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, www.stonesthrow.com) Dustin Danyluk

Pissed Jeans – King of Jeans

pissedjeansIt’s amazing what a little playfulness will do. King of Jeans, the third full-length from Pennsylvania’s Pissed Jeans has been billed as a meeting place for fans of early ’90s grunge bands like the Jesus Lizard, Mudhoney and Shellac. On first listen, such a billing seems to be dead on. Everything from the guitar tones to the vocal performances carry that frantic and, appropriately, pissed-off frenzy displayed by many of the grunge greats. Even the production of the record is reminiscent of that haunting hollowness made famous by Shellac’s Steve Albini. This is clearly an album designed to reign in lost fans of grunge. However, what makes this album work so well is that while it’s definitely made to be listened to in conversation with earlier grunge bands, at no point does the record come across as being a period piece. This is music that sounds new and fresh today, in spite of being so heavily indebted to earlier forms. There is a playful apathy exuding throughout King of Jeans. The record features lyrics displaying well the indifference arising out of the hopelessness of living in a dying factory town—vocalist Mat Korvette proclaims at the beginning of the record, “I know there are things going on tonight, but I don’t bother; only ten minutes across town that’s right, but I don’t bother.” Heard next to other contemporary musicians who seem to take themselves too seriously (Bono, I’m looking at you!), this playful lethargy sounds surprisingly refreshing. Here is a band that is more interested discussing their own apathy and hopelessness in the current condition than going out and trying to change the world. Here is a band that understands well what’s at stake with their band—not very much. With such an acceptance, Pissed Jeans have freed themselves from the constraints of trying to say or do too much with their music. In actuality they don’t care about much at all, except to make surprisingly catchy rock tunes, that will make you laugh and punch things as soon as you start listening. Make no mistake, this is definitely a band trying to recapture the grunge and sludgy ethos of early ’90s rock. Yet by doing so, Pissed Jeans have made one of the freshest and most exciting rock records recorded in recent years. (Sub Pop, www.subpop.com) Jeff Friesen

The Paps – Not Looking for Romance EP

papsGimli girl group the Paps have upped the pop and downed the punk for their sophomore release. The EP still retains some of their fun, fast and fierce rhythms from their previous release with songs like “Make Up Your Mind.” However, songs like the lead-off “Here’s What You Wanted” seem to indicate the band is gradually venturing towards the pop world. The six tracks are full of catchy hooks, choruses, solos and an overall cleaner sound. It’s only really a matter of time before this talented, hardworking foursome eclipse the likes of Avril Lavigne, Fefe Dobson and other so-called rock superstars whose albums can’t do in a few full-lengths what these girls can do in a couple EPs. (Independent, www.myspace.com/thepaps) Kent Davies

The Other Brothers – Points of View

otherbrothersDonovan Giesbrecht and Chris Neufeld, the pair of singer songwriters behind the Other Brothers, throw their first album right into the crowded folk scene of Winnipeg, and in doing so, quickly establish themselves as one of the better bands of the genre. The Simon and Garfunkel comparisons quickly come to mind when hearing this album, but the Other Brothers are also reminiscent of musicians who would appear on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” like Robin and Linda Williams. Their songs are simple, but have a nice sense of melody. When the Brothers sing together, like in “Suit and Tie,” their voices compliment each other. Neither one tries to outshine the other brother. (Yes, I wanted to use that pun. Roll your eyes and move on.) In addition, a good majority of this album feels more upbeat, and less morose than other folk artists. They, however, still have a hallmark of the folk genre: the social issue song (“Sargent Avenue”), but even that song is well done. Giesbrecht and Neufeld are a truly good duo that has crafted an interesting first album. I’d gladly listen to their next one. (Independent, www.theotherbrothers.ca) Charles Lefebvre

Ohbijou – Beacons

ohbijou“We are where the seasons meet,” Casey Mecija sings on “Eloise and the Bones.” On Beacons, the second album from Toronto indie pop ensemble Ohbijou, seasons are the stuff of human relationships, the maps we follow to find one another. In other words, there’s something that seems refreshingly Canadian about Ohbijou’s sound and approach. “Wildfires” is an anthem that sparkles and soars with urgency. Following hot on its heels, “Black Ice” is chilling love song, in which “the winter brings a heaviness, this weight.” Beacons is all very moving, and, as you might expect, a little melodramatic, but such sentiment usually comes with the territory. On another standout, “Make it Gold,” Mecija urgently asks her lover to “Bring back the wind that blew the fire into the woods where I wait for you.” The snow that conceals and the flames that expose are channeled through Ohbijou’s tightly crafted collection of Canuck pop pipe-dreams and the result is an album is often just as moving as it is intriguing. (Last Gang Records, www.lastgangrecords.com) Jonathan Dyck

Noah’s Arkweld – Names for Shapes That Don’t Exist

noaksarkweldPick up any album out of Toronto’s indie scene over the last decade and you’ll likely find Noah Mintz’s name buried in the credits. Mintz has spent a decade building a reputation as one of Canada’s top mastering engineers, working with acts like Broken Social Scene, Stars, and Apostle of Hustle. With Names for Shapes That Don’t Exist, Mintz is finally stepping out from behind the mixing board to craft something of his own. The album sits in an uncharted middle ground, somewhere between alt-country, folk, and minimalist indie pop. Biting acoustic guitar is frequently matched with swirling synths and layered over sparse bits of cello. That is not to say that this is a schizophrenic or directionless album by any means, and even with all of these elements plucked from different genres working at once the songs never manage to come across as overwrought or cluttered. Instead, Mintz manages to expertly weave them in and out of tracks without overemphasis. The subdued “Square Peg” is a gentle solo-acoustic affair up until the song’s power-pop infused final moments, and “Small Fires” features tribal bongos and maracas driving the track atop slowly burning guitars. The lyrics may evoke the odd eye-roll and some numbers may occasionally feel a bit too twangy for some, but inventive melodies and some strong vocal work make it easy to ignore any glaring flaws. All of this exists within the album’s relatively small scope, which feels close and intimate despite the large range of sounds. Mintz manages to stay above indulging himself too much in any one genre, and it certainly pays off. His work sounds all the better for it. (Independent, www.noahsarkweld.com) Kevan Hannah

Daniel Merriweather – Love & War

merriweatherNot to be confused with Dan the Automator’s fictional alter-ego Nathaniel Merriweather, Daniel Merriweather is very much a real person—and a really talented person at that. Having first popped up on Mark Ronson’s Version, where he provided the vocals for “Stop Me,” the 27-year-old Australian now releases his debut record for the revived Jive Records. Ronson continues to play kingmaker though, as he serves as producer for Love & War, and it’s not some vanity credit, either. His touch is all over this record, such as his enlisting Binky Griptite and the rest of the Dap-Kings to drop the funk on a number of cuts. Love & War is replete with the same polished nü-funk that Ronson displayed on Version, chock-a-block with hooks, punchy rhythm guitar and snappy drums. But those are just the stage atop which Merriweather stands and he manages to carry the album on the strength of his vocals. At times they soar, but still they’re always muscular and grounded. Check out the hook on “Impossible,” where he reaches the high-notes of “your love” and you can picture him standing on tip-toes to hit it but never taking his foot off center stage. Guests Wale and Adele contribute capable but understated vocals on “Change” and “Water and A Flame” respectively, but Merriweather never allows himself to be overshadowed—not by this pair or the legion of musicians who lend their instruments to the battle (including Sean Lennon on guitar!). This is polished pop music at its finest. (Jive Records, www.zombalabelgroup.com) Michael Elves

Dan Mangan – Nice, Nice, Very Nice

danmanganVancouverite Dan Mangan’s second LP is a little bit country and a little bit rock ’n’ roll and a lot better than what that suggests. The gruff-voiced singer-songwriter covers familiar ground; love, doubt and his hometown in distinct style and effectively varied instrumentation. Named after a Kurt Vonnegut poem, Nice, Nice, Very Nice actually is quite nice. Dan Mangan’s lyrics share the earnest sincerity that gave Vonnegut’s satirical weight, yet refreshingly lack the irony. The standout tracks “Robots” and “The Indie Queens Are Waiting” showcase Mangan’s skill with catchy choruses and full arrangements, while later tracks “Pine for Cedars” and “Set the Sails” are intimate and sparse. Nice, Nice, Very Nice makes a good case for the folk-rock genre in a court that is inclined to condemn it, jail it, and stop its soul-searching. Thumbs up for our Queen’s profile on the album art. (FUM, www.danmanganmusic.com) Paul Beriault

Fruit Bats – The Ruminant Band

fruitbatsI’ve had this record in the CD player of my car for the last three days. I’ve listened to it on long car rides. This album is sublime and psychedelic, worming its way into your ears and making permanent lodging in your brain. It is an album that demands to be heard over and over again. Not just in your car, but sitting in the sunlight on the back porch, sipping on lemonade, getting lost in the melody of the band. It should be the last thing you play before going to sleep, the tenor of Eric Johnson providing the soundtrack to your subconscious. Always sunny, rarely cloudy. Mellow, rather than melancholy. The Ruminant Band is music tailor-made for the summer nights at the cottage, while you’re watching the sunset. I am rarely disappointed by a release from Sub Pop. This is easily one of my favourite albums I’ve heard all year, if not my favourite. (Sub Pop Records, www.subpop.com) Charles Lefebvre

Grand Analog – Metropolis is Burning

grandanalogThere are always a few things you can rely on in Winnipeg on a yearly basis: the Blue Bombers will be mediocre at best, the weather in January will push your commitment to living in this fine city to the brink, and Grand Analog will release a record that will be enjoyable. Metropolis is Burning, the fourth release from Winnipeg ex-pats in as many years, sees the group continue its on-going exploration of the jazz, dub and rock-infused hip-hop. The songs on the record range from the up-tempo “I Play My Kazoo” to the soulful “I’m on Fire” to the pounding “Light So Bright,” which features guest vocals from Edmonton’s Cadence Weapon. The result is a song cycle that shows the band maturing in its interest in traditional African-American musical forms. With Metropolis is Burning, Grand Analog finally doesn’t sound like borrowers from outside forms, as the music displayed throughout the record illustrates a band that understands well what it is trying to do, which is making traditional forms fit seamlessly into its more contemporary aesthetic. This is the music Grand Analog was made to make, and the results are most delightful. Don’t let his consistency lull you into listener apathy, Grand Analog’s Metropolis is Burning is more than worth the listen. (Urbnet, www.urbnet.com) Jeff Friesen