Album Reviews

The Sweetness: What’s it like to be a sprinkler, I wonder?

The Sweetness

Independent

This first release from a Toronto/Austin mashup group raises the bar for harmonic percussive folk. Sure there’s such a genre. Toronto solo artists Chloe Charles and Sam McLellan and Austin’s Aly Tadros and Douglas Jay Boyd came together in downtown Memphis, Tennessee during this year’s Folk Alliance International.The chemistry was instant and the mutation into a band seemingly inevitable.

Each accomplished individually, singer-songwriter Chloe Charles and composer/session musician/double bassist Sam McLellan, singer-songwriter Aly

Tadros and singer-songwriter/percussionist Douglas Jay Boyd  join forces as The Sweetness and launch their debut album “What’s it like to be a sprinkler, I wonder?”

The result is infused with the freshnes of a band together but a few weeks before the album was cut.. Rich four-part harmonies and heavy cajon-driven backbeats echo, lush harmonies soar atop eerie rhythm patterns.

Elsewhere, mind-entrancing, double-tracked she-vocals slink around spooky settings for gaunt and edgy folk-blues. Don’t let the band name fool you, this is one crew way into getting beyond the merely quirky into darker and unsettling territory.

And with Chloe Charles’ range and Aly Tadros’ haunting tones they’ve got the vocal flexibility to carry the heaviest of moods.

James Lizzard

Austra: Feel It break

Austra

Domino/Paper Bag

This bracing antidote to flirty summer fun never really had its day in the sun on original release. Hoping to redress that, we'll get the big ups out of the way. Feel It Break is intelligent, quirky, broody synth pop, Goth guitar rock with a dance club sensibility and the soaring vocals of opera-trained underground diva Katie Stelmanis. With its forceful production and stronger emphasis on rhythm Feel It Break may piss off Austra fans that cling to the ethereal sounds of debut album Katie Stelmanis. There's some of that here but there's so much that's unexpected also.

When first single "Beat And The Pulse" dropped last year, it was thought to be an experimental one-of; instead, it was the sign of things to come and with Feel It Break, those things have arrived full force.

Dark electronic and searing, histrionic vocals are reminiscent of Fever Ray and early Kate Bush but this Katie brings her own high-drama operatic nuances to the proceedings.

Stelmanis' childhood experience with the Canadian Opera Company is evident as she delivers lines that are alternately delicate and booming.

Hard at work behind the voice, Austra the band are keeners for high-gloss, stacatto coldwave vibes closer to Nine Inch Nails than anythng contemporary. It's retro, it's futuro, it's epic and you can dance to its ofttimes dark subject mater.

Graham Wright: Shirts Vs Skins

Shirts vs Skins

FU:M Records

Wow, is modern fame ever fleeting. Usually in the opposite direction. After years of slogging, Tokyo Police Club are finally breaking out of the indie ghetto and blam! solo album from the keyboard player.

Which is fine as Graham Wright’s keyboard stylings is a significant contributor to the TPC sound and maybe dude has things to say outside of the format of Tokyo Police Club.

He does and he doesn’t. He’s big on reportage from the teen-sheen relationship angst wars but TPC has covered that turf in the past, so that’s not it. So it’s the music then. Nah, this is high octane power pop of the sort TPC have brought to a refinement, just a shade more ligtweight.Not necessarily a bad thing in this genre and Wright does on occasion dip into more rootsy approaches.

It’s in the lyricism where the wheels fall off  While TPC have dabbled in heartbreak teen rock, the arrangments usually bring something a little different and Dave Monk’s lyrics are worlds apart from Wright’s buzz word dropping and face value observations.
Shirts vs. Skins is a collection of Nineties classic power-pop , with period sense of irony to the fore. The good news is this means hooks and skittery synth passages galore and the catchiness of such as ‘Leftovers’ and “Something Stupid” make this a decent summertime waster and girl-chaser soundtrack. Except for “Canadian Thanksgiving” which veers perilously close to misogony a time or two.

James Lizzard

CD Review: Invitation – Bernie Senensky

Bernie Senensky

By Bill McDonald

“Invitation” is the latest addition to the Bernie Senensky discography. And, a great addition it is.
In this trio recording, with Gene Perla on bass and Ben Riley on drums, Senensky delivers his trademark compelling melodic lines with the seemingly effortless creativity. In their rhythmic and soloing contributions, Perla and Riley dovetail perfectly.

“Invitation” (P.M. Records, www.pmrecords.com) is a mix of standards and original compositions. Senensky brings his insightful melodic interpretations to chestnuts such as “Old Folks”, “Come Rain or Come Shine”, and “Young and Foolish”. The trio also shines on two personal favourites – the title track, “Invitation” and the haunting “My One and Only Love”.

In sharing the umbrella with these classics, Senensky’s personal compositions intertwine perfectly. From the opening energy of “Come to Me”, and “Blues for E.J” (his tribute to the late jazz legend, Elvin Jones) to the closing bebop “Bud Lines”, Senensky’s compositional talents shine brightly. One other original contribution from bassist Perla, “Bill’s Waltz” also highlights this CD.

FINE CANADIAN FORCES: Hebrew Lessons

Fine Canadian Forces

Independent

Here’s a collection that’s just a lot of loopy , goofy fun. Fine Canadian Forces is multi-instrumentalist Jordan Fine of much indie cred and a fondness for using the loop pedal in constructing his Modern Jazz, Noise Rock, Neo-Pop sound collages.


Fine sticthes together intricate sonic adventures backboned by repitition, both of the melodic and vocal nature. The lyrics tend to be looped variants on either funny or cryptic one-liners likely meant to illustrate where the piece is ‘coming’ from.


While all this may sound ultra-hipster and like, too cool, Fine is too clever for that, and manages to keep the furthest out excursions of interest to even the most casual listener. Dude really uleashes his compositional chops however, when he turns his hand to rearranging pop standards.


This type of thing usually falls prey to the desire to re-invent the wheel, ending up re-imagining the original until all traces are virtually wiped clean. Fine pulls it off via clever song choices and an approach which challenges the original while keeping a firm hold on its choicest bits.


While  Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” and The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”.walk proudest in their new clothes, they’re stand back and take notice pieces.


Much better in its sly way is the Gospel-tinged reworking of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love’ which is simultaneously elevating and hilarious, courtesy of a stone-cold deadpan vocal.

BIG SUGAR: Revolution Per Minute

Big Sugar

Bread And Water

So Gordie Johnson relocates to Texas and the reggae groove on Big Sugar gets deeper? Maybe Gordie was missing the band’s early years in the T.Dot when they first started mixing up electric blues with reggae grooves.

This first Big Sugar album in 8 years sure sounds like it.

Last year Gordie Johnson took time out from his country-metal project Grady to play a clutch of show with a hastily reunited Big Sugar. The experience was sweet enough to entice the crew back into the studio for a ‘reunion’ album, a concept that doesn’t often end with the best results.
Revolution Per Minute is not one of those. Instead, it’s everything you’ve ever liked about Big Sugar and more.

The Davey Parker Radio Sound: In A Land of Wolves and Thieves

Wolves

Unsigned

Parkdale’s newest countrified garage darlings have been busy making a name over the last year on the strength of their live show. Time for that debut album then and as such things go, this one isn’t bad.
For genre fans, this crew falls somewhere between Rockit 88, Catl and the Johnny Max Band. They come armed with dual guitarists/lead vocalists. Graeme Jones and Jason Fitzpatrick and a fondness for psyche rock and garage psychedelia 

While their playing styles are sufficiently different to make both necessary, the similarity between the voices of Jones and Fitzpatrick means some songs are never gonna be all they can be. Case in point, ‘Southern’ eases along on a grabby melody and an easygoing time signature but would have benefited from a more engaged vocal.

Same with the lyrics; you’d think a band which takes it’s name from a Dylan lyric (Check  ‘Trust Yourself’). would work a little harder on the narrative.
The times when the garage band aesthetic and a decent narrative come together are numerous enough to forgive the stumbles. Overall, the set does a decent job of conjuring up the boozy dance party that is a Davey Parker Radio Sound live show. Personal fave track ‘I Tasted Your Love’, is every bit as yummy sticky as it sounds.


James Lizzard

HANDSOME FURS: Sound Kapital

HANDSOME FURS

Sub Pop

The world-travelling duo of  Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry who make up Handsome Furs are undeniably handsome and quite possibly furry. Both these qualities manage to find their way into this worldbeat techno pop sound and help save the act from their worst 80s selves.
Debut album. Face Control hit hard on both sides of the ocean, its tales of cold and desperate love struggling with synth passages that just wouldn't play it straight, sounded fresh and confident.
 
Overnight success only served to push them further off the beaten path. If the debut was Eastern-European inspired, Sound Kapital does very well by Southeast Asian and Chinese inflections, Which doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the sounds of those places which impact the Furs; what’s here can be read as the sound of the Furs interpreting the visuals and ambient noises of those cultures.

Worked over by Boeckner and Perry, the ever-flowing neon nightscapes, energy and street noises of Manila, Bangkok and Beijing are the jumping off points for Sound Kapital.
The tinny synth jangle is just right for suggesting the ringing of thousands of bicycle bells. In most cases, the songs are all about the electronica with Boeckner’s guitar used mainly to highlight and accentuate but rarely lead.

Lindi Ortega: Little Red Boots

Linda Ortega

Last Gang Records

Things are tight for alt-country female singers in the T.Dot at the moment, if only because there are so many good ones around. This makes it all too easy to overlook up and comers, especially if they don’t have big label support behind them, or Tweeter Nation on their side.

So do yourself a favour; don’t overlook Lindi Ortega. The Toronto native’s been building a fan base in the West End’s hipsterville for the last two years, working up a strong live set along the way.

Little Red boots does a great job of replicating Ortega kicking these tunes live, with all the fire that implies. Up tempo opening track "Little Lie" sounds fresh off the floor, Ortega coming with a countrified vocal then smoothly switches gears for the pop-centric  "When All the Stars Align".

You want geetar hooks? She brings ‘em large especially on “Jimmy Dean”, the title rack and the killer “Blue Bird”, the for-sure charter here.

For the closer, Lindi drops a bigass Patsy Cline-ish vocal on “So Sad”, the perfect amalgam of heartache and defiance, the twin themes defining most of the tunes in the set.

So the overall sound? Lucinda Williams and Neko Case getting drunk in Waylon Jennings studio. Or as the lady herself said;” A roadside motel love affair between old school outlaws and country darlings.’

James Lizzard

SAM ROBERTS BAND: Collider

Collider

Universal

Remember when Sam Roberts was gonna be Bruce Springsteen? Then the bottom fell out of the straight-ahead rock’n'roll market with the advent of the new prog rock (Arcade Fire, The Dears, Patrick Watson), Sam’s last pair of albums landed with a lack of impact.

This one should go far to restore Sam’s star in the heavens of cool.

Much is made of Collider as a return to roots but it's very rhythm oriented in enough places to beg that question. Also, in recent interviews Sam’s been going on about his deep interest in South and West African music of all genres. that he’d been listening to lately,

I guess the rootsy parts would be the easy peasy wide-screen sprawl, the guitar dominance and Roberts’s organic style of song writing. The new stuff’s in the grooves and the way Roberts is now constructing songs around their rhythm pulse. Dude’s writing groove rock, referencing back when Radiohead were a guitar band. 

It isn’t all changeups though; the fanbasers will drool on ‘Longitude’ whose searing layered guitars bring knives to this tale of a politely imploding relationship. Land of Talk vocalist Elizabeth Powell shows up to elevate the things in a duet with Roberts. And Streets of Heaven’ with its Springsteenian title delivers on that promise with solid rock riding on smacking bass lines.

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