Monday, November 30, 2009

Music News & Concert Annoucements (November 30, 2009)

Elizabeth Fraser: photo by Sally Mundy
  Elizabeth Fraser: photo by Sally Mundy

Sorry for the lack of posts lately. I've been reflective lately about the last decade of music (given best of decade lists like Uncut's and Bob's) and have been revisiting some old favourites and loading up the old iPod. I may just throw a list together and post it. Or not. One thing I realized however is that in our/everyone's quest for seeking out new music it's easy to forget all the great music that's come before. So if I haven't posted about whomever is the hot new musical act right now, you'll understand right?

New Massive Attack album coming out in February. Pitchfork has the deets.

One-time Massive Attack collaborator, Elizabeth Fraser(of Cocteau Twins), has a new single(aww, just a single) entitled "Moses". Limited to 900 copies on 12" vinyl, it's available for order through Rough Trade. The song is a tribute to Jake Drake-Brockman, late keyboardist of Echo and The Bunnymen. The Guardian has a revealing article on Ms. Fraser regards to The Cocteau Twins reunion that never happened, about her distance from the music industry over the last 12 years, and her relationships with Cocteau Twins' Robin Guthrie and singer songwriter Jeff Buckley. (The Guardian link via The National Post)

On an Liz Fraser tangent, I just picked up Echo and The Bunnymen's Ian McCulloch's 1989 debut solo album "Candleland" on vinyl which contains a track that Ms. Fraser sings background vocals on. Wonderful:

Video: Ian McCulloch(w/ Elizabeth Fraser) - "Candleland" (music video)

Pondering travel plans in 2010 already and thinking a revisit to Barcelona, Spain next year for the Primavera Sound Festival may be in order. The intial lineup is fantastic. Pavement, Pixies, Wilco, New Pornographers, the Fall, The xx!

Local country outfit $100 have some shows lined up this month and in the new year. There'll be a duet show on December 1 at Graffiti's as well as December 5 at Canadian Corps. There'll be a trio configuration when they play Holy Oak on December 3. They'll play Horseshoe Tavern on January 22 in the new year in what I presume will be a full band. From the band's MySpace.

Winsome pop-folk outfit Ohbijou will be performing for an in-studio session for Third Floor Sessions on December 5 at 3 pm. You can be part of the studio audience - tickets are $5 and can be had by e-mailing Details at Stille Post and Facebook. The radio program is through SPIRITlive a 24-hour a day, 7 day a week live Internet Broadcaster, produced by students in the School of Radio & Television Arts (RTA) at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Also according to the Facebook page, Toronto indie roots act The Wooden Sky are to perform for Third Floor Sessions on December 15.

Underneath the organic, sunny pop-rock of Will Currie and The Country French belies a band who embrace technology as they hope to broadcast their live shows on their Ustream Channel whenever they can. They play to stream their upcoming Waterloo show taking place December 3 at Maxwell's Music House. (via chartattack)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Rural Alberta Advantage @ Soundscapes in Toronto (November 17, 2009)

Amy Cole of RAA @ Soundscapes: photo by Michael Ligon

No I'm not stalking Rural Alberta Advantage 's Amy Cole as much as the above photo may seem - it was just the best photo I could capture having arrived a little late for the band's intimate instore performance at Soundscapes in Toronto this past Tuesday. 'Intimate' is the key word as the band opted for a more subdued performance than their usual live show as will likely be on display when they play a sold-out show at Lee's Palace tomorrow night. It was very much a bedroom performance as if they were trying not to disturb the neighbours and the crowd on hand was perfectly attentive. RAA's Nils Edenloff compared this set to their days when they hosted an open mic night at a venue on Parliament [presumably the now defunct Winchester, if this article is accurate]. A brief but good preview it was for tomorrow night's show and I believe they played at least one new song (anyone know the title?). With any luck I'll be at Lee's tomorrow night for the show (which I'll remind you is sold out); next time I won't wait so long to buy a ticket.

So what else fancies me these days, at least musically speaking?

The Magnetic Fields perform an all-ages show Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Toronto on February 8, 2010, tickets $30.50, and go onsale to the public on Saturday November 21 at 10 am. Some of you scored presale tickets I see. Jealous.

Paper Bag Records are giving away a free digital sampler to celebrate 7 years in business - entitled '7 year itch', it features the labels artists covering a selection of tunes by various artists. Have yet to hear it but The Acorn covering Gowan's "Strange Animal" seems strangely intriguing. On a related note, it's news to me that The Acorn's "Glory Hope Mountain" was the only Canadian album to make the longlist(although not the shortlist unfortunately) for the 2009 Uncut Music Award back in September (the winner to be announced in the magazine's January 2010 issue). Just recently the album also made Uncut's list of the Top 150 Albums of the decade, scoring in at 147. Seems like a good time to reacquaint myself with this album.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dan Auerbach, Justin Townes Earle, Jessica Lea Mayfield @ Phoenix Concert Theatre (November 7, 2009)

Dan Auerbach @ Phoenix Concert Theatre: photo by Michael Ligon

Update [Nov 13/09, 12:41 am]: Review now up. Sorry for the lack of punctuality lately. Anyone still bothering to read?

I was only ever casually familiar with Akron, Ohio duo The Black Keys' stripped down take on blues rock. Their direct rock n' roll approach to the blues was exciting on its own merits but that said never really grasped on to them. It was only curiosity that lead me to check out The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach's debut solo album "Keep It Hid" which I found to be quite terrific. Stepping up from the Keys minimalist drums / guitar approach, on "Keep It Hid" Auerbach uses a full band effort on most songs, doing an admirable job of filtering various musical influences like rock n' roll, soul, folk and country. Well thought out and enthusiastically executed, it's one of the better albums I've heard all year. With that in mind, I looked forward to seeing Auerbach's show at the Phoenix last Saturday night.

An early show as it was, in order to make way for the dance party to take place in the venue later that night, the two opening acts went dutifully performed and transitioned with precision. Kent, Ohio's Jessica Lea Mayfield was already performing when I got to the venue and a good crowd was on hand to listen to her solo acoustic folk set. In a smaller venue, I'd have been very much in to her set - acoustic guitar, tuneful melodies, casually sung Midwestern sounding vocals - but with the crowd chatty as you'd might expect from Toronto audiences, there was little ambiance for the set which really deserved it.

And within the span of what seemed like under ten minutes, the next artist on the bill was off and running, the artist in question being Nashville's Justin Townes Earle (yes, son of that Earle). I'm aware he's made a several stops through Toronto in the last few years, and has impressed some country-minded folks and his talent was quite apparent. Though his setup (vocals / acoustic guitar) was the same Ms. Mayfield's set who preceded him, Mr. Earle's songs were very much entrenched in a traditional country sound. A hint of twang in his vocals at times, his guitar strumming was simple but effective, and his tunes alternated between mid-to-up tempo swingers and more tender country ballads("Mama's Eyes"). At one point, an overly enthusiastic strum of his guitar resulted in a bleeding finger. Not your average country music set, and quite possibly one of the best country set's I've ever seen.

Dan Auerbach and his band The Fast Five took to the stage not too long after to play songs off "Keep It Hid" for the enraptured Toronto crowd. Listening to the album didn't necessarily prepare me nor the audience for the volume that would hit us during Auerbach's live set. It felt as if Auerbach decided to crank up the amps to ten, the effect being ever more brutal to the eardrums (and thank God for earplugs). As loud as it was, it still seemed tolerable, and the added crunch was more than appreciated. Background info - Dan's backing band "Fast Five" are a band called Hacienda, and one of the percussionist's on tour with him is Patrick Hallahan from My Morning Jacket. The set started out solemnly with the quieter "Trouble Weighs A Ton" with Dan and guitarist Dante Schwebel leaning in on the mic to harmonize beautifully. From there though it was really more of a rock n' roll set, trading in for guitar licks and a double drumkit assault. Percussionist Patrick Hallahan, when he wasn't playing drums, was on congos and or maracas, and with his long shaggy hair and with him wearing a Mexican poncho was a spectacle until himself. My favourite song in the set "The Last Mistake" came on quite early in the set, a perfect balance between infectious pop melodies, an injection of soul, and vibrant rock n' roll energy. Most definitely, it deserves to be a new American rock n' roll classic. Overall, the stew of rock n' roll, country, soul and folk created by Dan and The Fast Five was confidently and loudly performed, the only disappointment being they only had one album to draw from (although they did include a rocking cover of a song by a band called Rocking Horse). And so as quietly as the set began, so did it end as for the final song of the encore, Dan remained onstage with guitar to performing the fittingly entitled "Going Home". And so we did with smiles on our faces. [Ok, maybe not all of us went home, since it it was only 9 pm. Ha.]

Me, BlogTO, chartattack and Eye are all in agreement that the show was stupendous. mandrs has some photos from the show .

Photos: Dan Auerbach, Justin Townes Earle, Jessica Lea Mayfield @ Phoenix Concert Theatre (November 7, 2009)
Myspace: Jessica Lea Mayfield
Myspace: Justin Townes Earle
Myspace: Dan Auerbach

Monday, November 09, 2009

Junior Boys, Woodhands @ Lee's Palace in Toronto (November 6, 2009)

:photo by MIchael Ligon

Update [Nov 11/09, 12:23 AM]: Review now up.

I commented recently in a recent gig review that Toronto band Parallels "... pursue a genre that is particularly lacking in Toronto" and the genre I was referring to was synth / electro-pop music. In retrospect, it is perhaps unreasonable to expect a an explosion or scene of bands within such a narrowly defined genre. Maybe that's why Hamilton's Junior Boys have been so successful as over the course of three albums, their most recent being this year's "Begone Dull Care", the duo have built upon a synth-pop basis using bass and guitar and a live drummer, merging that live instrumentation and vocalist Jeremy Greenspan's smooth vocals with the sampled beats of electronic noodler extradornaire Matthew Didemus. Most apparently, especially with the new album, the boys have brought greater attention to their R n' B influences which I've enjoyed immensely. Having toured North America for the new album since the beginning of October, the final three dates culminated with shows within the Golden Horseshoe, the third last date stopping in at Lee's Palace in Toronto for a sweaty, packed show this past Friday night.

The Toronto duo of Dan Werb (vocalist/keytar) and Paul Banwatt (drummer) known as Woodhands opened up the show. It was a pretty high energy set with Banwatt's compact but explosive drumming and Werb's enthusiastic vocals and keytar playing. Musically, they tended towards a modern new-wave, electro-pop dance-rock sound that had people dancing and moving within the crowd. Through the use of some sort of electronic do-dad, drummer Banwatt sung "Dancer" sounding like pixie-ish Toronto female music artist Maylee Todd who sings on the studio version. Later on Werb would go hardcore-ish vocals on us with a abrasive version of Biz Markie's "Just A Friend". For my first time seeing them it wasn't difficult to see why they're so loved - they are the definition of fun, and I'd definitely check 'em out live again - but I'll leave the young un's to fawn over them, as I'm not there yet.

On the other hand, I've been fawning over Hamilton's Junior Boys since there early days. Vocalist Jeremy Greenspan mentioned that Junior Boys' first and last time playing Lee's Palace was about 6 years ago during the band's earliest days on a bill that'd featured another band made up of male models. Strange bill indeed. Returning to Lee's Palace 6 years later, Jeremy said the venue had a special place in their hearts. My previous times seeing Junior Boys live was at the El Mocambo and The Mod Club but this show at Lee's was by far my favourite. While the boys live stage presence hasn't changed much (and thank God for the live drummer) - Matthew still fairly removed from the audience as he goes on with his electronic noodling and Jeremy with some groove in him as he sings and plays guitar, bass, or keys - the venue did present one of the loosest audiences I've seen at a Junior Boys gig.

I didn't so much watch the band onstage as I watched the audience dance or immerse myself in my own euphoria. Junior Boys' music tends to simmer slowly before a melody or beats kick in but once they do, they take hold and don't let go. This was especially true during their set with tracks like the new albums' Depeche-Mode-ish "Parallel Lines" or the sultry beats of "Work". On the other hand, Junior Boys' showed an immediacy with the R n' B-ish "Bits And Pieces" and "Hazel" both which got many people including myself dancing. Other highlights included their debut album's "Birthday" and set closer "In The Morning" (off of "So This Is Goodbye"). Subsequent to Toronto, they played Waterloo then ended off in their hometown of Hamilton. They've been around the world and are now home for a deserved rest. I'm happy as a fan that this is probably their most successful tour to date, but on the other hand it's a little sad that we won't get to see them play live any time soon. I'm glad they played Lee's Palace this time. Something about Lee's Palace lends itself to the best audiences I've seen at gigs and maybe that's why I keep on going back. It was one of if not the loosest audience I've seen at a Junior Boys gig and it definitely made it the most enjoyable Junior Boys show I've seen ever.

Jen at Narratives has a review of the show. Spot The Groove reviews the show as well and has some photos.

Update: The Singing Lamb just posted their review of the show.

Photos: Junior Boys, Woodhands @ Lee's Palace in Toronto (November 6, 2009)
MySpace: Woodhands
MySpace: Junior Boys

Monday, November 02, 2009

Hottest Bands in Canada, 2009 edition

Rural Alberta Advantage: photo by Joe Fuda
    photo credit: Joe Fuda

As Matthew of I(Heart)Music has done over the past four years, he's again polled a selection of Canadian music writers, journalists and bloggers for their top ten hottest Canadian bands / artists of the year. I've always been happy to participate and this year's not any different. In some ways, I'm behind the curve on some of the new artists that made the top 32 - bands like The Balconies, The Wooden Sky and Bruce Peninsula who I've only had cursory listens of but am intrigued but have yet to check out live. Past favourites of mine like Ohbijou and Great Lake Swimmers didn't make it to my top 10, and not because they were not 'hot', but rather because personally I didn't end up spending much time with them, either listening to their new releases or going to see them live. My top 10 list was a very subjective one, although scrutinized with a little objectivity - in the end what made my top 10 were those bands / artists who had some sort of activity in 2009 (whether it be touring, releasing music etc...) and who musically had an impact on me. Check out the list below with the commentary for each I submitted (numbers in brackets indicate the artists' ranking in the final top 32):

01. (1) Rural Alberta Advantage (Toronto, Ontario)

They played New York City, SXSW, Toronto and all points in between. They signed to Saddle Creek. I saw them live at for the first time earlier this year during Canadian Musicfest, saw them perform a rapturous hometown CD release show at the Horseshoe Tavern, and then ended the summer seeing them at this year's Virgin Festival[who were immensely better than most of the acts that played the larger stages that day]. I was generally behind the curve latching on to them but better late than never.

MySpace: Rural Alberta Advantage

02. The Hidden Cameras (Toronto, Ontario)

Led by Mississauga-homeboy Joel Gibb, Toronto's The Hidden Cameras returned quietly with their newest album "Origin: Orphan". I had the pleasure of catching their special intimate CD release show at Goodhandy's in Toronto which only emphasized that it's one of my favourite Canadian albums this year. One will still find pleasure in the band's gay-friendly sunny pop tunes but to the provide some balance there's some darker songs and more ambitious instrumental arrangements. Maturity never sounded so good.

MySpace: The Hidden Cameras

03. (9) Metric (Toronto, Ontario)

Fuck the haters. Their most recent album "Fantasies" is a good album. Metric were always rock stars even when they were indie but bottom line they were and still are credible. "Gimme Sympathy" was one of the best singles of the year and there's something so profound about the lyric "who'd you want to be, The Beatles or The Rolling Stones". And when Ms. Haines returned to perform an acoustic version of this song at Broken Social Scene's homecoming show at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto back in July, it was heaven.

MySpace: Metric

04. (22) Gentleman Reg (Toronto, Ontario)

Reg Vermue aka Gentleman Reg played a shit load of live shows this year, and will continue to do so until the end of the year, in support of his most recent release "Jet Black". The more I listen to the samples on his MySpace, the more I wonder why I haven't yet picked up the album. Delicious, edgy pop music.

MySpace: Gentleman Reg

05. (27) Olenka and The Autumn Lovers (London, Ontario)

This London, Ontario outfit seems to be winning new fans incrementally with each live show. I continue to brag about being one of only a few people who caught their live set at C'est What during North By NorthEast back in 2008 but it seems people are now catching on to the band's charming hybrid of rootsy, acoustic, gypsy-folk. Festival-heavy participation this year for the band including NXNE, their own hometown LOLA festival, Pop Montreal and Halifax Pop Explosion as well as the self-release of their debut full-length has made it a successful and busy year for them.

MySpace: Olenka and The Autumn Lovers

06. Junior Boys (Hamilton, Ontario)

The Hamilton duo released their newest album "Begone Dull Care" continuing in the vein of past releases with another album of organic and electronic elements that intersect with the duo's solid songwriting aspect. Any year the boys release an album, they'll be hot.

MySpace: Junior Boys

07. (32) Still Life Still (East York, Ontario)

Signing to Arts & Crafts this year with the release of their debut album "Girls Come Too", Toronto's Still Life Still combine the youthful exhuberance of peers like Tokyo Police Club but with a scruffy pop sensibility that's more in line with their label brethren Broken Social Scene. BSS jr. perhaps, but there's a tune or two from Still Life Still that'd sound terrific on your next playlist[ok the old-schooler in me really wants to say mixtape, but hey who I am kidding?].

MySpace: Still Life Still

08. Hooded Fang (Toronto, Ontario)

This young Toronto outfit makes me smile with their boy-girl vocal-sung indie pop. They only have a five-song EP under their belt(released in early 2009), but 5 songs is better than none right? The band seems content playing around Toronto for now, but do check them out if they hit a town near you. Trust me - their song "Land of Giants" - the definition of pop gem.

MySpace: Hooded Fang

09. The Diableros (Toronto, Ontario)

They've been pretty quiet lately but they're slowly easing back into playing live and the band step up to professional-quality recording with the release of a new EP entitled "Old Story, Fresh Road" to tide things over until the next album. I still remember how insanely good their debut album, 2005's "You Can't Break the Strings in Our Olympic Hearts" was, and how their 2007 album "Aren't Ready for the Country", if not as intoxicating as the debut, was still quite good. The new EP's "Heavy Hands" stands as one of my favourite tracks of the year.

MySpace: The Diableros

10. Tokyo Police Club (Newmarket, Ontario)

TPC spent the year touring, playing dates at All Points West Festival(in New Jersey), the Canadian National Exhibition in TOronto, Hillside Festival in Guelph and even a l'il free summer show in my hometown of Mississauage, and they will continue to play live into November. God love 'em. Late on the wagon as I was, I finally got down to listening to their debut full-length, 2008's "Elephant Shell" and haven't looked back since.

MySpace: Tokyo Police Club