Monday, April 27, 2009

Bare Feet on Wet Griptape; or how I stopped worrying and learned to love my flavour of the week. (Over-used? Absolutely!)

At the behest of a good friend, two weekend's ago I picked up Calgary artist Chad VanGaalen's third release, Soft Airplane. It hasn't left my CD player since. Sure, I feel bad that I will play this album until I can't stand it anymore, put it away for two months and then do it all over again, but it's well-deserving of such obsession.

VanGaalen's amazingly creative DIY sound is a mix of indie [folk-]rock, glitchy electronica and abrasive distortion. The one-man band recorded the tracks in the basement of his Calgary home on an old tape machine and the conversation he starts with listeners covers topics from death and murder to griptape. Not since I listened to Murder Ballads have I heard songs about death that are so pleasing to the ears.

While I usually pick a few tracks to highlight my favourite creations on an album, it's been difficult to refrain from just putting up the entire package: I am absolutely smitten from start to finish. So I'll do my best to keep it down to a couple without starting them all off "My favourite track..."

The opening track, Willow Tree, is a mellow folky piece essentially about the disposal of a body post-mortem. Chad's vocal work on this track is definitely in the higher octaves of his range, which translates into a slightly trembling sound that really emphasizes the emotion a person would feel when taking stock of their mortality. I keep waiting for his voice to crack, but it never does: the difficult subject is approached with enough resolution to keep his vocals relatively stable. The interesting contrast here is the upbeat melody of the track: the cheerful sound mixed with the talk of freedom through death seems contradictory but meshes in an amazing way. Who ever thought a song about death could be so damn pretty? Lesson learned: death can be a beautiful thing.

Bare Feet on Wet Griptape is rock to it's core and easily one of the more dancable tracks of the album. Compared to the rest of the songs, this one is traditionally constructed: rad (yes, rad) guitar riffs, tambourine, drums, et al. But you still have to keep in mind that's relative to the rest of the album; samplers, wavering guitar melodies and Chad's achingly emotive voice keep his indie-cred in check.

So the first day I brought this album to work, one of the women in my department picked it up and was reading the track list on the back. TMNT Mask jumped right out at her, because her kids do ever so much love the Ninja Turtles (a reference that had entirely blown over my head until that point. How embarrassing). This piece is ranked up there in my awesome register because it is so glitchy. The intro sounds like one of the standard beats that came with the early-nineties casio keyboards that my girlfriend's and I used to pretend to play. Combined with the TMNT reference, the track plays like a relic of my childhood. Except, a lot more introspective. And a lot darker too (and time, it aligned, is swirling and swimming/clouds rolling over themselves/twisting and boiling and growing out of nothing).

Then a word about my absolute stand-out love: Molten Light (YouTube). Just a heads up, this video might be considered NSFW, depending on the variying stodginess of your workplace. It's drawn entirely by our protagonist and is creepy as fuck. Therefore, I love it. I won't tell you any more. Just go listen to it!

I cannot wait to catch VanGaalen live at the Flemish Eye Ball in Calgary on May 16th - you can grab some tickets Here. The show is a party celebrating the 5th anniversary of the Flemish Eye record label, and Chad will be performing alongside his label-mates. From what I've seen of the snippets of live shows on Youtube, it looks like it'll be an amazing night. After that, he's embarking on a Europen Tour, so if you happen to be in the area, go out and show some support! You can pick up Soft Airplanes from Flemish Eye (Canada Only) SubPop Records and various other fine music establishments.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Technical difficulties

Not having any luck with the site I was hosting mp3s on, so that should be fixed by tonight New host, seems to be working just fine, so listen to your heart's content! Well, not really. Don't eat all my bandwidth. 

New post up shortly!

Bet you can't wait.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Caprice en Couleurs/Begone Dull Care

Hailing from Hamilton Ontario, Junior Boys have been slowly gaining momentum since their 2003 release of Last Exit. Considering the growing love for Canadian electro-pop (read: Crystal Castles, Caribou, and MSTRKRFT to name a few), they’ve found their sound at just the right time.

No doubt, people have heard the ubiquitous
In the Morning from their second album So This Is Goodbye, as it has made appearances on So You Think You Can Dance and Picture This from Mack Dawg Productions. The sound meshed oddly with the overall tone of the album, but hinted at the maturation of their sound. The release of third full-length Begone Dull Care suggests that the boys are not content resting on their laurels: the sound of their new album takes the step that “In the Morning” hinted at three years prior. The result is raw, unadulterated, electro-pop fusion that stimulates every part of your body (source: my friend Reanne who texted me upon her first spin of the new disc). These rave reviews were echoed at the show I caught recently at the Starlite in Edmonton. Random repeat concert goers assured me that of all the shows they’ve seen, this most recent was the best. Their sound is more polished and put-together and their stage-presence has improved.

While I have no prior shows to compare to, I’d have to agree. The show featured a hybrid of live instruments and talented spinning that had the crowd writhing. Accompanied by a bass-line that made my throat tingle and accidental brushes against sweaty, entranced dancers on all sides, the Boys made for a powerfully brag-worthy show and I will assuredly be at their next one to do it all over again.

Most stand-out track on the album for me so far has been Bit and Pieces, maybe because it takes me back to my nerdy, 16-bit video game days... Either way, the sexy lyrics crooned by lead singer Jeremy Greenspan, combined with a swoon-worthy saxophone bridge and pulsing rhythms means this song certainly lives up to the high expectations I had post-text from Reanne. Plus recollections of Jeremy purring out this track sets me all a-twitter.

You should probably also check out Animator, simply because it is an epic piece of music. Like any good mod 70's disco, Animator encourages you to try on bad suits and dance even worse. And if you ask anyone who was at the show last week, I did that last part with finesse!

The Boys are on tour for the next couple of months in Canada, the US and Europe, so do what you can to catch a show. Also, wear something that you can dance in. You can pick up a copy of Begone Dull Care from their label, Domino, or your local HMV.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

They Left Me All Wet

Hurray for inuendo. Also, OMG more Pedal Steel!!!

I recently had the opportunity to watch a live show by Toronto based folk-rock group
Great Lake Swimmers. I honestly had no idea what to expect from them, but the venue was across the street from my apartment and my Friday night was depressingly open. The show was great, but it was certainly one of those that would have been enhanced with the presence of an SO to cozy up to during the set. The dreamy and soothing harmonies, backed by lilting piano and rich guitar lines, left me with a half-baked grin on my face and a warm, fuzzy feeling on the inside. The diversity of the audience took me by surprise: from small children to elderly couples. It’s a sound that can span generations, apparently… as an aside, WHO ARE THESE AWESOME RETIREES!? Please let me be as awesome when I get to that age.

The tour was to promote the release of their new album
Lost Channels. I picked up a vinyl copy after the show to spin and was pleasantly surprised with the variety of offerings they’ve proffered on this latest release. My favourite track, Concrete Heart, was explained by lead singer Tony Dekker as one he was commissioned to write (first time evar!). The theme? Toronto architecture between 1960-1970. While it seems like a limiting topic of choice, it works… and ends up being one of the stronger tracks on the album. The string backing gives the overall feel of reminiscing, while the lyrics (this is the place where I felt/like the world’s tallest self-supporting tower/ at least for a little while anyway) anchored in some pretty serious emotion, can still elicit a giggle or two - knowing where they stem from.

For something a little more light-hearted, I skip a few tracks and turn up the volume on The Chorus in the Underground. A tribute to a defunct venue and a band that no longer exists, this countrified and bouncy track is certain to get toes-a-tappin’. It’s your basic singalong smattered with some fiddle and a healthy dose of banjo. The latter is really what gives the track its character, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

They cap off the album with the gorgeous piece Unison Falling into Harmony. I don’t mean to paint this one with the cliché brush, but it’d be a fantastic wedding song for the alt-couple 
looking for something off the beaten path (the only thing between us is a breath of air, a river of fear, a ship we can’t steer/ A curtain of rain, a layer of skin, a determined stare, a dare). It’s the perfect easing off from the ups and downs over the span of album, though the abrupt ending leaves something to be desired… which perhaps is the intention.

This is a great album when I’m in the mood for something that’s chill, but not moody: something to throw on on a weekend while you laze around the house (read: avoid housework. At least that’s what I’m up to). You can catch the band
on tour for the next 3 months with Kate Maki (who is also pretty awesome)… and a tip from me? This is a date idea WIN that won’t soon be forgotten. You can thank me when you get laid later.

You can pick up their album on
Amazon, iTunes or at one of their many tour stops this spring. Check ‘em out!