Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Canadian Musicfest Picks (2012)

Canadian Musicfest 2012

It's that time of year again when music festival season kicks off in Toronto with Canadian Music Week and it's music series Canadian Musicfest starting tonight. Time and time again, CMF has failed to live up to the excitement and anticipation of Toronto's other city-wide music festival North By Northeast which happens in June and seems to get better with each passing year. And if CMF hasn't been on par with NXNE, it's not to say it has nothing to offer. I'm sure with a little research and a little luck, one's bound to uncover a gem or two, and that's generally been my experience with most Canadian Music Week / Canadian Musicfests in the past. I perceive a general apathy towards this year's lineup based on the chatter over social media and with Canadian Musicfest this year happening the week after Austin's SXSW (the mother of all city-wide, multi-venue music festivals), it goes further to emphasize how modest Canadian Musicfest really is. But with the festival about to kick off, I finally buckled down and researched / sampled the list of artists participating in this year's festival and here are the one's I am recommending:

Bear Hands
Fri Mar 23 (midnight) -- Sneaky Dee's (Young Lions Music Club Showcase)
Video: Bear Hands - "Crime Pays"

Obviously not deterred by whether band names derived from names of animals are still in vogue, this Brooklyn, NYC outfit's sound seems catered to the indie rock crowd.

I Am Oak
Wed Mar 21 (9 pm) -- Cameron House, Backroom
Thu Mar 22 (8 pm) -- The Ossington
Sat Mar 24 (8 pm) -- Cabin 5 (Filter Magazine Showcase)
Video: I Am Oak - "Curt" (live)

What I've sampled of this Dutch folkie [his real name being Thijs Kuijken] with acoustic guitar seems more than pleasant enough. His moniker is actually the name of the band but I'm not actually sure if he plays with a band. I guess this is where things get confusing.

Voltaire Twins
Fri Mar 23 (9 pm) -- Wrongbar (present by Union Events)
Fri Mar 23 (midnight) -- Painted Lady
Sat Mar 24 (3:50 pm) -- El Mocambo, Upstairs (Aussie BBQ, Sounds Australia and Stage Mothers)
Video: Voltaire Twins - "Animalia" (music video)

Aussie synth-pop duo Voltaire Twins are made up of siblings Jaymes and Tegan and they create voluptuous electro-pop confections from what I've sampled. Their Romulus EP was released late last year and is available on iTunes.

Wed Mar 21 (8 pm) -- Cameron House, Backroom
Thu Mar 22 (9 pm) -- The Ossington
Video: Loom - "Eypllion" (teaser 1)
Video: Loom - "Eypllion" (teaser 2)

The moniker of Toronto's Brooke Manning, LOOM straddles the line between indie-folk sensibilities and a willingness to experiment with other sonic textures with intriguing results.

Nova Heart
Thu Mar 22 (11 pm) -- Comfort Zone
Video: Nova Heart - "Lackluster No. 3" (Takeaway Show for La Blogotheque)

How could you not like or at least have your interest piqued by a band whose name is the same as the song-title of a Canadian new wave classic? The project is the solo effort of Helen Feng, born in Beijing but raised in the US and Canada and who's already had an illustrious music career in China since 2002 when she was hired as VJ for MTV China. La Blogotheque shot a Takeaway Session with her recently [see the link above] and given their impeccable musical tastes plus the fact that I was impressed with Nova Heart's Takeaway Session I'm looking forward to checking them out.

Housse De Racket
Sat Mar 24 (11 pm) -- Wrongbar
Video: Housse De Racket - "Chateau" (music video)

The Parisian duo, with incestuous musical ties to their fellow musical countrymen, having been in-demand session musicians-for-hire with Air and Phoenix, are following in their footsteps with their own electro-pop music creations. Already on album #2 entitled Alesia, could this be the band's breakout year?

Fri Mar 23 (midnight) -- Wrongbar
Video: BadBadNotGood - "The Odd Future Sessions Part 1"

A free-jazz trio consisting of pianist Matt Tavares, bassist Chester Stone Hansen, and drummer Alex Sowinski (who apparently usually plays with a pig mask), they all met while attending Humber College. It's nothing new, the band's fusion of hip hop and jazz, but I can see why the kids like 'em - they groove. BADBADNOTGOOD released their first two albums in 2011, both for free off of their official Bandcamp.

Spoek Mathambo
Fri Mar 23 (11 pm) -- The Great Hall
Video: Spoek Mathambo - "Mshini Wam"

Fusing hip hop and Afro-beat influences with a decidedly modernist sonic approach, he's as exhilirating as the first time you'd heard M.I.A. One to watch.

Big Scary
Thu Mar 22 (8:50 pm) -- Sennheiser Lounge Library Bar (Sounds Australia)
Fri Mar 23 (9 pm) -- Lee's Palace (Windish Agency Showcase)
Sat Mar 24 (4:30 pm) -- El Mocambo, Upstairs (Aussie BBQ, Sounds Australia and Stage Mothers)
Video: Big Scary - "The Apple Song" (music video)

Spunky Aussie indie-rock, drums / guitar, girl / boy duo consisting of Jo Syme and Tom Iansek whose debut full-length Vacation was released this past October.

Chains of Love
Fri Mar 23 (11:30 pm) -- El Mocambo, Downstairs (Dine Alone Showcase)
Sat Mar 24 (9:20 pm) -- Horseshoe Tavern (Collective Concerts)
Video: Chains Of Love - "Lies Lies Lies" (live @ Bitmore in Vancouver, April 20 2011)

The Vancouver Motown-influenced, indie outfit made a good impression on me during last year's NXNE and so here I am recommeding them to give others the opportunity to check them out.

Cold Specks
Thu Mar 22 (9 pm) -- The Music Gallery (wristband-only show, doors 8:30 pm)
Video: Cold Specks - Holland (music video)

A recent signee to Toronto's Arts & Crafts label, this 23-year old (whose real name is Al Spx) from Toronto's west-end recently toured the UK with Timber Timbre and while over their made an appearance on seminal television music show Later With Jools Holland. Mixing currently popular indie-folk sensibilities with that of old-time gospel spirituals, she makes a stark musical statement.

From Indian Lakes
Sat Mar 24 (5 pm) -- Sneaky Dee's (Travis Porter + livemusicto)
Video: From Indian Lakes - "We Never Dream"
Video: From Indian Lakes - "The Canyon" (Acoustic Live Show)

The young quintet, all the way from Yosemite Valley, California have travelled a long way to get here for the festival, and it'd be a shame not to check them out. Both full-band and stripped-down acoustic performances exist on YouTube to check out revealing a versatile act whose emo-tinged songs are thoroughly satisfying.

Fri Mar 23 (11 pm) -- El Mocambo, Upstairs (Dine Alone Showcase)
Video: Hacienda - "Savage"

I saw the San Antonio outfit when they acted as The Black Key's Dan Auerbach's backing band a few year's back when Auerbach was touring his debut solo effort Keep It Hid - they were TIGHT. Fuzzy, blues-inflected, rock n' roll may just be what the doctor ordered.

Janes Party
Thu Mar 22 (11 pm) - Rancho Relaxo (Two Way Monologues & Green Shades Showcase)
Video: Jane's Party - "What you believe in"

If Sloan's pop music aficionado Jay Ferguson formed his own band, Janes Party might be it.

Last Year's Men
Thu Mar 22 (11 pm) -- Silver Dollar (NeXT)
Fri Mar 23 (11 pm) -- Silver Dollar (NeXT & Untold City)
Sat Mar 24 (midnight) -- Silver Dollar (NeXT)
Video: Last Year's Men - Troika 2010

From the American musical hotspot Chapel Hill, NC this young band combines "...the buoyant melodies of ‘50s and ‘60s pop and rock with a youthful pop-punk sneer...". They're good enough that Mr. Dan Burke booked them for a three-night stint at the Silver Dollar during Canadian Musicfest. I was surely impressed by the samples I checked out especially the YouTube video link above.

Minus The Tiger
Thu Mar 22 (10 pm) -- The Ossington
Fri Mar 23 (11 pm) -- Painted Lady
Video: Minus The Tiger - "Follow Me Down" (music video)

A four-piece band fronted by dutch husband-wife team of songwriter Anne Broekman on vocals and her husband / producer, Maarten Besseling. Their bio draws comparisons to The Knife, TV On The Radio, Lykke Li and Kate Bush and what I've briefly sampled is none too shabby.

Fri Mar 23 (1 am) - Garrison (presented by Red Bull Music Academy and New Forms Festival)
Video: Nautiluss - "Bleu Monday"

One half of the now-defunct Thunderheist, Nautiluss is Graham Douglas Bertie's new project which their bio describes as an "...amalgamation of influences spanning from early 90s electronic to hip-hop to UK bass music and everything in between." He's released a few twelve-inches (both on vinyl and digital) so far through Hemlock Recordings.

Sea + Air
Wed Mar 21 (10 pm) -- Painted Lady
Sat Mar 24 (10 pm) -- Free Times Cafe
Video: Sea + Air - "Take Me For a Ride" (live session)

German duo made up of Daniel Benjamin (vocals, concerto guitar, drums, cymbals, bells) and Eleni (vocals, harpsichord, organ bass pedal, drums) with a decidely baroque style to their musical compositions.

Thur Mar 22 (1 am) -- Rivoli (Music From Ireland)
Video: Squarehead - "Midnight Enchilada" (music video)

This Irish garage pop trio's silly name fortunately doesn't detract too much away from the group's sunny, pop melodies. The band's Wikipedia page prominently features an entry that states that Morrissey went to see the band live at Workmans Club in Dublin in February 2011. And you know if Morrissey speaks, people listen.

Sydney Wayser
Thu Mar 22 (9pm) -- Sneaky Dee's (Audio Blood Showcase)
Video: Sydney Wayser - "Wolf Eyes"

This French-American, New York-based singer-songwriter has been through Toronto for past festivals on several occasions but none of her appearances I'd taken in so far. Two albums since 2007 she has a third full-length scheduled for release later this year. From the samples of her work I'd heard ranging from playful folk-y eccentricities to urgent pop-rock confections, perhaps overlooking her past few Toronto music festival appearances was a mistake. Hopefully, not again this year.

Young Empires
Wed Mar 21 (8:15 pm) -- The Great Hall - The Black Box (basement) (Pirates Blend Showcase)
Fri Mar 23 (11:30 pm) -- The Hoxton (w/ Dragonette)
Sat Mar 24 (8:20 pm) -- The Indies @ Canadian Room
Video: Young Empires - "White Doves" (live on George Stromboulopoulos)

I've touted the talents of Toronto dance-rock outfit Young Empires since their pre-label days when their song "White Doves" made my Fave Songs of 2010 list. With their just-released debut effort Wake All My Youth and recent radio airplay, the band is just hitting their stride.

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