Amos the Transparent’s Homecoming
With their latest LP Goodnight My Dear…I’m Falling Apart, Amos the Transparent have sent a message that their music knows no bounds. Having received critical acclaim for their previous two albums, their most recent release is a testament to their ability to fuse diverse instrumentation and more experimental songwriting tactics with the honesty in lyrical content that has come to define the band’s music. While tracks like ‘Says the Spark’ and ‘Sure as the Weather’ have infiltrated the eardrums of indie music lovers across Canada, the album in its entirety is a journey through tame melodies, percussive onslaughts, and complex vocal patterns that never leave the listener unsatisfied. Variable instances of tranquility and vigor define the character of this album: both light and dark. These contrasting features make for an effective and balanced record.
The band is beginning its fall tour with multiple Canadian tour dates, the second of which was last night (August 16th) at Zaphod’s. Friends, family and a dependable fan base crowded into the venue in what felt like a fraternal gathering of sorts. Halifax native Ben Caplan started things off, with a voice that CBC’s Chris Norris describes as having a “rough around the edges, bar room salooney, Tom Waits vibe to it”. Caplan was sans his usual band, The Casual Smokers, but managed to rile the growing crowd up with just his acoustic guitar and pure vocal power. He is a true musician, creating unmistakably unique sounds that just happen to go well with bands like Amos. He also assured me he would be back to Ottawa in the coming months.
The night continued with Toronto’s Battle Mountain Band, a group that was formed by friends who also belong in other bands. For a side-project band that seems to be around just for the sake of a creative outlet, their opening performance of “My Weekend” gave the impression that this band had been around for years. Their set was fun, free-spirited, and laden with bits of humour as they encouraged everyone in the crowd to get closer to the party on stage. Echoes of folk rang through in many of the guitar riffs, and flowing bass lines gave many of their songs a classic feel. In the footsteps of bands like Good Old War, all the members of Battle Mountain Band are lead vocalists, trading verses and bringing a different style and sound to each song. Even in songs like Detroit, which is about one of their ex-wives, all members shared the stage equally. The only shortcoming was some missed vocal harmonies; while not a major issue, it was distracting at points. The overall performance, however, was rhythmically sound and well executed. Ottawa native Trevor James explains, “Now all engines are firing, we’re back writing lots. We just recorded three new tunes, doing lots of shows… but typically we’re always working and writing no matter what. While transitioning from Montreal to Toronto there was a bit of a lull, but yeah everything is very casual with the Battle Mountain Band since we all have our own projects outside of this one.”
Amos the Transparent came on as the headliner, opening with the song ‘Title Track’ from their debut album Everything I’ve Forgotten to Forget. Their band chemistry was apparent right away as Chandler’s vocals carried perfectly with the variety of instruments on stage. Much like their latest album, their set flowed through peaks and valleys of emotion. Eloquent cello playing by Mike Yates tempered the crowd’s liveliness, which was quickly invigorated by the triad of guitars and two-piece brass. Throughout the entire set it was obvious that the band and audience were thriving off each other. During the performance of ‘Lemons’, Chandler got the crowd singing the background melody without having to persuade them. This dynamic reached a new height when the crowd screamed the refrain “I was meant to go alone” during the song ‘Greater Than Consequence’, which I found to be surprisingly different from the album version I was familiar with.
‘We always look at it in two ways’, says lead vocalist Jonathan Chandler, ‘there’s live Amos and there’s studio Amos. Live Amos always plays the songs that we come up with in the studio, but we kind of take a no-borders approach. We can go ahead and have two drum parts going at the same time as well as a quartet of vocals and three guitar parts in the studio, it sounds cool through the speakers but how are we going to do that live? I think that’s where having seven of us up there allows us to do more, we can each add our own thing on stage.”
One aspect of the show that cannot be overstated is the presence of Kate Sargent. Being the only female on stage, Sargent’s vocals compliment Chandler’s in such a way that it adds another layer to the band’s identity. In songs like ‘Up & Out’ and ‘Sure As The Weather’, her singing is just as pervasive as Chandler’s is, bringing more depth and beauty to their performance. I was as impressed as the girl standing next to me, who happened to be screaming “You are blowing my mind” repeatedly to Sargent between songs. I don’t blame her. Her stand-alone verse in ‘The Stale Scent of Old Beer’ made the entire crowd go silent, after which drummer Chris Wilson took the opportunity to end the song with thunderously climactic percussion. Chandler explains, “We added Kate and Mike after the album was recorded, and I really wish they had been there through that process, because they really do have great ideas and a neat perspective on things”. Wilson also says that, “It’s allowing us to explore more sonic possibilities than we did as a three-piece or four-piece. It’s allowed us to reach greater heights, dynamically and in the intricacies of our songs”.
As far as indie music goes, Amos the Transparent is arguably Ottawa’s greatest export, having their music heard nationally through CBC Radio 3 and on shows like Studio Q (where Jian Ghomeshi referred to the band as “The Canadian Wilco”) and internationally at SXSW Music Festival. It isn’t hard to imagine that this is only the beginning.
Down To Earth: Cardboard Crowns @ Zaphod’s July 26
This past week has been pretty hectic, moving into a new place and helping friends move apparently takes a while. I wanted to write about a show I went to last week, one that was probably one of the funnest I’ve been to all summer.
The bill was a wild one, with The Dead Zone starting things off with hardcore punk and then the Musettes calming things down with their beautiful harmonies and melodic music. I had been meaning to see them play for a while now, hearing great things about their live performances. Not only were they happy to be on the bill with a few punk bands, they got the crowd at Zaphod’s on their side immediately. I was curious how the contrast in genres would play itself out, but I was completely blown away with how talented these girls were. Check out their CBC Music page here.
As far as ska/punk goes, it’s a really tough genre of music to break into. It’s one of those things that has been done so many times that it’s hard to imagine anything original being brought to the table. Not to say that these bands don’t have something to offer, reggae and punk-influenced music by nature is limited in terms of style. Ottawa’s own Cardboard Crowns are an example of a band that refuse to be part of the herd. They get that it’s not always about the music, but about the identity of the band as a whole. What separates them from the pack is their character on stage, and the fact that their primary goal isn’t to get money or fame. It’s to get people together and have the best time possible, not taking themselves too seriously. Between the goofy clothes and funny on-stage banter, it was pretty evident that Joel, Matt, Frank and Tokyo were having as much fun as everyone watching the show.
The obvious highlight of the show was the encore. The lead singer Joel told everyone to come on stage, and almost the entire crowd got up and danced the rest of the night away. The last time I saw something like this happen was when Iggy & The Stooges did the same at Lollapalooza in 2007. Getting the crowd involved in the fun made the night that much better, as the energy from their set reached a peak. Their set included my personal favourite, “Down To Earth” as well as great new tracks “Global Citizen” and “Long-Armed Bandits”. As far as shows at Zaphod’s goes, this one was the most fun I have been to. Keep an eye out for these guys playing in Ottawa again, the Crowns do not disappoint.
Break North Festival 2012 – Opening Night Experience
Independent music is something that is not easily grasped by the masses. I don’t mean to imply that there is anything categorically abstract about it that makes it less accessible to the general public. And I certainly wouldn’t group all indie music together into a genre per se (that is a huge pet peeve of mine), but I’ve always been intrigued by the way in which these bands approach the songwriting process and expose their work to the public. In many ways, there is a double-edged sword to becoming an indie artist.
On the one hand, there is total artistic freedom with respect to style and composition. Artists have the ability to produce incredible music from their bedrooms, and build hype through music blogs or streaming sites without necessarily spending a dime on physical albums. Many bands create their own mega-specific genre of a sub-genre of a sub-sub genre…, which demonstrates creativity and musicianship in a way that is almost unheard of in the Top 40 world. This creates (in some, not all cases) niche audiences and devout fan bases that are sparse but committed. On the other hand, it is a barren desert of obscurity for most independent artists out there. Just because there is true passion and inspiration in music does not necessarily pave the way for success – it is a difficult process developing a fan base from an already miniscule percentage of the music-listening population. Most offer up their work free to stream and download on sites like Bandcamp or Soundcloud, and allowing the listener to pay whatever price they are willing to fork out for the music. Plus, most venues for music exposure (such as festivals or radio stations where bands can market their sound) have an interest in showcasing artists who are already established. Getting gigs isn’t always easy for the lesser-known ones, and attracting new faces is even more challenging. For me, anyway, this is a big problem.
Enter the Break North Festival. It’s mission is to “showcase independent and emerging Canadian musicians over a four day run of concerts in the National Capital”. It’s purpose is simple – bringing local independent artists into an intimate setting in order to give them exposure as well as provide fans with an opportunity to experience new music in a way that won’t destroy your last paycheque. I spoke with organizer Mark Isbrandt about the purpose and motivation behind the four-day festival. He emphasized the point that there are not many ways for local, independent bands to show off their material to new audiences – a series of shows that bring people to experience new and different music can provide a way for artists to promote themselves and garner some more support.
There are many music festivals in Ottawa, and Mark didn’t shy away from acknowledging the fact that competition is stiff – especially in the summer. He pointed out that there is a lot of diversity in the music scene in the nation’s capital, and that having a variety of bands gives the festival an edge over some others. Hosting shows that aren’t genre-specific give the audience a chance to expand their horizons and get a good idea of what kind of local music is out there. With so many larger festivals such as Bluesfest and Folkfest, the intimate atmosphere at Elmdale Tavern and Rainbow Bistro is a refreshing change where musicians and fans can interact more easily.
|Little Stella @ Break North Festival
I was able to make it out to the opening night of Break North at Elmdale Tavern on June 14th, and got to see things kick off first hand. Little Stella
was the first band to play and their set was a strong start to the festival. Their Canadian folk/rock sound also earned them a spot at the Live 88.5 Big Money Shot competition this year, one they hope to advance through to the later rounds in the coming months. The band was happy to be playing the festival and seemed very comfortable on stage, with all members contributing to a great sounding set. It was nice to meet the guys and hear how excited they are to be playing in front of new people, as they were genuinely stoked to share some of their experiences as a young band and some of their future plans. Hear their EP Songs For Spain
and catch them live at Feverfest next Saturday at the Clocktower Pub (Glebe) 9:30 PM.
The night continued with After Funk
playing next, a group of young talented guys who made the long trip up from my hometown of London, Ontario. Lead singer Yanick Allwood wasted no time getting the crowd involved, and playing funk/soul music that even got the older bartender lady out dancing. Like me, I heard many people in the audience say how impressed they were with the set, which included a mix of originals and covers of Jimi Hendrix, Beatles, Bob Marley, and Michael Jackson, amongst others.
|The Ticket @ Break North Festival
|Arms of the Girl
played next and performed some of their folk-rock songs off their album Versions of Happiness
. They didn’t hold back, as lead singer Carolyn Côté kept the energy going with good stage presence and strong vocals. I met them after the show and they were very down to earth, even nice enough to give me a sample of their music. Check them out June 28th at Zaphod’s with Bleeker Ridge. The Ticket
closed things out with their original sound and style. Lead singer and guitarist Adam broke a couple strings on the first song, but avoided that brutally awkward pause while waiting for the other guitar by providing some impromptu banter. Throughout the rest of their set, Adam let the guitar do the talking and blew away the audience as both he and Jack (on drums) poured every inch of their soul into the set. I was also totally impressed with the sound at Elmdale too, getting it right in smaller venues is not a common occurrence. Props to sound guys, who don’t get enough credit.
Overall, the night proved to be a reminder of how important these lower-key festivals are for local independent artists. Having the opportunity to meet some of the artists and organizers involved reminded me that so much passion for music as an art form exists at the grassroots level, and that true music lovers have something to gain from being part of an intimate, small-venue festival such as Break North. Not only is it a great way to meet those involved, but fans also become part of the experience in a way that isn’t quite the same at larger shows. For me, the absence of anonymity was a very positive thing – it was as if you could feel everyone listening and have the bands feed off that connection. I hope Break North becomes a regular fixture amongst Ottawa’s festivals, because I think it is necessary to balance the emphasis of larger events with ones that are solely focused on the local. Supporting our independent artists is the only way to ensure Ottawa remains an artistic centre and an ever-growing source of new musical talent in Canada.
Review: PS I Love You + Army Girls @ Maverick’s (08/06/12)
When I heard that PS I Love You was making a stop in Ottawa, I was determined to check them out and see how good they are live. I got the feeling that they would be one of those bands who would surpass their album sound with a live manifestation of their material. With their 2010 debut Meet Me at the Muster Station garnering attention and acclaim (not to mention a place for them on the 2011 Polaris Prize Long List), Paul Saulnier and Benjamin Nelson are on a worldwide mission to top that with last month’s release of their new LP Death Dreams. This album has proven to be a massive success so far, providing listeners with both experimental aspects combined with the style that most of us grew to love on Muster Station. But anyway, this isn’t an album review so my suggestion is if you enjoyed Muster Station and are into the garage-rock sound then you have to check out Death Dreams.
So last night PS I Love You played at Maverick’s alongside Try Harder & Army Girls. The night started out a little rough as my friend/photographer lost his wallet (still yet to be found), thus causing us to miss Try Harder. I saw Ming of the Photogmusic blog between sets and he said it was great, so it’s too bad we missed them but sometimes these things are out of your control.
Army Girls definitely knew what they are doing, even though lead vocalist Carmen Elle being admittedly nervous before the set. Each having been in a number of bands before their current one, as well as collaborating with Ben Cook (Fucked Up producer), their spot as a fixture on the Toronto DIY scene is well-deserved. The duo seems to be an inevitable pairing, combining Andy Smith’s dynamic and powerful drums with Carmen’s attitude and rawness. They have done what many other up-and-coming DIY artists have, pulling together all different aspects of their musical inspirations and styles to make music that won’t be forced into any specific genre or category. They began playing as people were still making their way into the venue, so the crowd was still a little quiet and reserved. Except for that one guy who kept yelling in Carmen’s left ear. However, once they started playing the energy level became noticeably higher. Her comfort with the fretboard and laid back demeanor gave the impression of “I’m a bad ass and I’m going to make you love our music”, the same kind of edge you might expect from The Kills. Although the vocals and higher guitar tones were difficult to make out sometimes (by no fault of their own), songs such as ‘End of Days’ and ‘White Towel’ really set the tone for the night as Carmen seemed to let loose throughout the latter portion of the set. I was really happy I got to see Army Girls perform, especially since I was still kicking myself for missing Try Harder. I get the feeling they will continue to go on doing great things, and hope that they come back to Ottawa soon.
Check out a great Blog T.O. interview with Army Girls here.
When it was time for PS I Love You to take the stage, Maverick’s had filled out a bit more. After a 10-minute wait for a piece of equipment, the band cranked the volume and began to play what would turn out to be a powerful set through and through. What originally attracted me to PS I Love You was some similarities with the band Fucked Up with respect to the style and composition of their music. There is an unmistakable punk aspect at the core of both of these bands, but each has transformed their music into something more. The lead guitar punches out arpeggios and riffs that mesh so well with the rhythm and drums, not to mention the vocals that are anything but ordinary. What I also found funny is last summer I could not stop listening to David Comes To Life by Fucked Up, and songs like Queen of Hearts. Fast forward to this summer and I can’t stop listening to Death Dreams, particularly the songs Princess Towers, Don’t Go and First Contact. There are so many good reasons why Fucked Up won the Polaris Prize in 2009, I see no reason why PS I Love You wouldn’t be a contender this year.
Seeing Paul Saulnier showcase his guitar talents on stage live was a treat. No wonder he was voted #99 in SPIN Magazine’s Top 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. His style is really unique, making it look easy to do tricks on the upper frets and sing at the same time. His work with the double-necked guitar is masterful. The duo is now a trio, as they added instrumentalist and van-driver extraordinaire Tim Bruton. It seems as though their relentless touring schedule over the past couple years is paying off, as each song was played with perfection and its own complexity. Drummer Benjamin Nelson was in a percussive trance state throughout the show and carried Paul’s melodies to the audience all night long. They ended the set with First Contact, which is probably my favourite off the new album. The show was, as expected, amazing. One of the only downfalls was that my friends and I probably have permanent hearing damage. I suppose I can forgive them for this, and maybe I’ll be smart enough to buy $1 earplugs at the door next time.
Check out this performance of ‘Don’t Go’ at Studio 211 Session for CBC Radio 2’s Drive:
Purity Ring + AGOR @ Cafe Dekcuf (05-23-12)
Tonight really solidified my desire to continue pursuing a naive transformation into full-time music experiencer. Damn the man, because the man has shitty headphones and no time to pursue life’s passion – of which mine is (live) music. Ok that may be a little bit harsh.
I’ve been to a lot of concerts and live gigs. LOTS. I don’t mean that in a “No Big Deal” kind of way… In comparison, Purity Ring and AGOR was a completely unique show that transcended anything I had seen before. Cafe Dekcuf provided a perfect (tiny) venue through which to experience their music.
Purity Ring is on the indie label 4AD, along with acclaimed artists such as The National, Grimes, Bon Iver, Deerhunter – to name a few. I had heard of them last year while rummaging through The Hype Machine, and since their songs such as Lofticries and Belispeak have been amongst the most blogged music peaking in the top 10. Out of all the songs I had heard on there, Purity Ring was different. Their melancholic undertones hit me in a way that most other music out there doesn’t. The only word to describe it is haunting – an adjective that doesn’t normally bear positive connotation – haunting in a way that if you put your headphones on and crank the volume up, you can’t take them off.
Being a huge fan of bands like The National and Bon Iver got me interested and wanting more, but they only had 3 or 4 songs released at the time. This was frustrating. Luckily last month they unveiled plans to release the new track Odebear and a new album dubbed ‘Shrines’ on July 24. Leading up to a few European dates and NXNE festival in Toronto, they played tonight in Ottawa at Cafe Dekcuf. Not able to miss this opportunity, I came ready to hear a few new songs and maybe even meet them.
AGOR was the opener, I had never heard of him before. With the name AGOR, I was half expecting a hardcore death metal band to come up. Synth-electropop as he is described – his timid demeanour was quickly drowned out by his experimental bass drops and complex transitions. I kind of thought of him as Kid A’s nephew. His set got everyone up and dancing, which set the tone for Purity Ring. After he finished I spoke with him – an extremely nice, gentle dude – he told me a bit about Arbutus Records and a few bands he has been listening to.
Purity Ring came on and instantly put the sold-out show into a trance. Hearing them play their bone-chilling songs live – with cool light show in operation – was surreal. There was something eerily reminiscent of the song Teardrop by Massive Attack to me, everyone just watching as Corin played the bass with lanterns and Megan flawlessly navigated strange and complicated vocal parts. The new songs were very impressive, but only gave a taste of what’s to come on the new album. Still frustrating. Can’t wait. I spoke to Corin briefly after about the album release and thanked them for making a stop in Ottawa.
This was one to remember, and something tells me that next time Purity Ring plays in Ottawa, the venue might have to have a slightly larger capacity.
‘4in1’ Ottawa Park Acoustic Sessions
|Fevers @ Dundonald Park
What: Photogmusic Presents: ‘4in1’ Ottawa Park Acoustic Sessions
Where: Dundonald Park, Centretown
– Avid Napper
– Scary Bear Soundtrack
– Jenna Tenn-Yuk
Del Bel + Lisa Bozikovic Jessica Ruano
Ok, so this whole thing is new to me. I’ve decided to snub the man and take on this project because I love music and want to write about it. As I walked to Dundonald Park in Centretown I realize that I am actually doing this. It’s happening. I didn’t really know what to expect, but it was a beautiful Sunday afternoon on the May long weekend.
Needless to say, my mind was a little bit blown. All the performers had a unique story to tell and did a terrific job at doing so. Here’s how it went down.
Avid Napper, Gloria of Scary Bear Soundtrack’s side project, came up and played a couple Springsteen covers. This was a great start as I became slightly more familiar/comfortable with my surroundings, and because who honestly doesn’t like the Boss?
Scary Bear Soundtrack then came up and played a few politically/socially charged tunes that piqued my interest. I had seen the new ‘Asian Fetishist’ video a few days before and I was thoroughly impressed with their adaptation in a live acoustic setting. Gloria has a simple but engaging voice, and the harmonies were sick.
Jenna Tenn-Yuk came up and began with her ‘Jamasian’ poem. Let me just pause here and say that the only exposure I’d had to spoken work was a few Leonard Cohen pieces, so I’m no expert. I am a sucker for stories though, whether in song, movie, or as it turns out, poetry. She blended some poems with songs, covering Austra and playing originals. I was impressed how seamlessly the poetry and song blended together, something I can say I had never experienced before.
Jessica Ruano gave me a second, more forceful dose of spoken word. She was the designated ‘time killer’ since Del Bel and Lisa Bozikovic had to run for sound check. Wow. Jessica touched on themes I think we all experience at different points in our lives – particularly powerlessness, but also strength to recover from our our times of weakness. She kicked ass.
My most anticipated act came up, Fevers. This electronic/pop group formed last year has really been making a name for themselves. They impressed me by playing perfect acoustic versions of non-acoustic songs, Passion is Dead & Radiohead’s Idioteque. Previously, I was convinced that Idioteque was a non-coverable song as it is extremely experimental and unapologetically complex. I was dead wrong. Colin beautifully adapted Thom Yorke’s mutant vocal powers into a version that was very accessible to anyone listening. Something that stood out to me during their set was that I never felt as though one vocalist was more dominant than the other. Colin and Sarah are a highly effective duo, similar to the dynamic of the band ‘Of Monsters & Men’. I spoke to them briefly after the show and they were very down-to-earth and obviously enjoying every minute of their musical endeavours.
Eriksen rounded things off playing a set of originals. His songs provided a nice end to what was a perfect Sunday afternoon.
I look forward to seeing Fevers play @ Babylon this Friday the 25th, and hope to see the other performers around Ottawa in the future.
Check out photos of the event on Photogmusic’s blog:
Photos of 4in1 Acoustic Sessions in a Park #2 [May 20, 2012]