The Warped 45’s – Ten Day Poem for Saskatchewan

warped45sThe Warped 45’s debut full-length album is marred by several problems. From the opening title track, there seems to be an issue with the way the album was mixed. The band is loud, and their loudness renders Dave McEathron’s singing incomprehensible. After fiddling with my levels a bit, the problem was not related to the backing band being turned too loud, but with McEathron’s voice himself. He sings with a twang in his voice that segues mainly into his slurring of the lyrics. Instead of sounding like a boozed soaked troubadour singing about the trials of living on the lonely road, he sounds like a parody of a country singer. There are times on the album when his voice clears up, but for the most part, it stays as a slur. If he cleared things up, the band would be a band to look out for. Instead, this album falls flat. Just like Saskatchewan. (Pheromone Recordings, Charles Lefebvre

Voivod – Infini

voivodThis album from the legendary Canadian metal band Voivod is their final album ever. Deciding to call it quits after the 2005 death of guitarist Denis “Piggy” D’Amour, the band uses this album as a final tribute to an underrated metal guitarist. Continuing the tradition started with 2006’s Katorz, the band takes D’Amour’s last recorded guitar tracks, with no re-amping or overdubs, and adds the rest of the instrument parts around it. What results is a great album, one that cements Voivod and D’Amour’s legacy as one of the best metal bands to ever come out of Canada. D’Amour’s guitar work on songs such as “Global Warming” and “Earthache” gives these songs a special quality, that would be lost if it was a lesser band playing. The rest of the band does their part as well. Denis Belanger’s growl is the best it has ever been, and the bass playing from Jason Newsted manages to complement the rest of the band, rather than getting lost in the noise. The album tends to lean more towards the “groove” subset of metal, with speed metal and a bit of thrash sprinkled in as well. There are no hints of the progressive work that was found in their most notable works, which may upset some fans, but I prefer their focus on groove rather than complexity. If this is indeed the last Voivod album, then the band has gone out with a bang. Any true metal fan should have this album in their collection. (Sonic Unyon, Charles Lefebvre

Sylosis – Conclusion of an Age

sylosisIn this reviewer’s opinion, the British metal scene is the best in the world. While everyone fawns over the Scandinavian scene, with their over reliance on orchestration, synthesizers, and dabbling in the occult, the Brits have been making metal music the way it should be made: with balls. Sylosis, out of Reading, make a very good impression with their first full-length album Conclusion of an Age. Sylosis have all the hallmarks of thrash metal, with fast shredding, double bass drumming, and aggressive vocals from Jamie Graham. There is even some influence from melodic death metal and metalcore, though thankfully they don’t overshadow the entire album. The only problem I have with the album is the intro track. Leave that atmospheric stuff to the Swedes! But, I’m grasping at straws here. Fans of in Flames or the early 1980s American thrash scene should give this solid debut a listen. (Nuclear Blast, Charles Lefebvre

Los Straitjackets – The Further Adventures of Los Straitjackets

straitjacketsWith no desire to tarnish the natural twang of a freshly-strung strat, Los Straitjackets wrote their twelfth album with the discernable goal of attempting to transport the listeners to a slightly-modernized and genre-delving sample of the ’60s. The Further Adventures of Los Straitjackets is mostly a surf-rock album with many other early ’60s-era rhythm and blues, British invasion and garage rock influences. Though instrumentation remains constant, Los Straitjackets have done enough production work on their sound to provide enough variation to keep the listener in their little corner of the world. Tracks such as “Tubby”, a bottom-heavy throbber with a strong back-beat and a sly sax line, clearly show that though the band may specialize in mastering the calm-yet-cruising feel of surf-rock stylings, at any point in time they have the ability to manipulate both melodic form and supplemental instrumentation to reach the exact emotion they wish to convey. Though this album may not push the boundaries of human expression in any overt way, this album is certainly inventive and groovy enough for a drive to somewhere wet and hot. And that’s more vital to the healthy existence of music than most other revivalist clamour that seems to be garnering widespread critical acclaim. (Yep Roc Records, Dustin Danyluk

Shannon Stephens – The Breadwinner

stephensAn old friend and former bandmate of Sufjan Stevens (no relation), Shannon Stephens’ new album, The Breadwinner, is full of hymns to domestic life, where small is beautiful and love is learned the hard way. Stephens has been covered by Bonnie “Prince” Billy on his 2008 album Lie Down in the Light, and has been lauded by critics for her “gut-punch” lyricism. After nearly a decade in hiding, The Breadwinner is her attempt to give songwriting and recording another go. On top of the clucking of hens and short orchestral blasts, “Hard Times are Coming” is an instructive testimony to her daughter, on which she warns “all kingdoms go and flourish, then they decline, all that they’ve won unrighteously becomes their own undoing eventually.” The Breadwinner provides plenty of fertile ground to explore the meaning of love, home family with an apocalyptic eye to the future. Although some of these songs, like “In the Summer in the Heat,” remain unmemorable, the albums shortcomings are quickly made up for with the spiritually resonant “Come to My Table,” which finds Stephens at her most affective, crooning like Eva Cassidy, pondering work, rest and communion. The Breadwinner can be rather bland at times, but if soft-spoken, spiritually aware singer-songwriters are your thing, this one’s a winner. (Asthmatic Kitty, Jonathan Dyck

Spiral Beach – The Only Really Thing

spiralbeachSince their appearance in the 2008 teen film Charlie Bartlett, Toronto dance rock band Spiral Beach have gained a number of fans that probably would not have discovered their music otherwise. Since the film was a box office bomb, we can be thankful that there are not a number of bandwagon jumpers who are “totally their number one fan!” On their third album, Spiral Beach tone down the use of electronics in their music, favoring a more organic sound that can only be achieved through the use of actual instruments. It is a good thing they did that, because I am getting sick of this electronic dance rock craze. The music is catchy, easy to dance to, and should definitely be played at night clubs in place of whatever is currently being played. If you ever get a chance, see this band live. Maddy Wilde, Airick Woodhead and the rest of the band put on an energetic live show that deserves to be seen by many. (Sparks Music, Charles Lefebvre

Sights and Sounds – Monolith

sightsSights & Sounds are breaking into the music industry with their debut Monolith, which was produced under the knowledgeable guidance of Devin Townsend (of Strapping Young Lad fame), which is worth mentioning mostly for the subtlety and airiness of ambient passages and thunder of heavy sections that he has sculpted. The production is in the vein of many Devin Townsend recordings, the bass guitar and the drums locking into a thundering production which ensures that both drive themselves into one’s ears equally. Slower instrumental and ambient passages are reminiscent of similar pieces recorded in Townsend’s other work, yet in a more repetitive and less alluring way. Some songs have moments which find the band in a place where a heavy groove, ambient background guitar and impassioned vocal melodies combine to create a monstrous and grey atmosphere, but these moments are too often over-shadowed by typical metalcore trappings such as understated double-kick rhythms, relationship-centric lyrics and vestiges of that infamous screamo-esque nasal vocal delivery. The biggest annoyance of this album is the fact that at times it comes so close to transcend commonalities of the genre. If it were merely a blatant exercise in mimicry it could be easily discarded, but the band shows great ambition, and it is for this reason that this album is disappointing. (Smallman Records, Dustin Danyluk

The Savants – Absolver

savantsThe Bible-burning, shit-disturberin’ punk-rockers known as the Savants return with 12 boozed-up, super-charged tunes guaranteed to satisfy. Though Absolver features a cleaner sound, it’s easy to hear the musical evolution from their last EP. Various reworkings of old Reality Show songs like “That Was Easy” and the trio’s bad-ass epic “Black Cadillacs and Death Make Up” sound louder and harder than before. Newer songs like “Shock and Awe” and “A Skip in the Record” offer a musical range missing from previous efforts. Absolver even takes a break from the booze-fueled mayhem with a rare acoustic cut, “Half Assed Apology.” Although the Savants are known for their relentless wacky hijinks and tomfoolery, Absolver proves that they are at least serious about making a good record. (Transistor 66, Kent Davies

Uli Jon Roth – Under a Dark Sky

rothUli Jon Roth is best known as former guitarist for the German heavy metal band Scorpions from 1974-77. Obvious details aside, Under a Dark Sky is Roth’s sixth solo release and his thirteenth including his work with other bands. This album is mostly a mixture between mid-’70s pop and progressive metal sensibilities mixed with well-orchestrated symphonic passages. Roth attempts to convey a sense of grandiose by melding the emotional wail of arena rock with neo-classical guitar acrobatics and stirring symphonic backdrops. While the classical instrumentation is carefully executed, well-produced, and effective in creating an epic landscape, the more pop-influenced passages can come off as dated plastic. As “The Magic Word” morphs into a biting guitar riff and dramatic stops, the operatic wails are ill-placed, badly executed and naively produced. One can actually hear the vocalist back away from the microphone as he sings. At times stirring and effective, Under a Dark Sky is altogether abrupt in its conception and transitions and it fails to conjure the same revelatory imagery that the album cover exhibits. (SPV GmbH Records, Dustin Danyluk

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez – Old Money

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s Old Money, his first album on the normally hip hop and funk-oriented Stones Throw Records, was recorded around the same time as his other projectrodriguezlopez El Grupo Nuevo de Omar Rodriguez Lopez’s debut album, Cryptomnesia. Old Money is mostly a venture in dazed-out, jagged psychedelic rock and cascading bursts of heavily-effected dynamic crescendos. Rodriguez-Lopez utilizes a more Krautrock-inspired and repetitive style of song-writing as compared to his work done with the Mars Volta. Slower parts of the album give one the impression of embarking on that typified mystic journey to the deserts of southwestern United States. Strong moments of the album find that special place where the noodling of lead guitars combine with the cyclical rhythmic passages to create a sweeping testament to the power of genre-bending melodic exploration. Rhythm instrumentation often tirelessly repeats phrases for minutes on end while dizzying sonic experiments typical of Rodriguez-Lopez rage in the background. The variance of tonalities used maintains the listener’s interest, but can become mundane static after extended listening. While Old Money is certaintly a success in the fields of sound manipulation and tonal creativity, the fact that these were obvious goals in the recording of this album can at times turn one off of the increasingly over-done sounds of knob-twisting and pitch-bending. (Stones Throw Records, Dustin Danyluk