Review: 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, Kent Davies

Review: the Rowdymen – Gas, Liquor & Fireworks

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, Kent Davies

Review: the Mission Light – Hearts for City Limits

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, 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, Jonathan Dyck

Review: Patrick Keenan – Washed Out Roads

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, Kent Davies

Review: The Rifles – Great Escape

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, Jeff Monk

Paper Cuts – Penny Ante

By Patrick Michalishyn

I read on some music blog that Oh Sees guy John Dwyer was contributing to some book coming out on some imprint in the U.S. Being the geek I am, I checked out the site, got in touch and ordered not one, but all three volumes of Penny Ante, a “mag/book” out of California . What a gateway I walked though. In Three, John D. only has one page; a picture of him at a young age and a piece of art, and it took me all of ten seconds to absorb it. But while I was looking for the Dwyer page, I saw that there was an interview with Billy Bragg that I went back to and read, but not before I happened across of few pages of artwork by Jad Fair (of Maryland rock outfit Half Japanese). There’s a goofy self-portrait of Mission of Burma’s Roger Miller, followed by a good five pages of his writing and some art. Robert Pollard and Billy Childish answer an interviewer’s questions and load me up with music trivia tidbits which I’ll be able to hack up on the spot when trying to out-nerd one of my own. That only covers maybe four percent of this book. It’s full of artists, photographers, and musicians that a lot of people probably never knew existed (but I’m glad I found), like: Julian Hoeber with bronze busts of gunshot (headshot) victims, the kaleidoscope head-trip of owleyes’ collages and the bloody, morbid photography of Dawn Kasper. I could go on and on listing works that made me stop and think, or stop and smile. Flipping through, something will always catch your eye and keep you going back and forth, giving a Choose Your Own Adventure reading experience. After I flipped through Three (as well as Book #1 and Book #2), I started carrying these books around in a backpack and showed anyone I exchanged more than a sentence with. The cliché “something for everybody” couldn’t apply more. These books are portable art-houses, not a page wasted on filler garbage. I recommend picking up all three since they’re pretty much continuations of each other. A world opened up through a looking glass and enough bathroom reading to last a good third of a year. If that wasn’t enough, Three includes a bonus CD of some-unreleased material from three issues’ worth of contributors; Jad Fair, the Chills, Mount Eerie (covering Old Time Relijun), Robert Pollard (surprise), Billy Childish, TV Ghost and a whole load more. Now that’s just spoiling us. Go, buy now! If enough of us do, we might just get a Four.

Patrick Michalishyn

AN HORSE – Grey Area

By Jenny Henkelman


It’s a long way around the world. When indie pop outfit An Horse pulled into Winnipeg in September, 2009, Kate Cooper and Damon Cox were more than a little run-down-looking, a little weary—offstage. Onstage, of course, the guitar-drums duo were impeccable and compelling, both in the UW quad and, I’m told, at the Lo Pub the same evening. Touring solidly this past year in support of their critically acclaimed debut full-length, Rearrange Beds, the pair are about to take a hiatus to write a new record. “We’ve nearly finished the cycle of the record we’re on,” said lead vocalist and guitarist Cooper.

The cycle has taken them from their home of Brisbane, Australia to the bright lights of New York City and The Late Show with David Letterman. It’s taken them to Europe and on tour with Silversun Pickups, Death Cab for Cutie, and Canada’s own Tegan and Sara. “They’re fun, great fun, good friends of ours and very supportive of us,” Cooper said of the Quin sisters. “They’ve worked really hard to be where they are and they’re very authentic.”

Authentic is a word you could use to describe An Horse’s beginnings. Cooper and Cox were co-workers at the last indie record store in Queensland. They were playing in other bands, but as Cooper says, started “mucking around” and found a chemistry between them that worked. “It wasn’t intentional,” Cox said.

The store where they worked has now closed, largely because, Cooper says, “People don’t buy CDs anymore.” An Horse aren’t digital haters; “Digital music’s cool, if people buy it,” she said. But there’s a dark flip side to that. “More people have stolen our record than bought it,” she said, and Cox had the anecdote to illustrate. “Someone had registered a website with Kate’s name, put up our photos and our record to download for free. It was one of those websites where you have to do a survey or something. So someone was getting money somehow. It was really shit and disappointing. We fucking worked really hard on that record,” he said. And the insults don’t stop there. “We’ve had people at shows come up to us and say, ‘You guys are fucking great! Hmm, this is your album. I’m not going to buy it, I’m going to go home and download it for free.’”

Disheartening words for people trying to make a living playing music, but An Horse seems less angry and more frustrated when it comes to piracy. “They don’t realize it’s not cool,” Cooper said.

An Horse might be a bit down, but they’ll be back in the saddle soon—they’re currently on tour with Tegan and Sara (including a January stop in Winnipeg). Their songs have appeared on TV shows like Friday Night Lights and One Tree Hill. Big things are ahead for these two individuals who are passionate about music and making it, in the basement of a record store or on an arena stage. As for the name? Cooper said it originated with a grammatical inside-joke sweater, about the usage rules for words that start with “H” and the indefinite article. Could “An horse” really be correct? “It’s a grey area,” she said, with a shrug.

Review: The Expos – Blackwater


ExposOn their second album, Newmarket, Ontario’s the Expos move beyond the limiting genre of ska and slide into a comfortable reggae sound with elements of soul and pop. It’s obvious that the band has made an effort to broaden their musical style, and Blackwater shows that the Expos will be around for a long time. Blackwater is more soulful than most ska albums, not concerned with partying as much as the human condition, as heard in “Dying Too Long.” It isn’t littered with the punk rock sound which has become associated with the genre, but instead relies on the harmony and instrumentation of the band. Horns and Hammond organs appear throughout the album, complimented by strong bass playing and Reed Neagle’s laid-back vocals. My pick for best song on the album has to be the closer “Bring It Home,” in which the second half of the six-minute track is an amazing jam session that will leave the listener satisfied. Fans of Subcity should definitely listen to this album. Highly recommended. (Stomp Records, Charles Lefebvre

I’m on a Boat!


One of the most indie/electro-tastic artists coming to Winnipeg in the next couple months has to be Portland’s Yacht. Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans normally prance around in front of a screen energetically, but for this tour, they’ve recruited a touring band, to look just a little less ridiculous. But all of the seriousness goes out the window when the band’s name is “the Straight Gaze.” I lol’d at that one for a while.

The band is made up of Portlanders Rob Kieswetter of Bobby Birdman (who is opening it up when Yacht plays here), Jeff Brodsky of Jeffrey Jerusalem, D. Reuben Snyder of Rob Walmart. Check out this crazy tour video they made, just to get us all psyched up!

WHERE: Pyramid Cabaret
WHEN: February 25
TICKETS: $12 advance at Ticketmaster and Music Trader