Field Trip Music & Arts Festival, Toronto (6/6/15 & 7/6/15)

Image source: twitter.com/fieldtrip

Held on the historic grounds of Toronto’s Fort York, the Field Trip Music & Arts Festival has steadily been growing since its inception in 2013. This was my first time attending, and I was impressed with how well-suited Fort York was for a mid-size festival. It felt like the grounds were fairly compact, yet there was absolutely no sound bleeding between the two stages. Also, the pathways were busy but didn’t bottleneck, which is a huge plus.

Here’s my recap of the music I checked out at the festival last weekend:

DAY ONE

My first day at Field Trip got started with Apostle of Hustle over on the smaller Fort York stage. As somebody who tends to find a spot I like at the main stage and stay there for most of the day, it was nice to get a bit of the “side stage” experience, where things are usually a lot more laidback. Apostle of Hustle sounded fantastic, and though their crowd was small, the die-hards near the front were clearly thrilled to have the band back after their four-year absence. These guys did the most with fewest people on stage. (It’s hard to believe it when you hear them, but Apostle is a trio.)

Over on the main stage, The War on Drugs provided the perfect soundtrack for a lazy late afternoon. Playing tons of material off their excellent 2014 album, Lost in the Dream, The War on Drugs were cool and low-key compared to most of Field Trip’s acts. They sounded fantastic (and the sax player was a welcome touch) but their on-stage vibe felt a touch introverted for the festival setting. That said, “Red Eyes” got everybody bobbing along.

Certainly not short on energy were The Arkells, who tore through a set packed wall-to-wall with hits. Considering the Hamiltonians only released their first LP in 2008, they’ve put out a pretty impressive slew of infectious singles that have been inescapable on Canadian rock radio. Songs like “The Whistleblower”, “Kiss Cam”, and their newest, “Leather Jacket”, all sounded particularly great live, and the band had the enthusiasm to back up their sort of Springsteen-y, working man sound. Lead singer Max Kerman was all about audience interaction, too, getting people to dance, cheer, and sing along song after song.

The day had already been filled with great vocalists, but then Alabama Shakes came along to show everyone how it’s really done. Lead singer Brittany Howard is known for being a powerful live presence, and she certainly didn’t disappoint. The crowd was on board from the first note, and Brittany was in the zone. Highlights included “I’m Yours” from their moodier, slow-burning latest LP, Sound and Color, and the boppy, infectious “Hang Loose” from their debut.

Also, while I didn’t see much of Purity Ring’s set, it’s worth noting that when I walked by, they were battling some serious technical difficulties. It seems they frequently lost power during their set, which is a shame, because they had a pretty awesome light show going on. Nonetheless, the band seemed to be staying good-natured in spite of the problems.

DAY TWO

Sunday offered up a little bit of everything, including some amazing food. Field Trip goes the food truck route and since I’m a naturally indecisive person, choosing between roughly 20 different vendors was a long process. I eventually landed on Fidelo Gastro’s, though, and their creation called the “Sgt. Slather” (a pulled pork sandwich topped with guacamole and tortilla chips) turned out to be a fantastic choice.

In terms of, y’know, music, I caught some of Absolutely Free and Hayden’s sets, and while both acts sounded technically really solid, they just lacked a little of the spark needed to really come alive in the festival setting.

However, sometimes the bands that get relegated to early timeslots surprise you the most. This definitely happened on Sunday, with Lee Fields & the Expressions serving up a delightful funky dance party. Fields, in his decked-out red jacket, offered a welcome helping of old-school soul. He was full of energy and even though the band was a bit of an off-beat choice for Field Trip, the crowd seemed to be loving it.

Speaking of charismatic frontmen, Father John Misty was every bit as weird and wonderful as you’d expect. It’s difficult to engage a large, sprawling festival audience – especially as a solo artist – but Father John Misty (a.k.a. Josh Tillman) had the crowd hooked from the first bombastic strains of his set. Tillman’s dynamic set involved delving into the audience, receiving an assortment of gifts from fans, dramatically tossing his acoustic guitar to a waiting stagehand, and more hip shimmies than you could count. His set wisely favoured his more bombastic material, ending with a raucous, incendiary take on “The Ideal Husband”. From there, Tillman waved and promptly exited the stage without another word. The audience, meanwhile, was left still digesting everything they’d just seen.

“I pity the fucking fool who has to follow Father John Misty,” opined a cheeky Dan Mangan half an hour later, as he began his own set on the main stage. But while it’s true that Mangan may not have quite the same flair for theatricality, he’s certainly an engaging performer in his own right. As a singer, he can belt out a note so hard that you feel it in your gut, and on older tracks like “Rows of Houses” and “Sold”, he hit some amazing vocal peaks. His newer material from this year’s Club Meds, however, felt a little denser and sat less comfortably in Mangan’s vocal range. This is purely a matter of opinion, but even on the studio tracks, I feel like the material on the plodding Club Meds often actively works against Mangan’s urgent, spiky strengths as a performer. Luckily, his Field Trip set heavily featured his older material, which got a noticeably larger reaction from the crowd.

I couldn’t stick around on Sunday night, but by all accounts, My Morning Jacket offered up a rollicking set, as you’d expect, to close out the festival.

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Sufjan Stevens @ Massey Hall, Toronto (29/4/15)

Sufjan

Sufjan Stevens’ latest album, Carrie & Lowell, is an intimate affair fraught with lyrics so personal that they send a little pang through your chest as you absorb them. So, perhaps it makes sense that when Stevens stopped by Toronto’s Massey Hall, he had the audience in the palm of his hand for the duration of his nearly two-hour set.

After opening with Michigan’s gorgeous piano interlude “Redford (For Yia-Yia and Pappou)”, Stevens worked his way through the entirety of Carrie & Lowell (albeit in a slightly rearranged order). The album’s themes of loss, nostalgia, and spirituality felt especially resonant in the live setting. This was only enhanced by the intermittent home movie–style footage playing on the diamond-shaped screens hanging behind the stage.

Stevens brought an effortless sense of drama to everything about his live show. He didn’t say a word to the crowd for the first half of the show, instead letting the heft of Carrie & Lowell hang in the air a little while longer.

Things then got slightly livelier as Stevens and his band transitioned into some older material, highlighting several tracks from fan favourite Seven Swans. Stevens himself also opened up with a couple of rambling, subtly funny monologues later in the show.

Another highlight came late in the night as Stevens dropped an unlikely, charmingly shambolic cover of Neil Young’s “There’s a World” (a tribute to the night’s venue, which has famously hosted Young many times, including for his classic Live at Massey Hall album). Knowing the cover wasn’t going particularly well (though it was warmly received by the audience), Stevens took the opportunity to laugh at himself a bit mid-song. It was a nice, all-too-rare moment of seeing the rather serious, introverted Stevens loosen up.

After much hushed seriousness, the set ended with a heavily electronic, swirling wall of sound. It may not have been subtle, but it was an arresting culmination to all of the emotion that had come before.

Stevens’ encore seemed like a breather by comparison, and his final song of the night, 2005’s “Chicago” felt downright joyous in contrast. The horns and the enthusiastic crowd response made for a triumphant end to a sombre night.

The particular melancholy of Sufjan Stevens’ work has been cranked up to 11 on Carrie & Lowell, but in the live setting – aided by Stevens’ more heavily electronic re-arrangement of certain songs – the music is still devastating, but also manages to take on a new sense of life. It’s a cathartic experience, but if you’re along for the ride, Sufjan puts on a hell of a show.

Top 10 Albums of 2014

La Dispute

10. La Dispute, Rooms of the House

Emo may not be everyone’s genre of choice, but it’s hard to deny that La Dispute do it damn well. The songs on this interwoven album beautifully ruminate on personal loss and the ways that memories can linger. La Dispute brings intense, snarling vocals to their tales, but also surprisingly gorgeous melodies that made Rooms of the House accessible enough to please non-fans as well as emo devotees.

lykke li

9. Lykke Li, I Never Learn

Swedish singer-songwriter Lykke Li has been a favourite on the blogosphere for a while now and her latest album proves why. From the sparse piano intro of “No Rest for the Wicked” to lush tracks like “Heart of Steel”, Li has created a disarmingly sincere representation of heartbreak. This is an album that drips with sadness, but there’s also a comfort and strength in Li’s voice that draws you in.

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8. The New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers

Canadian indie sweethearts The New Pornographers come out swinging with their latest collection, Brill Bruisers. The title track opens the album with a refreshing jolt and the rest of Brill Bruisers continues to show off the beautiful knack for melody these veteran songwriters possess. Indie rock is in flux right now with some bands threatening to homogenize their sound entirely, so it’s refreshing to see the New Pornographers staying staunchly true to their distinctive style while still managing to sound entirely modern.

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7. Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

Sturgill Simpson’s latest concise collection crackles with energy that folk music can sometimes lack. This album has the authenticity and soul of traditional roots music but also a clear-voiced knack for melody that makes it feel thoroughly modern. Sturgill has a ferocious yowl that comes out on occasion (such as on the chorus of album highlight “It Ain’t All Flowers”) but for most of the album his voice is beautifully tender, crackling with life experience that most singer-songwriters could only hope to convey.

TVotR

6. TV on the Radio, Seeds

I’ve never been a huge fan of TV on the Radio. There was something in their past work that seemed a little too precisely hectic; their music seemed too passionless for all of the attention that it drew to itself. But that all changed with Seeds. Whether it’s the spiky rock of “Happy Idiot” or the cooler intricacies of songs like “Trouble”, the album is completely engaging. Seeds is easily the band’s most accessible outing yet, but they still hang on to their dynamic, somewhat experimental outlook throughout the album’s entirety. The results are wonderful.

spoon

5. Spoon, They Want My Soul

Nobody can deliver bouncy indie-rock gems like Brit Daniel. His distinctive yowl is in peak form on Spoon’s eighth studio album, The Want My Soul, but it’s not the only thing that the album has going for it. The piano pounds delightfully on “Let Me Be Mine”. “Do You” creates a sense of urgency and intensity that isn’t always present in Spoon’s music. Each track feels purposeful and distinct, yet they all tie together perfectly. Spoon can feel a bit clinical in their approach, but The Want My Soul is their loosest and liveliest album in a while.

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4. Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams is known mostly for penning heartfelt, tear-in-you-beer folk ballads. And there’s a little bit of that here. But mostly, his self-titled LP is full of melodic, bold rock songs with guitars that recall Bryan Adams (confusing, I know) and Tom Petty. It’s not Adams’ first foray into rock, but it might be his most fully-formed journey into the genre. “Gimme Something Good” and “Stay With Me” blister with rock swagger, while the moody “Kim” shows that Adams can still tug on the heart strings. Adams is an artist whose sprawling output can feel overwhelming, but this refreshingly concise album is one that anyone interested in his work should make time for.

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3. Rural Alberta Advantage, Mended With Gold

Of all the albums on this list, this is probably the one that I have the most trouble articulating my love for. To some, the Rural Alberta Advantage might seem like a fairly standard Canadian indie rock band. But thanks to the band’s unrelenting emphasis on percussion, lead singer Nils Edenloff’s distinctive warble, and the harmonies that subtly permeate every song, I’ve long admired RAA’s sound. And Mended With Gold was where everything really clicked into place for me. The songs sometimes grow from heartbreakingly intimate confessionals to walls of sound in the span of a few bars. There’s a straightforward, clear-eyed honesty in the vein of the Tragically Hip and a sprawling energy a la the Arcade Fire. Yet Rural Alberta Advantage remain unshakably true to their own vision.

AO

2. Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire For No Witness

I encountered Burn Your Fire For No Witness early in the year and it’s stuck with me since. Angel Olsen’s husky tenor doesn’t let you go easily. Her deceptively simple songs bring you back wanting more. I’m not sure if anything in 2014 was more tantalizing than Olsen’s lazy guitar strum of “Lights Out”. She’s Leonard Cohen, she’s Joni Mitchell, and she’s all of the heart that people complain is missing from music nowadays.

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1. Sharon Van Etten, Are We There

Sharon Van Etten has been writing stunning music for years now, so the fact that Are We There is her best album yet is quite a feat. But from the slow-burn build of album opener “Afraid of Nothing”, I knew I was in for something special. Elsewhere, we get the emotional exorcism of “Your Love Is Killing Me” (which is easily my favourite song of the year) and the gorgeously halting exhale of “Every Time the Sun Comes Up”. Confessional singer-songwriters are a dime a dozen, but very, very few of them can ever turn a phrase and lay themselves bare the way Van Etten always manages to.

Album Review: She & Him – Classics

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With her old-timey voice and penchant for vintage garb, it’s kind of surprising that Zooey Deschanel hasn’t released an album solely of (non-Christmas) classic covers before now. However, the latest album from She & Him, simply titled Classics, now fills that void.

Teaming once again with M. Ward, Deschanel adds her smoky quirk to a string of familiar favourites. (Even if you don’t recognize them by name, you’ll likely know at least some of the songs on this album.) Whether or not that’s a good thing is almost entirely dependent on how much you like Deschanel’s voice and how much you buy her as a “real” musician.

Personally, I’ve been a fan of Deschanel’s voice since I heard her memorable rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in the movie Elf. So when I heard that she was teaming with M. Ward (who I was already a fan of as a solo artist) to form She & Him, I was pretty excited. And while I wouldn’t say that I’ve been disappointed by their output, none of their albums have really captivated me in the way I might have hoped. I mean, it’s not really a case of false advertising, because if you’re looking for gentle, retro pop nuggets, that’s what you’ll find on any of their five LPs. The music has just never felt that inspired to me and, perhaps especially in the case of Classics, that trend continues.

The songs themselves are lovely; they are (as the title of the album suggests) classics for a reason. But from the lounge-y swing of opener “Stars Fell on Alabama” onwards, the album feels like something Deschanel could record in her sleep. That said, the softly swooning “Oh No, Not My Baby” does nicely showcase both the bottom and upper parts of her vocal range that we don’t often hear. And She & Him’s torch-y, echoing take on “Unchained Melody” here is mesmerizing. But on the whole, the album is full of expected – though well-executed – covers.

One strength of Classics is that it gives Ward more of a voice than we’ve heard in the past. It’s still Deschanel’s show, no doubt, but it’s nice to see the “Him” of She & Him step into the spotlight a little bit more. The most obvious example would be the track “She”, which (ironically) finds Ward taking on lead vocals with his gorgeous raspy tone. “Time After Time”, a true duet between Deschanel and Ward, also serves a somewhat lively highpoint for the album.

It’s hard to find a lot to say about this very pleasant but rather uninspired collection. I found A Very She & Him Christmas to be a more successful cover album, as the holiday theme tied in perfectly with Deschanel’s wholesome-sounding, straightforward vocals. The low-key Classics, meanwhile, just ends up sounding a bit sleepy and dated.

3

November 2014 Quick Takes

TVotR

“Quick Takes” is a monthly feature on Faint Uproar where we play catch-up with a few albums that slipped through the cracks and didn’t get a full review on the blog.

Alone for the First Time – Ryan Hemsworth

His latest LP may be a lean 27 minutes long, but Ryan Hemsworth doesn’t waste a second of that run time. On Alone for the First Time, the Halifax DJ weaves a smooth, layered collection of songs that often flow right into one another. And while Hemsworth’s beats aren’t quite groundbreaking, Alone for the First Time creates an effective atmosphere that lives up to the LP’s name. The music is sad, shimmering, brooding, and often frantic; it’s danceable, but hardly party music. It seems like 24-year-old Hemsworth is highlighting how lonely today’s cluttered, buzzing digital landscape can feel.

3


Four – One Direction

My biggest takeaway from Four is that the members of One Direction seem to have to hit their quarter-life crisis. This is slightly alarming on a cultural level, but, as it turns out, also doesn’t make for very interesting song lyrics. On “Night Changes” the wizened Harry Styles (all of 20 years old) croons, “We’re only getting older, baby.” Similarly, “18” is a nostalgic, rose-coloured look at the long-lost carefree days of being 18. Because, in case you weren’t aware, these guys are adults now. And accordingly, this album does feel surprisingly sombre. Other than the boppy “No Control” and the woozily anthemic “Clouds” (easily the two best songs on Four), there is a lot of earnest pleading and far too many stately mid-tempo offerings. I suppose the assumption is that 1D’s fanbase is aging right along with the band, but I’m not sure if these overstuffed, somewhat laborious songs are what any One Direction fan wants from the band’s music.

2.5


Content Nausea – Parquet Courts

Parquet Courts (or Parkay Quarts or whatever the band has decided to call themselves today) made quite a splash with Sunbathing Animal earlier this year, so it’s a bit surprising that they’d want to follow it up so quickly. But here we are, five months later, with another LP. I seem to be in the minority, since Sunbathing Animal didn’t do a whole lot for me, but Content Nausea still somewhat pales by comparison. If you like Parquet Court’s laconic style, you’ll probably also enjoy this album, but to me, it feels like more of the same. The snaking guitar jangle of “Slide Machine” and the unexpected melody of “Pretty Machines” is great, and as usual with Parquet Courts, there are elements at play here that I like. But for me, it doesn’t all come together to form a fully satisfying whole.

3


Seeds – TV on the Radio

The last time people got particularly excited about TV on the Radio was probably somewhere around 2008. However, the incendiary and soulful “Quartz”, the opening track of the band’s latest album, is reason enough to recall some of that excitement. Seeds shows that even if TV on the Radio isn’t as topical as they once were, they’re still one hell of a great band. “Lazerray” and “Winter” offer spiky punk rock, while more mellow offerings such as “Careful You” feel just as vital. This is a band that has always seemed startlingly self-assured, and this fifth studio album may be their most fully-realized and enjoyable offering to date. The musicianship is impeccable as always, and Seeds proves to not only be dynamic, but also surprisingly relevant.

4.5


Ixora – Copeland

From the slinky, pulsating R&B of “Like a Lie” to the sighing indie balladry of album opener “Have I Always Loved You?” the newly reunited Copeland have created a dreamy fifth album with Ixora. The electronic-heavy instrumentation (which becomes more pronounced as the album progresses) adds an interesting element to the album, but even with only 10 tracks and a 40-minute runtime, Ixora still feels a bit bloated. Singer Aaron Marsh’s earnest, emo-ish vocal delivery sometimes feels at odds with the distant, cool production. There’s some good songwriting to be found here, but the slick presentation seems to undermine some of the potential for genuine emotion.

3