Archive for August, 2011

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo

August 28, 2011

Philadelphia singer/songwriter, Kurt Vile released the excellent Smoke Ring For My Halo in the spring of this year courtesy of Matador Records, and it’s been on constant rotation in my living room ever since. He first popped on my aural radar when he played at The Great Hall in Toronto as part of Canadian Music Week, opening up for J. Mascis. I caught the last song of his set and quickly realized his music was not to be ignored, Vile was not an artist to simply be left as a name constantly seen hyped and reviewed on music sites, but instead one to get immersed in.

And his fourth album, Smoke Ring For My Halo is definitely an immersive experience, offering up the best of Americana, reminiscent of Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, and the finest folk and lo-fi rock and roll. The beauty is in the subtlety and strength of his songwriting. Vile’s lyrics are dark and lonesome, delivered in a laconic style that’s all his own. He tends to drag out words or syllables providing the perfect counterpart to his skilled finger-plucking or guitar strums. Vile also seems to be working with the idea of restraint here, as many of the songs could easily blow up into full out jams, yet he and his backing band The Violators rarely let this happen. There is however a great fuzzy climax to “On Tour”, but even here the distortion never gets carried away — the listener is able to feel the closing kick, yet still be privy to the swirling combination of keyboard, harp, slide guitar, and mellotron orbiting Vile’s guitar. It’s truly great stuff.

Tracks like “Runner Up”, “Peeping Tomboy”, “Baby’s Arms”, and “Ghost Town” are slow, sparse, and poignant, and reveal Vile’s adeptness at being one of the best songwriters out there. He creates more than just mood here, he’s created a listening experience in the classic sense, one in which you put the album on and languidly float off for 45 minutes in Vile’s sonic yet relaxed musical realm.

Smoke Ring is buoyed by a pervasive lightness, it ambles along easily, sneers at you, shrugs, and yearns all in equal measure. The refrains and hooks will keep you coming back to the album time and again, and with each listen Vile seems to pull you a bit deeper into his slightly slanted yet inherently enchanted world. There ain’t a throwaway track on the album and the result, Smoke Ring For My Halo is one of the finest records of 2011.

Check it.

Honorable Audibles as of late

August 20, 2011

SBTRKT – SBTRKT (Young Turks)

I slept on this one for a few months, but am glad I finally checked it out because masked beat-maker SBTRKT’s eponymous long player is an absolute grower, and features emotional vocals courtesy of collaborators Sampha, Roses Gabor, Jessie Ware, and Little Dragon. Even after first listen it’s obvious SBTRKT (real name Aaron Jones) spent a lot of time working with his talented vocalists, as the production is meticulous. It’s a soulful affair, working with elements of dubstep, drum and bass, garage, and bass music. Definitely one to check out before the summer’s through.

Araabmuzik – Electronic Dream (Duke Records)

I don’t even know how to classify this shit. Dirty trance electro hip-pop? All I can tell you is, Araabmuzik’s Electronic Dream offers up some of the most exciting tracks of the year. Does it border on cheesy at times? Hell yes, but that’s part of its charm, and the snare pops, dirty hip-hop drum programming, nods to AFX, and uber-crisp production completely make up for any weird trance-pop transgressions. For this listener, it’s one of the few albums that have really hit hard and kept its appeal after many listens. Worth checking out, no doubt!

For those of you in TORONTO, these two producers are playing a show together in November at The Hoxton. Check out the details of this not to be missed show right HERE! Cheers.

Miracle Fortress – Was I The Wave?

August 17, 2011

For Juno Records

Graham Van Pelt has been making waves across the pond in Montreal, Quebec for half a decade now, first in the much loved dance pop band Think About Life, and currently in his solo project, Miracle Fortress. His 2007 debut album Five Roses earned him a Polaris Prize nomination (the Canadian equivalent of the Mercury Prize), and found him channelling the pop sensibility of Brian Wilson. Four years on, and Van Pelt has returned with Was I The Wave?, earning him a second nod from the Polaris judges, and showcasing a refined ear for production and his love for 80’s inspired electro pop.

Van Pelt wears all hats on his new album (composer, arranger, producer, and engineer), and proves quite adept at soaring melodies — the perfect hook and infectious chorus seem to come naturally to him — matched with an assured display of vocals. Unlike his debut, which relied mainly on indie-rock guitars, Was I the Wave? is essentially an electronic offering, using big synths as the through line, with guitars working as the secondary rhythm.

“Tracers” is an excellent example of this compositional shift, starting with a guitar lick and simple drum machine loop for the first thirty seconds, until Van Pelt drops an 808 synth line that sounds almost like late 90’s Detroit techno, before he swings it back with his voice. “Tracers” sets the mood and groove quite nicely for following track “Raw Spectacle”, which sounds a lot like Cut Copy circa In Ghost Colours, with its stabbing synth, processed vocals, and brilliant build up to a pulsing and exciting chorus. “Everything Works” follows, and seems to be where the album starts to become more buoyant and warm, using an enjoyable bass hook to get your head bobbing, with vocals so contagious you’ll be humming along before you even know the words.

The mid-point of the album features two brief ambient pieces that offer a nice respite before Van Pelt amps it back up with album highlight “Miscalculations”, a guitar based track that is reminiscent of Toto, Men at Work, and Depeche Mode. Van Pelt’s melodies throughout are undeniable — they’re catchy but subtle, and his formulaic switch up from 60’s beach pop to 80’s new wave is refreshing, it shows he’s an artist still growing and one who gets stronger with each release. There’s an intimate feel to “Was I the Wave?” that reveals itself slowly, and with great production and impossibly catchy hooks, once revealed, only makes the album all that much enjoyable.

Miracle Fortress’s Was I The Wave? is the perfect album for the last days of summer and the coming autumn. Check it.