Music Reviews from 2003

From Vol. 2 No. 4

Reviews Seripop

Album: – - – -

SD: Slack Daddy
LR: Louis Rastelli
FR: Felix Rayman
SST: Sherwin Sully Tjia
LF: Liz Foley
IK: Isabelle Kirouac
LW: Larry Whittaker
MH: Martin Horn
LG: Lisa Gamble
RT: Rick Trembles

Label: Total Zero, Box 32046 Stn. St-Andre, Mtl, Que. H2L 4Y5 The Unireverse Plays The Music Vol. 3

The Unireverse can best be described as Montreal’s space-rock gods. The five tracks on their new release provide the listener with all the trippy dance essentials needed to groove, not to mention put a smile on one’s face. With their up-beat Casio calisthenics and Moog maneuvers, these guys have it really going on. But wait! There’s more! A pop-up Jesus (at least that’s who I think it is) in the middle of an eclectic/electronic cityscape/countryside makes for one original cool packaging! It brings back fond childhood memories of a doomed career as a spiral-graphics designer. As far as the childhood aspiration of becoming a world-renown concert-Casionist, Unireverse have shown us that dreams can come true… (LF)

Many analog synth past practitioners are recalled on this latest release from the Unireverse. Past volumes have covered Iron Butterfly, Sun Ra, Donna Summer, Hawkwind and godspeed, so psych/disco/free improv influences are also on their radar screen. With 5 songs covering 60 minutes, do not expect a quick resolution to anything going on here. A couple of 5 and a half-minute tracks are as brief as it gets, with the other three tracks clocking in at 16 minutes each. As with their live show, where 3 tracks can account for an entire set, too much of a good thing can be a problem and dilute the force of the instrumental live-synth jamming epiphanies they often reach. The principal offender here is the version of Braintickler (a cover of Total Zero label head Brian Damage’s former group Phycus). The Kraftwerky beat and keyboard motif are hammered into inconsequentiality by their sheer static repetitiveness spread over 16 minutes. Even Kraftwerk would have cut the length by half or more.
On the other hand, the other two monster-length cuts (both recorded live, one a cover of the Red Krayola/ Spacemen 3 drone Transparent Radiation) are both much better. Kreator has a neat, ambient-dubby/decaying drum-beat intro and swells into some sweeping, epic synth washes before winding down into a psych-collage-cacaphony outro. Long, but with enough ideas to keep it mostly engrossing. The Krayola tune also benefits from shifting, jamming keyboard textures overlaying monolithic drone, a fitting tribute to the original. Points off, however, for the tick/ tick-tock/ tick-tock percussion which (submerged or not) never changes for 16 minutes. Hey, let’s vary the beat occasionally!
Also included is the Human League/ Depeche Mode-without-vocals leadoff track Better Believe It (Remix), which morphs into Kraftwerk-Autobahn territory towards the end. Good. The other shortie, Kreator’s Master Plan (Remix), mines early Cabaret Voltaire/ accessible Throbbing Gristle territory to good effect for a while but 3 to 4 minutes would have been fine.
Overall, worth hearing (the first 4 tracks anyway). A little analog icy-sounding but some good ideas to sustain the drone. Adding more variety to the beats (especially considering the song lengths) would throw a useful flavor into their synth-happy homage. Music to zone out to but could cause occasional drowsiness. Catch ‘em live and decide for yourself. (SD)

Frankie Sparo, Welcome Crummy Mystics Constellation

Frankie Sparo, apparently, has been wandering in and out of the Montreal music scene for awhile now. I’d never heard of him, but then, I like to stay home, on my sofa. My first impression was that of a soundstrack to a David Lynch movie. It was atmospheric, ambient, and slow. I like how he uses a lot of “old” instruments, like pianos and violins. At times, the mood and his low-key voice made it seem as if you were moving underwater. But there are lots of change-ups. Track 3 was innovative and fun. Anachronistic “yah-nah-nah-nah’s” in the background kept things oddly upbeat and tragic. Sparo’s singing is flagrant and hiplessly going just-this-side of slightly-out-of-tune. Not all the time – just sometimes. But he kinda makes it work, which is a neat trick. I liked the use of backing vocals a lot – it pushed everything to the sticking point of grace. There was one track that was purely orchestral, and I appreciate the bravery in that; the temptation is to sing to everything. More surprises included a song sung in French, and another with Sparo singing against a piano and double bass, which made me think of languid cabarets, and girls in garters. All in all, there are moments of complete beauty here. Sometimes I feel he’s jarringly off-key, but he hits it perfectly right. (SST)

Crackpot, I’m A Crackpot Baby CD

After a couple years of heavy gigging, building up tons of material and a sizeable local fan base, Crackpot finally decided to put this debut out themselves (though I understand labels are invited to consider picking this up for wider distribution.) Their specialty is manic, frantic and tight two-guitar rock with interesting, intricate parts and twisted lyrics. Several people told me they thought they blew away Frank Black when opening for one of his last gigs in Montreal, and I think I know why—it would be hard for any band to keep up with the pace they set live. It’s appropriate that they played with him, though, since I can’t think of anything else besides Black’s Teenager of the Year-era stuff that’s as similarly quirky & guitar-based as Crackpot is (A Pleasant Walk, the second track here, almost sounds like an outtake from Teenager.) Their lyrics are generally less absurdist, more humorous (though similarly unmelodic) than Black’s (and perhaps more self-reflexive, such as when front man Chris Burns sings “Here I am still kickin’ around, still payin’ my dues, not young but not quite old” in Still Confused. This last also is very reminiscent of Mark Mothersbaugh in the songwriting, and Devo-ish humor pervades several tracks here.) In a Semi-Mental Mood and Bag of Confusion break the momentum early on in this CD, which is sad because it doesn’t do justice to their live shows, which barrel onwards like a runaway train. But there are numerous highlights later on, such as Florence (great use of three chords) and the country-tinged Yikes! I would have liked to hear one of the crazy instrumentals they always play live; one of their twisted covers or even an acoustic track could have given the CD a more dynamic feel. But that isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with the tracks they did include—this band is entirely made up of folks with long, long experience in tons of different bands, resulting in tight, skilful execution throughout. Any fans of progressive/ aggressive “alternative” guitar rock would not regret picking this up—it totally rocks. (LR)

Molasses, a slow messe CD, Fancy/ Alien 8

This is the third release by Montreal’s Molasses. The double CD set contains 6 tracks evenly divided between 13 instrumentals and 13 songs. It opens with désolé, a beautifully haunting instrumental, and from there it’s bound to enrapture you. Call it folk-noir or folk-drone—I’ve even heard “space-rock”—it doesn’t really matter because the finished product lets you define the mood. I consider this band to be one of the hardest working ensembles out there and they continue to impress not only with their latest accomplishment but with their previous projects: You’ll Never Be Well No More (2000, Fancy) and Trilogie: Toil & Peaceful Life (2000, Fancy). Their DIY work ethic trickles down to their CD packaging, which is gorgeous. Congratulations, Molasses. (LF)

Geneviève et Mathieu, Crions notre joie
CD, Local Distribution

Plutôt lassée par la surutilisation du kitsch au cours des dernières années, par la nouvelle vague dada-cool et le retour en force de la combinaison à succès des trois accords, claviers Casio, et paroles naïves, c’est avec scepticisme que j’introduisis pour la première fois le deuxième album de Geneviève et Mathieu dans mon lecteur. À prime abord, un titre comme Crions notre joie n’a rien de très rassurant. Or, à ma grande surprise, Geneviève et Mathieu surpassent de loin l’univers « comico-gaga/chansons-bonbons » auquel je les assignais. Certes, on sent le jeu de la naïveté, mais également l’incisive absurdité, l’ironie des clichés. Grâce à l’éclectisme des styles musicaux abordés (du rock’n’roll de garage à la chanson pop pré-pubère… pour adultes!) et au soucis d’éviter les mélodies prédigérées, les harmonies surchauffées, Geneviève et Mathieu se baladent habilement d’un univers à l’autre, en évitant de se prendre les pieds là où il est si difficile de ne pas sombrer. (IK)

Rockets Red Glare, s-t
2LP, Blue Skies Turn Black/ Sickroom Records (US)

A hard-rocking band, these guys stretch out on long-ish, measured jams, with good riffing and really, really great drumming. This might not be the most distinctive sound around today, but they do it well, presenting tighter, more composed pieces than most bands in this idiom. It’s guitar-heavy and emotional, punctuated throughout by pulsing cymbal crashes, with the occasional oblique lyrics shouted Fugazi-style—the lyrics are more a part of each piece’s musical punches than of any verses or choruses.
The opening tune chugs pretty hard, with the rest of the side dynamic and rocking. Yet I find the songs remain very linear, very gradually leading to changes, breakdowns, with not as much harmonic variation as I’d like. Most songs stay within the confines of a few chords, though admittedly they play around quite a lot within those chords. I find that many of the mainly instrumental bands these days sell themselves short by not pushing hard enough on the technical aspects of the music—just as 70’s “progressive” rock went overkill on the displays of technical virtuosity, some of these bands go overkill the other way, sticking almost religiously to a few notes or chords in often very simple structures. But don’t get me wrong— this band stands a solid head and shoulders above the crowd as far as complexity goes, playing very tightly and sprinkling spicy chords and bridges throughout their pieces. Already known for great live shows, they seem destined to keep moving up. (LR)

Keith Fullerton Whitman, Playthroughs CD, Kranky Records

This record sees Keith Fullerton Whitman digitally transforming raw guitar tones into long-form pieces that are starkly minimal to a degree not heard since I lay down and listened carefully to snow in Churchill, Manitoba. It’s truly a great record and certainly more so than his field recording release on Locust. Some of you may know Whitman as Hrvatski, one of his pseudonyms. I’ve never heard ‘em under any other name than this so I can’t begin to tell you what Hrvastki sounds like but this one’s highly recommended. Especially, for those who like to listen to the snow. (FR)

Exclusivite Pour Les Rapaces (compilation)
CD, Rico Rich Productions

Rap sounds pretty stagnant these days, painted into stylistic corners that just get more and more tired. Whether gangstah, social-consciousness or let’s- have-a-party-and-fuck variety of the genre, they all continue to largely regurgitate formulaic cliches that are harder and harder to get excited about. Is rap different in this respect from other genres? Not at all. Nu-punk, nu-metal, hardcore, alt-rock, electronic dance/ambient….the more they get defined, the less interesting they are to listen to. Add to that the constant pillaging of past groups and styles. Consider that more availability of music via non-big-label-controlled channels (Internet, burning your own Cds, etc.) means more accessibility to good stuff, but also a much more exponentially significant increase in crap, crap you constantly have to swim through to get to the good stuff. But enough with the soapbox commentary.
This is a local francophone rap compilation with 20 tracks and 78 minutes of music. A lot of music but, as with most comps, more is not more. Too many of the backing tracks take minimal samples and beat them into the ground for 3 or 4 minutes. This is a common problem. Too many beat producers find a nice, repetitive sample and forget that you need to build a song around it. The effect is numbing and irritating. Too much of the rapping here is garden-variety heard-it-a-thousand times before stuff, vocally and lyrically. Most of the songs are too long to support the one or two ideas on display. There are some decent samples (strings, accordion?), scratching on 4 tracks, a few dancehall rhythms, a few raps with actual flow and exactly one female participant (Aimee Kassi, not particularly memorable) to break up the monotony.
Except for Jerry’s Intro, the first half of the CD isn’t exciting, the other 4 tracks I enjoyed most falling after the midway point. It was a relief to hear Salue ma rue by Persone because some diversity in the production could at last be heard throughout an entire song and the rapping was above-average. I also enjoyed tracks by Shakaal, Apokaliptik (both dancehall-influenced), and Suspect. Half-stars to Accrophone, Pagail, Sozi and Fra – k (who might’ve got a full star if he didn’t drag his track on for 6 minutes).
Though it’s good to give local francophone rap a platform, more distinctive rhyming and less self-satisfied production is needed to distinguish it from all the other rap floating around in the stratosphere. Even the best tracks here seem better because of the less-than-stellar material that surrounds them. This is not a must-own. But maybe some of these artists can unchain themselves from formula long enough to drop better science in the future. (SD)

Québec Émergent (compilation) 3CDs, Local Distribution

It’s nearly impossible to review everything on this set, which features 37 Quebec bands covering a gazillion styles. The first CD starts with Alexis O’Hara’s Escape Hatch, a very nice mellow beat backing a well-spoken relationship rant. Ève Cournoyer follows with a manic d&b beat backing a lush catchy chorus. The next songs range from cheap commercial fluff (quite out of place here) to ‘trad’ noodlings and horrible attempts at dub and rap. By song 10, things get back on track with Cerveau and Muzion laying down great hip-hop and Mossman taking on Mr. Tsunami in a hot dub battle. The rest of CD 1 gets bogged down with reprehensibly bad fake reggae accents from Trip the Off, cheesy dance and klezmer-like tracks and downright unlistenable new age (from Messaik.) CD 2 is of more uniform (and quite high) quality. Le Karlof Orchestra deliver a great (and very appropriate) alt-pop tune, Riff Commercial, with Jeremi Mourand, Sunny DeLoop and Les Marmottes Aplaties (among others) cranking things steadily heavier with sold tracks from them all. Le Nombre deliver a very excellent balls-out rocker (how come I never heard of these guys before?), and the rest is a well-mixed selection of guitar-based stuff, leading up to the VERY heavy metal of GFK and Neuraxis. The one exception to the guitars is Les Georges Leningrad’s aimless noodling with a sampler on Pierre-Luc I Love You; maybe with the theatrics of their live shows this kind of choppy piece could work (there are glimpses of something good that pops through), but here the “song” just serves to give a horrible (and misleading) first impression— better to get their excellent debut LP instead. Overall, I’d say the 2nd CD and the standout tracks from CD 1 are worth many listens, a rare thing for any comp that tries to cover so much ground. Certainly, if any other reviews of Quebec music in Fish Piss have ever piqued your interest, this CD is a must-buy. The only disappointment is the so-called ‘interactive CD’ that comes with it—all it seems to do is point you towards websites where you can see videos from some of these bands. I find that both wasteful and patronizing, as anyone who wants to follow up on the bands here need only Google them anyway—I hate when files you put on your computer start ‘taking’ you places on the Net without asking! Don’t DO that! (LR)

The Astronaut Arcade, s-t CD, Final Records,

While their guitar-strumming and plucking is skilled, the singing is really annoying. They’re like, bad Skydiggers. A lot of screaming/singing with backing vocals. Possibly the most offensive thing is their album cover, which suggests something sporty and vaguely techno– astroturf green with tri-tone stripes and the white outline of a curvacious woman dancing. What does that have to do with their music? It’s like, the antithesis. At least their music contains a trace of earnestness. Also galling is their name: The Astronaut Arcade. Again, it suggests something totally antithetical to their music. They should’ve called themselves something like “Grounded Gus,” and had a picture of lawns on their cover. If they had to put a girl on the cover, make her barefoot. I hope they never read this review because I am unable to recommend them. (SST)

Criterion & Doily, s-t CD/ Doily, Mattress of the Universe 12”; Criterion, Wet Pain 12”, Broklyn Beats, 440 Broadway 3R, Brooklyn, NY, 11211

These two 12” (or the combo CD, which also adds an early Criterion 12”) consist of fun and occasionally danceable sound experiments. Doily apparently plays with a lot of thrift-store record samples, which must be quite fucked with, because I can’t discern any James Last or Mantovani in this stuff. If I had the vinyl (they sent me the CD), I could probably hear the sample sources by speeding up the record (some slowed-down Wurlitzer Organ beats are occasionally discernible though.) What makes all that I’ve heard from this label exciting (to me) is that it involves lots of constant change. It’s busy music, in a world where too much so-called “experimental” stuff (especially the electronic kind) is just sparse, repetitive and dull, as if calling it “experimental” excuses the artist from having to entertain. The best creativity is when an artist sounds like they’re having fun checking out new places—and both these artists come off sounding like they’re having a great time. It’s well-deserved, seeing as for years these two have run the business side of Broklyn Beats. I have no track listing to refer to here so it’s hard to tell you what my favourite tracks are, but I can say that despite a few brief bumps in the road, the whole package stands up to a lot of listenings without ever getting predictable. And the latter half of the CD is eminently danceable. (LR)

Jessica Bailiff, s-t CD, Kranky

Wow. Listening to Jessica Bailiff makes me want to take a bubble bath. Lush and beautiful – I think if Loreena McKennit was a teenager, she’d make this sort of music. While it’s not as if I haven’t heard this sort of thing a billion times from bands like Mazzy Starr and The Sundays, Bailiff makes it newly beautiful. It’s another incarnation of the angelic voice over guitars and odd orchestration. And perhaps that’s my only criticism– that as lovely as it is, all her songs begin to sound the same. All equally soothing. It’s hard to say that there’s a bad song in the bunch because they all kinda blur together. But at the same time, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this album. Maybe I should return to my bubblebath metaphor– they’re all good, but kinda indistinguishable. (SST)

Flood, Stone Core Fever
CD,, Disques MMS/ Local

From the slow burn of the intro (Overture) onwards, a pretty interesting and surprisingly new-sounding Sabbath-like metal pervades this CD. The sound is crisp, well-recorded, reminding me of a fluffier Grime (whatever happened to them, anyway?) or poppier Helmet, mixing some elements but not the whole sound of alt-metal’s forebears. Occasionally Fugazi comes to mind, but Flood probably knows better how to write a catchy song (such as the third track, Loose), and likely puts on a very entertaining live show. If I have one criticism, it’s that the band seems too eager to camouflage its obvious francophone identity in its liner notes and lyrics with very broken English that won’t help them break any U.S. markets anyway. Otherwise, there’s talent and integrity in the music that makes any future Flood projects (or shows) worth checking out. (LR)

Kiss Me Deadly, Travel Light CD, Blue Skies Turn Black

I was prepared to hate this album – just because of their name. But they’re very catchy, and they kind of won me over. I found myself bobbing my head to their riffs. The guitar work is very pretty. They’re like a softer version of Rainer Maria. There’s also a nice call-response dynamic between the lead singer boy and girl. All in all, very nice rock with a hint of pop. The words that came to mind to sum up the album were “energetic tragedy”. I think my only problem with this album was that it was too long. I thought they started repeating themselves. While the last song was thrilling, they could have cut a few songs in the final third and it would have been even more thrilling. (SST)

Young and Lost, Sadness For Sale CD, Dare to Care Records,
Box 463 Stn. C, Mtl, Que. H2L 4K4

This new band does Ska-Punk, straight up as you’d expect, with the minor twist of lots of minor chords (ahem), lending the punk halves of the steadily toggling songs an emocore feel. Fans of the Planet Smashers would no doubt dig this a lot—they do the genre very well. Tempos are fast and tight, equally good for skanking or pogoing, esp. the very fast Blinded, Forget You and Guns are for Cowards (which actually has a Pixies feel to parts of it, with shades of Dinosaur Jr. mixed in.) If anything this gets too varied too quickly sometimes, not letting the more interesting parts linger as long as they deserve to. Also, I don’t see why absolutely every single song, including more introspective ones (like Loser, Decompress) has to have a ska break in it. I guess for true ska lovers, that’s a good thing; others, though, could use a break once in awhile to better hear what else the band has to offer. (LR)

Kurt Beaulieu/ Goodbye Tonsils, Moby Died For Your Sins CD, self-produced

Kurt Beaulieu, alias Goodbye Tonsils, est d’abord et avant tout connu en tant que bédéiste indépendant. Moby died for your sins, qui ne semble pas être son premier album à en croire son fameux site web, se caractérise par un amalgame de clips électroniques souvent à peine plus longs que les légendaires pièces de D.R.I. et assez disparates les uns des autres, quoiqu’à peu près tous rassemblés sous le signe de l’humour noir, à la limite du grotesque. Reposant principalement sur différents échantillonnages (de la prière Je vous salut Marie répétée ad nauseum dans un épisode du Chapelet en famille à la phrase répétée sans cesse à différentes vitesses par ce qu’on croirait vraiment être un poisson (blasted fish)), la musique de Goodbye Tonsils tire sa substance comico-ironique de la répétition et de la tautologie. Alors que la pièce Pe Pito n’est qu’une constante répétition des mots pe pito et re pe pito, Piano piece est, exactement comme nous l’indique le titre, une pièce de piano étouffée sous une tonne de delay et peu à peu déconstruite. Le reste de l’album repose à peu près sur des principes identiques. Drôle au début, mais très vite lassant, c’est le genre d’album qui fait rire au premier degré et que l’on n’écoute qu’une seule fois. Définitivement loin d’être un coup de cœur. (IB)

Loscil, Submers CD, Kranky
These smooth ambient soundscapes sound like something Vangelis would have composed if he were younger, hipper and less sentimental. I recommend this album as something to listen to when driving through the desert. A lot of times I have problems with music that’s more experimental. They sacrifice good tunes for avant-gardism. There exists this music version of art films, where everything’s all snap-crackle-pop and you have to be able to appreciate noise and sound for its own sake, and not for the feeling or melody it carries. And while there’s a little bit of that on this album, I have to say, it’s seamlessly integrated. Most songs are between 6 and 7 minutes in length, and while sometimes the synths suggest techno music, the gino-beats never appear – instead, you get little taps, which are a lot more palatable. On my next road trip, Loscil are definitely coming along. (SST)

The Mist Beets, Dorkabilly Sounds CD, Get Fisted Records,

From the West Coast comes a band and a second album that, well, sounds like it’s from the West Coast. And that’s a good thing. A sold cover of the Mother’s Hungry Freaks Daddy (way to finally grant permission, Zappa Family!) and shades of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band (on Mrs. Jones) show these guys draw from the right influences. The album opens with some wah-wah and is sprinkled with semi-psychedelic overtones and effects, married to punk chording, humourous lyrics and song titles, and relatively deadpan (but competent) vocal delivery. The Mist Beets Song is a lot of fun, catchy, and sets the tone for the better songs. Others such as Conan O’Brien, Zoloft Babies and Shit Cinderella are surprisingly straight and even somewhat dull (fitting into the Alt. Rock monicker they describe themselves with.) They’re at their best on songs like Cakes for Jesus, Dancin’ Queen (about a stripper) and Poopy Hands (some shades of early Beck or Ween on that one), where the humour and melodies are blend smoothly with well-written music. They’d be the perfect band to share a bill (or a tour) with Crackpot. (LR)

Blank Tradition, Locked in the Backseat CD, Rude Girl,

Forty five minutes of the same guitar sound can be really hard to take. There’s some rockabilly, country, and classic rock influences in here, but most of this album sounds like the same aimless punk riffing from start to finish. There are some good songs sprinkled throughout, but I can’t escape the feeling that this should have been an E.P and not an album. There are four “hidden bonus tracks” at the end of the record, and these were the ones I liked best. The band seemed
to be having fun on these tracks. The rest of the album just sounds a little too normal. There is nothing in most of the songs to distinguish them from each other, let alone any of the thousands of songs by the thousands of other punk bands that must be plugging away at this very moment all over North America. It must mean something when a band’s best songs are the jokey outtakes at the end, but I’m not sure what. My favorite song is the last one, an a cappella cover of another New Hampshire punk band, Caffeine Addiction. (MH)

Psychotic 4, Unlocked, Unleashed, Unzipped
CD/ EP, Indica

This new band’s debut starts with some unsettlingly commercial rock riffing, but quickly incorporates some X-Ray Spex-like elements to save their punk cred. Loverboy is thanked in the credits, however, though luckily not too much of that sound rears its head here. It’s more pop-punk than 80’s jock rock for sure, with It’s Too Late especially showing some songwriting potential. (LR)

Fontanelle, Style Drift
CD, Kranky

I can’t say that I can really get behind this disc but you, the reader, might. Thus is the natural and ultimate compromise of the record review….what are you gonna do?
This band strays far into fusion territory, albeit, the good, electric Miles variety, but still…it just doesn’t sit right. Even with the wigged synths and digital muck, I’m just not feeling it. So essentially we’re dealing with a fusion band, who’ve fully loaded themselves into the 21st century, wah-pedal antics and all…along with some electro blips and digital clicks. I hate to pan any record, so I won’t pan this one…because despite my complaints, it has its moments, either where the pop and pips form a cloud of electronic polka dots or where the organ sounds rolls over you nicely and wraps you up in big warm blanket made of translucent paper colored like mountain dew (the beverage). (FR)

Slain Heroes/ Absent Minded split CD, Final Records

Both hailing from St-Jean sur Richelieu, these bands each take their stab at putting their own spin on the well-worn metal and grindcore idioms. Though no doubt the North Shore of Quebec is bound to produce another Voivod one day, I’m not sure if either of these will be it. Of the two, Slain Heroes probably have the most distinctive sound—they blend roughly “classic” metal with grindcore that helps avoid the monotony either genre can have. Songs like Evolution and Speachless Death have very well-written breaks and bridges, are quite heavy, and make good use of guitar pedals at the right moments, which keeps the songs interesting all the way through. Absent Minded comes off as also being more interesting than your standard grind, but their drummer doesn’t hold his end up (very important in metal, you know). And for such a heavy band, they picked a pretty lame name. (LR)

ArseniQ33, Tranquillement les Tranquillisants CD, Indica

This music is full of heavy guitar, interspersed with chaotic saxophone breakdowns. I can only describe it as sludge rock. There is an odd shuffling of styles as well, with ska next to surf music, with hardcore in between. Clearly, a lot of work went into this. It’s really exciting to listen to this music tumble from punk rock into free jazz breakdowns and back into fast and hard guitar. It can be a bit disorienting at times, and this is what makes it so appealing. Unfortunately, the album is mainly just this, and it gets tiring after a while. They could have done more by cutting down on the heavy rock a bit, and playing around with texture and sound more, like they do a lot in the introductions to their songs. Still, it’s nice to hear a band that lets itself be a little weird sometimes. (MH)

The Special Interest Group, Bright Occasion

This band groups together numerous local scene vets to play relatively mellow, introspective material using expansive instrumentation. The chief songwriters are Annesley Black and Joellen Housego (former Snitch, Royal Mountain Jamboree, Revolting Developments etc.), and where Joellen’s songs are fairly ballad-like in form, Annesley’s are more “alt”-like and use more electric guitar. Taken altogether, the set is nuanced and entertaining, if a bit subdued overall. The opener, Summer in the City, is one of the strongest tracks: well-crafted, interesting changes, with the group playing seamlessly as a unit. The second tune, Crescent Moon, suffers from a somewhat hokey song structure and tepid arranging, followed by 24-25, which augments the problem by piling on too much mandolin & guitar noodling throughout the song and overusing harmonies in the vocals. However, tracks like the mellower Bed of Leaves and Locarno Beach (my favourite one here) provide interesting contrast, with their sparser sound and relaxed delivery. Robert David and Jordi Rosen also take part in this very thoughtful first outing. (LR)

Le Cerveau, Le Québec Assiegé CD, High Life Music/ Local

I have to give credit to Le Cerveau for largely avoiding the usual hip hop clichés. He deals instead with the problems he sees facing contemporary quebec. His sincerity and passion are appealing. The song NéoQuébec stands out, presenting Le Cerveau’s views on what it means to be quebecois, even if not “quebecois de souche.” While his flow is solid, there is a lack of truly jaw-dropping vocal acrobatics. Nonetheless, his ability to manipulate and play with the french language is impressive. Where this album fails is as a whole. It almost feels like the concept album that never was. A political and social message as important as this needs to be tied together in a produced package that uses the beats to carry the themes touched on in the album.
As they stand, the beats on this record are alright, but I think that the fact that they were made by several different producers contributes to the feeling of dissconnection between the songs.
The title of this record might seem a little dramatic, but Le Cerveau is convincing in presenting the case that Quebec has important social problems to deal with. What is missing is a musical package that backs up his message. (MH)

Annabelle Chvostek, Water Massive Quantities of Good Vibes

Chvostek’s songs are a deep drink. By that, I mean, her vocal range is spectacular, and her playfulness is very evident. This album has the melodic splendour of Jane Siberry, or a jazzy Ani Difranco. While she croons her way through languid afternoons with very cerebral, and very verbal songs – there’s one thing I didn’t like. The title track itself – “Water”. There seemed to me to be something forced about that song. Or maybe it’s just that I hate overly politicized songs – when the message is all-too evident. I mean – I like politics, and I like art, and I like it when art is informed by politics, without necessarily being pushed by it – and this one track seemed to me to be guided quite deliberately by it. As if to say – this is on purpose. And for those who are receptive to the message, much like Bruce Cockburn fans, fine. Only, I’m not one of them. Maybe this album should have gone to one of them to review – I don’t know. What I do know is that many of these songs are beautiful, melodic, and they bring you to another place, especially when they’re not trying to. (SST)

Sam Shalabi, Osama
CD, Alien8

You could never accuse local guitar/oud string-bender Sam Shalabi of sucking up to America in order to increase visibility and sales down south. There he goes calling his album Osama and appearing on the back cover in a wool-knit skull-tight toque looking oh-so-Arabic. All in emphatic gold-on-absolute-white-relief graphics. He appears to be saying fuck-you to the U.S. and their lyin’-through-his-teeth, not-so-invisible-hands-yanking-the-marionette-strings, I’ve-never-had-to-work-or-think-too-hard-in-my-whole-life president. But Sam’s Arabic name is Osama and, yeah, he is of Lebanese descent so he ain’t just being ironically in-your-face antagonistic. On the other hand, he most certainly ain’t too happy about Dubya, his unquestioning knee-jerk-patriotic ilk and the post 9/11 freeze on artistic expression in the so-called land of the free. So I wouldn’t advise hauling large suitcases of this CD over the border the next time he visits the U.S. I’m also sure he has a lot of kindred spirits, both Arabic and non-Arabic, on the other side of the Great Divide.
And this is no raving screed about Israel and American complicity in screwing the Arabs. Yeah, it’s about his reaction to post 9/11 arabophobia (and, at a certain level of celebrity, we might as well say anti-americaphobia) but it’s more observational, more nuanced than that. He doesn’t seem too thrilled about young Arabs strapping explosives around their waists to serve some kind of uber-Arab solution proposed by self-serving so-called Arab leaders. Arab leaders who never seem to put themselves directly in the firing line but are quick to advocate it for others. Oh yeah, that also sounds like the American government.
So what does the music sound like? Well, it’s like a 1000-extra Cecile B. Demille epic film, with a cast of over 30 local musicians (including the Donkeys, most of Nutsak, a Tricky Woo, some godspeeds, cartoonist/vocalist Billy Mavreas, even a tap dancer) making contributions. No idea who plays on what. Alien8 says it “takes a straight-ahead hard rock, psyche and pop approach, but still utilizes many improv and experimental techniques.” With two 17-minute tunes among the 5 included, it’s not that straight-ahead. But it’s good, constantly shifting soundscapes to overall good effect. Frank Zappa is a good touchstone here (most identifiably in the spoken-word track, Mid-East Tour Diary, which begins with the deliberately-offending line “Why don’t you suck my big, fat Semetic cock?” and continues in a Zappaesque musical vein). Frank’s cut-and-paste ethic also imbues the rest of the work, with very disparate musical and spoken word sections stitched together to create each piece. Except for Shitmobile U.S.A., which starts off promisingly with field hooting and hollering underpinnned with fractured jazzbo musique-actuelle but gets less interesting as it evolves, the rest of this mostly delivers on its pastiche promise, even the two lengthy tracks. Nice psychedelic-swirl and garage-psych-a-la-Soft Boys passages introducing The Wherewithal and Guantanamo Bay respectively. Other interludes feature grungey rock, Middle Eastern vocals ‘n tap, V.U.-ish The Gift-like spoken word and drone (The Wherewithal); combining 60’s psych with dead-ringer Allman Brothers (no joke!) with old English folk music (Der El-Bahri from the Air, featuring Shalabi/ Mavreas project Poseidon Council); electro-racket and jungle drumming recalling mutated Joy Division, submerged piano tinkling ‘n noise, machine-beat jazz in a wind tunnel, brushes and up-front piano (Guantanamo Bay).
Sam Shalabi touches all these bases and more on this release. It’s inventive, eclectic, accessible and rarely sticks its head too far up its own ass. Check it out. (SD)

Les Goules, s-t
CD, Local Distribution

A new francophone band out of Quebec City, Les Goules plays light-hearted punk rock which ends up being hit and miss on record. Some tunes are catchy, crunchy and entertaining (Les Crabes, C’est Quoi Ton Son) while others are simply asinine (Kill, Taupe.) Some cheesy organ on various tracks keep the tone varied enough, and if this was an EP with just the good songs I would play it much more often. As it is, for a first effort (dating from 2002) it does show promise, but the band would have to edit a little harder on the next release if they want to put their talents in the best light. (LR)

Yesterday’s Ring, Onze Chansons Pour Faire Pleurer Les Morts-Vivants CD, Dare To Care Records

This is like Rancid meeting Bob Dylan for a weenie ‘n beer roast around a campfire in Lac St. Jean. Originally started in 2001 as an acoustic side project by two guys from the Sainte Catherines, the band is now 4 with the addition of two guys from Rollerstarter. And acoustic it is: 3 unplugged guitars, bass, harmonica, violin, piano and acoustic percussion. The press release quotes Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, Dylan, Rod Stewart and Johnny Cash as main influences. Sound scary yet? I’d also toss in Quebecois rough-voiced 70’s singer-songwriters as influences (they cover both Claude Dubois’ Plein De Tendresse and Gilles Valiquette’s Les Routes De L’Ennui).Sound even scarier? Well, it’s not bad although it didn’t make me run around the room naked, screaming and howling, or anything. Maybe if I’d consumed as much beer as these guys seem to have while recording it….
The guy who sings like Rancid’s Tim Armstrong here is what you would call an acquired taste. He sounds like he’s got marbles in his mouth and it’s a good thing they include the lyrics because he swallows more than a few lines. He knows it, too, because on Punk Rock Is Not Dangerous Anymore (a good tune where he sounds like he’s gargling through a megaphone) he sings “My throat hurts too much.” Yeah, his throat and my ears.
The acoustic guitars are fine and range from real soft folk (Libre a la Base) to punkier strumming (Roaming on Sainte Catherine Street, East of St. Laurent, South of Sherbrooke, My Favorite) to Tom Waitsy drinking sing-a-long (Cinema Girl). The Dylan harmonica comes out on a couple of tracks. Early Rod Stewart (“I wish that I knew what I know now / When I was younger….when I was stronger”) is quoted on Punk Rock Is Not Dangerous Anymore. Which fits the song, but quoting Rod Stewart is definitely not going to make punk rock dangerous anytime soon. In fact, it supports the case for the title of the song. As for country influences, aside from the intro to the very longly-titled J’aurais Jamais Pensé Faire Une Chanson Pour Faire Pleurer Les Mères [hey thanks for quoting it George!— Ed.], I didn’t hear a lot. The Dubois tune has a nice melody and is done well. The hidden track at the end is also particularly cool (lyric:”C’est comme Jean Leloup”). Dividing the 11 tracks equally between English and French (one track using both) is a nice bilingual touch.
Summation: More attention to singing and varying the arrangements could make this more interesting. It’s fun and worth a few listens but not something I’ll be playing from beginning-to-end often. (SD)

The Shifters, Fast, Loose and Lovely CD, Final Records

The Shifters play a decent brand of punk-a-billy liberally sprinkled with bar-rock riffing. It works best on the opener, Think Stupid. It falls flat elsewhere (as on Sinners and Sins). Sometimes the age-old classic punk chord progressions can sound fresh even after they’ve been used a million times; sometimes they can’t. There’s no excuse for them including the cheesy Bad Bad Girl, and the obviously out-of-tune guitar doesn’t even sound like it’s on purpose. However, their Beatles cover (I Feel Fine) shows there’s not much wrong with their execution—they just need to develop some better material. (LR)

Blurtonia, 2nd self-titled
CD, Grenadine Records

Supporters of the “concept” of beards in RAWK (take a bow Z.Z. Top, Bionic, Fluffy from Set Fire To Flames), Blurtonia lets you know they’re all about welding Top boogie to Cheap Trick big power-pop choruses in the leadoff track Cardboard Riot. Another clue is producer Daryl Smith, who has also produced Sloan and godspeed you! black emperor. It’s the Sloan connection that’s of importance here. If godspeed ever started sounding like Cheap Trick, I would assume I’d mistakenly ingested vast quantities of psychedelics and woken up on planet ZOM. Actually, it would probably be a welcome change to what they usually sound like. No, Sloan is more like it, recycling all things RAWK and 70’s with those big, ringing vocal choruses meant to imprint the song in your mind long enough for you to go out and buy a copy of it. Add a pinch of alt-rock slacker dynamic. Smith records it off-the-floor and large and the first 4 tracks (including Foxy By Proxy, Perfect Crime and Three Points of Action) more-or-less succeed in wearing their influences on their sleeves but getting away with it. Then things get haphazard: the slow Claptonesque ballad Dissentionaire, the strictly generic who-cares Z.Z. riff on Hot Kiss, the dull Raspberries power-pop of Same Thing Twice, and the truly suck-ass ballad One To Another that closes the proceedings. Amongst the second-half filler, you also get the OK Meat Puppets-reminiscent Fireflies, the fast James Williamson/ Stooges burn of Mock Priest, and the 30-second hardcore jolt of Gravity Isn’t Serious. Verdict: Loud, at times dumbly catchy, but not enough to distinguish it from lots of similar stuff. Proceed if the influences appeal to you. Head for the hills otherwise cuz big boogie beards are a-headin’ this way. (SD)

Soft Canyon, Broken Spirit I Will Mend Your Wings Alien8

Listening to this record I felt transported. The music’s from another time. It’s a time machine. The closest comparisons I can make are the bluesy songs from the Eagles, Pink Floyd with the Doors thrown in altogether. And like these groups, the songs are irresistable and catchy, melodic and dreamlike – with a hint of recent Beck thrown in, but less weird. It’s almost disturbing how a band working today can so completely digest the music of some particular retro-era and dream up new songs while not making fun of it, without using it as a pose. At times there are whole reveries of near-psychedelic music, like being overwhelmed by giant watercolour washes. This band also isn’t afraid to have whole songs without vocals. But most of the time it’s just gentle rock n roll. I want to be in a room only illuminated with christmas lights, under covers with someone soft, puffing on a hookah, apple spiced smoke filling the air, with bunnies hopping all around, listening to this music. (SST)

RollerStarter, s-t CD,
Dare to Care Records

Local ska-punk demons RollerStarter give it all to us in this 11 track CD on Dare to Care Records. Aggressive vocals mingling with the upbeat rhythm section is perfect for those house-parties that never quit, cuz these guys don’t either. Throw it into the CD player and you’re sure to have the dance floor full of head banging enthusiasts. Note: 25 cents of their records sales go to the Montreal-based non-profit newspaper L’Itinéraire which is produced and sold mainly by homeless and ex-homeless people. (REM)

Allakomi, s-t CD, self-produced

How to even begin describing this CD? I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything like it. A local band, but which hails originally from Burkina Faso in Africa, this family of 8 musicians is so skilled at all their instruments and so passionate in their performance that words will never do them justice—you have to see them to believe how incredible they are. Anyone who’s seen them play either during street festivals, during their legendary stretch of Sunday afternoon gigs at Quai de Brumes or monthly gigs at Bobards will jump on this.
Having moved from their rural home a few years back to Montreal, the Zon family’s children (ranging from about 8 to 25 years old) learned music from their father, who had learned from his father (and so on) almost from birth. None of them look remotely unhappy about being forced to play music all the time—in fact, it’s safe to say they’re one of the happiest bunch of people I’ve ever seen on stage. Much of their music is traditional and most is written or guided by their father (a griot, or wise person of his village); the songs on the CD also all have messages in them, ranging from personal advice and general guidance to social or political commentary.
Since moving here, the children haven’t remained totally insulated from our culture—gradually their live shows have included more bass and electric guitar, adding power to the sound without changing the organic character of the music. Gradually I’ve also seen them hone their chops to the point where I don’t think I’ve heard any band in any style (even speed metal) play such complicated rhythms and music so damn fast and tight. Songs like Balattou and Démé (both on the CD) get so fast you have to squint your ears to keep up—the sounds actually blur together. Live, everyone loves their thunderous, show-stopping percussion pieces, where hypnotic looping riffs pounded out of those wooden xylophones anchor insanely complex rhythms that keep layering one over the other until they form a virtual sea of beats. (At those points in their shows, there is never a stationary butt in the place.) I never thought these moments could translate well onto CD but they do here, on tracks like Fourou and Balattou. What comes off almost better than the live shows on CD are the incredibly intricate African guitar tunes—talk about your fast picking! Again, the notes are played so fast they almost blend into sine waves. And if you’re particularly fond of the crescendos made popular by certain local bands, you should check out the ones here—these guys build up and build up to such frenzies you almost feel like ducking. Safe and sanitized “world music” this isn’t, though certainly any fan of Fela Kuti, Manu diBango or other afro-beat would dig this big-time. For anyone else, consider this an express ticket to one of the most vibrant forms of tribal music you’ll ever hear. (LR)

Francisco Lopez, Addy En El Pais De Las Frutas Y Los Chunches CD, Alien8

Francisco Lopez is a prolific releaser of natural sound-derived soundscapes, a trained biologist from Madrid, Spain. This is his 3rd release on Alien8. I heard his earlier Untitled #104 and, except for the lengthy opening silence you have to sit through to get to the real deal, I was mightily impressed with his brutal collage of death metal tape loops. Never got around to hearing Untitled #123, which used the source material of sound pumped through Silo #5 in Old Montreal for a local “concert” at an off-site locale. I did witness the show, however, and it was good but not overwhelming. The death-metal thing was an anomaly for Francisco, given that it used other than environmentally-recorded sounds as a foundation.
I listened to this 4 times in its entirety, but I think it blows. Despite the Alien8 catalogue’s come-on that this is “the most remarkable document in Francisco Lopez’ entire discography” and that “it has since become the Holy Grail collector piece for Lopez enthusiasts,” it’s gotta be one of the laziest examples of ambient environmental soundscaping I’ve ever heard. Do I listen to a lot of this stuff? Not at all, but if I heard further examples of this type of eco-music by further practitioners of the “art” I would yawn just as vociferously. This is truly the sound of 58 minutes of nothing… and that’s saying something. Recorded during rainy season 1995 in umpteen locations in Costa Rica, there’s probably more than a few reasons why this was only released in a limited U.S. edition of 500 back in 1996. Reasons like it doesn’t go anywhere, doesn’t do anything and makes the ambient bird noises, street chatter, traffic etc. going on outside your window seem like Stravinsky. Listening to this makes you fondly remember sound-effects records from the 60’s where they just gave you the straight, unadulterated recording in 2 or 3 minutes. Francisco can take credit for “composing and recording” this CD in Spain, but he’s really stretching the idea of “composing” something here.
He’s been to Montreal 7 times as I write this, always a proponent of the audience listening to the natural sound of the performance, including silence, without visuals, background noise interruption or interference. As per this dictum, blindfolds are recommended and distributed (for you morons who just can’t close your eyes and pretend). Maybe it’s not even about creating your own music but instead about achieving “oneness” with nature’s audio soundtrack. If that’s the case, I’d prefer to have the actual Costa Rican source locales to look at while listening but I suppose that would detract from Francisco’s idea of the “pure” listening focus I should be bringing to his material.
Here we have 3 long tracks (13+, 25 and 18 minutes-long respectively plus minute-long silences between) that fail to engage even the most belly-button gazing sky pilot. Sometimes I had to turn it up because the ambient wash was so low it was barely there. Other times my ears were fine but the ambient sub-woofer frequencies were serving more as a test of my speakers, which were threatening to jump out of their cabinets. Any stray sound you might detect is like a ten-minute guitar solo. Sounds a lot like parking your ear beside a seashell and listening to the sound of “whoosh.”
Perhaps a connoisseur of this particular genre can explain to me why I should care about listening to this. The theory definitely sounds better than the listening experience in this case. I’m not arguing that you can’t create something interesting with ambient soundscapes. This just isn’t it. (SD)

1-Speed Bike, El Gallito
EP, CD or 12”, Broklyn Beats

The growing subgenre of politically radical dance music is fast becoming the first type of dance music I can stand listening to in my own home. I briefly wondered whether this is the first time dance music got political (sounds like quite the oxymoron at first glance), but I figure early hip-hop, such as Afrika Bambataa’s or Kool Herc’s radical mixes and blends of otherwise dull mainstream music, was not much different than the stroboscopic genre-mixing (of house, techno, raga-dub, 606-ing etc.) that goes on during 1-Speed Bike’s sets. Then I remembered how even in the 70’s, even when Melle Mel rapped “The Message,” he wasn’t inventing the wheel. As far back as the early 1920s, calypso “toasters” (old word for rappers) succeeded only if they were able to improvise longer rhymes on the political headlines of that day than the other toaster in on-stage “battles,” all while the backup band would play something danceable for the crowd to groove to… And so, the lesson to this digression, reinvention is not necessarily imitation, and this CD/ 12” has nothing in common (or direct influence) from the above references except for that the times themselves are again conducive to people digging a message mixed in with their dance grooves. (What fun is a revolution if you can’t dance to it, after all?) Though on the first listens I wondered whether some new tricks or sounds could stand to enliven the mostly familiar beats found on this CD, I still keep putting it on, thinking there isn’t enough of this stuff around (at least that I’m aware of, aside from other stuff on this label or DFA.) And Aidan’s sense of humour with song titles and rants still can’t be beat. Some lines from his deadpan intro here: “I am the sound of a grenade exploding in an officer’s tent… I am the sound of a fart from Barbara Bush’s ass at the Easter dinner table… I am the sound of millions of people marching the whole world over… Shit gets more obvious to everybody everyday…” ‘Nuff said. (LR)

Out Hud, S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. CD, Kranky Records

Out Hud now have a home at Kranky, and this is the first for the label. It never really lifts off like I wish it would, not that they aren’t a seriously tight unit…in fact reports back from their live appearance recently makes me think that possibly this record just doesn’t catch the groups big whoop of rhythm for whatever reason. Again, this unit is a tight one. S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. lacks a bit of the grimy, pump I remember from their GSL release but ah well, I’m picky you are probably not and I think this is probably a nice addition to anybody’s library who digs the new new no wave thing and it probably only suffers from a bit of unnecessary studio sheen. All this aside, you can really feel that whomever plays guitar in this band is a seriously wicked player, following the machine beat and live drums dead on which is what made the first generation (Quine, Harrison, Skip Mcdonald, Charles Bullen et al.) of dance-punk so swell! The fact that said guitar player sounds like The Edge adds, not detracts, from this groovy record. (FR)

The Other Thing, The A-Bomb A-Nation
CD, 830-4 St-Laurent, Montreal, QC, Canada, H2T 1R5

But for a scant couple of dry tracks, Evan Light’s moog & bass distort so shrill you can hardly differentiate instruments. Trebly tremolo, throbbing blats & rumbles, tinnitus inducing cicada drone, buzzing guitar strings untuned so slack they’re fused to the pickup magnets; the sound of broken glass being rubbed together & chucked at a Theremin. Din chases George Agetees’ drums faraway & inconsequential, any melodic inklings forced to frantically dart to & fro so as not to gel. Seen ‘em live twice; first time sounded like they were playing in separate soundproofed rooms devoid of any rapport. The second more cohesive show I overheard them accurately described as “Black Sabbath doin’ improv.” CD rests somewhere in between. Guest guitarists playing musical chairs include, among others, Phil Nolan (founder of my band American Devices 23 years ago), the CD’s engineer Marc Montanchez (ex Steak 72, now in Sonido), & Lawrence Joseph (ex Terminal Sunglasses). But they’re hard to tell apart. Back in ‘80, improvised jamming hours on end was how we hunted down riffs & Phil could coordinate the most convoluted concoctions from these cacophonies, a process I continue trying to uphold. In The Other Thing Phil does the scales like a fish outta water, more perplexed by his inclusion than anything else. Ornate wallpaper to Evan & George’s plodding. Marc’s feedbacking fuzz whammy-bar recalls classic acid rock. Least identifiable is Lawrence, so smitten by the “musique actuelle” bug that he can sit an axe on his lap bouncing chopsticks up & down the frets dead serious (seen live Dec. 12, 2002). Now there’s something to “fret” about. Noise… can’t live with it, can’t live without it. Nice Billy Mavreas alien chest-burster on the cover. I drew the dragon while listening to My Windows Are Amazing. (RT)

Lux Catalogue (comp.)
CD, Neon Magazine Records,

Put together by Neon, a magazine out of Quebec City & Montreal which specializes in electronic pop and “new” new wave stuff, the stuff on this comp is all keyboard or electronics-driven. It starts off terribly, with Echo Kitty providing the worst kind of 80’s cheesy keyboard pop. Terminus B are more fun and quirky, but are still pure retro— nothing new here. Finally, at song 5, Winterbrief’s Sore Losers Sour Grapes, we hear some quality experimentation—it’s a frantic, manic electrobeat number with lots of changes. The S.E.X. also succeed with their instrumental, but are followed by two truly bad, bad tracks by DCR (is that what they call “electroclash”?) and Chernobyl Cha-Cha (fake Euro accents, pure posing, zero creativity.) Then someone thought an electro version of Corbeau’s Illégal would be funny (it really isn’t). From Germany (there are also tracks from the US & Australia here), Haushaltswaren delivers on Spullwasser—leave it to the Krauts to show how it’s done. Overall, for what are almost certainly young bands, there is a lot of promise here. And the mere fact that they could put together a whole comp out of just some of the province’s new keyboard acts shows that the genre is enjoying a renaissance. If the newer bands here follow the lead of the handful of truly progressive artists on this release, they can certainly go somewhere with this—but most aren’t there yet. (LR)

Alexis O’hara, In Abulia
CD, Grenadine,

What local spoken-word queen Alexis O’Hara tries to accomplish here is pretty delicate alchemy: Take the immediacy of slam-poet-performance-art and try to translate it, with “naive” off-the-cuff musical backing, to CD. Yes, she’s related to Mary Margaret and Catherine so you might expect both quirky musical and humorous touches, which are both in evidence.
Despite the press release claim “but who knew she had such a lovely voice,” she doesn’t have a particularly unique voice nor a whole lot of range. The spoken word element is strong, direct and, for the most part, compelling. The rinky-dink musical collage of found-sound vocal/ helicopter/ traffic samples, toys, bass, minimal guitar and atmospheric keyboard washes is a lot more effective than it looks on paper. Yeah, it gets a bit self-indulgent but it charms its way through over half of the material and comes out standing. Sometimes it’s a half-triumph, with music taking a back seat to the lyrical observations, but there’s usually something to recommend about each track. There’s an individual woman’s point of view here, not a bunch of cliched lyrical observations.
My favorite tracks here are where the music attains somewhat equal footing with the lyrics: the godspeedy Spaceship Matrix has a pretty, stately keyboard; Seaside Sick has a drugged semi-awake patient trying to comprehend her doctor through her haze; Bushes As Beasts gives a child’s eye-view of travelling in a car with the family; the Raincoats-ringer Escape Hatch uses dubby bass to muse on the dichotomy of a relationship; Gastown Blues (presumably about Vancouver) mixes matter-of-fact observation with omenous sounds portraying a pretty bleak environment. She’s So Dirty is appropriately creepy musically. Spring Cleaning takes 40 seconds to express much more: “The house… house…empty empty…everyone was… angry angry.” Sounds like there was more to clean up than just the rooms in the house.
Ms. O’Hara handles most of the musical backing with occasional help from from local musicians Rob Stephens (The Fearless Freep, also recording assistance), Will Rigby and Jon Asencio (Mossman, Electronic Humans Guild, etc.).
There are some missteps. The first, French-sung piece recalls the deadpan Laetitia S. from Stereolab, but without a tune to hang it on. To Be: Leave is 6 minutes of indulgent instrumental ambient wash and found-sounds. Last tune Last Train Out, which quotes Jacques Brel (please no!) near the end (“Ne me quittez pas…”) is dull vocally and musically. The irritating Hotel By The Highway revisits kids being driven by their parents and constantly complaining, with the racket sped up to a high-pitched hamster squeal by the end. It intends to be irritating and succeeds. The short hidden track featuring the lyrics “I will do whatever you want me to do” is obviously ironic and grating. You might find Alexis’ delivery (both spoken-word and sung) to be too detached, too deadpan tonally to get involved in. You might wish the music crunched instead of oozed more. Overall, though, worth hearing. A different voice in the local pot. (SD)

Queen Size S.H.A.G., Songs from Destiny Ranch

This EP sees Ruby and Sarena return (mostly) to their roots as an acoustic duo, placing the emphasis on their (always) excellent and powerful vocal harmonizing and songwriting. The heavy guitar riffing of the previous full-band albums is replaced by frenetic strumming and some nice lead guitar lines, the concept being a “back to the roots” tribute to the rural setting (“Destiny Ranch,” in Caledon, Ontario) that was their home for several years. Since leaving, the (thankfully departed) Conservative government there turned much of the area into North America’s largest open gravel pit, expropriating their old home in the process. The collection of tunes captures the spirit of country living and the sadness of the situation very well (particularly the closing title track.) Throne gets pretty honky-tonky, and is bookended by other more self-reflexive tunes; personally, I prefer songs like Conjugal Visit, where the girls’ capacity for just belting it out is on full display. But given the concept behind the EP, they can certainly be forgiven some sentimentality. And by the end, there’s defiance on display: as the liner notes ready, Destiny Ranch will continue to become home, wherever they are. (LR)

Daniel Menche, Beautiful Blood Alien8 Records, PO Box 666,
Station R, Montreal, Quebec, H23 3L1

I have no idea who Daniel Menche is, so I came to this album with absolutely no baggage. This two track monster starts with a sustained piano note repeated, suddenly interrupted by harsh noise courtesy of some unknown source. It’s not until the second track, which I believe is the piano tone again, drawn out into an extended drone, accompanied by two more pure electronic tones that the thing really starts to please my ear-holes. In truly classic minimalist form, this piece takes shape slowly over time and its own logical growth is beautiful onto itself. Towards the end you feel like you’re listening to evil monks chanting the secret name of God but the final sounds you hear seem like those of the last subway passing and, damn son, you missed it. A great listen and worth your time and money plus it looks great on the shelf with all your other pretty Alien8 releases. (FR)
La Rue Kétanou, y’a des cigales dans la fourmilère CD, Indica

I was surprised to hear this on Indica—it’s very much in the traditional French “chansonnier” style, quite subdued. Not the most adventurous album, but if you like that style (lilting poetic rhymes over acoustic guitar/ accordion vamps), it might turn your crank. There is one attempt at a rap (Rap n Roll), which could have been left out of this, frankly. Otherwise, this album, recorded live in various places in France, is for Francophiles only. (LR)

Bottleskup Flenkenkenmike, Looks Like Velvet, Smells Like Pee CD, Broklyn Beats

Bottleskup Flenkenkenmike is drummer Aidan of godspeed, formerly under the name 1-Speed Bike and formerly on the Constellation label. Apparently the label was lukewarm about this techno material, so the CD comes out on Brooklyn label Broklyn Beats instead.
Combining live and digi-beat percussion with other live instrumentation, ambient and noisy sonic background washes, spoken word political pronouncements, a sense of humor and lengthy tracks, Flenkenkenmike presents something that tries to turn overly dance-trancey repetitive techno on its head while still respecting the usual conventions. It’s a tough line to straddle. If you’re not on a dancefloor throwing yourself into the primal thump of the beat, this stuff can be really irritating and brain-numbing in your living room. Luckily, Bottleskup has enough ideas here to keep the square robotics of the beat shifting constantly enough to engage interest. There are dubby sections that provide a nice change of pace, also skittering jungle beat. Then there’s the overlaid atmospherics and unpredictable spoken-word interludes. The pieces sometimes beat simple ideas into the ground for too long, sometimes try to squeeze too many ideas into 8 minutes when 5 or 6 would pack more wallop. Sometimes less would be more and the enthusiasm level listening to the first 3 or 4 minutes starts to dissipate as the length drags on. But give him credit. He doesn’t just take a boring loop, add some obvious minimal twists to it, throw in a diva vocal sample, mix it on auto-pilot for 15 minutes and call it a day.
Aidan’s song titles are hilarious: Encounter with Haile Selassie’s Grandson in a Mississauga Tim Horton’s, The Day I Defeated the Dutch Shelf-Toilet (one of my favorites, with appropriate flushing accompaniment), Festival du Jazz du Maurier Suicide Bombing, The Day Patio Door Saved My Ass in Baltimore, The Best City in America, If Anyone in High School Fucks With You For Being a Freak, Just Tell Me and I’ll Kick Their Ass, Bronze Medal For Fence Hopping at Punk Olympics. The last two are also personal favorites. He also seems, for the most part, to simply turn off the tape and restart it in the same place for the next “song.” Pretty haphazard and funny, considering the overtly “serious” approach of many techno architects. In short, we can say one of the godspeeds isn’t afraid to project musical humour. Despite the chained-to-the-beat conventions of the genre, humor and ideas are a saving grace here. (SD)

The Sainte Catherines, The Art of Arrogance
CD, Dare to Care Records

This hard-working local punk band doesn’t have the hugest name recognition in town, but that’s because they spend tons of time touring all the nooks and crannies of this and neighboring provinces. They play a pretty mature, consistent style of angry punk, not that far off from the kind Propagandhi’s been playing lately (though more emotional/ cynical than political.) The energy level is kept steady pretty much the whole way through here, though after quite a few listens, I didn’t find that any songs stuck to me much more than any others. One of them, Broken art for expensive hearts, I quickly found annoying (along with the atrocious cover art and clichéd punk fonts.) But this by no means is to say that the songs aren’t good—from the opener, Va Donc Chier, onwards, there’s an infectious energy here that doesn’t let up for a second. It’s just that a bit more craft put into the music and song changes could turn this otherwise acceptable album into a local punk classic. Still, with the drive and determination these guys have, it’s probably just a matter of time… (LR)

Mike Gee and the Family Tree, Live From The Gee Spot CD, xv music

Always aiming to offend, Mike Gee gets mixed results on this debut. If you’re offended by a white guy trying to sound like Ol Dirty Bastard, then I guess it works. This certainly isn’t “the best album ever made,” as Mike likes to say. There are few rhymes which command attention here, and as for the vocal delivery, again, it’s never pretty when a white Jewish guy tries to fake an American accent. (I still think the gold standard for white Montreal rapping is the original version of My Dog Popper’s “I lost my job to a guy named Gino”—no accent-faking there, and it works.) The songs themselves depend a lot on Mike’s sidekick, who is definitely a pro on the keyboards—his instrumental interludes here are probably the best tracks (along with Disco Club, where the satire is actually entertaining.) Wack Attack! is very appropriately titled; Gee apparently is unaware of how litigious Kraftwerk are when he does a reggae version of Pocket Calculator (sounds better in theory than in practice); and the songs about loving crack and cocaine don’t make it clear whether Mike is actually condoning that asshole drug or just kidding (if not, then the blow might be why much of this, well, blows.) Other tunes are just unlistenably bad (What the fuck you do, Ass to Ass, etc.). The heartfelt acoustic love song, Suck my dick makes for a nice change right at the end. Future outings, if Mike could find his voice, stick with it, get better rhymes and let the keyboardist have more instrumentals, could work. But for now, I don’t know who would want to buy this, unless it was for the keyboards. (LR)

Waxathon, s-t LP/ CD

Blake Hargreaves is a former member of Ottawa post-punk trio the Orphanage and is rumored to have studied under new york avant-blues musician Elliot Sharp.* This ridiculously gorgeous LP is Hargreaves’ attempt at connecting with some of the aesthetic principles he discovered while living in New York City. Certainly, like many of the underground records starting to come out from below the border, this one takes a while to make sense of, but persistent and careful listening reveals little secret insights into the life of the common bedroom dweller. One imagines Blake hunched over in a confined space with a mic tapped to his head, working away at two obsolete turntables and thurming away on a crusted guitar. He is now a major presence on the circuit of new beyond-thought-punk kids that are operating out of secret bunkers everywhere in Montreal that you can’t find. This rec got reviewed in Arthur Magazine’s influential reviews section recently but we heard it first.
*What’s with Ottawa kids & their connections to New York’s downtown crowd? (see Felix Rayman’s review of Sundar Subramunian in the last Fish Piss.) (FR)

Paradise, Rock Anthro-pologists on the Kon-Tiki Voyage Local Distribution

Drag out yer Hawaiian shirts because everything about this album is Hawaiian except the music… I’m going to assume I missed a trend and deem this cock rock— “Tiki rock”…. standard rock none the less. Big guitar, drums, bass, big rock… same same ol’ same, done well enough to please a few people I’m sure… yawn… Lyrics are about cars and women. Traditional American old time… ha ha ha. I got on the internet and found out that these guys played their first show at the Olympic stadium….. having a problem detailing the rock. This album really didn’t do much for me, perhaps they’d be good live. I’d rather be having sex right now than writing this review so in closing I’ll say at least it’s straight forward rock and roll and not indie/ EMO shit or experimental noise crap. This album comes with a drink umbrella. (LG)

Set Fire To Flames, Telegraphs In Negative/ Mouths Trapped In Static 2CDs, Alien8

À prime abord, rien ne laissait présager un deuxième album de la part de Set Fire To Flames, collectif d’impro montréalais composé de treize musiciens et musiciennes issus, pour la plupart, de ce que l’on pourrait qualifier de nouvelle scène rock expérimentale (godspeed you! black emperor, Fly Pan Am, Hrsta, etc ). Telegraphs in negative/ mouths trapped in static, reprends d’ailleurs le processus d’enregistrement rituel amorcé par Sings reign rebuilder, que l’on pourrait comparer (j’entends déjà la consternation!) à la fameuse règle des trois unités si chère au théâtre classique, c’est-à-dire :un seul lieu, soit une vieille grange du dix-neuvième siècle de la campagne ontarienne, un temps restreint à cinq jours d’enregistrement, ainsi qu’une seule action principale (dois-je vraiment la nommer?). Le matériel enregistré lors de cette séance sera bien sûr retravaillé et recollé par la suite en studio, où des fragments seront quelquefois ajoutés.
Tout aussi lyrique et transcendant que l’album précédent, Telegraphs in negative/ mouths trapped in static se détache de plus en plus des grandes envolées sentimentales qui font la marque de GY!BE pour se rapprocher davantage de prenantes ambiances sonores minimalistes, à certains moments très près de l’univers des symphonies de Glenn Branca (déjà, comme des trous de vent, comme reproduit) ou des phrases percussives de Steve Reich (something about eva matte…) ou encore de Terry Riley; et de scénarios de musique concrète. L’idée de départ était de faire participer pleinement les bruits environnants (field recordings) à l’enregistrement et de les inclure au répertoire sonore en tant que partie intégrante de la musique. Bien réussie, cette immersion au cœur même de l’univers de la création par le biais des sons environnants rend le tout très organique, un peu à la façon du dernier album de Thuja. Cependant, à ce naturel atmosphérique, à ce flux sonore ininterrompu, au cri plaintif des instruments en parfaite symbiose avec ce lieu qui les habite, se bute à une légère incohérence, soit la présence de silences imposés entre chacune des pièces de l’album. Au contraire de Sings reign rebuilder, s’écoutant d’un seul souffle, Telegraphs in negative… convie l’auditeur à dix-sept segments entrecoupés de blancs (ou noirs, ou autres couleurs de votre choix, c’est selon!) et répartis sur deux différents disques. Plutôt que de nous laisser respirer, ces instants de silence placés ici et là, ce soucis structurel, coupe le souffle de l’album en lui imposant un pouls qui, selon moi, ne lui convient pas et nuit à la fluidité des improvisations. Hormis de léger bémol, Telegraphs in negative est un excellent album, surpassant les limites des explorations précédentes de Set Fire To Flames. Sans oublier le design graphique de la pochette et du livret qui, à lui seul, vaut une mention spéciale. Un travail de maître, réunissant de magnifiques photos et dessins, réalisés par différents artistes, dont le bédéiste Jeff Ladouceur. Une œuvre d’art en soi. (IK)

You know, sometimes I wish godspeed and almost all of their various spin-off projects would just lighten up a little bit. Cover Roadrunner by The Modern Lovers or Tighten Up by Archie Bell & The Drells or Sugar Sugar by The Archies… something dumb and stupid, something nobody expects. Because, after putting the trademark on a pretty unique style, godspeed etc. have become straitjacketed in it, doomed to repeat history until someone tells ‘em it ain’t the Mt. Zion of sit-on-the-floor-cross-legged-mesmerization anymore.
Case in point: Set Fire to Flames, the Stanford Prison Experiment of local alterna-projects. Take a dozen or so musical volunteers/friends (godspeed, Molasses, Hanged Up etc.), put ‘em in an enclosed space with various forms of intoxicants, deprive them of sleep, depend on spontaneous musical inspiration, record and mix the magical results… voila, how can it miss? Well, it can and it does.
It’s not that there aren’t delicate and pretty elements (far less droningly wave-after-wave tumultuous than godspeed) on display here. There are several. But not enough for 2 CDs, 17 songs & 88 minutes. This could have been one CD easily, enough for a good 30-minute EP. Instead, it goes on and on, totally charmed by its minimal ideas, charmed into thinking they carry more weight than they actually do. Strings swell mournfully, classically and meaningfully; guitars get into lock-step drone; toy music boxes tinkle; ambient random sound effects and percussion appear. But they sure are stingy with the hooks. Does that mean Set Fire to Flames should sound like Abba? No, but they could be more generous to their listeners. I understand that godspeed uses the word “HOPE” to emblemize their message. Perhaps we’re supposed to understand a similar message here. Can’t we include celebration, “letting loose”, in the equation? Simply wallowing in the turgid miasma of existence may be comforting to your listeners’ expectations, but does it communicate hope? Especially when the tools of musical communication stay in the same rut. Furthermore, when does the whole style just turn into a parody of itself? Lastly, if you’re going to play 99.9% instrumental music, you’ve gotta work harder to sustain interest than Set Fire to Flames do here.
So the process seems to be that those still standing at any given time wandered into the recording “situation” when “the time was right” and laid it down for posterity. My own experience as a musician is that you have to self-impose limits on this kind of self-indulgence, or you’ll disappear down the big black hole of wankitude. The first CD begins promisingly, if familiarly, with the Glass/ Chatham/ Reich drone of track 1. The first 4-1/2 minutes were nice. Track 5 recalls God-Speed-religiously-ascending drone and is pretty but familiar. Track 6 is a very short but cool music-box instrumental. Track 7 (15 minutes) is long, mopey-plodding and reminds me why I used to wish Swans/ Gira would lighten up.
On CD-2, I enjoyed the (again) very short atmospheric-western-guitar-minimal-strum of Track 1. The Floydy but familiar early part of the way-too-long (12 minute) Track 3 was OK. The glockenspiel ‘n string swells of Song 6 justified about half of the almost 5 minutes. The mournful, elegaic strings and bass drone of Track 7 was nice. The short, spoken-word “relationship” phone conversation with short-wave radio interference of Song 8 was, I’m sure, of interest to the participants, but not to me. Track 9 (kind of a companion piece to #1) has compelling, super-minimal guitar plonk with cracked electronics and a godspeedy overall feel.
Even when “nice” though, this is rarely gripping listening. The pieces are not over-played but needing to PLAY more. (SD)

Eric Hanson, No Shame, self-produced

“No Shame” is exactly that, something Eric should not be ashamed of. This is a solid execution of making an catchy acoustic folk album with enough “pissed off, I hate the world”-ness thrown in to make any self-respecting hippie take a trip to the barber shop. To Eric’s credit, this cd a healthy combination of Ben Harper’s singing and Kurt Cobain’s chord progressions and solid lyrics. For a guy who made a record on his friend’s four-track it’s pretty fucking good. (LW)

Hypnos, Screwdriver
Local distribution

This seemingly well produced album has three distinct flavors. 1. Run Lola Run 2. 1990s industrial Goth shit and 3. Weird experimental noise crap. On the inside cover they’ve scanned the logo for every single music program they used to put together the album. I’m pretty sure that these guys are not sponsored so I ask, “why would take up space on your CD cover to give these major corporations free publicity?” The most tolerable track on this album was definitely track three. The female vocals captured my attention with its interesting texture….unfortunately by track 7 I fucking hated her …too much gothic dramatic operatic layered yuck yuck. The album opens with experimental noise crap heads into industrial Goth housy shit and shimmies into run Lola run…. It alternates styles through out the album… at least it’s kind of interesting that way. Diverse. This album effected me in a negative way. I hate all three flavors, but if you like that kind of thing, check it out. (LG)

Temple Threat, Songs from ‘Longtime listener, first time caller’ self-produced

This 3-song item marks the solo debut (I think) of Kim Temple, longtime drummer and occasional vocalist for Bodega and multiple Montreal projects from the early to mid 90s (including Slov.) She’s obviously learned much about producing and songwriting while playing for others, as the opener, Old Souls (a Paul Williams tune) shows with its impressive arrangements and production. Worn gets a little too maudlin (dramatic drumrolls especially), but she beefs it up again on Sleeping Heart, a very well composed and melodic pop tune, which reminds me a bit of that short-lived Dali’s Car project from the mid-80s. Hopefully a full-length effort will soon follow this teaser… (LR)

Haang Upps, s-t

If you like hardcore metal/punk, and I do, then you won’t be disappointed with Saint-Jean-Sur-Richelieu’s Haang Upps. These hardworking guys have been delivering the goods since 1996 and this, their 5th CD on Big Llama Records, shows us what years of practice, experience and patience can deliver. Opening with a 32 second prologue is the perfect introduction to this CD. Some of the vocals are inaudible but it’s metal and it’s fun. Each song is a constant build up of energy leading us, the listener, to an aggressive climax. And let’s be honest, there ain’t nothing better than that. (REM)

The Sailors, Failure, Depression, Suicide CD,
Dropkick Records, Box 1072, North Fitzroy Vic 3068, Australia,

This short album from notoriously foul-mouthed Aussie rockers delivers a smooth sound that might surprise those who’ve seen their frenetic live shows. Perhaps the title should have given me a hint that this wasn’t all just a party—about half the 8 songs still are, though, and they rock out in a satisfactory manner. Good Karma’s Coming My Way is the catchiest of the bunch, with a nasty call-and-response refrain that sticks in your head before the song’s half over (and stays there long afterwards.) The mellower stuff like Sunday Afternoon Assessment didn’t do anything for me, but songs like Slut For The Booze (which quotes the Stone’s Bitch and runs real far with it) and their cover of Popcorn amply make up for it. This last, with breakbeat drums and staccato organ, sounds so perfect it may well make you forget how the original sounded. It’s also got the revved up and booze-fuelled energy that makes their live shows something you shouldn’t ever miss. (LR)

The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band With Choir, ‘This Is Our Punk-Rock’ Thee Rusted Satellites Gather + Sing
CD/ Double 10” LP, Constellation

Melancholic, Post-God, but not without Grace, I found this album really beautiful. Clocking in at nearly an hour, SMZ sing a lot. They’ve even acquired a choir. The opening track uses “Fa-so-la” the way Handel used Hallelujah. Though most of the album is their trademark orchestral tunes, singing comes in at various points, helping to punctuate and underline the feeling of loss and lament the album encapsulates. Efrim, who sings the most, has this rusted, pained, prophetic voice. It’s perfect for their music, though I have to say that I miss that wilful, determined girl who did that crazy rant on track 2 of their second album. She was something. For those who don’t know, SMZ are members or a larger group called godspeed!youblackemperor. The thing I like most about godspeed’s name is that the exclamation mark moves around. Anyway, they’re good too. The big difference is loudness. GYBE is like the desert, where clouds gather, pulsate, roil and all hell breaks loose before amazing release. Then it’s clear again. Then soon, another cloud comes along. SMZ is one of those days where it’s kinda misty and grey in the morning, and you carry an umbrella around with you all day, not sure if you’re gonna need it, though all day it looks like it. Then on the way home, it pours, but it’s so molten outside you keep your brella closed and stand in it, soak in it. Because at the end of the album you really feel as if everything’s been burnt beneath your shoes. It’s elegiac in that it’s not mourning for some lost past, but for some unrecoverable future – as if a scorched-future policy slid through subcommittee and was passed by the various nations somewhere along the line. (SST)

Made In Kebek 2 (compilation) CD,

Another genre greatly in need of resuscitation (or should we just call the patient dead and move on?) is punk and punk/pop. The stylistic altars of Bad Religion, Rancid, Descendents and Green Day have become so carved in stone that whatever original youthful rebel spirit informed them was long ago washed away in a sea of carbon copies and corporate style-mongering. Nothing new here. Corporate society always soaks up discontent, cuts the balls off it, wraps it in a safe no-sharp-edges package and sells it back to the kids. Just more grist for the buy-a-lifestyle mill. And there’s always more alienated kids who want to belong to Punk Nation. Check out the Vanns’ Warped Festival every year for proof that: a) a lot of new punk bands are completely interchangeable and b) there’s mucho dinero to be made from these kids in music and spin-off sales.
Which brings us to Made in Kebek 2, a bilingual comp put out by local label Flashwood. There’s 21 tracks, about a quarter in French. There’s too many ho-hum tunes, but about a one in three hit/miss ratio (not bad for most comps). Usual generic conventions that most of the English-singing groups here obey are: a) try to sound like your favorite band, b) always include a slow mosh/ acoustic part and play the rest fast/ moderately-fast and c) tunelessly bellow/ whine/ gang-shout the usual teen-angst vocals in a monochromatic range. Following the script is more important than finding a unique voice or breaking the mold with a new idea. Listening to this paint-by-numbers stuff is stifling (unless you’re real young and experiencing “punk” for the first time) and makes you want to dig back to older punk, when the rules weren’t so codified, or just forget about the whole genre, stop listening for 5 years, see if anything’s different when you check in again.
There are some decent tunes here. Nothing earth-shattering but more propulsive, tightly-executed, better-sung than the rest. On the French side are Stop (driving), Penelope (old-school punk) and Les Marmottes Aplaties (Non Jamais, an over-the-top New Bomb Turks-style blowout that’s my favorite thing here). The sing-a-long-punk/ Pogues beer chant of Beer Girl is OK. The Madness-like ska of 2 Stoned 2 Skank is OK but overlong. On the English side, I’ll take Fabricated by the Planet Smashers (nothing new but bouncy, tightly-wound ska with good lyrics) and tracks by Eskap (pop hooks) and the Nuts of Fame (call-and-response Bad Religion with, oh yeah, a mosh part). There are a couple of lame attempts at nu-metal (Exterio, Raisin Brain) and the one singer-with-acoustic side-trip (Bright Night Star) is mawkish and dull. Then there are the Sum 41/Blink 182 wannabes. The French acts win out easily in per-song quality. Without ‘em this wouldn’t merit much of a listen. (SD)

Alligator Trio, les originaux inquiets

I must admit, before putting this on I feared it would be some cheesy jazzy trio of some sort, or bad “indie rock” (seeing as the cover art is pretty stock 90s design). I could hardly have been wronger—this is gritty, heavy punk blues a la Immortal Lee County Killers. Guitars riff heavy, cymbals crash constantly, and the manic vocals are appropriately sung/ growled in dirty Quebecois. There isn’t even a hint of commercial blues or rock here, though there are a few hints of hardcore punk. I like that the average song length is two minutes. I also like that there’s a song about chickens on this. Hailing from Quebec City, the instrumental trio is supplemented on most tracks here by Jacques Bref, a Bukowski-like belter who brings his appropriately twisted poetic sense to the mix. La Campagne is a dead ringer for Bob Log III, but the album has many eclectic surprises, such as Algebre, a biting takeoff on math-rock Definitely recommended for those who like their rock loud and dirty. (LR)

Shadowmaps, s-t

This is a very entertaining and quirky synth/ bass/ drums trio who deliver tight, inspired jams as well as musically demanding compositions. Variously noisy and loose, then clear and solid, a lot of this reminds me of the best Crimson stuff (such as the legendary Earthbound – the bass on the last jam here recalls John Wetton in a big way.) It isn’t retro-sounding, though it’s true some of that 70s prog stuff sounds pretty contemporary today. The Shadowmaps play only instrumentals, and the players are accomplished enough to keep it interesting for long stretches. I can see them playing killer shows with Shy Child—hopefully here in Montreal some day. (LR)

Les Tireux d’Roches, J’joue mon air… Local

This starts out good. That is, the first eight bars of the first song. Then the flute comes in. This band was successful in making a new age traditional Quebecois folk record with a bit of klezsmer and Irish just to make sure they missed the mark completely. If you are a middle aged Qubecois world-beat lover, this is for you. If you’re an average Fish Piss reader, you’ll probably piss yourself laughing, that’s if you got past the ninth bar. (LW)