Hillbilly Highway – Overnight to Albuquerque

by Sheldon Birnie

With the news a couple weeks back that Neil Young & Crazy Horse will be releasing a new album, titled Americana, a wave of excitement began to build inside of me. While I’m a big fan of much of Neil’s overall oeuvre, for me his work with Crazy Horse stands above and beyond his other collaborations, and beside or beyond his best solo work. This is real exciting news out here on the Hillbilly Highway, friends. Big time. Continue reading “Hillbilly Highway – Overnight to Albuquerque”

LOST: The Unicorns – Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? // Islands – Return To The Sea

Two albums that I keep side by side on my usually-alphabetical and chronological CD shelf are The Unicorns’ Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? and Islands’ Return To The Sea. They made a pop on the same radio stations paved the way for Broken Social Scene, Feist and Arcade Fire and that like, but then they kinda just… went away. Why? The Unicorns’ sole album was non-stop fun, twisted quirky pop that was never serious. Bent melodies, cheap instruments and toys, happily un-self-consciously weird rock. The Canadian outcast, the underdog hero. Listen to the abrasive, in-the-red synth of “Jellybones” crash into the drums and lift itself into classic rock territory. (Note: not ‘classic rock’.) Same with the recorder solo on “Unicorns Are People Too.” Maybe off-putting to the cool rocker, but if you quit worrying what everyone thinks, it’ll make you grin like a five-year-old on Trix.
After The Unicorns’ break-up, Nick Thorburn was the first to put out new music. Islands’ Return To The Sea sounded like Unicorns post-puberty: more mature, retaining the twisting structures but losing the screeches, squelches and burps that made The Unicorns so… special. It’s like that taking the little kid out of his backyard and showing him the world. “Rough Gem” was the first single off of the album that got some decent airplay on campuses across Canada and became the song that everyone would come out to see. Apparently they don’t even play it anymore. “Where There’s A Will, There’s A Whalebone” gets eerie about halfway through and pulls the rug out, having Busdriver spit rhymes and leaving indie kids wondering what the eff just happened.
I wouldn’t necessarily say that The Unicorns’ Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? is an “overlooked” Canadian album. I mean, they’re no Arcade Fire or Broken Social Scene, but there is a solid cult following for this little band from Campbell River, B.C.
Since it’s release in late 2003, the cult of The Unicorns had already been growing at a steady clip. Costumes at shows, great banter, quirky-ass pop songs; the kids couldn’t get enough. Web sites on social networks had songs posted under various names by band members and side groups (All Makes Parts and Collision, Th’ Corn Gangg, Nick Common et al.) set people off on the hunt for everything this group of pervy popsters had recorded. There’s a good double-album’s worth of Unicorns material (at least!) that didn’t make Who Will (and that’s not even mentioning the limited-to-500 debut they released earlier that same year).
Like all things, they came and went. All you can do now is call up your local campus radio station and bring these wicked albums back up for air. (2003, Alien8, www.alien8recordings.com // 2006, Equator, www.equatormusic.ca) Patrick Michalishyn

FOUND: Some trance with your dubstep?

In the recent history of dubstep there has been an undercurrent of tracks that mix extremely melodic trance leads and builds with dubstep beats. This banger here is one of them. Produced by an up-and comer named Kid-Alt-Dub from Leicester in the UK, this has been getting a lot of play recently on Plastician‘s Rinse.fm show. (Look up some podcasts if you haven’t heard Plastician spin: it is divine.) Big, big choon right here.

LOST: Under Pressure – Come Clean

Under Pressure were a significant Winnipeg hardcore group, and this album was their master offering. By the time Come Clean was released, the group’s members had been making music for years together, and this album perfectly represents a height for them as a group. Hardcore is an extremely formulaic genre that can be easily replicated. People take cues from bands such as Poison Idea and Black Flag, as Under Pressure initially did, and replicate them in their own way. This makes way for a lot of very mediocre representations. Over time, the music that these players loved was internalized and practiced in perfection, usually causing other bands to pale in comparison. Their devotion to form eventually turned into mastery and this album represents that moment in time. Come Clean is not just a hollow repetition of forms from the past. Rather, it is those forms mastered through dedication over time and presented for others to take cue from. A step away from their earlier, faster and more youthful hardcore sound, Come Clean lies in a darker, more serious territory on its own. Taking more of a rock direction, the listener is grabbed and assaulted aurally from the first riff of the album. Lyrically, the harshness of existence is presented in a notable step above average, further separating this album from the masses of thoughtless clones. Come Clean will leave an impact on those who hear it for years to come. As time progressed and line-up changes occurred, the quality of the band never diminished—Under Pressure’s conclusion in 2009 denied the band the time needed to surpass Come Clean, leaving it as their masterpiece to which heads will nod to in the future. (2006, Primitive Air-Raid, www.primitiveairraid.com) Kevin Strang

FOUND: Braids Play Paintball (not actually)

Braids are still off touring one of our favourite records of the year, Native Speaker, doing the NXNE and Sled Island bit before heading off to the EU. Check out this video for “Plath Heart” which takes place inside a paintball arena. Unfortunately, the Montreal-via-Calgary band doesn’t play paintball, or even get shot at (which is all the rage lately) but this is an extremely cinematic, colourful, high quality video of their intricate live performance.

LOST: Nomeansno – All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt

Canada’s greatest secret in music is that we are home to one of the best punk bands in the world—Nomeansno. Ausfahrt isn’t necessarily Nomeansno’s best; they have an extensive back catalogue and that honour could go to any number of their albums. Ausfahrt was, in some ways, a retread of many of the same socially-conscious, aggressive ideas and sounds we’ve heard before from the band. However, it’s an important album because it shows that this is not a band that has lost its edge. Despite 30 years of making music, they’re still great. Here, the rhythm section—always powerful—seems larger than ever, focused on taut, quick punk rock. Some thought it too “pop” at the time, or even too strange with an incorporation of synths at times. However, this album demonstrates longevity in the band, fully realized in the sheer muscularity of the music. They were as good as ever, and musically bigger than ever. Unlike the Rolling Stones, whose longevity is often touted though their later album releases don’t hold up musically, Ausfahrt proved that Nomeansno had the longevity and the sheer talent to sustain it. Lead singer Rob Wright is 57—most would have burnt out or faded away by that age. All Roads Lead to Ausfahrt exemplifies a band still going strong, solidifying themselves as the premiere punk band of Canada’s present, and well into the foreseeable future. (2006, Ant Acid Audio, www.antacidaudio.com) Devin King

FOUND: Tyler X Yourstru.ly

In the upcoming issue of Stylus, we kinda rag on Tyler, the Creator a bit. That’s because Sara Quin’s criticisms of the bombastic rapper really hit home, and even if Goblin is full of self-disclaimers, it doesn’t excuse the representation of homophobia in the tracks. A hefty chunk of Quin’s criticism is aimed at the media covering Tyler, so we’re making it known that that’s not “artistic” or cool, dude.
That being said, here’s a nice video that doesn’t touch on any of that, but has Tyler opening up nostalgia-like, recalling summers of playing piano, on his trail to become a better musician.

FOUND: Grimes//Silly Kissers

Here’s a couple new gems from the freshly-revamped Arbutus Records website. Gotta love the blog digs.
First up, a new video from gothwave (/whatever) artist Grimes who’s currently on tour with Lykke Li. “Vanessa” features a horde of dancers starring in a video that’s stuck between the worlds of fashion photography and a kaleidoscope.

And then here’s “Japan Man” from Silly Kissers, which, for years to come, will be in direct lineage of “Mr. Roboto,” “I think I’m Turning Japanese,” and kin to “Chinatown.” The groovy 1970s greenscreen editing was done by the band’s singer Jane Penny.

Also, be sure to check out our upcoming interview with Arbutus artist Sean Nicholas Savage in our June/July print issue, and it’ll be online sometime soon.