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Concert Review: The Marias @ L’Astral

It isn’t often that an opening act warrants attention apart from who they are supporting, but this was certainly the case when The Marías took the stage before Albert Hammond Jr. this past Monday, April 2nd. Nostalgia is one of the immediate reactions to the band’s music and image: the cover photo for their debut EP Superclean, Vol. I is front-woman María’s legs, highlighted by flash as they rest upon red velvet-upholstered theatre seats faded with the dim haze of Hollywood’s golden years. Their music draws from old-school funk, soul and psychedelia, but instead of wallowing in all this 60’s/70’s reminiscence as they easily could, the group coats their tunes in a distinctly modern sheen with María’s sometimes-Spanish lyrics and drummer Josh Conway’s sleek production.

Lead vocalist María does indeed have a last name, but leaves it offstage as many icons have before her. Any aloofness this move might imply, however, was immediately eliminated by her humble stage presence and an outfit that could have been as much her everyday style as performance-ready getup. Matching the colours of the EP album artwork, the flowing white fabric of satin palazzo pants breezily followed María’s rhythmic swaying, paired with a matching bandeau concealed by a scarlet matador-inspired jacket. The rest of the band loosely coordinated their outfits to match this palette, with tones of red, black, and white tying up their aesthetic into one clean, focused package.

The pulsing beat of “I Like It,” the first song of the set, helped introduced the crowd to the band’s polished sound. María traded and shared vocals with Conway, their soothing croons blending for an effect reminiscent of a Serge Gainsbourg duet. After this warm-up, María’s vocals came into focus, bringing in the chilled-out groove of “Only in My Dreams.” The synchronized strums of (Canadian-born) Josh Conway’s bass foundation and Jesse Perlman’s glossy guitar overcoat combined to access the space between wakefulness and dreaming, a strange balance which could be the band’s brand.

The synth squiggles in the background of “Superclean,” contributed by Edward James, were followed by an affectionate version of J-Lo’s “Cariño” and an unreleased song: “Ruthless.” The second of these was accompanied by a surprise appearance from Busty & the Bass trumpeter Scott Bevins, who added a crowd-pleasing jazzy texture that would return later during “Basta Ya.” Before his reappearance, the band kept up the brass-fueled energy by playing personal favourite “I Don’t Know You.” Conway propelled the tune forward with a funky bass-line tempered by straightforward chords from Perlman to again achieve the group’s soporific-yet-snappy signature. Before their closing song, The Marías paid tribute to their influences with another cover, this time of Teena Marie’s “Lovergirl,” keeping all the soul of the original while replacing some of its 80’s glare with their own sound.

After kindly giving Albert Hammond Jr. a second shoutout, María referenced her Puerto-Rican roots one last time with “Déjate Llevar” for a more up-tempo finish. Though The Marías make great use of guitar, they are not initially an intuitive complement to Albert Hammond Jr.’s frenetic riff-laden energy. Watching their set, however, it became clear that their appeal is a subtler and no less remarkable kind of gravity, sizzling just below the surface like their deceptively catchy music.

While addressing the audience at one point during the set, María confessed to the audience that it was the band’s first time in Canada. It might already be clear by virtue of their role supporting a former Stroke, but something about the Marías’ quiet confidence and refined image tells me that it won’t be their last.

~review by Dylan Lai

Concert Review: Hanna Benn, Sinkane & Son Lux @ Theatre Fairmount

Paradoxically, one of the best ways to characterize the music of Son Lux is that it’s difficult to do so. The genre-resistant group was originally the solo project of Ryan Lott until 2015, and his proclivity for out-of-the-box musical exploration has drawn comparison to (and a collaborative project with) Sufjan Stevens. Personally, his unique vocal timbre is reminiscent of James Blake. This affinity for the unusual also apparently extends to Son Lux’s choice of touring partners, as openers Sinkane and Hanna Benn blended their own selection of sounds to give audience members a taste of what was to come. As I entered the Fairmount this past Monday to catch the end of Hanna Benn, the already substantial crowd was a clear indicator of the magnetic power and intrigue of ambiguity.

Benn’s crystalline vocals, which also made an appearance on Son Lux’s 2016 EP Stranger Forms, floated over compositions influenced by her eclectic classical and gospel training. Sinkane, up next, mixed the music of his Sudanese roots with jazz and funk elements for an energizing set that showcased the talents of the group’s members. The guitarist got a few improvisational solos in, and the harmonies of keyboardist/vocalist Elenna Canlas backing up frontman Ahmed Gallab’s soothing tenor transformed to lead vocals for the majority of the band’s final two songs.

Before long, Lott’s faux-hawk appeared under the dim stage lights. He was joined by guitarist Rafiq Bhatia and drummer Ian Chang, and the trio introduced themselves with the first few chilling verses of “Forty Screams,” then the opening song from their latest album Brighter Wounds. The project is the second to include Bhatia and Chang as official band members after 2015’s Bones, though the group has been performing together since 2013. Though the most recent album is sonically more accessible than the last, Lott hasn’t lightened his hand lyrically. It’s an intimate reflection on his alternating hope and uncertainty for the future spurred by the recent birth of his son. His trembling falsetto, sounding always as if he might be moments away from tears, lends itself to expressing the raw content of the music. Varyingly passed through filters and paired with his eclectic production, full of instrumental samples and effects with a distorted yet organic feel, it can be hard to be sure he’s emitting the sounds you’re hearing or if they originate from some otherworldly source.

Though Son Lux is Lott’s brainchild, the group’s writing process is reportedly highly collaborative. Accordingly, the musicianship of the of the other members was given ample time to shine, with the band adapting their recordings for the stage to highlight their skill. Bhatia had a few solos and covered string parts by adjusting his tone, and for “Stolen,” Chang broke into an extended drum break to finish off the song. Building off this energy, Lott later showcased his usually restrained voice by belting out the resplendent chorus of “Dream State.” Digging into the keyboard unconventionally angled away from him, it seemed like he was holding on against a musical fervor that would otherwise sweep him away.

As he approached the end of the set, Lott joked with the audience, playing on the traditional faux exit and encore by telling the audience, “the song after this is our last…but not really. Just pretend it is.” The crowd happily obeyed, keeping energy levels high. When the band got to their “last song,” they requested that the people in the venue participate, instructing the crowd and cueing them in to sing a melody adapted from one of the string parts in the song. The tune in question, “All Directions,” was befitting of the impromptu choir, since a similar effect is applied in the final refrain of the recording. The lyrics, “And weren’t we the beautiful ones/I promise we were,” also stir up a collective impression of loss and redemption that was easy to feel part of.

As promised, Son Lux exited the stage before re-entering and delivering a smoldering performance of “Aquatic.” To spark things up again for their (actual) last song, they treated everyone to their most popular tune, “Lost it to Trying,” getting the audience to join in once again – this time without any request needed.

~ review by Dylan Lai

TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE CHARTS ::: FEBRUARY 27th, 2018

Here are the Charts for this week….a bit late this week since I’m on the road in €

best

Alex

CKUT TOP 30 FOR FEB 27th, 2018

1.  ought – room inside the world – royal mountain *
2.  petra glint – the trip – vibe over method
3.  cadence weapon – s/t – eone
4.  dominique fils-aimé – nameless – ensoul
5.  youmna saba – arb’en – tunefork
6.  yoshimio / susie ibarra / robert aiki aubrey lowe – flower of sulfer – thrill jockey
7. moth cock -1-100 at the speed of…. – hausu mountain
8.  holzkopf – hause of sun – self released
9.  various – youth international party 50th anniversary – youth international party
10   nightmares on wax – shape the future – warp
11.  saukratese – season 2 –  CC
12. political ritual – s/t – ambiance magnétique CC*
13. wooing – daydream b/w time machine – ba da bing
14. the bridge – overdrive – rock/jazz – party – guersson
15. lea bertucci – metal aether – NNA
16. lachane – s/t – holodeck
17. effrim menuck – pissing stars – constellation CC*
18. u.s. girls – a poem unlimited – 4AD
19. moth cock -1-100 at the speed of…. – hausu mountain
20. profligate – somewhere else – wharf cat
21. the extract – dream song – self CC
22. station 17 – blick – bureau b
23. persuasion – quatermass ep – opal tapes
24. langley school music project – innocence & despair – bar/none
25. fischerspooner – sir – ultra
26. steff chura – messes – sadle creek
27. runaway brother – new pocket – tiny engines
28. wetware – automatic drawing – dais
29.  divide and dissolve – abomination – dero arcade
30. dabrye – three/three – ghostly international

ckut rpm – february 27, 2008
1.persuasion – quatermass ep – opal tapes
2.souns – aquamarine – souns.bandcamp.com CC
3.antenes – shifting zones – silent season
4.various – silk to dry the tears – 100% silk
5.peder mannerfelt – the 3d printed songbook – peder mannerfelt produktion
6.gene tellem – who says no – S.O.B.O – CC
7.memeshift – desert vibes – perfect location
8.jasen loveland – my medicine – acid camp
9.dimitri palikaris – exploring – ancient robot
10.
james n murray – city of the night – jacktone

ckut jazz – february 27, 2018

1. togetherness! – togetherness! – self cc
2.kaze – atody man – circum–libra
3.bobby previte  – rhapsody – rare noise
4.kate gentile – mannequins – skirl
5.jason robinson’s janus ensemble – resonant geographies – pfmentum
6.jean derome – resistances – ambiances magnétiques cc
7.irabagon / fielder / neufeld – in formation network – nuscope
8.rudd / victor / harris / filiano – embrace – rare noise
9.phillips / yoshizowa – oh my, those boys! – no business
10. anthony braxton – solo (victoriaville) 2017 – victo

ckut global – feb 20, 2018

1.afrika mamas – iphupho: a cappella from south africa – arcmusic
2.souljazz orchestra – under burning skies – strut CC
3.brooklyn raga massive – terry riley in c – northern spy
4.leila gobi – 2017 – clermont music
5.lemon bucket orchestra – if i had the strength – indoor recess
6. la misa negra – s/t – nam entertainment
7. brenda navarrete – mi mundo – alma
8. benji kaplan – chorando – big apple batucada
9.les filles de illighadad – eghass malan – sahel sounds
10. pasteur lappe – we, the people – africa seven

ckut beatbox – feb 27th
1. cadence weapon – s/t – one CC*
2.evidence – weather or not – rhymesayer
3.saukratese – season 2 –  CC
4.dabrye – three/three – ghostly international
5. swamp thing + ghettosocks – the octagon – droppin science  CC
6.fredy v – #ittakesavillage – self-released CC *
7.amp fiddler – amp dog knights – mahogani
8.v/a – cosmic melanin – 88 days of fortune CC
9.tshizimba – zero – self-released CC *
10.tachichi – chico’s 90s project (hand’solo) CC

Concert Review: Tess Roby, Girl Ray & Porches @ Theatre Plaza

Last Sunday, Theatre Plaza hosted an ode to DIY music with three distinct artists demonstrating synth-laden electronic, good ol’ rock, and a final act that combined the two. Local group Tess Roby opened the night with a simple setup: Tess on keys behind a mic, and her brother, Eliot, on guitar. Her warm, unadorned vocals (strikingly similar to the few studio recordings she has released) and pulsing synth cascades instilled a moody stillness, the only movement coming from the intermittent stomping of guitar pedals and the milling about of audience members. For her final song, “Ballad 5,” she requested that all the lights be turned blue, softening the ambiance one last time before taking her leave.

Girl Ray appeared shortly afterward with a classic guitar band outfit, adding just one touring member to their three-girl London-based act. Layering a modern lo-fi guitar sound over 70s folk/pop influences, they ramped up the energy along with the swelling crowd, even garnering cheers for a brief coordinated shimmy between guitarist/vocalist Poppy Hankin and bassist Sophie Moss.

With the clock approaching midnight, Porches frontman Aaron Maine took the stage with his back to a charged audience. After counting the band in with his swinging hips, he turned to deliver “Now the Water,” a song off his new album The House. A few tunes in, gentle head bobbing turned to jumping and jiving as the crowd got down to “Find Me,” a single off the album that juxtaposes lyrics about struggling with anxiety against dance-worthy beats. Energized by the response, Maine expressed his appreciation for everyone coming out by informing us he’d worn a “special shirt” for the occasion, indicating something apparently exceptional about his otherwise nondescript black tee. That shirt soon became a centerpiece for communicating the artist’s personality throughout the night, like his deadpan humor when he later clarified that we should actually ignore the shirt and “focus on the music,” a point he reinforced by briefly hiding behind it after lifting it up and over his face for a moment towards the end of his set.

Just as Maine’s dry sarcasm kept the audience guessing, The House navigates the ambiguous emotional spaces of post-breakup introspection, motivated by his recent split from Greta Kline of Frankie Cosmos. Still, the music of Porches has never shied away from melancholia, and the 15-song set, split evenly between the most recent and previous (sophomore) album, felt like it could be part of a single work connected by its synth and heart-heavy sound.

Whether or not the awkwardness was deliberate, Maine seemed most comfortable mid-song, swaying along to the murky emotions simulated by the swirl of rhythm, melody, and lyrics that frequently invoke water as a metaphorical vehicle. One couldn’t help but feel the simultaneous solace and solitude in his music when, during the encore, the rest of the band crept, kneeling, into their spots while he began the heartfelt ballad “Country.” Before giving anyone time to reflect, the band closed the night by stripping back the synths and returning to their roots with “Headsgiving” off the debut album, lifting spirits with hearty guitars and drums. It was a perfect way to end. Lyrics like, “And in her eyes/I want to die/Before I die the sad kind,” contrast with those about giving head to encapsulate the sadness, sometimes whimsical, sometimes sincere, but never overly self-indulgent, that Maine likes to inhabit with his songwriting. This emotional gray area has a hazy relatability, even if not always readily accessible – though wallowing in Maine’s world for the better part of an hour certainly helps tap into this space. As I stepped outside to let the cold wind blow away any remaining gloom, I felt a sense of catharsis, and though unexpected, I was sure I wasn’t the only one.

~review by Dylan Lai

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Album Review: Aromanticism – Moses Sumney

Aromanticism is an album steeped in wonder, exploration, and beauty. After touring as Karen Oh’s guitar player, Ghana raised and Los Angeles based Moses Sumney introduces his own voice and vision. His affinity for poetry is clear: the singer’s first album showcases complex lyrics tackling difficult themes. It is a deeply personal and engaging exploration of not reciprocating love, navigating the world while questioning the value of romantic love, and the value of oneself.

In a world consumed by romance, the expectation that we strive to find a partner weighs on every member of society. Sumney explores the complexities of solitude in a unique way as he initiates a dialogue for people to question their own desires, and reject expectations forced on them. As Sumney put in an interview with Stereogum: “I just want people to know it’s OK to be alone. I’m not saying it’s easy or it’s too difficult, because it can be both. I’m saying it’s an option. It’s not a choice that has to last forever either. I just want people to explore being alone if they feel it suits them. There is more to life than who you’re with.”

“Man on the Moon (Reprise)” starts the album off with a choral arrangement that melts into the next track, “Don’t Bother Calling.” The song, as Sumney puts it, is “a preemptive fuck you.” It does not have the same dramatic quality as, say, “Plastic,” or “Lonely World,” which truly grab the listener and force them to introspect, but it does introduce many of the artistic elements present in the album; namely, the focus on Sumney’s voice which seamlessly transitions from low soulful vocals to reaching falsettos, and his experimentation with a wide range of instruments.

“Quarrel,” my favourite track on the album, is a complex, long song with many distinct parts. It is the apotheosis of a turmoil that has been building up from the start of the album, and sees the introduction of darker elements. A deep bass maintains the spine of the track, leaving room for vocals to have a playful relationship with the harp, and drawing attention to the intricate lyrics:

“Quoting this a quarrel

So immorally implies

We’re equal opponents

And we both antagonize”

The tension breaks suddenly to shift to a jazz-influenced bridge, replacing the harp with a synthesizer and keeping the same vocalizations so prominent in the track. The song ends with piano that fades and introduces the first spoken word track of the album, “Stoicism.”

“Lonely World” embodies the purpose of this record– an unapologetic exploration of what it means to be alone in a modern world.

“Lonely, lonely, lonely face under a veil

After all the laughter, emptiness prevails

Born into this world with no consent or choice

Lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely”

Sumney’s falsetto adds to the energy built up in this track, which breaks away abruptly to end off with a whisper.

The album slows down once again for its ninth track, “Doomed,” the lyrics of which beg to be reflected upon: “If lovelessness is godlessness, will you cast me to the wayside?” Sumney asks. “Doomed” is mirrored by “Indulge Me,” the most exposed track on the album and Sumney’s personal favourite. It’s a stripped down number with just a bit of synth, acoustic guitar, and vocals that range from small whispers to falsettos. The vocals are overlain so that it seems like Sumney is duetting with himself. “Indulge me,” Sumney asks of the listener.

Aromanticism is one of my favourite albums of the year, and for good reason. It analyzes uncharted themes and does so in a way that each track is raw, honest, and extremely different from the others. Moses Sumney provokes listeners to grapple with and understand the conflicting dynamics of solitude: both a relief and a challenge.

-review by Ash Rao

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Concert Review: Alvvays @ Club Soda

If you weren’t dancing and singing along at the Alvvays concert on Friday, you were missing the entire point.

The concert was a joyous event. The Toronto indie pop band played almost all of their songs from their latest album, Antisocialites, and some fan favourites from their first album. Fan favourites like “Archie, Marry Me” and “Not My Baby” caused loud singing from the audience, with the audience practically screaming lyrics back at the band. While most songs provided an opportunity to dance, the dancing reached its ecstatic peak during “My Type.”

The most powerful moment of crowd participation came during “Forget About Life.” I’m going to be honest: “Forget About Life” (the last song on Antisocialites) was not a song that stood out to me when listening at home. On Friday night at Club Soda, I got it. When Molly Rankin stood underneath the blue stage lights and sung “Did you want to forget about life with me tonight?” the whole crowd answered her back. This was the rallying call for everyone at the concert. During the chorus, the crowd almost over-powered Rankin’s voice as they sung back:

Did you want to forget about life?

Did you want to forget about life with me tonight?

Underneath this flickering light,

Did you want to forget about life with me tonight?

I have now been playing that song nonstop and can still feel the sense of oneness and camaraderie I felt in that crowd on Friday.

I have always enjoyed Alvvays music, but this concert made me fall in love with them. Their lyrics are easy to sing along to, all while expressing deep, emotional truths. Their melodies are catchy and easy to dance to. Their songs invite (and command) participation.

– Review by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

DF album art

Concert Review: DF EP Launch @ Art Lounge

Montreal-based audiovisual duo DF released their new EP abcdf this past week, marking the occasion with an evening of stellar local music at Art Lounge that featured sets from Justin Lazarus (Look Vibrant) and Joni Void, as well as DF themselves.

I was fifteen minutes late to the soirée; by the time I arrived the huddled audience was already seeped in the wooze of Lazarus’s characteristically idiosyncratic, adventurous songwriting. Lazarus and his two accompanists had a stripped down set up of vocals, sampler, bass and keys that glowed with analog warmth. He took the crowd to chord school, teaching us to celebrate mixing disparate colours in the same song. Whatever emotional arc Lazarus’s songs demanded, he always chose the sounds that were right for them. His set coupled this free-spirited vision with earnestness and vocal abilities bent to his will, making for an unfailingly exciting live experience.

Following Lazarus was Joni Void, who performed found-sound electronic music, backed by projections. For the most part, he kept a filter over the projector’s lens, lightly distorting the visuals so the audience had to recall them from memory. Void began his set with a dusky lullaby of a rarity from his side project, Boy With a Red Cap. Its serene sine blips were spare but not reaching for anything more, twinkling enough that the crowd could lock into Void’s vision. The set’s highlight was a song based on an ambulance siren that flashed before the audience, running to and from opposite ends of the stereo image. During this song, Void showed us video clips of city life, but never the ambulance itself. The siren passed again and again, suspending me in a daily moment I rarely otherwise think about. Off-kilter harmonies formed around the visuals and a discernable beat took me into a bizarre trance, where the sound and visuals of daytime were bent to rhythms typical of nightlife. Joni Void uses an impressively sparse set of sounds to command of the listener’s mind, and in this set he had me captivated.

Headliners DF performed next in front of their own massive light fixture, an array of panels that visual artist Dan Freder puppeteers in pulses and patterns, responding to Dustin Finer’s saxophone. Throughout the set, Freder hopped from dimension to dimension, switching between altering the patterns on the light fixture and projecting various visual mapping schemes against the venue walls. Prior to this show, I had only seen the duo’s music video for “She’s Great and All…,” which superimposes 3D animations against real life footage. When the two played the song live, Freder opted for alternate imagery, casting ripples on a set of delighted dots. Through innovations such as this, DF made sure the night didn’t feel like a playthrough of the EP, and Freder demonstrated versatile imaginations that paired well with his partner’s music.

On the music end of the set, Finer ditched the potential baggage of the solo-instrument-loop-pedal performance by making sure to get the most out of his tenor sax. Digging deep in the sax’s sound, he reached Hammond-organ-like bass tones and created mechanical glitchy percussion by tapping his horn’s keys. Finer had a family of hearty, triumphant tunes ready for the communal vibe, but he also made time to rip freeform solos through a yummy stacked-4ths harmonizer.

My personal favorite piece of the night was the manic “Hobgoblin,” where Finer squealed through his horn as Freder shook a piece of foil against a beam of light. The fact that “Hobgoblin” lasts only one second is further testament to its reckless creativity, and the duo’s broad, promising conception of art. The nature of AV shows demands they be experienced live, so DF are a group you should see for yourselves – and there will definitely be many more opportunities, as this duo’s future has plenty in store.

– review by Rian Adamian

yoo doo right

Album Review: Yoo Doo Right – EP2

The new release from locals Yoo Doo Right is a colourful EP that sees them swerving in and out of frenetic jams. Running below 20 minutes, EP2 is awe-inspiring and fun, hitting an eerie fever pitch while compelling you to dance.

The four piece have a standard rock instrumentation. Bass and drums work hard to hold down a constantly burrowing pocket, complementing the distorted, yet still pleasantly bright and reverb-wet guitars. Additional keyboard and synth lines are simple and tasty. The marriage of these parts results in the band’s dark and mesmerizing soundscape, which lets you choose whether you want to groove on the ground or space out in the sky. Yoo Doo Right presents the best of both worlds stylistically, never sounding like they stretch themselves thin.

This is evident right from opening track “Whilst You Save Your Skins,” a fine instrumental piece. The song begins, and you’re in Yoo Doo Right’s world, face to face with their wall of sound. Awesome bass work defines this track – from the power chords (!!!) to the bounding groove. The song sees the EP’s most serene moment when it breaks for an introspective glow, and the band comes back in from the top down like a feather floating in the air.

“Marches Des Squelettes,” too, sucks the listener in right from the start, getting you happily lost in its repetitions. The bass line collapses into itself again and again; Yoo Doo Right milk this rhythm to optimally introduce spoken vocals. The song breathes heavily between its main vamp and a “tu et moi” chant, culminating in a turnaround that only takes you home to the bass line again. They could go on longer, but instead opt for succinct knot at the end.

These tracks set up EP2’s centrepiece, the trilogy “Apatride.” “Part 1” of the trilogy sees about a minute of ambient wailing before bringing the EP’s tempo to a slow grind. The band shreds its hardest here, taking on the difficult but necessary task of putting pure musical energy to recording, showing an ethos that would merit their participation in a Boredoms’ Boadrum installation. The peak in energy makes “Part 1” a great midpoint for the EP and an appropriate initiation for the remainder of “Apatride.”

“Part 2” finds the snare drum taking lead on the band’s driving, followed closely by a bassline that just wants to have fun. Vocals, sounding almost passive-aggressive, return like a pulse to push the song into excellence. The band comes together to throw two new, vivid chords into the mix, the snare still rollicking underneath. In “Part 2”’s climax, the song grows steeper and steeper, suggesting that the listener might get to finally cut through the guitars’ hazy reverb and reach the place they call from.

Instead, Yoo Doo Right spit you out on a mouthwatering chord change that begins “Part 3.” You may think the ride is over, but you’ve only just arrived at the party. The song instantly becomes a refreshing showcase for cheeky surf guitar. It reaches ecstasy as a verbed-out keyboard line falls from the ceiling, and soon thereafter crashes and fades. The EP ends on a high note, leaving you wanting more.

This ending just reinforces what the rest of the EP has already demonstrated: Yoo Doo Right are magicians of momentum who know how and when to play their cards. As heavy as the sound gets, they pace the EP such that you never need a break. None of the five songs disappoint or lack function, each having something interesting or wild up its sleeve that comes out organically. Yoo Doo Right are fit proponents of classic psychedelic jamming, with a distinct soundscape they can always dive back into. I definitely hope they’ll be diving in again soon.

– review by Rian Adamian

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POP Past The Poster: What To See This Week

POP Montreal is finally here, folks. Montreal’s most massive music festival (say that five times fast) has descended upon the city, promising a week of stellar shows, panels, films and more. But POP’s best feature is also its most intimidating: there’s just so much good stuff. The festival has literally hundreds of amazing artists worth seeing this week, which is both very exciting and very overwhelming. With so many bands, the smaller shows at POP can sometimes be easily overlooked. That’s why we’ve put together a schedule of the less-publicized POP shows – none of the artists below are featured on the POP poster. So, in between Austra and Weyes Blood, maybe I’ll see you at one of these sweet gems this week:

Wednesday Evening:
Naomi Punk // Phern // Mundy’s Bay @ La Vitrola

Start your POP off right with the experimental art rock of Naomi Punk, whose new album Yellow is a jerky, jolting masterclass in breaking down your expectations of punk. Opening up are locals Mundy’s Bay and Phern, whose gazey post-punk and off-kilter smart pop definitely warrant arriving early.

Thursday Afternoon:
Joni Void // Sea Oleena // Desert Bloom // Best Fern // Ohara @ Phonopolis

This lineup (curated by CKUT’s own Underground Sounds) brings together some of the best ambient and electronic artists in the city for what is sure to be an entirely enveloping afternoon. From the calming ethereal pop of Best Fern to the eerie experimental music of Joni Void, this is a lineup to immerse in and drift away on.

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Foreign Diplomats at Mile Ex End.

CKUT @ Mile Ex End: New Festival on the Block

The first edition of the Mile Ex End Festival took place Saturday, September 2nd and Sunday, September 3rd under Montreal’s Van Horne Viaduct. I was excited for the festival because the same space used to host some very fun block parties many years ago – a revival of the Van Horne Viaduct seemed to me like a great idea. As I walked into the festival site early Saturday afternoon, I noticed there were not many attendees there yet, just staff and media. There were three stages, one very large and two smaller ones, food trucks, an art gallery and a kid zone. The atmosphere was relaxed, family-friendly – it felt like an end of summer celebration.

Of the smaller bands playing the festival, local psych rock band Adam Strangler was a clear stand out. They started their set off with a very upbeat and friendly stage presence despite the small crowd on Saturday afternoon, the sound techs cheering them on. Before long, people started to pour in and joined in the applause. Adam Strangler played all the tracks off their great EP, Key West, as well as some hooky songs that were new to me, but very enjoyable to listen to in the Saturday sunshine. Later that day, the young members of Foreign Diplomats also gave a high energy performance, calling on the audience to sing and dance like no one was watching. Their catchy indie pop songs were punctuated with alternating synths and trombone melodies, accentuating the festive atmosphere.

Beyond these excellent openers, Mile Ex End also had some impressive headliners. The crowd was eager to see Cat Power perform Saturday night, filling up the space in front of the smaller Mile End stage long before her set time. A smoke machine (whether intentionally or by accident, I’m not sure) spewed out smoke continuously before her set, shrouding everyone in comforting fog. When Power took the stage – alone, except for her guitar and piano – all lights and eyes were on her. Her first notes caused goosebumps to quiver up and down my body, reminding me just how much her music affects me. The whole set was powerful and emotionally charged – her voice has only gotten more beautiful and husky with time.

Cloudy skies and a weaker lineup made Sunday less exciting than Mile Ex End’s first day. But that evening’s headliner, Montreal’s own Godspeed You! Black Emperor, were easily a festival highlight. They opened with “Hope Drone,” as their notoriously haunting visuals of abandoned buildings and train tracks looping in the background. I wish I could enumerate each song Godspeed played, but they fold so well one into the other that it sort of defeats the point to try and single them out – just being able to experience them in the moment is pure joy. They must have been playing songs off their not-yet-released new album Luciferian Towers, however, because there were definitely parts I did not recognize.

Though they played new tunes, Godspeed certainly haven’t steered away from their old political messages; judging by their frenzied crescendos and violent protest visuals (as well as the titles of their new singles – “Bosses Hang” and “Anthem For No State,”) they’re more enraged with the status quo than ever. After the band’s 2011 revival, it was nice to see that they are still going strong, creating new music and moving people with their uniquely haunting orchestral pieces.

Mile Ex End certainly provided a platform for some really lovely music, local and otherwise. Speaking to a few artists throughout the weekend, I also got the impression that they were very happy with the well-staffed and highly-organized festival. But the festival definitely has room to adjust going forward. The site felt too large for the number of attendees – two alternating stages would have sufficed. Indeed, while Godspeed performed I kept thinking back to when they used to play to cross-legged audiences in dumpy Montreal jam spaces in the nineties, a memory I only live vicariously through my older friends. I wondered what it would be like to experience them in a smaller, more intimate setting rather than on such a large stage amongst so many other humans.

The size of the site might not be such an issue in the future if the festival lowers its prices, which are currently inaccessible for lower-income people, and widens its scope – this edition of Mile Ex End showcased mostly white artists of mostly similar genres. I saw some fantastic rock at this festival, but, despite all the space, I left feeling like Mile Ex End’s first outing was, in some ways, just too narrow.

– review by Nadège Radioskid