Category Archives: Reviews

Album Review: Tim Hecker – Konoyo

Konoyo by Tim Hecker, Kranky

Konoyo by Tim Hecker, Kranky

With yet another midterm season upon us, it is sometimes easy to neglect the notion that professors lead careers outside of their lectures, and Tim Hecker is no exception.  The Vancouver-born McGill professor began his music career as a DJ and techno producer, the influence and experience of which resonate thoroughly across his September 28th release Konoyo.  For his 9th studio album, Konoyo shows concise stylistic refinement, employing synthesizers and software that emphasizes the importance of the samples Hecker is isolating and manipulating.  The foundation of the musicality and inspiration of this album stems from a form of Japanese imperial court music known as Gagaku; an intense ‘drone-style’  produced by the incorporation of instruments such as bamboo mouth organs and double-reeded aerophones.

I want to preface this review by admitting that I am fairly unacquainted with the electronic genre, and Konoyo was my first introduction to this distinct style of experimental minimalism.  While I don’t have precedent albums to compare this one to (including Hecker’s previous works), I can say that my first impression of this album was overwhelmingly positive.  Released by Chicago-based label Kranky, the tracks intertwine with each other perfectly, keeping the listener in a suspended tranquility deprived of jarring breaks as the album completes its hour-long play.

Konoyo opens with “This life”. Comprised of only jarring synth tones until approximately 30 seconds in, this track sets the atmosphere for the rest of the album.  It is, tonally speaking, clinically cold and through immense tension the songs create a sense of apprehension.  The sounds emulate waves as the tension pulses through its eight-minute course and demands the full attention of the listener.  On an interesting note, while it obviously connects seamlessly to the following track “In Death Valley”, it also pairs perfectly with the closing track “Across To Anoyo”.  At the 15 minute mark, the song’s intensity ties together the elements of the first six , with a significant call back to the first track as the music fades out into more ambient.


Moreover, t
he length of these pieces gives Konoyo a highly introspective quality.  The meditative nature of Hecker’s style makes this unavoidable, regardless of whether the listener is closely analyzing and dissecting the music or just throwing it on as background music while studying.  This is an amazingly versatile album, that can be perceived as complex or as simple as the listener wants, and serves as a virtuous introduction to this genre.

~Review by Madison Palmer, Noise Architect

 

 

Album Review: Mitski – Be The Cowboy

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Montreal’s terrace season is starting to wind down.  Leaves are slowly oranging, and the infamous humidity that has been hanging in the air over the past couple of months is starting to crisp up.  The encroaching post add-drop lethargy is hanging over students, and they may be starting looking for the perfect soundtrack to accompany the upcoming gloomy fall days.  Thankfully, Mitski’s new album can provide an end to that search.

Be the Cowboy is the Japanese-American artist’s 5th studio album, and is truly a gem sent down from the bedroom pop gods.  Tying together atmospheric lyrics with relatively grungy rock guitar riffs, the soon-to-be 29 year old has been hailed as “the new vanguard of indie rock” and this new album —released August 17th— lives solidly up to this reputation, however it is at its core a very standard sounding indie album.

The standout songs are, obviously, incredible.  The opening track, “Geyser” is, in my opinion, one of the strongest songs on the entire album.  It establishes itself with a haunting synth that slowly builds up to a climax about 1 minute and 20 seconds in.  The atmosphere of the song creates a feeling of bright optimism. This atmosphere is complemented amazingly in the closing track “Two Slow Dancers”, a song that not only saved the album for me, but also gave me a glimpse at what I wanted the album so badly to be.  The song is contemplative, nostalgic, and just as lyrically and sonically powerful as the opener.

Everything in between these two are all —lyrically speaking— cookie cutter indie songs. Tracks such as “Old Friend”, “Nobody”, and “Blue Light” could easily have been left off the album and it would have no significant effect on the listener’s experience.  The songs that stood out the most were the ones with actual unique qualities. “Remember My Name” and “A Horse Named Cold Water” are both incredible examples of this diversity; the former embodying the same college band feeling as the Scott Pilgrim soundtrack and the latter, opposingly, showcases stripped down vocals over a few piano chords.  Even “Me and My Husband” (far from my favourite song on the album) is a jarring shift from the songs it sits between, adopting a noticeably more 2011 mainstream indie pop sound.

In spite of these qualms, Be the Cowboy is unquestionably a good album.  All the songs blend together beautifully, and its length of 32 minutes makes it the perfect soundtrack to your fall semester study sessions to help ease you into the fast approaching midterm season and even faster approaching winter.

Review By Madison Palmer

Concert Review: Bat Fangs, Hop Along @ le Belmont

From the band’s very first address to the audience, it was clear the Hop Along show at the Belmont last Saturday would be a relaxed evening with hearts warmed by great music and charming and humorous band members. Throughout the evening, banter between spectators and band would blur the lines between the two for an intimate show appropriate of the Belmont’s shoebox performance space.

Before this, Washington, D.C.-based Bat Fangs warmed up the stage, announcing their provenance via the bassist’s Capitals tee and a brief introduction from singer/guitarist Betsy Wright. Wright and drummer Laura King formed the band after bouncing around a few other groups, and their experience oozed out of their ripping guitar riffs and flourishing tom hits. As if their stage presence didn’t scream of enough rock n’ roll cool, they introduced the song “Bad Astrology” by yelling out, “was anyone here just born bad?” It took a moment for the audience to respond, probably because they first assumed it was a rhetorical question meant for the band members themselves. The answer was a clear “yes.”

Hop Along took advantage of the sizzle left by Bat Fangs’ riot grrrl torch and immediately launched into the lead single, “How Simple,” off their album released earlier this year, Bark Your Head Off, Dog. Onlookers lining the front of the stage and pockets of them throughout the venue bounced and hooted along to the contagious melody of the refrain, reflecting the more optimistic half of the lyrics, “Don’t worry we will both find out/ Just not together.” The set that followed would include most of the 9 songs from the short-but-sweet track-list. Origin-indicating shirts seemed to be a motif of the night, with a member wearing a Modern Baseball shirt, this time referencing a fellow band from Philly.

Front-woman Frances Quinlan broke the ice by thanking the crowd for coming out on their “only Saturday of the week,” adding that, “it’s just bazonkers.” Over the chuckling crowd-members, she ironically added, “yeah, I’m a wordsmith.” Though meant in jest, one of the band’s greatest strengths is Quinlan’s songwriting. She excels in stringing together monologues that put the listener in the shoes of characters imagined, observed, or of her own in ways that are still deeply relatable even through layers of idiosyncratic imagery.

The band then took a brief detour through their past discography with “Kids On The Boardwalk” from 2012’s Get Disowned and “Texas Funeral” from 2015’s Painted Shut. By the time the irresistible rhythm guitar of newer song “Somewhere A Judge” rung out, anyone in attendance not previously unabashedly crying out memorized lyrics would have understood their excitement. Indeed, successfully singing along with Quinlan and coming at all close to replicating the often unexpected turns in melody and her many vocal inflections should definitely be considered a feat. Quinlan’s voice has the ability to take on as many identities as the diverse assortment of those described in her lyrical narratives, from understated whisper to disinhibited howl and somehow, in combination of both, a throaty yelp full of simultaneous force and restraint.

“What’s the Montreal version of a Waffle House?,” Quinlan asked, foreshadowing the next song, “I Saw My Twin,” about Quinlan spotting her doppelgänger in a West Virginia location of the restaurant chain (the crowd’s decided equivalent: “La Belle Province”). Afterwards, Mark Quinlan, the band’s drummer and Frances’ brother, lightened the topic of lives that could have been and the thin veil of celebrity by joking, “just about 420 songs left.” In response, a member of an enthusiastic group in the crowd that had previously screamed out an open invitation to their address after the show, yelled in ecstatic recognition, “the weed number!” The tone of the show became serious yet again as Frances started off “Look of Love” as she does in the recording, with just her voice and her acoustic guitar. Lyrics containing the album’s title wove a story about a guilt-ridden childhood experience in which her wish that a disliked neighborhood dog would stop barking at her is fulfilled by a car accident. Though Quinlan had warned the audience of melancholy subject matter just prior, the song ended in an uplifting reflection on the beauty in life after death upon returning the dog’s grave and seeing birds feeding on the garden over it.

The thematic intensity continued, this time taking a turn for the biblical with “What the Writer Meant” and “Not Abel.” Hop Along’s latest work differs from their previous efforts with the addition of strings either bowed or plucked in the background of most of the album, including these songs. Understandably, this feature was not translated to their tour, but the absence of the arrangements was barely noticeable with Quinlan’s poignant lyricisms and the band’s camaraderie that both made their playing seamless and the audience feeling like a part of the family.

With this atmosphere in mind, I almost expected Hop Along to make light of the traditional encore formalities and perhaps continue straight into the end of their set after a wisecrack about not leaving the stage. Though in the end they went through the motions, they promised to return as soon as possible after treating fans to old favorites “Well-Dressed,” “The Knock,” and “Tibetan Pop Stars.” I have no doubt they’ll have an even greater troupe of loyal music lovers waiting when that happens.

~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

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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Concert Review: Mal Devisa, Skin Tone, Joni Void @ Casa del Popolo

I went to Casa del Popolo this past week to catch the stacked bill consisting of Mal Devisa along with locals Skin Tone and Joni Void. People were a bit in short supply, it being a Sunday night, but high quality art was not!

Skin Tone’s set explored the outer limits of the saxophone on a bed of drone, and did not lose any steam for its duration. It started with a couple frozen notes, then dissonant wrinkles emerged and grew eerier as Skin Tone began to stomp onstage – a march away from his more melodic material. His horn was already saying a lot, but Skin Tone made the message of his set explicit: Do not be complacent in the continuous displacement of indigenous peoples and killing of black people. At this point, Skin Tone ceased marching and began free-form squealing his portrait of racism, capturing fear and sadness in a pure form. It is worth noting that this squealing is beyond where other sax heroes like Pharoah Sanders go. If you want to hear the place between overtones where a person’s soul lies, then see Skin Tone and watch him crack it wide open.

This set was one Joni Void had been looking forward to since supporting Mal Devisa years ago at a Brooklyn show, and being consequently inspired to continue developing his style. Playing at Casa del Popolo, as opposed to Art Lounge (where I previously saw him), allowed him to dial up the low end of his tracks. This gave the thick, patient thump of Joni Void’s kick drum a greater physical presence, making better friends with the freckled, high-end glass sounds. The opening and closing tracks of his set were particularly special, being composed not of found sounds, but of photos: the opener, a picture of himself, the closer, one of his father.

This was Mal Devisa’s first time playing in Montréal. She played a string of songs, and it feels more appropriate to talk about her style in general rather than the individual tracks. Together, her voice and bass put other forms of expression to shame. As a songwriter, each of her songs are a world of their own in a nutshell. She does not waste a single word in drawing emotional arcs complete and cathartic. The songs compel you to cry at the way things are, then instill a warm confidence in knowing things are that way. When she sings, it’s as though you are with her instead of with the audience, demonstrating a rare ability to command any space she decides to play in. It is exciting to watch where she will go from here, as she is already a master. Overall, I am super happy to have been able to catch three inspiring artists in one go – all are highly recommended!

– Review by Rian Adamian

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Album Review: On Pause – Valiska

With December and the final stretch of the semester upon us, finding time to relax can be hard. Exams, Christmas shopping, and work parties compete for our attention and fill every blank space of our agendas, leaving little time to sit back and enjoy some relaxing alone time. Luckily, Valiska’s new record, On Pause, offers us incentive to pause for the thirty minutes it takes to listen. It’s just enough time to sink into a blissful state of relaxation, guided by the soothing music of Valiska.

As a Calgary-based artist, Valiska’s music is perfectly suited to the Canadian Prairies; the melancholy of long winters and the solitude of space stretching in all directions are infused into the music. Combining ambient sounds, simple melodies and minimal instrumentation, Valiska weaves together an impressively introspective album. Listening to it with the lights out and a few candles burning comes close to a meditative experience, with the music inviting contemplation and reflection. It’s the only way to truly appreciate this album.

The album opens with the appropriately named “Heavy Riser,” in which an eerie and waltzing synth riff is slowly joined by a muted bass and a shimmering piano to create a melancholic atmosphere. This sets the tone for the entire album, which rises and falls in slow cadences as long periods of dark, ambient music are followed by short bursts of sound-energy. The album description mentions the use of the Moog Sub 37 synthesizer as the central instrument and various looping techniques to add textures and variety, which are processed through analogue tape to give unity and cohesiveness to the album. The result is the feeling of listening to one very long piece of music separated in small sections, while the whole acquires new meaning as a brilliant exercise in mood.

“Softness,” the second track of the album, includes mournful chants and heavily manipulated sounds reminiscent of Radiohead’s “Everything in its Right Place.” “Mornings” includes distant tearing sounds, a mournful melody, and the looping of the words “try again.” An organ-like sampled sound is present on “Fake strings for False Memories” and is joined by violins and choirs to give it a decidedly medieval air.

“Across a City, Across a Country,” runs just over 10 minutes, and it is the most dynamic and complex song on the album. It gives rise to the only prolonged moment of loudness. As manipulated sounds, melodies, piercing synths and heavy bass clash together, we find ourselves at the height of our musical journey, at the point where everything comes together to create a striking portrait of hope, longing, and desire. As the song fades out, “Interlude” comes on with a feeling of having made it to the other side. The electronically manipulated voice offers us a final word of wisdom. “Forever,” which closes the album, sounds like a religious procession exiting a church after a particularly intense ceremony.  

The last notes linger in the silence that follows, like a dream slowly disintegrating into one’s memory. When silence finally comes and we emerge from our trance, we feel relaxed and richer. My advice to you: pull up a cushion, light a few candles, turn off the lights and enjoy the music!

– Review by David Krushnisky

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Album Review: Let the World be Flooded Out – La Louma

I ingest albums very slowly. I find one or two songs I like from an album and listen to them on repeat for a week or so. Other songs from the album will slowly make their way into my repertoire, and if the album is good, I’m eventually listening to it in order on repeat. This is what happened to me with La Louma’s debut album Let the World be Flooded Out.

The opening track (and first single from the album) “The Decline of Nations” immediately intrigued me with its polished punk swagger. Then, I listened to “Just Wanna Love You” (the second single released). “Just Wanna Love You” features middle eastern influences, and is unlike any song I’ve heard recently. La Louma’s lyrics tell a story about the deep emotional unrest of being in a relationship that is no longer working, and her voice moves from clear vocals in the chorus to gritty vocal styling in the verses, with desperate pleas asking what she did wrong. I was utterly enthralled.

Next up for my ears to obsess over was “If We Don’t Now We Never Will.” This song is slower than the last two songs, but the mournful lyrics and vocal styling enchanted many of my fall walks. While slower in tempo, the song still posses the layers of instruments present throughout the whole album. This song really highlights La Louma’s ability to knit instruments together. Her layers of melodies and counter melodies are united in one large blanket of sound. The songs sound full, but never chaotic.

Perhaps this unity has to do with the fact that La Louma performed, record, produced, and mixed every song in her garage. The album was recorded over the course of three years, and during these three years, Lauren Ross (the talent behind La Louma) recorded 200 songs. She then distilled them into the ten song Let the World be Flooded Out. Growing up, Ross was a classical woodwind player, but the album displays Ross’ ability to play piccolo, flute, bassoon, french horn, electric guitar, electric bass, v-drums, and tambourine. And sing. Really, really well. “Brother True,” “Candy” and “Aaj Mausam Bada Beimann Har” showcase her woodwind classical training, and the combination of classical training and the unique recording process really make this album stand out.

Bear with me for the following digression. Ready? Ok. My younger sister loves Harry Styles. She was in middle school during the peak of the One Direction era, and during this time, the whole area around her bed was covered in One Direction posters (much to my displeasure). Needless to say, she was so excited when Harry Styles released his self-titled debut album this year. When it came out, I was in the depths of my disillusionment with academia, and I channelled this into a new-found appreciation for pop music as an anti-elitist statement. For the first time, I actually listened as my sister obsessed about Harry Styles. I listened to his album, and I really wanted to like it, as some kind of statement, or to support this male pop star who defends his female fans from the sexist eye-rolls music snobs might give them. But… I couldn’t get into it. I appreciated the 60s and 70s rock sensibility displayed, but there was something missing. After some thought, I narrowed it down to Styles’ voice. His voice is “perfect,” polished to pop perfection. A polished voice may be the cause of his fame, but it’s also his artistic weakness. Listening to the album, I kept waiting for a true, unbridled release of emotion to come from Styles’ mouth. Instead, all I got was the voice of a pop star too afraid to make mistakes.

A crack in the voice, the scream of a singer who’s letting their emotions govern their voice when emotions become too powerful to be contained, it’s cathartic and powerful. In my opinion, it’s a signifier of a great work of music. When I was listening to Let the World Be Flooded Out I was reminded of this. Lauren Ross has a beautiful, clear voice that shines in her songs. It’s a voice that would fit into the pop charts, but unlike Harry Styles, Ross can let her emotionality shine through in her voice. She can scream or show grit. Her voice cracks and breaks with emotion when needed. When La Louma creates a work it feels powerful and personal.

While at first Lauren Ross’ punk sensibility may be obscured by her classical training, it is there, evidenced by her vocals, her recording process, and her politics. Let the World Be Flooded Out is the first album released by Bitchwave, the feminist/queer collective and label Ross co-runs in Los Angeles. Bitchwave allows Ross to live her politics outside of her songs. The album is personal, but many of the songs are also very political. “I am Here I Am” was inspired by a first-hand account that Ross read about several female refugees. Ross said that “the chorus is a repeating declaration that ‘I am here’, and while it’s meant to be their [the refugee’s] statement, it’s crucial for me to hear myself sing those words over and over, too.” “Decline of Nations” (inspired by the Syrian refugee crisis) also serves as a political anthem and implores the listener to “Promise me you’ll stay until you try to make things right.” Bitchwave is still in it’s early stages, but hopefully we’ll soon have more amazing music from them.

In Let the World Be Flooded Out, Ross masterfully mixes opposing forces to create a truly unique album. La Louma makes complex pop music sound effortless, and combines her classical training, her DIY punk ethos, and pop sensibilities to create an album confident in its clashes.

-review by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

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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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Album Review: ken – Destroyer

Alright folks, it’s that time again for your favorite eclectic, Destroyer, to release a new album! And boy, does he release a new album. Dan Bejar, a veteran whose presence on the music scene has brought us some of the best New Pornographer tracks and eleven previous Destroyer LPs, has recently bestowed ken onto our plebeian ears. As is his style, ken diverges from the previous Poison Season, harkening back to the Kaputt (2011) era instead.

This latest Destroyer album delivers a more accessible dosage of Bejar’s signature esotericism, replete with 80’s retro-pop references and less lyrics to wade through than usual. Still, Bejar’s nuanced and complex production style is present in all its glory, and while ken may be more aurally accessible, it definitely takes some attentive listening for those who wish (and, really, who doesn’t?) to finally understand the enigma.

Bejar has mentioned in interviews that for this album, as with most of his albums, there is no external agenda he hopes to accomplish; the man is creating music simply because it pleases him. While there are hints of an anti-conformist attitude peppering his prose, it may just well be Bejar fulfilling his duty as a well-known shirker of music societal norms. Take, for example, his frequent, almost habitual use of repetitive lyrical phrases, which normally could be written off as a lazy tic or a blundering attempt to shove a song’s meaning down the listener’s throat.

Instead, Bejar takes seemingly banal lines (“I’ve been working on the new Oliver Twist”) and, through repetition, gives them a haunting sense of profoundness that lasts long after the final notes have faded. His instrumentals serve as a vehicle for his lyrics, creating a musical tapestry that pulsates and breathes, as if Bejar has birthed a fully sentient musical thing from a combination of synth and drums.

In this reviewer’s opinion, the album is best served as a whole: I have to recommend listening from beginning to end in one fell swoop, and then maybe several times more. There is a joy of discovery to be had in taking your time with Destroyer’s works, and ken proves to be no different. Of course, some tracks can be lauded individually for their particular prowess. Take the opener, “Sky’s Grey:” it’s an easily-digestible opener, and a good reintroduction for those who may have taken a break from Destroyer. The instrumentals echo the title perfectly, capturing a grey sheet of clouds that cast a somber, brooding pall over the day. Bejar’s vocals here are, as with all of the tracks on ken, the focus. 

“Tinseltown Swimming in Blood” is the first throwback to the 80’s, with a sharp drumline and, bless, tambourine to provide a snappy syncopation. The saxophone shines here, which is nice, because it is regrettably absent on most of the other tracks. Light synth melodies prepare a pleasant contrast from the darkly self-referential lyrics. “Saw You At the Hospital” is a ballad if I’ve ever heard one, wistful and brooding, with piano and poetic lyrics providing a natural ebb and flow. “A Light Travels Down the Catwalk” features more synth, this time dissonant and powerful to start; Bejar is using something other than his words to grab the listener’s attention. The instrumentals on this track seem to shadow Bejar as he sings, creating a sense of intense urgency that keeps you on your proverbial toes.

“La Regle de Jeu” is the final track on ken, and puts forth more questions than answers. Firstly, it’s pretty much a dance track, which seems out of character for Destroyer’s usual M.O. But who am I kidding, it’s Dan Bejar! The track ends in a fury of swirling instrumentals before fading out, leaving this reviewer wondering what Destroyer’s next move will be. In the meantime, I think I’ll take another listen…

Album released: October 20, 2017

-review by Juliana Van Amsterdam