Casual Hex presented a show at Pressed that brought forth good tunes and good times last week. With a line up like Steve’s Job, So Sensitive, Tough Age, and Jay Arner, there was always dancing, singing, some banter, and the very few strange mishaps here and there throughout the night.
Opening with a calmer vibe, but not closing off the same way, was Steve’s Job. Despite the few shows they’ve played, this one being Steve’s 4th job, they really harnessed an energy from what they’re doing and hold a very specific stage presence that’s hard to ignore. Subtle and loud, indie but with kick of a new flavour, the band makes the show fun and positive. Guitars light and airy with a good strong baseline and vocal harmonies that range from monotone to expressive. The band is a sight to see and one to listen to. Banter is always included!
Not only that but the band recently began using a chorus pedal and they have it down. It creates an emphasis on verses and lyrics, forming the effect of the band surrounding you completely. You get lost in the soundscape that these incredibly talented individuals create, and it draws you in differently every single time. They’re silly, fun, and they’re the perfect mix of something melancholy and their own upbeat summer sound. I’ve mentioned it before but if you’re going on a road trip, roll down your windows, turn up their tunes, and just listen to the music these people make. It swept the crowd away with its elegance, sweet talked it with its grace and air, and of course got them swaying to the sweet melodies produced. There is absolutely nothing this band can’t get the crowd to do. They’re loud, light, airy, and overall provide great tunes and sweet times for all friends and spectators alike.
The Pixies effect is used by many bands but keeps coming back as a unique and outstanding trait in music. So Sensitive captured this vibe, fusing indie and rock together in a progression of loud, to quiet, to louder. Despite it being their first show, the group is composed of former members of BB Cream and members of Deathsticks. The band brought an air confidence with them, mouthing words to their own songs when only one person would sing and they would dance around while performing. It is grit, but polished grit, and quite frankly the solos played over simple chord progressions seemed so much more complicated than they actually were. Bands that manage to turn simplicity into a beautiful and complex soundscape never fail to blow me away because they’re taking so little and creating so much.
So Sensitivehas a stage presence that seems to push others to let loose and get lost in all the intricate tonality of each and every composition the group has come up with. Each is unique but tied together in a similar sense, often with the shift in mood or pace. They have a solid sound with the power and volume that screams rock. Soft vocals add to that smooth sound that recalls The Pixies’s Kim Deal, and really set a mood for the show.
My best advice is that you look out for the next show they play and head on down to hear some very sweet and joyous tunes that will be sure to get you moving and smiling.
Tough Age, a Toronto based indie rock band, took the stage not too long after and from the very first note had the crowd hooked. The crowd moved in waves, pumped their fists in the air, danced, and sang along to this high energy band. The vocals were in no way clean or polished. That set the tone completely and added a sense of looseness and comfort to the atmosphere.
The bassline is quick and prominent, and the guitar follows up right behind, the two instruments creating harmonies that get you hooked and dancing. The raw passion that is used to play the bass and guitar are absolutely insane. Tough Age play with such fire that within the first few minutes of the set one of the strings of Jes’s guitar snapped and he ended up playing through a song with five strings.
The drums are quick and prominent. I didn’t see a moment where Jesse wasn’t smiling. Despite the rhythmic pattern being continuous through certain songs, it didn’t stop him from playing with his whole heart or from breaking a drumstick. There’s much use of the cymbals and this creates a new layer to the songs that wouldn’t normally be found. The fills are perfectly placed and there’s just enough to keep each song interesting but not overly complex. There’s depth and thought placed into it but it’s loud and proud.
Tough Age fall nothing short of a must-see band. If you haven’t seen them, you’ve probably heard of them… and if you haven’t even heard of them, well, now you have.
They’re a high energy band with lots of passion for what they do.
Jay Arner, a psychedelic new wave sounding band from Vancouver was the one to headlined the show. The harmonies the member created where smooth and layered with precision. Close to what the Arctic Monkeys have done and continue to do but with more of a Joy Division meets The Smiths vibe. They grab at your attention the moment they step on stage. From the instruments to the way they dress, there isn’t anything that doesn’t get you itching to hear their tunes.
The vocals are soft and beyond their generally flat sound, there’s an evident play of tones. Jay creates an almost soft spoken effect while singing and harmonizing with the rest of the band. This adds unspoken feeling and power to the songs despite keeping a mellow resonance.
Synths are used for effects that pull you in and make you feel like you’re floating through space, the drums keep you in the loop and provide you with a beat to move to. Fast, slow, with intricate fills or without, the drumming falls nothing short of fast paced and muddled together. This is done in such a way where it sounds clean despite the fact that the cymbals were being hit with a fair amount of power.
Spacey, lost, colourful—this is what the sound makes me think of. You’re floating in zero gravity, dancing as if nobody is watching, just completely in time and tune with the music. It takes you in and captures your attention because it’s not something that is often found in music in this day and age. The band kicks it old school in terms of sound and brings a nostalgia forward that you weren’t even aware of.
All the individuals are incredibly talented, and each band brings its own unique styling to the shows they play. It’s never a repetition of the same sounds or progressions and the banter is always different. It ranges from untraceable, unlikable websites to self-depreciating jokes and general thanks for supporting the bands. So make sure to get yourself down to Pressed for some wicked shows by some wicked cool and talented individuals.
During Ottawa Explosion’s fourth day, the outdoor stage at Club SAW was rocked by the Mint Records Showcase featuring The Smugglers, NEEDLES//PINS, Tough Age and Expanda Fuzz.
The iconic Canadian garage rock band The Smugglers headlined the wonderful evening. The band from Vancouver, BC existed from 1988 – 2004, and just recently reunited for select shows in 2017. Lead singer Grant Lawrence, who many know as a host on CBC Radio 3, is wildly energetic and engaging as a frontman. He kicked off the show by saying: “Ottawa, it is so good to be back in the city that birthed The White Wires, Stand GT, Resin Scrapers, The Creeps, Million Dollar Marxists, Tokyo Sex Whale and so many more!” That was quite the tribute to the locals here, and many of the aforementioned bands had members in the audience. He continued “Since the last time you saw us in Ottawa we have had nine children and one heart attack.
They call themselves a rock n’ roll band, which they most certainly are, with hints of surf and very danceable garage (maybe those terms weren’t cool back when they were). Their sound is amazing and infectious and had people dancing and singing along non-stop. I try to make a point to not comment on a band’s attire, but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the full suit and rubber boots look sported by many of the members.
The band played a high energy 12-song set featuring “Vancouver BC,” which Lawrence mentioned “was almost a hit on Much Music,” the International Smuggler Dance Competition judged by the drummer of NEEDLES//PINS and “Booze” which was dedicated to the drummer of The Gruesomes, a band from Montreal that changed Lawrence’s life, who happened to be from Ottawa. They closed with “Rock n’ Roll Was Never This Fun” and thanked us all for attending what could be one of the last Smugglers shows ever. It is bittersweet that my first Smugglers show may be my last, but I’m ecstatic that I got to see them play my favourite festival.
NEEDLES//PINS took to the stage before The Smugglers and were full of apologies from the get go. After playing their opening song “Drop It” they said “Feels so good to be back, I can’t believe we missed an Explosion I’m sorry. We will never miss another.” I sure hope the Explosion team holds them to that as I love knowing I will see this band every year. Before launching into “Best Friend” they urged us all to high-five our best friend which was a really fun moment to watch happen all around them in the packed Club SAW courtyard.
They also played a bunch of music off their new record, Good Night, Tomorrow, which hadn’t been released yet but is now available. The new tracks sounded great and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the album. Their set featured one of the cutest and most heart-warming moments of the festival. Not everyone knows that even though the band is from BC, one of their members is from the Ottawa Valley. Emmanuel Sayer (OXW organizer) noticed some of the family members, mostly older, sitting by the stage during the set and ran them over some earplugs. What a gentleman. It is always awesome to see NEEDLES//PINS perform, they are incredibly talented but also just such nice and positive people.
Tough Age, formally from Vancouver and now based in Toronto, played Ottawa Explosion again and are becoming a festival mainstay. The new-ish, stripped down three-piece (formally a bigger band) have really embraced some post-punk influences and sound with their new music, such as the song “Not That Bad.” I, and a couple of people I was chatting with, really dig it. One of the things that blows me away about this band is how the guitarist and bass player just switch instruments back and forth throughout the set. I have massive respect and am in awe of bands that can do that, it’s just wild. Member Jarrett Samson said in closing, “I’m excited to see NEEDLES//PINS and if they don’t play “Drop It” I’m going to burn this tent to the ground.” Lucky for him and all of us, NEEDLES//PINS opened with “Drop It” as mentioned and we all avoided a catastrophe.
Opening the Mint Records Showcase was local duo Expanda Fuzz. I was unfortunately running late and missed some of their set, but as always what I did hear was most excellent. Their fuzzy and drone garage style sound has this perfect slow crawling build that leaves me wanting more. In a short time as a band, they have already released a bunch of great music, but I am constantly going back to the first song I heard them play “Flavour: Zombie.” Every time I see them perform that song I get a big smile on my face and have to bob my head. I’m glad that even arriving late, I managed to catch it.
Century Palm will take you on a time warp and are happen to be swinging into town this week.
Century Palm was initially formed by vocalist/guitarist Andrew Payne in 2014 following the dissolution of garage-rock cult favourites, Ketamines. Ketamines featured 3/4ths of the eventual members of Century Palm (Paul Lawton, Penny Clark, Jesse Locke and Payne). Members also play(ed) in Tough Age, Zebrassieres and Dirty Beaches. Needless to say this talented group has a pretty impressive resume.
The band has certainly moved well beyond the garage sound of their past bands. Century Palm will take you back 20 or 30 years with new wave and post-punk musical styling that many like me have missed dearly.
Ahead of their show at House of Targ Saturday night, we chatted with the band about their evolution from Ketamines to Century Palm and their retro sound. Have a read below and travel back in time Saturday night (info here).
Beyond the different sound, what is the major difference between Ketamines and Century Palm?
Paul Lawton: Ketamines was a studio project with a rotating cast of players, Century Palm has always felt more like a hard-slogging band. Ketamines as a collab between myself and James Leroy, who I had been making music with since the 90s. Century Palm is (more or less) more of a collaboration between an entire band, it is a great deal more collaborative than Ketamines ever was.
Andrew Payne: Although I played in Ketamines for a year I didn’t write any music for the band. For me, Century Palm is a continuation of my last songwriting project, Zebrassieres, which was based in Ottawa when I lived there from 2009 to 2012. The main goal of Zebrassieres was to make people question the need to be serious, logical and mature. With Century Palm, I’m taking a stab at being serious, logical and mature. Both paths are valid ways to approach life.
Often when bands breakup, they get back together for high paying reunion gigs, not form another band with many of the same members. What brought you together to make music again?
Paul: I think that Ketamines might come back around at some point. It’s confusing – the version of Ketamines with myself, Andrew, Jesse and Alex dissolved after a stupid and highly charged cross Canada tour where we were doing Ketamines AND Zebrassieres with the same lineup. Andrew basically quit on a 30 hour drive home from Chicago to Toronto, I think that tour kind of broke us. Ketamines went on with Jesse on drums, and then Andrew formed Century Palm, and we basically all got back together again, without me as the ruthless uncaring leader, and it was instantly kind of better.
Andrew: The people are all great, I just wanted to make my own music and do something different than before.
Getting back to the sound, Century Palm sounds like something from the last century, more of a late 70s and 80s vibe to it. How did that come to be?
Andrew: I like the sweet spot in there when punk-influenced-bands were getting more creative, and right before a lot of those same bands started losing their edge. It was a time when everything was more bold, dark and stylish than the present. The fashion was distinctive and daring. The movies were full of slime, and actors would say, “Shut up, pukoid.”
Paul: I think we are victims of “overdocumentation” as Simon Reynolds says in Retromania. When I started playing in hardcore bands, we were basically influenced by whichever 7”s we could get in distros, or from the back of MRR or whatever HeartattaCk was into, but then filesharing just made musical eras and genre distinctions obsolete. In our van we are as likely to listen to WIRE as we are anything modern.
I heard recording this album was a lengthy process? Can you speak about the road from your last EP to your debut LP Meet You?
Paul: We recorded our first two EPs at Royal Mountain Studios with Nyles Miszczyk, roughly about a year apart – 2014 and then 2015. I was personally super happy with how it turned out. Then we moved into a real studio on the East End that we were sharing with U.S. Girls and Slim Twig, and I still had all my recording gear from when I ran Mammoth Cave Recording Co., so we just decided to take our time. Mixing was making me crazy, so we offloaded our mixing to Mint Records superstar Jay Arner, and so that allowed me to focus on crafting vibes.
We re-recorded most of the songs a few times until we were happy with it. I probably spent 1000 hours in there making sonic layers with everyone. It was fun, but we already have a second LP worth of songs and we moved out of that studio, so that will force us to go back to a real studio. I personally loved working with Nyles so we might try and make that happen again.
I like both singles, “King of John St” and “Then You’re Gone” for very different reasons, but “Then You’re Gone” really jumps out at me and shines on the album. Could you tell me a little bit about the song please?
Andrew: Then You’re Gone is about that moment you find out a friend, or anyone close, has passed away. It captures that helpless, spacey feeling where all you can do is question life while the reality of the news sinks in. When Penny’s synth solo kicks in, it takes me away to another dimension, which is a perfect response to the song.
You have played Ottawa a few times before, what is one or some of your favourite memories of playing the nation’s capital?
Penny Clark: My favourite time was at Ottawa Explosion where we got to play that super hot cave bar and it ruled.
Paul: We just like playing to a city of people that actually care about supporting bands and dancing and going off.
For people who have never seen you live before, what should they expect at House of TARG?
Andrew: They can expect to see new songs newer than our new album.
Jesse Locke: TARG has an amazing collection of pinball machines and my personal favourite game, Ice Cold Beer. Try the dessert pierogies too!
Sailor Jupiter had the honour of being this year’s first band. The three-piece garage group from Ottawa are one of my favourite newer local bands and are always a treat to see perform on stage. They played great tracks off their self-tilted debut like “Jesus Freak” and the droney “Dead to Me”. They closed with an unrecorded song that was loud, filled with yelling and most excellent. They just keep getting better every time I see them.
Changing things up was Tough Age, with more of a pop punk and dance rock sound. The band from Vancouver not only played great tunes, but gave out good advice. After struggling with hair in his face, the lead singer and guitarist said, “Don’t get cool hair cuts, get safe hair cuts… Great advice my dad once gave me.” The band announced the exciting news that a new album is on the way and played us a track off it called “New Orleans Square.” Tough Age closed out with their sweet song “Heart of Julie Jones.”
Not only was I bouncing from stage to stage between SAW and Mugshots, but it also felt like the genre of music changed up every time which kept things interesting. After listening to west coast pop punk, it was now time for east coast rockers Monomyth from Halifax. These guys took me on a journey through soundscapes with their stoner rock. It felt really appropriate as they named themselves after the narrative pattern for the 12 stages of the hero’s journey. These maritimers’ music is perfect for meditating or for peaceful sailing on the open waters. Really dug it.
Playing the final set outside of SAW for the evening were the up-tempo and lively Guantanamo Baywatch from Portland, Oregon. They teleported us to a ’60s or ’70s beach party worthy of bright Hawaiian shirts and people doing the Twist. Their music was so much fun and finally got the crowd moving. You need not look any further than the first track, “Barbacoa” off their latest album Chest Crawl, to understand why people where loving it. The instrumental surf medley makes you want to jump up and dance. They are one of, if not the, tightest surf rock group I have ever seen. A real treat.
Kappa Chow playing Club SAW at Ottawa Explosion Weekend in Ottawa.
It was now time to move inside SAW for the final four acts. Kicking things off were Kappa Chow. If anyone there didn’t know the band’s name, they learned it quickly as the lead singer often yells out “KAPPA…” and waits for the crowd to say “CHOW!” You know the band from Sackville, New Brunswick, is something a little different right away as the drummer stood up and set up in the crowd-facing the stage. With the singer channelling his inner young Iggy Pop and not being able to either keep his shirt on or stay out of the crowd — he is a natural entertainer. Later on during the set he got up on the monitor and standing nice and tall mooned us all. Never forget that Kappa… CHOW is “Punk as Fuck.”
Up next was Nap Eyes from Halifax, NS. If Kappa was Iggy, Nap Eyes was Lou Reed in all the right ways. They play a very interesting psych folk music and performed a number of great tracks including the eerie “Dark Creedence”, which sounds like it could have been an outtake from Velvet Underground & Nico. Like the song “Heroine”, “Dark Creedence” begins with a happy-sounding chord progression and crescendos near the end with a screechy, uncontrolled sound from the guitar that makes the listener feel slightly uncomfortable.
The band with the greatest name of the night, SOCAN Billionaires, shared their musical riches with us as we closed in on midnight. Led by Mike Dubue, they were essentially Hilotrons without Adam Saikaley. They played a number of upbeat, catchy tunes and ripped through their set. A highlight was when the band slowed things down a bit and got their dub on, playing Hilotrons’ “A New Town” from their new album To Trip with Terpsichore. The thing I love about Dubue is how he does not shy away from his Talking Heads influence. Their performance felt like Ottawa’s answer to Stop Making Sense but with the punk edge of being in a small dimly lit venue. They powered through technical difficulties with Dubue’s keyboard, but with his energy and the band’s amazing musicianship it could almost go unnoticed.
Now well past midnight it was time for the Ouija rocking The Yips to peer into what was left of our souls. The Yips were the perfect choice to end the night, maintaining the energy of the room and keeping the late mid-week party going. The local act puts on such a great show and they have amazing on stage chemistry. As per usual, the band did not disappoint the still pretty large crowd of late-night partiers. A few highlights of the set were just how spot on they nailed their track “Repeater” and that they played a new song I had never heard before. Teasing us that late at night felt somewhat unfair… but I liked it. Let’s all hope that means another Yips EP is on the way sooner rather than later.
Day one is officially in the books and it was most excellent. Five more days of fun, sun and punk rock left to go!
So I walked into the Mugshots courtyard just after the Denver, Colorado, three-piece had started their set, and I immediately notice the drummer playing with a maraca in one hand. Ok, that’s cool, score one for Homebody. Next song, the two guitarists trade instruments, also cool. Then I notice the instrument that one guy is playing: it looks like a guitar but a bit bigger, and it sounds like a bass. It has 6 strings, but he’s plucking them individually, not playing chords. This whacky thing is called a Bass VI, and is just a small-scale 6-string bass guitar. I’d never seen it played in a band, and I’m not sure I fully understand it. So Homebody is rackin’ up some points!
These guys are mixing psychedelic vibes with a kind of Mac DeMarco-esque jangly pop, and some occasional weird time signatures. The rotating projections on the tall courtyard walls looked like something you’d see through a microscope, and coupled with the music, made the setting feel like a science experiment, as if we were under the microscope and Homebody was the spaced-out soundtrack to our examination. Weird. And awesome.
The weekend is young, so let’s go! OXW Day 2!!!
Day three of Ottawa Explosion Weekend was absolutely insane! Got started at 6 pm with acoustic punk, later included an amazing The White Wires set and The Creeps stirred the place into a frenzy inside.
One of the best acoustic acts going, period, is Jon Creeden. He writes great tunes that just urge you to sing a long the entire set. And what is even better is he was still all smiles and upbeat despite getting a $90 parking ticket while loading. He played a bunch of songs we all knew like “Swept Away” and a sweet combination of “Dominos” and “The Captain.” But the highlight for me was the three new songs he wrote about Ottawa that he played in the middle of his set. One was about Jean-Sebastien, one about Robot!House!! and another for SCUM House on Gladstone (RIP). Looking forward to getting my hands on those recordings whenever they are pressed.
Up next was the one-man party explosion Robots!Everywhere!! One thing I truly love from Robots! sets is how he gives a little story or teaches you dance moves before every song… both are always hilarious. He rocked us with great tracks like “$400,” “Best Friends,” “Taco Party,” “Sports Off,” and a new song. He taught us awesome choreography for “Drunk at Work” and got into some aerobics by convincing everyone to run on the spot during the chorus of “Building Materials.” He then showed everyone what Ottawa Explosion is all about by moving his mic in the crowd having all of us surround him as he played the Ottawa Explosion theme song. We then all had a massive sweaty group hug.
Outtacontroler from Halifax got things kicked off once we all moved outside back to the front of Club SAW. They played some pretty darn sweet garage rock. I was really digging it but my stomach was yelling at me to eat, so I had to duck out. This hunger also caused me to miss The Famines…but that almost feels appropriate.
I did return just in time to catch Vancouver’s Tough Age. They kept the kind of garage punk vibe going, and I was not complaining. I freaking loved the lead singer’s voice, it just had that perfect ring to it. “We’re Both to Blame” and “Heart of Juliet Jones” (the first two songs off their most excellent album) were my favourites from their set.
Next up was Protomartyr, such a cool band name I may add. The lead singer looked like a drunk business man after a hard week of work with his suit on and stumbling, but they were great. I truly enjoyed their set, most notably the second song the boys from Detroit played called “Scum.”
It was now time for local favourites The White Wires. The band pretty much plays two shows a year as their members are all doing different things, including Allie rocking out of California now as Peach Kelly Pop. Ian and Allie were ready to go, but bass player Luke was nowhere to be found… so Emmanuel jumped on the bass for the first song. It will probably go down as one of the coolest moments in Ottawa’s punk folklore. Their set was unreal and jam packed with all the hits. “Let’s Go to the Beach,” “All Night Long,” and “Roxanne” stuck out for me from the set and so did every song they played, actually. The crowd was going nuts charging the mic to sing along, moshing, crowd surfing and just having a riot.
It was time to move inside, and after the amazing The White Wires set, the bar was placed pretty high for the next few acts. They did not disappoint. Dig It Up from Montreal are simply put, awesome. They blasted through their set at warp speed. The singer spent almost as much time in the crowd as he did on stage and he was hands down the most energetic and entertaining frontman of the festival so far. I am so glad I caught their set as I missed it at Pouzza Fest.
Another Ottawa band that just doesn’t play enough are The Creeps. The crowd inside agreed as they screamed along and crowd surfing non-stop. Their music is upbeat and fun, while their lyrics are creepy and stalker-ish, a wonderful combination. They played many great songs and I was happy to hear one of my favourites “Follow You Home.” Emmanuel was up front as always and got up on stage to sing some, it is so great to see the organizers having a blast at their own festival.
With so many great acts done there was still one question… who was the secret band closing out the night? The answer, The Marked Men side project Radioactivity. At this point I was feeling rather exhausted so checked out four or five songs and had to pack it in. The band was great and set the stage for Saturday.