first single "Never Thought That This Would Happen" - an easy listening rock jam that sounds every bit as Arkells as any mega-fan like myself would want. With bouts of strings, ELO-reminiscent whining guitar and an excellent bridge that shows off front man Max Kerman's soulful scream - this harmony-packed tune is an exciting next step forward for the Canadian indie darlings.



Friday, April 4, 2014

Contest Alert! Tickets to Steam Whistle UNSIGNED and Gift Pack

We've made it through the week! So, let's celebrate with free things. The most important things, of course, being music and beer.

Next  Friday, April 11th, Steam Whistle will host another installment of their amazing indie music series UNSIGNED here at the Toronto Brewery’s Beer Hall. Steam Whistle - which also happens to be one of my very favourite beers - is an active supporter of independent Canadian musicians and is now in its seventh year of running their UNSIGNED concert series in an attempt to showcase worthy unsigned Canadian bands. Amazing, right? UNSIGNED alumni include Wildlife, Bravestation, The Darcys, Maylee Todd and The Balconies, to name a few.

Next Friday's show will feature indie rockers Jane’s Party, Young Guv (solo project of Ben Cook, band member of Fucked Up/Yacht Club and formerly a member of No Warning), and Blonde Elvis (fronted by Jesse James Laderoute of Unsigned Alumni Young Mother).

I had a quick chat with Blonde Elvis front man Jesse James Laderoute, who had a few interesting things to say about the series and his music:

JH: Why are you excited to participate in Steam Whistle's UNSIGNED series?

JJL: I’ve played at Steam Whistle before as part of Young Mother, and they were so generous and respectful to the bands. It's nice to feel appreciated.

JH: When you sit down to write a song, what kind of sound are you aiming for at this point in your career?

JJL: I want my songs to swagger around drunk in exultant wonder at the improbable fact that anything can exist - let alone myself, or a song, for that matter.

JH: Interesting. And what are your thoughts on the state of Canadian indie music right now?

JJL: Toronto, in particular, is finally getting some of the respect it deserves internationally. A lot of my friends' bands are doing very well, and I’m so happy for them. Ten years ago that sort of thing seemed impossible. I'm happy for Toronto, because I love my city. Vote Chow.

JH: Amen to that. What can we look forward to out of Blonde Elvis in the coming months?

JJL: We're ready to release our debut single in advance of an LP that should be finished in the next few months. And we're hoping to premiere it before the show, because why not?

JH: Exciting! Lastly, if Blonde Elvis were to cover any song, what would it be?

JJL: ‘St. Anger’ by Metallica because "f*ck it all and fuckin' no regrets." 

I'll be giving away a Steam Whistle Unsigned Gift Pack to one lucky reader - which includes a pair of tickets to the show, refreshment tickets and sweet Steam Whistle merch (bottle opener, Unsigned t-shirt and brewery tour vouchers). All you have to do is leave a comment below. Good luck!

For more information, visit http://www.steamwhistle.ca/unsigned/.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Mat Kearney's "Dancing in the Dark"

Last night, looking over the brightly lit skyline from my balcony, I poured a tall glass of red, tossed on this song and sat down for what felt like the first time all day. It's always amazing to have quiet moments in the dark in an otherwise hectic city.

That peaceful perch was a nice reminder of how much I love Mat Kearney's acoustic take on Springsteen's classic.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Best New Track: Drake's "Draft Day" Samples Lauryn Hill

Two things.

Whenever I'm feeling like I need that extra je ne sais quoi, I excitedly toss on Lauryn Hill's "Doo Wop (That Thing)" and let the rap/R&B anthem pick me (and women everywhere, let's be honest) right up.

And, don't get me wrong, I was all over Drake's 2013 release, Nothing Was The Same, but I keep finding myself thinking that every track Drizzy has dropped post-album has been far more interesting. Present case, also known as "Draft Day," included.

Sampling the famed doo-wop vocal that carried us to the bridge of Lauryn's debut solo single in 1998 - and (thankfully) leaving out his own auto-tuned croon for a hot minute - Drizzy's new leak infuses a deep, hard-hitting beat that will have your neck popping while he spits his piece. Cleverly calling out The Hunger Games, J-Law and timely sports references - everything about this lyrically amusing, but tame, track is totally legit. It's safe to say that as of 10:30 pm last night, I can't get enough of it.

Happy hump day.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Favourite Song Right Now: CATHEDRALS' "Harlem"


Coming off the blogosphere success of their excellent debut single "Unbound," San Francisco boy/girl duo CATHEDRALS recently dropped "Harlem" - and with this, they certainly won't remain indie's best kept secret for much longer.

With their first string-embedded electro-pop single and now this undeniably feel-good power ballad - Cathedrals apparently have the sounds of warm weather up their sleeves with their forthcoming EP. Layering happy synth and frontwoman Brodie Jenkin's effortless croon, a subtle reggae vibe coasts underneath that explosive sunny guitar (which weirdly resembles the pop equivalent of The Pixies' "Where is My Mind?").

This is some of the most addictive ear candy I've stumbled across in ages, and with bang-on releases like this, I can't wait to watch CATHEDRALS quickly gain the traction they deserve.