Released on February 19th, Need Your Light is the fourth album from indie rock band Ra Ra Riot. The band’s latest release has cemented their departure from their earlier Syracuse roots in baroque-pop towards a hip, Brooklyn-based synth-pop, this new musical identity first explored in their previous album Beta Love. Need Your Light is superior to Beta Love in numerous aspects, and embraces the synth-pop style with far more ease. However, the latest album is imperfect even in its triumphs.Continue reading →
It’s been a super busy week here in Montreal, including an early-morning visit to the vet to get foster kitty spayed yesterday morning — she still spends most of her time hiding under the bed but she’s slowly warming up to domestic life. Ain’t she cute?
PLEASE NOTE that I will be out of the office from February 24th till the 27th. If you have tracking inquires, please hit me up by email and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!
:::WHAT’S UP AT CKUT::: Perhaps this is cheating, but I’m just gonna take this space to encourage folks to listen to the 14th annual Homelessness Marathon tonight (!) from 5pm – 7am EST. I know I plugged this last week, but it’s a pretty essential and inspiring broadcast and certainly worthy of two weeks of promo via this lil chart blast. Unfamiliar with the marathon, or want to learn more? Check out our website for the full details!
ckut top 30 – february 23, 2016
1. nap eyes – thought rock fish scale – you’ve changed CC
2. essaie pas – demain est une autre nuit – dfa CC *
3. matmos – ultimate care – thrill jockey
4. no negative – the good never comes – psychic handshake CC *
5. psychic pollution – tans fur dunklen seelen – eat glass records CC Continue reading →
On Saturday February 20th, I found myself in a quite literally underground music environment that showcased the wide array of musical talent involved in local music collective Oh Hi. Montreal heavyweights such as Saxsyndrum and Devon Welsh were paired up with younger musical acts such as Loon and Nanimal in a way that emphasized community and provided for an excellent night of positive vibes and beautiful music. Continue reading →
The story of Montréal’s IKO fits within a familiar narrative shared by many early synth acts: a single release followed by a few decades of dormancy, awaiting acclaim that would come decades overdue. Just like fellow synth pioneers Ceramic Hello, the legacy of these acts is felt most strongly in their influence on the more successful groups and subgenres that followed them both locally and internationally. The bands themselves, however, remained virtually non-existent. Early promotional image photocopied from a newspaper clipping
Thirty years later IKO is credited as one of the first ever entirely electronic bands, formed in the corridors of University of Montréal’s electroacoustic department by three Kraftwerk enthusiasts who went by the pseudonyms Zao (Jean Décarie), U-gen (Eugène Delage) and Dax (Daniel Laberge). Criminally underappreciated in its time, IKO released a debut record entitled “83” in 1982 on the now-defunct Montréal disco label Manhattan-Formula. According to synth player Daniel Laberge, aka Dax, the band’s debut LP was doomed by a dispute between the local label and Polygram, causing the giant to stop international distribution of the record. Without any sales or airplay, petty administrative hurdles paralyzed the group’s creativity and the disillusioned artists disbanded shortly after the record launch.
Original 1982 album artwork
Consequently, rediscovering IKO’s 83 may be a bittersweet experience. It’s difficult to shake the what-if implications from a record whose music was as potent and innovative as IKO’s, only to be thwarted by bureaucratic incompetence. The unrealised commercial potential of the 1982 album is clear on tracks “Elevator” and “Gonadotropic synthesis,” whose catchy synth melodies are reminiscent of early Human League and the Belgian group Telex. IKO never loses its sense of humour with the monotone vocal delivery and lyrics working contrapuntally above the synth melodies. “Are you on dee other side of dat door” the vocalist proclaims in deadpan Germanic intonation on opening track “Elevator”. On “Gonadotropic Synthesis,” the lyrics cautiously flirt with sincerity, describing sexual arousal in purely medical terms over a particularly coy and meandering synth melody. Early incarnation of the band as the “Androids”
A tangible sense of impatience runs through most of the record, highlighted by the overlapping synth melodies and driving up-tempo beats that exemplified the band’s innovative techniques in drum programming on the Roland TR606. Just as the record title 83 may imply that IKO is concerned with sounds of the near future, it also serves to render the familiar unfamiliar. This title, in a cruel instance of irony, may indicate a humble anticipation of longevity at least until the following of the record launch (1983). Fittingly, the songs appeal to a sense of travel both in name (“Subway 49,” “Approach on Tokyo,” “Digital Delight”) and form, with an emphasis on technological progress and musical innovation. The abrasive experimental instrumentation and reverberated shouts on “Communication off” resonate with early D.A.F, the song standing alone as an important example of proto-EBM (Electronic Body Music). IKO’s use of the TB-303 bass synth on “Approach on Tokyo” and “Digital Delight” appears to almost anticipate techno. As Dan Nixon of Dummy Magazine points out, the synth-wave influences of IKO on Detroit techno are uncanny when one pitches down Cybotron’s 1983 hit “Clear”. IKO manages to reconcile the band’s synthpop and coldwave sensibilities of peers such as Rational Youth (Montréal) and Spoons (Toronto) while bracketing the structure associated with them. Accordingly, the band keeps its other foot in the unexplored realm of Hi-NRG dance music.
Third track from the acclaimed album
Following a series of bootlegs IKO’s debut album was reissued by the Seattle label Medical Records in September 2014, a full 32 years after its initial launch. The mythology of this record as a minimal synth gem that bridges divisions between synthpop, EBM and techno holds true with the Canadian museum of music estimating the original pressing of the LP at $500.
– Danilo Bulatovic
Danilo hosts Computer Sourire, a show about synth-driven music, every Tuesday at 4pm on CJLO 1690AM
Self-reflection takes time as does a good self-reflecting album, and Basia Bulat knows this better than anyone. Her fourth studio album, Good Advice, was conceived nearly two years ago on a drive from Bulat’s native Toronto to Kentucky, and over time the slow, acoustic demos were transformed to peppy alt pop in Jim James’ (My Morning Jacket, Monsters of Folk) Louisville studio. The 10-track album is replete with dark, melancholy themes, cleverly disguised in danceable tempos and major keys: a break-up album you can boogie along to in the kitchen with a wooden spoon. Bulat’s soulful alto tones punch through keyboards and synth, offering not only “good advice,” as the album title suggests, but more an honest look at cause-and-effect of actions and relationships.
Good Advice starts off with the punchy “La La Lie,” four minutes of jangling vintage pop, and ends with the slow and lingering “Someday Soon,” accompanied with haunting vocals and shimmering synth. As the album progresses, the songs begin to slow down and adapt a more contemplative bearing. This process provides an underscore for the very human theme of heartbreak that runs through Good Advice; first, bright and loud anger is expressed, followed eventually by forlorn sense of longing and quiet acceptance.
While the album over all flows nicely between tracks, a few stand out as exceptionally noteworthy. “In The Name Of” is an upbeat ballad with a heavy drum base, tambourine accents, and a gospel-esque chorus providing background vocals. An electric guitar provides depth and body to the track, while Bulat belts out powerful lyrics. The titular track, “Good Advice,” starts out quietly, allowing the listener to focus on Bulat’s voice. An electric guitar riff and drums soon join in, layering one over the other with the addition of keyboard and vocal harmonies. The song itself is an embodiment of realization, the crescendo of instrumentals signaling the clearing of a clouded mind. “Garden” is a jumble of overlapping synth rhythms, again letting Bulat’s echoing vocals shine through. A saxophone sounds in the distance, providing a serene bridge between lyrics. The track is a beautiful and lush dénouement before “Someday Soon.”
Bulat attributes part of her inspiration for Good Advice to a particular July 4th night, where crude fireworks peppered an otherwise dark sky. Bright flashes of awareness amongst a dark swath of uncertainty is the tone that Bulat conveys in Good Advice, and her thoughts, frustrations, and emotions are almost tangible through the airwaves. Whether using as an emotional salve or a good dose of introspective pop, Good Advice does not fail to deliver.
Welp, after a pretty mild January we finally got slammed with some legit winter weather: pipes froze here at CKUT, and it only just stopped snowing like crazy outside. Spurred on by the brutally cold weather, I took in a foster cat this weekend because the alleys of Montreal at -40 Celsius are no place for a kitten to be wandering around… Hopefully she’ll emerge from her hiding spot under the bed by next week so I can include a cat photo in the chart email.
:::WHAT’S UP AT CKUT:::
CKUT is honoured to be teaming up with CIVL in Abbotsford, BC and several other stations across Canada for the 14th annual Homelessness Marathon. As a way to raise awareness of housing issues and their effect on communities, we’ll be broadcasting content that aims to give voice to those who are directly impacted by homelessness. Listeners can stream it live from 5pm – 7am via the CKUT website or, better yet, those in Montreal can join us at the Native Friendship Centre (2001 St Laurent) for a free community dinner at 6pm. CKUT will be producing live content from the NFC, hosted by Native Solidarity News and Nipivut. If you miss it live, grab the audio on our web archives.
ckut top 30 – february 16, 2016
1. v/a – fixture records 4 – fixture records CC *
2. essaie pas – demain est une autre nuit – dfa CC *
3. cheap wig – agoness – self-released CC *
4. lantern – black highways and green garden roads – fixture records CC
5. linsey wellman – manifesto – self-released CC Continue reading →
DIIV’s 2012 debut Oshin was one of the most widely received Brooklyn-indie albums we’ve had in the past few years; the band played shows incessantly and gained their fan-base with brutal force. Now in 2016, their long-anticipated sophomore album Is The Is Are, after several singles, has finally been released. Since their debut album, frontman Zachary Cole Smith and his girlfriend were arrested for drug possession, which was quickly followed by his entering rehab, and bassist Devin Ruben Perez made several offensive posts on 4chan that were seen as outrageous by fans. Needless to say DIIV followers expected a lot from Is The Is Are. Smith clearly wants to send out a new message that he and DIIV have deeply changed. (much of this change points towards the topic of addiction/sobriety). As Zachary Cole Smith puts it, “I feel like when discussing this album, a lot has been made of its relationship to drugs, and my own personal relationship with drugs…it is so important for me that this album register to people as being as true and as honest and as rooted in reality as possible.” Smith has promised to show his emotional development through Is the Is Are. The question remains, however: does the music show it? Continue reading →
Chris Baio chose the coldest place to end his Northeast tour for his debut full-length album, The Names. As I’m sure anyone in Montreal who ventured out of their homes yesterday knows, the polar vortex hit the city with force. However, in the dimly lit Bar Le Ritz, summertime was imminent. Bouncing back and forth between his keyboard and center stage clad in a white suit jacket and a cheery red bowtie, Baio brought a refreshing vibe to the intimate space, accompanied by George Hume on the electric guitar. BAIO is a solo DJ project, with both instrumental dance tracks and indietronica numbers featuring Baio’s eclectic singing style. While some subtle elements in Baio’s work can be traced back to his involvement as Vampire Weekend’s bassist, he has done well in differentiating himself as an independent artist. The Names is an innovative and refreshing take on indie dance and electronica, and the inclusion of a live guitarist in concert further underlined this fact.
On this tour, BAIO has had local electronic artists open for him, and Montreal’s performance was no different. Local IDM artist CRi was featured, and played for approximately an hour before Baio and Hume took the stage. They opened with “Brainwash Yrr Face,” the opening track to The Names. At first the guitar was not in sync with the programmed keyboard instrumentals, but Hume quickly righted the ship and the rest of the track went without a hitch. Baio was doing vocals in center stage, shaking his hips while the crowd warmed up. In between album tracks he would improvise with his keyboard, a true DJ at heart. Baio soon after featured a new, untitled song, with cheers from the crowd. Next was “Needs,” transitioning smoothly from a few minutes of improv. He then took to the mic, poking fun at the cold by complimenting the audience on their fortitude: “I’d be at home chilling in front of a fire with a cat.”
Another unnamed track followed, which demonstrated his penchant for DJing. Hume’s guitar work was highlighted quite a bit in this performance, ripping out strong solos before the bass beat exploded about halfway through the track. The crowd, mostly swaying and bobbing, came to life at this as if by the flick of a switch, and Baio mirrored the change in pace, grinning and bopping up and down behind the keyboard. He transitioned right into the album’s hit single, “Sister of Pearl,” to cheers from the audience. In an interlude between “I Was Born in a Marathon,” Baio cheekily plugged merchandise and introduced Hume. He then played a few more tracks off The Names, covering The Eurythmics’ “Here Comes The Rain Again,” with and earsplitting bass and audience participation on the lyrics. Baio ended his hour-long set with “Scarlett,” the last song on The Names and a purely instrumental track with a pensive melody and expert layering. He said a small goodbye and thank you to the crowd and stepped off the stage, leaving Hume to wrap up the outro.
The concert was short, intimate, and light; a perfect oasis in the wintry desert that Montreal has become. Baio was quite comfortable in the intimate setting, but his sound is really meant for a bigger crowd, one that has room to move and groove and shake their hips right along with him. His sound is honest and vibrant, with candid and clever lyrics: a welcome change in the IDM and electronica scene. Hopefully, BAIO will return to Montreal to bring some warmth and cheer in the near future.
When the long-defunct Burlington label Mannequin Records pressed their original run of 1000 copies of 1981’s Absence of a Canary, it seemed unlikely that anyone could foresee the legacy of this record three decades later. Elusive minimal synth duo Ceramic Hello, consisting of Roger Humphreys and ex-Spoons keyboardist Brett Wickens, had a short and mysterious run as a band. Original album artwork for Ceramic Hello’s “Absence of a Canary” (1981)
Ceramic Hello’s few releases (a single in 1980 and an LP in 1981), both released in limited quantities, and their lack of live performances are all factors that placed an exclamation mark next to the seminal minimal synth LP Absence of a Canary when discovered by electro fetishist and cratediggers, long after the band had dissolved.
The mythology of this album persists domestically and abroad after two comprehensive reissues, one by the German label Vinyl on Demand in 2006, and the other by the Toronto based Suction records in 2012. The longevity of Absence of a Canary, as Matthew Samways of Halifax based minimal wave label Electric Voice can attest to, is owed to its sound being unique to a moment of bold DIY experimentation that struck during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Ceramic Hello seized the sonic potential of newly-available equipment at the time, such as the Roland CR-78 and Korg MS-20. A borrowed TEAC 8-track brought the recording studio into the bedrooms of Wickens and Humphreys in unassuming Burlington, ON. This pastoral suburban setting and lack of resources spoke to the record’s unique minimalism. Absence of a Canary is earnestly influenced by the works of Brian Eno (Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy), Gary Numan, and Kraftwerk.
The Climactic Nouveaux 7″ is the third release from Burlington’s Mannequin records, which operated in the early 80’s with a staff of one.
However, this simplicity is misleading. Despite the minimalist production, the eclecticism displayed on the album’s 14 tracks makes Ceramic Hello’s strange brand of jagged synth pop hard to digest upon first listen. Just as the title of the album may ominously allude, we the listeners are the canaries in the coalmine exploring novel, and often austere sonic textures, together with Wickens and Humphreys as our guides. Behind slow chugging beats, wailing synths compete with Wickens’ vocals on the opening track The Diesquad. Half of the tracks on the record are instrumental pieces, which range from overtly grotesque synthesized horns on StatiCarnival to the triumphant ebb and flow of Grey Man. Humphreys, presumably influenced by John Foxx and the newly established Mute label, seized the records’ instrumental breaks as a means to inflect the synth tunes with classical influences.
This is particularly heard in the latter half of the record, with the track Trio giving the song a disquieting timelessness that sits at odds with the claustrophobic frigidity on the track previous, Ringing in the Sane. Absence of a Canary never lulls listeners into a passive state, the promise and vulnerability of Footsteps in the fog is abruptly shattered by the next track, sustaining a sense of volatility that persists until the closing Dig that crazy beat. Ceramic Hello’s deranged bedroom synth pop delivers visions of a dystopic future from the confines of suburban Ontario. The synesthetic characteristic of the music is no surprise considering Wickens’ parallel design career, going on to work on LP covers of more commercially successful peers including Joy Division, Peter Gabriel, New Order, and Ultravox. Wickens would go on to design various album covers for Orchestral Manoevres in the Dark including their 1981 LP “Architecture and Morality”
It’s doubtful that Humphreys and Wickens knew that with their original 1000 copy run of Absence of a Canary they would be contributing to a long-term movement for public attention and acclaim 30 years later. I am delighted that Absence of a Canary has been uncovered and hope it will continue to merit the attention it deserves as a pioneering Canadian minimal synth record.
The 9th song off the album, “Footsteps in the Fog”
– Danilo Bulatovic
Danilo hosts Computer Sourire, a show about synth-driven music, every Tuesday at 4pm on CJLO 1690AM
Artistic collaboration is an important way of increasing an individual’s impact by exposing the contrast in each artist’s point of view. The right blend of surroundings is vital to an individual sound’s significance and the juxtaposition of sounds that stretch into opposite directions shines more light on the qualities that make each one beautiful. By featuring two entirely different sound artists on the same tape, The Howl Arts Collective has accomplished both a respect for artistic individuality and a display of thought-provoking contrast on their Sonic Carvings with Self Healing Clay/Return Fire Co-Release from Nick Kuepfer and Tamara Filyavich. Kuepfer’s montage of texturally satisfying samples is met by Filyavich’s taste for sound development and elongation. The idea of displaying each of these approaches in a no-correct-answer setting allows for a captivating conversation between the two. Continue reading →