Archive for May, 2010

Foals – Total Life Forever

May 16, 2010

UK scenesters, Foals, return this spring with Total Life Forever, the follow-up to their 2008 debut Antidotes. When I first heard the pre-released singles, I was at my friend Stew’s house and we were having a few drinks before going out somewhere. He played “Spanish Sahara” for me, and I became immediately irate, screaming: “Coldplay! Coldplay! No!” and then I smashed a beer bottle on his living room floor. Stew told me to relax and then played the second single “This Orient” for me. I leapt from the couch, punched Stew in the face, screamed “Bloc Party! Bloc Party! God, no!” and then promptly passed out on the floor in disappointment. When I came to, it all seemed like a bad dream. Foals is a band I hold in high regard, and I anticipated their new release to be a different beast entirely. Why would a band with so much raw energy and post-rock infectiousness, turn to seemingly less dynamic songwriting and more obvious influences?

Ahh, the curse of the sophomore album. Before beginning this review I listened to every song Foals have released to date, and I noticed a steady shift and softening of their sound from their earliest EP’s, Hummer and Try This On Your Piano, to Total Life Forever. And so, it does in fact seem that this ‘softer’ version of the young band is a natural progression, slowly developing over the last four years. However, at the same time, I can’t help but feel it all seems a bit calculated — an attempt to widen their fan base, a desire to get BIG, and not just indie rock big, but (ahem) Coldplay big. There is a definite Parachutes-era Coldplay feel to this album. And this clever calculatedness can be seen all the way down to the album cover, which evokes one of the biggest albums of the last twenty years (I’ll let you guess which one).

Yet, although I was initially disappointed with the early singles, upon listening to them within the context of the entire album, I discovered that Total Life Forever is solid, and the band’s progression, whether calculated or not, has them writing their finest songs to date.

After the release of Antidotes, the band began immediately dismissing it as “flawed” and not a fair representation of their overall aesthetic. For me, I found their debut a great album, with a tight rhythm section, and excellent kicks and hooks. However, critical reception for the album was mixed, and I can’t help but think this may be one reason for their public dismissal of Antidotes, and their desire to open up their music to a larger audience. I mean, we have a group of guys who dropped out of Oxford University to become rock stars, and perhaps when Antidotes didn’t blow up the way they had hoped, they decided they had to go bigger, friendlier, with less weird time changes and guitar tapping chord progressions . . . we gotta prove to our friends and family that dropping out of college really was the right decision. Believe me Mum, we’re still gonna make it!

I feel like I had to note this, but with that said, the songs on Total Life Forever are very well written, emotional, and have great guitar work and changes. The sound is softened from their earlier releases, but somehow because of this, the album packs more of a punch. The first four tracks start the album off at a great pace, mixing moments reminiscent of Talking Heads with the earlier Foals sound to great effect. Title track “Total Life Forever”, surprisingly lifts its opening lyrics from “Into Your Arms” by The Lemonheads, as if they’re trying to rewrite the 90’s ballad for the next generation, giving it a funkier punch and vibe.

“Black Gold”, on the other hand, stands out as truly their own, and features an amazing change halfway through the song, with a great build-up and kick, coupled with Yannis Philippakis singing: “Now that spring is finally here / in your hollow heart, your hollow heart!” The song totally works and is a perfect example of their new found “maturity” when it comes to composition. After “Black Gold”, the album slows down with the 7-minute “Spanish Sahara”, and as I said earlier, the quiet track works well as a midpoint within the album. Highlights on the flipside are “Alabaster” and “2 Trees”, which are slow burners that resonate well, and recall to mind the best moments of Coldplay’s debut, and quieter Bloc Party tracks, while at the same time, still sound very much like Foals — just at a clipped pace.

In the end, I dig Total Life Forever. I have returned to it many times, and find it packs an emotional punch, while still retaining the inherent groove of a good rock album. Although, it is not where I expected their sound to go, I still hope it gains them the fan base they seem to want so badly, but also hope in the end, that they’re still doing it all for one thing: the music.


Sketches of Women (Part One)

May 15, 2010

She got on the streetcar and I noticed her immediately. She was wearing a black American Apparel hoodie, one size too small so an inch of skin was exposed above her blue jeans. Her jeans were so tight they looked painted on, yet still looked comfortable to wear. They fit her perfectly, outlining the countour of slim thigh, calf, and round ass. Her feet were clad in a pair of blue canvas shoes with white soles and laces, similar to Vans. Her black hoodie was zipped down to the middle of her chest exposing pronounced collarbones. The skin visible in the unzipped vee of her hoodie and above her waist created the illusion that if she were to unzip it all the way down to her navel, I’d find her wearing nothing but a lace bra beneath. Her hair was long, brown, past her shoulders, and swept to the right, so it slightly covered her right eye. Occasionally she would run her fingers through it in attempt to keep it behind her ear. Her eyes were big and light brown, her skin the colour of raw almonds. Her lips were pouty and glossed. She smiled only once, as the streetcar came to a sudden stop and a woman nearly fell on her. She had pointy canine teeth, immaculately white, and her smile was infectious. I imagined seeing that grin, turning towards me in my kitchen as she passed me a mug of green tea. I imagined that smile greeting me every waking day of my life.

I stole constant glances at her as we rode the streetcar across town on Queen Street. I tried to place her ethnicity, at first I believed maybe white and Vietnamese mix, but looking up at her big brown eyes and then getting a second glimpse of her ass I decided she was of Latin descent, perhaps a Brazilian father with a Canadian mom. That slight flash of skin above the top of her jeans was a beautiful brown, the colour my skin could only become if left to bake on a Central American beach for months, but a hue she keeps all year round. She wore no rings, her ears were unpierced, she wasn’t hiding her eyes behind oversized sunglasses, and she did not seem to be wearing any makeup, except for the faint lip gloss. She stood the entire trip across town, and what struck me was that she was not listening to an iPod, nor did she pull a cellphone out of her leather purse to text a friend or make a phone call. This is a gesture so characteristic of her “type” of girl — the need for distraction, for constant communication, and the fact she resisted this endeared her to me even more. To place her age proved difficult, but if I had to guess I would say in between 19-24. I hoped it closer to the latter, but fear her startling beauty was partly due to the fact that she was just stepping into it.

When I ride the streetcar I always try and guess when a person is going to get off. I look at an old Chinese woman, and assume Spadina, I look at a clean shaven man in a suit, consumed with the screen of his Blackberry and I assume Bay Street. With her, I guessed Yonge Street, which is a safe bet, as it leads to various subway transfers and the many shops of The Eaton Centre. I was right. As we reached Yonge, she took her leave of me and as she did my breath stopped. It stopped because I knew I would never see her again. I knew that those waking moments with her next to me or those delightful domestic moments drinking tea together on my couch — with her smiling her perfect grin and her bright eyes shining with love — would never happen. The streetcar continued its slow trek east and I let out a lengthy sigh, stupidly feeling as if I’d gone through the beginning and end of a relationship that was never meant to be. Sigh.

Onra’s Long Distance

May 10, 2010

Parisian beat maestro, Arnaud Bernard aka Onra returns with his new full-length, Long Distance. Abandoning the old world samples he used in Chinoiseries, and 1.0.8, Long Distance adopts a smooth 80’s vibe throughout. I imagine it being the sound of the 1980’s New York underground, and Onra lays it on thick and chilled. Dirty funk bass, hand clap beats, soul breaks, old skoool scratching, Lionel Ritchie guitars, moments reminiscent of J.J. Fad and bad 90’s muzak, plus some great guests makes this definitely one to check out.

Listen to “Send Me Your Love” below. I’ve been playing this track on repeat.

Love it!

Jóhann Jóhannsson at The Mod Club in Toronto

May 8, 2010

4 May 2010

Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson played his long-awaited Toronto debut at The Mod Club this week to an intimate yet enraptured crowd. Joining him on stage were three violinists, a cellist, and his long-time collaborator Matthías Hemstock, who manipulated sounds and live samples, and the result was a subdued, and beautiful set of neo-classical ambience. Playing compositions from his critically acclaimed Fordlandia, and In the Endless Pause There Came The Sound Of Bees, Jóhannsson sat pretty much motionless behind his gear, allowing the roving emotions in his music to speak for themselves. The string quartet helped make the live show a much more organic experience, and Jóhannsson’s music is so very much alive, this would have been lost if it had been just him up there with his laptop and electric piano.

The set began with the title track from Fordlandia and they played much of the quieter material first. Black and white films played on the wall behind the musicians, which was odd considering there were two large projection screens set up to the left and right of the stage, which remained blank. Tables and chairs were set up for us to sit comfortably through Jóhannsson’s minimal yet swirling arrangements. The highlight of the night was “Guidelines for a Space Propulsion Device” which relies on a loop of bassy synth and patiently grows into an orchestral frenzy, the strings building to a feverish climax, as Hemstock created head-bobbing percussion through live samples.

It was a beautiful show on a warm Tuesday night in Toronto. Very nice.

Toro Y Moi – Causers of This (Carpark Records)

May 7, 2010

OK, let’s get something straight right off the bat here — “chillwave” and “glo-fi” are by far two of the silliest genre names to describe music since “wonky” and “illbient” and “freak folk” and “balearic” and “glitchcore” and “microhouse” and shit, even “post rock” for that matter. Music writers seem to love to dole out new and even more ridiculously obscure monikers to muzik these days and I find it funny, cause it’s all rock and roll to me. Haha.

Yet, regardless of my own personal annoyance towards musical categorization, Chaz Bundick’s debut as Toro Y Moi, Causers of This, is an album that has steadily grown on me. And as sunny days begin to outnumber bleak ones, I’m digging it more and more — so much so that I feel compelled to write about it, even though it’s already been blogged about to hipsterville and back again.

Somehow, I managed to get a hold of Causers of This way early, in the fall of last year, and I liked it for its production value, yet found it lacking overall. As buzz built around its release date in February, I started listening to it again, while making dinner and commuting to work, and it was on one of those first nice spring days — where the sun was shining at the perfect angle, and the city was finally shaking off its winter blahhhs — that I fell in love with it. I was on the streetcar, and the track “Thanks Vision” came on, and I suddenly felt this surge of happiness, and I started smiling, and stupidly bobbing my head, and chuckling at Bundick’s non-sensical lyrics. “Turn those fans away from me, they only dry my eyes out / ever since I was born I couldn’t see / ever since I could see, I couldn’t find why you close your lips so tight / when I try to kiss you off goodbye.” The lyrics are actually slightly retarded throughout, yet delivered with an earnestness I find endearing.

Take the refrain from “Talamak” as an example:

Do you like it when you leave your house?
Do you like it when you’re in a town?
That you love
Like one I live in

Ridiculously childish when read outside of the song, but Bundick seems much more a producer than the next Stephen Malkmus, and that’s fine with me, because overall I enjoy the “lo-fi” feel to the album (yes, I am willing to use lo-fi, but not glo-fi, OK?). The tape loop hiss, the cheap homemade beats, familiar samples, and his voice (not for the actual lyrics but for they way he uses his voice as added layers of sound) are all quite enjoyable. Causers of This has become my bike ride album of choice as of late, and is a fun debut by a young up and coming rock star from South Carolina.

Check it out under a tree in the park with a bottle of wine and a book on a Tuesday afternoon. Peace.

Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma (Warp Records)

May 3, 2010

For Juno Records

Warp Records genre-bending producer extraordinaire, Flying Lotus (née Steven Ellison), returns with the follow up to his highly successful and oft imitated Los Angeles with Cosmogramma — arguably the most anticipated electronic album of 2010. And from the opening seconds of first track “Clock Catcher”, it quickly becomes evident that Fly Lo is working on a whole new level of ‘next shit’ here. This may throw some listeners for a loop at first, however, after a couple of listens you’ll begin to understand exactly why Fly Lo has described the album as his “space opera”.

The obvious stylistic difference with Cosmogramma is that it adopts a jazzier feel to it, rather than the fragmented hip-hop of Los Angeles and 1983. Its closest reference point seems to be the stuff a later Miles and Trane would have made if they had access to the technology. The album is definitively out there, and will no doubt be just as railed against as highly lauded by the critics because of this. But for this listener, it’s a fantastically heady album with amazing beats, funked-out basslines (at times reminiscent of Squarepusher), and smooth jazz breaks, and overall it comes across as a much more personal recording for Ellison, as he attempts to tap into his family’s rich musical roots.

Fly Lo is nephew to Alice Coltrane, wife of John, and a highly accomplished jazz musician in her own right (check her out if you never have), and Auntie Alice’s influence is in the forefront here, as he samples her playing the harp, and her son Ravi playing the saxophone throughout. His collab with Thom Yorke is fine, and will no doubt be deemed a highlight, yet tracks like “Zodiac S**t”, “MmmHmm”, “Do The Astral Plane”, and “Recoiled” are major hitters on the record, and all so very different stylistically, you just gotta hear it to believe it. The album ends with “Galaxy in Janaki”, his most hip-hop track on the album, yet instead of it being a dark and ominous closer, it features a swirling symphony, frenetic bass, and seems charged with a bright optimism for the future evolution of his sound. Next shit indeed.

Check it.