Concert Review: Saxsyndrum @ POP Montreal

saxsyndrum

Snuggled between a strip-club and a vegan café lies the intimate new venue Mademoiselle.

Tired and tipsy, I hop up the stairs and into the room.

Faint neon fixtures and stage light illuminate the space just enough for me push my way to the center of the crowd.

In front, the stage sprawls out surrounded by crimson fringe.

On stage, three musicians revel in the limelight.

______

Creeping into audibility, the hums of the synth usher the crowd to a calm.

Bergeron, crouched on the floor, leans into the mic.

A soft whisper passes through his lips.

Within moments, the indiscernible slivers of his voice transform into a blaring roar.

Suddenly, blasts of alto sax pierce through the thickening sound.

Mild patters of a drum intensify, attempting to tame the band’s mercurial beat.

Together, A.P. Bergeron (vocals), Dave Switchenko (saxophone), and Nick Schofield (drums) galvanize their spellbound crowd.

_________

Mid-set, a girl in the front row, full pint in hand, professes her boozy love for the band.

“Dave, I love you!”

He shakes his scarlet curls out of their plastic grip.

A gratified smirk flashes across his face.

Bergeron giggles.

Schofield grins.

Howls erupt.

A group to my right begins chanting.

“Saxsyndrum! Saxsyndrum!”

The crowd wants more.

_________

For the duration of the set, the trio maintains total control over the crowd.

The audience is swept into a trance, engulfed by the song.

_________

Saxsyndrum’s fusion of synth pop and electronic with funk undertones flooded to every corner of the room. The band’s absurdly wondrous energy spread throughout the venue and persisted even after the set came to a close. The crowd, unwillingly accepting the night’s end, lingered until the main lights came on. As I stepped back out into the chilly brink of Saturday night, the consensus appeared to be as such: if you realize a late night craving for a local strain of transcendental-electronica, then a night with Saxsyndrum will quench your thirst.

– Review by Soraya Mamiche Afara

Album Review: I Had A Dream That You Were Mine – Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam

imgresLet’s do an exercise: imagine that you’re at your favorite local joint and in a dusty corner stands a somewhat saturnine singer, crying into a standing mic while a man in the shadows accompanies him with an old piano and soft backup vocals. Now, imagine that the singer is former Walkmen frontman Hamilton Leithauser and the genius on the piano is ex-Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij.

If you’re excited by this scenario, then you’ll be happy to know that these two indie rock masterminds have teamed up for a full album, I Had A Dream That You Were Mine. Batmanglij (known simply as Rostam professionally ) and Leithauser met and collaborated in 2014 for Leithauser’s first solo project, the Sinatra-inspired Black Hours. They soon formed a friendship over shared origins – both originally hail from Washington D.C – and a mutual sense of respect and admiration.

The album masterfully combines Leithauser’s rough-and-ready bad boy howl with Rostam’s smooth production and international influence; a hint of Afro-pop influences, similar to those that carried VW’s first album, are noticeable in the background of certain tracks. The instrumentals follow a vintage sound throughout, where the doo-wops and the continual plink of a piano are accompanied by sparse drums and subtle horns.

The album begins with “A 1000 Times,” which sneaks the album title into the chorus. The track is a good litmus test for what is yet to come, but is admittedly one of the less imaginative tracks in the collection. “Rough Going (I Don’t Let Up),” otherwise known as “that track with the doo-wops,” is a melange of sounds and musical genres. A bass beat reminiscent of a barnyard boogie underlays Rostam’s polite background vocals, with Leithauser’s ragged howl at the forefront of the track.

On “You Ain’t That Young Kid” Leithauser speak-sings, painting an intimate picture of a man nursing a broken heart; the lyrics here are deliciously heavy and human. Clever tempo changes keep the track from feeling cut off. The first part features harmonica and plucked electric guitar, which then crescendos to feature an organ-like instrument and a slowed tempo; Rostam’s signature arpeggios litter the bridge as a powerful beat almost overpowers Leithauser’s vocals. The last tempo change returns the track to a more even-tempered, reflective place, featuring Leithauser’s vocals once again.

“The Bride’s Dad” is the penultimate track, beginning with a wistful piano accompaniment and harmonies between the two artists; Leithauser’s timbre falls to his comfortable gravelly yell, while Rostam remains in the stratosphere. The track climaxes with a sudden crescendo, introducing thumping drums, hand clapping, and more forceful piano. The addition of the well-known synthetic choir accompaniment provides a moving finish. While the track is short, barely cutting off at two minutes, it is a powerful one.

I Had A Dream That You Were Mine centers around the general theme of loss, but the music disguises the darker lyrics well. The tracks remain musically diverse: at times there is a raw and uncut feel to tracks, loose drums and lyrics slung with a casual “je ne sais quoi” attitude that flirts with the sadboy mentality – a trademark of the Walkmen. At other times, Rostam’s prowess as a producer and his influence as a member of Vampire Weekend shine through, creating musical gems that sparkle through underneath Leithauser’s dusty vocals and soulful lyrics. 

Album released: September 23, 2016

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam 

 

Album Review: Jason Sharp – A Boat Upon Its Blood

Jason Sharp

A brooding sense of instability sets in from the outset of A Boat Upon Its Blood. Rattling percussive clicks emerge from the crevices with a warm glow of electronic drone filling the barren soundscape. Around the midpoint, the audience is granted an element of melody but the uneasy darkness remains ingrained in every developmental move. With each song, bass saxophone player Jason Sharp continues to disregard comfortable resolution, utilizing the captivating nature of dissonance to its full capacity. Sharp also displays a mastery of texture throughout the record. Just as the bass saxophone lurks in the background as a simple cog in the machine, elements of ambient, electronic, and acoustic musical practices all circulate throughout the project with no single element taking over the majority of the focus.

Bookended by two long-form pieces, the record dives into a slightly more dynamic pair of tracks in the middle. In doing so Sharp avoids formula, again feeding into the idea of instability. “A Blast at Best,” the second of these tracks, offers the most direct assault on the ears. Every moment in this track is filled with abrasive sounds: from fuzzy blasts of distortion to screeching saxophone and violin sounds, Sharp truly puts all his cards on the table. This is where track listing comes into play. From the beginning, the album breathes intensity; however, it also leaves room for growth by reserving the most chaotic elements until the second half of the album. Following this loud outgoing burst, Sharp returns to long-form ideology on “Still I Sit, With You Inside Me.” Violin grasps the spotlight for eight minutes of heart-wrenching melodic work before the second part of the piece moves into hopeful bliss and a final push into the anxious intensity so present throughout the project.

Similarly to the final piece, the first lengthy composition is split into different tracks. In both cases the musical ideas melt into each other quite cohesively; however, contrast remains a vital component. “A Boat Upon its Blood Part 1” sets the dramatic tone for the space that follows, but an immediate crunch of dissonance hits at the beginning of part two. In the final section, the dissonance settles for a moment before a tense rhythmic motive ensues. Because of the nature of drone music, it is fair to consider that listeners might not pick up on the fact that the first three tracks are meant to be under one umbrella with the fourth track sparking the beginning of a new idea, but behind these contrasting aspects of each track lies an element of connection. In “Part 3,” rhythmic activity emerges from the remnants of the dissonant drones of “Part 2.” Obviously this signifies a change, but it also provides a nod to the first portion of the piece and its rhythmic intensity. On top of that, as “Part 3” continues forward, drones of electronic dissonance make their way into the soundscape and succeed in bridging all three tracks into one space.

This idea of “cohesive yet dissonant/contrasting” can also be applied to the individual songs. Returning to “A Boat Upon its Blood Part 2,” the crunchy dissonance accomplished on this song is mostly enacted by the upper register. Played by acoustic string instruments, the raw droning notes juxtapose the clean electric tone of the bass part, adding even more shock factor to the dissonance. On the next track, “In The Construction of the Chest, There is a Heart,” a similar contrast occurs. Here, scratching rhythmic motives work alongside screeching electronic drones, making for another polarizing relationship.

What it comes down to is the balance of blending and clashing. Sharp has a wide-ranging field of sound at his fingertips and his longer pieces showcase his knack for long-standing development, but by varying track lengths, and approaches to rhythm and sound pallet, the album successfully surprises throughout.

– Review by Donovan Burtan

CKUT TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE CHARTS::: September 27, 2016

unnamed

Hi friends,
It’s been a whirlwind couple weeks – I was in Toronto for this year’s Polaris Prize (props to our hometown boy Kaytranada for his big win) then got back home just in time for Pop Montreal. There was too much awesome to recount here but a few personal highlights were catching Jef Elise Barbara as David Bowie, seeing an utterly captivating Annette Peacock performance, opening for legit heroes Psychic TV, the swoon-worthy Submissives (above) at the Egg Paper Factory showcase, and watching Toronto hip hop duo Bizzarh tear it up at beloved dive bar Brasserie Beaubien. I can already feel the post-pop sore throat kicking in so please send me yr favourite soup and/or immunity-boosting concoction recipes.
xo
joni

:::WHAT’S UP AT CKUT:::
Got IT skills? We’re hiring! Apply here and join the best crew in town.

:::CHARTS:::
ckut top 30 – september 27, 2016

1. angel olsen – my woman – jagjaguwar
2. v/a – no. 2 – oh hi CC *
3. automatisme – momentform accumulations – constellation CC
4. tanya tagaq – retribution – six shooter CC
5. helen money – become zero – thrill jockey Continue reading

Concert Review: Explosions in the Sky @ Metropolis

explosions1

After following their musical career over the last 10 years, seeing Explosions in the Sky play live at Metropolis this past Sunday was like a dream come true. I grew up listening to this moody post-rock band during my teenage angst days, on endless night bus rides going from one city to the next, and with friends on summer road trips.

With bands that I’m emotionally invested in, I sometimes worry that seeing them live will be disappointing because my expectations could never possibly be met. I was the complete opposite of disappointed. I’ve rarely seen a band so in sync. The Texan-originated quartet was playing flawlessly together without even looking at each other once during the entire set.

They really got into each song: there were no breaks, and each song flowed into the next with their heads and bodies swaying in slow, synchronized motion. The crowd seemed to be floating in instrumental euphoria, heads tilted slightly upwards with closed eyes and smiles on their faces. Or alternatively, as my friend Derek described the scene, ”So many balding white guys in black band t-shirts and rectangular glasses bobbing their heads.”

explosions2

Not only are Explosions superb performers, but their musical prowess is exquisite to observe. The way that they layer their electric guitar riffs with the rhythm section conveys a climactic assemblage of artistic cliffhangers. Hearing “First Breath After Coma”  felt like my ears were being bathed in a silky warm gold liquid where I lost sense of time and space.  To clarify, I was not on drugs — this experience was the natural high induced by dopamine flooding my brain.

My friend and me admired the band’s variety of arrangements, and how each song crescendoed and then was deconstructed again in a labyrinth of audible pleasure.  Their set intertwined tracks from both their newer music such as “Losing the Light” from their latest 2016 LP, The Wilderness, as well as older tunes such as “Trembling Hands” from their 2011 EP, Take Care, Take Care, Take Care, and their iconic hit  “A Song for Our Fathers”, from their 2007 EP, How Strange, Innocence.

 

They’ve been together a long time and it’s evident that they are still pros with their really tight timing and their natural and aerie harmonizing. Explosions in the Sky ended their set with the cream of the crop and my all time favourite “Your Hand In Mine” from their 2007 EP, The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place. In all, it was both bittersweet and inspiring to see them. I recommend any post-rock fan to go see them if they get the chance. In the meantime, download all their albums on your phone, go sit under a tree and contemplate melancholically the grandeur of our existence.

– Review by Jess Newfield

Concert Review: POP Montreal Night 2

Donovan 3

For night two of Pop, I was drawn to the Mile End in an attempt to see John Cale and take full advantage of my Pop-Hopper pass for the late-night activity. In spending time at the heart of the festival, it was clear that Pop Montreal holds a certain command over the city. Where Osheaga establishes a capitalist regime at Parc Jean-Drapeau, Pop Montreal spreads its wings, sponsoring events at every venue imaginable, some of which even the most dedicated concertgoers have never heard of. Admittedly, night two was a bit more hit-or-miss than the first (a few too many Nirvana+Joy Division+Radiohead bands), but luckily I stuck it out all the way until the punk legends known as Fet.Nat took the stage at Club Lambi.

Here were my top three acts:

                                                                            John Cale
It’s nice to see that John Cale is still a weirdo. In a time when Axel Rose is allowed to continue his awful rehashings of the classic rock sounds of the 1970s, the 74-year-old punk grandfather refused to pander to anyone at Pop Montreal this Thursday. Throughout the set, Cale was accompanied by bizarre, ambient sounds and electronic beats that combined for hypnotic groove states and droning soundscapes. Perhaps Cale does still manage to fall into some of the old-timey rock star traps. His vocal styling has seen some better days and his drum machine sounds lack the cutting edge bite of more modern art rockers, but it’s clear that Cale won’t be starting a bland jazz standards act anytime soon.

                                                                              Vallens
Vallens touch upon some of the moods of gothic rock and metal with a bit of shoegazy guitar guiding each instrumental break. Their set was quite engrossing in the way each song droned on with repetitious riffs gaining more momentum into roaring climaxes. The noise never completely stopped, making for a lot of cohesion as each song melted into the next. It wouldn’t be entirely fair to categorize their sound as overly derivative; however, the band still needs to define themselves a bit more. Although the music enveloped me quite a bit for the concert, it could be easy for them to get lost in the mix with other alternative rock and metal bands. Nonetheless, Robyn Phillips has a clear knack for songwriting and the group has a lot of potential.

Donovan 4

                                                                              Fet.Nat
It seems only appropriate to bookend the night that John Cale kicked off with a younger band of misfit punks who are viciously different and extraordinarily creative. Fet.Nat is one of those groups where every member deserves some mention. The loose, collective playing style is somewhat guided by drummer Olivier Fairfield, whose minimal kit is made maximal by active percussive work. A chaotic backdrop is set by the sampling and guitar playing of Pierre-Luc Clément with sax player Lindsey Wellman and vocalist JFNo sharing the spotlight with their full throttle screams. Jumping on stage after midnight may have hurt the size of their crowd a bit, but the group did not seem to be bothered as each of their wacky grooves were gushing with anarchic energy.

– Review & photos by Donovan Burtan 

Concert Review: POP Montreal @ the MAC

Donovan 1

Despite booking huge, internationally recognized artists and having the capability to appeal to those unfamiliar with the city, Pop Montreal reads more as the fall version of Suoni Per Il Popolo than anything else, holding the spirit of the city it inhabits above all else. The Plateau and Mile End are filled with a particular energy this week, with daily passes allowing for young folks to bounce around to various venues and enjoy a multitude of events in a very free spirited way. On my first night I was actually drawn downtown to the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal to experience three local projects with an ear for droning soundscapes. The ominous room set the perfect tone for the evening as concertgoers were met with high ceilings and black walls to complement the enveloping sets that took place over the course of the night.

This show really did wonders for me, here are my thoughts on each set:

                                                                      Automatisme
The throbbing drones that began William Jourdain’s performance never really left his sound pallet, resulting in a sort of industrial lens that encompassed each stylistic change throughout the set. By stretching songs on for periods of seven to ten minutes Jourdain certainly paid respect to the Constellation Records Ideology, but his ability to touch upon dance-able grooves amidst more abrasive material stood as a relatively unique quality. Blissful electronic melodies could occasionally be heard over the dramatic background with textural shifts evolving into moments of dense, wobbling beats. These songs may serve as an indicator of the direction of dance music in the future. Moments to encourage both head bobbing and critical thought filled the experience resulting in a capability to appeal to a wide audience without sacrificing musicality.

                                                                       Jessica Moss
Jessica Moss clearly understands the violin’s natural capability to produce heart-wrenching material, which was indicated by her set’s most climactic points. However, she also avoided riding this wave too heavily, contrasting her anxious moments of instability with gradual resolutions into silence. Playing a quick-hitting, 25-minute piece based on the “journey for all people to find peace,” Moss set an impressively lush tone considering her reliance on a relatively minimal set-up. Simple ideas grew into echoing soundscapes with manipulated violins filling every corner of the room. Raw, distorted melodies from vocals and violin, occasionally breached the surface of the backdrop resulting in moments of stunning transcendence.

Donovan 2

                                                                 Jerusalem in My Heart
Jerusalem in My Heart has a vision. Besides the ability to create massive musical moments with the juxtaposition of shimmering synthesizers and high intensity buzuq playing, the group adds to their aura with projection screens and stage magic. The theme of instability follows the music everywhere, each phrase dancing around resolution as nonspecific visuals float around lead singer Radwan Ghazi Moumneh adding to the hypnotic nature of the whole experience. More intense vocal moments were matched with stunning strobe lights, dancers emerging from the background only at the very end to cap off the constantly growing emotional weight. Perhaps a good summary of the set’s effect on the audience came in a moment of silence. After finishing a song towards the end, Moumneh took an extra minute or two to adjust for the next song. Unsure of what to expect next, every member of the crowd remained completely still, signifying the breath-taking nature of the performance they had just engaged in.

– Review & photos by Donovan Burtan

Album Review: MNDSGN – Body Wash

a3786040268_10In his newest release Body Wash, Mndsgn (née Ringgo Ancheta) brings us on an inter-dimensional electro-funk adventure through space and time, combining psychedelia and R&B in masterful and innovative ways. In his words, Body Wash is “a soul record that plays with nostalgic elements in a very dynamic & positive way. Think about it as a box of crayons for you to draw emotions with.”

In conjunction with this description, the album is loosely based on an illusory story that goes something like this: a homeless man meets an enigmatic woman who offers to take him in, and then has him bathe with a strange body wash that surrounds him as he soaks. Eventually, he is transported to an alternate dimension. The narrative is a subtle one; though looser themes of self-realization and human connection are easily identifiable from the tracks, it is only through the track titles (“Enter Her Abode,” “Prelude 2 Purification,” and “Lather” to name a few) along with album title that hint at the underlying story. 

So, we’ve established that Mndsgn is not your typical R&B producer. It may have something to do with his childhood history and his past collaborations: he was raised on a commune in rural New Jersey by Filipino immigrants, and in the early 2000’s befriended and then collaborated with Kendrick Lamar producer Knxwledge to form the Klipm0de crew. He moved to L.A to pursue his beat passion and was featured in various albums (notably, Blasphemous Jazz’s Bitches Brew) before releasing his debut album, Yawn Zen.

Body Wash provides a glimpse at Mndsgn’s growth and exploration as an artist since Yawn Zen, which was more of a sprawling, wandering experiment of an album. His sophomore release is tighter, more produced, and more focused; the frequent inclusion of his own vocals is a welcome addition as well. Ancheta’s voice serves as a quiet, unobtrusive addition to fluorescent and layered instrumentals, floating in and out of music as if from a dream. At times, it adds air of introspection; at others, it serves as an echo for the music, reflecting and deepening the message without driving it. 

There is a clear directional quality to Body Wave, marked physically with a beginning (“Overture”) and an ending (“Guess It’s All Over”). The album is awash in vintage 80’s and 90’s R&B themes, with fluctuating tones overlaid to set the mood of the track.  Some tracks have more of a jazz influence (“Release Ya Mind (Twentyfourseven)”), while others are straight funk (“Vague//Recalibrate”). All throughout Body Wash is the riff of psychedelic influences and modern synth; Mndsgn samples from retro sounds, but does not entirely channel the past, choosing instead to use it as a platform onto which he can build his soundscape.

Nota bene: It has been recommended (and I would echo this sentiment) to listen to the album all the way through. The tracks build on one another to establish a common thread, and while the listener may have to hone in on a few songs to realize their potential, it is best to let Body Wash soak in slowly over time.

Album released: September 16, 2016

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam

 

Concert Review: Wiki

wiki show mookell reviewOn rue Saint Élisabeth and Saint Catherine, at roughly 11:45pm in the dimly lit atmosphere of Newspeak, two of my friends and I sat for an hour until the first openers for Wiki’s show came out. We waited to get there late since the event had said the show would start at 10:00pm. By 1:00am the first opener finally took the stage of the humid club and tried to hype the crowd for Wiki’s grand appearance. Quebec rap group Les Anticipateurs catered to part of the audience that spoke French but left everyone else confused as to what was going on. The production from the group was powerful and booming but was hard for me and my friends to understand since all the rapping was in French.

Half an hour later, DJ Lucas took the stage with some old and new tracks that he had been preparing to perform live on the tour. As much as the instrumentals were banging, it was difficult to enjoy DJ Lucas as a rapper. At the beginning of his set, a fight at the front of the crowd broke out and the MC had to stop performing for a while to break up the two men disputing amongst each other. At another point during his set, he performed a song where the hook was “Yeah, I smoke crack” and it instantly turned me off of anything else that the young DJ had in store for us next. After hours of waiting for the main act with two unpleasant openers, Wiki finally appeared on the stage at 2:05am.

Waiting for Wiki seemed like it wasn’t going to be worth it in the end. We were all exhausted for waiting so many hours and sitting through openers that we couldn’t care less about. However, when the New York based MC stepped onto the stage, there was an immediate turnaround in the amount of energy in the room. He opened up his set with the track “3 Stories,” which was produced by local electronic artist Kaytranada. The crowd was full of life and bouncing to the buttery beat of the song as Wiki slammed down some hard bars.

Security was uncomfortably rough at Newspeak; they wouldn’t allow anyone to mosh during the show. As soon as they spotted the slightest act of moshing, they’d grab people from the audience and tell them to stop immediately. It was a buzzkill to say the least; people weren’t able to enjoy themselves the way they wanted. One of the security guards pushed someone from the front of the crowd all the way to the back of the club and the two got into a fist fight. The fight attracted a small audience that was separated from Wiki’s performance with people arguing that the guy being held by security didn’t do anything wrong.

Wiki kept performing for those who were paying attention to his set. “God Bless Me” and “Crib Tax,” among many other cuts from Wiki’s debut LP Lil Me, were played at the show. By 2:45am the set was over and the audience was drenched in sweat. Even with a weirdly short set from the main act, it was still an incredible experience to see Wiki completely turn the tables on what started off as a rough night. I’m going to have my reservations with shows at Newspeak from now on, but if Wiki’s ever playing there again, I’ve learned that you should show up a lot later than you would think.

Review by Michael Eidelson

Album Review: Best Fern EP – Best Fern

a3416935114_10

The first thought that springs to mind when listening to the latest EP by Best Fern is how elegant the whole project makes you feel. Montréal based duo Alexia Avina and Nick Schofield string together spacious ambient production to create an inviting atmosphere that only exists within the realm of their EP. There are only five tracks on the entire project which creates a short but delightfully pleasant listen and suits the time of year where summer is slowly dwindling away into fall.

Soft synths start off the EP with the track “A Way” and establish’s the tone for the remainder of the dreamy project. Alexia’s approach to singing over the light production feels otherworldly and complement the style of dream pop that the two are crafting together. “Lay It On Me” continues to carry the narrative of the first song and brings a far more relaxing element than the previous track. It’s comforting and sedates the listener for the rest of the atmospheric environment that Alexia and Nick dive into.

The longest track on the EP standing at five minutes long, “Do U Love U” is incredibly tender and has synths working in parallel with Alexia’s beautiful voice. There are echoes in the background that form a concrete idea that you’re thrown into a different world completely while listening to the new EP. “R U Well” has synths that are layered on top one another but doesn’t clutter the sound, the effect makes the song more spacious with flutes that float their way throughout the duration of the track.

“I Will Try” finishes off the EP with a booming bass that isn’t over the top by any means, but instead feels like a grand finish for the project. Best Fern pull off a stellar debut with their self-titled EP. It’ll be interesting to see what directions the duo head in with future projects and  the sort of direction that they decide to head in.

You can pick up their latest EP from their bandcamp and follow them on facebook and soundcloud. They’ll be opening for Angel Olsen on Friday September 23rd at the Rialto Theatre and will have another show on Thursday October 6th at La Plante.

– Review by Michael Eidelson