Album Review: “Turn to Rust” by AUS!Funkt

Review by Mark Anthony Brennan

Toronto post-punk/disco groove band AUS!Funkt are not exactly new to the scene having been around since (at the latest) 2015, but they have just now put out their debut full-length album ‘Turn to Rust’. Damn, though, it’s been worth the wait because this is a record just bristling with excitement.

There are no weak links here whatsoever, with every track being so solid as to be a single in its own right. From every opening note the band grabs your attention and does not let go. The opening track sets the tone with a funky groove electrified by swirling guitars. Although it’s a simple statement, they take the mantra, “You’ve gotta set yourself free”, and elevate it into an arena chant. And so the stage is set, but prepare yourself for some truly entertaining variations on the theme. “Berlin Basement” takes swampy blues and sets it ablaze with the bass booming melodically and guitars going haywire. “Give Me Fun” starts off on an electropop vibe but the dual vocals of Evan Henderson and Olivia Korwan soon starting yowling and yelping while the rhythm section bangs out a malicious and slinky groove. “Take Your Sense Back”, however, is more restrained, as the repetitive beat and Korwan’s near-spoken word delivery put you into more of a trance.

And then there is the title track that is much more moody than the rest. The blues-rock base sets a dark tone as Henderson and Korwan sing ominously about a world turned to rust. But, hell, it still makes you wanna dance and flail your arms about in time with the beat. 

AUS!Funkt are exceptional musicians as well as being socially conscious. However, their main aim to entertain and on ‘Turn to Rust’ they do just that — extremely well.


Album Review: “Heaven’s Mini Mart” by Troll Dolly

Review by Mark Anthony Brennan

The vocals and music on ‘Heaven’s Mini Mart’ are so feathery light as to be not there, but make no mistake, that does not mean it lacks in substance. Far from it. Jen Yakamovich (aka Troll Dolly) weaves intricate tapestries of sound that beg the listener to pay close attention to the sonic stitching.

The album opens with “Microcosms”, where Yakamovich picks her moments carefully to insert her angelic, hushed voice, while the spaces are filled with the delicate sounds of acoustic guitar. But there are layers beyond that, with electric guitar twanging and reverbing distantly and the drums and bass keeping a steady thump. The closer you listen the more there is to reveal, as vibraphone and whistles round out the sound almost inaudibly. It is a masterwork of ambient folk and aptly titled, given that it is a universe within a small space.

Elsewhere Yakamovich creates similarly complex sounds that strike you as beguilingly simple. While “Wee Beasties” and “Long Lake” are purely instrumental, the remainder all feature Yakamovich’s uniquely understated voice, that can sound almost pixie-like, especially on the lilting she does on “Sauna Song”. Rounding out the album is “Deedee”, which is so jaunty that it sounds like a tour-de-force compared to the other tracks. This frollicking folk song wanders deep into the psychedelic-cowboy sound of Lee Hazlewood, but does so with an assured ease. 

‘Heaven’s Mini Mart’ is a powerful musical statement, and yet it is so gentle in its delivery that it comes across as more of an intimate whisper in your ear. 

Album Review: “I Keep Floating Away” by TOVI

Review by Mark Anthony Brennan

I’ve been entranced by the music of Rebecca Emms (TOVI) ever since I heard the track “89 San Francisco” four years ago. It’s been a wait but we finally have a full-length album that showcases the full scope of her magic.

The spell starts with her gauzy, dreamy voice that puts you in trance immediately. But it most certainly doesn’t end there, as Emms demonstrates her flair for intriguing arrangements. Lovely synths highlight the shoegaze track “Impossible Things”, while trip-hop percussion underscores the downbeat nature of “Progress”. Elsewhere you get bouncy electropop (“I Don’t Think We Can Be Friends”), shimmering dreampop (“Just Our Luck”), and the dark slinkiness of “Storm Warning”.

Despite an overall ethereal vibe, Emms maintains a refreshing edge throughout. This is brought to bear not only in the music (note the downbeat turn as “I Don’t Think We Can Be Friends” heads into the chorus) but also in her lyrics. In “Just Our Luck” she turns a potential love song on its head with the lines, “Your love fits me perfect ease/Slowly it grows like a disease”, while in “Progress” the progress she is making is hating herself a little bit less every day.

‘I Keep Floating Away’ sounds like a trip to heaven but it’s actually a dark excursion on a cloud of sinfully clever instrumentation and song construction.

Three Under Review: Whitney K., Weird Nightmare, SoyJoy

Reviews by Mark Anthony Brennan

‘Hard to Be a God’ by Whitney K.

Konner Whitney (styled as Whitney K.) is an inventive songwriter and has a keen ear for arrangement, all of which elevates his music beyond the normal confines of americana-folk.

His latest offering, the EP ‘Hard to Be a God’, while not being quite god-like, certainly confirms that he deserves accolades (of course, he’s being tongue-in-cheek with that title). The opening track “While Digging Through the Snow” is a real masterpiece of Lou Reed-style spoken word. Folksy guitar is soon joined by the sombre sounds of piano and violin, underscoring the gravitas of the wonderful flow of words.

“Chinatown sweeping in/ Smell of death in the view/ The ocean pushin’ a cool breeze through the window/ And strangers passing like cars/ Through that hotel room”

Elsewhere, “Two Strangers” is a countrified, mid-tempo but lively number with heavy guitar, sounding for all the world like a lost track from ‘Exile on Main Street’. “Hard to Be a God” is a brief ditty that is more of a blue-grass pastiche with fiddling to match. Finally, “Song for a Friend” finishes things off with majesty, as the minimalist beginning slowly builds to a crescendo of strings.

It may be hard to be a god but it sure isn’t hard to enjoy Whitney K. at his peak (so far).

‘Weird Nightmare’ by Weird Nightmare

It’s hard to imagine that the creative sound that is METZ can be confining, but vocalist/guitarist Alex Edkins nonetheless breaks out of that “mould” in a fun-filled celebration of melodic guitar noise as Weird Nightmare.

“Searching For You” breaks out of the gate at break-neck speed in a blast of high-powered anthemic glam punk. And the pace rarely falters as Edkins gets his teeth into tracks like the melody-laden ‘60s pop tune “Lusitania”, sounding like The Kinks or a much heavier version of The Hollies. At times, he gets more into ‘80s post-punk wave, like “Darkroom” with its sneering vocals. He also features a couple of well-chosen guests — Alicia Bognanno of Bully on the distorted “Wrecked” and Chad Vangaalen on the suitably weird “Oh No”.

It is rewarding to hear another side of Alex Edkins, and he takes full advantage of the opportunity on his self-titled debut as Weird Nightmare.

‘Tired and Unwell at Pandora’s Box’ by SoyJoy

Recorded at Vancouver’s Pandora’s Box Rehearsal Studios, ‘Tired and Unwell’ is lo-fi, unpolished and understated, and yet it is one of the most compellingly original records of 2022.

Juniper Lee (aka SoyJoy) uses their unique vocal styling, with its nasal/twangy quality, to connect with the listener in an intimate way. They appeal to the lonely outsider in all of us when singing passages such as:

“Biting my cracked nails on my way to absolutely nowhere/ I’m crawling in circles on the tracks by the high school/ A place I swore I’d never return to/ My knees are bruised and still bleed” (“a place i swore i’d never return to”)

The music is essentially mid-tempo folk-rock but the delivery is so raw as to make it akin to punk. This lends an edge, even a sense of subversion, and makes it a unique experience. Despite the themes of displacement, despair and alienation, there is actually a sense of fun here (“I’m not rotten,I’m fermenting”), perhaps best displayed on the instrumental, playful track “forking around”.  There are also some very tender moments, such as the vocal interplay with xo on the tune “a reminder”.

There is “live”, off-the-floor feel to the recording (complete with background comments like, “my pick broke half-way through the song”) which just makes this EP all the more endearing. ‘Tired and Unwell at Pandora’s Box’ is a folk-punk gem, folks. 

Music to Your Ears: Five Albums For Your “Must Hear” List

Reviews by Mark Anthony Brennan

‘And Those Who Were Seen Dancing’ by Tess Parks

Although she has collaborated with others over the years (mostly notably with Anton Newcombe of Brian Jonestown Massacre), ‘And Those Who Were Seen Dancing’ is only Tess Parks’ second full-length album since her 2013 debut. And the loss is certainly ours, as she proves her gift for composition and in creating a laid-back, lysergic sweetness.

Throughout the album her piano plonks the melody, the guitar wails the mood, and the drums keep it all in check. Whether it’s the gentle folkishness of “WOW”, the shimmering pop of “Happy Birthday Forever”, or the more blues feel of “Do You Pray”, Parks maintains a breezy, freewheeling attitude that is relaxing. It isn’t that she is not serious because she displays a certain gravitas, as evidenced in her gravelly spoken word on the slinky, trip-hop inflected number “Brexit at Tiffany’s”.

Fans of dreamy, swirling psych-pop will find a home here. So, Tess, please don’t keep us waiting nine years next time.

‘Five Fathom Hole’ by Papal Visit

It has been five years since Papal Visit released their last full-length album, ‘Golden Grove’, so they have a lot of material packed into their latest offering, ‘Five Fathom Hole’. In fact, there are a staggering 25 tracks, although with short running lengths the entire album only lasts 43 minutes.

Time will tell, of course, but this must surely be their magnum opus, with the full breadth of core members Adam Mowery and Pierre Cormier’s creativity on display. Yes, there is a certain coherence of style here (call it lo-fi americana punk-rock) but it is played out in many forms. “Destroy the Hive” is classic ‘60s garage rock, while “Wolfgang Von Trips” is wild, unbridled punk. Then there slower numbers, like the stoner-pop “Tootsie Pop” and “The Swimmer”, which sounds like The Beatles at their heaviest. Towards the end of the album there are some flights of pure fancy, like “Fuzz Tone Opera”, a literal experiment in fuzz guitar, and the weird psych rock “Flight of Fantasy” with indistinct vocals and instrumentation that is “barely there”.

The cream that rises to the top are tunes like “The Opposite Heart” and “The Heaviness”, tracks which showcase Mowery’s unique, quirky vocals and the two songwriters’ flair for exquisite pop gems.

‘You Have Got To Be Kidding Me’ by fanclubwallet

In the last 10 years or so (maybe longer) the term “indie pop” has been devaluated to the point that it basically means radio-friendly, commercially packaged music. It is, therefore, refreshing to hear an artist who is true to its original meaning, i.e. intriguing music that it not “run-of-the-mill”.

Ottawa singer-songwriter Hannah Judge (aka fanclubwallet) is absolutely charming with her quaint voice, but it is her clever arrangements that make the tracks on ‘You Have Got To Be Kidding Me’ something special. She has a gentle, feathery-light touch on tracks like “Fell Through”, but the choppiness of the drums makes it bouncy and interesting. There are some terrific synth flourishes throughout, but particularly evident on “That I Won’t Do” as a nice complement to the woozy backing and breathless vocals. In fact, the airy and wonky instrumental “55” proves that she doesn’t even have to sing in order to charm.

Lyrically the album is uplifting and assertive. On the high-energy rock-pop gem “Gr8 Timing!” she chirps:

“I don’t deserve to be/With someone that hurts me/So I’ll just spend/All of my time with myself/I don’t need anybody else’s help”

In the album notes, Judge declares “i am simply just kickin it”. We have to agree — yes, you are!

‘Something’s Gotta Give!’ by The John Denver Airport Conspiracy

The intrigue of Toronto’s The John Denver Airport Conspiracy starts with their name, which cleverly reference two urban myths (the mystery of John Denver’s plane crash and the strange tales surrounding Denver Airport), but it certainly doesn’t end there. On ‘Something’s Gotta Give!’ the band brings together disparate styles from the 1960’s in a carefree celebration.

JDAC lovingly recreates the underground sound of psych-garage rock, with the jangle of The Byrds and the pop stylings of early Velvet Underground. The track “Green Chair” is truly evocative, featuring ‘60s organ and guitar, while others like “JDAC” kind of bring to mind The Kinks (but on acid). “Ritchie Says” is a lovely ballad with lilting vocals, but the group also go into extended Grateful Dead-style jams, such as on “The World Has Surely Lost Its Head”. 

The production is lo-fi and murky, but that just makes the trip to the lysergic days of hippiedom more complete.

‘Lushings’ by Lushings

With ballads both dark and beautiful, the Calgary band Lushings come up with some interesting ideas on how to break out of the loneliness and isolation that the pandemic brought to our lives.

“Something” kicks things off in an upbeat mood, with a lively pace. Highlighted by a memorable guitar lick and Kendra Lush’s coy vocals, the next track “Rough Me Up” gets more into the meat of the matter with the lines: “Sell me out and rough me up again/I’ve been far too lonely with these walls for friends/Do me some harm. I’ll get by.”  Musically, it all leans towards ‘90s alternative, even though there are shades of ‘60s surf, particularly on “The Little You Know”. However, lyrically this is completely a creature of 2022, as evidenced on the deliberately paced “Pretty Machines”: “Sidewinding brittle and mean, it’s a crime you’d settle for me/I dream of pretty machines, I will go now follow their lead”.

If there was any silver-lining to the pandemic perhaps it’s the fact that some of us had time to sit back and reflect on the realities of life, and Lushings have come out of the covid era swinging.

Music to Your Ears: 5 Albums You Gotta Hear

Reviews by Mark Anthony Brennan

‘Cruisin’ and Swingin’ with The Moneygoround’ by The Moneygoround

The name The Moneygoround is in reference to a Kinks’ song, and what this band from PEI shares with that illustrious British outfit is the love of heartwarming pop and strong songwriting. However, with their slightly countrified air, The Moneygoround have more in common with groups on this side of the Atlantic, drawing comparisons to the likes of Wilco and Blue Rodeo.

The music on ‘Cruisin’ and Swingin’ with The Moneygoround’ is as comfortable as well-worn slippers, but it is the clever construction and sense of style that keeps your attention. Most of the tracks are mid-tempo ear-worms, like “1971 Bootleg Dub” and its 1970s throwback style and lyrical references. These songs are nicely crafted, with interesting touches like the slow bridge in “Wait and See”. There are also some gorgeous ballads, like “Peaceful” and “Sparrow on a Windowsill”. But The Moneygoround really hit their stride on numbers where they go all out in a ‘60s frenzy, such as “Very Cherry” and the woozy psych-pop “Be Nice to Everyone You Meet”.

Despite the fact that southern guitars twang and reverberate throughout ‘Cruisin’ and Swingin’ with The Moneygoround’ , this is far, far from country music — it is, rather, that style of pop that was forged in the 1960s but is now timeless.

‘Dungeon Master’ by Gus Englehorn

Montreal-based Gus Englehorn is an eccentric artist with an absurdist bent. The closest comparison I can come up with is The Pixies, but even they were not as unpredictable and wildly volatile as this.

Englehorn uses lo-fi wonky garage as a base for his music, but goes off on strange spurts of changing timing and yelping in his child-like voice. That only gives you a general idea because his palette changes from track to track. “Sunset Strip” has a vaguely post-punk, ominous vibe, whereas “Run Rabbit Run” is countrified folk, although with a constantly changing tempo, and “Tarantula” spins a slinky grunge vibe crossed with ‘60s garage rock. “Exercise My Demons” has an almost normal pop construction, but Englehorn even makes this one strange with lines that are rapidly repeated over and over (e.g. “Young and dumb and”).

The music on ‘Dungeon Master’ is unhinged, as if Englehorn is recklessly careening with no known destination in mind. However, if you sit back and digest it all, it makes for a satisfying listen. 

‘Joyful Joyful’ by Joyful Joyful

Cormac Culkeen and Dave Grenon make limited use of instruments in their ambient music, making ‘Joyful Joyful’ an exercise in minimalism, with human voices recreating the sounds of contemplative nature.

The album opens with a field recording of nature, while human humming drones in the background. The melody, sung in a high register, truly sounds like birds flying high in the air. The magic continues on the next track, “Marrow”, with rhythmic spurts of singing set against a backdrop of chanting. The closing track, “Sebaldus”, is an epic, as a low human hum evokes a desolate Canadian winter, while electronically altered singing expresses the hope of spring to come.

In a fast-paced world of five-second video clips it is heartening to hear a slow-burn celebration of humanity in nature, with all of its subtle complexities. 

‘Familiar Science’ by Joyfultalk

The colourfully inventive mind of Jay Crocker comes up with another wonderful album of weird experimentation.

Although Joyfultalk’s music is heavily jazz-influenced it is not jazz per se, but more of an amalgam of progressive rock, electronica and avant-pop. “Body Stone” may feature fusion-style guitar but at its base it’s an eerie electronic number, and “Ballad in 9” has some sweet saxophone but it’s set against a ghostly ambient background. Crocker is actually not tied to any genre, but just creates breezy, cool melodies with abandon. The kaleidoscopic compositions are brilliantly brought to life by great performances on saxophone, guitar, bass, keys and most especially drums (check out the highly textured and ever-shifting percussion on “Take It To The Grave”).

Although it is adventurous in spirit, ‘Familiar Science‘ is accessible to most ears with its fluidity and charm. It is a bold statement in avant-jazz nevertheless.

‘Niloo’ by Niloo

Niloo (Farahzadeh) was formerly with the duo Looelle but now makes her solo debut with the album simply titled ‘Niloo’.

This is a very low-key affair, with subtle instrumentation that does not detract from the main attraction, which is Niloo’s sweet vocals. As she swoops her pipes over songs of past relationships and maturing into adulthood, one is reminded of ‘90s singer-songwriters, such as Sarah McLachlan and Beth Orton. The music sits in that middle ground between dream pop, confessional folk and indie, but there is nothing middle-of-the-road about Niloo’s performance as her wavering tones command you to pay attention to the emotion in her delivery.

‘Niloo’ is a cosy, personal affair, as if you are listening to a close friend, even though Niloo’s talent makes her worthy of universal acclaim. 

‘Come All Ye Fair And Tender Ladies’ by Oxlip…and a short dive into the symbology of music in fantasy films and westerns.

By Adam Cantor

Plucking the threads of tradition, whether they be the old words, or the old melodies, and weaving them into new performances adds a haunting sublimity to the music.  Tunes that have been passed down from one generation to the next, evolving a little on the tongue of each singer, are filled with beguiling psychological complexities.  Bleak words are pinned onto wonderful melodies, and there is never an apology for the frank descriptions of the darkness of life.

In The Butcher Boy, a father calmly cuts his daughter down from where she hangs in her bedroom, and reads the suicide note placed in the bosom of her dress.  In Little Sadie, a man who has gunned down his lover in the street recounts his own arrest after a botched attempt to flee from the law.  Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies, the title track of Oxlip’s album, reminds us that young and hopeful love is an illusion, and that sooner or later every heart grows bored.

The magic of singing the traditional songs is that they remind us all the best music belongs to us all, and is owned by nobody.  There is no one performance that is so definitive that it requires a lawsuit to prevent anybody else from taking up parts of its lyrics or melody.  It is the opposite: sharing the song, and adding to the catalog of versions makes the tradition stronger.  In this way, the variations become a badge of uniqueness, and it is a way of keeping a song alive across generations, and over hundreds of years.

All of this philosophizing about the music having been offered, I must tell you I love these particular variations of the songs.  There is a blend of old-timey instruments; clawhammer banjo and so on, mixed in with electric guitars, slow rock rhythms, and tinges of psychedelia.  It is a fusion that works very well.  

It is interesting to note that in some songs the lyrics dropped away entirely, or merged into the background of the music in such a way that I could no longer tell what was being sung.  This was wonderful in the sense that, with songs I knew less well, like Old Paint, I found myself looking up the lyrics, and then falling down into the histories and traditions of each tune.  Moreover, the blurring of the words here and there reminded me of how history functions, and how things are lost and found through the transmission of memory.  What a good album.

* * *

Having said that much jacket copy I provided (quite willingly) for Oxlip’s album, I want to add to the above thoughts by saying this:

Oxlip’s re-imagining of these traditional tunes falls ostensibly into the same kind of category as the psychedelic bands who were working in this style in the late sixties and early seventies: Fairport Convention, Pentangle, and Steeleye Span, and extending as far as Led Zeppelin (sometimes).  In these acts, the traditional melodies blended into the psychedelia.  As I said before, the antique energy of the lyrics added to the mysticism.

Going back a bit further in time, it is hard to say where to draw a line between people like Woody Guthrie, or Lead Belly, who you might say were living in the traditions of the music they played, versus Shirley Collins (who was also married to famed archivist Alan Lomax), or the Seeger Family, or Bob Dylan, who leaned the tunes and disseminated them, even if they weren’t originally born into the tradition.  

Bob Dylan travelled a long way from sitting by Woody Guthrie’s bedside as Guthrie died, to turning the folk melodies he had learned and transforming them into psychedelic rock anthems.  

The old tunes, meanwhile, made it onto country radio, and old 78 recordings, too, back in the twenties and thirties.  People who were raised learning the music surrounded by the most dire sorts of poverty became internationally famous, thanks to the new technologies.  June Carter was the daughter of Maybelle Carter, one of the original superstars of country music, and later June married Johnny Cash. Johnny Cash in his early days was on tour with Elvis.

Meanwhile, the skiffle acts who performed upbeat versions of the early bluegrass and country tunes they heard coming over from America.  Skiffle and Elvis were two foundations of the work of the Beatles, whose work is indivisible from psychedelic music in the late sixties.  Jimi Hendrix, who started off touring with Little Richard, and (among many other things) recorded a version of a Bob Dylan song that is more famous than the original.

Little Richard, meanwhile, started out by taking the gospel music and blues that surrounded him in his childhood and fusing it into the frantic and upbeat shape of rock and roll, thus influencing Elvis, and the Beatles, and everybody else.

This is not even getting into whatever the fuck is happening in Ireland.

Leaving the blues and rock and roll aside for a second, many of the fiddle tunes played in the Appalachian mountains, tunes which eventually became the backbone of bluegrass, old-time, and country music, originated with melodies that came over from the England, Scotland, and Ireland, and then were preserved in surprisingly familiar forms in the isolation of that region.  It isn’t at all unusual for a musician playing Appalachian music to discover that there is a tune with an entirely different name, but nearly the same melody, that is still being played on the Islands off the coast of Europe someplace.

Cultural artifacts and notions evolve as they are separated by distance and by time from whatever fixed point in the past we choose.  The notion of a a particular melody as it exists in a single family, say three hundred years ago, changes if the family splits apart, with one sibling (for example) being deported to America, and the other remaining in England.  The sibling in America remembers the tune, and generally what it was like to be an English person, but the new geography, and new influences still change the tune and the culture over time.  The deported sibling’s descendants start to incorporate the banjo (an instrument of African origins) in with the fiddle and syncopation, and a particular lilt enter into the performance.

Meanwhile, the sibling who stayed in England also has descendants, and these descendants endure the industrial revolution, and the emptying out of the countryside into factories, and they fight the Germans a bunch of times, and the French once or twice, as well.  An Empire rises then crumbles around them.  They have a notion of the old England, but it is very much informed by its own interpretation through the lens of the present.  The descendants cannot truly see they way those people thought and lived, so they dress the melodies in the sensibilities of the present, yet allow them to channel feelings about the past, even if the instrumentation and presentation are entirely different.

Consider the case of the legendarily awesome British TV show Robin of Sherwood.  It isn’t that the mystique of the Middle Ages ever left the consciousness of the British people. Chaucer, Thomas Malory, William Shakespeare, Walter Scott, and so many others, either stayed relevant, or reached into the iconography of that historical bag and then blended it with the particulars of their own era.  

The Pre-Raphaelites blended Art-Deco flourishes with the medieval, and meanwhile architects revived the Gothic in their structures. Furniture makers (and sometimes novelists) like William Morris built their Arts and Crafts style furniture to reflect the aesthetic of that time.  It was not only a style, but also a philosophy, based on an imagined way of living in a simpler and more authentic time.  

Later on there was that whole thing with Errol Flynn.  But really, Robin of Sherwood was a more important cultural event than any of these.  It wasn’t only that the show easily imagined an ancient time when men with incredible, lion-like mullets could bound through the mythical woods about Nottingham in leather pants so tight that it could only be the help of wizards that enabled them to stay so nimble, but it was the music, moreover, that made the event so special.

Clannad; the band that originally launched Enya, provided a soundtrack that evoked the era of King John, and Richard the Lionheart, through the lush application of synth pads and layered vocal harmonies in what we now always imagine immediately as evocative of an era of swords and armour.  

It is not that Clannad specifically had to use any original Irish or English folk melody, so much as they understood that the melodies always moved in certain ways; in certain patterns between the notes, and always in certain modes. Sometimes they were traditional tunes, and sometimes they were not, however, the application of each in equal measure on their albums, and for the TV show, did a lot to help create the semiotic cues that are now so common that only a seconds are all we need to fall instantly into the head space of a world where mud and arrows were a common occurrence.

While Enya was out of the band by this point, her contributions to the early sound of Clannad were integral.  She herself later provided some of the iconic music for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films.  Needless to say, Tolkien figures largely into these re imagining of the music and aesthetics of these eras.  It is not only that his vision is specifically about how traditional ways of being are consumed and poisoned by industrial sprawl, but also he imagined his characters as constantly in song, and constantly recounting their adventures through ballads.  Her gave us the lyrics without the melodies, but when we scanned the metre, we always knew that the melodies absent from the page were structured to the traditional forms.

After Lord of the Rings, pretty much anything in the nebulous (at least as far as TV writers are concerned) centuries between the fall of the Roman Empire and the arrival of Columbus in the Americas has been musically signified by vaguely Northern European female wailing over synth drones.  Both Norse themed TV shows on Netflix; Vikings and The Last Kingdom, have this.  God knows how many movies about stabbing people with swords and so on have this.  

Game of Thrones, to their credit, got away from the formula (a little bit)…but they fucked up everything else, so let’s not give them too much oxygen.

Back in America, the sense of traditional music and its ability to immediately ensconce the views in a specific (or slightly non-specific) space and time is just as prevalent.  Just a few notes of slide blues can take you back to the South, and (for better or worse) the Jim Crow era. Just the right pull on a violin bow, or pluck on a banjo can take you into the Old West.  It is a great shorthand that has been built up over a long series of offerings into the discourse, none of which are based on any kind of historical accuracy or any actual tune, so much as they are upon our collective perception of what those times represented.

This sort of phenomenon is so common to the human experience that the complexity of virtually any example I choose would be nearly impossible to express in its entirety.  Cultural studies professors love to describe it as an element of our unending diaspora.  It is both an element of diaspora, and it is a performance (both collective and individually) of culture that is evolving over time.  This is taking us a bit of a ways away from Oxlip’s album, but in other ways it isn’t.

OXLIP releases new Psychedelic Traditionals album:
Announced for release 05/27 on World Peach Records

Music to Your Ears: 5 Albums You Simply Must Hear

Reviews by Mark Anthony Brennan

Susans by Susans

The last track on Susans’ self-titled album is “It’s OK (To Be Weird)”, and that pretty well sums up their entire ethos. In fact, it’s not just OK, it’s something to be celebrated, and celebrate they do.

This trio from London, ON, specialize in that form of art-trash that came along in the late ‘70s (think the CBGBs ilk). Although their sound owes a lot to punk, they eschew the use of electric guitar in favour of ukulele, giving them a very distinctive sound. The first track is indicative of your journey here, starting off with wonky bass and comedic vocals, which suddenly breaks out into a manic pace with virtually screamed vocals. The second track, “Impress Your Neighbours”, is slower paced but equally strange, like Talking Heads at their very weirdest. The two singers get into an interesting interplay about the benefits of astroturf (“No water!/ No dirt!”). 

There’s lots to love here, such as the Hinterland Who’s Who intro kicking off an art-punk (mostly) instrumental on “Up North” and the hilarious snippet of a ‘50s TV show in “Hands”. A true highlight is “Sleep E”, an almost free-form jazz number (except with crazy bass and picked ukulele) accompanied by the sounds of snoring.

If you are like me and wished that Talking Heads had remained punky, lo-fi and peculiar then Susans are probably right up your alley.

‘The End of History’ by Dual Nature

Dual Nature’s sound is characterized by shrill but melodic guitars and agonized vocals. Yes, Dezi DeHaan has that moan in his voice which was common with British post-punk bands. However, this Edmonton band do not indulge in lofty pop but have a definite visceral edge.

The opening track, “Solipsism”, is fairly typical of their ouevre, as DeHaan lets loose a flood of stream-of-consciousness vocals over a bed of swirling guitars. They can also get a little “artsy”, with the lengthy track “Fertility” dissolving into discordance towards the end. Perhaps the album’s high water mark is the epic “Fountain”, which midway settles down into a Scott Walker-style mood, featuring gothic vocals and atmospheric, echoing guitars.

Dual Nature may have some high notions but they never get pretentious, because they are, above all, a rock band and their sound never lets you forget that.

‘breakfast in bed’ by Easy Tiger

Ex-NOBRO Gabrielle La Rue recruits current NOBRO drummer Sarah Dion for her solo release as Easy Tiger. The result is a pop gem as comforting as breakfast in bed.

It is most breezy pop, but La Rue’s sharp lyrics and clever arrangements keeps things interesting. There is certainly no sameness here as the vibe runs from ‘80s pop (“chemtrails”) to country ballad (“havre saint-pierre”), and from folk (“midnight snack”) to art pop (“toothbrush”). Dion’s percussion keeps things lively, especially on the sassy “ibiza” and the aforementioned “toothbrush”. All the while, lyrics like “2 o’clock/Man you’re still fucked up/What a lovely couch potato” keep you more than entertained.

‘breakfast in bed’ proves how satisfying well-crafted pop music can be. 

‘Chiac Disco’ by Lisa LeBlanc

Lisa LeBlanc’s latest album is a wonderfully creative work that mines, of all things, disco. To be honest, despite the occasional high point (“I Feel Love” by Donna Summers comes to mind) ‘70s disco music was mostly throw-away rubbish with incessant garbage beats and stupid hooks (such as using a Donald Duck voice for vocals). Fortunately, ‘Chiac Disco’ is not a nostalgia trip but a complete reimagining of disco in a cleverly constructed format.

“Pourquoi faire aujourd’hui” kicks things off in high style, featuring true funk and lively string highlights. LeBlanc’s vocals come in lending an Acadian French lilt (“Chiac” is a reference to Acadian language and culture), an element that makes this album special. ‘Chiac Disco’ is, in fact, chock full of such amazing arrangements, including dazzling vintage synth flourishes (check out ‘“Veux – tu rentrer dans ma bubble?”, for example). For good measure, LeBlanc also throws in a couple of Lee Hazlewood-inspired numbers — the baroque country-pop “La poudre aux yeux” and “Me semble que c’est facile”, a more folksy ’60s ballad with highly dramatic strings.

Show up for LeBlanc’s danceable fun romp, but stay for her truly inventive and complex song structures.

‘niya kîminîcâkan’ by Dump Babes

Saskatoon’s Dump Babes are a gifted troupe of musicians led by the singing-songwriting talents of Aurora Wolfe, and with ‘niya kîminîcâkan’ they have quietly becoming one of Canada’s leading lights in contemporary rock-pop.

Building on their folk roots the band ventures into many different territories and excels at them all. “Patchwork”, for example, is a lovely country-folk ballad, which is far removed from the jangle pop of “Bad Medicine” or the shuffling, funky rhythms of “Talk to Me”. Wolfe’s engaging vocals stand tall, even next to gorgeous reverberating guitar work in the likes of “Victim of a Good Time Redux” or “Syntax”. However, it’s the underlying lyrical strength that really moves you. In the aforementioned “Victim of a Good Time Redux” Wolfe coos:

“Just your luck/Brother, what a long face/Now you’re stuck/Between your mother and a hard place/Locked in a limited space/Captivity is an acquired taste”

Dump Babes claim to be fresh from the city landfill, by there is really nothing trashy about this cool, self-assured band.

Music to Your Ears: 5 Albums You Simply Must Hear

Reviews by Mark Anthony Brennan

Whiplash by GRAE

The singer known as GRAE has released an album of simply lovely dream pop — the kind  of music that makes you reminisce of simpler times, no matter what age you are. Fluffy stuff? Not at all.

The vibe is hazy and dreamy, to be sure, but as you are being lulled into submission the melodies take unexpected directions. The album is filled with fantastic harmony vocals (e.g. on “No Lovey Dovey”) and intriguing guitar refrains (try “Outta This World”), while the psych-pop track “Room in the Desert” is simply outstanding for its woozy rhythm and slightly warped tune. Furthermore, even though the lyrical themes are familiar territory (past relationships, new relationships, etc.) the wording is surprisingly frank and confessional. In fact, GRAE gets quite cheeky at times with lines like, “You still look like your photos/But I burned them all”.

“Whiplash” is somewhat new wavy and somewhat nostalgic, but its GRAE’s quirky style and lyrical mannerism that will get you hooked.

It Feels Alright by Dried Out

Vancouver’s Dried Out lean more towards noise-rock on their latest album, but still don’t get to the point of being nasty.

Thing is, the band can’t quite shake that comfortable, ‘70s Saturday night pub style (check out the guitar picking on “Crystal Skull”, if you don’t believe me). Even the slow, heavy pacing of “Freak Me Out” doesn’t so much freak you out as make you wanna dance (despite the screaming). Even when he’s not screaming, vocalist Henry Peters sounds strangled at best, but it’s not the battle cry of a hardcore rocker so much as the cheery raspiness of seasoned entertainer. Furthermore, despite punk speed at times (e.g. “Time (Drags On)”) the songs usually have an intriguing middle or late passage when the guitar (and sometimes the bass) goes on an interesting side-trip.

Don’t get me wrong — ‘It Feels Alright’ does get heavy and hardcore, but, hey, it feels alright because it’s just your friendly neighbourhood slacker band getting their ya-ya’s out.

Applaudissez, bande de chameaux by Larynx

Montreal alternative pop artist Larynx is known for his cool, woozy psych-pop, but on ‘Applaudissez, bande de chameaux’ he proves to be something of a franco-canadian Paul McCartney — a master of any style he chooses to take on.

Naturally he delivers Beatlesque psychedelia with ease on such tracks as “Karou – souple”.  However, he channels more of a Kinks vibe on the high-powered “Demain, j’parle à personne”and hits ‘60s high baroque with “J’ai dessiné un coeur dans la neige”. He even takes on elements of his guest performers, as he gets into guitar-edged psych-rock with Les Deuxluxes (“Tu as tellement changé”) and gorgeous steel guitar-tinged balladry with Helena Deland (“Beau beam”). Just to knock it right out of the park, Larynx even excels at instrumentals, as he proves with the upbeat electronic number “L’autoroute des mardeux”.

Larynx does not take one wrong step over the course of the album, and at 17 tracks he packs in a hell of lot of value.

‘Edible Flowers’ by Kyla Charter

Kyla Charter brings a world of influence to bear, and yet her music is a low-key, personal expression of uniqueness.

The first track “Doubts” immediately dispels all notions that this is yet another contemporary R&B album, as a breezy jazzy beat is joined by a chorus of voices (all of which are Charter’s) that would sound almost gospel if it wasn’t for the earthy tones. As impressive as this opener is, it does not set a formula by any means. On “Bach to the Future” a trippy intro leads into an overlaying of jazz-like vocals, which culminates in a bassy, funky ending. “Breaking Dishes”, on the other hand, is a true trip-hop number, complete with a Portishead eeriness, i.e. haunting electronic tones and primary vocals that seem removed from reality. But the real show-stopper is the closing track “Another Name”, a gentle folk-spiritual that clocks in at over 7 minutes. Accompanied only by hand claps, the track is entirely a cappella and concerns a woman’s last day of life (“Did she know it would be the last time?”).

The album ‘Edible Flowers’ is all too short at 7 tracks, but it packs a weighty emotional punch.

‘Chaos Butterfly’ by x/o

Veron Xio (aka x/o) perfects their own language of music on ‘Chaos Butterfly’ — featuring soaring vocals and glitchy electronica.

Throughout the album the notion of duality is omnipresent. There is a deeper meaning (masculine/feminine, calmness anger, etc.) but to the listener it is expressed as quiet/ambient versus loud/beat and pretty/beautiful versus harsh/industrial. “Chrysalis Wrath”, for example, is primarily ambient, with flowing, water-like music and ethereal vocals, where the grating noise of an industrial beat only occasionally breaks through. This situation is virtually reversed on tracks like “Final Wingspan”, in which a frenetic beat is interrupted by the odd spurt of more melodious synth. Another facet of this duality is how the vocals and the base instrumentation complement each but never quite meld together — they form different layers, like oil and water.

All of this may give the impression of mayhem. Quite the contrary. The contrasting elements come together to form a coherent whole. It’s the feeling of satisfaction a listener derives from a well-constructed work.

Music to Your Ears: 5 Albums You Simply Must Hear

Reviews by Mark Anthony Brennan

‘Sweet Rose Green Winter Desk Top Tell This Side Autumn Of The Fighter Hot In A Cool Way’ by Heaven for Real

Halifax’s Heaven for Real hit that sweet spot , balancing light airiness with art-punkish angularity.

“Tell This Side”, for example, has a stop-start punctuation but it is heavenly soft in the vocal delivery. “Autumn of the Fighter”, which makes good use of Dorothea Paas’ voice, has an ‘80s jangle to it, plus some amazing guitar sonics. “Hot In A Cool Way” is so quirky that it touches on psych-pop. Still, the stand-out track has to be “Sweet Rose”, simply because it’s clever melody is so memorable.

Extra marks for the unique album title (simply the names of all six tracks), although it’s not clear whether this is cleverness or simply indicative of the band’s slackerism. 

‘Hard Flirt’ by Yessica Woahneil & Danny Kidd

Two bright lights in London, Ontario vibrant music scene collaborate on an understated gem.

The 4-track EP ‘Hard Flirt’ is lo-fi and low-key, however that does not mean it lacks in creative energy. With just their guitars and voices the pair make a meal of tracks like “Not my problem, Not my fault”, a wonderful vocal interplay, contrasting Yessica Woahneil’s highly defined pitch with the deeper rumble of Danny Kidd’s reply. “Marlboro Lites” has one guitar doing a menacing growl while the other twangs in Spanish folk fashion, and features Woahneil’s spoken word refrain to Kidd’s grungy main vocals. 

The EP’s crown jewel, however, is the delightful “Your Scarf Smelled”.  With its guitar-strummed punctuation and electronically-induced warble in the voices of both singers, the tune is a mesmerizing ear-worm, demonstrating how artistic originality can win you over no matter how subtle the delivery.

‘Anxious Avoidant’ by Sophia Bel

After wowing us with the EPs ‘Princess of the Dead’ Volumes I and II, Sophia Bel now proves with her first full-length album that she is, in fact, a Queen. A Pixie Queen, that is. 

She playfully channels the carefree punk-pop of the early 2000s (whatever that fucking decade is called), but does so with such quirky weirdness as to make it a genre of her own. Even as she is reflecting on past relationships (“You’re Not Real, You’re Just a Ghost”, “Everything I Touch Falls Apart”, etc.) her delivery is so coy, with a girlish innocence, that the mood feels buoyant. That’s not to say that the songs can’t be heartfelt, as tunes like “Lonely After Curfew” and “Just Like a Glove” can be achingly beautiful. However, it’s wonky tracks like “All Fucking Weekend” that really score, with its warped sense of melody and screaming pixie-punk crescendo.

When it comes to ‘Anxious Avoidant’ you should show up for Bel’s endearing charm, but stay for her subversive strangeness.

‘Stars We Lost’ by Lammping

Toronto’s Lammping don’t seem to mind being called a psychedelic rock band, but frankly the descriptor “experimental” would seem more fitting as they explore a variety of styles. 

After an impressive guitar intro, “Everlasting Moor” settles (a relative term here) into more of a psych-garage groove. Just as you are getting used to that the next track, “Never Phoenix”, ventures into ‘70s pop territory, except with a weird jazz-rock twist. By the time you get to the country-rock vibes of “Home of Shadows” you’ve come to expect the unexpected from this talented crew. Sure enough, the EP ends on a trippy, hippie note with “Beyond the Veil”.

The group packs a lot of value into a short EP, which just shouts out for more of the same (or more of “not the same”, in this case). 

‘(Self Titled)’ by Sam Jr

Sounding nothing like his old band, Broken Social Scene, Sam Goldberg Jr explores psychedelia as simply Sam Jr. And what a fuzzed-out, swirl of a ride it is.

Goldberg favours the more gothic, sludgy side of psych-rock, such as on the stoner tune “World Bangin’ On My Door”. Things are slightly more up-tempo on tracks like “Na Na Na Na”, which is awash in wah-wah guitar and distorted vocals, and “You Lock The Door I Broke The Window” with its Bowie-esque saxophone. A real highlight is the trippy, glam-rock number “Sweet Face”, featuring backing vocals by the great Tess Parks.

Oh yeah, extra marks for such an original title. Again, we’re not sure whether it’s intentionally funny or just an example of Goldberg’s “who gives a fuck” attitude.