I had the chance to join Ming Wu on his CHUO radio show Photogmusic Live (89.1 FM) on New Year’s Eve. In the hour-long segment, we discussed his Top 12 picks of 2012, playing a track from each of the albums he chose as this year’s best. It was lots of fun, and we also got to talk to Alaska of Yamantaka//Sonic Titan (who will be in Ottawa Jan.11 with Boyhood) as well as Jonas Bonnetta of Evening Hymns. Take a listen to the different segments on the Photogmusic blog, hope you enjoy the show!
‘Tis the season to look back on the year and recall some of the best music. Before we enter 2o13 (provided the world doesn’t end in a few weeks, which is so very likely) and wait in anticipation for new releases to come, we should reflect on the hard work, time and craftsmanship that went into so many of this past year’s albums. I often find lists arbitrary, because they are completely subjective and don’t always represent the best all-round music. In any case, these are my picks for 2012 — the albums that had the biggest impact on me throughout the year. There are so many other albums that came out this year that are worthy of mention, and I’m sure many different blogs throughout Canada will give them some well-deserved attention. I don’t expect everyone to agree, but enjoy anyways!
Ottawa is buzzing with new bands making new sounds, and Trees are one that jumped out at me as being different from the rest of the pack. Their new album Catzenatica really pushes the envelope, bringing a refreshing sound and unique approach to songwriting. Not only that, but the album sounds great – it is very well produced and achieves an aura that one can get lost in.
Although Catzenatica is experimental, it is still really accessible – even those who may not be as receptive to this kind of musical approach will appreciate how the album was put together. From the outset, opening track “Mild Jamaican” starts as a whirlwind of eerie sounding vocals, effects and instrumental noises. This really piques the interest of the listener, because one normally expects to determine how an album will “feel” once they start listening to it. However, in my experience, the best albums are the ones that leave you guessing as they unravel, never fully allowing for the listener to get too comfortable with the overall product. Lead singer Jonathan Matthews’ dynamic vocals are on par with those of Maccabees frontman Orlando Weeks, breaking any notion of standard lyrical phrasing and testing the limits of of his voice. From low to high to falsetto, the intricacy and originality in his voice is really well-suited for the type of music his band is making.
Tress obviously has a myriad of influences, merging styles and approaches to songwriting in one album. They create a dreamy, reverb-driven soundscape that echoes with beautiful guitar tones and flowing bass lines. The percussion is unique and guides the unconventional direction of the album, but it doesn’t overpower or drown out the delicate sounds of the guitars. This is often a very fine balance, because experimenting can often lead to getting carried away with one instrument over another. But this is not the case on Catzenatica, as a near perfect concoction of instrumentation, effects, and melody is achieved throughout the record. The layers of sound really stand out, and helps to create the overall ambience the band was going for in the recording.
Perhaps beginning as a three-piece instrumental band without a lead vocalist did them a lot of good, since there is a very clear emphasis on achieving a distinct sound from the instruments. Of course, the addition of Jonathan completes the package and makes Trees more accessible to a wider audience, but I think developing a strong sonic/instrumental basis first really helped the band hone their talents and overall sound they were striving to achieve.
Here’s the full version of the exclusive interview I did with Diamond Rings for Where Ottawa as he is set to play Ritual Nightclub on December 7th. Be sure to check out the video for his newest single from Free Dimensional “Runaway Love”, I can’t stop listening to it. Yes, I’m listening to it right now… Enjoy!
Toronto’s John O’Regan, a.k.a. Diamond Rings, has garnered critical acclaim across North America and reached new heights with his most recent album Free Dimensional. His do-it-yourself background has helped him develop a work ethic that pushes him to create different music, both sonically and aesthetically. As the former lead vocalist in Guelph’s D’Urbervilles, Diamond Rings is familiar with the trials and tribulations of being a musician. He turned heads with his debut album Special Affections in 2011, but has unquestionably staked his claim as one of Toronto’s most captivating exports of the year. Although compared by some to Bowie, Depeche Mode and Ian Curtis of Joy Division, Diamond Rings brings a fresh new look and sound to Canadian music.
Diamond Rings was recently the musical guest on Late Night with David Letterman, and will be playing at Ritual Nightclub on December 7. Matías Muñoz speaks with him about his favourite Ottawa food, staying level-headed while on the road, and what it means to be seen as a countercultural figure in this day in age.
Is there anything unique about Ottawa that stands out to you, or things you enjoy doing while you’re here?
I love eating shawarma at Marroush (now called Three Brothers), which is right down the street from Ritual Nightclub where I’m going to play. You kind of get these habits and traditions when on tour, and you don’t want to change them up. That’s my Ottawa thing.
Do you have a favourite spot that you’ve played since touring as Diamond Rings?
Not really, wherever there are people that are excited to hear your music is the best for me. Obviously some places are more scenic or picturesque, or have reputations for being this or that. But I really think I have great shows everywhere.
When you’re on the road and far away from home, do you have ways to keep yourself grounded?
I think the nature of touring keeps you pretty grounded. It keeps you on your toes, in the best possible way. A lot of the work that happens on tour isn’t especially glamourous, it’s all that grunt work that goes into making the one hour I get on stage sound and look as close to perfect as possible. I think it’s that aspect of it that adds to the magic of the whole thing. A lot of people work really hard to make it all possible, the stuff that happens on stage doesn’t happen automatically.
You’ve had the opportunity to tour with your friends PS I Love You, and bands like Stars. What have your experiences connecting with other artists meant to you?
It’s really nice to be on tour with friends. I’ve had the opportunity to tour with bands that I’m now friends with, but at one point earlier in my career looked up to a lot. To share the stage and to get to know some of them personally is a real honour for me. I consider myself a contemporary rather than just a fan, it’s great. I feel lucky.
Do you embrace the idea of counterculture? Is what you are doing part of something bigger associated with your view of the music industry and gender stereotypes, or are you just in it to play good music?
I think at the end of the day I want to connect with people, that’s why I write music and do what I do. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care what people thought about my work, or if I said I didn’t care if people didn’t like what I do. That being said, what I do and what I project sonically and aesthetically has to feel, to me, real and different in order to present something to the world that is otherwise lacking. Certainly, in some respect, there is a willingness to transform or push peoples expectations of what is possible in a live or recording context, or a visual context, in relationship to the way they view me and my gender, those sorts of things. When I’m playing a show and fans are in the building, the reception to what I do has been great.
There are obviously those who don’t appreciate what I’m doing as much, but that’s something that comes with the territory of doing what I do. Especially when it becomes something that is more out there in the world, with people hearing my music and hearing about me. Along with more people being into it, there’s going to be more people that don’t like it as well. But that’s totally fine, if I were making everyone happy that would be weird. To really make a statement you have to be alienating some people, and what I’m saying and doing feels right and is special to me. But I don’t really worry about what everyone else says.