Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math

Simple Math was the third album released by Manchester Orchestra. They blew me away with this one—with songs that I haven’t ever seen so well written and sung. Manchester Orchestra is certainly one of Atlanta’s finest bands and Favorite Gentlemen Recordings and Columbia Records both recognized their great talent by signing them. The song “Simple Math” is just a song I had to put on repeat on my music player as I absolutely loved it. It comes out softly and then it brings in more guitar with louder vocals and more bass truly symbolizing the genre of rock. “Mighty” is a song that I also enjoyed very much mostly because of the great instrumental track. It begins with very low bass increasing the intensity of the song and you can actually feel the low bass as you listen to it through headphones. Throughout the song you can hear the riffs of the guitar over the thumping beat of the drums and bass. It’s a song that I found that had an excellent combination of instruments and vocals, as the vocals were loudly sung over the drums and bass. “Pensacola”—now that’s a song I just had to jam out and blast in my car. It’s fast-paced, and shortly in the middle of it the song, it slows down a bit and then goes back to fast paced guitar and vocals. I loved it. Simple Math is a very unique album and I enjoyed getting the pleasure to hear it. (Favorite Gentlemen, Ben Sabic

Les Doigts de L’Homme – 1910

Les Doigts de l’Homme’s latest album will bring you right back to the year 1910, as its title suggests. That year, a gypsy boy named Django Reinhardt was born. It took him less than 25 years to revolutionize the world of jazz and become a legend of the guitar, creating a new mix between American jazz and the traditional gypsy music of his community.
Now, the band is going go back to the roots of this music fusion. The album celebrates the 100th anniversary of Django Reinhardt’s birth, offering six covers of his songs, three new songs and eight covers of other traditional songs.
With no singing, this album is only dedicated to the purest tradition and expression of the style: improvisation. The solos will leave your ears and your brain awestruck and your mouth speechless. The speed in the interpretation is completely unbelievable, and the swinging accompaniment of the second guitar and the double bass will make your feet stamp.
The highlights of this album lie in the wonderful arrangement and interpretation of the waltz standard “Indifférence,” and the ballad “Russian Melody.” Standards like “I’ve Found a New Baby” or “Minor Swing,” are well executed and refreshed, and make for great listening.
However, the album tracks are uneven in length. During some tunes, the soloist seems to loose track of the melody, preferring to expose his technical virtuosity. If this trick works during two songs, you’ll then be overwhelmed by the hundreds of notes bombarding your ears non-stop.
In a nutshell, this album is certainly a good record and should please jazz lovers. That being said, the overwhelming virtuosity and the lack of melody highlights could be criticized, and lose your attention. If you are new to the style, your best pick might be to start with a best of the legend himself, Django Reinhardt. (Alma records, Simon Delacroix

Hillbilly Highway – Back on the Nowhere Road

There is a road that stretches back in time, back beyond the interweb, beyond compact discs, cassette tapes, vinyl records and gramophones. It winds between hills and hollers, follows riverbanks and lakeshores deep into the woods and across tall grass prairie. It picks up from quays and travels back across seas, crossing itself time and again in backwater voids, where wind whips dead branches against nothing and scavenger birds craw out in vain.

This is the same road Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam sang about in the 80s, same road the Boss, and Dylan before him. Before them all, Hank Williams sang about this Lost Highway. The sands of time have largely obscured the names of those who sang about it before ol’ Hank, but their numbers are legion and their ghosts walk the road still.

This is the Lost Highway, the Thunder Road, Highway 51, Route 23. The Hillbilly Highway, the Nowhere Road. The low road. Maybe you’re walking it now, following your dreams up and down Pembina Highway or Portage Avenue, Highway One or 17.

I been on many of these roads, myself. I just cruised down a gooder: west on provincial Highway 2, with a south turn at Holland onto 34. 34 hits a stop at 3, then heads west again to 3A. Now you’re in country country.

The tiny village of Clearwater, MB has hosted the perennial Harvest Moon Festival for the past ten years. Formed as “a celebration of the harvest season, local food production, the area’s rich cultural heritage, and the bond between rural and urban folks,” the festival is like no other in Manitoba. A strong community dedicated to surviving against the economic and political forces that are draining people and money from the prairies, Clearwater is itself a beacon of potential for any community struggling to remain viable in the 21st century.

And the music is fucking good too. Highlights, for me, this year were the Deep Dark Woods, CKUW favourite Greg MacPherson and Ridley Bent’s Good Looking Country Band. Each delivered to-notch performances in weather bordering on frigid. Many other acts performed throughout the days, including Bog River and the Reverend Rambler, names to look for on the hillbilly highway in the months and years to come.

Keep your eyes on the road. It has a way of winding somewhere strange.

– Sheldon Birnie

Alexi Murdoch – Towards the Sun

Alexi Murdoch is a rare gift to the world of music – an artist who has earned a notable amount of fame and praise (despite his still short career) but also one who has remained humble, spiritual and honest. Alexi Murdoch’s first album was sensitive and penetrating to the core, and his newest album, Towards the Sun proves that Murdoch is going to be around for a while longer. His voice is deep and every song is universally relevant and plays off themes and emotions we can all attest to. This album speaks to all the private discourses we hold within – our fears, our loves and our hopes. Towards the Sun is Murdoch’s follow-up four years after Time Without Consequence. Towards the Sun is stunning in all its simplicity. Recorded in a 6-hour session in Vancouver whilst touring in 2009, it is stripped down and offers only the essential, as compared to TWC, which was significantly more layered, and voyaging. This album is lovely and calming, to which I attribute to the incredible mélange Murdoch’s voice makes with his guitar. This is a beautiful man with a beautiful message – at it core, music is still about provoking something within us and stirring it up. (Zero Summer Records, Victoria King

Esmerine – La Lechuza

Esmerine is an impressive collective of musicians with core members Bruce Cawdron of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Beckie Foon of Thee Silver Mt. Zion. The album is dedicated to recently deceased musician Lhasa De Sela. Lhasa’s harpist Sarah Page, Patrick Watson and Colin Stetson all contribute to La Lechuza. “Snow Day for Lhasa” is a notable track, featuringWatson’s vocals and an austere harp melody. “Little Streams Make Big Rivers” follows the album’s orchestral theme yet is reflective of Godspeed’s brooding pace and style. “Fish on Land” is a haunting song with Lhasa’s vocals, paced slow with a minimal piano and violin composition. La Lechuza is a wonderful orchestral album. (Constellation, Kyra Leib

Malachi – Return to the Ugly Side

To me, album artwork plays a large role in how I judge an album before I listen to it. I guess it’s just my habit as a graphic designer. At first glance I thought for sure this album was a metal album, or hardcore somewhat, but I was found wrong. I actually thought I mixed up the CD and put in Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz instead. The electronic drum track in their songs sounds much like one Sufjan Stevens enjoyed using in his latest album. Malachai (formerly named Malakai) is a strong ’60s Psychedelic electronic rock group with cut and paste styles all over the album. The sleepy, spooky, fast, action, slow and calm feelings in this album, creates the perfect soundtrack for a dream. I swear if you listened you would think the same. Its spot on for any dream scenario. (Double Six, Nicholas Van Doeselaar

El Boy Die – The Black Hawk Ladies & Tambourins

At this point in reviewing music, I should learn to be more cautious about buying the hype that promoters and press releases sell to attract listeners, but I’m an eternal optimist. Promises of an album for fans of Devendra Banhart accompanied France-by-way-of-Montreal artist El Boy Die and ‘his’ debut The Black Hawk Ladies & Tambourins.
I get where the person who wrote the one-sheet was coming from, but the material on Black Hawk is far less freaky and a little less folk than Banhart’s output.
In fact, calling it freak-folk is a bit of a misnomer – the music is dark and psychedelic but it lacks the joyful, anarchic spirit that pervades the music of freak-folkers like Banhart.
Labels aside, Black Hawk… is a well recorded album that creates an ominous atmosphere the hollowed-out toms and chorus of atonal voices on “Dead Kings” is spooky as hell and El Boy Die is unrelenting in keeping the listener on edge – this reaches it apotheosis on “Man Eagle,” which for four minutes is the standout track; that is until the field-recording of a pow-wow closes the song out. It’s not just some ‘cool’ atmosphere – it’s cultural misappropriation and a misstep in an otherwise promising record. (Semprini Records, Michael Elves

We are Enfant Terrible – Explicit Pictures

We are Enfant Terrible resurrects Nintendo from its ’80s grave with the release of their new album, Explicit Pictures. The trio (Thomas Fourney, Clo Floret and Cyril Debarge) comes out of Lille, in Northern France.  We are Enfant Terrible is dastardly catchy hipster pop. The album was recorded at Fourney’s house in Lille, with the band utilising guitars, keys, drums, Nintendo and 8-bit music. For those of you who scratch your heads and say to yourself, “8-bit? Double-you-tee-eff?” let me save you the time and energy of Wikipedia. 8-Bit is electro pop created via yesteryear’s game consoles, like Atari and/or Gameboy. Loving the “purity” of the Nintendo, these three use the “smooth and aggressive” tones of the Nintendo to forge Explicit Pictures into the mod music of 2011. They also list fashion, ’50s, ’60s and ’70s pop, Roman history, Belgian cooking and kittens as sources of inspiration. Listen to it once, you’ll think it was pretty good, but nothing you haven’t heard before. The second time will come out of curiosity. Third time? This was no accident. A final thing to note is the lyrics – they’re pretty funny, considering the rough French-English translation but it works with the unnerving and infectious melodies.  Give “Lobster Quadrille,” “A Song to You” and “So Fine” to see for yourself. (Pil Records, Victoria King

Vetiver – The Errant Charm

Vetiver’s fifth album sounds more refined and less based on folky guitar than earlier efforts. Reminiscent of Sam Prekop, The Errant Charm is a sweet and soothing pop album. Turning away from acoustic guitar and toward keyboard, electric guitar and chill, Vetiver explores ambient pop on The Errant Charm. I really enjoy the first three songs on this album. “Worse for Wear” sounds like early Vetiver, as the song maintains an emphasis on the acoustic guitar. The Sam Prekop-type pop beginning with “Hard to Break” is nice. “Can’t You Tell” is a perfect soft pop song, a partial throwback to ’80s pop yet still maintaining Vetiver’s core sound. Overall, I am chilling to this new Vetiver album. It is very relaxing and sweet. (Sub Pop, Kyra Leib