Tag Archives: Boston


Album Review: There’s A Better Something – Emmett McCleary

17834083_1683230611687423_6525160691465892576_oEmmett McCleary is of the opinion that it’s much easier to write a sad song than a happy one, though you might not catch it right away in his intricate, snappy tracks. The Newton native, finishing his university career here at McGill University, self-released his debut LP There’s A Better Something last month, just in time for Montreal to wake up from its eight-month long winter hibernation. The ten-track release, only 30 minutes in length, is a gentle breath of fresh air, and celebrates the return of the summery, sun-soaked 60s and 70s.

McCleary more than proves his worth as a burgeoning professional musician, mixing the retro musical themes of his youth with the jangle pop overtaking Montreal’s Mile End. While he draws heavily from influences like Joni Mitchell, the Beach Boys, and Elliott Smith, McCleary adds a personal touch to his music; in particular, There’s A Better Something addresses depression and trying to find new ways to stay positive while navigating through school, love, and the dreaded Montreal winters (despite being a born-and-bred East Coast boy, he is adamant about moving to warmer climes after graduation).

There’s A Better Something, McCleary’s first full-length album since changing his moniker from his high school project Easter, demonstrates a successful shift from a DIY-attitude to one of collaboration. Thanks to his father’s experience in the recording business, the album boasts a crisp, full-bodied production quality; a step up from the more homey sound of Easter’s discography. Additionally, the shift allowed McCleary to lean on the creative resources of Boston and Montreal’s fine music communities, rather than playing all the instruments himself. As a result, the instrumentals are more adventurous, tinkering with pedal steel guitar and experimenting with some different genres.

The album opens with the the sweet, breezy “Candy,” an airy track that is anchored by the subtle theme of social anxiety present in the lyrics. The female background vocals, provided by childhood friends of McCleary, add another layer to a fairly straightforward track. “She’s Coming Home” provides a subtle electronic introduction before launching into a gorgeous ballad; this track is easily McCleary’s boldest piece of work, both musically and vocally. He momentarily leaves his breathy falsetto behind, adopting instead a gruffness that serves him very well.

“Bright and Blue” moves like a country slow dance in the early morning, wistful and intimate. The echo and pleading chorus serve as a window into McCleary’s darker heart.  “Twine and Straw” shows his edgier side, guitars smoldering underneath almost-shouted lyrics. Discordant melodies sprinkled here and there provide a nice contrast to the otherwise pleasant musical atmosphere on the rest of the album. There’s A Better Something ends with the title track, a short acoustic number that brings home the sweet melancholy that McCleary does so well.

In fact, the entire album is a smooth navigation between raw emotions and catchy hooks. McCleary is wholesome, but never disingenuous. He advertises “earnest music for earnest people,” and what you hear is what you get: retro pop for the tender heart.

Album released: May 12, 2017

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam 

**WICKED LOCAL** Album Review: Revolutionaries – You Won’t

Revolutionaries starts off with a 30-second scratch of a track before leading into You Won’t’s signature twitchy, uncut sound; an underscoring, one could say, of the theme of the duo’s sophomore LP. The “false start” couldn’t be anything but a knowing nudge-and-wink from Josh Arnoudse and Raky Sastri, who took their sweet time creating and shaping this album over a two-and-a-half year period. Their debut release, Skeptic Goodbye, came out in 2012, and was a galloping romp through rough-cut and absurdist themes that proved the duo to be a homegrown delight. While Arnoudse and Sastri have been playing together for over a decade, it has only been in recent years that they decided to focus their respective talents and channel it into You Won’t. 

Arnoudse provides the vocals for You Won’t, and his voice alone contributes to the helter-skelter, homespun vibe of the band; it’s at times a mix between Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel and Wesley Schultz of The Lumineers. Sastri is, on his own, a high-functioning one-man band, covering a great number of diverse instruments (the electric bagpipe?!) with dexterity. He also contributes the background harmonies on certain tracks.

As sophomore albums go, this one doesn’t experience any kind of slump. The duo has managed to maintain their raw sound while also exploring darker, more interesting themes in Revolutionaries. The 15-track opus addresses the winding and bumpy road that leads into adulthood, rife with detours and hiccups and shifting ideas about the world; these heady matters are reflected in the maturation and exploration of the instrumentals. The featuring of electric bagpipe on certain tracks harkens back to the original “revolutionaries”, who fought during the Revolutionary War in the duo’s hometown of Lexington, Massachusetts. 

Revolutionaries opens with “Untitled 2,” despite there being an “Untitled 1″ later in the album. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt and calling this a cheeky move on You Won’t’s part to reinforce the theme of organized chaos and awkward growing pains. “The Fuzz” dips into a 60’s rock vibe, spiked with Arnoudse’s unique lyrics. The track explodes halfway through into a miniature rock show, with galloping guitar riffs and crashing drums, before collapsing in on itself. “Invocation” begins with ethereal pipes, portraying a mechanical birdsong; this is then overlaid with tempestuous guitar strumming and Arnoudse’s floating vocals.

“Jesus Sings” is one of the more produced songs on the album, a full-bodied track replete with acoustic guitar harmonies and a strong drum line background. The lyrics are, as usual, quite interesting to listen to, and the electric bagpipe is again featured along with Sastri’s background accompanying vocals. The instrumentals cut out at the climax to highlight the acoustic guitar and vocals before being gradually added back in until the track swells with an organized cacophony of bagpipes, drums, and guitar. “Untitled 1″ follows seamlessly, carrying the lingering bagpipe and expanding the solo with crackling feedback and swirling chimes; the music creates a whirlpool effect, with random instruments being hit or clanged in the background.

“Douchey” is a rollicking song with plenty of drums and acoustic guitar, with electric guitar and what sounds like a cowbell added in after a short introduction. This track features interesting and somewhat autobiographical lyrics following the theme of personal growth and the winding road of maturation. Revolutionaries ends with the title track, starting with that mechanical birdsong before an accordion-esque instrument fades in with the lyrics. Arnoudse hammers home the overarching theme of the album by addressing suicide, recovering from hardships, and taking little pleasures from life despite the bumps along the way. The reduced background instrumentals lend a more somber, pensive tone to this final track.

Throughout Revolutionaries, You Won’t has captured all the insecurities that accompany a rise to moderate-level fame and the fallout after finishing a debut album, channeling them into a messy, driven, barely-held-together sound that expertly reflects the atmosphere of uncertainty and unabashed determination. They still play like they have nothing to lose, which is both an admirable and endearing quality, portraying the duo as a scrappy band of brigands just looking to spread the cheer of some rocking music and have a good time while doing it. 

Album released: April 29, 2016

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam 


**WICKED LOCAL** Concert Review: Lake Street Dive @ Thompson Point


Though it was expected to be chilly on the evening of the concert just outside of Portland, the mist accompanied by a brisk wind off the water made for a pretty miserable wait on the expansive outdoor pavilion of Thompson Point. However, that did not deter the many fans of Lake Street Dive, a folk/rock/jazz/soul quartet hailing from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, MA. We didn’t have too long to shiver in the elements before the night warmed up with The Ballroom Thieves, a gritty folk trio also from the Boston area, who showcased both their luscious three-part harmonies and raw, foot-thumping intensity. Ultimately they provided not only an excellent opening set for the main event, but lent an atmosphere of seeing two smaller concerts for one ticket.

After they wiped down their instruments and exited the stage to a growing level of cheers, we once again waited in the rain and tried to keep ourselves warm by huddling together. A carpet was placed on the stage to prevent slipping, and thermoses of tea were brought out in place of the usual beer or water. At long last, Lake Street Dive walked onstage to raucous cheering, with lead singer Rachael Price flouncing in at the rear, her signature golden curls providing some much-needed sunshine. They launched straight into “I Don’t Care About You,” a callous, upbeat power-ballad from their 2016 release, Side Pony. Price was a firecracker at the front of the stage, bobbing and dancing and swaying as she belted out the lyrics into the microphone. The background vocals, provided by Mike Olson (trumpet, guitar), Bridget Kearney (upright bass), and Mike Calabrese (drums), were weak at the start, most likely due to the malfunctioning equipment in the damp environment.


“Call Off Your Dogs” came next, which found Price stepping away from the mic during musical interludes to dance along to Olson’s guitar solos. Before launching into the title song “Side Pony,” she commented on the weather, complimenting the crowd for their exuberance. A life-size blow-up pony was “galloped” onto stage by a roadie, to wild cheers and whistles, before hastily being removed after it narrowly missed crashing into Olson. “Clear A Space” was performed next, a track off their 2012 EP Fun Machine. Price led a call-and-response for the chorus, and Olson traded his turquoise guitar for a trumpet, which he continued to play for “Mistakes;” a fabulous pairing with Price’s sultry alto.

“Hell Yeah” and “Spectacular Failure” were performed in quick succession, with varied introductions; the former was another strong call-and-response exercise, but the latter started off shakily before finding ground and soaring from there. Price took a moment before “Saving All My Sinning” to tell a personal anecdote about saving a chocolate bar in her freezer, breaking into self-conscious laughter at the absurdity of her childhood habits. The harmonies showcased in this and in “How Good It Feels” were especially strong, another example of how Lake Street Dive is able to combine separate talents and utilize them in a group setting.


Each member of Lake Street Dive brought a different personality to the table for the concert, a hint at the benefits of having four equally talented musicians working in tandem. Price was radiant and full of life as the lead singer, a true starlet in her own right. Kearney was her female foil, brunette to the blonde, quieter but providing the backbone to many a song on the bass in addition to having significant writing credits. Calabrese was full of quirky facial expressions and, to our surprise, drummed without shoes on even in the inclement weather. Olson was probably the least expressive, dutifully playing guitar and trumpet with finesse, though after his brush with the rogue pony I can’t blame him for being a little subdued.

Price announced a shift to cover songs in the performance, something the band frequently does. In an homage to overcoming recent gay marriage rights hurdles and the ongoing struggle for transgender rights, Lake Street Dive kicked off with The Kinks’ “Lola,” an apparent favorite of the crowd. For me, it signified a very good ending, as I had to leave soon after. Though I was unable to stay through the end of the concert, I left feeling more than satiated with good music and Price’s infectious energy. Exiting Thompson Point, I couldn’t help feeling grateful that even if for an hour or two, the damp gloom of the day had been lifted by some good ol’ live music.

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam 


**WICKED LOCAL** Super Special Summer Segment



The time has come at last, peeps. Over the next few months, I will be reviewing ~wicked local~ artists and concerts from Boston, MA and the surrounding area to give Montrealers (and the awesome people who follow this blog) a taste of the music scene down the coast. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for some pretty sweet reviews starting in the next few weeks.

Stay chill MTL (but not too chill, enjoy that warmer weather!!),