Tag Archives: local artist

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 

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 

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 

 

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 

 

Artist Profile: Molly Drag

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I ventured up to Le Dépanneur Café in the Mile End a few weeks ago to chat with Molly Drag (née Michael Hansford) about his upcoming album, Whatever Reason. After settling down with our coffees, Hansford confided that he and his roommate, Aaron Powell (Fog Lake), actually live right around the corner from the café; it has been a long-term dream of his to eventually end up in this neighborhood, and he appeared very at home with the plants and locals populating the crowded joint.

Most of Whatever Reason was recorded in a basement studio in London, Ontario. Hansford moved to Montreal this summer with only a few close possessions, and conceded that at first, he felt quite isolated in his new home. The loneliness was compounded by the fact that he knew very few people, and would have to wake up in the early hours of the morning to get to his job at the time as a café cook. This solitude, though now only a memory, ended up inspiring one of the tracks on the new release; he has also begun to sprinkle Québecois into his latest songs to celebrate and acknowledge, in his words, “a culture that has been here for so long, and has fought to keep it.” 

Hansford has an exciting, frenetic energy about him at times, and it shows in his music. When he writes or records, it is done all at once; everything is done “on the record” without much forethought, and he will sit for hours in his apartment focused solely on his craft. On previous albums such as the sprawling Deeply Flawed release, Hansford acknowledges a lack of focus; every song is raw, intimate, and wandering.  Hansford praised the more focused energy of the Whatever Reason, describing the contrast between various tracks: “There’s a bit of anger on this record, but there’s also a lot of self-reflection.”

Whatever Reason is a very conceptual album, signaling “the end to a dark trilogy” of records that Molly Drag has produced so far. The contemplative attitude reflects an “addiction” to nostalgia, and the inevitable sense of separation that accompanies those feelings. He also described his inspiration for the album cover art: a painting he saw of a sick child surrounded by piles of things that they love, but that are just out of reach. Whatever Reason’s album cover depicts a young girl in a dark wood surrounded by rabbits, Hansford’s favorite animal.

For an important project such as this, Hansford said he was happy to have a solid, more permanent live lineup to support his vocals. Powell acts as his secondary guitarist, adding a professional aspect to their good personal relationship; in fact, all but one of the Molly Drag lineup also play in Fog Lake. The constancy and familiarity helps to make the live performances sound more like the recorded ones, a factor that Hansford holds in very high regard: “If people have been listening to your music and they go see you live expecting to hear what they love, and they don’t, you’re not doing your job properly. You’re there to entertain.” For Hansford, the most important issue at hand is the integrity of the project; he needs musicians who want the project to succeed as much as he does, instead of being there simply to play or just to support him.

After the official interview ended we lingered at Dépanneur a bit longer, chatting with ease about mutual friends and personal heroes – he regaled me with a story of his online conversations with local author Heather O’Neill – before Hansford looked sheepishly at his phone and said he had to duck out early; there apparently was no water in his apartment. We ushered ourselves out into the Mile End dusk and parted with handshakes and smiles before he hurried up Avenue du Parc, shoulders hunched against the wind and signature wool cap bobbing up and down: a true Montrealer out and about in his city.

Whatever Reason will be released April 21, 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

interview by Juliana Van Amsterdam 

 

Album Review: Phern – cool coma

a2678303782_10The brand-new release from Phern, a supergroup composed of underground darlings from the Montreal indie scene, proves once again that the city is a both a breeding ground and a blank canvas for creative ventures big and small. Phern, which consists of members from Moss Lime, Soft Cone, and Sheer Agony (to name a few), has quietly written and produced the tiny EP Pause Clope and a tightly spiraling LP cool coma within the 514 city limits. The group could be dismissed as another cute local band if not for the fact that its members have already weathered the city’s saturated music scene, and thus have been able to create an album that adeptly straddles a label of jangle-pop and experimentalism.

The sound is not unlike The Microphones or early Grizzly Bear at times, and influences of Sheer Agony’s Masterpiece are sprinkled here and there. Within cool coma there exist jangle-pop earworms such as “I Sold The House” and “Pebble,” and a couple Phil Evrum-esque tracks appear in “Flipper Twister” and “Hospital Garden.” The album is presented in the order in which the songs were written and recorded; an honest, casual, stripped-down approach to presenting music. No track on cool coma reaches past the three-minute mark, providing short bursts of tart rhythms and staccato, syncopated beats. Hélène Barbier’s soft drone provides an anchor for the loose drums and wandering, chaotic guitar and synth.

“I Sold The House,” the first track on Pause Clope, starts with the sound of jaunty snares and a liquid electric guitar. It’s a catchy number, and Barbiere’s vocals here are less abrasive here than on other tracks, providing a soft, catchy introduction to Phern. “Excavator,” the first track on cool coma, has a psychedelic element. With fuzzy vocals and slow, fluid layering, the entire track appears to be soaked in sepia. “Pebble” provides a nice walking track to the tune of jangly electric guitar and expert syncopation. Barbiere’s vocals provide a physical and lyrical dissonance to the instrumentals, which are quite reminiscent of Sheer Agony.

“Real Nice Chair” features a lovely bass guitar intro before the electric guitar interrupts without warning; Barbiere’s voice then slinks in and proceeds to hover just below the instrumentals for the remainder of the track. “Crosswalk Talk” features more bass guitar solos and a hypnotic chorus, which repeats “I would recommend that you don’t cross here.” It is at once robotic and evocative, with Barbiere’s high monotone serving as a warning sign.

cool coma simultaneously keeps you on your toes and lulls you into a sense of complacency. The instrumentals come in fits and starts, with heavy syncopation and time signature change, but the overarching sound is very similar throughout the album. There is a gentle abrasiveness to cool coma, with many tracks affecting an endearing subtle dissonance; Phern knows what they are doing, and they do it well. 

Album released: November 25, 2016 (Pause Clope was released October 14, 2016)

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam 

Album Review: Gesamtkunstwerk – Dead Obies

a0431750848_10“Gesamtkunstwerk” is a German compound noun that translates to “total work of art.” It is also the title of the latest release from local rap group Dead Obies, a wonderful Frankenstein of live tracks edited and enhanced in the studio. Gesamtkunstwerk is still a blend of hip hop, rap, and electronica, but the Dead Obies have shifted their focus from lyrics to production for this album, taking an almost exhibitionist approach to their craft. The process of creation is baldly displayed without compromising the integrity of the lyrics or production; what continues to set the Dead Obies apart from other Quebecois rap groups is their language choice, or rather a lack of one. Self-dubbed “Frenglish,” the members slip effortlessly between English and French with such speed and expertise that the two distinct languages blend into one poetic slurry.

Following the success of their 2013 release Montréal $ud, Dead Obies decided to make their next opus a gift to their loyal fanbase. Teaming up with music improv group Kalmunity, they played at the Phi Centre for three nights and sampled the live recordings, taking performances, the crowd’s applause, and individual audience interviews and mixing them in with recorded takes. This seamless patchwork of live and recorded takes was stitched together with surgical precision by the group-appointed producer, VNCE.

The album is intended to be heard as a whole work, and I would agree with this sentiment. Of course, there are a number of tracks that stand out among the fairly large list. Gesamtkunstwerk leads in with “GO 2 Get,” an explosive opener that serves as an immediate draw. Lamenting the everyday troubles in life to an undercurrent of cheering fans from one of the Phi Centre performances, the track provides an excellent introduction to the overall tone of the album. The six rappers who comprise Dead Obies take turns spitting out lyrics, effortlessly subbing in and out. “Waiting” is a celebration of concert life, lively trap music combining with a sensual bass beat. “Jelly” is more funky, with cooler synth laid over deep bass and remixed rhythmic vocals.

“Explosif” begins with a sample of distant fireworks, then continues with slow, smoldering instrumentals mixed in with varied odes to party and drug culture for an extensive eight minutes. The blend of French/English vocals is particularly noticeable in this track, adding to the mixed messages provided by individual members of the group. “Aweille!” is one of the singles released before the album, and is an aggressive dance track that includes a perfectly catchy chorus of “aweille” (a local phrase roughly equivalent to “come on!”), repeated and remixed. “Untitled” is a jazzy, smooth track that shows off the group’s more sensual side, and approaches something played on a late-night show for slow-wave funk. Towards the latter half of the track, the lyrics dissolve into a live recording, with the members taking turns talking in French to an instrumental vamp and a cheering crowd. “Outro,” the final track on Gesamtkunstwerk, is an instrumental electronic track that smoothly and quietly ties together Dead Obies’ “work of art,” ensuring the transformation from just another local rap album to something deserving of admiration and high praise; rap is just one form of artistic expression they utilize.

Gesamtkunstwerk ultimately serves as a big “thank you” to the Dead Obies’ fans; Phi Centre saw a big turnout for the fairly underground rap group, and allowed them to produce the album well. They gained, then lost, a Musicaction grant funding the production of the album; due to strict Quebec laws governing language, the group did not meet the 70% French lyric quota. However, even as they are continually rejected by mainstream media and their own province, Dead Obies still maintain a loyal (and growing!) fanbase and the quiet integrity of talented artists with a vision. They are dedicated to their craft and to creating the “total work of art” that they feel listeners deserve.

Album released: March 4, 2016

review by Juliana Van Amsterdam 

 

Album Review: Good Advice – Basia Bulat

Basia Bulat Good Advice_webSelf-reflection takes time as does a good self-reflecting album, and Basia Bulat knows this better than anyone. Her fourth studio album, Good Advice, was conceived nearly two years ago on a drive from Bulat’s native Toronto to Kentucky, and over time the slow, acoustic demos were transformed to peppy alt pop in Jim James’ (My Morning Jacket, Monsters of Folk) Louisville studio. The 10-track album is replete with dark, melancholy themes, cleverly disguised in danceable tempos and major keys: a break-up album you can boogie along to in the kitchen with a wooden spoon. Bulat’s soulful alto tones punch through keyboards and synth, offering not only “good advice,” as the album title suggests, but more an honest look at cause-and-effect of actions and relationships.

Good Advice starts off with the punchy “La La Lie,” four minutes of jangling vintage pop, and ends with the slow and lingering “Someday Soon,” accompanied with haunting vocals and shimmering synth. As the album progresses, the songs begin to slow down and adapt a more contemplative bearing. This process provides an underscore for the very human theme of heartbreak that runs through Good Advice; first, bright and loud anger is expressed, followed eventually by forlorn sense of longing and quiet acceptance.

While the album over all flows nicely between tracks, a few stand out as exceptionally noteworthy. “In The Name Of” is an upbeat ballad with a heavy drum base, tambourine accents, and a gospel-esque chorus providing background vocals. An electric guitar provides depth and body to the track, while Bulat belts out powerful lyrics. The titular track, “Good Advice,” starts out quietly, allowing the listener to focus on Bulat’s voice. An electric guitar riff and drums soon join in, layering one over the other with the addition of keyboard and vocal harmonies. The song itself is an embodiment of realization, the crescendo of instrumentals signaling the clearing of a clouded mind. “Garden” is a jumble of overlapping synth rhythms, again letting Bulat’s echoing vocals shine through. A saxophone sounds in the distance, providing a serene bridge between lyrics. The track is a beautiful and lush dénouement before “Someday Soon.”

Bulat attributes part of her inspiration for Good Advice to a particular July 4th night, where crude fireworks peppered an otherwise dark sky. Bright flashes of awareness amongst a dark swath of uncertainty is the tone that Bulat conveys in Good Advice, and her thoughts, frustrations, and emotions are almost tangible through the airwaves. Whether using as an emotional salve or a good dose of introspective pop, Good Advice does not fail to deliver.

Album released: February 12, 2016

-review by Juliana Van Amsterdam