Sappyfest 9: Day 1

August 2nd, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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Sackville is a tiny little town in New Brunswick. The only thing that separates it from a million other little towns across Canada is that it is also home to Mount Allison University, which gives the town a bit of a youthful and interesting character. And during Sappyfest weekend, that character is exploded as the underground but up-and-coming indie-rockigentsia of Canada descend upon it for three days of music, beer, zines, outdoor markets, and general good times for all. It’s kind of like a house party that’s not too big or crazy and everyone there is either your friend or potentially your friend. Except instead of a house it’s a remote town in Eastern Canada.

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The first band I saw was The Grubbies, a sort of garage pop band from Halifax. Apparently they’re big fans of The Who, since they covered a bit of “The Kids Are Alright” during their soundcheck and then ended their set with “Heatwave”. They were good.

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Following them was Montreal prog-poppers Freelove Fenner, who I’ve been feeling for a little while. They were very ‘sturdy’ and precise live – their records would lead you to imagine they would be – but not super energetic. I spent the whole set watching the guitarist perform the chorus-drenched figures that give the band a lot of its unique sound.

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Dusted Holy Fuck‘s Brian Borcherdt and RitualsLeon Taheny (both based in Toronto) - mixes electronic elements with sort of old school Canadian indie. They took on the task of getting the energy of the night going. Before their set I’d only known of them by reputation but I’m a fan now. They were phenomenal.

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Finishing off the night at the mainstage was Kitchener’s drums-guitar powerhouse PS I Love You. They took the energy that Dusted had built up with the crowd and blew it up, people were jumping around and dancing and one guy even got a crowdsurf in. Guitarist Paul Saulnier might not look like a Peter Frampton guitar god or something, but he owned the stage – fingertapping, playing guitar behind his head, and just generally proving himself a serious presence. Drummer Benjamin Nelson also held up his end of things heroically.

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After PS I Love You‘s set ended, festivities moved over to the Royal Canadian Legion venue. Fredericton band Motherhood started playing around 12:15. I was already so tired from barely sleeping the night before and driving all day that at this point I needed some serious persuasion to keep going. And although Motherhood put on a very solid performance, they were so Nick Cave-inspired that it was more like I was watching a Nick Cave cover band than an original crew from Fredericton. Maybe if I’d sat through their entire set or got into their music more I would see more originality, but at the point in the night I didn’t have the patience and decided to call it in, despite my desire to see Halifax’s Moon, who were playing after them.

LVL UP

July 29th, 2014 | Mp3 Posts | 0 Comments

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There’s a lot to love about this. The band’s name is LVL UP (video game reference, awesome), they’re on the same label as Frankie Cosmos, Double Double Whammy, and they play Weezer-esque 90′s indie rock with a raw lofi sensibility. And they’re from New York, which is where I’ll be living in two weeks(!). (via Pitchfork)

Shlock Appeal // Things

July 27th, 2014 | Film | 0 Comments

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Recently I’ve been kind of interested in canuxploitation movies, which, for those who don’t know, are Canadian horror/sci-fi/WTF movies, usually from the 70s and 80s when the Canadian government was investing heavily trying to develop an internationally respected Canadian film industry. A lot of film-makers – including sometimes young, creative type likes David Cronenberg, perhaps the most succesful of all directors to come out of canuxploitation – were able to get money from the government and investors looking for tax havens and just make weird, crazy movies.

In my internet explorations of the genre, I came across people talking and writing about Things, a cheap 1989 horror film made in Toronto (or Scarborough, to be exact) by some crazy film students. Actually, to say this movie was made cheaply is an understatement, even though the internet says they had a budget of over 35,000. I would guess most of that budget went towards buying drugs.

Luckily, I knew that living in Toronto next to a video rental place like Eyesore Cinema and not far from Suspect Video, I would almost definitely be able to find this film, and I was right. Eyesore had a copy of the recent Intervision DVD of it. So I rented it and brought it over to my buddy Kevin’s place to watch. And despite my absolute bewilderment, I fell in love with this movie. However, to call Things a ‘movie’ might be misleading; it’s more like if two weird dudes on acid decided to actually film a feature length movie using 80s camcorders, and then somehow convinced someone to actually release it as if it were a ‘real’ straight-to-VHS movie.

The essential ‘plot’ of Things is that this guy can’t get his wife pregnant, so they go to a doctor who performs experiments on her that impregnate her with bug-like ‘things’ that then come out and kill people. What actually ends up happening is that this happens, and then the guy and his friend end up just hanging around their house on the lookout for the things, eating cheese sandwiches, talking about whatever. Then I don’t even know. Somebody screwed up with the footage or something because things just stop making sense completely as far as I can tell. And yet the movie keeps going.

Things is, by any standard appreciation of film, a terrible movie. But it’s the kind of terrible movie that has a sort of artfulness too it. Watching it, I felt like it was kind of the film equivalent of the weird music a lot of Canadians make in their bedrooms and you then hear on Weird Canada. It has a homey, innocent, almost childish charm. Hobo With A Shotgun director Jason Eisener said that the scenes where the guys are just chilling in the house eating cheese sandwiches remind him of young guys drinking beers and hanging out in houses in Nova Scotia, where both Eisener and Things actor/writer/producer Barry J. Gillis spent their formative years. Having spent my first year of university in Halifax, I know what he means and it’s true. Things has that kind of ‘Canadian bros chilling and having fun’ vibe.

If your tolerance for ‘weird’ is low, you will have no interest in sitting through one second of Things. However, if you love the weird, the homey, the WTF – this is a Holy Grail of a movie. Grab some friends, drink some beers, make some (vegan) cheese sandwiches, and watch Things at 3 AM. Your mind will be blown wide open.

STEVE JR

July 27th, 2014 | Mp3 Posts | 0 Comments

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As if tonight’s bill at Comfort Zone with Doldrums, TONSTARTSSBANDHT and Cellphone wasn’t already ballin’ enough, Montreal’s sludgy STEVE JR is opening and they sound pretty badass too.

33 & 1/3: Kid A

July 25th, 2014 | Print | 0 Comments

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Marvin Lin (editor-in-chief and co-found of Tiny Mix Tapes and a former Pitchfork editor) starts off his book 331/3 book about Radiohead‘s classic album Kid A saying he’s not going to spend his time writing about how the album was actually made, but rather, about how the album was received in terms of popular culture. Luckily this ends up not being totally true. In the process of trying to write about the effect the album had on the world, he ends up digging a lot into how the album was conceptually created, though he doesn’t spend much time on ‘studio talk’.

As Lin details, Thom Yorke and certain parties in the band were tired of rock music and wanted to explore more electronic, experimental avenues of sonic creation. So the band trades in their guitars for synthesizers. At the same time, Thom Yorke is having a serious case of writers block, so he cuts up his bad lyrics, puts them in a hat, and picks out the words to make up the new song lyrics. At the same time, the band is, as always, apparently, reading voraciously, and the ideas they’re coming across subtly appear to influence the shaping of the album, even if only on a  subconscious level. In particular, Naomi Klein‘s book, No Logo, is a big influence, and its title almost became that of the album as well.

This unique confluence of factors led to the band doing a major gear shift and releasing Kid A upon an unsuspecting public embarking on a new and uncertain millennium. Amazingly, despite how incredibly dark and weird the album is, its sheer excellence and all the good will Radiohead have accumulated up until this point result in Kid A being both a huge critical and commercial success.

I was only ten years old when Kid A was released and had probably never even heard of Radiohead, let alone been excited for the release of Kid A, but Lin does a good job of reminding the reader how weird it must have sounded to those in 2000 waiting for the new album from the band that put out The Bends and Ok Computer. As Pitchfork wrote when they named Kid A the best album of the last decade, now all the hallmarks of the album are commonplace: EDM and intelligent (or ‘alternative’) rock go together hand in hand; every other band uses synthesizers and drum machines (though the ondes Martenot isn’t quite as popular). But in 2000 that was far from the case.

Lin also writes, of course, about how the popularity of file sharing and the internet played a big part in the album’s unique release. He also spends a good amount of time talking about the endlessly fascinating Thom Yorke – with a couple pages even just about what other celerities who are not so fond of him have said – and his, Radiohead‘s, and the Kid A‘s politics. (Do 331/3 writers get a little bonus for every time they write “capitalism”?) Basically all the stuff you would hope to read about in a book about Kid A if you’re not a big recording nerd. My biggest complaint would be that reading about the band’s politics was so interesting that I would’ve loved more.

Gorgeous Bully

July 24th, 2014 | Mp3 Posts | 0 Comments

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Manchester’s Gorgeous Bully usually play a very poppy brand of garage rock, but they recently released this song “I Think” which makes the case that they should just go totally shoegaze. Recent single “Dissolve” also serves this conclusion. (via Portals)

Harsh Reality

July 23rd, 2014 | Mp3 Posts | 1 Comment

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Though their side of a recent split with fellow Montrealers, Fakes, has a recording fidelity level deserving of the term shit-gaze, even through the haze of noise it’s clear that Harsh Reality has a bad-ass, sludge-punk sound and the songs to go with it. (via Weird Canada)

Formalists

July 22nd, 2014 | Mp3 Posts | 0 Comments

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My bros in Toronto’s oddball indie-folk-jazz crew Formalists have a new EP coming out this Saturday called 6 Possible Illusions Prior to Death. On the new release, they’ve tightened up the band, the production, everything, and the end product is pretty charming. They’re doing a release show at Cinecycle saturday that should also be pretty tight.

Re-Evaluated // Without Feathers

July 21st, 2014 | Features | 0 Comments

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The Stills made a name for themselves in Canadian indie rock in 2003 with their excellent debut album Logic Will Break Your Heart. Riding the post-punk wave of the time that Interpol more or less kicked off, The Stills were also lucky enough to benefit from all the press that Montreal got around that time, as bands like Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade and Stars brought the French-Canadian metropolis to international musical attention again years after Godspeed You! Black Emperor put it on the map.

Thinking themselves clever and knowing that interest in post-punk was waning, the band switched horses for their second album, Without Feathers, dropping the dark 80s vibe and instead attempting to write something along the lines of a Canadian indie rock-pop album for the road weary. The critics were not impressed. Nobody was really. This was not The Stills we knew and loved and most didn’t really know what to make of the album.

For album three, Oceans Will Rise, the band tried to come back in a big way, signing to the beloved Arts & Crafts label and apparently hooking up with some very trendy industry stylists, but it was only to put out an album that, though not entirely devoid of charm, lacked the soul and cohesion of their previous albums (despite this, it won the meaningless Juno award for Alternative Album Of The Year). Then The Stills broke up. Without Feathers was where everything went wrong. And it’s a real shame, because it’s actually a pretty solid album.

Without Feathers is not as cool as Logic…, but it does have more heart.  With former drummer Dave Hemelin taking lead vocal duty, the album seems to have some kind of conceptual bent to it, with songs with titles like “In The Beginning”, “In The End”, and “Outro” (oddly enough, the last two appear in the middle of the album). I have no idea what the ‘story’ would be, but the album always feels like it’s going somewhere, like there’s some kind of progression that takes place from one song to the next (though most sound pretty similar), until it reaches the melancholic melodica of “The House We Live In”, which leads the album out with the beautiful “Dear Sarah/The house we live in/Is all I know.” And the band always sounds more alive, more real than on Logic, as if this was the sound they decided was really right for them now (before listeners (perhaps in pure knee-jerk fashion) decided it wasn’t) and everyone was really excited to have found it.

Another thing that makes the album special is how Hamelin’s vocal melodies always seem to be moving upwards, euphorically. His voice is maybe a little thinner than once-and-soon-to-be-again lead vocalist Tim Fletcher, but it’s more authentic, and his singing feels more alive.

I don’t think I got around to even listening to Without Feathers until a year or two after its release in 2006. But the first time I did, I immediately loved it and knew it was just a victim of expectations. They say time heals – I think it’s time this album’s reputation was healed as well. Admittedly it sounds a little square in 2014, as indie rock has fractured to a certain extent into the experimental post-Merrweather deep end and more ‘mindie’-minded acts, but if you still have a soft-spot for the sounds of mid-2000s Canadian indie, Without Feathers is an overlooked gem.

Shlock Fetish // Moontrap

July 19th, 2014 | Film | 0 Comments

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I’ve always love love loved crazy, weird, ridonculous movies: midnight movies, grindhouse, VHS trash, exploitation, WTF? movies, etc. Films that appeal to our most basic, boyish desires and have fun doing so. And yet I haven’t really written about them much…until now. This is the first entry in a new film feature on the blog, Shlock Fetish, which will be about cult and obscure films that fit the aforementioned descriptions. And are awesome. If they’re not, I won’t bother writing about them. The first film to receive the honour of this feature is 1989s Moontrap, a really fun, campy sci-fi film from perhaps the golden age of the VHS era.

Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov in the original Star Trek) and Bruce Campbell (!!!) star as Colonel Jason Grant and Ray Tanner, age-conscious astronauts who come across a mysterious, 14,000-year-old dead human body and weird egg-like structure in space. They bring their findings back to NASA, where the egg ‘hatches’ and out of it comes a weird little robot thing that starts assimilating surrounding technological and biological material until it’s a giant robotic killing machine. Of course, NASA wants to know what the deal is with this thing so they send the astronauts to the moon to try and see if they can find anything they missed the first time they were there. Lo and behold, they find an abandoned base with a moon-lady named Mera (Leigh Lombardi) in some kind of cryo-sleep in it. They wake her up and head back to their lander only to find it’s not there anymore. Damn moon-robots! And shooting and robot attacks ensue…

Moontrap is actually a pretty good movie. As cheesy as its subject matter is, the film respects its characters and gives them time to develop. It’s fairly well-paced and the stop-motion animation moon-robots look awesome. Sure, the sex that Grant and Mera have on the moon is pretty preposterous (though I suppose after 14,000 years a person will get kinda horny) and them ending up together is ridiculous, but both are kind of like, ‘yeah, of course that’s gonna happen in a movie like this.’ Other than that though, Moontrap more or less takes itself seriously enough to stand as a competently-made film, but it does so without sacrificing the fun of being a movie about killer moon-robots.