You may remember my post from a few years back about the fantastic prog-pop psych-rock band Sprïng, or you may not. I can refresh your memory briefly: they were great. Unfortunately they are no longer, though they did trickle out some new material after the release of their brilliant “Celebrations,” it seems there won’t be a follow-up.
However, and thankfully, Sprïng’s former guitarist Elliot has recently released a great five-song EP under the name Freak Dream. The release explodes right out of the gate, with synths and driving guitars combining to create a fusion of the industrial and hardcore punk sounds. Opening tracks “Let Me Out” and “Almost Gone” create a sense of space with more understated prog breakdowns before launching back into the more aggressive sounds favored throughout most of the EP.
The persistent kick of “How Can I” immediately calls to mind Big Black, though again Elliot creates more depth through his ability to pull everything back before piling on the noise again. Although, you’d never find a song like “Breathe II” on any Big Black album. That track’s mode shifting piano and delicate, feedback-driven, atmospherics not only lend the perfect amount of contrast to the collection, but show the range of Elliot’s interests and the palette he’s working with. It lays the groundwork nicely for the final track “Get Up” which is basically a really great, straight ahead rock tune. “Get Up” even manages to touch upon glam with its soaring coda emerging from dreamier, echoes of guitar.
You can listen to the entire EP above, or on the Freak Dream bandcamp page. If you head over to that page you can name your own price for a digital download, or get a CD with an 8-page, color zine for $5 Canadian.
Legendary Canadian band Sloan are re-releasing their groundbreaking 1994 sophomore effort “Twice Removed” with a whole host of goodies and following that up with a tour.
So as you can see from the above video there are TONS of extras that will be included when you pre-order. In my opinion this makes it completely worth the $89.99. If you haven’t heard the album then you probably won’t be willing to part with so much cash, and probably won’t be interested in all of the extras, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make yourself familiar with one of the greatest Canadian rock albums of all time. Forget Canadian, this album holds up as one of the best no matter what you put it up against.
This will be the first time “Twice Removed” has been made available on vinyl since the 90’s, a big plus for those of us that are completists. If you want to familiarize yourself with Sloan and you are on Spotify then you are in luck because the entire Sloan catalog is up there for your listening enjoyment.
Ironically one can not access Spotify in Canada, so enjoy the video below, or simply listen while you head to Sloanmusic.com to check out their tour dates, where they will be playing “Twice Removed” front to back all across Canada and the Northern U.S. As of right now they have posted dates throughout September with a promise that there will be more shows booked through October and November so keep checking Sloanmusic.com if you don’t see a town near you listed.
SEP 05, Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge (Northwest Music Fest) SEP 06, Seattle, WA – Tractor Tavern SEP 07, Golden, BC – Rockwater SEP 08, Oliver, BC – Tinhorn Winery SEP 09, Lethbridge, AB – Average Joe’s SEP 11, Edmonton, AB – Starlite SEP 13, Cranbrook, BC – Key City Theatre SEP 14, Vancouver, BC – Commodore Ballroom SEP 15, Victoria BC – Rifflandia SEP 17, Medicine Hat, AB – Esplanade Theatre SEP 18, Regina, SK – The Pump SEP 19, Saskatoon, SK – Louis’ Pub SEP 20, Winnipeg, MB – The Pyramid SEP 21, Minneapolis, MN – 400 Bar SEP 22, Chicago, IL – Subterranean
As a musician, and as someone that listens to a ridiculous amount of music, sometimes I am listening just for sounds. Sometimes the melodies and whether or not they are catchy take a backseat to the atmosphere that an album creates.
There have been times that I’ve been so wrapped up in a band’s unique sound that it’s a week or two of non-stop listening before I start to really focus on the harmonic structure, song structure, melodies and lyrical content that is contained therein. This was precisely the case when I first heard Shellac. I remained entranced by the sound of the Travis Bean guitars and Steve Albini’s trademark recording technique sound.
Chad VanGaalen is similar in the way that his recordings have quite a distinctive sound. His production on the 2 albums by fellow Calgarians Women is noteworthy for being characteristically and decidedly lo-fi. Diaper Island takes those production values and applies them to songs that, while still existing very much in the experimental realm, are considerably less abrasive and confrontational that those of Women. The Velvet Underground and Sonic Youth influence is pulled back while that of Neil Young and The Beatles is pushed a bit more to the front.
There is still quite a psychedelic feel to the album with noisy squeals of guitar cutting through on “Replace Me” and the swirling hypnotic backdrop of “Blonde Hash” that fights against the jangly guitar line until it’s cut out completely when the reverb drenched chorus kicks in. “Peace on the Rise” also features an interesting, harmonically disjointed line that seems to fight the song’s own gravitational pull.
The tunefulness of the songs and the noisiness of some of the odd sounds that creep in now and again are balanced well. Neither draws focus away from the other. The songs have the ability to sound haunting, catchy, sorrowful, tender and sincere. They can also wander into delicate, quiet territory or become invasive and gritty without being jarring. The combination of these affects create a powerful experience.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the closing track “Shave My Pussy” which is, honestly, a really terrific track with a folksy harp line that is plucked out, leading to a truly great chorus. This coupled with, as one can infer by the title, lyrics that are a bit odd to say the least. All in all this is a terrific album and has cemented itself as one of my favorites of the year to date.
Joel Plaskett is easily one of the best songwriters working today, but truly under (almost un-) appreciated in the United States. He’s a lanky Haligonian formerly of Thrush Hermit that releases a fairly steady stream of albums under his name, or with his band The Joel Plaskett Emergency. His sound varies quite a bit from country infused gems to Led Zeppelin inspired rockers.
This song appears on his 2005 solo release “La De Da” and is one of my favorites of his.
[audio:http://quartertonality.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/04-Lying-on-a-Beach.mp3|titles=Lying on a Beach]
Somebody introduced me To a member of the club I think that they confused me With some other rub-a-dub-a-dub Now, I work on the fifth floor And nothing is my fault I take advice like margueritas With a heavy grain of salt I always wake up in the night Wondering if I’m doing it right And if I had my way I’d be getting on this flight tonight And in the morning I’d be Lying on a beach in the sun Lying to my family and friends Telling them that I have begun Trying to find the means to an end Lying on a beach in the sun Lying just to cover my ass Lying in the sun on the beach Burning like the girls in the grass
I should be working on my manners But I’m working on my website All you star-spangled scanners Trying to photocopy moonlight Staring at the computer screen Feeling so alone and obscene Getting restless Getting randy Getting mean Lying on a beach in the sun Looking for a little romance The temperature’s a hundred and one Everybody take off your pants Lying on a beach in the sun Trying to figure out what to do Lying in the sun on the beach I realized I did not have a clue
I’m full of hocus pocus And I’m slower than molasses I’m coming in and out of focus Like a magic pair of glasses I go down to the staff room at lunchtime I’m like a joke but there’s never a punch line And if you step on my toes I’ll blow up just like a landmine Give me a reason I’ll be Lying on a beach in the sun Nobody but my money and me Is this your definition of fun I’m bored it’s only twenty past three (You should go for a swim) I’ll still be clinging to the company line There’s sharks out there I think I saw a fin Or maybe I’m just losing my mind
Somebody take a memo We’re all on automatic When I get it back together We’re gonna need a little static Somebody check my pulse Slap me in the face Show me what I’m made of Get me out of this place It’s like a weird technological dream Watching buddies turn into machines We never get our hands dirty But paradise is never this clean Come on Lying on a beach in the sun Don’t want to get burned to a crisp You want something to remember me by You can save it on a floppy disk So long Farewell You can kiss my ass goodbye If I don’t jump ship right now I’ll never figure out how to fly
Halifax natives Sloan are celebrating their 20th year as a band with an album full of hook laden power pop perfection. As usual the album title serves as a double meaning. Double cross meaning 2 xs, the Roman numeral for twenty, or perhaps it’s a reference to something more disquieting? It’s the former, not the latter.
It seems that every time one reads about Sloan it’s the same thing: something along the lines of “4 songwriters with distinctive voices and styles”. That is usually followed by a reference to The Beatles, such as the “Canadian Fab 4” or some such nonsense.
It really is a shame that Sloan is not more popular in the U.S. I feel that their albums are strong, for the most part, and nobody anywhere can write a song as good as these guys. I’m not saying that being popular in the United States would mean that they have finally “made it”. I’m just saying that they deserve a worldwide audience and if the U.S. didn’t have such terrible taste in pop music, and people knew what was good for them, they’d be playing Sloan on radios across the country. If more people had a chance to hear them I don’t doubt for a second that they would have a much larger following.
But alas, they are (at least in the United States) something of a cult band, with the inherent small but loyal following. Sloan manages to produce consistently great material even within less popular albums, such as Pretty Together and Action Pact the one-two punch of mediocrity that their fans love to hate. It seems that those two albums went against their sound that usually remained pretty well in tact from album to album with nothing too jarring happening on sequential releases.
Recently they seem to be back on track in a big way with 3 really solidly fantastic albums. “Never Hear the End of It”, an amazing double album from 2006, “Parallel Play” from 2008, the “Hit and Run EP” of 2009 and now “The Double Cross” continues that trend.
Their output, even going back as far as the landmark album “Twice Removed” from 1994, never seemed to follow current trends. Sloan seems content and determined to consistently chart their own path.
Being that they’ve been around for so long, and because of the 4 distinct songwriting styles, Sloan fans have mostly aligned themselves with one band member or another. Much can be written about the distinct stylistic virtues of each member as a songwriter, though I don’t intend to do go down that road. That’s the easy way out. It seems that nobody is too willing to talk about Sloan in terms of the band, Sloan. Fans will often cry out about apparent inconsistencies within albums stemming from the different approaches and sometimes that seems the way to go. Album efforts don’t always feel like band efforts. Sometimes the style shifts from song to song can be a bit much. Perhaps these complaints can be mostly boiled down to fans missing the “good old days” of Sloan.
In my opinion these “good old days” are typically fans projecting unfair expectations onto the band in order to cease forward momentum of their career in order to preserve their own personal memories of that time in their life when they first discovered the band. Music fans, it seems, want bands to stay the same, but not too much the same, because they’ll typically complain either way. Sloan has continued to grow, and for better or worse, have always done their own thing.
Sloan has been around long enough to have “eras”. The most recent such era I would say starts with “Never Hear the End of It”. I feel that this album marks the beginning of a prolifically great songwriting rebirth that followed two albums in which they seemed to be making a concerted effort to change their sound. Since this rebirth it seems as though they have been trying to strike a balance between working separately and working as a band. “Never Hear the End of It” used the technique of melding songs nearly seamlessly together by painstakingly organizing the tracks by key which helped immensely with the flow of the album. They did this before, on their 1999 album “Between the Bridges” though with “Never Hear the End of It” people had a bit more of a difficult time holding interest through to the end, as it was a rather lengthy double album.
That album was put together over an extended period of time, and they documented the process with a series of videos on Youtube that I eagerly anticipated watching each week.
“Parallel Play” was the same return to form but it seems a lot more fragmented. The separation from song to song was far more noticeable, though each of those songs were catchy, well written and impeccably produced. Fans again spoke up about a band that seemed unwilling to work together. Even the name of the album seemed to be admission from the band that they were not really working together, but instead took a “separate but equal” approach, convening later to decide democratically what material would make it to the album.
Following “Parallel Play” was the “Hit & Run” EP. It’s a solid offering that experimented with a digital only release and was the perfect addendum to “Parallel Play”.
As I mentioned before, fans try to lump each songwriter’s works together as if each album is a compilation of 4 separate bands, but this discounts how well the albums actually work as albums. Just as “Never Hear the End of It” goes for long stretches patching the songs together and linking them in ingenious ways, so does “The Double Cross”. In addition Sloan utilizes more inter-band participation. Other band members sharing verses, singing background, etc. Such as Chris singing on the bridge of Andrew’s “She’s Slowing Down Again” which introduces a new texture to the rambling rock and roll sound of the track. Chris also appears on the Jay penned “Beverley Terrace”.
The album has a general warmth to it, with very present bass frequencies. It sounds lush and full even on MP3. It sounds like it was mastered for vinyl; it’s not thin sounding at all, or overproduced and compressed to all hell. Standout track “Green Gardens, Cold Montreal” features a delicately plucked acoustic steel string guitar with a perfectly placed ascending Rhodes line. It’s that sort of AM radio quality song that seems to be their niche lately, and they make it work really well.This is also the case for “Your Daddy Will Do”, which has the added bonus of featuring some doubled vocals by Patrick on the verses.
“It’s Plain to See” brings some upbeat, rockabilly flavor (flavour if you’re Canadian), to the album. The ultra-close, multi-tracked vocals are super clean and precise but I think that if the entire group were singing them that the variety of vocal timbre would have helped to thicken things up a bit. The track “Unkind” features some Thin Lizzy guitar work and slapback retro-echo on the vocals that is quite effective.
The Double Cross serves as a great celebration of 20 years of music by a band that deserves more attention. They really should be playing in large venues around the world as there are so few groups that are able to do what they do as well as they do it. If you’ve never heard Sloan, or haven’t figured out where to begin listening, this album would serve as a good introduction to the group.
(I haven’t included any tracks from this album as I’m fairly certain that the band would not be happy with that. I have, however, already pre-ordered the vinyl and would like to highly encourage you to do the same here. You can also preview every track from the album at that link as well, so what are you waiting for? Go!)
Sometimes a straight forward rock album is exactly what the doctor ordered. Noisy, sloppy, balls to the wall rock has the power to erase any traces of trend-mongering buzzbands that exist only to grab a quick piece of the action. The Two Koreas don’t seem to be interested in any of the current trends and instead are slicing right through the middle of it all with pure rock verve. Literate lyrics shouted atop a noisy, energetic garage rock band.
Every song is forthright in its earnestness, and pushes forward with such aggression that the honesty and effort shines right through. The singing is delivered in a speech-like, declamatory style that slips in and out of the beat similar to Eddie Argos of Art Brut’s style, but with the rock attitude of Sammy James Jr. from The Mooney Suzuki. The lyrics are all shouted, and yearn to be shouted along to. It sounds as though they are writing anthem after anthem. Continuing with the comparisons I could say that they are like a noisier, more garage rock oriented Tokyo Police Club that is rough around the edges, or like Surfer Blood in their fondness of catchy hooks. I can even hear strains of Wire’s post-punk throughout. The point being: The Two Koreas aren’t trying to re-invent the wheel, and that’s fine because this is rock music done well with all the energy and catchiness one could ever possibly desire.
There is nothing hidden in these songs, it’s all out there in the open. The band is able to continually build up the energy, sustaining the tension for as long as possible until reaching a near breaking point. The entire album is chock full of jangling, noisy guitars and ill fitting melodies with shaky vocals. I don’t mean that in a negative light at all. The guitar matches the vocals in its ability to slip far behind the beat, giving a general feeling of looseness throughout. Much of “Science Island” is sinister in its sound.The echoey vocals make it sound like a one man gang vocal. It is dark and serious; defiant with the sound of an angry mob riotously marching through the streets, growing in numbers as they do.
The band is at their strongest on the tracks “Haunted Beach” and “Karl Johans Gate” where the music steadily builds, unchanging except for increasing dynamics with verses and choruses blending into each other over top. “Diamond Geezer” is a standout track with a lead line that cuts through the bass and drum backbeat, sounding similar in tone to East Bay Ray of The Dead Kennedys. The track also matches the sort of sinister, yet upbeat sound that was characteristic of so many Dead Kennedys tunes.
The lyrics are plentiful and fast paced. It’s nearly impossible to catch them all as they come flying at you. The lyrics seem to do one of two things: either speak down to someone or provide the listener with some sort of fortune cookie type advice. Take for example, the song “Withering Heights”, which is a great example of their ability to start with high energy yet continuously build past it. It sports the lyric,“You take the wrong advice, you pay the highest price.” That has got to be one of the best lines on the album, shouted through the dissipating reverb of the guitars after they abruptly stop only briefly enough for this to be spoken. After that the energy picks up exactly where it left off. “Disco Slave Song” is another noisy one chord romp with a shout-along hook and organ solo in the breakdown.
The Two Koreas’ “Science Island” is a welcome return of jangly, loud garage rock. Sometimes music that is formed from the simplest, most honest of ideas is the best music.
Updated July 28, 2010 with exclusive content from BaebleMusic.com. Scroll to bottom!
June 8, 2010 saw the release of the 2nd full-length album by Toronto area band Tokyo Police Club. “Champ” is a big step forward in terms of songwriting and dynamics. The album showcases a band that is able to increase the complexity of their compositions while still holding on to the energy and excitement that one would expect from a first release.
Right from the opening track a theme of growing up and reminiscing takes shape, being set up with the lyric “…because you know it’s sweet gettin’ old”. The theme is not one of longing for the past and hoping for its return, but of looking back on good times and knowing that things aren’t going to be the same, but that doesn’t mean that they are over. This is taken further with the song “Gone”, the lyrics of which explore areas of uncertainty: “I don’t know what I want/I don’t know what to think before the curtain’s drawn/I don’t know about you/Tell me something that I’m supposed to do.” This is an album by a band that is aware of their growth and is simultaneously excited and worried about it. That thread serves them well, creating a cohesion among the songs represented lyrically and musically.
The band truly shows their ability to stretch out, sonically, all the while making room for each other. There are contrapuntal elements at work in many of the songs, where 3 or 4 different layers are weaving in and out without covering up the original idea. It is clear that they are working with complex ideas, but the great thing is that they manage to make it sound loose and free. The songs never fall into the mechanical lock-step that is typical of so many bands with a similar approach. The structures are tight throughout and there was obviously a lot of thought put into the way the album works as a whole with respect to song sequence. This is most evident with the one-two punch that is “Breakneck Speed” followed by “Wait Up (Boots of Danger)”, which comes across sounding like a coda, in the same key but sped-up. The most subdued track, “Hands Reversed”, appearing a little more than halfway through the album, serves as a reset point. The song features clean, delicately plucked guitar and an unobtrusive bass with a wash of cymbals in the back. One can really sense the push and pull at work in this song. They know exactly where to back off and where to really ramp it up a few notches without it ever becoming overbearing or predictable. The album continues to build with the tune “Gone”, a fun and upbeat track that is only missing some steel drums to complete the beach scene that it would fit into perfectly.
The varied nature of the songs does not take away from the cohesion of the album. Urgent rockers like “Wait Up” and the jangly, angular “Favourite Colour” are contrasted by the glitchy synth-pop of “Bambi” and the bouncy “Gone”. The straight forward drive of “Big Difference” and album closer “Frankenstein” are balanced by the shuffle time “Not Sick” and the guitar-up-front classic rock influenced “End of a Spark”, a track that has single written all over it. There is great potential for any of these songs to encourage loud singing along at concerts.
The band seems to want to fill stadiums with their sound, playing with balance throughout. Rarely is the entire band playing “full-on”. They sidestep overdoing it with careful arrangements that make the songs quite dynamic. There needs to be room to have a song build and grow in order for it to achieve any sort of lasting excitement. This always ends up as more rewarding to the listener, and less tiring for the band. Guitarist Josh Hook’s atmospherics have a great way of lifting the songs up, while keyboardist Graham Wright lays a steady foundation with bassist and singer Dave Monks. The soaring vocals and emotional lyrics really have the listener taking a ride throughout many of the songs. The end of “Frankenstein” builds layer upon layer of distorted, slap-back delayed guitar and synth while Monks proclaims “it’s good to be back, it’s good to be back” and one can truly appreciate the time and thought put into the production of this album and the growth that took place in order to make it possible.