I thought recently that it’s a little unfair to just exclusively post about Canadian music, when there’s an entire world of great stuff out there. Obviously I have an infinite amount of love for my compatriots… I think it’s really impressive how much awesome, diverse music comes out of Canada. So I’m going to give another country some attention today, one that will always have a spot in my heart. in 2010, I did a month-long road trip all around New Zealand with a great friend, and everything about the country touched the core of my spirit. The landscapes, the natural environment, the wonderful people, and also the music. With a tiny population of only 4.4 million people, New Zealand has had some great sounds come out of their country. I discovered bands like Black Seeds, Salmonella Dub and Fat Freddy’s Dropn. But one band that I really think deserves some attention here in North America is Kids of 88. Their 2012 album Modern Love is all around incredible to listen to – it’s well produced and is has so many solid tracks on it. Here’s a great video for the song “Tucan”, one of my favourites off the record. Hear Kids of 88 takes me back to that place I was a few years ago. The nostalgia!!!
Things have been a little backed up these days for me, and posts have been few and far between. For that I apologize, but I couldn’t miss getting this explosive new track by Ottawa’s Roberta Bondar out there. It’s off their upcoming EP, which many of us are very excited to listen to in its entirety. In the meantime, see what’s in store and check out the new track “Pleather Bed”.
The Balconies have come out with a creepy new video for their song “Do it in the Dark” just in time for Hallowe’en. This is one of the best songs off their debut EP Kill Count and is sure to catch the attention of lovers of Canadian indie. The three-piece who are from Ottawa, now in Toronto, are well on their way to developing a solid fan base with the release of singles like this one. We sure do miss them here in Ottawa, last time I spoke with lead singer Jacquie Neville at Maverick’s she said she and the band would be up for having a conversation about their music and sudden success. Keep an eye out for that, a perhaps even a Balconies video feature. To watch the video, follow the link below.
Here’s a great new video for the opening track “Light Years”, from her new album This is How We Swim. Don’t forgot to see her play tomorrow night (Oct. 18) at Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield along with Kite Hill, Blue Hibou and Kim Barlow.
One of the main reasons music is such an important part of my life is that it can be made to reflect any number of emotions, situations or states a person may be in. Even just as a listener, you have the power to scour your music library and find that one perfect album, whether it’s a celebratory anthem or somber hymn of loss. Japandroids wrote a triumphant song that speaks to a generation in The Night of Wine and Roses, while Elliott Smith’s song I Better Be Quiet Now reaches the deepest recesses of emotional toil and loneliness. Although drastically different, I love each song for the same reason and they represent aspects of who I am and things I have experienced in different ways. And then there’s Graceland by Paul Simon, which is an album I love but have no idea what he is talking about.
On her sophomore album This is How We Swim, Lisa Bozikovic takes those emotions and experiences and transposes them to a metaphor in our natural environment: water. It can be transformed into different states, molded into beautiful sculptures or formed into violent waves that consume us. This motif of water and transformation melds beautifully with music – like the transformations we go through in life, water molds itself to its environment and is in constant flux. The way she incorporates instrumentation into her songs also makes the listener feel surrounded by it. The opening track Light Years is an example of this; dreamy undertones and soft harmonies give the sense that you’re sitting in the sand watching the waves approach your feet.
Lisa Bozikovic @ Raw Sugar Cafe (Photo: Ming Wu)
This is How We Swim is also full of references to water. Lisa completed a residency on Toronto Island, which surely influenced her decision to make H2O a central character on the album. I enjoy that she doesn’t try and secretly attempt to include the symbol of water into her songs. Rather, the theme helps define the entire thing and accentuates the emotion she is putting into song – which can be an excellent technique to translating thoughts and experiences (often painful) into music. In this sense, the album is a complete package. You are taken on a little journey from song to song (not by boat thought, you have to swim) and no track feels out of place.
Her voice is distinct, soft and dynamic. A stand-out points on the album for me are in the title track pre-chorus:
Again and again you do tell me, That this is not your time for love
You say there’s nothing inside me to give you, So run run run run run
And I just don’t know how to hear you, When you say this is not your time for love
For in these arms I find such comfort, And I’d rather swim than run
To me these lyrics solidified my thoughts that this album was a true expression of that which lies buried deep within. The second bit is a reply to the first, each sung with hopelessness in her voice. This melancholy tone that she touches upon at a few points on the album is an excellent contrast to the points when she sings beautifully. Nowhere on the album is this more evident than in the short, yet powerful song Into the Waves – one gets the sense that she’s floating away from shore and giving up on all that she used to know. The control and expression of her voice really demonstrate her incredible musicianship.
In a sea full of little singer/songwriter fishes, Lisa Bozikovic stands out as a Nemo. The way in which she tells a story using symbols is not only effective, but unique too. This is How We Swim is great accomplishment, and will fit in perfectly between Japandroids and Elliott Smith in my CD collection.
Be sure to see Lisa and Kite Hill play at The Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec on October 18th alongside Kim Barlow and Blue Hibou.
As I prepare to embark on the long journey home to London, Ontario to see family and shamelessly commit one of the seven deadly sins (TURKEY GLUTTONY), my only regret is that I have to miss out on the EP Release Party for Little Stella’s new record. Luckily, I saw them perform several of their new tracks last weekend at the ‘4in1’ September Session and they pretty much stole the show. I’ve seen them a few times now and I have to say they are only getting better, not only creating music with depth and soul, but also nailing their live performances with melodic precision – and they’re having fun too.
I am actually pissed that I can’t make it, but I know that I’ll see them play again soon. These guys are genuine to the core, and if you get the chance to meet them, you’ll probably be on the receiving end of an appreciative high-five for listening to and supporting their music. So, that being said, if you have nothing to do on a gloomy Saturday night this weekend, hit up Ritual Nightclub and help support some of Ottawa’s great young talent. Judging from the songs I’ve already heard, this EP is going to be noticed. The songs demand attention. I saw Jonathan Chandler of Amos the Transparent FIRST HAND turn his head in amazement and say “Who are these guys? They’re awesome!”… So, there you have it.
If you ask around, The Love Machine is one of those bands that people just seem to categorically fall in love with. Their full-length Sweater Weather debuted a couple years back, and gained a little extra notoriety for their controversial video for the album’s first single “Be A Path”. They’ve decided to put forth another video for the song “Make Believe” that was directed and produced by Luca Fiore. Once again, the video is story-based and features all the members of the band – albeit not as controversial as “Be A Path”, it’s cinematic elements fit the song perfectly. Once again, these guys show that they aren’t about to slow down. Check out the new video below!
Canada has been serving up some of the world’s best female singer-songwriters since before many of us were born, and I can’t see any signs of things changing anytime soon. Musicians like Feist and Kathleen Edwards have helped carry the torch to a new generation of Canadians, bringing honesty, beauty and divine musicianship that seems lacking in a time where women in popular music are presented as an image instead of a artist. Hannah Georgas is set to release her sophomore album this October under her new label Dine Alone out of Toronto, who also represent others such as City & Colour, Hey Rosetta!, Yukon Blonde and Dinosaur Bones. Her new single “Enemies” is an example of a musical evolution, she breaks out of her shell and borrows elements from different genres to make the sound her own. There is an ethereal aspect to this song that brings together poeticism and beauty in her vocals and instrumentation that caught my attention instantly. The new album will also feature Graham Walsh from Holy Fuck, Ryan Guldemond and Ali Siadat from Mother Mother, Ted Gowan from Tegan and Sara, and Andrew Braun from Rococode. It’s just too bad that we have to wait until October to hear it, and if it follows the gripping nature of this track, should be one of this year’s best. I’ll leave you with opening lyrics from the song and a live, in-studio performance of the song from an exclusive CBC Music Session.
So the weekly picks haven’t been quite ‘weekly’ recently, but I’m working on that. The point here isn’t to make you like the same music that I do – it is to give you something (possibly) new to listen to while getting dressed or baking cookies. And if you want to read my two cents about it, you are welcome to do that as well.
Lately I’ve been totally immersing myself in new music, new genres and different approaches to composition. With an open mind I’m rediscovering the art of listening to an album – although albums these days are just binary code on the computer, I’m relieved that musicians still write quality full length albums and not just singles. I still miss the excitement of unwrapping a new CD and popping it in for the first time though. I also used to be one of those guys who religiously listened to rap in grade 10, thinking Tupac Shakur was the messiah and that the 7 Day Theory was actually true. Since then, my taste in music has matured a bit but I’m still always open to listening to good hip hop. A Tribe Called Quest, Beastie Boys and J5 opened my eyes to intellectual hip hop and the power it has to represent real skill and technical ability over the gangster image.
A lot of times Canadian rappers remain under the radar, as hip hop seems to be disproportionately centred around the United States. Not to take anything away from what Drake has achieved, but his breakout came from getting signed by Lil’ Wayne’s Young Money Entertainment. Even more, I still think a lot of it is about the fame and fortune. It still boggles my mind how rappers make money from writing about how much money they have – it’s like a never-ending circle that promotes being a douche. I guess that’s one of my main problems with so many rappers, that they are consumed with the wrong things and then writing songs about stuff I would never care about. I can’t connect to something I don’t care about. The pretentious aspect of it all takes away from the core of what hip hop is all about: the human condition in urban culture.
Obviously this isn’t a blanket claim. The fact is that most ‘real’ hip hop remains unseen and unheard by the general public. I’m not claiming to know everything about underground hip hop, far from it. I’m only starting to get back into it again. One Canadian artist that stands out is Cadence Weapon (Rollie Pemberton) of Edmonton, AB who now resides in Montreal. His latest release Hope in a Dirt City through Upper Class Recordings has been getting huge reviews and critical acclaim. His recent short-list nomination for the Polaris Music Prize is a result of delivering a risky, yet dynamic album that forges different styles of music together. It includes everything from jazz-influenced intrumentation to 80’s sounding bass lines – the rules of hip hop composition have been thrown out the window in favour of a completely original sound.
The overall approach to this album is the use of unconventional approaches. The lyrical phrasing is often ‘sloppy’, but intentionally so. Pemberton goes back and forth between verses with rhyme and flow to ones that are more disjunctive and almost spoken. The use of synth to create a darker aura in several songs, and there aren’t many repetitive loops or samples. This makes the album one that requires a few listens to really develop an appreciation for – with so many different things happening, it might come across as strange at first. Personally, I’ve had it on repeat since I downloaded it.
Part of what makes this album a success is the way Pemberton explores darker themes, and how he reflects them through lyrics. The narrative changes throughout the album, songs like ‘Hype Man’ look at the hip hop scene through different perspectives and tell a story through an interesting dialogue. Tracks like ‘Get On Down’ really focus on the technical aspects, as he provides an unrelenting and intense flow that makes you wonder when he has time to take a breath. His skills as a DJ and producer are apparent throughout the entire album. The production is more intricate and developed than his 2008 album Afterparty Babies (also a Polaris Prize nominee), and offers listeners a much different sound to almost anything out in the music world right now. Overall, listening to this album is a refreshing experience.
I recommend giving all the Polaris Prize shortlist nominees a listen. This year’s crop of artists won’t disappoint. I recently saw Pemberton on Discovery HD’s National Parks Project, an incredible documentary-style series that brings together Canada’s rugged and beautiful landscapes with our nation’s most promising and talented musicians. He joins musicians Laura Barrett and Mark Hamilton in Waterton Lakes National Park, AB, where they band together and create incredible music that reflects their experience. I can’t recommend this series more, it is impossible not to enjoy. Check out the Waterton Lakes EP features Cadence Weapon, Barrett and Hamilton here.
Ottawa musicians seem to be hard at work this summer (which begins in early May according to my internal life calendar). With Fevers releasing their debut music video for “Passion is Dead (Long Live Fashion)” a few months back, alt/hip hop trio Zoo Legacy just dropped their first video for “L.K.U.T.” off their upcoming album City Light Glow. The Acorn frontman Rolf Klausener’s experimental side project Silkken Laumann also released a new video for the song “House of Common Problems”, the second single from the forthcoming album Not Forever Enough. Both videos are strong precursors for their respective band’s full-length release, giving us visual stimulation on great tracks while we wait. And both are dance-party worthy, so check out both new videos below and have a dance party.