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Glamour Nails

Album Review: Glamour Nails – s/t

Glamour Nails

The notion of texturally advanced improvised music is strong in Canada. Beginning with the likes of Jean Derome, Joane Hétu, and Le Quatuor de Jazz Libre du Québec, Quebec’s musiques actuelles movement forged an original sound out of the ideology of blues and swing, with a wide array of different sound effects and instrumental technics entering the mix. Today, improvising musicians of all ages continue to explore sonic landscapes in many different ways with texture guiding aesthetic choices. Although based outside of Quebec, the duo of Lina Allemano and Justin Haynes certainly pay respect to musique actuelles on their self-titled debut album. Billed as an off-the-cuff improvising session, the quick-hitting work thrives on drastic change with Haynes’ quirky sound choices backing the many faces of Allemano’s trumpet playing.

“Tawny Owl” kicks off the album with some relatively straightforward improvising. Haynes provides a circulating guitar groove with unique, scratchy effect, giving space for Allemano to introduce the project with sketches of melodic ideas. At less than one minute in length, the second song, “Tit Riot,” doesn’t define itself as one of the album’s standalone tracksk; however, the static drones that infect it set off a chain of tunes that delve into barren wastelands with harsh experiments keeping the listener on edge. The dramatic space of “Lente” is contrasted by brash dissonance of “Gel.” Both tracks also feature Allemano playing quick, punching notes on trumpet, adding to the unease. “nosex” continues the storm with breathy trumpet styling juxtaposed by screaming distortion over top of rambling electronic bass lines. On the second half of the record, Allemano’s fuzzy techniques complement Haynes’ percussive tin can interpretations before playful sketches end off the album on a rather unresolved note.

The album’s sound hinges somewhat on aesthetic change and contrast, but through Allemano’s melodic development and Haynes’ balance of soundscape structure and countermelody the duo avoids gimmicks and accomplishes a high level of musicality. Allemano is especially gifted at building upon minimalist ideas. On “Lente,” a fluttering breath technique becomes central to the track. Allemano branches out with quiet phrasing and various high notes, but the main idea continuously returns and gives the piece a sense of identity. Haynes constantly backs her up on prepared piano, first opening up the playing space with sparing drones, but slowly picking up the pace to match Allemano’s quick lines. The strength in communication also shines on “Stylus,” where the players find unity in matching textures. Allemano’s quasi-distortion trumpet technique sits quite nicely within Haynes’ eclectic percussive sounds and despite lacking a formal melodic delivery, the fuzzy overall sound follows a general progression of intensity.

The urgency at which the album passes by raises questions. Most improvised musicians have a tendency to favor sprawling pieces with seemingly endless supplies of space, but this album is much more condensed, resulting in positive and negative consequences. On one hand, the album follows an interesting sound progression and the quick-witted phrasing doesn’t linger for too long. The musicians also seem to try and take advantage of every moment of each track, more than they may have if they were intending on filling a longer period of time. Of course, the shortness of each track can squash developments. The album sits at a rather quite volume level and the two final tracks on the album last less than two minutes and seem to cut off a bit awkwardly. I would argue that the idea of fast developments is positive, but a bit more space may yield more resolution on their next effort.

Glamour Nails feels fresh. Their unique sound and approach to album making stand out in a densely populated musical idiom. Also, both players display a real talent for musical development and texture. Admittedly the ending is a bit abrupt and certain choices, although unique, feel unfinished, but the work leaves a lasting impression and showcases a lot of potential in the duo.

– Review by Donovan Burtan

 

Jason Sharp

Album Review: Jason Sharp – A Boat Upon Its Blood

Jason Sharp

A brooding sense of instability sets in from the outset of A Boat Upon Its Blood. Rattling percussive clicks emerge from the crevices with a warm glow of electronic drone filling the barren soundscape. Around the midpoint, the audience is granted an element of melody but the uneasy darkness remains ingrained in every developmental move. With each song, bass saxophone player Jason Sharp continues to disregard comfortable resolution, utilizing the captivating nature of dissonance to its full capacity. Sharp also displays a mastery of texture throughout the record. Just as the bass saxophone lurks in the background as a simple cog in the machine, elements of ambient, electronic, and acoustic musical practices all circulate throughout the project with no single element taking over the majority of the focus.

Bookended by two long-form pieces, the record dives into a slightly more dynamic pair of tracks in the middle. In doing so Sharp avoids formula, again feeding into the idea of instability. “A Blast at Best,” the second of these tracks, offers the most direct assault on the ears. Every moment in this track is filled with abrasive sounds: from fuzzy blasts of distortion to screeching saxophone and violin sounds, Sharp truly puts all his cards on the table. This is where track listing comes into play. From the beginning, the album breathes intensity; however, it also leaves room for growth by reserving the most chaotic elements until the second half of the album. Following this loud outgoing burst, Sharp returns to long-form ideology on “Still I Sit, With You Inside Me.” Violin grasps the spotlight for eight minutes of heart-wrenching melodic work before the second part of the piece moves into hopeful bliss and a final push into the anxious intensity so present throughout the project.

Similarly to the final piece, the first lengthy composition is split into different tracks. In both cases the musical ideas melt into each other quite cohesively; however, contrast remains a vital component. “A Boat Upon its Blood Part 1” sets the dramatic tone for the space that follows, but an immediate crunch of dissonance hits at the beginning of part two. In the final section, the dissonance settles for a moment before a tense rhythmic motive ensues. Because of the nature of drone music, it is fair to consider that listeners might not pick up on the fact that the first three tracks are meant to be under one umbrella with the fourth track sparking the beginning of a new idea, but behind these contrasting aspects of each track lies an element of connection. In “Part 3,” rhythmic activity emerges from the remnants of the dissonant drones of “Part 2.” Obviously this signifies a change, but it also provides a nod to the first portion of the piece and its rhythmic intensity. On top of that, as “Part 3” continues forward, drones of electronic dissonance make their way into the soundscape and succeed in bridging all three tracks into one space.

This idea of “cohesive yet dissonant/contrasting” can also be applied to the individual songs. Returning to “A Boat Upon its Blood Part 2,” the crunchy dissonance accomplished on this song is mostly enacted by the upper register. Played by acoustic string instruments, the raw droning notes juxtapose the clean electric tone of the bass part, adding even more shock factor to the dissonance. On the next track, “In The Construction of the Chest, There is a Heart,” a similar contrast occurs. Here, scratching rhythmic motives work alongside screeching electronic drones, making for another polarizing relationship.

What it comes down to is the balance of blending and clashing. Sharp has a wide-ranging field of sound at his fingertips and his longer pieces showcase his knack for long-standing development, but by varying track lengths, and approaches to rhythm and sound pallet, the album successfully surprises throughout.

– Review by Donovan Burtan

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Concert Review: POP Montreal Night 2

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For night two of Pop, I was drawn to the Mile End in an attempt to see John Cale and take full advantage of my Pop-Hopper pass for the late-night activity. In spending time at the heart of the festival, it was clear that Pop Montreal holds a certain command over the city. Where Osheaga establishes a capitalist regime at Parc Jean-Drapeau, Pop Montreal spreads its wings, sponsoring events at every venue imaginable, some of which even the most dedicated concertgoers have never heard of. Admittedly, night two was a bit more hit-or-miss than the first (a few too many Nirvana+Joy Division+Radiohead bands), but luckily I stuck it out all the way until the punk legends known as Fet.Nat took the stage at Club Lambi.

Here were my top three acts:

                                                                            John Cale
It’s nice to see that John Cale is still a weirdo. In a time when Axel Rose is allowed to continue his awful rehashings of the classic rock sounds of the 1970s, the 74-year-old punk grandfather refused to pander to anyone at Pop Montreal this Thursday. Throughout the set, Cale was accompanied by bizarre, ambient sounds and electronic beats that combined for hypnotic groove states and droning soundscapes. Perhaps Cale does still manage to fall into some of the old-timey rock star traps. His vocal styling has seen some better days and his drum machine sounds lack the cutting edge bite of more modern art rockers, but it’s clear that Cale won’t be starting a bland jazz standards act anytime soon.

                                                                              Vallens
Vallens touch upon some of the moods of gothic rock and metal with a bit of shoegazy guitar guiding each instrumental break. Their set was quite engrossing in the way each song droned on with repetitious riffs gaining more momentum into roaring climaxes. The noise never completely stopped, making for a lot of cohesion as each song melted into the next. It wouldn’t be entirely fair to categorize their sound as overly derivative; however, the band still needs to define themselves a bit more. Although the music enveloped me quite a bit for the concert, it could be easy for them to get lost in the mix with other alternative rock and metal bands. Nonetheless, Robyn Phillips has a clear knack for songwriting and the group has a lot of potential.

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                                                                              Fet.Nat
It seems only appropriate to bookend the night that John Cale kicked off with a younger band of misfit punks who are viciously different and extraordinarily creative. Fet.Nat is one of those groups where every member deserves some mention. The loose, collective playing style is somewhat guided by drummer Olivier Fairfield, whose minimal kit is made maximal by active percussive work. A chaotic backdrop is set by the sampling and guitar playing of Pierre-Luc Clément with sax player Lindsey Wellman and vocalist JFNo sharing the spotlight with their full throttle screams. Jumping on stage after midnight may have hurt the size of their crowd a bit, but the group did not seem to be bothered as each of their wacky grooves were gushing with anarchic energy.

– Review & photos by Donovan Burtan 

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Concert Review: POP Montreal @ the MAC

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Despite booking huge, internationally recognized artists and having the capability to appeal to those unfamiliar with the city, Pop Montreal reads more as the fall version of Suoni Per Il Popolo than anything else, holding the spirit of the city it inhabits above all else. The Plateau and Mile End are filled with a particular energy this week, with daily passes allowing for young folks to bounce around to various venues and enjoy a multitude of events in a very free spirited way. On my first night I was actually drawn downtown to the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal to experience three local projects with an ear for droning soundscapes. The ominous room set the perfect tone for the evening as concertgoers were met with high ceilings and black walls to complement the enveloping sets that took place over the course of the night.

This show really did wonders for me, here are my thoughts on each set:

                                                                      Automatisme
The throbbing drones that began William Jourdain’s performance never really left his sound pallet, resulting in a sort of industrial lens that encompassed each stylistic change throughout the set. By stretching songs on for periods of seven to ten minutes Jourdain certainly paid respect to the Constellation Records Ideology, but his ability to touch upon dance-able grooves amidst more abrasive material stood as a relatively unique quality. Blissful electronic melodies could occasionally be heard over the dramatic background with textural shifts evolving into moments of dense, wobbling beats. These songs may serve as an indicator of the direction of dance music in the future. Moments to encourage both head bobbing and critical thought filled the experience resulting in a capability to appeal to a wide audience without sacrificing musicality.

                                                                       Jessica Moss
Jessica Moss clearly understands the violin’s natural capability to produce heart-wrenching material, which was indicated by her set’s most climactic points. However, she also avoided riding this wave too heavily, contrasting her anxious moments of instability with gradual resolutions into silence. Playing a quick-hitting, 25-minute piece based on the “journey for all people to find peace,” Moss set an impressively lush tone considering her reliance on a relatively minimal set-up. Simple ideas grew into echoing soundscapes with manipulated violins filling every corner of the room. Raw, distorted melodies from vocals and violin, occasionally breached the surface of the backdrop resulting in moments of stunning transcendence.

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                                                                 Jerusalem in My Heart
Jerusalem in My Heart has a vision. Besides the ability to create massive musical moments with the juxtaposition of shimmering synthesizers and high intensity buzuq playing, the group adds to their aura with projection screens and stage magic. The theme of instability follows the music everywhere, each phrase dancing around resolution as nonspecific visuals float around lead singer Radwan Ghazi Moumneh adding to the hypnotic nature of the whole experience. More intense vocal moments were matched with stunning strobe lights, dancers emerging from the background only at the very end to cap off the constantly growing emotional weight. Perhaps a good summary of the set’s effect on the audience came in a moment of silence. After finishing a song towards the end, Moumneh took an extra minute or two to adjust for the next song. Unsure of what to expect next, every member of the crowd remained completely still, signifying the breath-taking nature of the performance they had just engaged in.

– Review & photos by Donovan Burtan