Archive for December, 2008

Dominique Leone

December 28th, 2008 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

This week’s artist of the week is a pitchfork writer (or used to be) whose absolute grasp on the elements of pop music has allowed him to make music that both subverts and embodies the format at the same time. While most albums can easily be found online or in the more select of record stores in Toronto (Rotate Disc, Sonic Boom), this artist’s debut album took me at least six months or more to find at last on the shelves of Soundscapes. The artist of the week is…




Leone manages to fuse together an obscene selection of diverse influences ranging from the classic pop of The Beatles and The Beach Boys to the electronic works of Giorgio Moroder and Kraftwer. The ultimate creation is a kaleidoscopic monster of electro-pop that looks towards the future while never ignoring the past. Or as I described it when I first listened to the album: it sounds like ELO on acid.


Just like ELO, the music thrives on grandiosity. Though Leone rarely uses orchestral embellishment, seeming to prefer synthetic sounds, the vocals all have that soaring, synthetic, multi-tracked sound. Even so, unlike albums by (former band of the week) Pacific and ELO themselves, Leone’s music never feels overly synthetic, though to call it organic sounding would be quite a stretch. Instead, it manages to occupy some middle territory that the better laptop-pop albums of recent years call home.


Though it’s unlikely that any of Leone’s songs will be getting airtime in Canada soon (except on 4 AM college programs – MAYBE), it’s the classic AM-radio song formula that seems to have given birth to his music. His take on it, however, is so strangely and unpretentiously avant-garde that the album feels like a Harvard master thesis on unique application of pop composition. At first, the album’s deliberate complexity is off-putting, but after a couple listens it becomes thoroughly engrossing to delve into the depth of Leone’s craft.


In a way, Leone represents a classical approach to pop music in the way that it merges a highly studied approach to music making with contemporary sounds, methods and technologies. And the result is simply totally awesome.  

Sun Ra

December 23rd, 2008 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

I’ve been listening to more jazz lately than I usually do. Why? I’m not too sure; maybe it’s because I’m reading a lot and sometimes jazz and reading go together quite snuggly. However, that depends on what your reading. Miles Davis to Harry Potter probably won’t give you the desired affect, but Coltrane to Burroughs? Like cream in coffee: oh yeah. But it’s been a while since I read Burroughs…Right now one of the books I’m reading is Raymond Chandler’s private dick mystery novel Farewell, My Lovely. Really, I’m not a big fan of mystery movies or novels but apparently Lou Reed idolized Chandler so I decided I had to check him out. Truth be told, I’m not sure if Chandler’s worth much fuss but whatever, I’m enjoying the novel. I’ve been listening to this week’s band of the week while reading it. And the band of the week is…




Sure, everyone who knows Sun Ra knows he’s more of a one-man thing, but still, plenty of credit goes to the fine talents he worked with throughout nearly five decades of music making.


For those who don’t know Sun Ra, he was one of the greatest and most interesting musicians of the last century. He took jazz into strange new directions, influenced bands ranging from the MC5 to Sonic Youth and claimed to be from Saturn. Until the end of his life he told people that while he was in college, he was abducted by aliens and told that his mission on Earth was to preach peace and love through music. And that’s what he did. He claimed to be of the “angel race” (not human) and that his real name was Sun Ra, and all other names he may have had before that were merely pseudonyms. Supposedly, Sun Ra was quite fervent in these beliefs.


And yes, the music of Sun Ra is as interesting as his history. He became obsessed with ancient Egypt and outer space; themes that became highly prevalent in his music. Though his music is indeed jazz, it completely shatters the notions of what jazz is supposed to sound like.


Ra was well known for strange, spacey songs like “We Travel The Spaceways”, which featured weird instrumentation and the chanting of lyrics about space and crazy cosmic shit but, it was on gorgeous pieces like “Lanquidity” that he most displayed his extraordinary talent. These two sides of Sun Ra – which Ra alluded to in the title of his album The Bad and the Beautiful – form to complete the image of Sun Ra as both genius and madman.


Many aren’t too quick to give Sun Ra much respect on account of his circus like performances, his out-of-this-world appearance and unorthodox beliefs, but upon inspection of the man’s music, he was indisputably inspired and years ahead of his time.


Much of jazz is like conservative classical music, in that it’s boring, its narrow minded and its been unable to escape its place in past time. Sun Ra made music that was beyond place, space and time, and because of that, like the Sun G-d he named himself after, Sun Ra’s music will live forever, shining like some strange celestial orb in the dark vacuum of lame jazz. 

Binario: S/T

December 19th, 2008 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments



[Far Out Recordings; 2008]


Oh Brazil. Sitting comfortably in my room in the suburbs of Toronto, Ontario, as the snow falls outside my window, I can only imagine it. What instantly comes to mind is a swirl of colors, and young people drinking and dancing and having the time of their lives night after night…Oh Brazil…

Sure, that’s a very narrow and inaccurate view of Brazil but it seems to be the Brazil that its native sons in Binario conjure up in their music. Though the same could be said about just about all Brazilian music that sounds “Brazilian”, Binario makes music for the Brazil of the past, present and future, incorporating elements of house, electronica and psychedelia into their music in addition to the requisite Latin rhythms and musical sensibilities. Yes, the music is still inescapably “Brazilian”, but Binario is a rock band first and foremost, and one worthy of being judged in the same league as any other rock band from North America or Britain.

The key to Binario is their “anything goes” musical policy. On their self-titled debut LP, each song has a completely different musical makeup, as the band seems to have had fun messing around on just about every musical toy available to artists in the 21st century. Still, Binario never seems to tire of the endless combinations they can create with them: drums machines, wah-wah guitars, marimbas, synthesizers, cellos, etc: why not? The result is an album with a series of varied and always interesting musical textures.

Though the songs on the album are more like jams, each one is tight and rarely do they exceed their welcome, with song lengths never reaching the eight-minute mark. In addition to this, the open-to-anything policy results in a set of songs as eclectic in their composition as they are in their style and instrumentation.

With the twelve-song set that makes up the LP, Binario creates a solid and interesting debut album worthy of its heritage while still looking towards the future.

Fleet Foxes

December 14th, 2008 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

This week’s band of the week has had one hell of a breakout year. Coming out of nowhere, they released a critically acclaimed EP, followed by a critically acclaimed album. They’ve found fans in just about every sector of the indie-rock underground and yet the mainstream is completely oblivious to them and may remain so for some time. Too bad for them – very good for us. This week’s band of the week is…


For a long time I didn’t want to listen to Fleet Foxes. I don’t know why; I knew I would really like them but for some reason I held off. While I was hanging out with a friend of mine, he put on their album and I instantly fell under the band’s spell. Drawing on classic folk influences as well as significantly upon the incredible vocal harmony arrangements of The Beach Boys, Fleet Foxes create a beautiful, artful, modern folk-pop sound.

With the help of grand, reverb-coated production (courtesy of Phil Elks), Fleet Foxes’ songs lure listeners in with beautiful, lulling melodies and haunting, mahogany atmosphere. Robin Pecknold’s lyrics are mysterious in their poignant simplicity, like in “White Winter Hymnal”, in which he describes images of children in running in the snow. Meanwhile, his gorgeous vocals sound exactly like My Morning Jacket’s Jim James’, though maybe a little less fun, a little more traditional.

Fleet Foxes are the exact type of band for this time and place. They’re the type of band that teenage indie-girls will listen to while they write their heartache-drenched poetry, or some guy will drive through the Canadian countryside listening to, imagining himself the star of his own epic film. Most importantly though, they’re just a great band. They won’t get play on many radio stations, but that doesn’t matter – Fleet Foxes broadcast straight to the heart.

Quicksilver Messenger Service

December 7th, 2008 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

This week’s band of the week is probably the greatest of all the bands to come out of the San Francisco scene of the late 60’s. No, it’s not Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead or Moby Grape. This week’s band of the week is…




The band was put together in the mid-60’s as a backing band for singer/songwriter Dino Valenti. The band was originally composed of John Cippolina, Gary Duncan, Greg Elmore, Jim Murray and David Freiberg and Valenti. However, Valenti got sent off to prison for drug possession before the group even had their first rehearsal with him. Still, QMS decided to go on without Valenti, though he would later rejoin the group after getting out of jail.


The band began as a jam band like the Dead, though the two bands’ styles couldn’t be more different. While the Dead’s vibe was smooth and airy, usually led by Garcia’s major pentatonic noodling, Quicksilver’s was sharp, melodic and dark, usually led by Cippolina’s brilliant classically influenced linear playing style.


The band’s self-titled debut album showcased little of the improvisational skills of the band, rather focusing on a tight set of pop/folk influenced songs, such as the excellent “Pride of Man” and the catchy “Dino’s Song”. Meanwhile, “Light Your Windows” delved into the darker, more romantic sound closer to the live sound the band was known for.


That sound is found in all its glory on the band’s second album, the live Happy Trails, which still stands as not only one of the best albums of the time period, but of all time periods. The band works off a minor-based version of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” for the majority of the album, however, where the band takes the song is worlds away from Diddley’s original composition. If ever there was an album that works as just a brilliant showcase for a guitarist, it’s Happy Trails.


I could care less about hearing Jimmy Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck or Stevie Ray Vaughn display their guitar prowess for 30+ minutes; I’m more about songs. However, in the case of Happy Trails and Cippolina (and Television guitarist Tom Verlaine) I make the exception.


Though Cippolina’s playing was always my favorite aspect of the group, they continued to make great music after he left, as is on display on their 1972 album Quicksilver, which features the songwriting of Dino Valenti (part of the group again) and the killer guitar work of Quicksilver’s other great lead guitarist, Gary Duncan. Also, Nicky Hopkins, who’d done keyboard session work for just about every band in the 60’s from the Beatles to the Jeff Beck Band, was part of the group at this point and his playing is another fine element added to the band’s already great sound.


Quicksilver Messenger Service were undoubtedly a band of their time, but the band’s songwriting and technical prowess still impress to this day and guitarists everywhere are still studying Cippolina’s incredible guitar work.