Blitzen Trapper – Black River Killer EP

blackriverkillerThis EP’s namesake, one of the best tracks from last year’s breakthrough, Furr, is given special treatment here and allowed to kick off a new batch of songs. While it proves worthwhile to revisit a fantastic track like “Black River Killer,” that darkly whimsical tale of a killer who can’t help but evade redemption, this EP feels a little thrown together and lacks the propulsive energy that made Furr so likable. Here, Blitzen Trapper show a willingness to branch out and expand their influences. “Preachers Sisters Boy” features a synth line that has to have been stolen from the Cars, but still sounds like more of the same. The mid-tempo “Going Down” sees Blitzen Trapper starting to recycle their melodies, while “Shoulder Full of You” could pass for one of Beck’s more sentimental acoustic numbers. At this point, Blitzen Trapper appear to have settled on a formula that’s worked quite well for them, but this EP leaves me wondering where they can go from here, whether they have the ability to take their classic rock Americana to the next level. (Sub Pop, www.subpop.com) Jonathan Dyck

The Antlers – Hospice

This remarkably assured album from the Brooklyn-based band The Antlers is all about space and atmosphere. What started out as a lo-fi solo project for Peter Silberman has evolved into an epic collaborative project over two years in the making. Though not a particularly difficult record, Hospice rewards patient listening with a tightly bound narrative about isolation and terminal illness. Melodically, it’s a pretty straightforward chamber-pop record, and at times it even sounds a bit formulaic, but on a song like “Kettering” (which, on its own wouldn’t be all that interesting) there’s so much going on thematically, and such a careful texturing of sound, that the track takes on a new life, slowly building into something almost raucous, almost hopeful. “Bear” features the same sort of upbeat flickering, with a cutting chorus (“We’re too old / We’re not old at all”) that disappears as quickly as it emerged. This haunting quality is the most powerful aspect of Hospice, which teeters between vacuous drones and lush flourishes, and finds The Antlers at their best in the echoes and whispers of songs like the beautiful “Shiva” and the inspiring “Wake.” Hospice is pretty heavy and perhaps a bit too serious. As one critic has said, it’s “music for people who like hospitals,” which doesn’t strike me as a compliment. Indeed, it will be interesting to see where yhe Antlers go from here, to see if there is, after all, life beyond hospital walls. (French Kiss, www.frenchkissrecords.com) Jonathan Dyck

The 2009 WCMAs

Stylus heads to Brandon, avoids fights

By Michael Elves

They say you can never really go home again, but since Brandon hosted this year’s Western Canadian Music Awards, I returned to the Wheat City—where I haven’t lived for over a decade, but where I spent my formative years—to take in the sights and sounds at showcases and sessions held during the weekend of September 17-20.
While much of Brandon remains the same as when I left, there have certainly been changes in the intervening years; 18th Street North now looks like Kenaston at McGillivray, with its big-box stores replacing what was once a great tobogganing hill. The Keystone Centre has been re-branded the Westman Communications Group Place and fused to Canad Inns like a conjoined twin.

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Chad VanGaalen

By Jonathan Dyck

Chad VanGaalen may be many things to many people, but one thing is certain: he embodies the do-it-yourself aesthetic at every imaginable level. From self-production and designing his album artwork to building instruments and animating his own music videos, it’s difficult to think of something VanGaalen isn’t good at. Now, after three diverse albums of homespun folk rock, the Polaris Prize-nominated Albertan has released his electronic side project, Snow Blindness is Crystal Antz, under the moniker Black Mold (on the Calgary-based label Flemish Eye). Stylus caught up with Chad VanGaalen to discuss his musical alter-ego, his artwork, and why it’s unlikely that he’ll be invited back to perform at the Winnipeg Folk Festival any time soon.

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Right Through

By Taylor Burgess

It isn’t uncommon for young bands to be some combination of reckless and precise, but Winnipeg indie quartet Right Through seems to be the inverse of metal and hardcore bands, opting for the lo-fi sounds of ’90s indie rock instead. Rather than worrying about specific scales, these boys worry about harmonies and rocking hard.

The band started about two and a half years ago when Jesse Hill, 19, was playing in the Fo!ps, and Cole Woods, 18, and Rob Gardiner, 18, were in the Playing Cards.

Over a coffee in the Exchange on a soon-to-be bitter autumn evening, Jesse said, “We played shows with each other, and then we became friends, and we started jamming.”

Woods added, “And then Rob and I have been friends for a long time, been playing together in bands for a long time.”

“Well, he was just Rob’s brother,” said bassist Alan Gardiner, 16. We all cracked up.

Tease each other as they might, they still have faith in each other. Jesse said, “If I’m stuck with a song, that’s like the perfect time to bring it to Right Through, because I’m really confident in these guys’ abilities to take something I have and make it way better.” They can most definitely read each other, and when they play, they’re in the same mind-space. I picture them swinging their arms and pounding their guitars among mostly barren trees and snow-dusted ground , much like a world presented in their promo photos.

They’re careful not to–or perhaps it never even crossed their minds to–name-drop any influences, but their brand of loud-quiet-loud indie rock is somewhere between Pavement and post-rock, limited to two guitars, one bass and a drum kit.

Late in October, the band will be releasing their first full length album, titled the sun hot. They recorded it themselves, with the help of Jesse’s brother, getting all of the instruments done in a couple of days, but then doing the vocals over a much longer stretch–the next six months.

It was quite vexing for Jesse. “I’m a pretty big perfectionist, so just the fact that I was on my own recording my vocals, over and over again, I got really obsessive about it… It was just really stressful. And it probably would’ve been less stressful if… uh… we were in…”

“In a real studio?” Cole offers.

The CD release will be on October 23 at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church, a venue the band plays frequently. If you’ve never been there, you should also know it’s one of the better venues in the city. The sound carries like a dream, full and dramatic, and always compliments Right Through’s drastic shifts in dynamics, from slow strums and muttering to gut-wrenching and screaming. As Hill says, “We try to be as quiet as we try to be loud.”

Live at the West End

By Jenny Henkelman


As the weather starts pushing Winnipeggers back indoors for the winter, a new televised concert series is set to bring live, local music to your home television set. Live at the West End captures six performances by Manitoba-based acts and is the brainchild of Johnny Marlow. He’s been a record store owner and an indie label rep. Now he’s working in a new venue: on-demand TV.

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Cuff the Duke

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By Sabrina Carnevale

Cuff the Duke hail from Oshawa, Ontario, but the band is anything but small town. They’ve been categorized into the almighty alt-country niche, but don’t let that fool you as their versatility extends beyond fixed music genres.

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Jackpine – Harkening Back, Looking Forward

jackpine

By Michael Elves

Though the members of Jackpine may scoff at the notion of being a super-group, they’re not above using the tag to help promote their new album, Brand New Good Old Days. “The whole idea of a super-group is based on the fact that people know and care about our other work, and they don’t. Well except maybe about Jaxon’s,” says Sean Buchanan with a chuckle.

Jackpine’s origins aren’t rooted in promoting the individual parts, even though Jaxon Haldane plays with the D. Rangers and Buchanan is the principal singer and songwriter for the Western States. In the same way that super-groups like Broken Social Scene and the New Pornographers came together, the four members of Jackpine joined up looking to let off some steam and write and record for fun, free of the expectations of their individual pursuits.

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Amelia Curran

By Whitney Light
ameliac
“My songs are sad to the point where we joke about it all the time,” Amelia Curran says only half in jest. At the Winnipeg Folk Festival, where this interview happened, the Newfoundland native and Halifax-based singer-songwriter performed in a workshop called “Woe is Me” with some kindred musicians strumming tunes about heartbreak and hard luck. Whether she’s playing alone or with a five-piece band, Curran’s songs compellingly mix a comfy guitar with her seasoned and deliberate voice. A talented and practised creative writer, she released her first album, Barricade, in 2000 and her most recent, War Brides, received wide critical acclaim. Now Hunter Hunter, her second album with Six Shooter Records, is ready for release this September. Continue reading “Amelia Curran”