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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: Reptaliens – FM 2030

With the Montreal winter fast approaching, it’s not difficult to find oneself reminiscing about the long-ago September heatwave in addition to the ever-present summer nostalgia that hazes our memory. Who among us doesn’t wish they could perfectly articulate this? The newest album from Portland, Oregon band Reptaliens FM-2030 was released on October 5th and brings a dreamscape aesthetic that draws the listener into this seasonal fantasy with them.

The duo behind the band, husband and wife Cole and Bambi Browning, base their band’s sound in the surreal indie-pop psychedelia that is omnipresent throughout the album’s 35 minute span. As a concept album, FM-2030‘s central theme is concerned with love and obsession, as evident in lyrics such as “If you want to get high/find your love/get it right” from “If You Want” and “Back at his home/told her ‘they’re not alone’/and they gave all their love to the lord” from “Satan’s Song.” It should be noted that in order to experience the full effect, FM-2030 should be listened to in one sitting with no interruptions.

That being said, there are several stand out tracks on this album that deserve an honourable mention, including the vaguely sinister “666Bus,” mainly because of the blunt lyrics “Maybe I’ll get hit by a bus while I was dreamin’ of falling in love/Or maybe I’ll fall in love and die of a broken heart.” “Nunya” has a easygoing, catchy groove to its melody, which echoes in your mind long after the song is over.

As a fan of love-orientated cynicism, this album was a dream come true. The songs all sounded related but not similar enough for them to become boring or repetitive; rather, the tracks faded into each other perfectly with a balanced flow, drawn together cohesively by synths that set the mood for the whole record.

Those unfamiliar with this band’s prior work (especially their 2017 EP Prequel/Olive Boy) it may seem as though FM-2030 is simply be a conglomeration of similar, if not identical, bedroom pop tracks. When listening to the album, however, it becomes clear that there is a significant variance and complexity to each of the 11 songs. The heavy summer-in-suburbia atmosphere is an extended metaphor woven through the album brings much needed warmth to the rainy Montreal weather.

– Review by Madison Palmer

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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

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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: Rocket – (Sandy) Alex G

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(Sandy) Alex G is more a storyteller than an autobiographer. Philadelphia’s Alex Giannascoli has released his much-anticipated sixth full-length release, Rocket, and it is as murky and expansive as ever. A lo-fi prodigy, Giannascoli has taken this opportunity to stray from terra firma and embark on an exploratory foray into the “country et al.” genre. His incorporation of banjos, sleepy swing rhythms, and Molly Bermer’s wistful violin have brought him into a new territory entirely. Accordingly, he takes his time to explore, meandering from Americana (“Bobby”) to noise (“Brick”), auto-tuned grunge-pop (“Sportstar”) to the cocktail free-form jazz (“Guilty”).

In Giannascoli’s opinion, the more esoteric a lyric, the more powerful the song. He’s of the mindset that once lyrics are explained, they are stripped of power and meaning; in his eyes, it is better for the listener to develop their own individual interpretation of his music. In addition, Giannascoli cheekily refrains from admitting which tracks are autobiographical in interviews, though he has admitted that he is prone to write multiple character narratives (cf: “Bobby”) that span multiple albums.

To the untrained eye, Rocket may seem cobbled together, a hasty amalgamation of different genres. Below the surface, however, Giannascoli has subtly created a tryptic of genres: his foray into country, experimentation in grunge and noise, and development of a more rounded lo-fi sound. Rocket acts as a foggy window into his writing process, helping his fans to understand that often, the musician’s process involves the willingness to transcend traditional genre labels. On this album, Giannascoli delights in keeping listeners on their toes as he moves among a myriad of sounds and genres.

Rocket begins with a classic Americana track, “Poison Root.” Here Giannascoli incorporates the Sufjan effect, with muffled, nearly incoherent vocals over a pleasantly twangy banjo and quick-paced, layered instrumentals. A gorgeous crescendo signals a build in intensity, with the addition of a hurried violin, before the track ends abruptly. On “Country,” he cleverly masks dark lyrics with the use of a drum brush, smooth jazz instrumentals, and sing-song vocals.

“Brick” is a harsh contrast to the preceding tracks, providing an immediate sense of tension and urgency. Dissonant, competing guitars fight for melodic attention before the track explodes into heavy drums, distortion, and bass; Giannascoli’s droning shout fights to float over the melée. The track is violent, aggressive, and short, ending as abruptly as it begins, but is one of the most intriguing tracks on Rocket; if Giannascoli ever wanted to transition into noise rock, he has an in. In a delightful contrast, “Sportstar” begins with a wistful piano melody before heavily-produced guitars begin to fade in and out, with auto-tune providing an interesting contrast. When Giannascoli drops it, the lyrics are much more impactful: “I play how I wanna play, I say what I wanna say.” A subtle “Nikes” reference sends a wink towards Giannascoli’s involvement in Frank Ocean’s 2016 Blonde.

The titular track is the apex of the third theme of Rocket, and shines as the singular instrumental track on the album. A mix of Americana and lo-fi, the warm melodies of banjo and piano act as a bittersweet maypole. “Powerful Man” follows directly after, and signals a return to (Sandy) Alex G’s more classic sound. Giannascoli’s vocals enter at the forefront after an introduction of finger picking, but they are slowly and methodically overtaken by the building up of piano, violin, and drums until only the instrumentals remain; a signal that this carefully crafted story arc is coming to a close.

Album released: May 19, 2017

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam

 

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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 

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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 

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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 

 

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Album Review: Dragonchaser – Fog Lake

a0105283212_10As the ill-willed spirits of climate change deniers continue to punish us here in Montreal, I can think of nothing better to do than gaze out of a window at the snowy deluge from the comfort of my home, with Fog Lake’s Dragonchaser playing on loop in the background. Aaron Powell, the man behind the music, has been releasing albums of ambient angst for several years now, and has continued to develop his unique sound following a recent move to Montreal from his childhood home in Newfoundland. Dragonchaser is his fourth full-length release, following 2013’s well-received Victoria Park. 

Powell utilizes the DIY, low-fi approach to recording that has risen in popularity amongst “indie” bands, but unlike many other artists, Powell is not using this technique as a simple parlor trick. He began experimenting with ambient sampling as a teenager, and this homemade quality remains in his music today, even as he continues to develop his vocal acuity. Unlike previous albums, Dragonchaser features no completely instrumental tracks, but the atmosphere throughout the album remains laden with introspection and quiet solitude. Powell manages to create a lush, reverberating sound that permeates Dragonchaser; there is an echo effect that carries over from track to track, almost on loop. This style of production paints a vivid picture of being submerged underwater or driving past a familiar wood, with the trees blending into a congruous mass.

In all that he does, Powell delights in the intimacy of subtlety. His voice barely rises above a soft yell, and most lyrics are confessional whispers that are at times swallowed by the swelling instrumentals. His use of vocal and instrumental crescendos are rare enough that when they do occur, you are never quite prepared for the emotional wave that threatens to crash over your head. Powell creates an exquisitely delicate push-pull phenomenon between his vocals and the instrumentals; at one point, they are gently swaying to cradle his lyrics, and at another the faded, washed-out sound has disappeared in favor of blunt melodies.

Dragonchaser opens with the slow-burning “Novocaine,” a lovely, drifting track rife with haunting vocal harmonies and shifting, plodding guitars. “Rattlesnake” begins with a poignant, stripped electric guitar and Powell’s soft voice before drums crash onto the scene, accompanied by a change in his timbre. He now sings outright, unhindered by the steady layers of guitar and snare that swirl beneath him. “Breaking over Branches” enters with a muted, slightly out of tune piano backed by an acoustic guitar: music for a sepia-tinted world. When Powell’s voice cuts in, it is similarly muted, his words being swallowed almost as soon as he gets them out. There is a whimsical, nostalgic atmosphere resonating throughout the track, as if the listener were watching a home movie unfold, having been created solely from Powell’s lyrics.

“Strung Back Around” provides a nice contrast, provided by the bright, open strumming of an acoustic guitar. Powell’s voice is unimpeded and open, and the light echo of a piano melody provides a playful foil to the darker message behind the lyrics. “Roswell” is the most straightforward and tightly-produced track on Dragonchaser, and notes a departure from the loose, experimental style Powell usually embodies in his music. It adds a lighter folk energy to the album, with simple lyrics above a wistful but grounded guitar melody. “Spectrogram” signals the close of Dragonchaser, but Powell has cleverly made it into a kind of musical cliff-hanger. The track swirls with a restless, heady energy that leaves the listener on the edge of their seat, yearning for more. Hopefully, Powell is signaling to his listeners that his story is far from finished.

Album released: February 17, 2017

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam