Posts Tagged ‘review’

Lisa Moore – Caught (Anansi)

August 23, 2013


For Rover Arts


Lisa Moore returns with a new novel that makes good on the recent accolades bestowed upon her excellent 2010 novel, February. Her new book is titled Caught, and takes the plot device of a prisoner on the run as its starting point and introduces us to David Slaney, a would-be smuggler who escapes from jail on the eve of his 25th birthday. Slaney was four years into a sentence for spearheading one of the biggest pot-smuggling cases in Canadian history, but now that he’s out, he and his buddy Hearn plan to do it all over again, only not get caught this time.

While Caught may come off as a summer thriller with its flashy dust jacket and fast-paced opening pages of an escaped convict in an orange jumpsuit racing through brush and brambles in darkness, this is still very much a languid and reflective Lisa Moore novel, full of empathy for its characters, rich attention to detail, and highly memorable scenes.

Caught is set in the late seventies and is split into two narratives – the first focusing on escaped prisoner David Slaney, and the second on Patterson, an undercover cop whose career depends on catching Slaney and Hearn red-handed. At first Patterson seems stiff, a cop who sweats too much, and seems desperate for a promotion, yet Moore gently builds layer after layer of character around him, making him whole, fallible, and decent. The same goes for David Slaney, who Moore portrays as a bright-eyed kid – still full of optimism and love and adventure, qualities a second stint in prison will be sure to dash out. Slaney’s not a mean guy, or a delinquent, in fact he’s quite the opposite, Slaney only wants people to be happy and feel safe, and we see this countless times as he makes his way across the country from Nova Scotia to Vancouver to reunite with his buddy Hearn.

Some of the strongest scenes come from Slaney’s chance encounters as he makes his way to the west coast. The ride from a girl who lives with her grandfather, the rescue of a drowning woman on the beach and a bride having her wedding dress zipped up in a hotel room are just a few scenes that immediately come to mind. They are filled with such fine imagery that they leave a lasting impression on the reader. But the novel’s most compelling passages arrive when Slaney is en route to Colombia on a boat with a drunk sailor named Cyril and his way-too-young summer fling, Ada. Moore handles these at-sea scenes with ease, making her readers feel the water lapping at the hull of the ship, and the sun and salt water burning their skin.

Caught is an excellent novel. It begs to be read quickly, yet Moore’s language and imagery demands it be read slowly. Line by line it is probably the most finely crafted novel of Moore’s career and will no doubt be considered one of the best books of 2013. Her prose is veering into Hemingway territory, cutting to the heart of things so simply and frankly, and making us really feel what her characters are feeling. To give just one slight example as Slaney considers Ada while on the way to South America: “Slaney thought there was something true in her. He could not understand how she had come to be there with an old drunk. They were overtaken by stillness. The sea was still and there wasn’t a breath of wind.” Honest and propulsive, Caught is a mature novel from an author still proving she only gets better with time.

BUCK 65 – Secret House

August 15, 2013

buck 65

Here is an old review I wrote in 2007 for All Music that was never published, and after randomly listening to this record today for the first time in years, I decided it’s totally worth representing here. A great record by an under-rated Canadian hip hop icon. Check it!

Buck 65 – Secret House Against The World (2005)

Stinkin’ Rich Terfry aka The Centaur aka Buck 65 returns with a new full-length that expands on the chilled-out folktronic hip-hop of 2003’s Talkin’ Honky Blues. Longtime fans will find it an even further departure from the turntable-oriented MCing that endeared Buck to his listeners in the first place, however, sonically speaking the production on Secret House Against The World is arguably his finest output to date. Melodies abound – strings, piano, vibes, banjo, guitar, and the lush backing vocals of Parisian vocalist Claire Berest are all used adeptly throughout. Recorded in studio with help from Tortoise, Gonzales, fellow Nova Scotian Charles Austin, and a handful of others, Secret House sounds natural and organic, like real human beings making music together.

Lyrically, Buck is beginning to veer away from the non-sequitur stylings of Aesop Rock and the experimentalism of his contemporaries releasing records on Anticon and Definitive Jux. Instead, Buck continues to refuse to be pigeonholed or tied down to any one genre. Sounding more like a synthesis of Johnny Cash, Charles Bukowski and Tom Waits, Buck 65 does what he’s always done best – he tells stories. And to be sure, the most compelling songs on Secret House are narratively driven. “The Floor” tells the tale of a young boy with a drunk father and sick mother over the backdrop of quiet piano and vibraphone and ends with a moody orchestral swell as a fitting climax. In “Drunk Without Driving” Buck raps from the perspective of a down-and-out traveling salesman having an affair with a married woman: “And this is terrible, gorgeous and sinister / The pillow still smells like the secrets of my visitor / No one needs to know about this kind of thing / Blood on my back from the attack of her diamond ring”. You can actually see the crummy hotel room – haze of cigarette smoke, bottle of Jack on the bedside table, TV flashing in the background – almost like something out of a Raymond Carver story.

There’s a sadness that runs through this album, the mood and tone of slower tracks like “Surrender to Strangeness” and “Blood of a Young Wolf” play out like the alt-country of Califone or Wilco, and sound pretty good doing it. Faster tracks like “Blanc-Bec” and “Kennedy Killed The Hat” will be the one’s that stick out at live shows and after first listens, but it will be the introspective, story-driven (dare I say Leonard Cohenesque) tracks that the avid listener will want to return to again and again.

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.

Tape – Revelationes (Hapna Records)

April 17, 2011

Swedish trio Tape have been making music since 2000, but it took them a decade to hit my radar with the release of their fifth long player, Revelationes. And indeed the album is a revelation — taking cues from post-rock, modern classical, electronica, folk, jazz and minimalism. The group is made up of brothers Andreas and Johan Berthling with Tomas Hallonsten, and although their music plays out as vaguely familiar, they have carved out a sound that is all their own.

There’s an emotional element to this album that grows in strength with each successive listen, and I find I get wistfully lost in each track. For example, I’ll be listening to “Companions” and enjoying the soft guitars and swirling synth, and think the next track cannot possibly be as enchanting . . . and then “Hotels” starts, and I’m quickly swept into that beautiful little sketch of sound, and think again that this must be the album’s perfect moment, but then “The Wild Palms” begins, and the whole process starts again.

Earlier reviews mention Tortoise and even Slint as markers of style, and what’s funny is, while those are two of my favourite and arguably most-listened to bands of the past fifteen years, while listening to Revelationes, those two groups don’t spring to mind. And while I won’t deny the reference points, Tape sound so much more part of the now — more akin to contemporaries like Helios, Emanuele Errante, Rameses III, Benoit Pioulard, and the quieter moments of Animal Hospital.

Revelationes is very song-based, each track can stand on its own, yet they all play out beautifully as a whole. The album is very economical, running at just over a half an hour, and I have found myself playing it several times in a row. So far in 2011, it is my most listened to album, and it is still offering up new sounds and emotions the more I put it on. This is definitely one to check out, and Tape is a band in need of a much larger fan base. Delightful.

Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

September 14, 2010

When Arcade Fire exploded out of Montreal with their acclaimed album Funeral, I had just left la belle province myself for school in the Maritimes. And even though I enjoyed Funeral’s intensity and emotion, personally I was still heavily entrenched in electronic music and was willfully allowing most new “rock” music to pass me by for looped blips and deep bass. Around that time, I was getting into the poppier side of electronic music with Hot Chip’s first album Coming on Strong, and now five years later, I’ve done a complete 360, where I’m allowing the new Hot Chip to pass me by (and dismissing it as tripe) and falling headlong for Arcade Fire’s third full-length album The Suburbs.

And what an album it is. One that blossoms a bit more with each successive listen, and one that is full of dynamic and proper indie rock songs that subtly recall your favourite musicians from the last 30 years. A small list: The Boss, The Beatles, The Byrds, The Who, The Doors, Heart, Cyndi Lauper, U2, Yo La Tengo, Broken Social Scene, Bon Iver, David Byrne, oh yeah, and Arcade Fire. It is an amazingly calculated and mature collection of songs that immediately churns up a strong sense of nostalgia and emotion. But for this listener, the reason The Suburbs is such a genuine winner, and the reason it will most likely top my list for 2010, is the lyrics. They really resonate with me.

I think it’s because I’m at about the same age and same place mentally as the band — this liminal space between the end of youth and the start of adulthood — where I can now look back on my life with some real perspective, and the idea of “settling down” is actually beginning to seem like something valid, and something I’ve always truly wanted for myself yet up to this point have constantly denied.

So yes, the lyrics strike a definitive chord with me, and (depending on the day and my mood) I can barely make it through the opening track without my eyes glossing over. When Butler sings: “I want a daughter while I’m still young / I want to hold her hand and show her some beauty, before this damage is done…” it turns the emotion button churning deep in my guts, and I feel like his lyrics are suddenly speaking for me.

I’m unsure if a twenty-year old listener would feel the same, but lines like “All my old friends, they don’t know me now” and “You cut your hair, I never saw you again” from the Springsteen influenced “Suburban War” send me reeling back to high school and images of old friends loved yet forgotten who have gone on to start families of their own and get real jobs and move into freshly built houses in cities and suburbs across Canada and beyond.

And I guess, besides the reprise at the end of the album, this would be where the main Beatles influence comes in. John and Paul knew how to lyrically hammer down the emotion as well as speak to the kids of an era. And I wonder: What contemporary album has had lyrics that actually, truly speak to my generation? “A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido?” I think not. The Suburbs is the Nevermind of twenty years later, where we no longer want to oh well, whatever, nevermind — now what we want to do is remember the past, and take hold of all the stupid mistakes and amazing strides we made to get to exactly where we happen to be now.

And sometimes I think to myself, what the fuck have I been doing for 30 years, because I ain’t quite there yet. Not by a long shot. And I start to freak out and panic and wonder what the hell went wrong? But then I take a deep breath and realize that it’s all right, because I am getting there, just not as fast and sure as I had initially (and naively) expected. Patience, persistence, and resolve are tough little bastards to hone, but definitely worth continually pursuing . . .

But I digress. “Month of May”, “Ready to Start” and “We Used to Wait” are solid and tight rockers that you can blast in your living room and get swept away in. “Modern Man” and “Rococo” are also great songs with strong lyrics, and “The Suburbs”, “Deep Blue”, “Suburban War”, “Sprawl I / II” pack the emotional wallops with tight changes and great orchestral accompaniment to boot. And then the lyrics of the end reprise sums it all up beautifully:

If I could have it back
All the time that we wasted
I’d only waste it again
If I could have it back
You know I’d love to waste it again
Waste it again and again and again

Check it out if you haven’t already. Love, ml.

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.


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.


March 22, 2010

Warp Records stalwarts Autechre return with their tenth, count ‘em, tenth album. Rob Brown and Sean Booth usher in the new decade with the complex and intriguing “Oversteps” — a melodic and strangely emotive record that emits far different sonic vibrations than the duo’s last three full-lengths.

There’s no conscious way one can fully understand the compositional mind of Autechre, you just put them on and know that patience will reward. But with this new album the duo’s vibe will immediately pull you in and have you convinced machines must feel love before opening track “r ess” is done. Their signature klings, klangs, and syncopated rhythms are in full effect here, and with repeated listens they become infectious, full of darkened corners strobed with light. Yet, one wouldn’t call this a beat heavy album at all, the tempo is more subdued and textured, which reveals a definite maturation of the duo’s sound and synthesis. All this to say for non-fans: this is Autechre’s most accessible album in over a decade, and for non-non fans: their most solid release since “LP5”.

Tracks “see on see” and “O=0″ are the most heartfelt electronic songs I’ve heard in quite some time. I have no specific explanation as to why, but they hit hard and true and feature those brief moments of light I was talking about amidst darker and more heady tracks like “ilanders”, “known(1)”, and the fantastic “Treale”. My cousin Chris said he was unsure what to make of “Oversteps” after his first playthrough, but after a few days and a couple more ‘relaxed’ listens he likened it to BOC meets Blade Runner. I find the comparison fitting, and highly recommend the album for all fans of more challenging electronic music.

Another win for Ae. Please play Toronto this year.


Four Tet – There is Love in You (Domino)

January 23, 2010


Leftfield electronic producer Kieran Hebden returns this year with his true follow-up to breakout record “Rounds” with “There is Love in You”, the first great album of 2010.

The abstract organic melodies meshed with beats, noise, and weird samples that made “Rounds” so compelling have returned in full flourish. I kinda lost interest with Hebden after “Rounds”, but he returned bright and glowing on my radar last year with his fabulous collabaration with Burial (their track “Moth” being my favourite single of 2009), and so I felt it was time to give him another try. I’m glad I did because as soon as “There is Love in You” begins with the beautiful stuttering female vocals on “Angel Echoes” I was immediately pulled in. What a great opener, and it just gets better from there. The driving two-step beat of the nine-minute “Love Cry”, will have you up and shaking booty in your living room, as the track builds to a fractured 4/4 tempo and female vocals purr the song’s title over and over. It’s hypnotic and beautifully produced and will no doubt be subject to many a remix. A definite hitter of a track.

The album fluctuates from beat-oriented tracks like “Sing” and the awesome “Plastic People” to more esoteric compositions like “This Unfolds” and “Circling”, which build on loops of sound and guitar, and could end up sounding jarring in the hands of one less skilled in his craft. Closing track “She Just Likes To Fight” is the album’s most accessible, an almost poppy, guitar-based song reminiscent of The Sea and Cake that ends the album quite nicely.

Kieran Hebden has released one hell of a satisfying recording, and he’s set an excellent standard for electronic music in 2010.

Bring it. Love it.

Check out a live version of “Angel Echoes” from a session done with the BBC’s Radio One…

The xx

October 15, 2009


Yes, I know this album came out a few months back, and yes of course, I know that it’s been Pitchfork’d and deemed by the ostentatious reviewer as a winning album worthy of repeat listens, but guess what? The P-fork team actually got it spot on for a change. The xx‘s debut album really is a melancholic grower of ambient indie-pop goodness.

The band are mere kids, just graduating from the Elliot School of Music in London where Hot Chip, Burial and Four Tet are also alumni. But whereas the latter graduates are all heavily steeped in leftfield electronica, The xx are writing sparse pop songs for shattered hearts, introspection, and the coming grey weather.

Upon first listens, I kept feeling like I wanted more. A loud distorted swell of guitars at the end of a song, a ridiculously catchy hook, or at least one verifiable “hit” for Christ’s sake, but the album gave me no such thing. I thought back to Bloc Party’s “Silent Alarm”, and how infectious “Banquet” was – aka the verifiable hit. I also remembered that even though “Silent Alarm” was uber-hyped, it was still an amazing album that you couldn’t help but want to slap on repeat and play extra loud. But The xx’s debut is a different beast entirely, and should really in no way be compared to Bloc Party or any other “rock” band coming out of the UK at this time.

The album is minimal, slow, and moody. The vocals a very accomplished attempt at the boy and girl back and forth. Their lyrics contemplate sex, the idea of love, and experience. The drums are programmed but done with style and class. The guitars jangly, reverbed, and simple, but every so often the bass will just drop about 50 decibels and wobble your chest (and maybe your heart?) and this is when you begin to notice there’s quite a lot more going on here. And of course, this is when the album grows like an ill-fated relationship, doomed to cause that beautiful sadness you hate but also secretly love to wallow in.

A damn good album, an impressive debut, and pretty much all alone when it comes to trying to classify. Give it a few listens in the mornings, or better yet, try it out at night with candles flickering on the nightstand and lips puckering on the bed.


Edit: The XX’s self-titled debut hits number 7 on my Best Of 2009 List!

Edit 2: Check out my review of the xx in Toronto on April 4, 2010.