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.  

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. 

Grubtunes Top 10 Albums of 2008: 1-5

December 5th, 2008 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

1. My Morning Jacket – Evil Urges


This year’s release from MMJ is a bonafide tour de force. The band had begun experimenting with drum machines and interesting sonic textures on Z but on this album they just ran with it and created a truly remarkable artistic achievement. They continued to experiment with drum machines, synthesizers and electronics but they also managed to push every song to its awesomeness-breaking point.


Each song on the album is perfectly composed but they’re never satisfied simply with a well-rounded pop song. They’ll play around with the songs, adding interesting little parts or sections, building the song’s grandiosity as much as they can without ever coming off as pompous. For instance there’s the sort of weird jam bridge at the middle eight point on the title track which comes off as brilliant rather than indulgent simply because it rocks as much as the rest of the song.


Musically the band tries out various different styles, ranging from the cartoonish “Highly Suspicious” to the soaring, gorgeous “Smokin’ From Shootin”. They try their hand at Southern Rock, Prince-style sexiness, hard rock, acoustic ballad, ethereal prog-rock and dance-rock and succeed at each while still never sounding like anything other than themselves.


Lyrically Jim James continues to impress, writing interesting tales of seduction in “Librarian”, musing about life and age in “Two Halves” and just being plain adorable in “Thank You Too”. His durable tenor seemingly has no bounds as he adapts his voice perfectly to each song, cooing, squealing and drawl-ing when necessary.


Evil Urges is a modern masterpiece, fully deserving it’s place alongside others like Ok Computer and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and it is easily my top pick of 2008.



2. TV On The Radio – Dear Science,


TOTR always rock and they’ve been getting better with each release. While Dear Science, isn’t as mysterious and dense as Return to Cookie Mountain its accessibility and stronger pop appeal make the album a different animal, in many ways better than its predecessor. Not only that, but the songs are more consistent and catchier. “Halfway Home”, “Dancing Choose”, “Golden Age”, “Stork And Owl” and (my favorite) “Family Tree” are all among their most incredible songs and the lyrics are stunning.


Dave Sitek’s production is incredible as usual, and while I do miss the lovely noise-murk of Return to Cookie Mountain, the beautiful palette he uses here continues to display the man’s absolute mastery of his craft. In Sitek’s world, the mix of strings, synths, drum machines, electronics, acoustics and vocals all meld to form a strangely beautiful hybrid of technology and humanity.


Combining brilliant compositions with brilliant performance and production, Dear Science, is another great album from one of the best bands around.



3. Beck – Modern Guilt


Beck’s teaming with Dangermouse was a clever one. On Modern Guilt both draw on their love of classic Psyche and 60’s pop and meld it with modern beat-based production to create what a retro-leaning album should sound like.


While Beck’s songwriting and singing are fantastic as usual, it’s Dangermouse’s production that makes this release truly noteworthy. Dangermouse manages to capture that classic 60’s sound in the record’s mix, its bass sounds, its drums sounds and its guitar sounds, yet looking closely, his choice of sound is always perfect. He never picks the sounds of the period that sound dated but rather he managers to attain their classic elements but present them in a way that still sounds contemporary.


Through Beck, Dangermouse managed to create the third best album of ’08, and a great modern psyche record.



4. Deerhunter – Microcastle


Deerhunter finally fulfils their pop potential on Microcastle, their best and most accessible album to date. On it, Bradford Cox and company have created a fantastic neo-shoegaze sound while never skimping on well-written, well-composed pop songs. As usual, Cox’s lyrics detail the most interesting of the weird thoughts in his head regarding sexuality, pain and escape. With an interesting lead personality and a tight band behind him, Deerhunter’s Microcastle is a great album from one of the most exciting bands around.



5. Black Kids – Partie Traumatic


The backlash this album received, particularly from Pitchfork, was absolutely appalling. Black Kids fully delivered on the promise of their Wizard of Ahhhs EP with a great album of wonderful pop tunes wrapped in a dense 80’s-leaning sound indebted greatly to The Cure. Not only were songs like “Hit The Heartbreaks”, “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You” and “Love Me Already” insanely catchy and sugary sweet but also their lyrics were often witty and charming.


Partie Traumatic is a fantastic debut from a great, young band and one of my favorite releases of the year.