Tuesday, May 27, 2014

New Acoustic Arkells: 11:11

Well, I'm taking flight and heading across the country for the week! I'll be back to regularly scheduled posts next week, promise. In the mean time, here's a pretty new acoustic ditty from my favourite Hamilton boys, Arkells. I can't wait to hear what the original of this love song sounds like, but this heartfelt, stripped down version is more than enough to tide me over.

Enjoy! And, have a lovely week.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Matthew Barber's Standout New Song: "Hold Me"

And, the week of incredible new album streams continues. Before it hits the shelves next week, Matthew Barber’s latest release, Big Romance, is now streaming over at CBC - and it’s every bit as big, romantic and swoon-inducing as you’d expect from the talented Canadian singer-songwriter. I’ve always had a soft spot for Barber (my hometown being the place he got his start recording and playing music) and admired his uncomplicated, poetic balladry. On the new album, his soft croon is polished and enticing throughout each song – leading me to think this might be his best vocal performance yet.

In particular, his smooth vibrato is perfection on “Hold Me” – the album’s first (and standout) track that features fellow musician and sister Jill Barber. “Hold Me” has all the ingredients of a heartwarming classic – particularly that minimalist, but beautiful, piano melody and a chorus fit to leave any romantic listener weak in the knees. 

Take a listen to the charming tune below, and be sure to pick up a copy of Big Romance on Tuesday via Outside Music.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Jurassic 5 Sample White Stripes on First Single in Eight Years

I am in a terrific mood today. The sun is shining, my little blog got a tiny makeover this week (the extent of my coding skills) and Jurassic 5 just released their first song in eight years. Needless to say, this day is already everything I hoped for and more.

I love J5. Like so many other people my age, the Los Angeles hip-hop crew were a huge part of my growing up and into rap music; the accessible, feel good beats occupied all of my party playlists and I was certainly guilty of teen fan-girl-ing the few times I saw them live. I can’t even tell you how excited I am that this six-piece force has resurfaced.

Even better? They came back with a little White Stripes up their sleeves – sampling the Get Behind Me Satan single “My Doorbell” (an excellent choice) on the ludicrously catchy The Way We Do It. Sounding just as uniquely J5 as they did when they blasted into the underground in 1993, the late Heavy D-produced joint is like a sugar rush from first old-school beat and piano sample. Just when you think the wordplay couldn’t get better – Jack White’s croon swings in and the song slows down for a jazzy intermission, before picking you back up into head-bobbing bliss.

Oh, and if you can tear yourself out of the zone long enough to watch the dope video – you’ll be treated to a montage of upbeat behind-the-scenes footage and performances from the hip-hop vets. 

J5 goes on tour with Dilated Peoples (!) starting in June.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Listen to Reuben and the Dark's Debut Album 'Funeral Sky'

Last night, I found myself palpitating while flipping back and forth between all of the new available album streams on CBC Music. It actually became a bit too much; the new Sharon Van Etten, Neil Young, Owen Pallett and more were taunting me from their respective sections of the website - begging to be played at the same time. Free album streams have that attention deficit effect on me.

While all of those albums deserve major listens (evidenced in yesterday's post), I had to stop and prioritize Calgary indie-folk collective Reuben and the Dark's Funeral Sky over all else. I've been picking away at what's been available from these Arts & Crafts signees for nearly a year now, and was absolutely ecstatic to see that their much-anticipated debut album was finally available in full. Considering the noise the quintet have already made, the fact that this is only their debut LP - and it's only debuting now - is kind of shocking. I feel like I've known them forever.

But, alas, now I know them better. Decorated with prose about Reuben Bullock's upbringing as the son of a preacher, Funeral Sky's anthemic folk tales are captivating. Ranging from the gritty, soulful first and second singles "Rolling Stone" and "Black Water" to romantic dedications like "Shoulderblade" and "Can't See The Light" - Reuben's crew pull you deep into their reflections by the way of their wholesome harmonies and rich instrument selection.

Quite easily still the golden track, though, is an oldie from their repertoire - the grand ballad "Bow and Arrow," which I knew would remain a longtime favourite when I heard it about six months ago. "We go over the mountain and under the stars," is the beautiful, lullaby-like chant that sways alongside the melody - standing out as one of those lyrics that, like the band itself, will undoubtedly stand the test of time.

Funeral Sky is out May 27 via Arts & Crafts.

PS I'll be in British Columbia for the first time (!) next week - and something tells me the latter song will make a nice airplane anthem.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Powerful New Track: Sharon Van Etten's "Your Love is Killing Me"

The new Sharon Van Etten track isn't necessarily for the faint of heart - but then again, it somehow is for anyone who's ever been in, or newly out of, a poisonous relationship. Van Etten's slow-burning single is called "Your Love is Killing Me" - and despite that already strong statement, it's what Van Etten is practically asking of her lover in order to be put out of her longing misery. Her voice is hauntingly pure and assured as she chants over the marching drum beat, boldly exclaiming: "Break my leg so I can't walk to you/ Cut my tongue so I can't talk to you/ Burn my skin so I can't feel you/ Stab my eyes so I can't see you." Like I said, not for the faint of heart - but honest and potentially relatable for most flesh-and-blood human beings who've ever experienced a toxicity like this one.

In what might be one of the most mature departures of Van Etten's already esteemed career, her powerful vulnerability is time-stopping. It's possible the heartbroken ode could ruin your walking on sunshine, but if you're anywhere on Van Etten's page - I encourage you to give this explosive ballad a listen.

Sharon Van Etten's new album Are We There is out May 27 via Jagjaguwar.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Flashback Friday: Rural Alberta Advantage

Despite the fact that it's looked pretty ominous outside this past week, I can't help but believe that real summer warmth is right around the corner. And, with that, comes one of my favourite old songs to kick off the season: "In the Summertime" by Canadian indie-rockers Rural Alberta Advantage.

Off their debut full-length, Hometowns, this 2008 ballad is just the sweetest. I get so nostalgic for carefree, hot summers when I hear Nils Edenloff's croaky vocals and those adorable organ notes - and thought that the more I played songs like this, the more I'd be willing summertime to come and stay awhile.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Best Song of the Week: High Ends' "The Weight"

I became an avid follower of BC rockers Yukon Blonde back in 2010, and since then, mostly everything they've done I’ve been a major proponent of. Including this: front man Jeffrey Innes’ debut single as part of his new project, High Ends, titled “The Weight.” Released this week, in all of its retro radio rock glory, “The Weight” is laden with psychedelic guitar licks and glittery, futuristic synth that make it feel timeless. The best part, outside of that intoxicating melody, is the echoey, harmony-packed chorus driven by Innes' pure rock croon. I have a hard time not dropping everything and swaying, hands in the air, when that chorus rolls in.

Welcome to summer bliss, folks.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

CMW Aftermath: Chatting with Jordan Klassen

This week has already felt all too bare without nightly shows and chats with fantastic musicians. Going through my notes and audio clips these past few days, I'm already craving another magical event like Canadian Music Week to roll around - but, luckily, festival season and NXNE are just around the corner to fill the space.

Last Saturday, I was able to sit down with one of my favourite Canadian artists right now - Vancouver singer-songwriter
Jordan Klassen, who's still reeling from the success of his outstanding 2013 album, Repentance (easily one of my most overplayed records of last year), and subsequent touring. Jordan's songs boast a thoughtful maturity; the majestic, instrument-packed ballads are chock full of poetic musings and carried by Jordan's sometimes delicate, sometimes bold, set of pipes. This is music to make you feel.

Read what Jordan had to say about touring, CMW and next steps below. While you're at it, have a listen to a few of his outstanding numbers.

In The Round: How’s CMW going?
Jordan: Good, good – this will be our third show in less than 24 hours. And this is our third CMW in a row. I think the first time I came to CMW, I wanted to do all of the schmoozy stuff, but maybe now I’m more about playing the shows and just hanging out with my team.

ITR: This past year has been crazy for you.
Jordan: Yes, it has. In October/November of 2013 we did two cross-continent tours – back and forth twice. And then we did SXSW in March.

ITR: How do you feel about that much touring?
Jordan: I don’t know, it’s definitely fun. I like certain things about the road - I like having purpose and I like the travel; I like having something to do every day. You never feel useless. But I don’t like how there’s no routine; you’re tired all the time and can get to bickering a lot. It’s like the best and worst of your life, kind of.

ITR: It must have been a particularly wild ride, since your album Repentance was so well-received last year.
Jordan: Every tour, hopefully, gets better and is more well-attended with better venues. I think the release of the album brought a lot of new faces out. In music, you’re always waiting for the “event” of sorts – you want to give people a reason to come, and of course a new album is the best reason. It’s been kind of the biggest endeavour of our careers.

ITR: Why do you think this album really picked up traction?
Jordan: Well, this is my fourth album and I think that this time we have a real team. Business-wise we have a different approach; we have a label, management and booking agent. The songs have just gotten better too.

ITR: This album has a very “coming-of-age” feel to it – about being in your twenties and figuring it all out. Was that a long songwriting process for you or was there a particular life occurrence that led to writing Repentance?

Jordan: Songwriting for this one probably started in my late teens and continued into my early twenties. I need to work on being more disciplined. For me, a song will end up being a whole bunch of bits and pieces pulled together over time.

ITR: There are a lot of fads in music right now, but you stick to what works for you – very simple, melodic folk singer-songwriter sort of stuff. 
Jordan: I think you make what kind of music you like and what moves you. The only meter to tell if it’s good is if you respond emotionally to it. I’ve always been a melancholy, quiet sort of person. I need downers – there’s a lot going on in my head, so I tend to be drawn to music that brings peace to me.

ITR: You have a lot of James Mercer in your voice.
Jordan: I’ve gotten that a lot, yeah. That mixed with Sufjan Stevens.

ITR: What’s the difference between the Vancouver and Toronto music scene?
Jordan: Hmmm. Vancouver is more of a slow-paced life in general. If people like something, they really like it and they continue to support it. People in Toronto are really good listeners, and have very good opinions. They will go to almost anything, because everyone’s so creative and busy. I think Toronto is a more intimidating crowd.

ITR: When you’re in Toronto, where do you just have to go?
Jordan: barVolo on Yonge Street. I’m a huge beer nerd, so I always have to go there. Actually, I hope we go there tonight after our show.

ITR: Who would you collaborate with if you could?
Jordan: Anyone? I have so many people who I think are genuinely talented. Depends on the album, I think. But I love Joanna Newsom’s songwriting – she’s such a great wordsmith. It’s very whimsical and fairytale-like, which I think  my music kind of is, too.

ITR: What’s your favourite album right now?
Jordan: Aventine by Agnes Obel. We saw her at an old church at SXSW and it was amazing.

ITR: What’s next?
Jordan: We're two weeks into a six-week tour and then we have some festivals this summer. I want to release a few singles this summer and start work on a new record for early 2015. I guess just really writing and making some decisions about what kind of album I want to record. All good things.

Thanks for the chat, Jordan!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

New Arkells: "Come to Light"

Arkells just dropped the second single off High Noon, which is set to arrive on July 5, and unlike the slow-burning first single - "Come to Light" is a betcha-can't-listen-just-once jolt of energy.

Front man Max Kerman's handsome vocals call over sweet piano keys and a hurried "Boys of Summer" beat, leaving me positive that this addictive tune and the rest of High Noon will be staples in forthcoming hot weather playlists.

On the meaning of "Come to Light," Kerman says: "Loud and hard, the rain came down like it meant it. Our van's window wipers worked furiously. It was summer, the band was on the road somewhere in the northeast, and we were driving through a torrential rain storm. Mike couldn't see more than five feet in front of us, and if you spoke at a normal volume you wouldn't be heard. There's always a moment though — in the split second you drive through an underpass — where you find a moment of serenity. It's calm, peaceful and quiet. And then boom — you're back in the shit. 'Come to Light' is about finding that moment and holding on to it."

So happy they're back.

Monday, May 12, 2014

CMW Aftermath: Chatting with Blue Sky Miners

Canadian Music Week is over at last - and, realizing that I won't be able to hop around to dozens of venues each night uncovering endless sounds is a little bittersweet. While I'm excited to catch up on shut-eye, I'm more excited to revisit some of the fantastic conversations I was able to have this past weekend with participating bands. Everything felt alive last week; music was an undeniable, pulsing presence in Toronto - in everywhere from secret lofts, to hat shops and concert halls - and there was no way everyone involved didn't feel totally inspired in the process.

Myself and these guys included.

I was lucky to see Toronto-based Blue Sky Miners not once, but twice, on Friday night. The folk and roots group (made up of Jena Gogo, Jay Mitchell, Eric Duquette, Mark Lavoie and Stefan Hegerat) span from Canadian coast to coast and have already made a name for themselves less than a few years after finding each other in venues and Craigslist ads. Having played hot spots including Cameron House, Lee's Palace and Silver Dollar, the Miners are about to get back in the studio and pen more of those feel-good ditties for audiences to two-step to. Check out my quick Q&A with lead vocalists Jena Gogo and Jay Mitchell below - and take a listen to their heartwarming single "Three" while you're at it.

In The Round: How has CMW been going?
Jena: Honestly, so amazing. This time last year we didn’t have anything together – and this year we didn’t have much together either – but the Silver Dollar offered us a spot and we decided to just go for it. Then, we decided to make the most of it by including another semi-secret show at the hat shop and a secret loft show.

ITR: And how did Blue Sky Miners even come together?
Jena: Jay and I kept finding each other in the weirdest settings. Jay has literally been writing his whole life, and I’ve been performing my whole life. It just made sense – and then I posted a Craigslist ad looking for the rest of the band (laughs) and thankfully, a guitarist like Eric came along.
Jay: This is something very natural for Jena. It’s in every fiber of her being, and that shows when she comes on stage. She picks me up and inspires me as a vocalist – and I’m able to be a better lyricist because of that.

ITR: You two have been through a lot as co-vocalists. What can we say about that?
Jena: We’ve had real ups and downs this last year and a half, and tested each other. It hasn't always been pretty. But, it’s come down to finding the real, honest beauty in each other and making things work - really hustling to get music out there. And, this whole thing would have broken down by now had it not been for Eric coming along, and then Stefan coming along, and then Mark coming along.
 Jay: We've definitely been at each other before, but this is such a solid, inspiring, genuine musical partnership. Our band as a whole is just a lot of really creative people coming together.

ITR: Tell me about the song "Three." I mean, that's a hit and a half. I've listened to it so many times this past week - it's ridiculous.
Jena: I thought I noticed a huge spike in our Soundcloud!
Jay: That was the first song that the three of us ever wrote together. We were sitting up on the third floor of our apartment and Eric started playing that guitar groove. I remember walking down the stairs and yelling at him to record that right away, and the rest is history.

ITR: What’s next?

Jay: To the studio!
Jena: We have our studio, engineer and we’ve decided on the songs for a second EP. We’ve been writing more prolifically than ever before.
Jay: CMW has been a great platform to test out the new songs and put those to work. People have been so receptive.

ITR: What music have you been loving in 2014?
Jena: We’ve been digging Half Moon Run and St. Vincent. And Beyonce. I’m just so inspired by the feminine uprising. I don't mean women rising up and being better - I mean just collaborating and celebrating all of these different sides of women. When women are wild and different, it's now no longer just a "mood" they're in.

ITR: Agreed! What’s an instrument you need to incorporate that you haven’t already?
Jay: Trumpet.
Jena: Harmonica

ITR: A song you need to cover immediately?
Jena: Joga by Bjork.
Jay: The Chain by Fleetwood.

ITR: Essential late night, post-CMW food in Toronto?
Jay: Sneaky Dee’s!

ITR: A famous musician walks into a bar and decides to play a song with you. Who?
Jay: Jack White, no questions asked.
Jena: Oh, f*ck yeah.

ITR: Where’s the spot to grab a drink post-show?
Jena: Bar Radio for a beer.
Jay: Cameron House - my all-time favourite venue.

ITR: Should you get involved with a musician, yay or nay?
Jena: (Laughs) Yes and no.
Jay: Yes... if you are not a musician.

ITR: Best advice for new musicians?
Jena: If you don’t know what your intuition is – start listening to it and let it push you forward.
Jay: Keep putting out creative energy and you’ll attract likeminded people.

Thanks for the chat, guys!

Friday, May 9, 2014

TGIF: Hozier's "Cherry Wine"

About six months ago, I named Irish singer-songwriter Hozier (Andrew Hozier Byrne) an artist to watch. It was his powerful (and viral) single "Take Me to Church" that turned me on to the guy's seemingly limitless vocals, and since that was all he had formally released at the time, I didn't revisit his music for months. And then I did - and it became clear that although Hozier's collection is still small, it goes much deeper in diversity than that first dark soul single.

"Angel of Small Death and Codeine Scene" is full of rowdy stomps and claps, "Like Real People Do" is a soothing folk hymnal, while "Cherry Wine" is, for me, the gorgeous and golden standout. An older track he refurbished, "Cherry Wine" is quiet and understated in its chord plucks - but not in the lyricism. "Her fight and fury is fiery, oh but she loves like sleep to the freezing, sweet and right and merciful, I'm all but washed in the tide of her breathing." Nothing understated about that.

Take a dive into Hozier's collection - between that voice and those melodies - I'm convinced every bit is worth it. Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Stars

To kick off Canadian Music Week on Monday night, I was lucky enough to be invited to an exclusive launch of Google Play in Canada that included stellar performances by Stars, Kevin Drew and A Tribe Called Red to a crowd of 150 or less. Needless to say, it was fantastic.

Perhaps the most obvious takeaway from this evening, other than the terrific open bar and La Carnita catering, was the fact that 15 year-old Jess was losing her shit while standing front row (in a small, swaying crowd) watching Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan rule the stage as Stars. Stars were one of the biggest parts of my growing up and growing into indie-rock. I remember being in high school, owning every bit of their discography and forcing friends and family to listen to this amazing Canadian band. They were probably the first group that helped me realize not all amazing music came from the American airwaves. And, songs like the one below are evidence the quintet haven't lost an ounce of their allure.

PS. Kevin Drew joined them on stage for this song and a few others (Canadian music nirvana) - have a peek at the short clip below.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Rolling Stone Names Toronto's Weaves 'Band to Watch'

No small deal here: Rolling Stone Magazine has just named Toronto's weirdest, but most awesome, new foursome their 'Band to Watch.' Weaves, fronted by the eccentrically soulful Jasmyn Burke (a crooning mix of Karen O and Santigold), have been kicking around for over a year - but with the release of their debut self-titled EP, their twisted, inhibition-free indie-rock has been quickly climbing up the ranks and into the hands of curious music critics. An RS nod is pretty clear evidence of this. 

While their wonky bass lines and growling guitars switch between playfully understated (Hulahoop) and speaker rattling (Take A Dip), the eclectic crew clearly identify with a whole mixed bag of wild sounds - something that's likely the ticket to their inevitable success. Here are a few tunes off the new EP; enjoy having your socks knocked off.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Stream The Black Keys' Turn Blue

Learning that The Black Keys' hyped new album was streaming for free yesterday was one of the best ways to kick off Canadian Music Week - an amazing five days filled with new sounds and fantastic performances, immediately bettered by this album to walk with.

Thirty seconds into Turn Blue I had that awesome, relieving realization that the band have kept the album's best tracks under wraps when choosing which singles to release. I have nothing wrong with the psychedelic title track and "Fever," but I just knew there had to be more than the predictable, 70s crime drama rock grooves we've heard from the Keys' past two albums. Sure enough, "Weight of Love" reassured Pat Carney and Dan Auerbach had every intention of upping the ante with slow-burning, trippy anthems that would likely re-captivate some of their biggest critics. Paced by everything from explosive blues guitar to choir harmonies and spooky triangle, this classic-in-the-making might be the best thing I've heard out of the duo since Brothers. When I heard this track, I understood what the masterminds meant by this being a "headphones album." All I wanted were my headphones.

Oh, and the rest of the album is above par also; sure, no song could be mistaken for anyone but them, but their lack of reinvention is compensated by an eclectic offering of both big pop-rock moments and those understated soulful ditties that throw back to their earliest days.

Take a listen, while it's free and while it isn't - it's a treat either way.

Friday, May 2, 2014

TGIF: Gold Spectacles' "Steal You Away"

Happy Friday! I'm currently perched in a hotel room after a long train ride last night, and all I can think about is how many times I must have listened to this song yesterday. The sun  (something that hasn't shown itself in weeks in Toronto) was setting as we zipped by countryside, and this delightful little dance ditty from up-and-comer Gold Spectacles was everything I wanted and more.

We don't know much (/anything) about this mysterious artist yet, except that his warm weather strings and bumping bass lines are some of the most relaxed and entrancing I've heard in awhile. It's a bit poppy, sure - but man, this tune's groovy subtleties sound real good when paired with a sunset.

If it's even mildly sunny outside today, look out a window and picture it's plus-30 degrees - this song should help.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Dave Matthews at Radio City

On a particularly foggy Wednesday, here's a tune that's just as perfect for the lakehouse as it is for a night strolling through the tall downtown. Recently, on my way back from a weekend in the woods (where there was plenty of DMB), we were driving back along the skyline when this song came on - reminding us not only how spectacular this live recording is, but of Dave Matthews' seemingly insurmountable talent as a songwriter. Dave Matthews has long held the same place in music - one that acts like John Butler and John Mayer have tried to measure up to - and has never lost an ounce of the poetic or melodic genius that quickly made him a generational rock icon. He's an institution. When I'm old and grey, I know my kids will jam around campfires to Dave Matthews the way that we did growing up.

This legendary live version of "Crush," accompanied by guitar great Tim Reynolds, reaches a whole other level of acoustic bliss; thanks to the effortless pairing that is Matthews' lyricism and Reynolds' fiery acoustic skills.

Have a lovely Thursday - I'm rollin' on out of town again tonight, and this album will be on repeat.