Emmett 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
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
Good Times is the debut LP by local duo The GTs. With this album, Samantha Diamond (drums) and Paul Trudel (vocals and guitar) tactfully capture the apathy, uncertainty, and subdued angst of young-adult life via indie rock. This very well may be a projection of my current outlook on life rather than what the Montreal duo intended; however, each track on this album appeals to the quandaries of young adult life in some form or another.
Right off the bat, the opening track “Stoned” feeds into the album’s motif of uncertainty with the ever-so-relatable line, “I know everything, except when I don’t.” Trudel’s lyrics, accompanied by guitar and Diamond’s animated drumming, grasp both the inflated ego and self-doubt experienced by every young adult. Similarly, the upbeat track “Lonely” perpetuates a good-natured acceptance of simply not knowing what has happened to one’s life. The line “I’m way past twenty-one, wondering what I’ve done,” though partly comical, conveys the reasonable yet dispirited view one may have when looking back on the fleetingness of youth. What’s more, with “Charlie Kaufman,” The GTs concoct a wistful love song that perpetuates the well-known feeling of being adrift when lovestruck. This track’s soft and melancholic elements are augmented as Trudel’s voice channels the likes of Jeff Tweedy on Ashes of American Flags. Moreover, with “Monica,” The GTs produce a tune both delicate and sentimental. Though similar to “Charlie Kaufman,” this track’s maturity and minimalist structure are reminiscent of Yo La Tengo’s sound on And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. Furthermore, on “Mom Song,” Trudel sings to his mom the very blunt line “I hope you’re proud you made me.” In a simple way, this lyric underscores every child’s longing for parental approval, possibly stemming from feelings of insecurity, which fits very nicely with the album’s overall theme. Finally, The GTs conclude their debut album with “So Long.” Together, Trudel’s voice, echoing Thom Yorke on “High And Dry,” and the increasingly blurred instrumental, foment a sense of disorientation as the album slips away.
First and foremost, my interpretation of Good Times may misconstrue Diamond and Trudel’s intentions. Be that as it may, it just goes to show that Good Times, with its gentle strain of indie rock, is both engaging and (for some) able to elicit a strong emotional reflection. Therefore, if in search for an accessible yet nuanced blend of indie rock, then The GTs’ Good Times will prove to be an enjoyable listen.
– Review by Soraya Mamiche Afara
Final exams didn’t faze dedicated fans from attending a sold out show at L’Olympia from local electronic producer Kaytranada. Taking the stage at 11:20pm, the venue was packed to the brim with people eagerly anticipating the eccentric young artist to perform his latest mixes for everyone. Fellow local artists Planet Giza and Lou Phelps opened the show earlier on that night with their own sets to warm up the crowd. However, if you planned on catching just the main act then you would’ve had to bear waiting outside in line for over half an hour before stepping foot into the venue.
Once inside L’Olympia, security pushed their efforts in patting down every single person before letting anyone onto the dancefloor. The crowd was immense, nothing but a sea of bodies could be seen in every direction and by the time my friends and I made our way inside, Kaytranada had already took to the stage with performing his mixes.
We made our way up towards the front of the stage, the energy in the room was unparalleled to the show that Kaytranada performed back in May for the release of his debut LP 99.9%. By this time around people knew what to expect from the young producer, his debut album garnered widespread attention and has been making appearances on end of the year lists for the hottest albums of 2016.
He performed fan favorites from 99.9%. The tracks “Glowed Up” and “Lite Spots” had the audience going ballistic and vibing hard off of the hottest two singles on the album. During another point of the show “Cranes In The Sky” off of Solange’s latest record A Seat At The Table had people grooving hard to the funky remix that Kaytranada was able to provide on the track. The liveliness of the venue was constant, everyone in the building was able to lose themselves to Kaytranada’s crisp production that has become distinct to the artist’s production style.
After over an hour of material the show finally concluded around 12:35am, roars of excitement and cheer filled the venue of L’Olympia as Kaytranada thanked everyone for coming to the show. While it’s only been a couple of months since 99.9% dropped, the amount of playability that album holds is always refreshing when listening to his debut efforts. On a live stage all his songs translate exceptionally well to the dancefloor, which makes total sense. His music is meant to be danced to, meant to be played at parties, and most importantly is meant to showcase that Kaytranada is no one-trick pony when it comes to making music.
-review by Michael Eidelson
Disconnector is the fourth studio album by local band Sonic Avenues (comprised of Maxime Desharnais on guitar and vocals, Jamie Desjardins on bass, JC Niquet on drums, and Seb Godin on guitar). With this record, Sonic Avenues succeed in developing a tamer strain of punk-pop, ultimately resulting in a more mature sound than their previous efforts. Unlike its three predecessors, Disconnector’s novelty lies in its ability to fuse modern punk-pop with late ‘70s new wave.
Drawing from the band’s punk roots, hints of the Buzzcocks are interwoven throughout Disconnector’s patchwork. This is most evident in tracks “Future” and “Monotonic” where Desharnais’ voice channels the piercing vocals of both Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley. Moreover, the twangy instrumental in “Dancing in the Sun” emulates the shrill acidity of late ‘60s rock (think The Kinks’ “Till The End Of The Day”). However, it is in tracks “Burn Like Fire,” “Where No One Falls,” and “Defective” where the band plunges into the shimmering pool of ‘70s new wave and reveals the crux of their album’s experimentation. The opening riff in “Burn Like Fire” electrifies the listener with a melody reminiscent of The Strangler’s “No More Heroes.” In “Where No One Falls” the band interlaces its punk-pop style with a trifecta of Devo, Gary Numan, and The Cars. Moreover, Sonic Avenues’ “Defective,” with its in Devo-esque overtones (think “Gut Feeling/(Slap Your Mammy)”), is a fiery concoction of new wave with a tinge of punk that could effortlessly slip into the soundtrack of any given Wes Anderson film.
Owing to Sonic Avenues’ unprecedented decision to incorporate lighter new wave with its usual mix of punk-pop, the band’s fourth studio album lacks their previous angst and unruliness. Nonetheless, if you’re in search for an easy listen with lots of hooks and a dash of new wave nostalgia to complement your sunny Saturday afternoon, then give Disconnector a listen.
– Review by Soraya Mamiche Afara
North Country Psychic Girls is the first LP by local band Pang Attack (comprised of David Clark on bass and keys, Yann Geoffrey on drums, and Alex Hackett on guitar and vocals). The title’s ambiguity perpetuates a fuzziness that is befitting to the album’s overall sound. For roughly 35 minutes, the album spawns a dynamic dream sequence that captivates the listener despite its incongruity. Although bound by the common thread of shoegaze and psych-pop, each track distinguishes itself from the rest by placing the listener in a different setting. In other words, the band escorts the listener on a trip through a boundless mind (as pictured on the album’s cover) with each song acting as a different turn on the way.
The journey commences in “Monk Song” with a synth-based opening akin to 1960s spaceship noises. In seconds the semi-galactic beat transforms into a twangy tune laden with spaghetti western undertones. In a matter of minutes, we, the listeners, are swept up from wandering through a desert on horseback and reeled into “Stranger’s Song” where the trio, now accompanied by Erik Hove on sax and the Kate Maloney String Quartet, devise a sound reminiscent of The Smiths. Hackett’s voice, although not as whiny as Morrissey’s, harnesses a similar charisma which he maintains throughout the album. Soon another turn is made with “Frailty Revisited” where we’re drawn into a dimly lit room for a lovesick slow dance while cradled by an understated instrumental. Nonetheless, when this contemplative soirée comes to a close, we’re met by the haunting “Invaded Heart” bearing similarities in both sound and poetics to Billy Bragg and Wilco’s “Blood of the Lamb.” Then, with the summoning of trumpets, we’re consumed by the whimsical “North Country Psychic Girl.” In this dream pop gem, Hackett’s magnetic Moz-esque voice reveals nuances of that of Arctic Monkeys singer Alex Turner. With another sudden shift, Pang Attack plunge into “Mr. Mandible” where they foster a more recognizable blend of indie rock, channeling the likes of Kurt Vile and The War on Drugs. However, once the rendezvous with “Mr. Mandible” is complete, we’re beckoned by the melancholic “Hope Nights” to a lovelorn dive alike the one in “Frailty Revisited.” Here we’re entranced by a melody remindful of Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage.” Although most likely a far stretch, the Pink Floyd reference acts as a sort of prelude to the finishing track “Time and Dementia.” Enveloped by a fuzzy calm, we wake up from our trance and digest the hypnotic journey until we’re shown to the exit by dissonant synths and strings.
Clark, Geoffrey, and Hackett, with the help of numerous contributors, conceived an album both labyrinthine in design and nostalgic in sound. Due to the album’s complexity and variability, each track elicits a unique palette of emotions and conjures an entirely different spectrum of thoughts. Therefore, if one hankers a trip down the rabbit hole of sentimental bizarreness, then a listen to Pang Attack’s North Country Psychic Girls is recommended.
– Review by Soraya Mamiche Afara
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
If you haven’t heard of Montreal’s Hip Hop You Don’t Stop, you’re in for a treat this month. HHYDS is a powerful initiative that provides positive alternatives for at-risk and underprivileged youth in Côte-des-Neiges and NDG. The project allows people to participate in various activities such as dance, music, writing, and visual art, in the aims to help channel energies into constructive and creative purposes. The organizers of this project have been doing their magic since 2005, and now in 2016 they have agreed to host If You Got Ears for the month of September! You can expect a whole lot of great music, talks, and positive spirits. We’ll be bringing more information on the specific details of the show in the near future. But for now, trust us, it’s going to be amazing~~
Tune in to the Montreal Sessions, every Tuesday from 3-5pm EST
A clamour of high pitched bells ring throughout the club, conversations quiet down to whispers and heads turn to the stage lit up by a dazzling tubular ceiling display. A filter sweep brings the buzz to a close, and as the last echoes ring out the club is left in a tense state of anticipation…
Warm vibrations flood the dance floor, the trance is ruptured and screams of glee break out. “We were young and out of control,” sing the still young and yet to be out of control crowd, the opening words of Sophie’s melancholic and nostalgia-inducing Just Like We Never Said Goodbye. The song is played out in full. Originally serving to close out Sophie’s debut album Product, it left the listener aching to relive memories that were never allowed to materialize. Tonight, those memories are about to be made.
The crowd chant “SOPHIE” in adoration with a soft French intonation, their calls are answered and immediately they’re dropped into a Jersey club hype track. The clubbers are more than happy to settle into a skank, but before anyone gets comfortable the pressure builds and out of nowhere Trophy rips through the dance floor and turns Newspeak upside down. A hostile Charli XCX blasts through the speakers, she’s combative threatening; “bitch I’m here to fuck you up” and there’s nowhere to turn. The scenes are chaotic, while punters will have been familiar with the tune, no one could have fathomed its impact on the club. The dancing quickly becomes erratic as revellers attempt to keep up with the twists and turns of the track. People are crashing into each other, drinks are spilt, partners switched and bodies inevitably hit the floor. Sophie is detached from all this, so sternly focussed on his performance one could easily mistake his constraint for apathy.
When dealing with such abrasive and irregular electronica the mixing can take a hit: DJ’s tend to either echo-out and hope the cued intro picks up the slack or smash the tracks together, and in the mess of the noise fade one out. Sophie does neither, instead he molds one song into the next, crushing Trophy’s heavy basslines into the infamous screech of L.O.V.E. to the delight of everyone present. This transition and those that were to follow are well thought out, dutifully practiced and creatively executed. Consequently, the energy and intensity of the set hold firm through the night.
The stellar Vyzee marks the come up for the next climax, a cacophony of plastic sounds with insanely addictive lyrics enticing the crowd to “go crazy in the pop”. Those familiar with Sophie’s Boiler Room knew what was about to occur; hearing Lemonade at home is one thing, hearing it on the McDonalds advert is another, but experiencing it live is just something else. What’s quite extraordinary about this underground anthem is that it’s actually his second most successful song about a sugary drink (see: Hey QT). In fact seeing Sophie is a lot like drinking a cold Coke on a hot summer’s day: it tastes amazing, but before you know it you’ve only got one last good sip left. Luckily that last sip is always the best.
The final act is a dizzying cocktail of Sophie’s different stylistic approaches. The club is treated to a criminally unreleased remix of GFOTY’s Friday Night, a staple of his sets and a downright nasty display of electronic minimalism. Vroom Vroom soon follows and XCX takes the clubbers on another raucous joyride, everyone euphoric to have her back. The bubbly Nothing More to Say then fizzes into the room, and, eyes glazed and grins wide, the crowd is left relishing the sugar-laced melody as Sophie quietly slips out. They never did get to say goodbye.
Review by Vicente Orts