Tag Archives: Nora Duffy

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

school's out

School’s Out for GOOD

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Venus – Girl Divided
City Taster – Un Peu de Wat?
Simeon Wiley – Bright Lights
Adrian Hu – Switchblade
Fleece – On My Mind
Glenny – [Bracket]
Jaymes – Good Morning
Brother Joe – Le Sony’r Ra
Alexia Avina – Plans Fall Through
Carla Sagan – Make Believer

Thanks to everyone who has been following this project throughout the spring, and a special thank you to CKUT, Joni, and all the musicians who helped make this such a fun and fulfilling experience.

– Nora Duffy

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School’s Out: An Interview with Carla Sagan

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A few weeks back, I sent an email to Carla Sagan, a local band partially responsible for “Supermoon Lunar Eclipse,” the recent Egg Paper Label release that has been sitting at the top of CKUT’s weekly chart as of late. I had listened to the EP and loved what I heard, so I decided to follow up on a rumour about the members of Carla Sagan being students themselves. Lo and behold, this proved to be true. Last Sunday, I got the chance to interview the group across from their practice space in Mile-Ex. The four members of Carla Sagan and I chatted about the intersection of academia and musicianship, the success of “Supermoon,” and what the band has planned for the upcoming summer. Continue reading

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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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Album Review: Bo Welland – S/T

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March 13th marked the release of Montreal/Kingston/Toronto band Bo Welland’s self-titled debut. Up to this point, the band has been touring around Ontario and Quebec, playing loud shows for enthusiastic, rowdy audiences. In doing so, they’ve definitely accumulated a loyal fanbase within local student populations. This five song EP is a slacker rock romp that definitely showcases what’s to love about the group.

I think the vibe of Bo Welland is best summed up in a video the band made to accompany the EP’s first single, “Rampage,” cut together from a variety of clips from the band’s January tour. One thing is easy to see: these four dudes are making fun music and having fun doing it. Drummer Alex Spears had similar things to say about the EP: “The vibe is goofy and fun. Something we pride ourselves on is not taking ourselves too seriously.”

The album has some strong similarities to The Fratellis and the Kooks, bands we all listened to many moons ago, with the same dance-worthy high energy post-punk vibes. Two songs specifically, “Honesty in Ecstasy” and “You’ve Got it Goin’ On,” follow in this tradition, right down to the party-boy lyrics. For me, the standout song on the album is “Wind in Greece.” Right off the bat, the guitar lays down a clean riff that solidly anchors the song. Another nice touch on this track is the addition of piano, filling out the lower end of the sound. The composition on “Wind in Greece” is amongst the strongest on the EP, and the driving drum beat that starts off the song kept me bobbing my head ‘til the end.

“Rampage” does a good job of capturing the rip-roaring spirit of the band’s live performances. For a debut release, it definitely stays very true to the band’s sound and lays the foundation for bigger and better things to come. When asked what’s next for the band, Spears says the plan is to release another set of recordings and keep refining their high-energy live show. The fact that band members live in different cities means that it takes longer to work on new material, but given the strength of their debut recordings, it seems like a very feasible plan. For those living in the Toronto/Montreal/Kingston area, these upcoming gigs will be something you won’t want to miss out on.

– Review by Nora Duffy

School’s Out: An Interview with Rosie Long Decter

On the last Friday before McGill’s reading week, just as students were preparing to turn off their brains for a minute, I managed to sit down with Rosie Long Decter. As a vocalist and synth player in the popular band Bodywash, as well as the new music librarian at CKUT, Rosie has set the bar high for what it means to be a student in the Montreal music scene. Based on her fantastic resume, I knew Rosie would be able to provide some unique insight on the student scene in the city as well as some advice for those looking to get started as musicians in Montreal.

Nora: Ok, so – you’re in Bodywash, which is a really great band putting out some really amazing stuff. You guys started as a McGill band, is that true?

Rosie: Yes.

N: Could you give me your origin story? How did you guys get together as a band?

R: So, two of our members met through rez and living together: one of our guitarists and our old bassists. And they knew Chris, who is our guitarist and singer, through mutual friends, and the three of them started jamming together. Chris actually met out drummer, Austin, at a SSMU Musician’s Collective meet-and-greet. So that was a group on campus that was very useful for us. Most of us were in Gardiner [a McGill Residence], and Gardiner used to have once-a-month coffee houses. I was always a solo musician – I used to do a lot of singer-songwriter stuff and the guys saw me performing and asked if I wanted to jam.

I think for us, the context of us all being in Gardiner was super important because Gardiner used to have a music room that students could use. So that’s where we practiced all of first year, the Gardiner music room.

N: That’s sweet.

R: I mean, it was kind of a shithole, but you know, it was our shithole. Continue reading

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School’s Out: Alexia Avina

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When the topic of McGill student musicians comes up, it’s rare that the name Alexia Avina isn’t mentioned. As both a prolific solo musician and part of the dreamy electro duo, Best Fern, she is pretty much the pinnacle of what a writer like me could hope to find in the student scene.

Earlier this week, Avina posted a track called ‘Cups’ on her Soundcloud page. For fans of her work, this song hits all the bases of what makes Avina’s music special. The whispery vocals so characteristic of her work are especially noteworthy, not only in the sweet, sad lyrics but also in the layered, dreamy back-up vocals that saturate the track. Rich guitar melodies drift in and out, softly fading into a warm hum at the end of the song.

In her Facebook post about the song, Avina expressed her nervousness about releasing the song and asked for kindness from listeners. ‘Cups’ is a soothing track to drift away to, and I hope that the calming vibes the song conjured for me are given back to Alexia Avina in return.

– Nora Duffy

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School’s Out: Pottery @ Bar Le Ritz P.D.B.

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An excited hum filled Bar le Ritz PDB on Thursday night in anticipation of the first show from the newly-formed Montreal group, Pottery. I loitered with friends of the band around the stage, drinking beer and waiting to hear what Pottery was all about; with no music online and a week-old Facebook page, it was hard to know what to expect.

Around 10pm the quintet, two of whom are students, took the stage. Understandably for such a new project, there was equal nervousness and anticipation from the crowd as they launched into their set. The first tune started with a long vamped intro, slowly building on one chord until exploding into a soaring chorus. The whole room let out a deep breath – the band sounded tight and confident, and all the tension melted away as Pottery plowed through the rest of their set.

The songs were mostly upbeat rock numbers with some interesting influences of boudoir jazz, new wave, and a little country, resulting in a remarkably balanced sound overall. The rhythm section stayed steady and driving while the guitarists traded riffs back and forth over droning, rich synth chords. Austin, Pottery’s frontman, kept the stage banter minimal with the occasional brief song introduction and a few “thank yous” throughout the set. His stage presence, though, was a force to be reckoned with: his energy during the performance was contagious and his vocals, punctuated by some excited shouts and fun lyrics (something about Hank Williams doing speed?), had a similar effect. After half a dozen songs, the set finished off with a fast rock & roll number showcasing a sample of the riff, if I’m not mistaken, from Gary Numan’s “Cars.” Sick.

Short but sweet, the first show by Pottery was a great debut and an impressive start for a group that’s going places. Someone in the crowd told me they got asked to play another show right after their set, and given the strength of their debut performance it comes as little surprise. They’ve got a few more shows this spring that I highly recommend everyone check out, especially if you’ve got a taste for local bands on the rise.

– Review and photo by Nora Duffy

 

thesadbirthdays

CKUT Presents: School’s Out!

The winter months in Montreal can be rough, especially in the era of climate change when the rapid fluctuations in temperature can seem almost worse than just a normal, unrelenting deep freeze. This year, I decided my course of action against the elements would be to take refuge in the amazingly diverse music scene that exists within the city. In particular, I wanted to focus on how students like me contribute to the music culture of Montreal. Who are they? What kind of stuff are they playing? Over the next few months, the School’s Out series is going to try to answer these questions and shed light on the talented students who are making waves in the city and beyond.

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Released this past January, Space Race is the first LP from Montreal’s own The Sad Birthdays, a band made up of four guys who happen to be students. It’s a whole lot of good ol’ rock and roll, but also draws on influences so varied that it hard to pin down exactly what’s going on in a few adjectives. The low, droning vocals on some songs are definitely reminiscent of early ‘90s grunge, but the addition of melodic guitar riffs and steady four-on-the-floor drums sound more like something out of ‘70s classic rock. The band takes a stab at pinning their genre down on their Facebook page, describing themselves as “a grungy psychedelic baroque pop band,” which I’d say is a pretty good summary. What is clear is that these guys are coming up with stuff that is distinct and new but also irresistibly fun.

Some of the magic of Space Race comes from its unpredictability. At first listen, the classic catchy guitar riffs and steady driving rhythm section sets the listener up for a run-of-the-mill-four-guys-in-a-rock-band trope. But there’s more to it than that. In particular, the lyrics on songs like “RIO,” “Movies” and “Pantless” threw some curveballs into the mix that helped to reify the laid-back, cool vibe of the album. One line goes, “I’m pantless by the ocean/ I’m pantless by the pool/ My friends are all around me/ And they’re pantless, too”. Who can’t get behind a lyric that? Another surprising touch came from the song “Lie,” which showcases not only a really sweet vocal performance, but also a fantastic arrangement for trombone, flugelhorn, flute, and French horn.

The Sad Birthdays certainly hit the ground running with this one. Whether you love a good homage to classic rock without the same old tired tunes, appreciate some high quality sound production, or are just looking for a fun set of tracks by some local Montrealers, Space Race is a great album to hit all those bases.