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best fern

Album Review: Best Fern – Covers EP

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The work of the Montreal-based group Best Fern is not foreign to this blog — their self-titled EP, which was released around the end of the summer in 2016, stayed on CKUT’s charts throughout the fall and into the new year. The group is comprised of Montrealers Nick Schofield and Alexia Avina, the latter having also made waves with her solo releases this past spring. Best Fern’s latest offering is definitely an interesting move; the title of the new EP, Covers, aptly reflects the content of the record. When asked about the motivation behind releasing an EP made up entirely of covers, Avina said the duo “liked the idea of paying homage” to the work of some of their favourite artists, “while also imbuing the tunes with [their] own sonic style”.

First up on Covers is “Morning Side,” the group’s take on a 20-minute trance piece by British artist Four Tet. Best Fern’s version of the song is condensed to a more palatable four minutes, and does so without sacrificing complex vocal layering and sampling. “Morning Side” rides a strong, pulsating current, punctuated by ever-changing electronic sounds, showcasing Schofield’s creativity as the producer behind Best Fern.

The following track, “It Means I Love You,” features Avina’s strikingly clear voice as the main attraction. The instrumental aspects of the song are restrained, made up of mainly a driving drum track and simple synth bass line; however, this minimal structure allows Avina to showcase her versatile and expansive vocal abilities. In addition to carrying the main melody and lyrics of the song, she also incorporates soaring lines and more percussive elements, developing a tonal mosaic which leaves Best Fern’s stamp on the popular Jessy Lanza tune.

Schofield and Avina also add their signature softness to Panda Bear’s “Comfy in Nautica.” The more vocal-forward approach of Best Fern’s version serves to round out the sharp edges of the original, without losing the track’s meditative feel. Rich synth chords and a dynamic range of samples make every second of the song an new and interesting moment to lose oneself in. While acknowledging that most of Panda Bear’s music has had an impact on Best Fern’s sound, Avina says they chose to cover “Comfy in Nautica” because it spoke to their “ambient/drone influence as people and as a project.”

The EP finishes with my favourite track off Covers, “Bugs Don’t Buzz”, originally by Majical Cloudz. In form and melody, Best Fern’s take on the song stays fairly loyal to the original composition. Where the cover differs, however, is in the ethereal quality which permeates the duo’s work. Sparkling synth and layered vocal harmonies fill out an otherwise sparse arrangement, developing a day-dreaming feel that moves lazily towards a slow fade. The song’s smooth, uninterrupted flow make for a perfect drifting summer tune, and a gentle end to the EP.

A release comprised entirely of cover tunes is a bold move by any group; however, Covers demonstrates Best Fern’s ability to leave their stamp on some of the most popular hallmarks of modern electronic music. In this early summer release, Schofield and Avina transform four songs into works of their own. Schofield’s use of a vast range of electronic tones and sounds, and Avina’s soft, yet incredibly varied vocal tones create a dream-like set of songs that are the perfect accompaniment to the long, lazy summer days ahead.

– Review by Nora Duffy

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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

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CKUT TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE CHARTS::: February 7, 2017

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Hello friends,
I’m back in the office after a short trip back to Ottawa for Megaphono — it was real nice getting to catch up with the CHUO & Ottawa Explosion crews and meet some rad new folks. Saw Un Blonde, Lido Pimienta, She-Devils, H de Heutz, Best Fern (above), and more great acts that I am forgetting… I also caught Priests back home in Montreal last night, and it was well worth the frigid trek down to the Casa — would definitely recommend seeing them live if they roll through your town.
xo
joni

:::WHAT’S UP AT CKUT:::
Local sound aficionado Owen G. is taking over If You Got Ears for the month of February, and he promises to dig deep into the hidden corners of the internet to unearth the rarest of outsider sounds. In his own words:

hi friends. my name is owen and i am hosting this radio program. i will play the best music youtube vids with sub 2k views recordings of people yelling stuff not made by humans the remains of the old internet empire songs made specifically to wreck computers and all your favourite hits.

Intrigued? You should be. Dive into the rabbit hole every Wednesday in February,12-2pm EST or download the archives at ckut.ca.

:::CHARTS:::
ckut top 30 – february 7, 2017

1. sam shalabi & alan bishop – mother of all sinners: puppet on a string – unrock CC *
2. cop car bonfire – deep forest – self-released CC *
3. austra – future politics – domino CC
4. tasseomancy – do easy – hand drawn dracula CC
5. her harbour – winter’s ghost – e-tron records CC Continue reading

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Album Review: Best Fern EP – Best Fern

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The first thought that springs to mind when listening to the latest EP by Best Fern is how elegant the whole project makes you feel. Montréal based duo Alexia Avina and Nick Schofield string together spacious ambient production to create an inviting atmosphere that only exists within the realm of their EP. There are only five tracks on the entire project which creates a short but delightfully pleasant listen and suits the time of year where summer is slowly dwindling away into fall.

Soft synths start off the EP with the track “A Way” and establish’s the tone for the remainder of the dreamy project. Alexia’s approach to singing over the light production feels otherworldly and complement the style of dream pop that the two are crafting together. “Lay It On Me” continues to carry the narrative of the first song and brings a far more relaxing element than the previous track. It’s comforting and sedates the listener for the rest of the atmospheric environment that Alexia and Nick dive into.

The longest track on the EP standing at five minutes long, “Do U Love U” is incredibly tender and has synths working in parallel with Alexia’s beautiful voice. There are echoes in the background that form a concrete idea that you’re thrown into a different world completely while listening to the new EP. “R U Well” has synths that are layered on top one another but doesn’t clutter the sound, the effect makes the song more spacious with flutes that float their way throughout the duration of the track.

“I Will Try” finishes off the EP with a booming bass that isn’t over the top by any means, but instead feels like a grand finish for the project. Best Fern pull off a stellar debut with their self-titled EP. It’ll be interesting to see what directions the duo head in with future projects and  the sort of direction that they decide to head in.

You can pick up their latest EP from their bandcamp and follow them on facebook and soundcloud. They’ll be opening for Angel Olsen on Friday September 23rd at the Rialto Theatre and will have another show on Thursday October 6th at La Plante.

– Review by Michael Eidelson