Category Archives: Reviews

Concert Review: PJ Harvey @ Metropolis

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I’m not sure PJ Harvey has set foot in Montreal since she opened for U2 in the early 2000s — a show I would have loved to see if it weren’t for the fact that U2 was on the bill. At the time I’m sure U2 was trying to give her somewhat stalled career a boost, but this time she returned at a level where many people who’ve barely heard her work since her early ‘90s breakout feel obliged not to miss her. It sold out fast and a second show was added; I heard great things about both, and was quite moved by what I saw at the first of her two Montreal dates.

However, this praise doesn’t mean it was a show for the ages, or even Polly Jean at her peak. While she and her band played an undeniably great set, the lush arrangements didn’t always serve the songs and I was left still craving a song just by PJ at the piano or guitar after the encore.

Yet – it was an important show, sure to make many year-end best-of lists even though we’re not even halfway through 2017. PJ Harvey doesn’t exactly breeze through town each year. Montreal was lucky to be a stop on her 1993 tour, when she played to 100 people or so at Club Soda when it was on Park Ave. Her next visit was a much more expensive ticket at the Olympia in 1995. Although it was just two years later, those were two very different shows. 1993’s raw power trio driven by her outsized wail was replaced with a larger, more composed band and a blues-based set of songs that was surprising after Dry and Rid Of Me.

I was reminded of those shows Friday, not least because Polly Jean moved to a large band format and went back to the blues after forging a more goth-influenced sound. Her latest offering, Hope Six Demolition Project, includes actual samples of blues songs and civil rights march chants. She’s back to mostly singing with the booming voice of her first few albums, though she did (thankfully) play songs from White Chalk and Let England Shake. The new album’s songs, which made up most of the first half of the 90-minute show, include some undeniable gems mixed with some songs that don’t ever seem to quite find themselves. But overall, she’s been on a roll over the past few years and the audience reacted enthusiastically each time a newer song began.

I got the sense that she’s an honest songwriter and performer who put the new prestige and success she’s had in the past few years, including winning the Mercury Prize in Britain, straight back into her music; however, the oversize band cloaked her at times like an ill-fitting suit, a little too clumsy and unwieldy. Some songs, like the unexpected throwback 50 foot Queenie and To Bring You My Love, benefited from a somewhat stripped down arrangement, but I’d have preferred to have just Jon Parish, Mick Harvey and one drummer all through those. But I’m being picky – she actually played 50-foot Queenie and To Bring You My Love!

In the end Polly Jean seemed to be enjoying herself, smiling broadly every time the audience cheered when she spoke a few words in French, enthusiastically introducing her many band members and working the stage like a pro. Hopefully she’ll keep on enjoying it enough to tour a little more often — it’s clear she could sell out Montreal like this every year.

– Review by Louis Rastelli

Concert Review: Bing & Ruth, Reves Sonores, and Evan Tighe @ Divan Orange

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Anyone harbouring reservations about seeing a delicate, often hushed instrumental show at a bar infamous for its noisy crowd might have approached Bing & Ruth at Divan Orange with some trepidation. I myself was not sure what to expect. Turns out there was nothing to worry about.

Local drummer and sound aritst Evan Tighe opened the night by debuting material from his upcoming LP “For The Rower It Was Work,” a real departure from his previous output. These rich yet fleeting tone poems fit squarely in the room, layer upon scintillating layer of synth hanging thick like gauze. At one point it was mentioned that he was still searching for a name for the currently-eponymous project, but despite this missing detail the music itself felt very complete, holding the usually raucous bar in reverent silence.

Filling the middle set was Reves Sonores, the duo composed of pianist Stefan Christoff and producer Nick Schofield and joined tonight by Ari Swan on violin. Each song started as a sparse loop, circling up into slowly-evolving patterns as the piano and violin crept and danced in the spaces between, building into deeply evocative meditations, all dimmed and tinged with blushes of doom, and of hope.

The crowd pressed close as headliners Bing & Ruth set up unhurriedly. With the tables filled and the bar at capacity, dozens sat on the floor, drawn up inches from the quintet’s feet. Composer David Moore hunched over the piano, took a pronounced breath, and delved deep into the set. With the rest of band weaving clarinet, double bass and tape echo throughout, David’s flickering keys anchored the uninterrupted, meandering run. While the muted songs covered a dynamic range of emotions, the core underpinning was sadness. These are dark songs, and they are beautiful. The spell over the room was held tight as the audience partook in the same unpronounceable grief, eventually being shepherded through to the other side.

Concert Review: Paper Beat Scissors & Ambroise @ Sala Rosa

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The mood was cheery and upbeat as a crowd gathered and filled the room early in advance of Paper Beat Scissors’s orchestra-backed headlining show at Sala Rosa. The performers bypassed the stage in favour of the floor which, along with the limited seating, provided a suitably intimate atmosphere.

Up first was Ambroise, headed by songwriter Eugénie Jobin and rounded out by Gabriel Drolet, Frédérique Roy, and Simon Labbé, all mainstays of the local jazz scene. A hush immediately fell as the quartet spun a gorgeous web over the room, Jobin’s clear voice bouyed by tasteful guitar, bass, guitar, and accordion. Balancing between smooth drones and ambling rhythms, the mood was masterfully set with this relaxed set of simple songs.

Paper Beat Scissors, while also offering a lush and immersive sound, was by contrast considerably more upbeat. Tim Crabtree’s driving guitar and yearning voice, a simple but undeniably potent combination, was swaddled with layers of additional instrumentation provided by the seven-piece orchestra at his back, elevating but never overwhelming his presence. The songs crashed like waves and broke around me, highlighted by the bobbing strings and woodwinds, tugging and rocking and ultimately leaving me clean.

Album Review: Swear I’m Good At This – Diet Cig

CS638275-01A-MEDAt the time of Diet Cig’s conception circa 2014, front-woman Alex Luciano had barely picked up a guitar. Now, the 21-year-old is rocking her way across the USA with her trusty drummer sidekick, Noah Bowman. The pair are an inseparable, insurmountable duo; it only took one meeting at a show of Bowman’s in New Paltz, New York to bind them in a friendship and partnership that has only grown since.

Bowman sets the fast, frenetic pace of these pure pop-punk tracks, while Luciano’s jagged guitar serves as an incendiary device as her voice ricochets from softly sweet to emotionally unhindered. She is at once an open book, wearing her heart on her sleeve, and a firecracker poised to go off at anyone (namely, any boy) who gets in her way. Lyrically, Luciano has a no-tolerance policy for BS and spares no feelings. She has a knack for wry, tongue-in-cheek observation, and does not shy from singing her inner demons away. With this attitude and an EP under their belt, Diet Cig has created their first LP Swear I’m Good At This.

The album features old habits and new growth: while riotously fun tracks still abound, quieter, more contemplative tracks such as the short number “Apricot” have been introduced, and the production quality has veered slightly from the DIY-feel that accompanied Diet Cig’s EP, Over Easy. Never fear though, Luciano still maintains her blunt, in-your-face attitude, dancing all over your brain with the ferocity and precociousness of an angsty færie. She is all at once dismissive, self-conscious, confident, and confidential, running the full gamut of emotions felt by young women everywhere, at any time.

The opening lyrics of “Sixteen” are enough to convince anyone of that point. Luciano sings plainly of the awkward sex had with a boy who bears the same name; this opening track acts as a shock-and-awe confessional and grips you right from the get-go. “Link in Bio” is an upbeat banger, with Luciano holding up both middle fingers to her demons; “don’t tell me to calm down” is spoken slowly, pointedly, before the track rips open with a melée of drums and electric guitar. “Barf Day” demonstrates Luciano’s innate knack for lyrical honesty, and the bridge of “I know you’re sorry, I just don’t care” basically summarizes Diet Cig’s essence in a succinct, biting sentence. The echoing chorus towards the end of the track adds a nice, unexpected complexity to an otherwise musically-straightforward track.

On “Blob Zombie,” Bowman has his chance to shine, and he runs with it; his percussion sets a galloping, breathless pace, and Luciano matches it with strong lyrics: “I wanna be the best one at this / But I don’t wanna get out of bed” is the very mantra that runs through every girl’s mind. “Tummy Ache” sends a similar message, with Luciano discussing the trials and tribulations of being a girl on the punk scene. Towards the end of the track, the vocals split and dissolve into multiple lines, all echoing and looping over one another, as if mirroring the internal commentary that many women deal with in their daily lives. Luciano acts as a voice-piece for countless young girls, but the defining quality that makes her music so relatable is that she is also standing right beside them, shouting into that selfsame megaphone.

Album released: April 7, 2017

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam 

Album Review: Field of Love – Mozart’s Sister

a4008694957_10Montreal has produced many a talented musician in its time, and an equally talented number have come seeking inspiration within the 514. Mozart’s Sister, the solo project of Caila Thompson-Hannant, is no exception. Thompson-Hannant has been on the Montreal music scene for quite a few years at this point, featuring in notable bands such as Shapes & Sizes, Miracle Fortress, and Think About Life before embarking on Mozart’s Sister with her 2011 Dear Fear release. Originally from British Columbia, Thompson-Hannant attributes the love for her musical style to her uncle, who by all accounts sounds like the coolest guy ever: her tutelage included the likes of Bjork, Air, and rave pop legends Vengaboys.

Field of Love is a vibrant jungle of synth and vocal harmonies with an overarching theme of wide-eyed, pleasurable love; the album comes just in time to usher in Montreal’s great thaw. The production is high quality, but don’t let the “pop” label deter you: Thompson-Hannant’s arrangements are saturated with an exploratory quality that drips with saccharine ingenuity. While the instrumentals pop and sizzle with an energy akin to rebirth, the real treasure lies in Thompson-Hannant’s voice. Whether a track simmers or soars, her voice rises above the melée with clarity and confidence.

Field of Love opens with “Eternally Girl,” which crackles with energy right from the beginning; it’s an easy, bright introduction to the album that delivers bold dance beats and stratospheric falsetto. “Angel” proves to be the most complex track on the album, mostly due to Thompson-Hannant’s chameleonic vocals; her voice is a swirling mix of whine, whisper, croon, and moan. The track begins with an a cappella seraphic chorus  before bare, syncopated synth trickles in, as if Thompson-Hannant is floating down on a giant musical soap bubble. Her use of crescendo and silence is captivating, drawing the listener in to the push-pull rhythm of the synth beats.

“Bump” follows next, a subtle rollercoaster of a track. Dissonant vocals add a lovely, funky fuzz to the dance-club beats, and the whole experience is at the very least guaranteed to get your feet tapping and your head bopping. “My Heart is Wild” is nicely layered, with handclaps interspersed with an almost tropical-house beat and looped vocals; the track literally unfolds around the listener and is certainly a journey worth undertaking.

Album released February 21, 2017

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam 

School’s Out: Alexia Avina

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A few weeks back I wrote a small piece on “Cups,” a short and sweet new song from Alexia Avina. Apparently, this was just the beginning of what looks to be a very exciting spring for Avina’s solo project. Most recently, she put out a music video for the song “If I’m the one that you need,” giving us the first taste of her upcoming release, the Surrender EP. The video is directed by Miriam Brellenthin, who “did an excellent job of capturing the song’s ephemerality and leaving the video as an open question – to love doesn’t always mean to hold,” according to Avina.

“If I’m the one that you need” is very minimalistic in terms of the use of lyrics, which are limited to the repetition of the song’s title in complicated harmonies over Avina’s wide vocal range. The variety of textures and ambient noises flowing in and out of the track provide the sonic complexities that make Avina’s work so interesting. The corresponding music video falls seamlessly into the warm, dreamy realm conjured by her signature soothing sound. A spectrum of colour filters and soft focused double-exposures set the visual compliment for the almost trance-like tone of “If I’m the one that you need.” Avina’s face dominates the video, shown in both soft morning light and hidden amongst sparkling visual filters in a pool of water. A straight-on shot of the artist mouthing the words to the song intimately links the lyrics back to Avina, deepening the emotional impact of the video and tying the visual/audio experience together.

Surrender, a split-EP with fellow Montreal act Desert Bloom, is set to be released on April 12th with an official release party hosted by Moon Boy Records. When I asked Avina what fans could expect from the new EP, she said that “with this batch of songs I felt myself coming full circle to my initial process of making music whereby writing and recording were deeply inextricable.” She believes that the unplanned character of the recording process remained true to the nature of her music. “Spontaneity and mistakes are what my music has always thrived off of,” she explained, which provided her with “a gentle reminder to myself to harness that.”

As the winter finally melts away, keep your ears tuned in for more stuff from Alexia Avina. I’m sure there will be a lot of magical tunes to get excited about.

– Feature by Nora Duffy

Concert Review: Dinosaur Jr. @ Théatre Corona

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The grand Théatre Corona abounded with relics of the ‘90s on March 9. As I wandered into a sea of dads, I was engulfed in a wave of sounds and smells I valued most in my childhood, however putrid they seemed at the time. The crowd was kind and ruddy, allowing me to snake my way through hundreds of Dinosaur Jr. devotees standing transfixed by the musical stylings of a band that defined their dive bar days. I was happy to be allowed a glimpse into their tried rituals — they’d called up college friends, filled up on moderately-priced beer, and nodded along to the songs that marked their lives’ major milestones.

That night, I was made privy to the very peculiar process of reawakening. The herd bore signs of fatigue, content to tap their feet where a mosh pit would have been in order a few short decades ago. However, no matter where any given member fell in terms of life experience, all were transported to a timeless dreamworld of J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph’s creation. In the wake of Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, the band’s eleventh studio album, the crowd celebrated “Tiny” and “Goin Down” as wholeheartedly as they savored the familiar beats of “Feel the Pain.” The riffs were emblems of a youth never truly bygone. In essence, the show was not a testament to any time in particular, but rather a chance to integrate sounds of the past into our lives again.

The muted nostalgia persisted throughout, and the crowd itself was just as fascinating as the spectacle we came to witness. The spectators exuded comfort, as their passion for the band had only matured with time. Perhaps the rejuvenating power of a live show only grows, so I don’t fear a future of enjoying beers with friends while reveling in past shenanigans. For now, I have no qualms learning from the earlier generation who may never stop stumbling into musty concert halls just in time for the headliner to grace the stage.

Although I couldn’t partake in the general nostalgia for years I experienced in a stroller, I was grateful to my parents for keeping Dinosaur Jr. in constant rotation on our old stereo. When the first few notes of “Start Choppin’” filled the room, I danced with more violent fervor than ever before. Of course, this led to respectful thrashing among the crowd’s most spry as the band continued on through “Freak Scene” and an encore cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” The band’s intrigue is intergenerational, and I’ve become aware of a visceral connection to my predecessors as I trace the musical history we venerated in my childhood apartment.

I appreciated the opportunity to see Dinosaur Jr. alone, as I could satisfy my own curiosities about a band so important to my family. Everyone at the venue that night was participating in an exploit that stretches back thirty years and content to see it live on into the future. We all danced to these records at varying stages of life, and in this way we were able to welcome a Montreal spring together. With a gentle salute to the past, Dinosaur Jr. is adapting to an era of uncertainty with time-honored composure. For one night, we were lucky to do so along with them.

– Review by Maddie Jennings

Feature: Supermoon Lunar Eclipse – The Painters + Carla Sagan

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Egg Paper Factory, darlings of Montreal’s independent record label scene, have released a new spring gem this week: a split-tape featuring The Painters and Carla Sagan, both local bands. Supermoon Lunar Eclipse spans just 7 tracks, so each will be detailed below for your listening pleasure. NB: Tracks by The Painters will be labeled (TP), and those by Carla Sagan will be labeled (CS). Bonne écoute!

The Painters embody a gentle folk band infused with a heavy dose of psychedelia; acoustic guitars ground the swirls of synth and lend a nice contrast to lead singer Alex Bourque’s vocals, which scratch along the tracks delivering raw, honest lyrics. Carla Sagan (yes, they seem to embody the female soul of renowned astroscientist Carl Sagan) is the ultimate funky rock-pop group who consistently produce an experimental and authentic sound.

1. Supermoon Lunar Eclipse (TP): jangling chords introduce the instrumental title track, and continue to mingle with the snarling electric guitars that rip along until the track fades out without much fanfare. The track is a good introduction to a unique split-tape that highlights a lot of what local Montreal bands have to offer.

2. Growing Pains (TP): In a personification of the title, this track features a drum line that is hesitant and faltering when keeping time with the acoustic guitars; however, the integration of electric guitar provides a warmer, more rounded coloring by the second stanza. The instrumental imagery evokes the defiant growth of a crocus in early spring.

3. Finish Line (TP): Bourque’s voice calls from a distance here before synth fades in, washing the track in a celestial glow; the effect provides a counterbalance for the low, grounded guitar work. The simple repeating vocal melody tethers the shifting instrumentals, pulling the track together as the different elements create an intricate three-part harmony.

4. When The Fog Lifts (TP): This track is easily The Painters’ tour de force, featuring simple, melodic vocals and beautifully abundant instrumentals. Bourque’s lyrics shine through here, and small, expertly-timed crescendos and decrescendos evoke the rolling ocean. A liquid electric guitar provides an overarching harmony to the vocals, and the two intertwine in an intricate duet over the constant thrumming background of guitars, synth, and drums.

5. Permanent (CS):  A duet of singing and spoken-word provides an air of candidness to this short track, while blunt, staccato drums and what sounds like a harpsichord add a playful aspect. The electric guitar solo in the last minute of the track is not to be underestimated.

6. Make Believer (CS): The track opens with a low, simmering burn accompanied by a recitation from Ellen Belshaw before drums and guitar kick in. “Hello’s” and little keyboard ditties play sporadically in the background before the track rights itself. Concrete melodies from the keyboard, guitar, and vocals begin to form before the track collapses again, with noise experimentation acting as punctuation.

7. White Noise (CS): Supermoon Lunar Eclipse ends with a brilliant track from Carla Sagan that highlights the push-pull relationship between instruments. A sharp beat is provided from a drum kit, acting as a foil for the flowing guitar and and synth. The track is a paradise of sound; soft duets intermingle with different musical effects, creating an air of experimentation and unbounded musical energy. Various phone recordings accompany a wild guitar and synth combination; the vocals slowly become more desperate as the track disintegrates into a wall of noise. The track never quite reaches a conclusion, but the build-up itself is intense and highly affirming.

Album released: March 21, 2017

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam 

 

Album Review: Century Palm – Meet You


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Toronto band Century Palm have just released their first LP Meet You, a nostalgic album that mixes garage punk with new wave influences. Simple yet catchy guitar riffs and fast paced, upbeat drum rhythms give the album a grungy feel, as if its sound was literally emerging from someone’s garage. These retro styles make Meet You a fun album, though not always an especially unique or distinct one.

Andrew Payne and Paul Lawton’s vocals are vital to the album’s sombre ambiance. The gloomy vocals, which sometimes veer closer to speaking than singing, are hypnotizing. In “Sick of It” the vocals even takes on a Lou Reed quality. Their deep morose voices combined with melancholic synths lend a distinctly new wave feel to the material. One of the most engaging parts of Meet You is the way those darker synths and the lighter guitar play off of each other. “King of John St.,” for example, begins with a high-pitched guitar riff that gives the song a playful quality while the lower synth provides the song’s depth. Halfway through, the synth and guitar switch roles, with the synth playing the high riff before ending on more sonorous sounds. This back-and-forth gestures towards one of the album’s recurring themes: something darker is always lingering below the surface.

While these individual songs are catchy, the album as a whole starts to feel somewhat repetitive. The upbeat guitar – one of the most enjoyable features in this album – tends to get a bit lost within the steady tempo and drum patterns. A saxophone in “Sick of It” is a welcome addition to the band’s instrumentation; the rest of the album could have benefitted from more of the sonic diversity it brings.

Almost hidden in the musical arrangements are the emotionally vulnerable lyrics. The album begins with a dark, horrifying description of anxiety and depression in “Reset Reaction,” a study that continues throughout the entire album. Of course, no such exploration by a Canadian band would be complete without a description of seasonal depression like the one found in the first verse of “King of John Street.” The use of the second person perspective throughout the lyrics makes it seem like the vocalist is addressing and questioning himself, a process similarly referenced by the album’s title. Payne explores the battle between who you think you are and who you might be, what you are and what you want to be, and what you feel yourself to be and how you present yourself on the outside. This duality of self is best displayed in “King of John Street,” where Payne sings, “Spending all my days in the east side / forgetting who I was on the other side / the Queen connects us, but I divide / don’t think I don’t think about it.” These geographic metaphors avoid heavy-handedness because of the nonchalant way in which Payne delivers them.

Meet You is an album steeped in interesting combinations: the driving garage punk rhythms mixed with the deep new wave synths and vocals, upbeat riffs paired with vulnerable lyrics. Though the garage punk and new wave influences help make for an engaging blend of styles, it’s not always enough; without much experimentation in tempo and instrumentation, Meet You at times feels a bit too safe.  

– Review by Ella Chatfield-Stiehler

Album Review: Bo Welland – S/T

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March 13th marked the release of Montreal/Kingston/Toronto band Bo Welland’s self-titled debut. Up to this point, the band has been touring around Ontario and Quebec, playing loud shows for enthusiastic, rowdy audiences. In doing so, they’ve definitely accumulated a loyal fanbase within local student populations. This five song EP is a slacker rock romp that definitely showcases what’s to love about the group.

I think the vibe of Bo Welland is best summed up in a video the band made to accompany the EP’s first single, “Rampage,” cut together from a variety of clips from the band’s January tour. One thing is easy to see: these four dudes are making fun music and having fun doing it. Drummer Alex Spears had similar things to say about the EP: “The vibe is goofy and fun. Something we pride ourselves on is not taking ourselves too seriously.”

The album has some strong similarities to The Fratellis and the Kooks, bands we all listened to many moons ago, with the same dance-worthy high energy post-punk vibes. Two songs specifically, “Honesty in Ecstasy” and “You’ve Got it Goin’ On,” follow in this tradition, right down to the party-boy lyrics. For me, the standout song on the album is “Wind in Greece.” Right off the bat, the guitar lays down a clean riff that solidly anchors the song. Another nice touch on this track is the addition of piano, filling out the lower end of the sound. The composition on “Wind in Greece” is amongst the strongest on the EP, and the driving drum beat that starts off the song kept me bobbing my head ‘til the end.

“Rampage” does a good job of capturing the rip-roaring spirit of the band’s live performances. For a debut release, it definitely stays very true to the band’s sound and lays the foundation for bigger and better things to come. When asked what’s next for the band, Spears says the plan is to release another set of recordings and keep refining their high-energy live show. The fact that band members live in different cities means that it takes longer to work on new material, but given the strength of their debut recordings, it seems like a very feasible plan. For those living in the Toronto/Montreal/Kingston area, these upcoming gigs will be something you won’t want to miss out on.

– Review by Nora Duffy