Saturday, March 26, 2011

Podcast, other writing and NEW WEBSITE!

Three things:

1. Love This Movie, Hate This Film, the podcast that I and my friend Zalina Alvi have put out every month, released its latest edition last weekend. We covered the unfortunate win of The King's Speech over The Social Network at the Oscars in February (and talk about the 8 other films on the ballot too). Special guest podcaster Sarah Miller joined us, tackling the difficult job of arguing for The King's Speech (we appreciate the effort, Sarah, you crazy person, you!). You should really subscribe to LTMHTF via iTunes so that you never miss a new podcast.

2. I have been remiss in my blogging duties of late. This is mostly due to the fact that I have been working on several other projects that are both exciting and time consuming. Some of the exciting projects I have been working on include these two articles written for Toronto-based websites:
- "Toronto's One Stop Occult Shop" - profile on The Occult Shop, one of the only (if not the only) stores in Toronto that serves a wide variety of spiritual faiths.
- "The Juno Awards Allow Artists to Shine" - feature story that includes and interview with Nick Boyd, guitarist for Canadian band Hollerado.

3. I'm moving the old blog over to Wordpress, so you will need to update your RSS feeds, bookmarks, blogrolls, etc, if you would like to continue reading about my misadventures with vultures. Head on over to right now to check out the new digs!

Extra Bonus Point 4. I will be starting a degree program in April at Toronto's Trebas Institute for Audio Engineering and Production/DJ Arts. This is simultaneously exciting and terrifying, but mostly exciting. I'm not going to say that I'll be the next Kanye or anything, I'm just going to say that Kanye should probably update his resume because pretty soon I will be making sweet beats with Bon Iver instead of him and he'll be crying into his piles of MBDTF money.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Concert Roundup: The Radio Dept., Braids, Baths, and Tennis

I've fallen a bit behind with my reviews of late (I'm on vacation, which, strangely, leaves me with less free time, not more), so I've written up a few shortened reviews of a few shows I checked out in February. 

THE RADIO DEPT. @ Lee's Palace, February 7, 2011

The Radio Dept.'s Johan Duncanson and Martin Larsson at Lee's Palace in Toronto (did I mention that the lighting was terrible? The lighting was terrible). All Photos by Colleen Hale-Hodgson.

Maybe it's just me, but is Sweden the new "it" country, or what? I have been hearing nothing but good things coming from this neutral patch of land of late. My most recent Swedish discovery, The Radio Dept., brought their shoegazer outfit to a very grateful Toronto audience for the first time February. 

Young Prisms from San Francisco took up opener duties. With beer in hand, Young Prisms muffled lyrics and languid pace made for a decidedly laid back set. They've got a sort of lo-fi, Sonic Youth-on-downers thing going on (helped by front-woman Stefanie Hodapp's listless vocal delivery). Maybe it was the low energy, or maybe just the muddy mash of guitar/bass/drum/vocal (with little dynamic spacing), but I was underwhelmed by Young Prisms. They need to work on bringing out the hooks buried beneath the fuzz.

The Radio Dept. impress on their recorded material (see: the recently released Passive Aggressive: Singles 2002-2010 for proof), but I'll warn you that they're a bit of a snooze live. It may have been the venue's fault (I love Lee's as much as the next Torontonian, but how is it that every band I see there has sound issues?), but for some songs the bass from the drum machine drowned out almost every other instrument. The band uses a drum machine on their records so it's not surprising that they use one live, but it was surprising that the a lot of the pre-recorded hooks and synthesized melodies - the quirkiest, most engaging part of their music, I'd say - was either drowned out or were played with such understatement that I barely noticed them. It's too bad, because songs like "This Time Around" and "The Video Dept." from 2010's Clinging To A Scheme have an innate energy that could easily fill a concert hall with sonic wonder. Lead singer Johan Duncanson vocals, which are run through a distortion filter on Clinging To A Scheme, weren't distorted in any noticeable way live, removing some of the dreamy atmosphere from those songs.

I may not have been wowed by their live act, but plenty of my fellow concert-goers were vocal in their appreciation. This is one of those bands that you can still claim ownership of as they haven't quite hit it big anywhere yet, and their music is the sort that encourages long-time devotion.

The Radio Dept. must have liked Toronto because they're coming back on May 29, this time visiting the legendary Horseshoe Tavern. As of this posting you can still pick up a $15 ticket from Soundscapes

INTERPOL @ The Sound Academy, February 15, 2011

Paul Banks, lead singer of Interpol.

I have not been keeping up with Interpol. I was pretty into their second album, Antics, when it came out in 2004, but let their two follow-up albums, 2007's Our Love To Admire and 2010's Interpol, slip by unnoticed. It seems I'm not the only one.

School of Seven Bells were supposed to open the show but got held up at the border (or something like that), which is unfortunate because I was really looking forward to checking them out. Low Level Flight, led by former Canadian Idol Ryan Malcolm, subbed in as openers and were pretty unremarkable. (Funny, I linked to their website above, which, much like their music, has no content in it - zing!). But in all seriousness, Low Level Flight possesses a lot of polish, but very little was shining on that stage.

It seems that Interpol has stalled creatively over the past few years. Bassist Carlos Dengler, whose on stage antics were a well-loved staple of Interpol's live performance, left the band shortly after Interpol was recorded. He was replaced for this tour by David Pajo (now no longer with the band), who all but disappeared along with drummer Sam Fogarino and keyboardist Brandon Curtis.

There was some excuses made online about how lead singer Paul Banks may have still been getting over an illness during the Sound Academy show, which explained a shortened set and off vocals (the vocals sounded great to me, so I'm not sure why people were complaining about that). But really, an illness doesn't explain how whenever a track from Interpol was played the crowd's energy dropped palpably. I can understand fans wanting to hear more familiar fare, but these new songs clearly lack the charisma and surging gravity of Antics anthem "Slow Hands" or Turn On The Bright Lights favourite "NYC".

Still, this was the first time I'd ever seen Interpol perform, and it was a thrill to hear songs like the above-mentioned live. When things came together, I could still sense the magic that gave Interpol their success with the first two albums. Hopefully they can find that creative spark again and get their fans excited about some new material.

BRAIDS AND BATHS @ The El Mocambo Tavern, February 19, 2011

Braids wail and rock Toronto's El Mocambo Tavern.

As one of the best reviewed bands of 2011 so far, it was not a surprise that Montreal-based band Braids (formerly of Calgary, Alberta, but we won't hold that against them) were able to attract such a large crowd for what was billed as an opening gig. Native Speaker is an excellent dream pop album filled with layered vocals that snap from dreamy to ferocious and back again, synth-led melodies that drift in and out of focus, and clicking tongues and guttural croaks to accent fluttering piano keys. I thought that lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston's vocals were overdubbed on the album, but it's actually Katie Lee who beefs up the vocals, providing an added power to key lines.

Some of the more intricate songs were really fascinating to see put together live. Lee would crouch beneath her keyboard, mic in hand, and record the clicking of her tongue, looping it with the various pedals lined up beneath her. Everyone in the band had pedals or other electronic equipment that they would twiddle with throughout the show, feeding guitar riffs in and then spitting them out again, chopped up or warped in some fantastic way.

The band did an excellent job of recreating this layered and intricate album live, proving that their ambitions match their talent. They'll be coming back around to Toronto with Toro Y Moi on April 7 at Wrongbar. Tickets are $10 at Soundscapes and Rotate This.

Baths works the knobs and sliders.

I've mentioned laptop artists before in passing, but, aside from a few openers, I've never actually seen one live. Well now I can say that I've seen what is probably one of the best laptop musicians around right now. Baths (nee Will Wiesenfeld) music features a dense patchwork of clicks, swirls, piano, drum machine, samples, and falsetto-tinged vocals. The music is remarkably engrossing. I've heard the word "genius" be thrown around when describing Wiesenfeld, and listening to 2010's Cerulean, knowing that he recorded it over two months from his bedroom, it's not hard to see why.

My favourite track on the album (and live) is "Animals", which consists of an infectious hook from a stringed instrument I can't quite place (help? Anyone know what that is?), hip-hop beats, and adorable-sounding children talking about elephants who love giraffes. Its unbridled glee is refreshing, and exactly what great dance music is made of. It also demonstrates Baths' main strengths - creating engaging musical stories through well-timed samples and beats. And much like the song, Wiesenfeld plays it with the spastic glee of an over-talented ten-year-old. He handles his MIDI like any virtuoso guitarist would pluck their guitar strings - it's an instrument that allows one man to become an entire band without having to strap cymbals between his knees.

Wiesenfeld encouraged the audience to dance, but even if the packed crowd had room to fling about, I don't feel like Baths' at times complex rhythmic structures really lend themselves to a dance club atmosphere. There's a definite groove there, but there's also complex, often dark stories being told that makes me want to listen and unpack more than it makes me want to two-step.

To perform material like this (where all of your instruments require a powerful RAM card and stock in USB cables) I think that you have to have a big personality to rival perception that you're up there pressing the play button over and over instead of creating music (this isn't true, of course, but I feel like the perception is still there). Wiesenfeld exuded an effortless confidence while working behind a lightly decorated folding table. If you want an idea of what a Baths show might look like, I've included a live video of Cerulean track "Plea" below.

He definitely have more energy than The Radio Dept. (in fact, they have some similar, fun hooks, and could really take a lesson on how to perform for an audience from Wiesenfeld, but I digress).

TENNIS @ The Horseshoe Tavern, February 25, 2011

Alaina Moore of Tennis.

It was a barely-there set from an very young band. It is, perhaps, a little cruel to judge a band whose music is so firmly entrenched in a specific stylistic era, but they chose to work with that sugary-sweet '50s/'60s pop, so there's little I can do to help them.

Admittedly, Tennis does the whole '50s/'60s pop justice - lead singer Alaina Moore's voice is well-modelled after Lesley Gore and Dusty Springfield, and the easy melodies are as soothing and catchy as their historical contemporaries - but this is 2011 and while retro-chic is always in, it should always be offset by modern sensibilities.

Anyway, this is all more of an indictment of their music rather than their live show, which is, unfortunately, about as substantial as their tunes. I was expecting a bit more showmanship to match the era their music apes, but there were no poodle skirts or sequence or even one single choreographed hand gesture.

The setup was very simple - Moore on keyboard, Moore's husband Patrick Riley on guitar, and James Barone on drums. It was blisteringly hot inside the Horseshoe Tavern; everybody, including the band, had tiny sweat pools at their feet. The set was mercifully short due to the fact that Tennis only has one album to work with (Cape Dory, released earlier this year). I was impressed with Moore's vocals, which were spot on for most of the set, but everything else just underlined how ho-hum their music is. It was fun the first few listens, but, as if they were putting the "bubblegum" in pop music, it loses flavour after a a few chews.

Here's the title track from Cape Dory for you to get hooked with (but listen to it a dozen or so times and you may see what I mean).

So, a few underwhelming shows, mixed in with a few good ones - nothing outstanding so far this year. Lets see if March fares better when I see the Elephant 6 collective at Lee's Palace, Warpaint at Wrongbar, and Destroyer at Lee's Palace. Who are you going to see this month?

Friday, February 11, 2011

LTMHTF Podcast: VD, and other ailments associated with love

It's February so, naturally, I had to endure two "romantic" movies for this month's Love This Movie, Hate This Film with Zalina Alvi. Thankfully one of them was the pinnacle of romance on film, Casablanca. The other was a Richard Gere movie. Head on over to Love This Movie, Hate This Film's blog for some entertaining squabbling over whether or not Julia Roberts' prostitute would have been better if she was a cocaine addict and had more realistic sex, and Zalina using a politically incorrect term for little people.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Local Natives + foreign soil = amazing video

Just a quick post to point out the above clip of Local Natives performing for an episode of "The Take Away Shows" for La Blogotheque. I saw the Los Angeles-based band play at The Mod Club in Toronto last October and was heartily impressed by their live chops, but this performance of Gorilla Manor track "Who Knows Who Cares" is really something to behold. Shot in a shopping arcade known as the Passage Vivienne in Paris, France, the creative staging, raw energy, and imaginative reworking of the track culminated in a performance that actually gave me the chills once it reached its climax. And the sound! It may owe a lot to the fantastic acoustics, but the sound when the band is all together at the end is really phenomenal. Give it a look and tell me what you think. You can also view a full, uncut version at

Here's what I missed... Flying Lotus

Hey, it's a new column! Here I'll be talking about stand-out records and artists that have somehow escaped my hawk-like attention to various music pushers. This week it's laptop artist Flying Lotus' turn to impress me (and he does, he really does).

Flying Lotus - Cosmogramma
Flying Lotus (nee Steven Ellison).

While I confess, I do get all warm and tingly when I think about experimental artists like James Blake and The Books (artists who make weird sounds that people will either love or hate or never know exists), based on the sort of music he experiments with, Flying Lotus shouldn't really be my thing. And yet, here I am, sucked into the intricate, trip-hoppy decadence that is 2010's Cosmogramma. Maybe I'm just drawn to the experimental jazz interludes explored in tracks like "German Haircut", or the sense that the entire album is constructed by a giddy, omnipotent puppet-master. Flying Lotus (or, as he is more familiarly known, FlyLo) doesn't so much guide you through each plot twist and turn, but instead throws them at you with a deliberate air, saying, "Don't worry, you're going to like where I take you."

The jazz influence is intrinsic in every track. Rhythmic motifs and sound clips are repeated several times, modified, and then riffed on, with certain "instruments" (often electronic sounds) given space to solo. Going beyond this album, there's the Cosmogramma Alt Takes EP, which I haven't gotten into yet, but which points to FlyLo's insatiable need to reinterpret - something jazz enthusiasts can relate to.

With some artists their music seems like unwieldy beasts only barely contained within slapshod rhythmic structures and a vague verse-chorus-verse setup. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; some groups, like the sprawling super-band Broken Social Scene, cultivate this aesthetic to their advantage. With the tracks on Cosmogramma there's a sense of control, of cultivated musicianship that encourages expeditions into the landscape of each track. Unlike some more trance or house oriented electronic dance music, the tracks on Cosmogramma don't sprawl - they have definite beginnings and endings, and are kept short (the longest being only a little over four minutes long). Yet, despite their brevity, there's a lot of ideas packed into each one- or two-minute long opus.

Stand-out track's "Do the Astral Plane" and "Table Tennis (featuring Laura Darlington)" combine floating melodies with shuffling rhythmic quirks, and, in the case of "Table Tennis (featuring Laura Darlington)", a found-sound recording of an actual table tennis game (found-sound/unconventional instrumentation are two of my favourite things). Other tracks like "Drips//Auntie's Harp" infuse cascading strings with 8-bit sequels, sewing high and low art - as well as electronic and analog - together without any obvious seams.

I'm including the video for "Kill Your Co-Workers", which is actually not from Cosmogramma but from the EP Pattern+Grid World. It features murderous animated robots on parade hacking up some gleeful spectators, so that should give you an idea of how awesome it is.

In May, Flying Lotus will be performing at Sasquatch! Music Festival in Quincy, Washington, and that's about it for upcoming tour dates. He has three full-length albums out and a list of EPs, all of which you can purchase through multiple different avenues online, conveniently indexed on his website.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Besnard Lakes @ Lee's Palace, January 29, 2011

The Besnard Lakes' Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas. Photos by Colleen Hale-Hodgson.

The Besnard Lakes third album, The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night, is cited as one of the best albums of 2010 by notable music sites and magazines like and MOJO. Since their inception in 2003, they've gained a devoted following and racked up a couple of Polaris Prize nominations, all while sticking to an surprisingly fresh atmospheric prog-rock formula (which I thought was buried at some point during the early '80s). They were at Lee's Palace this past Saturday, along with a sold-out crowd and two hot supporting acts, Valleys and Suuns. 

Sadly, I missed all but the last song from Montreal-based openers Valleys, but judging by the way they were taking turns to pound on that drum of theirs, I would have really liked them. However, Suuns was up next and they had certainly upped their game since I saw them last November. Their set was tighter, with a better handle on the the weird, slow-burning electronic glitch freak-outs that has given their debut, Zeroes QC, so much attention. (Fun fact: The Besnard Lakes' Jace Lasek actually recorded and mixed Zeroes QC at his Montreal studio, Breakglass, back in January, 2010).

Ben Shemie of Suuns.

While lead singer Ben Shemie wasn't clutching a guitar like it was a surly cat getting its nails clipped, he was performing Ian Curtis-esque hand contortions and hissing mumbled lyrics into his microphone. Synth, bass, and keyboard player Max Henry was immersed, open-mouthed, into the knobs/keys/switches he was finger-dancing with, while Liam O'Neill and Joseph Yarmush kept the beats and guitar in a constant ebb and flow of suspense and release. There was a kinetic energy running through their set, which suits their moody elecro-post-punk songs very well, but apparently wasn't enough for Lasek who, just before their last song, leaned through a window that looks out onto the Lee's stage and used his best Statler and Waldorf impression to heckle the band.

Husband and wife duo Lasek and Olga Goreas co-front The Besnard Lakes with guitarist Richard White and drummer Kevin Laing rounding out the team. While the set-up is pretty basic (two guitars, bass, drums, and the occasional keyboard) the sounds they create fill a vast expanse. Their neo-prog-rock aesthetic can sometimes bring to mind the cheesy Stonehenge theatrics of a Spinal Tap variety, but the pure skill exhibited in their music tends to overshadow that aspect.

Toronto was their first and last stop on the tour supporting 2010's The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night. They seemed a bit tired (it didn't help that Lasek was suffering from a bad cold and too much Aleve), but they still put a lot of energy into their performance.

It's great seeing full-on rock bands like this one. It's not something I usually go for, but I was impressed with their album and wanted to give them a shot. The stage set-up wasn't anything special (just a set of strobe lights and copious amounts of fog), but the huge waves of sound the group produced pointed to my ticket and said, "This is why you're not missing that $15." Aiding the wall-of-sound were some impressive instruments and toys - not one but two 12-string guitars, a truly massive bass guitar, and an ebow, which featured heavily on a couple of choice tracks.

While I love the wall-of-sound aspect of The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night, I love the harmonies even more. They play up this trait in this album more than their previous ones, making the gloomy atmospherics more accisible to melody-lovers. However, while on the album you can have the vocals mixed in perfectly with your wailing guitar and smashing drums, things aren't always as smooth live. For the most part, all the vocals were clear (Lasek's voice, in particular, features a perfect Rock-and-Roll-Hall-of-Fame-worthy falsetto), but some of the nicer harmonies on the album lacked coherence when pitted against the live jumble of shrieks and drones, as well as some unforgiving acoustics. 

This was a fun, brass-tacks sort of performance that, aside from a cold and some bass drum issues, went pretty smoothly. The crowd wasn't as into it as I think they should have been (I was at the front and it was pretty loose up there for a rock concert), but were still vocal in appreciating the band's efforts (repeated calls to play "For Agent 13" off of The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse sadly went unheeded).

After a well-deserved break, The Besnard Lakes will be taking their show on the road again for a short tour in Australia, while Suuns is heading to Europe and Valleys will be heading to SXSW in March. Check out The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night stunner "Albatross" below.

EDIT: I've added some additional photographs after the jump in case you're interested.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Here's what I missed... The Tallest Man On Earth

Hey, it's a new column! Here I'll be talking about the records and artists that have somehow escaped my hawk-like attention to various music pushers. This week I'll be looking at Swedish-born musician The Tallest Man on Earth (there must be something in the water in Sweden because they are churning out one great musician after another).

The Tallest Man on Earth - The Wild Hunt
The Tallest Man on Earth's Kristian Matsson and an unnamed horse. Photo by Johan Stolpe.
The Tallest Man on Earth was ready-made for me. I knew from the moment I first heard Kristian Matsson's wild, grizzled voice spout uncommonly incisive lyrical poetry that I would love this folk singer's material. His music is about as bare bones as you can get - voice and guitar, with the occasional banjo accompaniment and piano balled - but with Matsson's talent for finger-picking and natural sense of melody, it's just enough to feel that every moment of each song has purpose.

I'm a sucker for unique and interesting voices, and this is perhaps Matsson's most defining musical characteristic. When I started listening to 2010's The Wild Hunt the similarities to Bob Dylan were at first a little jarring, but after a few listens I was able to let go and appreciate Matsson's individual quirks. The lyrics are rife with strong metaphors, and it will take more than a few listens to develop your personal interpretation of the words. For example, I've had a great time trying to figure out what I think of "Love is All" from The Wild Hunt. Here's an excerpt of that song's lyrics:
Well I walk upon the river like it's easier than land
Evil's in my pocket and your strength is in my hand
Your strength is in my hand

And I'll throw you in the current that I stand upon so still
Love is all, from what I've heard, but my heart's learned to kill
Oh, mine has learned to kill
Oh, I said I could rise
From the harness of our goals
Here come the tears
But like always, I let them go
Just let them go
Is it about guilt over causing a loved-one pain? Grappling with the inability to love? A loss of faith? It's a real treat when an artist can make you dive into their words this much.

Rumour has it that The Tallest Man on Earth is one of those performers that you must see live to truly appreciate. I've decided to embed a bootlegged recording of Matsson singing "Love Is All" at Toronto's El Mocambo in April 2010. I was not there, but I really should have been.

The Tallest Man on Earth currently has two full length albums out, Shallow Grave (2008) and The Wild Hunt (2010). He's not playing anywhere near these parts any time soon, but keep your fingers crossed with me and maybe we'll get lucky.