Laura Viers - July Flame
I remember the first time I heard Laura Veirs. I was listening to KCRW’s Brave New World With Tricia Halloran and on came “The Cloud Room” from Laura’s first record for Nonesuch, Carbon Glacier. So catchy, darkly humorous and such a pure voice. That proved to be one of the best releases of that year. The next record, A Year Of Meteors, while containing another batch of brilliant songs, seemed overproduced by comparison. 2007’s Saltbreakers was, perhaps, a step closer to Carbon Glacier.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I haven’t heard a Laura Veirs record I don’t love yet, but I’ve been waiting for an album that would impact me on the level that Carbon Glacier did. I’m happy to say that July Flame is that album.

When word came that she had re-signed with Bella Union, a great label run by Cocteau Twins’ Simon Raymonde (and formerly Robin Guthrie), I had mixed feelings. Nonesuch seemed a perfect artistic home for her, yet Bella Union was the home of my favorite album of hers.  Was Laura Veirs about to make a noise pop record?! Alas, Laura Veirs simply has made a record that Laura Veirs would make. Very wisely, she has kept the same producer she’s had since Carbon Glacier, the brilliant Mr. Tucker Martine. His treatment of Veirs’ material is perfectly graceful, knowing when to dress up a joyful moment and strip a solemn one to a pure voice in an empty room.

The record begins with the sparse and beautiful I Can See Your Tracks, adorned with the echo-laden voice of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. It is followed by the record’s finest song and title track, July Flame. With driving bass and percussion pulsing below, Veirs’ voice soars in the chorus with the refrain “Can I Call You Mine?”. It’s the finest song I’ve heard in 2010 and it even bests “The Cloud Room” in her canon. One would be remiss without mentioning her beautiful tribute to session musician Carol Kaye, entitled, well, Carol Kaye. Smile if you know who she is.

This record is a quieter one for Veirs. There are flashes of 99.9F-era Suzanne Vega and Neko Case, but Laura Veirs walks a unique path of her own. Beautiful support is provided by James, Martine, Karl Blau, Steve Moore, seasoned string arranger Stephen Barber and John Zorn/Bill Frisell regular (and former Winnipegger) Eyvind Kang.

I used to tell people to start with Carbon Glacier. That has now changed.

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Kissaway Trail - Sleep Mountain

Kissaway Trail - Sleep Mountain

The first of a three-part spotlight on British label Bella Union.

When a band’s influences seem obvious it’s easy to dismiss them as unoriginal or unchallenging. But when a band can take those influences, embrace them and craft them into something their own that comes across as a balanced musical undertaking this is a sign of their true creativity and self awareness. The Danish indie rock quintet The Kissaway Trail are a good example of a band that have embraced their musical influences and turned them into a solid album.

Sleep Mountain is The Kissaway Trail’s 2nd album released on Bella Union, intermingling rich multi-instrumental songs and strong vocal harmonies. From the monumental church bells on the opening track SPD it’s apparent they are fans of anthems. This and other tracks such as Friendly Fire, New Year, Don’t Wake Up & Enemy show why they draw obvious comparisons to the likes of Arcade Fire, Flaming Lips & the Polyphonic Spree while other tracks such as Beat Your Heartbeat are reminicent of early Death Cab for Cutie, especially vocally. Lead singers guitarist Soren B. Coreneliussen & Thomas Fagerlund’s sharing of vocal/ guitar duties (along with Daniel Skjoldmose on guitar/ keyboards & Hase Mydtskov on drums) are one of the albums strong points. While this album is very strong vocally, lyrically it doesn’t challenge or impress as much. The lyrical themes of the album are singular and narrow – loving love or the idea of love is not exactly breaking new ground.

With so many stylistic and vocal arms pulling in different directions, renowned producer Peter Katis manages to reign in the homages and bring focus and direction. The only seemingly disjointed track is the cover of Neil Young’s Philadelphia – beautiful, but somewhat out-of-place and failing to improve on the original.

If you can get past the obvious modern indie pastiche, you will see what this album is at heart: a balanced and solid undertaking with strong vocals and beautiful anthemic songs. If you can’t get past the influences then just continue listening to the Beginning Stages of… and Neon Bible. But you’ll be missing out in the end.

Majestic!

Courtney Wing’s new album The Bouquet Of Might & Fury is a mighty impressive opus.  Conceived as a response to a request to perform on CBC Live, Courtney has turned that corner from “an artist with potential” to “an artist”.  Bouquet Of Might & Fury magically weaves heartfelt vocals into string section backdrops with operatic ornaments.  It is undeniably intimate, holding your focus while the grandeur swirls behind you.

Amid playful melodies, whimsical flair and otherworldly imagery, Courtney sings of the heart’s trials and adventures.  And he’s found an outstanding cast of supporting friends to flesh out the big vision – members of Godspeed You Black Emporer, Torngat, Arcade Fire, Be Good Tanyas – and even the Record Of The Week Club (transplanted Manitoban Jen Thiessen).

Check out Courtney Wing with Royal Canoe & Dryer – Tuesday April 6 @ the WECC.