Ev has synesthesia, and they incorporate their sensory experiences into music reviews. Synesthesia is a condition in which the brain links a person’s senses together in a rare manner, prompting unusual sensory responses to stimuli. People with synesthesia, for example, might see a certain color in response to a certain letter of the alphabet. Those who experience synesthesia “hear colors, feel sounds, and taste shapes” in a remarkably consistent fashion.
The first band to rip open the night was Spell Runner, from Albany, New York. Their wild playing bordered power punk and garage punk, teetering from one to the other. The drumrolls, guitar riffs, and throaty screams melded together and created a chaotic unity.
The guitar playing was of higher pitch and let loose. Each stroke came quickly after the last while leaving a resonance that echoed in the background. Deconstructed and split into two parts, the guitars seemed to squabble with one-another whilst adding a spacey sci-fi-esque sound to the songs. It painted the atmosphere with several shades of electric green, and yellow. The solos were rapid and executed with ease. They provided teal splashes and they drew you in.
The vocals dominated with the throaty screams that ripped from the lead singer. They created the illusion of the instrumentals mellowing out around them. Amidst the technical issues, the stage presence and sheer power of the screams were enough to get people moving and thrashing. The wild screams blasted bursts of irritated reds through the soundscape and allowed for rusty oranges to come through in bubbles.
The bass rumbled in the background and incorporated deeper greens due to the heavy weighted tone. It wasn’t quite warm but it droned on, having kept a steady tempo while snapping in an aggressive edge. Buried in the midst of mass amount of noise, it found a way to stand out and rattle your ribcage.
The drumming remained warm and hollow. They didn’t boom and cling to the air. Instead, the sound fell short, one beat after another. The fills and rolls tied the songs together in a grimy fashion. Tainted in raw golden orange, sunset yellow, and yellow-green, the drumming provided something to thrash to while maintaining a welcoming presence.
Next up was Ottawa’s own thrash metal band World War 4. Crossing over to punk and doom metal, the band brings forth something unconventional yet they do it in such a way that it blends together near perfectly. The fusion of chaos and disorder find a mutual unity within this bands music.
The guitar progressed with violent chugs of muted chords that would unleash themselves wildly, deep navy blues and lime greens taking over progressively. The riffs had a sharp tone to them and splashes of celeste would spray across the field of vision. Meanwhile, the bass found a deep rumble in the background and served to stabilize the wild guitar riffs. It too was played without mercy and with brutal ferocity. It was the steel blue backbone to the mess.
The vocals cut in with brutality and rage. Throaty and as rough as the guitars chugging, they showed absolutely no mercy whatsoever. The vocals cut in with rusty oranges and brutal murky yellows. The sounds ripped from the very back of the throat were a deep stark burgundy, contrasting with the tones of the guitar.
The drumming was quick and each beat fell viciously after the next, having melded into a disarray. Vehement, the crash of the cymbals was brutally cold and sprayed trails of teal across the field of vision. Meanwhile, the snare and the toms found a thick, full, warm sound that couldn’t be ignored.
The last band of the night was High Command. Dissonant aggression and tight drumming, slow buildups, and wild basslines, the band did not disappoint.
The vocals came from exhaled screams, and quite literally ripped themselves free from the lead singers body. They were meant to comes out. Matched to the overall intensity, the seasick green that erupted from the vocal stylings was incredible. Backed by the enraged reds of the power chords, there was nothing held back. Every ounce of energy and soul was thrust into each song. The guitar playing was quick in tempo, and there was much tremolo, despite this, the hostility did not waver and only became more prominent.
The bass seemed to follow the guitar but would rip out its own deep solos that couldn’t help but catch my attention. Adding to the thrashing, it provides a depth to the pieces. Brutal, brisk, and murky, the swampy colours it radiated fit perfectly together and created a backbone to the guitar.
The drums were boney and full. Cold and thrashing, they held absolutely nothing back and gave everyone something to headbang to. The sheer frosty feeling they possessed took over the atmosphere and really drove the moshpit home. The brutality was remarkable and there was nothing quite like it.
A crossover show of punk and metal is something that is generally turned down or slightly frowned upon but I must say that these bands absolutely throw those notions out the window. They are must sees that will inevitably change your viewpoint on the genre.
Last weekend was stacked with good shows. No matter what I chose to do there was an equally solid show happening elsewhere. One of the options was Mushy Gushy, No Aloha, and Casa Lagarto at Black Squirrel—and there are no regrets.
The night started off with friends hugging and smiles abound. It’s always nice to see a lineup where the bands know each other or have worked together in the past. The weather was warm and soggy, but the sky was clear and folks began to trickle in as local garage-psyche marvels Casa Lagarto took the stage.
Casa Lagarto is a mashup of well-seasoned artists in the community, including Jonny Yuma (formerly of The Yips), Arturo Portocarrero (Lost To The River), Grant McNeil (Tropical Country), Jason Barkhouse (Black Lab Studios), and Jonathan Pearce (Winchester Warm/Mushy Gushy) filling in for Travis Kinnear who just recently celebrated the birth of his first daughter. Their set was tight and their arrangements came through crisply into our ears.
Casa Lagarto at Black Squirrel. Photo by Matías Muñoz.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—Casa Lagarto’s music could be the soundtrack to a Hunter S. Thompson novel. I mean that in the best way possible. I feel like their music would fit perfectly into an acid trip on a desert highway in Nevada somewhere. Casa’s sound is clearly influenced by psych and rockabilly, taking elements from various styles and making them their own. Johnny Yuma’s low, brooding vocals enthralled the audience and his exquisite clean guitar tone could give you goosebumps. Jon Pearce filled in perfectly, and somehow knew the songs like the back of his hand. Some key tracks they played were “Lights Out” and “Scarecrow,” and I highly recommend you go dive deep into Casa’s albums on Bandcamp. The group layered their sound well in the live setting, using the intimacy of the bookstore to enhance their individual instruments to create a warm and rich atmosphere for us all to enjoy the show.
Next on deck was No Aloha, a summer-friendly garage rock group from Montreal that has some loving fans here in Ottawa. As an aside, we presented No Aloha at Mugshots back in 2015 along with Bonnie Doon and Nightshades and it still remains one of the funnest shows we’ve ever done to date. They are fresh off the release of their new EP Cigarettes for Optimists and rocked the house at Black Squirrel.
No Aloha at Black Squirrel. Photo by Matías Muñoz.
This group may seem like a bunch of slacker rock dudes, with their long hair and rarely-groomed faces. However, they’re anything but. This band is well-rehearsed and have a chemistry that is instantly noticeable when they hit the stage and start playing together. With flying guitar riffs, impactful percussion, and Ben Griffiths’ smooth vocals, this group injected some energy into the room. They dug into their impressive catalogue from the past few years throughout the set and pleased the audience and got some bodies moving. Black Squirrel is a versatile venue for all kinds of shows, and the place was perfect for the diverse sounds of this lineup. Lets hope these dudes come back to Ottawa soon, because they’re a party.
Last up was Mushy Gushy, an Ottawa “butt-rock” band that takes a fun spin on rock and roll. While it’s hard to imagine these guys ever not having fun, this night was bittersweet. Kyle Woods, the original drummer and founding member of the band has recently moved to Toronto and got a job there (congrats to him!). But the show must go on. Thus, this show was to be his last as he moves on to new journeys. While this kind of mutual parting is difficult for friends and band mates, it was clear that the sweet outweighed the bitter. Kyle was radiating smiles and hugs, and obviously this was to be a memorable night for him and the band as they decidedly wanted to end his tenure with a bang.
Mushy Gushy consists of more music scene veterans here in Ottawa—bassist Jon Pearce (Winchester Warm), drummer Kyle Woods (fmr. Kalle Mattson), guitarist Cory Lefebvre (fmr. Baberaham Lincoln), and vocalist Dave Gervais (fmr. The Gallop). But more than anything, this group of buds just wants to have fun, and that is evident in their compositions. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and that’s refreshing.
Mushy Gushy at Black Squirrel. Photo by Matías Muñoz.
The ‘Gush have released two excellent EPs so far since coming together in 2016—Tight Snake and More Butter. I just can’t wait to hear what their third release will be called with titles like that. We presented their tape release party at Bar Robo a few years back, and let me tell you—it was a time. Kyle carried the whole set through, and he played the drums more fervent than ever. His rhythm was flawless and his beard was flying to-and-fro to the uptempo rock and roll his group performs. Cory’s fluttering guitar riffs flew over Jon’s steady bass lines as the tracks kept the crowd energized and engaged. They had the crowd singing the irresistible catchy “Oh Oh Ohs” in “Heartbreak Motel” and had booties shaking during “Summer Lusting.” Closer to the end of their set they played their most well-known jam, “Schemestress,” at which point the night hit its climax. The song is a feel-good summer tune, and the hook will grab you and hold on tight. David Gervais’ songwriting is on point, and his vocals add the finishing touch to their part pop, part-garage rock sound with just enough catchiness and grit to go around. All in all, it was a night of good vibes and good memories were made.
Hip hop is like any other genre in the music industry. There are some real artists that work hard and pay their dues to bring listeners and fans material that is impactful in one way or another. But there are a lot of people out there that find shortcuts, step on others in their community, and rip off material to get ahead, too. That’s the music industry, in any genre—it can be a dark, dark place.
Buck n’ Nice is a group that consists of two entities. On one side there is producer, beatmaker, Cypher radio host, and DJ—DJ So Nice, who has been cutting his teeth in the art of hip hop beats since he was 13 years old. He’s a huge grassroots community supporter who throws some of the best parties in town, not least of which is the monthly Hip Hop Karaoke at Elmdale Tavern. On the other side, there is Sawbuck—a proven MC who came from difficult circumstances and worked his way to where he is now. His honesty and untethered lyricism fist in seamlessly with his masterful delivery, digging deep into his hip hop influences such as Mobb Deep, EPMD, Wu Tang, and Gang Starr.
That’s the subject of Ottawa hip hop duo Buck n’ Nice’s new album EMAG. Good hip hop is clever with words (obviously), and it took me a second to realize what “EMAG” actually meant.
“After getting our feet wet with our debut album, we learned from the inside out how backwards the industry is,” they say. “It’s a machine filled with appropriation, shortcuts to success and all-around deception. This is the theme of EMAG, an album titled so because the GAME is backwards.”
With the duo’s sophomore release, they aren’t mincing words or beating around the bush. Having gained momentum in Canada’s hip hop landscape with multiple releases since 2014, Buck n’ Nice have taken from their real life experiences in the music industry and applied them to their new record. It doesn’t take long for them to sink their teeth into the subject, as they dive right into it on the second track, also called “EMAG.”
It’s important to mention that although this concept may sound jaded or negative, I don’t get that sense when listening to the album all the way through. They’re not saying “fuck the music industry” per se—they’re pointing out the problematic parts of it, the deception and fakers, the toxic people and money that drives a lot of the music made in it. To me, what goes part-in-parcel with these criticisms are the things that do matter in music—things like community, real life experiences, people’s everyday struggles, and most of all, valuing more than just money when making art. One of my favourite rhymes from the album is from the track “Leader”, which goes “What’s the difference between me and you? I see the bigger picture, you crop the image just to see the view.”
On EMAG, the duo collaborate with talented artists such as Prufrock Shadowrunner, REKS, Freddy Printz, Whitney Delion, Cheko Salaam (a.k.a. Hyf), as well as Patience and Bender of Flight Distance (RIP Bender), among others. These guys are part of a hip hop community that is stronger and more cohesive as ever. On tracks like “Le Coeur” with Cheko Salaam, both he and Sawbuck bounce words off each other, with rhymes that weave seamlessly and that effectively builds the climactic pillars on the album. In “Ocean or Shallow End” with the guys from Flight Distance, So Nice slows things down and the sample includes strings. Their metaphor of “Ocean or Shallow End” comes across effectively, and hits the listener right in the face. The brilliance with tracks like this is that although the beat is more restrained, the rhymes and lyrics are highlighted to an even greater degree. The same can be said for “Three Sides” close to the end of the album—there’s no letting up here.
After giving EMAG a few listens, any hip hop fan should know that these guys are for real. There’s no filler. There’s no bullshit. Buck n’ Nice had something to say and they did that by packing all of their ideas into an album with a tonne of dynamite and then lighting the fuse. The result is an intelligent, groove-laden record that pays homage to hip hop of old, while keeping true to their own style and modern interpretations of rap. This album will stand the test of time, and will surely make waves across communities in Ottawa and the country as a whole.
Buck n’ Nice are officially releasing EMAG at a party called ANIMAL HOUSE this Saturday, July 28th at The 27 Club (27 York St.), where a triple album release will be taking place. Other releases at the party will be the Feel EP by Freddy Printz, and SpaXe Camels by Missing LinX. Needless to say, if there’s one party you don’t want to miss this weekend, this is it.
Stream EMAG below or click here for full list of streaming links. Check out their full album video on YouTube here.
I’ve been in Ottawa for five years and believe it or not, this year’s Bluesfest was my first. Despite it being Friday the 13th, this day was anything but unlucky. The crowd at the City Stage was treated to three amazing shows by artists who have all had considerable success worldwide.
Starting off the night was Juno Nominee J.W Jones. The Ottawa bluesman, who’s played with the likes of Buddy Guy and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Chad Smith, is known for his high energy shows and improvisational skills. He sure did not disappoint the crowd. Up next on the City Stage was Sturgill Simpson, who’s 2016 release “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” earned the Grammy for the Best Country Album and a nomination in the Album of the Year category. He played tracks off his most recent major label release, some classics from his independent days and a surprising amount of covers, including Willie Nelson’s “I’d Have To Be Crazy”.
Finishing off the night was the incomparable Beck. I discovered Beck as a child. I was going through my family’s then “state-of-the-art” Windows ME and found the track “Beautiful Way” from 1999’s “Midnite Vultures”. This track was used as a demo track for Windows Media Player at the time. Later in my teenage years, I dove into his extensive and eclectic discography. I became a huge fan of Beck and his way of mastering which ever music genre he touches.
Before the show, I had heard a lot of people say that the Beck show would either be hit or miss. I kind of felt that way too. Having seen a few of his live shows online. I had friends ask me if I was excited to see Beck and I told them “It’s just Beck—I’m just going to the show to say that I saw Beck.” Boy, was I ever wrong.
Beck arrived on stage around 9:35 pm. The crowd was filled with people of all ages. It seems as though people have forgotten the amount of hits this guy has pumped out over the years. He started off with “Devils Haircut” from his 1996 album “Odelay” and then went straight into his breakthrough single “Loser” soon after. I was afraid that tracks from albums like 2002’s “Sea Change” and 2014’s “Morning Phase” wouldn’t exactly fit in with his upbeat repertoire in a live setting, but I was wrong again. In the middle of his Bluesfest show, his band got their acoustic instruments out and they played “Lost Cause,” “Debra” (with a medley into Prince’s “Raspberry Barret”), and “Blue Moon.” The crowd sang along, and it was definitely an intimate moment. One of he best moments of the show.
Beck finished off the night with yet another hit and quite possibly one of his biggest—“Where It’s At”. Mid-way into the track, he introduced his band, which featured studio musician and ex-Jellyfish member Jason Falkner.
Beck was definitely a highlight for me. It was a highlight for a lot of people at Bluesfest this year. I believe it was a highlight for Beck himself, who stated mid-way into the show that it was his first time in Ottawa and that he would love to visit the nation’s capital.
Beck has such a Beautiful Way of showing off his genre-bending discography. One could say I was completely WOW-ed by what happened at the end of the show: I was lucky enough to pick up one of the setlists from the stage. It was then time to Say Goodbye. Setlist in hand, I walked off and told myself that the Beck show—That’s Where it was at… Good one right?
As Bluesfest rolled along, the much-anticipated seventh day finally arrived. Chicago rapper Noname was definitely one of the buzz acts of this year’s festival, as she has begun to take the hip hop world by storm. If you haven’t seen her NPR Tiny Desk concert session, you should go do that right now. Blue Rodeo also headlined the night, a band that can play Bluesfest almost every year and still draw a crowd of dedicated fans each time. Els took some great shots, have a look below.
Bluesfest has changed a lot for me. And how could it not? Over the last ten years I’ve been psyched to see artists like The Weakerthans, The Tragically Hip, Roger Hodgson (yes I love Supertramp, fight me), Attack In Black, King Khan, The Aggrolites, etc, etc. Naturally the festival has changed a lot, and so have I.
When this year’s lineup announced that people like Foo Fighters and Courtney Barnett were coming, I knew I’d have to go. But I hoped they would play on the same day so I wouldn’t have to endure the massive crowds, overpriced beers and sweltering heat for any more time than absolutely necessary. Also the new “no ins-and-outs” policy is stupid for a number of reasons, but mainly that I couldn’t hop across to Hull and pound a few tall cans on the bike path before going back to the festival (I’m spoiled, I know but whatever let me complain a little). Nonetheless, I was beyond stoked to go see an all-time favourite, and a more recent new favourite artist perform in my hometown.
Since I’ve gotten more involved in the local independent music community in Ottawa in more recent years, I’ve lost a lot of interest in seeing a lot of big stadium-sized concerts and have really prioritized going to “shows” over “concerts” if ya know what I mean. I realize a certain amount of hipster snobbery could be inferred by that, but really I just have more interest in supporting my music community and being part of small, intimate shows where you can actually see the band and meet them and they’re actually real people. That’s become way more appealing than giving more money and attention to massive acts who already have plenty of those things. It’s not a steadfast rule, more of an emerging tendency I guess. Screw the hipster punk purity, I’m allowed to like some stadium rock. Let me have this one.
It had been ten years since my sister and I went to see Foo Fighters play at the Corel Centre (I know it’s not called that, save it for the comment section, ya dingus). Against Me! were opening that tour, and I had recently become a mega fan of that band so it was super rad but a little weird to see them play in that place. Anyway, that was maybe the best rock show I’d ever seen at that point. So part of seeing this show was very sentimental because I went with my sister again, and we loved it — “YASS DAVE” became our phrase of the night. Dave Grohl’s energy is still pretty impressive considering he’s almost 50. I always forget how many hits this band has. You can’t deny the commercial appeal that Foo Fighters have maintained over the 23-ish years of being a band, but hey, some people make the same argument about Nickelback so take that how you will.
The Foos were slotted for a 3-hour set, which seemed like a lot so despite their many hits, I wondered how they’d actually fill the time. Turned out they planned a nearly 40-minute section of introducing the band (all 6 members) and playing a song that each member started, including cheesey ass renditions of Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” and a blues jam that probably sounded like Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Sweet Little Baby.” It was so forced, bordering on hack. But hey, big crowds love being pandered to, and I do believe that rule #1 of show business is to give the people what they want.
Thinking about this brings me back to talking about community, and prizing community over industry, and how I don’t like that that kind of pandering and cheesy shit is often part of appealing to larger crowds, which is just part of the business. But the Foo Fighters didn’t get to where they are by saying “fuck business, fuck what you wanna hear.” I don’t hate on the Foos though, I actually have much respect. I think they’re kinda keeping rock & roll alive in the mainstream in a way that very few other bands are these days. Also, the lineup has some serious punk roots in terms of members’ past projects, and I respect that they’ve all become millionaires after beginnings in bands like Sunny Day Real Estate, No Use For A Name, ummm… THE GERMS, and of course, Nirvana.
Anyway, My 18 year-old self was satisfied and I think I still like this band enough to feel ok about the Foo Fighters tattoo I have (sshhh, don’t tell the punx).
When I came back the next day to see Courtney Barnett, the crowds were way more manageable. I’d heard that the only sold-out day of the festival was for Foo Fighters. And it sure felt like it. It took me an hour to get through the lines, and the whole field was like sardines. I can handle that in small clubs and mid-sized venues, but in a wide open field, it was not that pleasant. I had a much easier time finding and keeping a comfortable spot close to the Black Sheep stage for Courtney’s set.
She kicked off her set with a few tracks from her new record Tell Me How You Really Feel, and had a healthy sprinkling of tracks from her debut full-length as well. She carried herself with a very casual energy that still had some urgency, and she didn’t seem to give a shit about really “performing” and hamming it up for the crowd (a refreshing change from Dave’s relentless approval-seeking the night before). And wouldn’t ya know it but introducing her band only took a minute between songs. How about that? But the crowd was eating out of the palm of her hand the whole set (at least my friends and I were). She closed perfectly with the big banger off her first record “Pedestrian At Best,” and it brought the house down. She rules, go listen to her records.