Album Reviews

Tasseomancy: Ulalume

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Out Of This Spark

Ok, here’s a genuine WTF moment. The Lightman twins have never made a secret of their obsessions with all things Goth and gauzy and gloomish. But at least as Ghost Bees, they could buzz at a melodic clip and somehow the vibe never got as downbeat as this miseryfest.

Renaming the act Tasseomancy seem to have given the ladies license to get down and wallow in Dirgeland and ‘self-indulgent’ doesn’t begin to cover it. But whatever. So let’s go take this thing on its own terms.

It owns no variety; plodding between grievous and forlorn, despair and melancholy with nary a relief in sight. It owns no standout track, even Heavy Sleep isn’t as heavy as you’d think. It owns no clarity of vision and this is reflected in the murky production.

It owns oblique lyrics of menace aplenty and Ashkelon and The Darkness Of Things deliver on their promise but after all the buildup, they’d have done well to drop in a tale of dark bloodlust in a rural environment. Just for a touch of the warm’n’fuzzies.

It also owns a handful of impressive vocals riffs, within the dronified context, and the Lightmans’ commitment to the material can’t be faulted. The album’s titled after an Edgar Allen Poe poem that probes with searing eyes at the mysterious death of a beautiful woman. If only they’d taken the poem to heart and thrown some mystery in the mix, as the one thing a project such as this shouldn’t be seen as is predictable.

Hennie Bekker: Spectrum

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Independent

This anthology album offers fourteen wonderfully inspirational and diverse tracks from eleven of Hennie Bekker’s most memorable albums. It is rewarding in so many ways and delightful to travel for a time with the genius of instrumental music that is Hennie Bekker, an award-winning, multi-platinum-selling musician, master composer and arranger.

A classically trained pianist, Bekker was raised in Zambia and one finds the symphonic, haunting and captivating African rhythms throughout his work. In 1987 he immigrated to Canada, producing a string of progressive and popular hits thereafter. In 1997 ‘Astroplance’ won a Juno Award for Best Dance Recording. He is a master of innovative musical technology.

If you decide, as you should, to take this journey, you will find yourself in a Spectrum of music. It highlights a variety of soundscapes from inspiring (Spring Rain) mysterious (Temba), progressive (Moving On), evocative (Awakings), romantic (Summer Breeze), African (Amani), emotive (Mirage), introspective (Reverie), meditative (Spa) to ethereal (Dreaming) and compassionate (Essence of Romance).  Each track is a gentle and beautiful improvisation with an emphasis on pause and tranquility. Sublime.

The Toronto-based Bekker usually works with a core group of musicians from that city which includes guitarist Greg Kavanagh, drummer Bob DiSalle and keyboardist Rob Gusevs, all of whom appear on the album.

Feist: Metals

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Arts & Crafts Productions


Much has been made of what a sharp changeup this is for Feist but really, she didn't have much of a choice. Just a little past the whimsical ingénue thing so wave goodbye to 1-2-3-4 and with the smell of BSS bridges burning, nothing to do but sharp left with the rubber peeling. All the way out of town.


Which is pretty much how she lays it our on the stately and album-definitive The Circle Married the Line ("I'll head out to horizon lines/ Get some clarity oceanside"). The back to nature theme underlies the opus like good loam from which springs a richly personal narrative that can explode in lines  like Cicadas and Gulls  ‘The land and the sea/ Are distant from me/ I'm in the sky."


Ok so far it’s reading like small-town girl hits bigtown fame and scares herself back to the land. Except when Feist flies back to the land she lands in Paris, France to craft songs that could have sprung from Paris, Ontario.


Girl’s also on the run from a flamed out relationship, a component which imparts a decided edge to the cosy and settled vibe centre stage.It likely accounts for the pared down production in which the familiar lip-gloss veneer is stripped off in favour of accents and texturisers.

Compact DISCovery



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CAROLYN FE BLUES COLLECTIVE
Original Sin
Independent


Compact DISCovery


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Jaimie Vernon




KITTIE 
I’ve Failed You

Kathryn Calder: Bright and Vivid

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F.U.M.

This solo sophomore album from hipster chantoosie Calder is a big step towards establishing her own tone as a solo artist. This is on account of she arrived on most folk’s radar as singer with The New Pornographers and had that to get out from under. All along, she’d been writing songs that wouldn’t fit with TNP’s aesthetic so a solo album was inevitable.


It dropped in 2010 and Are You My Mother? was the stylistic mishmash in search of a core that was, in a way, to be expected. It did serve an important purpose in establishing that Calder could take meaningful steps away from TNP and in the direction of her own voice, so there was a sense of good things to come. If the debut was the expected, this one exceeds expectations.


First to be sent to the showers the stagnant melancholia which was the dominant vibe of the opener, replaced with an inclusive cherry pick among genres suitable to Calder’s honeyed vocals.
Next off, the earnest, at times timid and sketchy production values. In its place, vast washes of sound and layer upon later of subtly subverted instrumentation and a deft hand with using voice as instrument. It’s not yet the definitive Calder album but it’s full of signposts to how she intends on getting there.

Dan Mangan: Oh Fortune

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Arts & Crafts

Whoa, this is the kind pf abrupt u-turn can put a career in the ditch. Y’all remember Dan Mangan of Polaris Music Prize-nominated album Nice, Nice Very Nice fame and consequent international touring. Sunny of disposition and sounding all Left Coast cuddly bear doing songs about robots needing love and fun roads taken.


If you’re hung on that Dan Mangan, bad news. This is not him. That dude’s outa here, leaving this Dan Mangan in his wake to make sense of it all.


Which is precisely what the album does not do. For Dan’s run out of easy answers and sunny asides and he’s looking down the cold steel barrel of success. In that spot, the man’s loaded with sharp questions and armed to cut to the quick.


The music’s still as minimalist clever but there’s way more instrumentation deployed and the carefully layered arrangements are inspired, all in the service of the dark side.


“Where did I go? What is this sorrow?” Dan Mangan asks on Jeopardy, the album’s existential closer and with song titles like Almost As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any help At All  and Regarding Death And Dying the bitterness is guaranteed and that’s fine. Although more of it might have gotten over more effectively had more sarcastic humour been involved.

CD REVIEWS-COMPACT DISCOVERY!

Evan Miles

Story: Jaimie Vernon

Since the ubiquitous homogenizing of the music industry post-Napster, there has been a raging debate about the need and/or demand for CDs. After putting out the call in the last two months for CDs to review in this column, I am happy to report that the demand is still there; in fact,  a CD manufacturing associate of mine reports that independent CD manufacturing is still GROWING (the only downturn has been in the number of re-prints  of artist titles over the long-term). Needless to say, I’m swamped with product. We hereby present a slight reformatting of my weekly reviews to include news about Canadian music releases as well.

EVAN MILES “Conductor”
(independent). 
I initially struggled with the packaging on this release - there’s no website address on the sleeve and the MAPL logo incorrectly indicates that the music and lyrics are Canadian but the artist and the producer are not [note to all aspiring musicians: these details are important!]. However, I was pleased to discover this 6-song EP is a slick acoustic workout with sparse but tasty arrangements that teeters between demo and commercial release.

 The songwriting is spectacular and thought provoking on tunes like “Before Rock Was Dead”, “Here We Are” and “Found You”. These hook-driven tunes have the potential to draw a wider audience as they fall into Bruno Mars territory. Miles’ vocals seem a little plaintive in spots, but there’s no denying his passion. 

SEAN KELLY: Where The Wood Meets The Wire

Sean Kelly

Opening Day/Universal Music

It's exciting to watch an artist mature and evolve as we have with guitarist Sean Kelly. He's progressed from  the salad days of T-Rexian glam rock via his band Crash Kelly, side project 69 Duster (with Images In Vogue's Dale Martindale) and Guns 'n Roses' Gilby Clarke, to being the bassist with Canadian heavy metal act Helix and, more recently, touring guitarist for Nelly Furtado.

While most rock musicians get their formal training emulating the music of their heroes, Kelly received his in classical guitar from Eli Kassner (student of Segovia). So the concept of a rock guitarist making his solo debut on classical guitar isn't that far removed from Kelly's roots. This is Classical album number three for the young guitarist, having released a Christmas album and "The #1 Classical Guitar Album" as warm-ups.

On 'Where The Would Meets The Wire', Kelly takes a cue from Liona Boyd's more pop-oriented approach to the classics by augmenting traditional classical solo workouts (Tarrega's "Capricho Arabe", Sanz's "Pavane" and Mertz's "Nocturne") with full instrumental arrangements on pieces like Sanz's "Espanoleta" and Barrios' "La Catedral' suite using modern devices such as programmed backing tracks and keyboards courtesy of co-producer Craig McConnell.

11 STEPS
: 11 Steps


11 Steps

Independent

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