Category Archives: Reviews

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Album Review: Mountain Moves – Deerhoof

As the reigning avante-garde veterans with a career spanning 24 years, it’s not surprising that Deerhoof have taken it upon themselves to gift us with the most intelligent punk protest of 2017. Make no mistake, Mountain Moves is definitely a protest album, with most of the lyrics critiquing the outcome of the U.S. election in one way or another. But Deerhoof expertly rise above the labels cast upon most protest albums, choosing instead to outwit their enemies by crooning barbed insults set in poetry instead of screaming out a list of injustices (which, at this point, would take much longer than the 40-minute album allows).

Deerhoof have always incorporated a variety of different musical genres and styles into their thirteen previous studio albums, and on Mountain Moves it appears that they are ready to up the ante. Each track is slightly different than the rest, keeping the listener on their toes; the fifteen tracks speed by in no time at all, with originals broken up at pivotal moments by interesting covers. Mountain Moves also proves the old adage that strength lies in numbers, employing numerous collaborators such as Juana Molina, Xenia Rubinos, and Awkwafina. Deerhoof creates a colorful tapestry of sound, the diverse textures noticeable but working together to achieve a common goal.

As the opener for Mountain Moves, “Slow Motion Detonation” signifies a return to the stage for Deerhoof. It smolders and simmers, a slow burn of a track that proves to be an interesting tactical choice; but then again, Deerhoof has never had a penchant for the ordinary or expected. “I Will Spite Survive” is the pop punk album that we’ve been looking for since January 2017, a highly accessible track that features Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner. Her smoky mezzo-soprano blends very well with lead singer Satomi Matsuzaki’s reedier soprano as they alternate singing the chorus: “Sleep at night/If you can stay alive/Stay alive/If you can sleep at night.”

“Your Dystopic Creation Doesn’t Fear You” easily serves as the most musically diverse track, a powerhouse that showcases classic punk guitar riffs while Awkwafina spits fiery rhymes. At one point, there is an abrupt shift in mood before returning to sizzling pop melody; the track moves effortlessly between hip hop, punk, and dream pop, a stunning reflection of existential angst and confusion. “Ay That’s Me” digs deeper into this theme, with esoteric lyrics provided by drummer Greg Saunier and lush, atmospheric instrumentals. The track slowly builds to a crescendo before a fleeting burst of strings catalyzes its decomposition; mysterious and haunting from start to finish.

The title track, “Mountain Moves,” is a truly bizarre and experimental track; but again, is anyone surprised? Matsuzaki alternates between spoken-word English and Japanese lyrics, an interesting use of her vocal talents and a chance for her to sing in her native language. However, it is Matana Roberts who makes the track come alive with her spectacular trumpet skills. Deerhoof includes three cover tracks on Mountain Moves, all different and relevant in their own right. “Gracias a la Vida” (Vioeta Parra) provides a beautiful, haunting segue in the first third of the album, the sorbet to Mountain Moves’ multi-course meal. Matsuzaki adds her interpretation of the Staples Singers’ “Freedom March,” morphing it into a rockabilly protest anthem.

The album finishes with “Small Axe” (Bob Marley), putting the perfect finishing touch – voila! – on such a cleverly-masked protest album. Deerhoof chooses to take a completely different approach with this track, stripping the song of any instrumentals save a few piano chords. This newfound intimacy allows the listener to internalize the band’s final fighting words: “If you are the big tree/We are the small axe/Ready to cut you down/To cut you down.”

Album released: September 8, 2017

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam 

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Album Review: MAKANDA at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time – Pierre Kwenders

Pierre Kwenders may have broken the bank in terms of long titles, but for an album as expansive as MAKANDA at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time, it’s more than well-deserving. Kwenders (née José Louis Modabi) is of Congolese descent but moved with his family to Quebec at sixteen; he has since become a darling of the Montreal underground dance scene as co-creator of the clandestine dance collective, Moonshine. Fluent in French, English, Lingala, and Tshibula, Kwenders employs his vast linguistic and musical acumen to weave a contemporary “Pan-African sound.”

MAKANDA is Kwenders’ sophomore full-length release, and it strays from the more experimental electronic Le Dernier Empereur Bantou by leaning into the classic rumba of his homeland and incorporating the diverse music styles he grew up with: classic Québécois hip hop, Afropop, and influences from his days as a Congolese-Catholic choir boy. Additionally, Kwenders travelled across the continent to Seattle, pairing up with Shabazz Palaces’ Tendai Maraire and many others to perfect this all-inclusive album; collaborations on various tracks involve Kae Sun, Tanyaradzwa, Ishmael Butler (Ish aka Palaceer Lazaro), and Hussein Kalonji. 

The album centers around three universal themes. First and foremost is strength: “Makanda” is Tshibuli for strength, and here Kwenders is specifically paying tribute to the strength he has derived from the women in his life, notably his mother, aunt, and sister. The other two themes center around the all-powerful, encompassing feeling of love, and the ability to share it and celebrate life with love through music. MAKANDA breathes these universal themes to life with a vibrant energy that incorporates Afrocentric melodies, the hip hop of his youth, and the creative dance beats that are currently taking Montreal by storm; it is, quite literally, an album that spans the globe.

“Woods of Solitude” was purportedly the first track Kwenders and Malaire produced together for MAKANDA, and their combined creativity shines in this lush, complex track. Kwenders’ husky vocals ground the billowing instrumentals, and his use of syncopation amidst the swirl of brassy synth drum, guitar, and heavy bass helps to keep things from flying out of control. “La La Love” has a more contemporary pop sound, but still retains the rumba beat accompanied by a lilting, delicate guitar melody. Tanyaradzwa and Kae Sun are notable features.

“Makanda” brings a solemn musical theme to the surface with its complex tonal nature. The mbira lends a more haunting, foreboding sound this time around, and vocal contributions from Palazeer Lazaro and SassyBlack serve to strengthen the track. “Sexus Plexus Nexus” is a sensuous, layered romp of a track that harks back to disco and soul while maintaining that classic, syncopated rumba rhythm. The saxophone is featured here at the forefront of a colorful musical tapestry, aided by synth, guitar, and a relaxed dance beat. It is easily the most celebrated and celebratory track on the album.

When listening to MAKANDA at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time, it is impossible not to be transported out of whatever universe in which you currently reside (for me, it would be the sweltering heat wave in Montreal) and into an all-inclusive, worldwide dance party. Kwenders is sending out a call for everyone to get up and do exactly what the otherwise-inane “LIVE LAUGH LOVE” signs implore. It’s a call to stand up and dance in spite of the cloud of hopelessness that seems to have enveloped the world, and I am here for it. Would you like to dance with me?

Album released: September 8, 2017

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam 

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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

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

The welcoming sign to Rouyn-Noranda, birthplace of FME

CKUT @ FME 2017: Post-Fest Field Journal

This past weekend I made the 9-hour trek to represent CKUT at Festival de musique émergente en Abitibi-Témiscamingue (FME). I spent two nights in the pine-rimmed rural city of Rouyn-Noranda, hopping from venue to venue in an attempt to escape the unseasonal chill that descended on Quebec this Labour Day weekend. Despite the slightly disappointing “summer” weather, the festival-goers and locals alike came through on a collective promise to make the fifteenth FME a fête to remember.

While I was only able to experience half the festival – it ran from Thursday, August 31 to Sunday, August 3 – I was able to compile a comprehensive “field journal” of sorts for this truly unique festival experience. Hopefully, along with some visual aids, it will serve to successfully capture the essence of FME 2017. Bonne lecture! Continue reading

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Concert Review: Cult of Luna & Julie Christmas @ Corona Theatre

The cacophony in Montreal’s old Corona Theatre rose steadily this past Wednesday, as the crowd eagerly waited for Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas to take the stage. This was going to be my third time seeing Cult Of Luna, but the first with Christmas, who was added as a featured member for the band’s new album, Mariner. This Montreal show was the third in a series of just five North American tour dates for Cult of Luna, where, with Christmas’ help, they’ve been performing Mariner in its entirety.

The group took the stage in almost complete darkness. Four spotlights were aimed into the crowd and then instantly replaced with heavy backlights, shrouding all the members in darkness and leaving only their silhouettes visible. In all the Cult of Luna shows I’ve been to, I’ve never seen their faces – I wouldn’t be able to recognize them if I had to (but I’m sure they’re all beautiful; they are Swedish, after all).

They began with album-opener “A Greater Call,” starting off with steady post-rockish layers of keyboard, guitar, and drums, and then crescendoing alongside Johannes Persson’s unique growl. Julie Christmas responded to Persson with melodic lines that claimed “we are not conquerors/we float with the tide,” hypnotically repeating the phrases. Her ethereal voice was a welcome contrast to Persson’s, as was her eerie and magnificent presence on stage – Christmas pulled off pieces of her dress over the course of the set, twirling them as she howled before throwing them into the crowd. During “Chevron,” the heaviest song on the album, her demonic lyrics and entrancing headbanging captivated the crowd, Christmas’ hair becoming a rhythmic display against the backlit stage.

Christmas clearly established herself as a tough collaborator to match, but, as always, Cult of Luna did not disappoint. Their intense playing and visuals made the space-themed Mariner into a true journey. “The Wreck of S.S. Needle” best evoked the other-worldly subject matter, with its ominous keyboards and sinister lyrics, ending with Christmas’s enchanting request to “put me down, where I can see you run.” During album-closer “Cygnus,” strobe lights pulsed to the beat of the snare like a high powered camera flash, momentarily disrupting the crowd’s optical receptors; every time my vision returned to normal, it was just as quickly jolted by the next hit, leaving me completely spellbound. This part of the record was heavily influenced by the Star Gate sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey, an inspiration that certainly translated live: it felt like the whole theatre was crossing the outer-limits of the universe, about to finally progress into the darkness of the unknown cosmos and disappear, bringing the performance to a satisfying close.

The band exited the stage while Christmas stayed back, shaking hands with the whole front row, creating a connection with the audience that was very un-Cult Of Luna. Leaving the venue, I heard people express how mind-blown they were by the evening, particularly by Christmas’s incredible voice and immaculate stage performance. I had a hard time disagreeing. My only wish was that it had been even louder, but that might just be my ears fading from going to so many shows – a small price to pay for nights like this.

– review by Nadège Radioskid

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Album Review: Vivid – Daniel Arthur Trio

As the title of their debut full-length album would suggest, the music that flows from the Daniel Arthur Trio can only be described as vivid. Vibrant. Vivacious. I could go on. The fact of the matter is, it would be impossible to mistake these recent Schulich Music School graduates for sophomoric amateurs, not to mention their expanding resumé. In 2016, while still at McGill University, the trio performed at the internationally-renowned Montreal Jazz Festival, and this year have taken third place at the Conad Jazz Fest (Perugia) and a semifinalist title at the Bucharest International Jazz Competition.  Daniel Arthur, a pianist by trade and the trio’s “frontman,” was performing with the Seattle Opera while still in high school, and has played classical piano since the age of seven.

All arrangements on Vivid are of his own composition, and it’s clear from the get-go that he has an ear for the ebb and flow of the tracks. The album moves as a river might: at times still and quiet, at others roaring along, almost unhinged. Arthur’s piano may wander, but it is always brought back by Ethan Cohn’s steady bass and Eric Maillet’s clever drums. The trio members have all been formally trained as musicians, and it shines in their performances; everything is precise, even when the intricate harmonies present as hectic or loose.

The three instruments will expertly play games of tag and tug-of-war, yielding for solos and dramatic effect, but not once do they fall completely silent. When one instrument shines, the other two provide a support system to buoy it along. Their style evokes 20th century composers such as Stravinsky and Messiaen, as well as contemporary jazz musicians; a hint of Brubeck can be heard from time to time as well. 

Vivid begins with “Prelude,” a kind of amuse-bouche that does a good job of introducing the trio’s sound, letting them stretch their musical muscles. Arthur demonstrates his penchant for syncopation and time signature shifts early on in this short track, which features a hypnotic piano melody. On “DSFCA,” a frantic piano shoots out of the gate before the drums and bass kick in to send the track into a frenzy. Constantly shifting intervals, dynamics, and tempo keep the listener on their toes before the track cools down, the dynamics becoming subdued and steady rhythms taking hold.

Rolling chords introduce “Joy,” blossoming nicely with the addition of the bass being played with a bow, instead of Cohn’s usual plucking style. Maillet’s drums are added slowly, entering the flow of the rhythm seamlessly to provide a nice contrast with Cohn’s bass. Arthur’s piano then takes over, with the bass and drums now only acting as accents. While the melodies are rather repetitive, the differences in tempo and call-and-response pattern that emerges keep the track pleasant and the listener engaged. Arthur arranges the track to fall into dissonance before inserting a neat, circular resolution: the return of the initial piano melody, now a little more harried.

On “Mars Text,” bass and a higher piano melody take the spotlight, supplemented by drums and a faster piano melody, played at a lower register. The track has a bittersweet quality to it, with each instrument alternately fading in and out, each in its own world. As the track picks up, the melodies of piano, bass, and drum become intertwined, building on one another; this cyclical track is one of Arthur’s most involved compositions, and the trio perform it expertly.

The Daniel Arthur Trio also cover the greats on Vivid, paying homage to Shostakovich and Messiaen in additional tracks. While their overall performance style still has an air of youthful formality, the raw talent exhibited by these musicians cannot be denied, and this author can only hope they will continue to showcase their prowess as they carve a name for themselves in the jazz world.

Album released: July 7, 2017

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam 

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Album Review: Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds From Another Planet

“I want it all,” Michelle Zauner coos on “Diving Woman,” the opening track from her new album as Japanese Breakfast. The breathy vocals turn what could be a bold opening statement into a kind of aspirational mantra, something to reach toward.

Six and a half minutes long, “Diving Woman” is an enticing, meandering track that immediately differentiates Soft Sounds From Another Planet from Japanese Breakfast’s last release, 2016’s Psychopomp. That record was short, sweet, and immediate. Zauner put it together right after her mother passed away from cancer, and though most of its songs weren’t explicitly about her mother’s death, the album had a sense of working through fear and pain as they’re happening. That rawness was what made Psychopomp stand out, despite the fact that some of its two-minute tracks slid pleasantly in one ear and back out the other.

Soft Sounds, on the other hand, takes the time to brood, and is stronger for it. Zauner’s guitar is still at the forefront but now shares the spotlight with flitting synths and bells. Her vocals, meanwhile, are lighter than they’ve ever been, creating space for the songs to swell underneath. Soft Sounds is an indie rock album, but the tracks aren’t interested in catchy hooks so much as settling into a good groove and seeing where it goes. This isn’t a departure for Zauner, then, but an expansion.

Because of this calmer tone, Soft Sounds feels simultaneously in-depth and distant, the lyrics often expressing a sense of disconnection and isolation, as if sung by someone looking in on her life. In “Road Head,” Zauner recalls a failed relationship while remaining separate from it, her voice floating as she sings, “‘dream on, baby,’ were his last words to me” – a reference to an ex who told Zauner she wasn’t good enough for a career in music. The airy vocals and synths don’t create a sense of emptiness, but possibility, like the narrator is dreaming herself right past this shitty dude.

Continue reading

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Concert Review: Thurston Moore Group and Jessica Moss @ La Sala Rossa

On Tuesday, July 18 Montrealers lined up eagerly outside La Sala Rossa for the long awaited Thurston Moore Group and Jessica Moss show. For those who don’t know, Thurston Moore is a singer, songwriter and guitarist for Sonic Youth, one of the most influential rock bands of our time, thanks to their unconventional guitar tunings and experimental use of objects like screwdrivers and drum sticks to alter tone quality. The audience that night was full of Sonic Youth lovers who had come to see a living legend.

Starting the night off was Jessica Moss, a local violinist who also plays in Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra and Black Ox Orkestar. Moss played a single 25 minute piece which told the story of a refugee traveling from danger to safety, her presence majestic as she manipulated an array of pedals with her bare feet and hands. Stacks of echoing loops and distortion on her violin and voice created an intensely entrancing experience for the ears, while Moss’ melancholic repetitions of the words “entire populations” served as a stark and heart-wrenching reminder of the piece’s subject matter. As the layers and signal-bending folded and unfolded, I felt a sense of relief, like one may feel when they finally see land after a long time at sea. With one piece, Moss took the audience on a beautifully haunting sonic and emotional journey.

Thurston Moore Group took the stage next. Seeing Moore live for the first time was an experience I will never forget. I knew he had a unique way of playing guitar, but watching it in real time was breathtaking. Moore used his guitar fully, from the output jack to the bridge and all the way up to the headstock, gently and rhythmically tapping it with his fingers to further distort the timbre of the sound. He wasn’t the only living legend on stage that night, though – My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Googe was shredding and delivering heavy bass lines in sync with part-time Sonic Youth and current Sun Kil Moon drummer Steve Shelley.

The group played tracks off their new album Rock N Roll Consciousness, a record that very pleasantly sounds like something Sonic Youth could have released. Beyond his astonishing guitar-work, Moore was also as political as ever. On “Cease Fire,” a song off the new album, he denounced guns and empowered love to rule. While introducing the song, Moore revealed that he first played Sala Rossa years ago for an anti-Bush show. “Is there a difference between a corporate take-over and a political take-over?” he wondered aloud. “I don’t think so. Well, we’re here for a free love take-over.”

At the end of the show, the merch table was surrounded by a large mass of fans while Moore signed records. I was lucky enough to get my hands on one of the last albums and exchanged a few words with Moore about the rise of extremist right wing groups and the need for organized actions, offering him one of my ‘FCK NZS’ stickers. “Yeah I’ll take that!” he responded, “I’ve seen the t-shirts around!” I would be lying if I said I’m not hoping he puts it on one of his guitars. I left the venue that night sonically satisfied, feeling an after-buzz that stuck with me for several days – a free-love takeover, indeed.

– Review by Nadège Radioskid

Beep Test at Casa del Popolo.

Concert Review: Institute @ Casa del Popolo

The July 16 Institute show at Casa del Popolo was solid proof that punk rock is alive and well in our fair city. When I arrived that night, punk lovers from all over Montreal were pouring into the intimate venue, until the show sold out and the sweat started dripping. The excitement and energy of audience and musicians alike was palpable, a comforting sense of camaraderie in the air as friends reunited and encouraging words and hugs were exchanged.

Montreal’s Beep Test started the night off with a short set of synthy no-frills punk. They got the crowd warmed up for Faze, another local group who hit the ground running with their in-your-face-in-a-good-way moshpit pleasers. Faze’s vocalist had a seemingly endless supply of energy, making it hard to look away as he elegantly squatted across the stage, his eyes rolling to the back of his head after a body-shuddering growl. The guitarist’s riveting tweaking of effect pedal knobs only added to the raw beautiful chaos. Next in the line-up was Grosser, a group of Calgary emigrants and Montrealers who addressed local issues on tracks like “Bylaw Compliance” and “Condo Board.” The frontman’s enthusiasm was contagious as he busted out into the crowd, triggering a pulsating moshpit around him. Unfortunately, this was Grosser’s last show before the members move on to new projects.

The room was packed by the time Institute came on, and the Austin, Texas band did not disappoint. They played mostly tracks from their new album Subordination, songs that stick to the band’s anarcho-punk roots but add more depth, distortion and overdrive, making them hard to label as a particular genre and all the more interesting to see live. Institute’s musical skill, smart politically infused lyrics, memorable stage presence, and endearing modesty definitely made for one of the best live punk acts I have seen in years. I spoke with guitarist Arak Avakian after the show and, when asked what he would like to say to the world, he responded that “hard work does not equal hard rock.” After witnessing Institute’s hard work in person, I left the show with the reassuring sense that, despite the state of the world, things might be ok as long as bands like Institute are still filling venues and challenging the status quo.

– Review by Nadège Radioskid