The F-Holes

Pluckin’ Away

By Sarah Petz

fholesThere aren’t a lot of bands who can hop from playing a gig in the dingy nonchalance of the Times Change(d) to a children’s festival, or from a wedding reception to a university restaurant. But local band the F-Holes, who have a versatile sound that could be called jazz or blues as much as it could be country or swing, are doing just that. Continue reading “The F-Holes”

Miesha and the Spanks

Love and Spitfire

By Kent Davies

mieshaFrom the ashes of Alberta punk act Bogart comes a deadly duo of potent garage rock and country soul. The combination of Miesha Louie’s fearsome guitar work and earnest, heartbreaking cries, combined with the hammering drums of Justin Landstorfer, is something of a Canadian rock ’n’ roll revelation. Tackling issues of personal loss, love and lust, they bring a level honesty that lends itself to the ferocity of their approach. Their live garage-rock confessions have already garnered quite the following their hometown of Calgary. Now the duo is hitting the top 20 on the Canadian college charts and receiving positive reviews for their first ful-length, MMMade for Me, just released on Winnipeg label Transistor 66. Stylus caught up with Miesha Louie before their Albert gig at the halfway point of their lengthy coast-to-coast tour. Continue reading “Miesha and the Spanks”

You Say Party! We Say Die!

From Love to Hate and Back Again
By Taylor Burgess

They’ve only just released their third full-length, XXXX, but it’s safe to say that You Say Party! We Say Die! will forever live on in our collective yspwsd_xxxx_1Canadian consciousness. Yes, there have been the rowdy shows at the now-closed Collective Cabaret, and equally rowdy shows at the Royal Albert, with lead singer Becky Ninkovic making everyone twist and clap and yell “Cold Hands! Hot Bodies!” But Canadian bands, even inciting ones, do come and go. YSP!’s legend has so much more attitude than that.
First, there was the incident at the Canada-U.S. border in 2006, where they matched wits with officials. The Vancouver five-piece had a major U.S. tour booked, starting in Seattle, but they hadn’t received the necessary paperwork in the mail by the night of the first show, so they approached the border, planning to use booked recording time in L.A. as their excuse for crossing. The border officials checked online and came up with the band’s tour dates. YSP! WSD! explained that they had planned to cancel them, but hadn’t yet. Always looking to thwart criminal masterminds like this dance-punk band, the crafty border officials called the Seattle venue, which enthusiastically replied that the band was most certainly playing that night.

Continue reading “You Say Party! We Say Die!”

Tyondai Braxton – Central Market

Tyondai-BraxtonWhen Braxton isn’t completely rewriting the math-rock playbook in Battles, he’s busy composing music for an orchestra and, well, playing with himself. As a solo artist, Braxton creates music using live loops. Handling all the instrumentation and vocal duties, Braxton’s solo work is at once complex, colorful and experimental. Central Market sees Braxton move away from a strictly loop-based, 100 percent Braxton-performed outing, to seven tracks composed for New York City’s Wordless City Orchestra. The combination of Braxton’s electronic tendencies and the acoustic element of the Orchestra makes for a record that is multi-dimensional and varied yet sonically cohesive. The first few tracks are purely cinematic—if the film imagined is a twisted, Technicolor children’s cartoon that takes place on the rings of Saturn. Strings swoop and swirl amidst marching, syncopated percussion, constantly shifting melodic motifs, jagged loops and Braxton’s trademark, pitch-shifted “munchkin” vocals. It sounds bizarre, and it is. Yet despite the seemingly chaotic shards of instrumentation within this album, Central Market is an impossibly interesting, engaging and enjoyable listen. (Warp Records, Curran Faris

Bloodshot Bill – Git High Tonite!

bloodshot-billCombining country twang, garage fuzz, and rockabilly squeak, Bloodshot Bill manages to make vintage sound new in Git High Tonite! Montreal’s answer to Hasil Adkins, the one-man band sensation returns with 12 greasy, rockin’ numbers guaranteed to get you moving. Combining crazy barely audible Trashmen-esque voicework, jingly-jangly guitars, and raw classic rockabilly instrumentation, Bloodshot has perfected a sound very few can match. Standout tracks include “Leave Me Alone,” “Outta the Rain” and a great Steve Alaimo cover “She’s My Baby.” The album closes out with a devastating rockabilly ballad “Oh Honey Doll Baby Doll” and a fantastic acoustic bonus track. (Transistor 66, Kent Davies

BLK JKS – After Robots

blk-jksBLK JKS hail from South Africa and sing in English, Zulu and Xhosa. They’ve fused together an ambitious rock record from an array of genres. Most striking on the album is the swooping brass and bombastic guitar solos, sometimes reminiscent of Frog Eyes’ best instrumentation and, at other times, the punch-work of Spoon. BLK JKS are often compared by the press to TV on the Radio; the resemblance, particularly in the percussion, is hard to miss. Yet After Robots is cohesive and idiosyncratic enough to resist being pigeonholed. All told, it’s a good album by an ambitious group that shows flashes of excellence in songs like “Skeleton” and “Lakeside.” (Secretly Canadian, Paul Beriault

Black Heart Procession – Six

black-heart-processionWhile I don’t believe any of their subsequent albums have rivaled their 2002 album Amore del Tropico (Tropics of Love), the Black Heart Procession have nonetheless made a valiant effort to reach for those heights. Returning to the counting scheme of their first three records, the San Diego band also retains the foreboding tone they’ve honed through all their prior recordings—atmospheric strings, ominous, impassioned vocals and rumbling bass, all supporting vocalist Paulo Zappoli’s dark tales. Love, death and the intersection between the two have long been lyrical tropes for the Black Heart Procession, and Six finds them digging fresh holes in the same graveyard. “When You Finish Me” speaks of being buried by a lover and “Wasteland” finds the protagonist hearing “ghosts calling me back to the grave.” Things don’t end in the ground though, as characters pursue their lovers through “Heaven and Hell” and burn in flames (“All My Steps”). Clearly this isn’t a voyage for the faint of heart and neither is an album by the Black Heart Procession—though you’d expect nothing less considering their moniker and their catalogue. This is a bleak and troubled listen, but there’s a dark beauty buried in its heart. (Temporary Residence, Michael Elves

Brendan Benson – My Old, Familiar Friend

My Old, Familiar Friend marks something of a liberation for Brendan Benson. Finally stepping out of the enormous shadow of Jack White, Benson has returned to his solo career, and it’s a return that is most certainly overdue. It’s a shame that it’s taken him four records to finally get any attention, and even more shameful that his rescue from obscurity is largely due to his stint with the forgettable Raconteurs. But considering just how excellent My Old, Familiar Friend is, these facts are easy to ignore. Benson’s talent for creating punchy, infectious pop music has always been obvious, but this album in particular takes it one step further. At once, the record demonstrates raw energy and unabashed joy, and enmeshes every track with a certain heartfelt quality. “I fell in love with you /and out of love with you /and back in love with you /all in the same day,” repeats Benson on album opener “A Whole Lot Better,” a handclap- and hook-driven number that sets up the honest desperation and earworm traits found throughout the rest of the album. “Garbage Day” sounds as if it had been pulled out of any 1970s discotheque, laced with energetic strings and pulsing analog synths, and “Feeling Like Taking You Home” is a cut of new wave-inspired bliss. Benson doesn’t shy away from incorporating a wide variety of musical genres into his sound, which he manages to pull off with a level of style and finesse that makes it seem effortless. It’s never over-the-top, and when it works it works well, casting the record to sound exactly like the ambitions of a talented artist being realized, and makes My Old, Familiar Friend every bit the success that Benson deserves. (ATO Records, Kevan Hannah

David Bazan – Curse Your Branches

david-bazanBased on this album’s title, it’s clear that the man behind Pedro the Lion wants to make a break from his past. He carved a niche for himself writing thought-provoking songs that tried to come to terms with the pitfalls of the Bush era by turning to theology. With discs like Winners Never Quit and Control, Bazan articulated a rethinking of what it meant to be a person of faith living in America. They were records that provided the listener with hope for a cure. With Curse Your Branches, the cure is the target. Apparently, Bazan has lost his faith, and wants the world to know it. But in writing about this, he comes off as trite and downright unconvincing. Take the lead-off track, “Hard to Be,” where he challenges the story of the garden of Eden (shocker!) and the fall of humanity, asking, “Wait just a minute / you expect me to believe / that all this misbehaving grew from one enchanted tree?”  Or the closing track, “In Stiches,” where Bazan follows the story of Job to paint a picture of a God completely out of touch with humanity, singing, “You sound defensive like you had not thought it through enough to have the answer / Like you might have bit off more than you could chew.” The problem here is not that he’s lost his faith in God, or his faith in humanity for that matter. Rather, it’s that he apparently has lost his ability to articulate this turn to atheism (if that is what this is) in creative and engaging ways, turning instead to clichés and questions that aren’t really that interesting. It really is disappointing, considering recent examples of artists who have used Christian language in thought-provoking and engaging ways (e.g. the Mountain Goats), that Bazan, as a person of faith, has failed to do the same. (Barsuk, Jeff Friesen