The Sound Of An Almighty Thud

The Sound Of An Almighty Thud

We’ve been hearing rumblings about We Were Promised Jetpacks for several months now.  And the earthquake has now cut my meagre office in half.  Split right down the middle.  We first heard them beamed in from KEXP Seattle one lazy afternoon.  The name had already popped up in a few reviews here and there… the name piqued our interest – part horrible emo, part new possibilities.  We figured it was the sign of a band that could go one of only two ways: absolute dreck, or uplifting and spirited.

Thank god it was the latter.

When listening to this album (and we emphasize ALBUM), its as though a dusty window is slowly been wiped clear in front of you.  The mature words of young Adam Thompson revealing quiet humanisms, small moments, the trial and triumph of the human spirit.

“Right foot.  Followed by your left foot.”  The fury of Its Thunder And Its Lightning fuses with the story of a boy, a small town, and growing up.  Conductor provides the album’s emotional and conceptual centre, a bulging emotional toure de force.  Half Built House and This Is My House, This Is My Home are the most obvious of several domicile-related songs with imagery that pepper the album with youthful visions of home, and what home means.  And if Conductor is the emotional take-off, Quiet Little Voices is the finger pointed in your face, telling you exactly what this is all about.

These Four Walls is everything Bloc Party wishes it could’ve maintained.  It is a powerful, churning and utterly real album.  In an age of fake indie and fake mainstream and bands that seem to pop up then disappear, We Were Promised Jetpacks show the promise of a band that might just stick around for awhile, to continue to speak to us, to reveal things about themselves, and in turn reveal things about us.

The warble in Thompson’s voice could be our own.  Or it could be a voice from another world.  Or maybe its just a voice from Scotland.

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The Happiness Project w/ braille on cover

The Happiness Project w/ braille on cover

Man oh man. Seriously? This is incredible. This celebrates all that is glorious and moving and human and deeply personal about music. This draws a direct line from one’s heart to one’s smile.

Charles Spearin’s The Happiness Project is everything that has been lacking in modern music for the past 10 years. No indie posturing. No ego. No cooler than thou. No self-referential bullshit. Just beautiful music celebrating what it is to be a human being, living, day by day. Each track is the musical exposition of conversations that Charles Spearin (DoMakeSayThink, Broken Social Scene) had with his neighbours on the topic of happiness. The honesty and non-pretension and immediacy of each neighbour is obvious (I think I’d like his neighbourhood).

Mrs. Morris …. “Happiness is love!” Indeed. Not only is she joyous and honest, but Charles couldn’t have found a better woman to accidentally provide the hypothesis of the project in its its purest form. Her laughter is contagious!

Vittoria is my favorite. The saxophone is being reclaimed! Big band that doesn’t sound like cheesy rehab shite! Great grooves, a seriously cute kid, and a giant smile across my face. Yeah, thats right. Bad. Ass. Saxophone.

Vanessa offers a voice that we hear so seldom – this is part pun and part sad truth – that within the music community there is surprisingly little diversity or participants with a disability. Its a heartwarming tale of a deaf woman engaging with sound. “And then I learnt that sound is electricity.”

Marisa is a little sad… her answer is cliched, the voice of a woman who has been broken by ‘the system’, by our corporate culture, by a lack of actual real connections to human beings. I feel a little sorry for her.

Mr. Gowrie is Marisa’s anti-oxident — a man who see’s our culture for what it is, as an outsider, someone who grew up in the developing world and has immigrated here. His realism and acknowledgement of the forces at play in this world is set in stark contrast to Marisa’s walled emotions.

Pop Etcetera

October 10, 2009

A new music festival has started up in Winnipeg.  In the spirit of Sled Island or Halifax Pop Explosion comes Pop Etcetera – a new (and long overdue) indie festival in Winnipeg.

Library Voices, Shout Out Out Out Out, Young Galaxy and VitaminsForYou headline.  Here’s to a great start and the foundation of great things to come.  (We vow not to miss VitaminsForYou’s full band set this time!)

Pop! Etc!

Pop! Etc!

Vieux Farka Touré has BIG shoes to fill.  His father Ali made the definitive African Blues album with Ry Cooder – Talking Timbuktu – and was one of Africa’s brightest international musical lights.  So we were excited and intrigued to see what the young Farka Touré would bring during his Winnipeg stop in June.

Well, his dad would be proud.  Not only did Vieux deliver one of the most exhilerating and inspired performances of the Jazz Festival, this record stands up to the work of his father – who was able to contribute to this album before his passing in 2006.

This is a record defined by rather aggressive guitar, strong musicality, and a sense of worldly patience.  Ai Haira rocks with groove and a cutting riff.  Souba Souba showcases some Bill Frissell-esque uses of delay and spaciousness.  And Mali is a heartwarming homage to Vieux’s homeland.  But the heartbeat of this album comes bursting forth in Cherie Le – gritty, groovy, and swaggering.

Sometimes we get a little cynical.  Sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to give in to a new act we’ve never heard of.  Every now and then we get surprised.

A few weeks ago The Albertans rolled into town on their cross-Canada tour.  Now based in Brooklyn and Vancouver, with a couple members who have Edmonton roots.And I must say, the opening act (The Wheat Pool) left me without much hope for the rest of the night.  Cliche’d frat-rock.  Boring, illiterate and best served with a Coors Lite.  No thanks.

But from the first notes – The Albertans surprised.  With confidence, strong arrangements, and most importantly strong vocals (reminiscent of Stars’ Torquil in tone and delivery) – the band created an inviting and intimate ambience.So, I bought the album.The record lacks the polish that the songs demand.  Its mixed unevenly and fails to properly convey several songs – particularly later in the record as the momentum falters.  But there is no denying its appeal, or the quality of the songwriting, or the great vocals and smart lyrics.
The female backing vocals are sweet – too sweet sometimes – but create a pleasant bed for lead singer Joel Bravo’s intimate baritone.The package design and band name don’t match the band’s indie-dance-vibe.  And the Sam Marcos title doesn’t seem contextual… so we’re gonna just chalk it up to a young, inexperienced band.  But its a band we’re going to keep an eye on, as this debut is stronger than anticipated.

The heartbeat has slowed...

The heartbeat has slowed...

Sondre is starting to do some very Elvis Costello-ish things.

a) Every record is a new experience, a new sound.  This is often a great thing.  (ie: the intelligent bombast of Phantom Punch)

b) Every now and then he puts out a dud.

This is the dud album.  We liked the jazzy turn of Duper Sessions.  We loved Phantom Punch and Faces Down.  But this is softly-tread, adult-contemporary simpledom.  Classic Rounder Records.  Too slick for its own good.  Too slick to let the songs shine through.  And then Sondre makes the regretful and obtuse Costello rip-off with title track Heartbeat Radio.  Perhaps after touring with Elvis and hearing him sing the classic caustic Radio Radio every night Sondre figured that his life could imitate art too.  But unlike his mentor, Sondre’s missives fall flat and emotion-less.

“Did the DJ drown in a sea of reverb and compression?”

No, just the accidentally self-referential artist.

Here’s to the next album, which will hopefully re-instate Sondre Lerche as one of the boldest and brightest songwriters going.  And while he’s at it, he should make sure the graphic designer knows how to work with shadows.  This cover is embarassing.

Chad VanGaalen

Ladies and gentlemen, the Polaris was rigged! We all know that the most insane, ballsy, irreverent and art-before-anything-else album was made in Calgary last year.  And no, not by Jann Arden.  (ahem?)  Right.  (And yeah, every Canadian city has a couple embarassing musical exports.  Winnipeg even named its finest theatre after some schmuck named Burton Cummings.)

But this is not a post about the schmucks! No. Its about Chad VanGaalen, doing a marvelous job of marrying the twisted spirits of The Unicorns and Sonic Youth into one neat little basement-living, mold-on-the-walls-while-you-sit-building-weird-instruments kind of thing.

Inside The Molecules throbs with electro glee and then simplifies, a push/pull that ultimately ends up with you in a sandbox with a bunch of thumb pianos.  Bones Of Man has a Springsteen-esque clarity of melody and arrangement that we’ve not heard from Chad before – a maturing of his pop sensibility.  Poisonous Heads sounds like the brains of a thousand Okotoks residents slowly melting to form a lake that will swallow Calgary.  And Molten Light (if you’ve been living in a cave and haven’t yet learnt of this YouTube thing) may just be the greatest video since MuchMusic stopped playing videos.  Or, well, at least since Beyonce’s.

Gemma Hayes

Back in 2004 a friend lent us Gemma Hayes‘ debut Night On My Side.  From the first track (Hanging Around) on, we were hooked – there was a whimsical honesty and throw-your-hands-up-at-the-world effortlessness that was endearingly captivating.  This led to that, and as fate would have it she ended up quitting music for awhile – only to come back firing with the exquisitely realized Hollow Of Morning.

Kevin Shields (My Bloody Valentine) comes out of his self-imposed woodwork to play his characteristic noise and guitar on the record, adding to the thickly textured ambience that helps separate this album from the sea of singer-songwriter schlock.  Instead of falling into the “acoustic guitar and voice” trap, Gemma contrasts her effortless and smooth vocals with coarse sonics and roomy drums.  Lyrically, this album succeeds in walking the same emotionally fine line traversed by Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard or Stars’ Torquil Campbell – personal and evocative without ever crossing over and becoming cheesy.  A testament to strong melodies and knowing how to use one’s voice to sell a lyric.

First single Home provides a driving and churning centrepoint to the album.  Other standouts include This Is What You Do, In Over My Head and Don’t Forget.

This is a powerful record that has been stuck in our player for months.  So much so that when you buy the album and get to track 9, you may have a peculiar sense of deja vu.

“I’m beginning to forget.  I’m beginning to forget you, I just see an outline.”