Music reviews from 2004

Music reviews from 2004


FR: Felix Rayman
ML: Mike Long
LG: Lisa Gamble
IM: Ian McGillis
LR: Louis Rastelli
SA: Sylvain Aube
CZ: Cozmos Quazar
MG: Mark Greenberg
SST: Sherwin Sully Tjia

Polmo Polpo, Like Hearts Swelling CD/LP, constellation,

I would describe this album as Drum and Bass music on Valium, with tinny, wistful guitars on top, layered. Static and feedback sound effects are used liberally, but not inappropriately. If you played this music on a road trip, with the fields of Saskatchewan passing by on either side, you would certainly fall into a trance. They all seem to evoke for me the desert environment of Thelma & Louise. Some of them are more upbeat, but all in all, this album is pretty laid back at its core. Soulful and beautiful. What I like the best about this album though is that Polmo Polpo isn’t afraid to have various movements within one song, the way classical music tunes do. Now if only someone in the pop world would do that. (SST)

Robin Judge, Pattern
CD, Noise Factory Records

Au fil de ses parutions, Noise Factory cartographie peu à peu le territoire électronique canadien, avec des artistes comme Robin Judge et naw. Ici, les compositions oscillent entre certaines trouvailles numériques et des éléments plus typiques au genre (glitchs et bass drum régulier). La musique de Robin Judge distille pourtant un atmosphère de calme et de retenue qui contraste avec son fondement rhytmique, alors que certaines influences de dub électronique viennent agrémenter le résultat, dans une approche qui rappelle aussi l’étiquette Scape.
Quoique cet album ne renouvelle pas le genre, on y retrouve tout de même une variété sonore intéressante, parsemée d’asymétries et d’effets stéréos qui seront probablement plus frappants dans le casque d’écoute que sur un plancher de danse. Mais dans un domaine qui a déjà atteint sa maturité et qui cherche aujourd’hui à se renouveller, cela est-il suffisant? On peut se le demander, alors que d’une part, certains inventions sonores nous laissent une impression de déjà vu, et que d’autres collègues canadiens pousse l’audace sonore déjà un peu plus loin (Vitamins for you, par exemple). Ces considérations de critique musical mises à part, il y a tout de même de fortes chances que vous aimiez cet album, par ailleurs bien produit. (SA)

The Frenetics, Grey Veins To The Parking Lot
CD, Union,

From the endearing opening melody in Daylight Insomniac to the sad and heartfelt instrumental hidden track, Grey Veins boasts the band’s most accomplished recording to date. Their air-tight sound, six years in the making, is only complimented by the production work Andy Magoffin contributed, producing an energetic and powerful sound that isn’t afraid to be catchy or melodic. In essence, little has changed with regard to the Frenetics’ formula, only that the whole package has grown richer, keeping its powerful, punk/pop origin at its core and dressing it with touches of dissonance, harmony, and syncopation. Tracks like If you are what you want and Holding Song evidence the bands growth and maturity, while innocent moments like the chorus of Running Up keep the feel intimate. Make no mistake, it is a rock record, just one that delivers a little more depth. Don’t be surprised if this record gets this Montreal trio some recognition. (CQ)

The Besnard Lakes, Volume 1

From the derivative gatefold album art (desolate cheap motel at night, and an empty stage on the inside cover), and the post-rocky sounding name, I expected music more pretentious than this. Somewhat of a slow-starter, this album ends up finding an interesting a semi-psychedelic, driving guitar-rock groove. This Thing has cool circular riffing, pounding drums and swirling backgrounds. The vocals are low and distant in the mix most of the time, the riffing and drums front and center, which is good. The vocal melodies are late-lite-psych, ’69-’71 or so. At times some dated-sounding 90s indie-rock gimmicks rear their ugly head (Thomasina), and parts of side 2 drag a bit, but overall, the band plays loud and keeps song lengths in check rather than repeating riffs forever. And the last song is a freak-out of almost instrument-smashing intensity. (LR)

Elizabeth Anka Vajagic, Stand With The Stillness Of This Day
CD/LP, constellation,

A good album, some argue, will have a unified feel while showing enough variety to represent the full range of human emotions. (cf. The Velvet Underground and Nico.) Others will say “No, the best albums take one emotion, whatever that might be, and wring it for every drop of meaning” (cf. The Velvet Underground’s eponymous third album.) It could be the fact that one band can be used to support both sides means we needn’t be absolutist in our views.
What the heck am I going on about? Only an attempt to explain how my reaction to this album grew from one of impatience bordering on antipathy into something like enchantment. This is a seven-song sequence that never rises in tempo much beyond the glacial and lyrically appears to deal exclusively with the down side of a broken relationship. (Or maybe it’s a metaphor for the new world order, or just good old existential despair. Whatever it is, Elizabeth’s having no fun at all.) Have to admit I first found myself thinking “Enough already. Would somebody tell this girl a few good jokes?” But—let this be a lesson in perseverance—by the third play I found myself being pulled in. Now I’m really quite fond of it.
Liner note readers will spot various members of the Godspeed extended family and Montreal’s improvised music community. As with Godspeed’s best work, you get a palpable sense of space, of musicians together in a room, each instrument allowed its full character, the sound of the room assuming a role as important as any of the instruments, and silence counting for as much as sound. While individual contributions are noteworthy—dig that evocative use of the oud by Sam Shalabi on And The Sky Lay Still—it’s Vajagic’s voice and guitar that carry the day.
For me, this album strongly evoked an old favorite, Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden. Others, especially with regard to the singer’s voice, may be equally reminded of Patti Smith’s post-comeback work, or think that if Polly Harvey allowed her more tragic/melancholic impulses full sway for 42 minutes it might come out sounding something like this. And that’s clearly no bad thing. (IM)

The Unicorns, 2014/ Emasculate the Masculine 7”, Suicide Squeeze

Wow, rock criticism these days is really on the “everything is permissible” tip so you’ll excuse me if I say the Jesus and Mary Chains Head On is the eighties British-fop version of Born to be Wild by Steppenwolf, and John Kerry is the 2004 presidential election equivalent of the Pixies’ early-‘90s drive to provide some balance to the reign of terror cast by Guns ‘n’ Roses and U2 (with whom they toured on a bill that also included Public Enemy). Also then, most definitely the Tampa Bay Lightning (if you look by skill set from position to position) are really a talent-equivalent reload on that driven early-‘90s Quebec Nordiques team that never won a Stanley Cup. All this being the case, where do we place this newest single from the Unicorns? Certainly first, an investment tip: buy this type of band early and on seven inches. Think how pleased you would be with a Pavement Summer Babe seven on Drag City, and how disappointed you were hearing how the band progressed from there. Think how glad you are to own the multiple-seven set on Merge Records that is Polvo’s Celebrate the New Dark Age. See, nowadays, everything has somebody who collects it. Even early 90s indie-rock seven inches. Collectors of soul sevens are the worst. Ike and Tina burnt slammin’ hard on everything they did but nothing is more collectable and lusciously plump than the River Deep Mountain High seven.
On this single the guitar/synth solo on 2014 should be six minutes, not 30 seconds. This seven-inch should actually be twelve inches in order to let these songs float and linger like they deserve, and I shouldn’t have to buy a shitty CD to get the bonus demo versions. (I’m a completist and I need it all!) Unfortunately, I sold my Unicorns Distroboto-only 3” [actually a bootleg! – Ed.] in order to get a euro boot LP version of the first godspeed! cassette from nefarious sources. Thus is life. God forgive me.
Anyhow, songwriters this fantastic don’t go for long before the studio budget allows for added majesty. So enjoy hearing the boys this sparse while it lasts. It won’t be long (and not un-according to plan) until the Unicorns are accompanied by a full orchestra and have some British hippy traveling with them to make emergency repairs to the mellotron. Also according to plan will be somebody looping up horns to make their next single the jump-up and throwdown that we all know it should be. (FR)

Melon Galia, les embarras du quotidien CD, Grenadine,

I don’t speak French but I don’t have to. The tunes are beautiful enough. Melon Galia is as if Montreal’s Stars sang in French. If they were an opening band, they would quickly win the audience over. I found myself nodding along with the tunes. You can’t help it. Folky pop with good melodies, brief trumpet solos, and strings that know what they’re doing. A boy and girl singing in tag-team tandem, they have a nice call-answer feel going on. I would describe them as a blend of Autour de Lucie and Belle & Sebastian. Usually after I review one of these albums and don’t like them I sell them, but this one I will keep. (SST)

Young and Sexy, Life Through One Speaker CD, Mint records,

Overall, the album kept my interest. They could be from England, but they are actually homegrown Vancouver pop. They fall into somewhat of a Canadiana Brit-indie-pop category I’ve recently invented in my head. Thanks to heavily arranged and produced bands like The Stars and The Dears, and a variety of others that ultimately remind me some weirdo blended drink of The Smiths and Donovan, perhaps the Beatles, and in the end remind me of later bands like Belle and Sebastian. Whatever… tweed jackets and sweaters, photos of the family, soft man vocals with endearing reverb girl vocals, back and forth some girl, some boy… not aggressive…lots of instruments…not for dance clubs. The songs are almost all written in the third person about this or that—the bellboy who seldom reads ‘and wants to sell things that he believes in.’ The stories don’t amount to adventure, but perhaps tread on poetry. For some reason, the female vocal melodies remind me heavily of the Smiths. The arrangements and harmonies in this band kept my attention—in fact, I would go as far as giving the band a high five for good work. The harmonies are great, lots and lots and lots, layers texture…hurray. Thick dramatic arrangements and airy production. There you go, that is their it, and they do it well… (LG)

Do Make Say Think, Winter Hymn Country Hymn Secret Hymn
CD/LP, constellation,

I’ve always liked DMST because they manage to take you to a beautiful contemplative world in a gently melodic fashion. But not a boring world– one that’s always in motion. This fourth full-length disc is no different- they serve up the same lovely introspective instrumental meandering songs, going slightly more Godspeed! in this iteration– with minor portents of apocalypse in between the frills and the lilies. But overall, this band feels effervescent and optimistic, even in some of their more plaintive sad-tinged songs. (SST)

The Barmitzvah Brothers, The Night Of The Party CD,

While certainly not without its imperfections, this effort by The Barmitzvah Brothers captures the spontaneity and charms of music that is made for the simple joys of creating. The unlikely blend of eclectic pop, toy waltzes and bluegrass is as charming as it is flawed, but this band refuses to appear shy and apologetic for its playful nature. Accentuated by cunning lyrics that at times approach a Cohen-esque wit and a deadpan vocal delivery reminiscent of Cake, the approach that the Barmitzvah Brothers undertake proves to be the ideal vehicle for these clever Ontario teenagers. While a handful of artists receive praise that should rightfully be directed to their keyboard and synthesizer manufacturers, it should be noted there is more than a hint of talent shining through here. Should they decide to stick with their eccentric tendencies and hone their composing skills, we just might have an indie phenomenon on our hands. (MG)

The Gay, You Know the Rules
CD, Mint Records

The Gay certainly are. Poppy, relentless and fervid, their songs bust into the room and blow all the papers up in the air, like a hip 20-something Cat in the Hat in white high-heeled knee boots. The remind me of two other Vancouver-based bands. If the New Pornographers and Young & Sexy had a love child, it would be the Gay. Sometimes I hear bands similar to the Gay that can’t keep it up – that is, they have a couple of hit-like songs on their album, but the rest falter. Not so here. The pace doesn’t let up, and all the songs hold remarkably well together. One odd thing however – when I listen to the album, I keep picturing the Partridge Family playing these songs. In my mind, there must be some shared Roadshow sensibility working here. (SST)

Starvin Hungry, Damnesty
CD, Grenadine,

From the get go, the raw rock feel hits with Shadows, a charged up, White Stripes-y ditty that sets the mood for what follows. The band clearly draws on a good deal of late ‘60s/ early ‘70s influences like The Stooges, and the MC5, with an Eric Burdon-type vocal and some tasteful bits of Television guitar work. Certainly in the vein of the rock movement of late—Strokes, Hives, Vines, the aforementioned Stripes—the band’s debut record has been quite a while coming. There is a definite sound, clear as a bell from track one, but, just when you think you’ve got the whole record sussed out, you’ve got the mellow, spooky surf-ballad Most of the Time, and the quirky Contagious. A decent debut record with signs of good things to come. (CQ)

Tanakh, Dieu Deuil
CD, Alien8,

I suppose the best way to describe the kind of music Tanakh makes is emo-country, but with the traditional country almost completely bled out of it, the twangs transmuted into something a country-music hater wouldn’t really scorn. It is so laid-back you are almost asleep. It’s languid, but not without drive. Sometimes there’s singing, but it’s not overpowering. This is actually good music to seduce someone to. It lulls you into this very relaxed state. A couple of times I heard this country-styling guitar, with a searing violin overtop. You get kind of hypnotized by this music. But just when you think you understand it, it veers into Middle-Eastern territory, moving with a little more urgency, but maintaining the same self-assured pace. (SST)

Black Ox Orkestar, Ver Tanzt?
CD/LP, constellation,

If I were in a Mexican beer on a sweltering day about to meet my mortal enemy for a final showdown this music would be perfect. Moving between flamenco-like trills, Middle-Eastern singing, raucous semi-Klezmer half-orchestral dance music, the album is truly a mishmash. At other times suddenly I’m in Italy. Or a parody of Italy. The singing is either heartrendingly emotional, or I am not enough in touch with my feelings. At any rate, the whole way through this album I felt I was in a movie, in another country, with a roomful of raucous gentlemen with handlebar moustaches who laugh a lot. (SST)

Clear Horizon, CD, Kranky Records

The album falls into a bathtub category of “actuelle” listening, not necessarily for entertainment. Heavy-heart droopy reverb-guitar-sound scrapy stuff; sometimes just reverby acoustic guitar and vocals, possibly beautiful at times. Surprisingly, Jessica Bailiff’s voice reminded me of Courtney Love minus the attitude… creepy, as we are all aware of Kranky being a label which puts out hard-to-listen-to experimental non-rock or “moved-on rock.” Space-folk, perhaps, would be a fine label for this album, what with the acoustic guitar with Pearce’s drone-y big-sound electric guitar in behind here and there, and sometimes, just noise. There’s lots and lots and lots of reverb on Miss Bailiff’s voice (otherwise, she really would sound like Ms. Love.) Eclectic, I’m sure due to the collaboration of two artists, with Bailiff and David Pearce trading audio tapes across the Atlantic over a period of two years. Bailiff has several solo releases on Kranky, and David Pearce was apparently the man behind a British sound noise thing called Flying Saucer Attack. His guitar playing reminds me quite a bit of the guys around Montreal releasing on constellation. It’s funny, I really enjoyed the musical layout of this album… Clear Horizon gives you a couple of different angles, textures, instruments, rhythms, emotion while keeping in theme to the morose prerequisite to the Kranky tradition. It’s definitely an album of layers. On a whole the songs lead you around a whole whack of different corners but as for the songs themselves I often felt like they could have been a bit more journey-oriented. Many songs are lacking in emotional variety—one feeling, one repetitive riff (I know this is the trend) but there are times throughout the album where it feels like they are aiming for something else, so the songs sometimes feel unfinished. I feel that the power of the two musicians together could perhaps be more adequately utilized while they are in the same room at the same time in the same place. Looking forward to the next one. For the moment heavy whispery disjointed. But that’s okay. (LG)

Acid Mothers Temple, Mantra of Love CD, Alien8,

I like English folk madrigals a lot, thus the opening folksy salvo of this short burst of acid-motherness is right up my alley. The fact that it turns into a repeato blast of acid mother guitar wrangling only ices a fairly huge cake. This is a band that essentially produces a cartoon-like, highlight reel of psychedelic music’s storied history and on this record captures a certain, almost ancient-sounding, medieval aspect quite well. Too bad the track is so short, because I’m sure a two-hour version of this song exists in the vaults somewhere, or at least in lead Acid Mother Kawabata’s head. (FR)

A.18, Dear Furious CD, Victory

Dear A.18, you’re not 18 anymore. You’ve been a band for over 6 years, so why do you sound so unseasoned and angsty? At your finest moments (Gravelines is a good track) you sound a bit like veterans Quicksand or Better Than A Thousand, the latter more than the former, and at worst (Stab You Through the Everything, which has the unfortunate vocal intro of “I fucking hate you/ The old fashioned way where I want you dead”), pale imitations of newer groups like the Hope Conspiracy and Terror. I’m not a fan of the newer hardcore sound, I’ll be the first to admit, because it offers nothing new to the genre except a bigger sound and cleaner hair. “How can you function with dirty hair?” Anyway, if you have fans they probably listen to all that spanking new jive anyway, which hasn’t been releasing the endorphins to my brain lately. (ML)

Geneviève Castrée/ WOELV, Pamplemoussi 72-pg. book & LP, $20, l’Oie
de Cravan, 5460 Waverly, Montreal, Quebec
H2T 2X9.

Long-time Fish Piss readers may remember Geneviève’s original wordless strips and graphics. Since relocating to Victoria a few years ago, she’s continued publishing mainly wordless (and beautiful) books with l’Oie de Cravan, and has been making a lot of music as well. Here, her musical debut (full-length vinyl!) is combined with a huge 12” square book, in which each song has its own chapter made of full-page drawings.
Her drawing style is innocent-looking, though eventually a bit disturbing given the dark progression of the content (which, briefly, involves a lone girl interacting with creatures in various environments, until finally surrounded and attacked by what seem like lizards.) Her voice on the record is the same way—light, airy but steady, clear and most often sustaining long notes in odd melodies, only to occasionally rise and wail alarmingly. It’s easy to listen to her voice as if it were an instrument, pretty much constantly present throughout all the songs, making me almost forget she’s singing words. The music is dynamic and building, and is well-served by the backup instruments which, like her drawings, can be sparse for long stretches and dense for others, all while sustaining an impending mood. And impending is the word—both the book and record give you the impression that something is about to happen. Overall, certainly the most hypnotic work I’ve heard in a long, long time. (LR)

The Silver Mountain Reveries, Pretty Little Lightning Paw
EP CD/LP, constellation

Please forgive me for gushing. But everything about these Silver Mt. Zion people make me believe. Running a little over half an hour, this album was originally only available at shows on the Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band’s 2004 European Tour, but now is available to everyone. This outing takes more of a detour into something that sounds more like the soundtrack to a bizarre future factory full of mouthy birds with tracks 2 and 3 – hinting at almost Phillip Glass territory, but with a choir to crest the crescendos. I suppose my favourites are the bookends. The first song starts off with a girl hollerin’ about a meeting. And when I say hollerin’, I mean hollerin’. And very charming hollerin’ it is. The last song on the EP is the closest thing to a pop song you’ll ever get from these kids. Complete melody, but slow, like you’re moving underwater. It’s funny – in future I’d like to see them craft an absolute pop song, because with their talent it would totally be a pop song, but at the same time, not at all like one. (SST)

Strategy, Drumsolo’s delight; Loscil, First narrows CD, Kranky Records

Deux parutions récentes de Kranky Records, qui plairont aux amateurs de dub électronique serein et contemplatif. Si vous recherchez le calme, tendez l’oreille…
Présent à la soirée finale du festival Mutek 2004, Loscil, un artiste de Vancouver, a produit un grand effet auprès des festivaliers épuisés par 5 jours de concerts non-stop. Sa dub lente et calme est un plaisir pour l’oreille, alors que les accents sophistiquées des sonorités permettent une appréciation plus intelligente de sa musique. Dans la lignée de Pole, Loscil base sa musique sur de petits événements sonores filtrés et répercutés sur des fonds sonores constants. Une découverte agréable pour une excellente écoute nocturne.
Strategy, provenant de la scène voisine de Portland en Orégon, se trouve aussi en territoire dub, quoique le résultat ne soit pas aussi marquant. Album hybride, cet album décolle avec des rhythmes plutôt lents, pour adopter peu à peu une vitesse de croisière qui se rapproche davantage de la musique électronique rhytmique. On ose même une voix sur la sixième et avant-dernière piste, ce qui laisse envisager que l’artiste derrière cet album est un personnage un peu plus coloré que l’album peut nous le laisser croire. Sympathique, mais moins impressionnant que le travail réalisé par son collègue de Kranky. (SA)

Clann Zú, Black Coats & Bandages

The opening title track starts with some sad floating piano chords for awhile, but then the bass kicks in and drone-y electric guitars back increasingly frantic vocals. Then some nice tight start-stop passages provide the general vibe of the record—well-produced, dramatic music that sounds kind of like Fugazi with violins. I find it gets a bit depressing to listen to all the way through, with some of the tortured vocals a bit overbearing after awhile, but the music redeems it. One Bedroom Apartment, for example, works well as a “story” song, and some of the poetic pieces are very nice. I like the fat-organ-based From Bethlehem to Jenin best. (LR)

Mario Peluso, One Beautiful Day
CD, Frozen Toe Music

For folky-country music, this album does some neat experimental things. The first song, which is more of a poem or preamble than anything else is actually the thing that I like more than anything else. Which is a problem, because it’s only a minute sixteen seconds, and Peluso’s voice arrives in this synthesized haze, in a sort of soft scream, with one high piano note providing percussion in the background. Maybe if he did more of that throughout the rest of the album I would have more to recommend. Certainly Peluso has a nice sense of what makes a pleasant song, but my sense is that his lyrics are trite. More of that “I’ll be everything you’ve ever hoped for” deal that boy-bands have made a living of. A lot of these songs are ballads, following in the Country music tradition. Admittedly, I am not a huge country music fan, so I might be pickier than most. In the press release that came with the album, they say that Peluso has often been compared to Neil Young and I can see that. His voice is calm, with a hint of nasal. He also reminds me of Tom Petty. Good, well-put together country songs, all in all, but nothing that distinguishes itself. (SST)

The Buttless Chaps, Love This Time CD, Mint Records,

With this, their Mint debut, the Chaps live up to their reputation of being stylistically confusing. Further honing their self-proclaimed style of “electro-country,” singer/songwriter Michael Barclay draws the listener into a sonic spectrum that bounces from Jim O’Rourke to Stereolab; Wilco to Tortoise. Perhaps most confusing is the vocal, a crisp deep tenor that croons out the lyrics at the forefront of each track, which comes as a surprise and is difficult to adjust to. On the flipside, the constancy of the vocal does cement the sporadic tracks into their very own melting pot. The production is quite well executed and the arrangements creative, right from the super clean folk guitars of opening track 18 Rabbits with its surprise trumpet melodies in the end, to the blue-grass overtones of Banjee. An interesting listen, even if left with a slight feeling of the bends over the odd genre blend. (CQ)

Molasses, Trouble At The Jinx Hotel
CD, Alien8,

Truly an album of images, composed more of dirges than conventional songs, the sweeping feel of undefined nostalgia contained herein seems to remind of long forgotten road trips through the many churches of America in an endless summer dusk; empty fields, open roads, hope and aimlessness. A swirling, drifting sound compiling folkloric, almost Biblical melodies with modern influences ranging from Yo La Tengo to Will Oldham and touching on the likes of Tom Waits and Nick Cave, the record stands as a multi-layered piece whose complexity lies in its simplicity. The unguarded, whisper-laden male/female vocal provides the forefront, accompanied by acoustic guitars, piano, banjo and the like. The soulful foreground is then placed in the center of a breezy whirlwind of electro-acoustic soundscaping, creating a haunting, almost spiritual equilibrium of earthy, ethereal song delivery in classic, age-old American tradition and post-modern tonal/atonal mood enhancement. The album plays like its own movie soundtrack. (CQ)

V/A, Quebec Emergent 2004
2CDs, Local Distribution

This annual double-CD of Quebec independent music really provides a snapshot of what’s there in pretty much every style. My one complaint by now is that it’s too comprehensive—I think the artists would be better served if this was broken up into two or even three CDs. It’s pretty much impossible to listen through the whole first CD, for instance, and liking all the different styles. The first eight tracks are trad and pop tunes, straight-up, ranging from vomit-inducing cheesy to great alt-folk (i.e. Frank Martel.) Then, suddenly it’s electro-pop (I liked Vitaminsforyou’s Churchill.) And then—afro-beat (from Afrodizz) and dub (from Montreal Dub Sound System.) OK, those kind of go together—but would really sizzle on a beats comp alongside the excellent (I mean really, this is world-class) rap of Atach Tatuq and Billy Nova, and perhaps the electro-dance tunes that close out the CD.
The second CD is more uniformly listenable, still varied but all bands that play guitars and kind of rock out. There’s enough punk and metal-related bands in Quebec to make several comps a year. My favourites here are Les Pugilists, the killer cheesy rock of the Gutter Demons, local punk mainstays The Sainte Catherines and the VERY heavy metal of Monon’c Serge & Anonymous. Voivod makes a solid appearance, though all are out-heavied by the KILLER closer by Blinded by Faith.
The remainder of the second CD samples the wealth of refined guitar-pop in town, such as Arcade Fire (suburban-angst-y but with nice big drums and group shouts), The Dears (though holy cow, they sound more and more like Morrissey every minute) and the Unicorns.
Any 37-song compilation is going to have some dogs on it, and aside from the styles I don’t like, Gwenwed among others deliver some pretty horrible (or just plain bland, in their case) stuff. But don’t let my criticism of the comp’s format dissuade you from picking this up. This set is cheap and has all the info you need to follow up on the (at least) handful of tunes that are sure to impress the hell out of you. (LR)

Tom Carter, Monument/ Charalambides, Unknown Spin
CDs, kranky

Tom Carter is an electric guitar player based in Texas who is one third of Charalambides and this is one of his ultra-limited CD-R’s reissued on kranky. Carter has certainly developed his own personal language on the guitar and he converses with no one in particular on this record quite fluently. Sometimes, I feel really not in on the conversation, but generally it’s nice to eavesdrop. Anyway, unlike the acoustic players who make up the present folk revival, Carter makes no attempts at referencing anything particularly known, and simply explores the sonic possibilities of his instrument, which seems like a time-honoured tradition: the lone guitar player ready to bend shapes.
Holy Shit, speaking of bending shapes!!! Unknown Spin, another kranky reissue of a limited CD-R, is quite possibly the best thing this group has done. Using three guitars and two voices Christina Carter, Heather Leigh Murray and Tom Carter produce a crazed and for once, truly psychedelic soundscape that really sounds like nothing else except hallucinations and deeply troubling insights into your own weird shit. They approach their instruments on this record in a way that conjures really organic and flowing sound. It is really refreshing to hear music this unique and it stands as some of the best made by the recent crop of free-folk psychedelic musicians. (FR)

The Sixth String, A Typical Dream in Color CD, Local,

When the first lyrics on your album are “Climb aboard my spaceship,” you’d better be prepared to take listeners on a trip. This band does, in spades, with tasteful keyboards and swooshing sounds, lazy chorus-drenched guitars, and echo-ey snares abounding. The Story is an excellent example of everything they’re doing right: long and somewhat proggy, but without nerdity or repetitiveness. Il fait beau l’hiver is another high point, going from sparse to lush and back, veering for a moment into Ummagumma territory and then crystallizing into sweet spacey pop. The duo of Alexandre Larose and Ludovic Boily have been at it since 1997, working in the relative isolation of rural Quebec. The refined, highly idiosyncratic sound and excellent packaging and colour booklet make this probably the most evolved unknown Quebec band to ever show up in the Fish Piss mailbox.
The only thing that bugs me a bit is the overused phoned-in vocal effects. Otherwise, the wide palette of sounds really makes this a pleasure to listen straight through, where most bands would sound overproduced using this much equipment.
I never like quoting from the press package, but this one has a few lines that do nail this on the head. That this “hesitates between whether to give up or undergo the changes necessary to adapt to reality” betrays the occasional overtones of depresso post-rock, but this influence is thankfully mild and hardly as histrionic as most bands who’d make such a claim. (This is NOT a gloomy album.) More accurate is the description of this as “aerial psychedelic rock, drowned in floating guitars, oneiric keyboards and vintage textures.” That they haven’t already played shows with the Shalabi Effect is surprising. If ever they do decide to play in the Mile End, though, they’d sure have a ready audience. (LR)

Black Dice, Creature Comforts
DFA Records,

“Noodling” seems to be the operative word here. This record is strictly for people who like to hear nicely sculpted or designed sounds- NOT for anyone wanting to hear some songs or beats. Most of the record has no apparent time signature, except for my personal favourite, the 15-minute Skeleton, a fun, spooky Residents-y “jam” with a sparse bass pulse. It reminds me of fooling around with an SPX-90 in the 80s, morphing loops by scrolling through the effects menu. It also has some interesting voice samples. Other tracks are more minimal, like the birdlike Night Flight or Live Loop, which is a 15-second loop repeated for a minute and a half, with a new noise added each time. Again, the sounds used are real nice, but otherwise, not much else I can say about this release. Like their previous EP, maybe this would work best as sonic background at an art opening… (LR)

The Camaromance, Empty Picture Frames CD,

This the band’s debut release recorded at Cartel Studio fixes the bands sound as a melodic folk/pop project, though there are moments that suggest an aptitude for ambient instrumental performance as well. Though a duo, the record boasts full band instrumentation and a fair production at that. The melodies are sad, soulful, and punctuated by still sadder harmonies, largely sung as duets between members Martine Groulx and Gabriel Rousseau. Certainly on the softer side of pop, the band’s sound does lend to the notion of some commercial airplay and points at a wide array of paths for the band to take in future recordings, should they aim to explore other sounds. Though lyrically, the band is a touch fixated on melancholic, self-deprecating soul-searching, they are quite adept with the task of mainstream folk/pop songwriting. (CQ)
Noise Factory Sampler Vol. 2
CD, Noise Factory Records

This 12-track sampler is from Toronto based indie label Noise Factory, which seems to understand the kindred aesthetic spirits that are lush indie-rock and hushed electronic music. Of the twelve tracks, standouts include a raw bit of guitar fudge from K.C. Accidental, a categorically sweet instrumental from Broken Social Scene, looping guitar clouds from Beef Terminal and although digital click techno is really, really not my bag, I can sorta dig the hidden shuffle in NAW’s orialis. (FR)

Shalabi Effect, Pink Abyss
CD, Alien8,

The opening Message from the Pink Abyss is delivered with late-period Zappa-sounding chattering chamber orchestra sounds. I disagree strongly with the label’s claim that this is their “most rocking effort thus far,” reserving that for the sinister drones of their first double-CD (or Sam Shalabi’s recent Osama.) The only hint of a rock beat appears on Blue Sunshine (even then, can a catchy trumpet-driven tune be considered “rock?”) I think the best material here defies all categorization, such as Bright Guilty World, an eerie, ponderous song with Elizabeth Anka Vajagic’s deep voice singing a high melody over a pulsing stand-up-bass beat. It sounds like it’s on the edge of exploding the whole way through.
There’s mideastern drone overtones on the otherwise peppy Iron and Blood, as well as on Imps (which a friend implored me to stop playing because it was making her nervous!) I also like Deep Throat, a tabla-driven short piece that again has a late-Zappa playfulness (could that be Sam playing with a sequencer?) However, this is less cohesive work than normal, sounding like the selections were culled from various other projects. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, when the selections are uniformly as good as they are here, but I’m itching for more of the long, wild soundscapes these guys are capable of. (LR)

Daniel Menche, Eye on the Steel
CD, Alien8/substractif,

I loved the last Daniel Menche record released on Alien8 (see last Fish Piss for evidence) and I have to say, I love this one even more. This beast is like an eleven-track magnum opus composed from a number of different sounds. What I like about Menche’s work is the fact that figuring out the sources of the sounds he uses is quite difficult and forces one to use one’s imagination. “Egg shakers or egg beaters, I just can’t decide.” If I can apply the critical terminology of rap to the noise genre (where it really doesn’t belong), I’d argue that this record sounds more classically “golden era” than say, the jiggy-er sounding Midwest noise records coming out these days. That’s a breath of fresh air in an increasingly polluted field. (FR)
A Perfect Murder. Unbroken
CD, Victory

A Perfect Murder are serious. They are serious about bringing the rock, but I’m just not convinced that they’re seriously bringing it from a new place. Their sound is about as exact a meld of three things as can possibly be: Crowbar (not the Canadian one), Down and tough guy hardcore (the guitarist is even wearing a Down t-shirt in the liner notes). They’re a Montreal band that tours fairly heavily and has put out a bunch of records. You can tell that they work hard at what they do, but not hard enough in the songwriting department. There are guitar solos on almost every track, but instead of sounding like Dimebag, the guitars sound like Slash making fun of himself. Lyrically, this is on par with Throwdown. If you don’t know what that means, it means not good. Song titles like Jaded, Time Bomb, and savior (yes, spelled the AMERICAN way) really give you a good idea of what the lyrical content is like. As far as southern metal mixed with hardcore, this isn’t a bad release at all. The production is huge, the riffs are heavy, but there’s nothing really new or exciting on this disc. I’m sure that there would be a heavy amount of mosh at their shows. (ML)

Amanda Mabro & the Cabaret Band, 3-song EP,

Local cabaret singer Mabro’s first release (I think) does justice to the very old-school, swinging piano-accompanied ballads she sings in shows around Montreal. Not normally a fan of this kind of thing, I was genuinely entertained by the first two songs (One Fine Man and Swing With Me), but the last tune, Lily, too syrupy for my tastes. (LR)

Cozmos Quazar, Our Nature’s Capital CD, Querin Records

Judging this book by its cover (a pink rose sticking right through an “s”), you’d be hard pressed to figure out this one. I really had no idea what to expect from this local singer-songwriter, Quazar. This disc impressed me, and I could hear the gems poking their way out of the rough. I think I feel the same way listening to this, as I did after watching “Ju-On: The Grudge,” an eerie Japanese horror film which has been adapted by the same director, but with American money, and white American actors. It’s even being shot in Tokyo, most likely at the original locations of the first film. I know this is strange, but stick with me here. I felt that “Ju-On” would have been a lot better off with a stricter editor, and some more cash. This album would be on par with Sentridoh, or any Merge records band if Quazar’s pockets were fatter, and he had some more time to polish and concentrate on his songs. A good start, I’ll bet that the next release will have more flavour. (ML)

La Descente du Coude, croyez-moi, ça fait mal! EP,

From ex-members of Suck la Marde and Guerilla, this is a new local emo-punk sounding band. The press kit says it flirts with indie rock and hardcore, which could be accurate. The fact is, I’ve listened to this at least ten times and it still hasn’t stuck. Whether it’s the first song L’axe du Mal Malaxé, the best track overall, or the softer Régime de bananas, the singer doesn’t alter his angry, accusatory tone one bit, which makes it blur together too much—kind of like a Fugazi album with only Guy singing on it in one key. The band itself is quite dynamic—the almost-danceable bass-driven sections of the closer, La photograve, is a nice touch—but the constant stuttering of start-stop interludes prevent the well-written riffs and melodies from reaching their potential. Complexity can be fun in a punk song, but not too much of it, and not on every track, please! (LR)

Atreyu, The Curse CD, Victory

This mix of past styles of metal and “hard music,” notable for its slickness and seamless subgenre-mixing, misses its chance to make something new out of its varied ingredients. It’s a lot more fun to hear this live than on CD, where anytime there’s a minute of unrestrained loudness, the edges get softened by an emo melody, guitar solo or ‘80s glam-metal ballad moment. Not that they need to listen to me, what with sales in the hundreds of thousands. But for what it’s worth, some suggestions: you’ve got some slack in your rope, guys, thanks to amply successful commercial rock like Right Side of the Bed, so why not use it? Let a great tune like Bleeding Mascara get flat-out heavy. Stop trying to make each and every song be all things to all people. And it would be nice if the “retro” of this self-described “retro-metal emocore” meant Celtic Frost and Venom more than Poison. Because without more balls than this, instead of supplanting “nu-metal,” this latest style is likely to blaze out faster than a Great White concert. (LR)

Killer Squirrel, self-released (and loving it) CD, Operation Phoenix Records, Box
13380, Mill Creek, WA 98082 ($10 incl. postage)

The dryly delivered opener, with its “I hate you” chorus, harks back to the glorious mid-80s “who cares” West Coast punk of the Circle Jerks or the Dead Milkmen to me—lazy but not complacent, pissed off but not furious. Recorded in early-Beck-like fashion, “in an apartment bedroom while drinking cheap beer after work,” this low-budget sort-of-protest punk rock is endearing, and deserves a more muscular treatment, like a full band maybe (any ex-members of the Crucifucks still out there?) Lots of gems in the lyrics (“Nothing ever happens until it affects the rich,” “This one goes out to the fuckin bastards that think we need 12 remixes of every song in existence—I’ve got your insubordination right here.” ???) Genuine stuff. (LR)

Greg MacPherson, Maintenance

This is an EP of intense, well-played acoustic songs that you may or may not consider “protest” songs. I say that because, while there’s a certain political angriness as well as bits of early Dylan or Woody Guthrie in the writing, this man is a storyteller above all. The opener, Wide Turn, is refreshingly not stuck in the verse/ chorus conventions so much acoustic music sticks to. Bankrobber gives the listener an idea of what his live shows must be like: on the edge of control, and very effective at keeping anyone from talking during the set (they wouldn’t hear themselves anyway.) Company Store is another highlight, echoing Guthrie again through its union-related topic, but retaining all of his own narrative style. Intense stuff. (LR)

Surcharge, Rock n Roll Motherfuckers
Local Distribution,

I guess nobody told these erstwhile AC/DC-style rockers that “surcharge” in English means “frais supplémentaires,” not “overload,” which is what it means in French. It’s too bad, because there isn’t a chance anyone in the English world would possibly take the band seriously with a name like that, unless they intend to become a Spinal Tap-type parody band (in which case, Surcharge would be a great name, now that I think of it.) The dollar-bin rock cliché lines don’t benefit from the mangled English either (sample: “You try to put me down, but I just wanna get high,” from Let’s Spill The Blood.) The tunes sung in French are generally tighter and better (Suzy Black Chatte and Le Boy Toy being the best of them). Musically, they do the Nashville Pussy thing quite well, and probably put on a good show, but shouldn’t think they need to act English to make it. (In the end, it’s really all about the music.) (LR)

V/A, Montreal Spirit– A Dare to Care Records Family Compilation
CD, Dare to Care Records

It is an unpleasant task to discredit a well-meaning project such as this one, but truth be told, this is a rather painful excursion through Montreal’s stagnant and over-rated punk-rock scene and its redundant derivatives. It might have helped if this compilation by Dare to Care Records showcased some prime cuts rather than ‘previously unreleased’ material, or maybe a punk-rock comp is a hopeless endeavour these days. Despite the overall mediocrity, this release is not without its gems, courtesy of The Sainte Catherines (proving that they can rock with the best of ‘em), Suck La Marde and The Frenetics. But the highlights are few and far between, and the three ska tracks that are graciously provided halfway through brutally reopen long-forgotten wounds and serve as a painful reminder of Montreal’s most embarrassing export. Amid the uneven content, the main attraction here is the artwork by Montreal’s design duo Seripop. Overall, a commendable effort on the part of a small label, but nevertheless an easily dismissible offering. (MG)

The Unicorns, Who will cut our hair when we’re gone? LP/ CD, Alien8

The piano triplets that kick off I Don’t Wanna Die set the tone here, and that the song brings to mind Syd Barrett or Abbey Road is telling of the pure pop talent on display. Sea Ghost is just one of the tunes that could be a major hit, though they lose momentum with The Clap and the overly long intro to Child Star (which gets less depressing by the end.) Let’s Get Known is a fitting lead-in to the second side of an album that is certainly getting them known. I’m sure the catchy-as-hell I Was Born A Unicorn among others here are getting tons of airplay on college stations everywhere (if they aren’t, they should be!) The arrangements are nice and sparse where they need to be, with bursts of guest musicians in all the right places (like the penny whistle and fiddling on the quirky Tuff Luff.) Inoculate the Innocuous likewise makes fun use of casio-style keys and a toy piano, all somehow sounding perfectly at home over the big-rock drums.
It’ll be a tall order to follow this up with songs as meticulously crafted as these, but they shouldn’t feel rushed about it: there’s enough here for them to coast on for quite some time. (LR)

Chile, Promise of Freedom
(produced by The Freedom Archives) CD, Alternative Tentacles,

The story of the coup that overthrew Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973 only becomes more pertinent as time goes by. It also has been in the news for various reasons. First, Colin Powell went and admitted publicly in 2003 that the U.S. was wrong to get involved in it (oops! The U.S. was never supposed to admit even knowing about this coup! Bad Colin!) General Pinochet, the coup leader who escaped justice through the ruse of ill-health in the ‘90s, seemed so healthy in a recent TV interview that his court case has been re-opened. Henry Kissinger got attention in May for having a book reviewer fired for exposing what everyone knows—that he helped arrange the coup. And the huge Riggs Bank in the US is being investigated on charges of helping Pinochet hide his millions. In short, aside from some of the guilty parties drawing closer to their overdue punishment, the story of Allende’s overthrow remains highly pertinent to a world ever-wary of U.S. foreign policy and its methods.
I have to admit, I fully expected to fast-forward through leftist proselytizing on this CD, but was happy to hear it plunge straight into a gripping narrative of the events surrounding the coup. Allende is clearly presented as the staunch defender of constitutional democracy that he was, and not the radical Marxist some of his admirers and enemies still claim. Witnesses from pre-coup Santiago eloquently express how Chileans thought “it can’t happen here,” feeling more civilized than the neighbouring “banana republics” suffering constant upheavals at the time. Audio of the bombing of the palace, as well as of Allende’s farewell address (and Pinochet’s chilling declarations of authority) really bring history alive, as do snippets of protest songs of the day. Noted writer Ariel Dorfmann provides excellent analysis throughout the CD; novelist Isabel Allende is brutally efficient in her descriptions of the post-coup mood; Orlando Letelier’s widow brings alive the horrible feeling of living in a dictatorship, and the voices of Allende’s widow and Kissinger (blatantly lying in his guttural monotone) combine, at the end of an hour, into an amazingly comprehensive story of an historic injustice still waiting to be righted.
For those wanting to delve further, you can’t do much better than pick up the recently published book, The Pinochet File by Peter Kornbluh, which summarizes recently declassified top-secret Kissinger and Nixon memos and other documents to finally tell the true story of U.S. involvement in the coup. (LR)