Archive for April, 2009

Awesome Album Covers!

April 30th, 2009 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Another example of Gene Simmons brilliant business sense: if there’s one thing everyone loves, it’s definitely psychotic clowns

Phoenix

April 26th, 2009 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

This week’s band of the week are a bunch of Frenchies who basically ripped off The Strokes in magnificent fashion. They’ve released some phenomenal albums but have yet to attain serious status here in North America. But don’t worry, they’re working on it. This week’s band of the week is…

 

PHOENIX!!!

 

The band was originally formed as a backup band for an Air remix single but they decided to stick together and have a go on their own. In 2000 they released their first album, United. United and their second album, 2004’s Alphabetical, were interesting, very European electronica-inflected offerings, but it was on their third album, 2006’s It’s Never Been Like That, that the band came into their own in a big way.

 

It’s Never Been Like That found Phoenix unapologetically using The Strokes’ guitar-strong template and injecting it with an abundance of sunny sentiment and unbelievable heartbreaking hooks. The album’s 10 tracks are all perfect pieces of pop (though the instrumental “North” probably the least so) and listening to album straight through is pretty much guaranteed to put you in a very good mood. It’s Never Been Like That will probably be remembered as one of the best albums of this decade.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BJDNw7o6so]

 

Phoenix’s next album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix will be released on May 25th. Unsurprisingly, the album continues what the band began on It’s Never Been Like That, again delivering maddeningly beautifully and brilliant guitar pop. There’s a bit more synthesizer this time around and some more digital enhancements, all of which are used well. It’s also exactly what Phoenix had to do in terms of moving their sound forward and into 2009; they made the right decision. The album’s singles “1901” and “Listzomania” are both amazing, explosively gorgeous songs that will undoubtedly rank as two of the best of 2009, while the album contains other ridiculously infectious pop confections like “Lasso” and “Girlfriend”.

 

Phoenix is a band I have a hard time imagining people not loving. They’ve got their own sound, they write insanely amazing songs, and they’re just plain cool, but never pretentious. The only reason anyone would dislike them would basically be because they would never be able to get the songs out of their head.

 

http://www.wearephoenix.com/

 

http://www.myspace.com/wearephoenix

Click here to pre-purchase Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. 

Killing Yourself To Live by Chuck Klosterman

April 25th, 2009 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

It’s 3 am(ish) right now. I just finished reading Chuck Klosterman’s book Killing Yourself To Live. 230-something pages, and I bought the book just last night. The story (supposedly 85% true) is that Klosterman is traveling around the States, checking out places where rock stars died, and writing an article about this for Spin magazine. The book focuses a lot on love and music, which, as Klosterman rightly points out, are tied together in a wonderfully strange way (at least for some of us). Was the book good? Yes, but I’m not the type to shit myself hyping anything unless it literally caused me to shit myself (very rarely happens). 

It was interesting. Klosterman has a lot of great insight into rock, culture and romance. Certain passages from the book are – as Klosterman describes Gene Simmons’ 1978 solo album – “sporadically transcendent”, like how the four loves of his life (up till that point) are each like individual members of KISS and how everyone will always have a certain someone who defines what love is for them.
I wasn’t a fan of a lot of Klosterman’s writing style. Sometimes he tries to be post-modern or some shit and, you know, and write anticipating the reader’s reaction and communicating with them. Sometimes it comes off a little cheeky or hokey. Also, the dialogue often could have used a bit more character, as everyone, including the women, all seem to speak a little too much like Klosterman, which he even points out at one point. 
There were times when I read the book and thought that the similarities between myself and Mr. Klosterman were becoming quite eerie, particularly the section where Klosterman imagines his former amores in the backseat of his car psychoanalyzing him and comparing their experiences with him with each other. We’re also both rock writers (of different success levels) with a romance hangup. The difference is that 1) I’m 19 and Klosterman didn’t even lose his virginity until he was 20, let alone experience a ton of other shit – in terms of how much it seems he’d experienced by my age, I think I’m kicking his ass big time; 2) Klosterman often seems to take a very defeatist stance in his romantic entanglements and the book ends with Klosterman having lost the three big loves off his life and he seems ok with it. This I’m not ok with. 
I’m more intrigued by an occurrence which Klosterman refers to as “Chuck’s 9/11″, in which he has a public emotional breakdown with one of these loves and thinks it’s over between them. Yeah! That’s the way I think you should go out with ex-lovers – with a bang! Make it dramatic, instead of just being all lame: “I hope she has all the happiness in the world, while I’m lonely and miserable, blah, blah, blah…” Well fuck that and fuck her. As Oasis once sang, don’t look back in anger – but I’d prefer to go out with it. If that’s being immature, then being mature is just plain lame, and so are you for thinking that way…boogerface.
Killing Yourself To Live is like having a very interesting conversation with someone really cool with a lot of interesting ideas and experiences, but you don’t necessarily agree with this person a lot of the time and you’re not fully impressed by every aspect of them either. At the end of it though, you definitely like the guy, and it’s been legit. 
To purchase Killing Yourself To Live by Chuck Klosterman, click here

Awesome Album Covers!

April 23rd, 2009 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

“And on passover! What a nudnik!”

The Curtain Rises On Megan Hamilton

April 23rd, 2009 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Some obscure playwright once wrote that all the world’s a stage. Or something like that. Megan Hamilton would know. The Toronto-based singer/songwriter used to produce plays and still currently earns the bulk of her living working for a theatre consulting firm. At some point a couple years ago though, she decided she wanted her role rewritten, and chose to pursue a career in music.

 

“I never thought that I would be doing this as a career choice,” she tells me over the phone. “At all.” 

About half a decade ago, Hamilton was organizing a monthly showcase called “My Word”, in which playwrights or basically anyone who did “anything that involved writing” could come out and perform their work for an audience. Hamilton also took part, performing her own material at showcases. One day, Hamilton’s music peeked the interest of one of the attendants.

 

“A play I was producing, my friend, Marc Vogelsang, was doing the music for [it]. He saw me perform and asked if he could record some of my stuff. He said he wanted to check out a new microphone. And that’s kind of where everything started,” says Hamilton.

 

The pair decided to make an album, and Hamilton soon found herself in rural Saskatchewan recording 2006’s Feudal Ladies Club, named after a club of women who did charity work in the old community hall in which the album was recorded. The How We Think About Light EP followed in 2007. Both were released on Hamilton’s own Familiar Music label.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHlSKWePwzY]

 

Hamilton’s latest is See Your Breath In The Shipyard, which was just released on April 7th. Ably assisted again by producer Vogelsang, Hamilton and her band recorded the album in five days at a studio in London, Ontario. The resulting album’s sound is dense and haunting, with Hamilton’s esoteric lyrics creeping out through the music like a light through a thick fog.

 

“What I tried to do with this album and what I would really like to do next time is to find more creative ways at certain points to say what I’m trying to say. I’m really interested in trying to say things in different ways,” says Hamilton. “I feel like songs are like stories kind of condensed and the neat thing about that is that you get to fill in the blanks. Like if I was to pick a song off the new record like “Wherever You Are” which is kind of story-like, fairy-tale-like. If I was to take that song, I could write a novel about it, which would be basically like whatever the song is in its full fleshed out form. The reason why it’s neat as a song, I think, as a listener, is that I listen to it and I fill in the rest of it, which makes it more of a personal experience for me.”

 

With the record finished and available now, Hamilton is looking forward to touring again, hopefully through Western Canada this time.

 

“I anticipate that this will go as a slow build, like picking up folks along the way who like what we’re doing,” Hamilton says in regards to building her fan base. “This isn’t like super-poppy radio friendly stuff, I think you have to listen to my stuff a couple of times before…you have to take your time with it.”


[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY1DD-jzj5E]

 

Hamilton must be crazy to want to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous lack-of-fortune that accompany being a musician and label owner in 2009. But to be or not to be? (Sigh) It appears Megan Hamilton’s made her choice.

 “If I can make this work where I can make a living at it, I’m gonna be really happy. I think we do pretty good but I still have to have a job and stuff, but if I can get to the point where this is what I get to focus on, I’ll feel really great. Ultimately, I’m gonna do it anyways because I can do it myself.”


Megan Hamilton will be playing Toronto’s Trazac on April 30th as well as various other dates in the city throughout May (see her myspace for details). See Your Breath In The Shipyard is Available now from Familiar Music. You can purchase it here. Photo credit: Corey Goodyear

Joel Plaskett

April 19th, 2009 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

As tonight is my final night in Halifax, I’ve decided to pick one of Halifax’s favorite local artists. When I first heard this guy, I hated his music. I was probably 15, 16, watching MTV Canada and this video came on of this wiry dude jerking around with a guitar in a high school. I didn’t like the song and I didn’t like the video, but apparently some people did, as it was supposedly like a “hit” or something. Anyways, living in Halifax for a year – where he’s like what Kevin Drew is to Toronto – forced me to give him a second look. Turns out he’s got some good stuff. This week’s artist of the week is…

 

JOEL PLASKETT!!!

 

Yes, Joel Plaskett of Thrush Hermit, The Joel Plaskett Emergence and just simply Joel Plaskett. I was converted after hearing a three-song E.P. (don’t know what it’s called) and what I heard was great. Here was a guy who wrote superbly constructed pop songs with solid hooks, a sort of modern Canadian folk vibe, and a tight backbeat. And his stuff’s not like most modern rock with meaningless lyrics wrapped around warped arrangements. His songs tell stories, are filled with serious emotions and he’s a phenomenal wordsmith, amazingly adept at delivering clever turns of phrase.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRD0kRcF3U4]

 

Some of his stuff’s not great, I’ll be the first to say it. In fact, the only stuff I’ve been able to get into has been his more recent solo stuff: no Emergency, though I’ve yet to listen to Thrust Hermit, so I can’t really say anything about that. His new album, Three, is phenomenal. Anytime anyone releases a triple album, they’re basically setting themselves up for a huge appraisal (George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass) or they’re gonna be called egotistical and crazy over-indulgent (Prince my man, I’m sorry). Plaskett pulled through on this latest one, delivering three discs of excellent material, produced and performed to absolute perfection.

 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxHzBemuIhM]

And it really is three full discs of solid songs; no noise experiments, blues jams or goof offs. There’s a bunch of awesome pop-rockers like “Through, Through, Through” and “Gone, Gone, Gone” (noticing a pattern in the song titles?) and then there’s A LOT of sort of slower, ballady type songs with a strong folk-construction (pretty much the entire third disc) which position Plaskett as the Nova Scotia version of ballad-mode Bruce Springsteen.

 

I approached Joel Plaskett a skeptic and now I’m a total convert. Not only is Joel Plaskett great, he deserves the title as one of Canada’s greatest modern songwriters alongside A.C. Newman, Feist, Bill Priddle and Mike Feuerstacker (the last two also deserve the title but don’t exactly have it). Help him get that credit by checking out his stuff.

 

http://www.myspace.com/joelplaskett1

 

http://www.joelplaskett.com/

You can purchase Three here.

Record Store Day

April 18th, 2009 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments


So, in case you didn’t know, today is Record Store Day. A day when all music lovers are encouraged to journey to their local independent record store, spend money, and see in-store performances and stuff. A business ploy as obvious as they come but I actually really like it. Who doesn’t love the record store? Seriously? Even if you’re not gonna buy anything, isn’t it just cool to hang out at record stores? There’s always hip people around and sometimes the cashiers are in Do Make Say Think and if you notice a decent looking person of the opposite sex, bam, perfect set-up for a conversation. I bet there are thousands are people who owe their very existence to a record store. 

Of course, ever since file-sharing went mainstream, record stores have been suffering big time, shutting down left and right. Bye bye Sam the Record Man…you are missed :( But times have to change and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. As it stands, there may yet be hope for the record store. CDs are done for, that’s beyond question at this point, but amazingly Vinyl sales are up big time. Who would have thought Vinyl would make a comeback this late in the game, eh? Now when a band plays on Letterman, he doesn’t hold up the CD, he holds up the Vinyl. We’ve been seeing new Vinyl pressings start to show up in shops over the last couple years but now it seems as though that’s becoming the norm, with CDs being priced-down or put on sale as stores try and get all those plastic cases the fuck out so they can make room for lovely, smooth Vinyl sections once again.  
Why Vinyl? Well, I gotta admit it’s kind of an aesthetic type thing at this point as well as kind of a hipster fashion thing. Vinyl does sound better, the physical aspect of it just gives it a stronger sound. Secondly, whenever anyone notices you’ve got an awesome vinyl collection they immediately think you’re like super cool. Way, way cooler than if you had a bunch of CDs on a rack. Now that Vinyl albums are being offered with download codes allowing people to have that lovely physical specimen and the digital files on their iPod the final barrier has been crossed. Who would have thought that this would be the redemption of the record store? 
Anyways, for my Record Store Day I went down to CD-Plus to check out The Lodge‘s in-store performance but got there too late. Damn. The store was really busy though, and I noticed that they now had a small vinyl section whereas when I first saw the store in September there was no such section. Hope the record store across the street is already on that also….
After that I decided to go check out Taz Records to see if they had anything cool going on. Turns out they did. Big time. The Superfantastics were playing and, earlier, local rock star Joel Plaskett had played. I was so pissed that I missed his super-secret set as I’m totally loving his new album, the audacious triple-disc Three


Of course, this being the insidious, incestuous Halifax, there were various well-known local scenesters there (I’m talking about you guys, Gideons). 
Crissi Cochrane of The Gamma Gamma Rays was there also so we talked while The Superfantastics did their thing. It, of course, was solid. 


Having no money (anyone wanna pay me to write? anyone?) I was unable to contribute to the plight of the record stores today. When I’m back in T.O. though: Soundscapes all the way. Anyone reading this, best record store in Toronto: Soundscapes. Last time I was there they hadn’t gone Vinyl but that will likely change very soon. If you’re looking for Vinyl, Sonic Boom just a little north on Bloor and over to Bathurst has a killer section. And I think Gentleman Reg was playing there today. Fuck, wish I’d seen that. 

Spiral Beach/Hey Ocean at The Seahorse

April 17th, 2009 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

I’ve never seen a lineup outside The Seahorse. As I approached it and saw this huge group of people, I wondered if it could be possible that so many smokers would be congregating outside of the bar and at only 10:00. As it turned out, they were in line, so I got in line and tried calling Ryan, Maddy and Airick to see if they could get me past the line and in for free. None of them answered. I sent Ryan a text and he called me back a couple minutes later letting me know that he’d put me on the guestlist (he’s such a sweetheart) but that he couldn’t get me in past the line. Oh well. 

Once I got in I went over to the little backstage area and who should I find lounging, reviewing their set-list there, but Airick and Daniel Woodhead. We sit, we talk, we shpeil for a bit. I ask the Woodheads about the new Spiral Beach album. They’ve finished it and it will be released in June. They’re liking it, and Ryan will later describe it to me as more “in your face” than their previous releases. They also imagine lewd versions of the titles of their songs: “We Suck Ghosts” anyone? 
We joke around a bit and determine that I’m going to introduce them to the Halifax crowd. I go and hang out with Ryan while they’re setting up and say hi to Maddy and Dorian. Once they’ve set up, I go up and do my little introduction and then Spiral Beach just barge right into it.

They sounded fantastic; they always do. The crowd at the Sea Horse took maybe a song or two to get into it, but once they did they got into it in a big way. Meighan Donaldson (who I produced a great song with called “Dance Partner (version 2)”, which can be heard over at her myspace) had never heard them before but said that they were her new favorite band. 
Hey Ocean went on next. They started off with a cool little percussion mathinger and later on had horns and stuff but it was all just too fruity and clean-cut. And for some reason it all sounded very Australian to me (even though they’re from B.C.)…The crowd was getting into it at first but as their set went on, the crowd seemed to sort of quiet down a bit. They’re a solid set of players but the music they make is simply too safe. Maybe if Disney ever makes an indie High School Musical they should look these guys up. 


I left the Seahorse and head back to King’s, still my home for at least until Monday, at which point I’ll be heading back to Toronto, the city in which I’ll live and likely die. And that’s ok, because Toronto kicks ass, as Halifax has taught me. 

RIP: A Remix Manifesto Movie Review

April 16th, 2009 | Uncategorized | 0 Comments

Inspired by the music of Girl Talk and the lawsuits being thrown at the artist, filmmaker Brett Gaylor created RIP: A Remix Manifesto, a documentary that examines what remix culture is and why the challenges that face it threaten not just a couple mash-up artists, but the very future of art itself. In the film, Gaylor travels around the world, explaining how mash-ups are created to the older generation, talking to elderly hippies who pissed off Disney big time back in the day when they took hilarious liberties with Mickey Mouse’s image, and Brazilian musicians whose culture has already embraced the free-for-all of ideas and creativity that Gaylor advocates. The resulting film is at once visually arresting, hip, humorous, and intelligent, arguing that the issues facing remix culture are deep rooted into the way our corporate-controlled societies work. To practice that which he preaches, Gaylor has even posted the film in downloadable clips online, which he invites fans to remix and remodel as they see fit, to create their own versions of the film. 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oar9glUCL0]

http://www3.nfb.ca/webextension/rip-a-remix-manifesto/

The Lodge: Take That Devil

April 15th, 2009 | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Lodge

Take That Devil

[Gooseberry Records; 2009]

6.6/10.0

 

I saw The Lodge a couple weeks ago at Gus’ Pub and what really struck me about these four older guys was that even before they got onstage, I knew which one Mike O’Neil was. Yes, the legendary Mike O’Neil of Inbreds fame, still active in his hometown of Halifax, I knew it was him after one look at this wiry middle-aged man with blazing blue eyes. I thought to myself, “This man is a rock star, born and bred.” 

 

With former members of The Superfriendz, Neuseiland and Thrush Hermit onboard, The Lodge is pretty stacked in terms of Halifax indie-cred. But unfortunately, indie-cred doesn’t necessarily translate into good music, and as is the case with many other so-called supergroups, having too many established cooks in The Lodge’s kitchen results in a lack of direction, or at least during lesser parts of Take That Devil, one that’s worthwhile.

 

That’s not to say that they don’t cook something great up every now and then. “Thaw Me Out” and “She’s A Lightbulb” showcase O’Neil cooing beautifully about salvation over jangly-guitars. The choppy Robert Quine style-chords during the verses of the album’s most single-ready song, “Forget The Silence”, gives way to a dark romance-tinged chorus that always seems to end too quickly. The song ends with post-punk melodica: still the most apocalyptic-sounding instrument when used in the right context.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ph1_dfKjGFI]

 

While O’Neil’s personality provides the band with its key distinguishing feature, in faster songs like “World In Me” and “They’re Watching You”, the band depend on it too much and act as more of a backup band than an actual band band, providing him with simple, steady verses to sing his sometimes-great-sometimes-not poetry over before bursting into big, catchy choruses. These songs feel too obvious in their by-the-numbers construction and lack cohesion as a result of it.

 

Adding to this problem is the album’s thin mix and rudimentary production. Though the thin sound is likely a result of cheap recording, it doesn’t excuse the lack of any attempt to overcome (or perhaps embrace) that fact. Every instrument is given equal placement throughout the record as if it was more important to make sure everyone was happy that they could be heard than it was to make the songs sound their best. And O’Neil’s vocals simply scream out for some minor adornment; reverb, double-tracking, echo, something. It’s not that they sound bad, it’s simply that O’Neil’s thin vocals don’t fit into the mix the way they’re supposed to, particularly on an already thin-sounding record. By comparison, fellow thin-voiced Haligonian Joel Plaskett uses all of the above suggestions (and backup vocal accompaniment) to phenomenal effect on his excellent recent album, Three.

 

Within Halifax’s encouraging music scene, Take That Devil won’t disappoint fans of the band’s personnel. Outside of it however, is a different story. The Lodge simply don’t manage to accomplish enough on Take That Devil to justify attention being given to it from those unfamiliar with the names involved.

 

http://www.myspace.com/thelodgeband