Monday, July 21, 2014

5 Best Albums in June 2014

Another month passes and another bunch of wonderful albums get released to much or very little fan fare. The five I enjoyed most in June were mostly under the radar, except one, which kind of not surprisingly blew up the radar.

GusGus - Mexico

Over the last couple years, the electro pop type music space has seemingly become a bit cluttered with more mediocrity than previously. Lately though, it seems the proverbial cream is rising to the top a bit more. I have been only mildly familiar with GusGus over the years, so this is the first record where I have invested any proper listening time. I gather their shift to more straightforward electronic based pop songs has been recent, so Mexico feels like them getting very comfortable in that skin. The songs work well as headphone listening, but are very dance floor ready as well, as evidenced by the gem "Another Life." Electronic pop music made by real professionals.

A Sunny Day In Glasgow - Sea When Absent

This is the fourth album by this band, and for my money it is their best. I have always loved their fearlessness, but it always felt like they might be hedging on melody and covering things sometimes excessively and unnecessarily in reverb and warm sludge. It sounds like they tried some different things in terms of band member duties during the recording process, as well as taking a more studio based approach to production. What it means is a record that is far more engaging and focused, without completely losing their overarching fuzzed out dreaminess. The band sounds much more comfortable with the idea of songs with harmonies and verse chorus structures (nothing over 6 minutes this time) without abandoning any of their inherent need to be adventurous. 

Lust For Youth - International

To this brief point, Lust For Youth has been a prolific project for Hannes Norrvide, but for International, he has added two players, filling out the sound quite a bit. There is still very much a dark synth feel throughout, but it gets balanced with some wonderful pop hooks. Songs like "Illume" reside on the record as classic pop numbers with brooding vocals, rather than some of the post-punk influenced music out there, where the pop is sprinkled sparingly on top of the seriousness. A song such as "New Boys" sounds like the type of song Depeche Mode wish they could still write so effortlessly. A very consistent outing from start to finish, from an artist who is clearly charting a much more mature and deliberate path for where he wants to take his music. 

Lana Del Rey - Ultraviolence

I am still not entirely sure I know what to do with LDR. It feels redundant to try and write anything briefly about her or even this record, which has not been written fifty different ways to the same ambiguous end. If you step away from all the hype, the press and worry less about what her angle is as someone in the celebrity eye, this becomes a pretty fantastic recording which stands completely on its own musically, artistically and aesthetically. I find the songs here far more rich and engaging than on her debut, of which I was only a lukewarm fan. Like the debut however, you would be hard pressed to find another record in 2014 so that sounds anything quite like Ultraviolence. This is a sum of its parts type record, where some songs stand out, but nothing strays far from a straight line of lovely moodiness. It will be interesting to see where her music takes her next, but any way you slice it, this is a quality recording for an artist of any tenure or motivation.

White Hex = Gold Nights

The post punk and dark synth descriptions are fair and obvious for GoldNights, but I would take it a step further and say there are elements of legitimate goth running through these songs. The guitar work brightens things up and pulls White Hex closer to the XX than Sisters of Mercy, but there is a level of angst and despair in these songs that keep them from being full on catchy pop songs with sombre vocals. "Paradise" is likely an accidental trick from the Cold Cave play book, and a song that balances the more wonderfully dreary tracks on the record. Compact at eight songs, this is a solid outing by a young Aussie duo who are doing a wonderful job at trying some things, borrowing some things, and finding their ways as an interesting new band.


How To Dress Well - What Is This Heart?
Lust For Youth - International
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah - Only Run

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Canada Day: A Random Coast to Coast Musical Shuffle

This feels like a piece I have written before, but a quick scan through the archives seemed to indicate no, so there you go. In honour of Canada Day 2104, this week I started contemplating a lot of "CanCon" artists and songs from the last 40 years or so. The forgotten, overshadowed, or underrated mostly.

I am not much for classic rock, but I wanted to give some thought to artists and songs that have stuck with me or made an impression for any number of reasons, at various points of life and listening maturity. The idea was to cover all ten Canadian provinces (sorry territories), east to west, and to try and highlight a great or favourite song from each province, while balancing the choices across the time span of the 70's right through current day.

Unlike everything else we post here at RBTR, there was no exact science used here and some of the choices could change before I hit publish, but I feel like this is mostly on the mark.


Hey Rosetta! - "Red Heart"

This is a more than just a really great song for CBC to cart out during every winter olympics (Canada has heart - red heart - get it?). For my money this is the best song ever recorded by a band from Newfoundland, but to be fair, that is partly because The Hardship Post had relocated to Halifax by the time they released "Watchin' You". This always sounded like a Broken Social Scene influenced song to me. Regardless, it is as strong as anything the mighty BSS have written. The build ups and drops are flawless, and the hooks are ridiculous.

Prince Edward Island

Haywire - "Standing In Line"

Based on size and population it is no one's fault that PEI has not produced a greater number of well known rock bands, but that by no means makes this a default pick for me. I was always struck by how much fun Haywire were having on their songs, in their videos, and on stage. If a trendy indie synth band recorded "Standing In Line" today, no one would question if it was a good song. All the elements of a great pop song are here, and by any measure his is a fantastic pop song.

Nova Scotia

Sloan - "Snowsuit Sound"

Halifax owned Canadian indie rock for a few years in the 90's. Ask Toronto. They started the rumour. Well at least until they got tired of us having all the best bands. If you strip out all the fiddles and bagpipes, this is a guitar pop town, and the highest profile band of them all wrote the greatest song of them all. This song is flawless, and then the handclaps drop and it somehow gets even better than flawless.

New Brunswick

Eric's Trip - "Girlfriend"

The 90's was a great decade for music not only in Halifax, and even though they sometimes got lumped in with their friends in Hali, Eric's Trip was very much a Moncton band, and this song is very much everything honest lo-fi indie rock should aspire to in any decade in any province or country. One of about four bands from this region who ended up signing with Sub Pop, I lied "Girlfriend" because it was less muddled in feedback and you actually got to hear Rick sing a pop song.


The Stills - "Lola Stars and Stripes"

As you move through central Canada and the population gets more dense, the likelihood of accidentally just bumping into cool bands increases. Quebec has perhaps the most interesting cross section of artists, especially in the last 15 years, but my faves were The Stills (still really bummed they had to call it  day) and this song is them at their new wave of post punk best.


Chalk Circle - "This Mourning"

Ontario is tricky. Especially across about four or five decades. The easy choice for me would be "Limelight" by Rush. Interestingly, I saw Chalk Circle open for Rush in 1987. It was not an especially life altering opener set, but I was left with the impression they were a special band with solid chops and quality songs. This song always really stuck with me and when it is playing I feel badly that more people have not heard this lovely 80's band from Newcastle, Ontario.


The Weakerthans - "Plea From A Cat Named Virtue"

These guys are one of my two or three favourite Canadian bands of the last 15 years, but it still took everything in me to not go with the nostalgic pick of "Innocence" by Winnipeg's Harlequin. There is probably no greater modern lyricist in this country than John K. Sampson and this song captures just about everything a modern rock song should be. I don't even know how you write a catchy song about being scolded by your rescue cat for self loathing. Amazing song.


Northern Pikes - "Wait For Me"

I heard this song on the radio when I was in high school. I was familiar with Northern Pikes, but had never really paid much attention prior. The melody here was completely engaging. I ran out and bought the Secrets of The Alibi tape. I played this song over and over (a lot of rewinding - trust me). I have never grown tired of it, and I think it holds up wonderfully.


Zuckerbaby - "Andromeda"

We were visiting family in Toronto when I first heard "Andromeda" (and first heard of Zuckerbaby). It immediately caught my ear and I proceeded to buy their self titled debut disc at HMV within the hour. This is a band and record that is probably forgotten amidst too many brief stints in the 90's where labels were signing so many interesting alt sounding bands and discarding them just as quickly when they could not produce the next top 10 Semi-Charmed nonsense. This is a lovely world class song.

British Columbia

Nick Gilder - "Hot Child In The City"

When you give all of this some thought, as a music nerd, you come to realize how much great music has proportionately come out of BC over the years. Probably the best pound for pound output if there was math that could prove it. Like many, as a kid I was convinced the vocalist was female (same with Gilder's vox on Sweeney Todd's "Roxy Roller"). Turns out it was a British dude raised in Vancouver who produced one of the sweetest glam rock gems of all time. I love this song more than life itself. Unlike so much truly overplayed classic rock stuff, I have never grown tired of this song. Not for one minute.