Review: Thee Oh Sees – Dog Poison

THEE OH SEES
Dog Poison
theeohsees-dogpoisonIn the two years I’ve been listening to Thee Oh Sees, I’ve gone back and bought up everything Dwyer’s done in this incarnation—over 15 objects (from two-song 7” records to LP and CD sets with 20-plus tracks). One thing they can’t be accused of is settling on a sound. Gone on this album are the fuzzed-off freakouts parts from Help, continuing on with a mellower, more Monkee-ish direction the band has hinted at on the dozen or so 7” releases since and given us a ten-song mini album of distorted, funky beach-pop. But it’s still definitely Thee Oh Sees. “Sugar Boat” is the nicest, most Beatlesy pop song they’ve done, and “I Can’t Pay You to Disappear” has that crazy echoed-distorto guitar thing that’s Dwyer’s sonic autograph (you’ll know what I mean when you hear it). The double-falsettos in “The Sun Goes All Around” are pretty, but they can’t help but make me laugh (check out The Hounds of Foggy Notion CD/DVD and you’ll find the humour). This album didn’t rock me like the last two did, and that’s OK; The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending a Night In was a speed-fueled change from anything before, and Help pulled back a bit into the ’60s. Still, the band can do whatever they want and it always turns out fantastic. Pity it all clocks in at less than 25 minutes. People bitch and joke about quality, about how J.D. releases every song he records. To anyone who wants the band to keep putting out Master’s Bedroom, it’s happened already. Let go, move on. And who gives a shit what them kids say anyway? Thee Oh Sees are the best band alive. If they keep pressin’, I’ll keep buyin’! (Captured Tracks, www.capturedtracks.com) Patrick Michalishyn

Review: Eugene Mirman – God Is a Twelve-Year-Old Boy with Aspergers

EUGENE MIRMAN
God Is a Twelve-Year-Old Boy with Aspergers

eugene-mirmanUnlike his contemporaries Patton Oswalt and David Cross, Mirman doesn’t make you hurt laughing. Instead, he delivers a good chuckle once in a while. Not as crass as Cross or Oswalt, Mirman’s style is that of nervous disgust managing to score some big laughs with everyday absurdities. He takes on airlines, vaguely racist polls and online banner ads. Although Mirman never really hits a home-run joke, his greatest attribute is small, concise one-liners and audience participation, creating a ripple effect of sustained laughs. A good example is his unexpected argument with a bear as well as his series of angry letters, in which he gets the audience to pledge a boycott in the name of Eugene “Horse Cock” Mirman. At times his material might feel a little contained and self-serving, but it’s the length of the set that’s most disappointing—a slim 35 minutes. If I had paid for the show, I would want a little more. (Sub Pop, www.eugenemirman.com) Kent Davies

Weird Shit with Kent Davies – The Rocker Code

By Kent Davies

“Rock has always been the devil’s music.” – David Bowie

darkloreFrom the time legendary blues musician Robert Johnson supposedly went down to the crossroads to make his deal the devil the occult has been a predominate feature in modern music history. Now Greg Taylor, expert in esoteric phenomena and creator of the blog Daily Grail (tagline: Exploring the fringes of science and history. Caveat lector!), attempts to chronicle the strange and fascinating historical connection between rock music and the occult. In the second volume  of the DarkLore anthology, Taylor examines how the supposed “dark arts” influenced some of the most important musicians of our time.

From the rare Zodiac symbols found on Zeppelin records to David Bowie’s obsession with keeping possession of his hair and fingernails clippings to avoid dark spells being cast against him, Taylor is a rock ’n’ roll Dan Brown, revising rock history to suggest what alarmist Christian preachers have been telling us for years: rock music has hidden messages, pagan symbols and is probably promoting sex. While some of the Taylor’s revelations are nothing new to music historians, such as the influence of voodoo ritual in early blues, he does manage to link the dominate feature of a coded lexicon in some modern rock and metal bands. By deciphering symbols, relationships and sometimes eccentric behaviour, we gain insight into the artists and the supposed truth behind their material. While Taylor deals predominantly with artists from the past, newer acts like Tool and the Mars Volta (who wrote their album Bedlam in Goliath using a Ouija board) are also included. While these carefully-placed symbols and occult references may be nothing new to some fans (especially metalheads), Taylor’s foray into rock’s occult underpinnings may be prove fascinating for others. You can check out an excerpt of Taylor’s essay at www.dailygrail.com/Essays/2009/12/Occult-Rock.

Review: The Soundtrack of our Lives

THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES
Communion
tsool - communionI think this latest album from Swedish progressive rockers TSOOL is a concept album. Over the course of Communion’s double CD expanse, this formidable group presents completely mind-altering tracks which seem to be linked by some kind of spiritual lyric theme that I have yet to fully “get.” What is immediately obvious is this band’s continued skill at presenting layered and interesting songs using a pretty conventional rock band set-up. Singer Ebbot Lundberg has one of those friendly sounding voices that he actually sings with, rather than just emoting, unlike many of his contemporaries. TSOOL handily deliver 24 tracks that alternately rock, rumble, sail and thump at all the right times—strokes of colorful paisley underlie their eclectic take on pretty discernible pop structures. The Arthur Lee tribute track “The Fan Who Wasn’t There” and the Stones-y rocker “Thrill Me” are initial standout tracks. The rest, as they say, will grow on you like rainbow fuzz. (Yep Roc, www.yeproc.com) Jeff Monk

Review: Zrada Cultural Academy

ZRADA CULTURAL ACADEMY
Zrada Cultural Academy
zradaFormed in 2005, local act Zrada Cultural Academy is an earth-shattering mix of traditional Ukrainian folk, metal, ska and punk rock. Held together by soulful Balkan and Slavic melodies leading into epic guitar shreds, Zrada’s album is 16 tracks of harmonious majesty, intricately crafted with raucous rock attitude. Beginning with the introductory question, “What Was Born In…?” Zrada moves into “Give Me Liquor,” a lament about excess. Songs like “Dark Skies” and “Quick Waters” are melodically grandiose, while songs like “Parade” and “In the Woods is a Path” are fantastic forays into fantasy metal. One of the best cuts “The Young Writer” begins with a punk rock opening before diving into a funk section, all the while held together with traditional dance sensibilities. Although the entire album is entirely in Ukrainian, you don’t have to have a command of the Slavic language to enjoy it immensely. Mark my words, this album is absolutely incredible and a fitting testament to Winnipeg’s incredible music scene and rich Ukrainian history. (Independent, www.zradamusic.com) Kent Davies

Review: the Rowdymen – Gas, Liquor & Fireworks

ROWDYMEN
Gas, Liquor & Fireworks
rowdymen1After a lengthy hiatus, the return of guitarist/vocalist Jason Allen signaled the return of Winnipeg roots-rockabilly staple the Rowdymen. Their latest kicks off in classic rockabilly fashion with “Johnny Rumble,” a twangy up-tempo number that gives it a ton of gas, and tells the story of a boy “born with a guitar in his hands.” Other numbers, like “Ode to Possum” and “Road Hard,” display some liquored country-roots sensibilities with a little help from one of the best voices in Winnipeg, Joanne Rodriguez (Angry Dragons, American Flamewhip). Songs like “All Right Baby” add some vintage swing to the mix. The album ends with some fireworks courtesy of a couple great rockabilly numbers written by vocalist/drummer Ken McMahon. Much like in real life, Gas, Liquor & Fireworks amounts to a fun rockin’ time. (Transistor 66, www.myspace.com/therowdymen) Kent Davies

Review: the Mission Light – Hearts for City Limits

THE MISSION LIGHT
Hearts for City Limits

the mission lightHearts for City Limits
is an accomplished debut from Winnipeg pop/folk act the Mission Light. Travelling is a theme of the record, with song titles like “Through These Streets,” “A Highway Song” and “Homecoming.” These ten tracks come courtesy of a highly talented group of musicians, superbly produced by Gemini Award-winning producer/engineer Norman Dugas (Leaderhouse, Daniel ROA) and mixed and mastered by Kyle Sierens (Sick City, Common Lives). Formerly known as the Guy Abraham band, which was named after its SOCAN Award-winning singer-songwriter, the group has a warm, acoustic flare, combining soft melodies, (partly due to the very talented Saya Gahungu on violin) with large, bold vocals. The record incorporates not only percussion and guitars, but also features pianos and organs, and it showcases both the group’s artistic and musical talents. The Duhks’ Sarah Dugas makes an appearance on “A Highway Song,” along with Dust Rhinos’ Dale Brown, who adds additional violin on “So Much More” and “Breakdown in the Afterglow.” Other Duhks Cristian Dugas and Scott Senior have also recently contributed to some upcoming tracks. With reflective and heartfelt songs that hold a creative edge, these local musicians are well on their way to making a name for themselves. (Independent, www.themissionlight.com) Sabrina Carnevale

Review: Half-Handed Cloud – Cut Me Down and Count My Rings

half-handed-cloudHALF-HANDED CLOUD
Cut Me Down & Count My Rings

One thing you can say about John Ringhofer (a.k.a. Half-Handed Cloud) is he’s never short on ideas. Falling somewhere in between the sing-songy evangelical pop of Danielson and the lo-fi inventiveness of Guided by Voices’ Robert Pollard, this collection of rarities, singles, and B-sides, is comprised of 46 tracks, taken from the 17 non-album releases Ringhofer produced between ’00 and ’09. From the somewhat cringe-worthy “Shepherd” songs of his I’m So Sheepy EP to the confident B-sides from 2006’s Halos & Lassos, this album gives listeners a sense of Ringhofer’s development as a songwriter. Each song grouping is explained in detail by Ringhofer in the album’s liner notes. Although this album presents a wide breadth of material, a few things remain consistent: the immature wonder of Ringhofer’s overtly Christian lyrics, a lo-fi approach combined with more ambitious arrangements, and a commitment to melody and brevity—apart from a couple tracks, these songs all range between one and two and a half minutes. Cut Me Down & Count My Rings isn’t the easiest album to digest, but for fans of Ringhofer’s prolific output, this retrospective collection is thoughtfully compiled and beautifully presented. (Asthmatic Kitty, www.asthmatickitty.com) Jonathan Dyck

Review: Patrick Keenan – Washed Out Roads

PATRICK KEENAN
Washed Out Roads

Washed Out Roads
wasn’t the easiest album to make, according to local singer-songwriter Patrick Keenan. Without getting into too much detail, there were delays, complications, ransoms, and enough frustration and heartbreak to base another album on. However, after a long, frustrating two-year journey, Keenan’s latest album has come to fruition. The bittersweet, toe-tapping rock number “Pill Store” kicks off the album on a high note before settling down with a few measured tunes including “Washed Out Roads,” which features Keenan lamenting being caught in failure of society. Other notable tracks include the great opus “Tobacco,” which sounds reminiscent of Ben Folds, and road-trip song “Roof-Rack Attack.” Keenan’s clever lyrics and catchy melodies are backed by band members Doug Darling and Jeff Tetrault as well an army of guests including local music staple Mike Petkau. Even if this wasn’t the mix Keenan had envisioned, it’s still a pretty great one. (Friendly Fire, www.myspace.com/patrickkeenan) Kent Davies

Review: The Rifles – Great Escape

THE RIFLES
Great Escape
rifles-great-escapeIf you have heard any English pop bands in the last five years, then the sound of Brit boys the Rifles will be totally familiar to you. With an uplifting verve and sassy delivery, this talented quartet are eminently listenable but completely and undeniably generic. Guitars chime and gang vocals lift heavenward (“Romeo and Julie”) all over this sweet 11-tracker. From this album alone, it sounds like the Rifles have been tailor-made to be slotted as “opening act” for one of those gigantic outdoor, multi-group concerts in Hyde Park or Wembley Stadium that the Brits are keen on having at the drop of a charity’s hat. The production is bright and clean and the vocals are mixed way up front for those who like to hear whatever the lead singer has to chirp cheekily about. If you’re thinking that this is as common as salt, you’re right. File under: here today, gone tomorrow, but fun to listen to while it’s in the player. (679, www.therifles.net) Jeff Monk