Monthly Archives: June 2014

Songs of the Week: June 29, 2014

willis earl beal

Each Sunday, Faint Uproar offers up our picks for the week’s five best newly released songs. Stream them and read our commentary below:

The Delta Spirit – “From Now On”

I was a big fan of Delta Spirit’s 2012 self-titled LP, and on September 9, they’ll return with their fourth full-length, Into the Wide. They offered up the album’s first single, “From Now On”, last week and it’s an expectedly upbeat and fuzzed-up indie rock number. The drums pound, Matthew Vasquez’s voice sounds as scratchy as ever, and the chorus feels just as sweeping as you’d hope.


Cayetana – “Serious Things Are Stupid”

Angry girl bands have a long history of making kick-ass music, and Cayetana seems to be continuing the trend. “Serious Things Are Stupid” is a propulsive cut from their upcoming debut LP, Nervous Like Me, which will be out on August 26. It sounds a bit like a heavier Best Coast, bemoaning the addictive nature of a lover who won’t change. The racing chorus is enough to make it the perfect summer anthem for fed up ladies everywhere.


Woods – “Tomorrow’s Only Yesterday”

Hot off the release of their latest LP, With Light and With Love, Woods released the second half of their upcoming 7” single, the groovy “Tomorrow’s Only Yesterday”. The song doesn’t reinvent the psych-rock wheel, but it does have the kind of hook and groove to ensure that it’ll worm its way into your head after one listen.


Grimes – “Go”

Initially penned as a single for Rihanna (!), it perhaps makes sense that “Go” is one of Grimes’ most poppy offerings yet. It’s her first new material in a while, and it serves as a lovely showcase for Claire Boucher’s ethereal voice, as well as offering a pretty infectiously chorus. It’s probably better that this one didn’t go to Rihanna, after all.


Willis Earl Beal – “Traveling Eyes”

Having competed on The X-Factor and released an album through XL Recordings, Willis Earl Beal has certainly dabbled in the mainstream music industry. This might explain why he split from XL and now plans to self-release his next album, Experiments in Time (out August 8), on CDBaby. If “Traveling Eyes”, a sparse and slow-burning slice of folky soul, is any indication, Experiments in Time will certainly be worth seeking out.

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The Antlers @ The Mod Club, Toronto (27/6/14)

the antlers

The Antlers are a rare indie band that managed to achieve something close to universal praise with their 2009 album Hospice, which found its way onto pretty much every best-of-the-year list back in the day. But while the band then seemed poised to build a career akin to Arcade Fire or The National, their moment of adoration and breathless critics’ pronouncements seems to have passed, at least for the time being.

Perhaps because of this, they seemed to be in a bit of tricky position when they stopped by Toronto’s Mod Club this past Friday. It was just the third stop of the tour promoting their latest album, Familiars, which dropped earlier this month, and the setlist was largely dominated by new material. This wasn’t really a problem for me; I like Familiars a lot, and I was thrilled that they kicked off the show with the album’s opener, “Palace”. However, the crowd’s divided response to their setlist was…um, shall we say obvious? Earlier material (especially from Hospice) was met with immediate cheers, fervent swaying and nodding, and thunderous applause. Meanwhile, the tracks from Familiars received a noticeably more muted response.

You can’t really blame a band for wanting to show off their new material, but it’d also be hard not to say that many of the show’s highlights came from their more well-worn territory. Hospice’s “Sylvia” proved to be even more rollicking and guttural live, with Peter Silberman showing off the impressive range of his voice. It was those moments of release, like the one found in the chorus of “Sylvia”, where the band really came alive and created something dynamic and blistering. Familiars ­–as textured and lovely as it is – just isn’t an album that offers as many of those transcendent moments that make the Antlers so captivating.

Similarly, the encore saw the band take on two tracks from their 2011 LP, Burst Apart, which were clearly fan favourites. The gorgeous “I Don’t Want Love”, with its halting guitar and almost anthemic chorus, provided a rare moment of laidback buoyancy from the Antlers, while “Putting the Dogs To Sleep” evoked an unexpected audience sing-a-long, ending the night on an energetic note.

The Antlers are a band concerned with atmosphere, which I always appreciate in a concert. Their carefully constructed songs lend themselves to a little drama, and the band didn’t disappoint, throwing in plenty of horns, reverb, and dramatic pauses to set the mood. With only four guys on stage, they created an impressively rich sound.

I have no complaints with how the Antlers sounded, and on the whole, they put on a very satisfyingly sombre show. The lighting (very moody; lots of backlighting) and the stage presentation (lit up birdcages/chandeliers?) only added to the drama, and the crowd seemed more than happy to get their sad on.

If we’re going to nitpick, the band members themselves could have been a little more engaging; judging by the fact that we barely got more than a couple of thank-yous and a few unintelligible mumblings from Silberman until well into the set, stage banter is clearly not their thing. However, it’s easy enough to forgive a little shyness when the music sounds that good.

Those looking for a chattier frontman were probably pleased by openers Yellow Ostrich, who were every bit as fun and spunky as the Antlers were moody and serious. Frontman Alex Schaff proved to have heaps of charisma both when bopping around the stage and telling of the band’s ill-timed van breakdown at the U.S./Canada border that almost prevented them from making the show. Their excellent, James Blake-esque slow jam “Ghost” sounded shimmery and lovely live, and the rest of their set was full of enough jaunty, Local Natives-style rock to make for a nice contrast with the main act.

If you like the Antlers, you’re going to like hearing the Antlers live. It was nice to see a few tracks from the claustrophobic Hospice get opened up a bit in the live setting, and while the new tracks may be less familiar (har har) to fans, there’s certainly good stuff to be found. It’s the Antlers, so thing are going to be a little dour and a whole lot sad, but when they hit the right moment, things really start to soar.

Album Review: Old Crow Medicine Show – Remedy

old crow medicine showNashville-based Old Crow Medicine Show have been churning out their brand of rootsy alt-country (emphasis here on the “country” rather than the “alt”) for some 16 years now, and there’s something refreshing about how little in their music has changed. This is a band not so interested in being “cool” as being authentic, and their unabashedly old-fashioned style has somewhat left them on the fringes of both the indie and country music scenes. Now, they return with their latest studio album, Remedy.

For the most part, the album is divided between rousing bluegrass-inspired numbers and more subdued, steadily propulsive folk tunes. Luckily, Old Crow Medicine Show does both well.

The album kicks off with “Brushy Mountain Conjugal Trailer”, and that particular title pretty much tells you the premise of the song. I understand starting the album with an upbeat number, but the song’s mid-tempo shuffle and the over-the-top jokey lyrics do set a rather odd tone for the rest of Remedy.

The album’s subsequent 12 tracks prove that Old Crow Medicine Show can successfully do playful, though. In fact, the very next song, “8 Dogs 8 Banjos”, features some lightening fast fiddle playing and enough references to “country” things (sweet tea, banjos, whiskey, pretty little girls, etc.) to get even the most staunch city folks tapping their toe in time. Similarly, “Shit Creek” will test some listeners’ tolerance for the traditional country sound, but it’s a rollicking, oddly triumphant number about everything going wrong.

However, Old Crow Medicine doesn’t just rely on jokes to get by. “Sweet Amarillo”, for example, is sweetly melodic and features soaring violin and sing-along harmonies that make it feel like the perfect thirst-quencher for a hazy summer evening.

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Old Crow Medicine Show have always embraced a very traditional country sound, they strike me as a completely authentic band. However, there’s a sheen to Remedy that I haven’t found before in my (admittedly limited) exposure to their music. “Mean Enough World” has a lolloping melody that feels undeniably familiar and a little deflated. Furthermore, there’s something just a bit too on-the-nose in hearing the band croon about “American flags in the wind”. Meanwhile, songs like “Doc’s Day” lack the grit to feel like anything but middle-of-the-road.

The propulsive banjo strum and the harmonica whine of “O Cumberland River” bring the band closer to the timeless folk sound that fits them so comfortably. But while songs like this offer some lively moments, Remedy as a whole is a bit too lurching and unsure of itself to fully feel like a success.

Country music is a genre that often relies on tropes, but for a band that rarely delves into the world of pop country, this is an album full of platitudes. To me, it smacks of fence-sitting when it comes to who their target audience is.

Old Crow Medicine Show are top-notch musicians with the experience and songwriting skill to make churning out an album of songs feel like no effort at all. Rememdy has its moments of joy, and, unfortunately, it also has the tendency of feeling like the band may have sleepwalked through portions of its production.

3

 

Sloan, Hey Ocean! @ Burlington Sound of Music Festival

Sloan 1

Who doesn’t love a free music festival? The answer to that question seems to be “nobody”, if the crowds that swarm Burlington’s Sound of Music Festival annually are any indication. I’ve seen some good bands at SOM over the years (Sarah Slean, Great Lake Swimmers, New York Dolls, etc.), but as the festival gets busier and busier with each passing year, it’s gotten to the point where a band that I really like has to be playing to make me willing to throw myself to the mercy of the masses at Burlington’s Spencer Smith Park.

Enter: Sloan.

Well, first, actually, enter Hey Ocean!, who played the OLG Stage at this year’s Sound of Music Festival prior to Sloan’s Saturday afternoon headlining set. Fresh off a stop at Toronto’s Horseshoe Tavern the night before, this Vancouver indie pop outfit brought their sunny brand of rock jangle to a relatively small but appreciative crowd at SOM.

With guitarist David Beckingham (who usually provides the band’s backing vocals) sidelined due to throat problems, all ears were on lead singer Ashleigh Ball, and she certainly stepped up to the plate. While Hey Ocean! can sometimes sound a bit frothy on studio recordings, Ball proved to have a lot of power and surprising grit behind her yowl in the live setting, and her yelps and hair tosses made her an engaging frontwoman.

Hey Ocean 1

Hey Ocean! gave a solid festival set and showcased a heavier side in their live performance,  though not all of it worked; one extended jam (including a flute solo) sounded more like cacophony than a cool breakdown. However, by the time they closed things out with the current single “Big Blue Wave”, they’d cemented their status as an energetic live act with some killer hooks, which is a golden combination at any summer music festival.

The afternoon’s main attraction at the OLG Stage, though, was Sloan, who made their entrance onto the stage with the kind of modesty that you might expect from four guys in their mid-40’s from Nova Scotia. Rather than letting the afternoon’s MC (Y108 announcer Brian West) hype them up and give a dramatic introduction, they just sauntered on stage right along with him and began tuning up. (Chris Murphy even arrived wearing his backpack, as though he’d come straight from the local high school for band practice.)

However, there was nothing understated about Sloan’s live performance. They ripped through a career-spanning setlist of their biggest hits, eliciting cheers from the growing crowd with favourites such as “If It Feels Good Do It”, “Everything You’ve Done Wrong”, and “Coax Me”.

Sloan 2

This was my first time seeing Sloan live, and my one fear going into it was that their live show might feel like they were just going through the motions. However, while the band’s musicianship is top-notch, they thankfully avoid the pitfall of overly polished acts who sound like they’re playing on autopilot. Considering Sloan has been performing songs like “Underwhelmed” live for over 20 years now, they somehow find the spark of energy to make it feel like it was written last month.

The band’s unconventionally democratic approach to songwriting might have something to do with their ability to keep things fresh. Each member contributes their own songs to every album, and their live show is also pretty equally divided. Murphy, Jay Ferguson, Patrick Pentland, and Andrew Scott all took lead vocals on at least a couple of songs, and the band even switched things up mid-performance by swapping instruments for a while.

There’s a timelessness to Sloan’s peppy alt-rock sound, and with 10 albums worth of material to draw from, they created a stacked and joyously upbeat 90-minute set. The highlight of the show for me, however, came in the form of one of the band’s more subdued hits, “The Other Man”. The 2001 Murphy-penned track is a confessional first-person account of an ill-advised affair, and Murphy (who served as the band’s resident live wire during the rest of the set) delivered a captivating and earnest vocal on the song’s soaring chorus.

After closing their set with the siren wail of “Money City Maniacs”, the band was coaxed back out onto stage with an encore chant of “Slooo-oooan”. Their audience – which on this particular day spanned all ages – couldn’t get enough, and Sloan is a rare veteran band that still seems to have the un-jaded love of music to keep themselves going strong.

(Note: All photography is mine.)