THE HEAD AND THE HEART – LOST IN MY MIND
DEPARTURES – PILLARS
Playwright George Bernard Shaw said that “Patriotism is a pernicious, psychopathic form of idiocy”. After checking Merriam-Webster for the definition of “pernicious”, I had to agree with the man. A feeling of pride in a place simply because you were raised there seems meaningless, especially if you played no part in its evolution. So why do I get so happy when a band from Winnipeg makes a great track? I played no part in the song’s creation. Their talent has no reflection on my abilities. They could have been any group of people from any place and the song would have been equally as good. So why do I benefit from a band like Departures when they make a great track like Pillars?
And let’s be clear, it’s a great track. Nick Liang and crew rock out with a high degree of lo-fi passion. Think WU LYF or Wolf Parade with a nineties’ indie rock studio sound.
I suppose it’s because when bands like Departures and Royal Canoe come out with first rate music, it proves to you that you don’t have to be from New York or London or Los Angeles to make great art. And although I don’t have inspirations of being a rock star, it is a great feeling to know where I come from doesn’t limit my potential. Even if I am from the city that is the butt end of Fountain Tire commercials, great Winnipeg music reminds me to take pride.
Oh, and an actual picture of the band…
DAN DEACON – PRETTYBOY/USA IV – MANIFEST
Photo Credit – Josh Sisk
The inspiration for the music was my love of cross-country travel, seeing the landscapes of the United States, going from east to west and back again over the course of seasons.
- Dan Deacon
Nothing is better for a road trip across the North American landscape than Sufjan Steven’s Chicago. Little Miss Sunshine knew it, and I know it everytime I cruise across Highway 1. The rolling drums and racing keyboard marry so well with the street signs, farms, and local diners flying past at high speed. And the way Stevens blends personal reflection with the nostalgia of road trip stories makes you find comfort in the thoughts of your homeland. That comfort North American listeners experience when listening to Illinois or Greetings from Michigan comes not only from Sufjan’s soft voice and the warm string arrangements, but also from the fact that we see ourselves in his music. No matter where you are, you are defined by the environment that shaped you, and for that reason, you will always identify more with it than any land you try to explore. Dan Deacon is American, specifically a New Yorker, and when he first left his country in 2007, he realized how much that meant to him. So much so that he decided to write an album about his travels across the US of A and title it, simply, America. Like Chicago, America‘s tracks are densely and masterfully composed, and charge forward like a yellow Volkswagen Microbus rolling endlessly down a New Mexican highway. Prettyboy would actually not have even seemed that out-of-place in the Illinois album, with it’s light piano, horns, and familiar strings. However, unlike the work of Sufjan, Deacon flexes his skills in build and release. Like the incredible song Snookered, Deacon amplifies the anticipation and excitement with growing power and volume in USA IV – Manifest. Electric synth and pounding drums swirl over what sounds like multiple chanting vocals, and the energy continues to ascend until the two and a half minute mark, when the song victoriously marches into the sunset. The sound remains repetitive enough for you to close your eyes and allow yourself to imagine the wondrous sites of the American terrain, but large enough to not be outmatched by the grandeur of it all. It is not only an excellent album, but a worthy ode to Deacon’s abode. What a great way to experience your home again.
PLAN B – ILL MANORS
As England’s biggest and brightest stars graced the olympic stage in A Symphony of British Music, one up-and-comer was notably missing. Ben Drew, AKA Plan B, was busy releasing his return-to-roots rap soundtrack entitled Ill Manors. For the best probably, as he would not have been a welcomed guest among the celebrations. Because although he gained mainstream success with his 2010 squeaky clean R&B album The Defamation of Strickland Banks, he decided to use his newest album to highlight the clear contrast of the luxury of the 486 million Pound Olympic Park with his troubled home of Forest Gate, which happens to reside only one and a half miles east of it. Ill Manors plays soundtrack to, and shares of the name of the film written and directed by Drew. The film revolves around the lives of several characters living a life of crime and vying for power in infamous East London. And although I’ve never seen it, I have a very good idea just how gritty and gruesome it is. This is because Drew made the songs that compliment the film a direct telling of the events that occur in the movie. It may seem like a corny concept, similar to the overly literal ballads that accompanied eighties’ flicks, but having not seen Ill Manors, the album can be truly appreciated as great storytelling. And this story is bleak as hell. Prostitutes, crack heads, teenage murderers, and drug dealers are weaved into a dark tapestry. The feeling left with the listener is cold and grey, much like the East Coast hip hop that was coming out of New York in the mid-nineties. Drew himself sounds more like Wu-Tang than he does Eminem (which he modelled his style after in his 2006 album Who Needs Action When You Got Words), but with a maturity and realism in his lyrics that the “Killer Bees” never quite reached. Musically, the sound mirrors the lyrics with RZA inspired beats, but keeps things fresh and entertaining with moments of excellent experimentalism. Falling Down’s last half is pure psychedelic trip hop, Lost My Way taps into Drew’s anger to find its inner-Rage Against the Machine, and highlight Deepest Shame even takes guidance from Rocky IV’s No Easy Way Out. It all amounts to a dismal but brilliant album that allows Drew to reach a new high in talent, as well as give a cry for help for his neglected home. It is enough to make you forget about gold medals.
Lost My Way
ZERO 7 AIR TYCOON TOURIST
Surfing through my staple music site Best New (mostly indie) Tracks, I noticed they were in a bit of a loungy electronica mood the past couple days. Under the “stuff we missed” category, the site posted three incredibly smooth and airy electronic masterpieces. Zero 7′s The Colour of Spring (feat. Only Girl) is formless and ethereal in nature, riding on backwards synths and female vocals like the Chemical Brother’s classic Where do I Begin (but without the climactic explosion of sound). Air Tycoon’s Land Locked feels like a warmer The Field track, like From Here We Go Sublime was slowed down and given longer soul samples. And finally, Tourist’s Placid Acid rolls forward at a steady pace, like a Daft Punk or Cut Copy slower song, dipped in hints of retro-eighties throwback. All together, it makes for an ultra-mellow mini-mix. My suggestion is to either put on your earphones and close your eyes to absorb the relaxing sounds, or, pour yourself a mixed drink and pretend you are at the coolest New York lounge and your name was on the list.
Zero 7 – The Colour of Spring (feat. Only Girl)
Air Tycoon – Land Locked
Tourist – Placid Acid
ASTRONAUTS, ETC. – MYSTERY COLORS
I had never heard of Astronauts, etc. until I stumbled upon an blurb written about him in the Toronto-based music blog Indie Music Filter. The site informed me that Astronauts, etc. is a project of Berkeley student Anthony Ferraro, who apparently turned to electronic music after early arthritis made it impossible for him to pursue classical piano. Unfortunate for him, but fortunate for us. Mystery Colors is a hypnotic slow burner that adds the human element of soft sung (think Bon Iver or Wild Beasts) verses and choruses to a decidedly synth sound. Anthony repetitively asks the listener to “look into the centre of a spinning wheel, tell me what you feel”, and all you will be able to say is “warmth, comfort, and the sudden need to play a Junior Boys album”.
STAGNANT POOLS – WAVELAND
Photo Credit – Anna Teeter
The slow tempo and voice of Joy Division has had a child with the hazy shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine – they called him Stagnant Pools. And what proud parents they should be, because the sound these two Indiana brothers make is just the right balance. Doug and Bryan Enas fill the track Waveland with romantic and reverb-heavy guitar reminiscent of The Jesus & Mary Chain, and a steady and solid drum backbeat. The vocals drip slowly out in thick and heavy words, and make what feels like the most lazy and drunk summer soundscape. It is rich and indulgent, and the perfect soundtrack to get lost in an August day to.
ANGEL HAZE – RESERVATION EP
Lauryn Hill say her heart was in Zion
I wish her heart still was in rhymin’
‘Cause who the kids gon’ listen to? Huh?
I guess me if it isn’t you
- Kanye West
Hip hop’s great female hope Lauryn Hill made it to the pinnacle of musical achievement – commercial success, critical acclaim, and a Grammy. Then, with a snap of a finger, the eclectic superstar faded into obscurity faster than you could say “MTV Unplugged”. So, now, who the kids gon’ listen to? Many contenders to the female hip hop throne have thrown their hat in ring, but could never match her success. The Lady Sovereigns, the Nicki Minajs, the Azealia Banks all lacked one important factor that L Boogie had in spades – embraced femininity. Hill was able to spit angry, masculine rhymes just as well as any nineties male rapper, but on the same record she could turn around and sing the soft Nothing Even Matters. She could be a fighter, lover, and mother all in one breath, and in that sense, she was universal. To be clear, twenty-year-old New Yorker Angel Haze is no Lauryn Hill (at least not yet). However, she has some of those elements that hint at greatness. And let us not forget Lauryn Hill’s start was on the often forgotten Blunted on Reality Fugees album. On new mix tape Reservation (a nod to her Native American heritage) Angel Haze shows she can be as emotionally naked as she can be rugged and raw. The first song This Is Me is a touching look back at her struggles living with a single mother on the brink of poverty. The bridge and chorus are sung by Haze in a warm and fragile voice, which juxtaposes so sharply with the aggressive boasting of tracks like Jungle Fever. And, like Hill, she pulls both styles off expertly. Similarly, the music wears different hats on the EP. Sounds bounce from the minimalist and ethereal This Is Me, to the latin inspired Sufferings First, to the hard-hitting maximalist style of tracks like Drop It and Supreme. Not every song works, and there aren’t any incredible standouts, but all in all it is a solid EP, and a glimpse at a multi-faceted up-and-comer who shows signs of excellence. So, Lauryn, who the kids gon’ listen to? I guess her if it isn’t you.
This Is Me
WHY? – SOD IN THE SEED
What is the First World Curse? Jonathan Wolf of Why? describes it as a “steady hurt and sturdy purse”. Well said. Not that any listener outside of the first world would feel sorry, but it would be such a sad realization for those who seek the American dream that it all adds up to discovering you are an insignificant cog in a wheel, thoughtlessly contributing to a morally grey society. We all make enough money not to complain, but not too much so that we would not fear quitting our jobs and finding another way of being. What we are left with is all the time in the world to think about how un-heroic and complacent and childish and petty we’ve become. Jonathan Wolf wraps himself in all of these thoughts until he begins to figure out he is missing one thing, actually caring about any of it. Apathy takes over, and you watch your reality TV, hoping their disgusting behaviour will wipe away your own steady hurt.
My bad, Debby Downer wrote this. It’s a pretty cool track.