Monthly Archives: July 2014

Jason Isbell @ Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto (15/7/14)

Jason Isbell

When I go to a concert, I enforce something that I am now naming the “three song rule”. This basically means that I try to reserve judgement for the first three songs of the concert because this is the time when everyone is settling in. The musicians are warming up and shaking off possible nerves, the sound might still be getting adjusted, and people in the crowd are scrambling to snap blurry Instagram photos. Some of the best concerts I’ve seen needed a couple of songs to hit their stride. But when Jason Isbell took the stage of the Phoenix on Tuesday, it took him all of about 30 seconds to find his groove. And by halfway through the opening verse of the first song, “Flying Over Water”, I knew that I was in for a fantastic show.

Everything about Isbell’s live show signals that he is a seasoned musician and a consummate professional. From his lively backing band, The 400 Unit, to his drawling and polite stage banter, the Alabama native knows how to put on a show.

He sings with a laser sharp precision, but while each note feels perfectly planned and executed, his vocals feel far from robotic. He belted out the big notes on songs like “Danko/Manuel” and rocked out on “Super 8” but then also pulled back on more intimate fare, such as the heartbreaking “Elephant”, which was adorned with only Isbell’s acoustic guitar and a keyboard.

Isbell is so personable that it’s easy to see why the night almost turned into one big love-in. When Isbell thanked the crowd for listening to his latest album, 2013’s Southeastern, one particularly Canadian heckler yelled back, “Thank YOU for making it!” sparking a tongue-in-cheek “‘Thank you!’ ‘No, thank YOU’” monologue from Isbell. The crowd also broke into cheers during “Cover Me Up” when Isbell sang the openly autobiographical line, “I sobered up and swore off that stuff forever this time”.

It’s not surprising that Isbell got such a warm response. His genuine love of music is obvious, and he and his band indulged the crowd with a sprawling two-hour set that covered a variety of fan favourites. Almost every track from Southeastern was represented, as were a sampling of songs from his previous solo albums. He also dipped back into his days with the Drive-By Truckers, and “Decoration Day” (the title track from DBT’s 2003 album) really came alive in person. Isbell took the epic story-song of feuding Southern families and fleshed it out with venomous, snarling vocals and just enough guitar solos to highlight how shattering that song is.

“Decoration Day” wasn’t the only vintage Isbell song that sounded better live than on recording, which likely speaks to his growth as an artist. Isbell was 22 years old when he joined the Drive-By Truckers and now, at the seemingly much more balanced but still young age of 35, it really feels like he’s in top form as a musician.

Also proving to be quite a polished performer was Isbell’s opener, Doug Paisley. The Toronto native was joined by a small backing band to showcase a number of tracks from his top-notch album from earlier this year, Strong Feelings. Truth be told, Paisley’s considerably more mellow brand of alt-country paled a bit in comparison to Isbell’s sheer might as a live performer, but taken for his own merits, Paisley made for quite an enjoyable opening act. Paired with Isbell, it was an all too rare night of music by two men at the top of their respective musical games.

Advertisements

Songs of the Week: July 14, 2014

jenny lewis

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

The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Terrified”

Is there a band more Canadian than the Rural Alberta Advantage currently in existence? Likely not. They’ve got that crunchy Canadian indie rock sound, and their new single, “Terrified”, is also an excellent showcase of the band’s songwriting talents. Lead singer Nils Edenloff’s nasal squawk might not be for everyone, but it certainly goes nicely with the band’s propulsive guitars and militant percussion.


Matt Berninger & Andrew Bird – “A Lyke Wake Dirge”

The vaguely operatic voices of Andrew Bird and The National’s Matt Berninger join forces for this cover of a traditional English folk song, recorded for the soundtrack of AMC’s Turn. It’s extremely folky and morose, which suits both Bird and Berninger beautifully, and while it’s not going to become your go-to summer jam, those looking for something a little bit somber will likely eat up the somber interplay between Bird and Berninger’s voices.

(For some reason, the video has been removed from YouTube, but you can still check out a stream of the song over on Tumblr.)


Interpol – “All the Rage Back Home”

There was a time – probably in 2005, to be exact – where people got pretty excited about Interpol. They were the cool NYC band after The Strokes were the cool NYC band and just before ten thousand other Brooklyn bands became the cool NYC band for a week. But while Turn on the Bright Lights and Antics were and still are pretty great albums, the band’s work in the past decade has been less than inspiring. This new single – from the forthcoming El Pintor – is a decent indication that they band still has some juice left in them. The morosely chiming guitar and woozy Paul Banks croon is back in full force, and “All the Rage Back Home” is the kind of chugging single Interpol needed to release to re-pique people’s interest.


 Jenny Lewis – “The Voyager”

Excitement has been building for Jenny Lewis’ upcoming solo album, and this latest sample off the album certainly suggests that the optimism is warranted. Backed by lush strings and a decidedly retro feel, Lewis croons about the “voyager” that’s within all of us. She uses some beautiful, unexpected facets of her voice, showcasing both a strength and an airiness that are captivating.


 Tweedy – “Wait For Love”

For those who don’t know, Tweedy is the new side project of Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy that includes his 18-year-old son, Spencer, on drums. “Wait For Love” is pretty much as low-key and understatedly pretty as you’d expect from a Jeff Tweedy project. It feels a little meandering, but it’s just too undeniably pleasant to really fault. There’s something weirdly satisfying about watching Jeff Tweedy fall so comfortably and publicly into the “mellow middle-aged dad” role.

Album Review: Sia – 1000 Forms of Fear

siaI find it interesting that Sia is cultivating this quasi-reclusive or secretive persona for herself surrounding the release of her new album, 1000 Forms of Fear. To me, she’s always seemed pretty present and accessible, despite the fact that I wasn’t all that familiar with her music prior to the release of “Chandelier”. I remember her 2008 album, Some People Have Real Problems, getting strong reviews upon its release, she’s been a successful writing songs for other artists (including Rihanna’s “Diamond”), and she even serves as a contestant mentor for Christina Aguilera’s team on The Voice a couple of seasons back. Now all we really see of Sia is the white bowl cut wig that graces the cover of 1000 Forms of Fear. There’s something to be said for letting the music speak for itself, but it just seems like a sudden shift in image (or lack thereof) for someone right on the brink of mainstream stardom.

Indeed, if 1000 Forms of Fear has a downfall, it’s probably its lack of a clear identity. Sia dabbles in a whole host of genres (pop, R&B, rock, EDM, classical, and world music) and does so pretty successfully, but by the end of it, I felt like I didn’t understand who Sia is as a person as much as I had gained respect for her songwriting skill.

That’s not to say that the album is lacking in personality, though. Sia sings with a powerfully off-kilter rasp, and her voice is actually one of the most interesting things about the album. More than any other song, “Eye of the Needle” really shows off her pipes, which in this case help to elevate the song’s pretty but somewhat bland melody.

Then, of course, there’s “Chandelier”. Sia’s unlikely hit kicks off the album, and while it’s a propulsive and arresting start to 1000 Forms of Fear, I probably wouldn’t have played the album’s trump card so early on. Songs like the tinkering and jaunty “Fair Game” suffer a little more in the wake of a monster like “Chandelier”, as understatedly interesting as they are in their own right.

sia-we-are-born

Luckily, 1000 Forms of Fear has lots of great offerings beyond its lead single. “Elastic Heart” is a triumphant, dance-friendly number set against an infectiously glitchy sample and features some dynamic work from Diplo and The Weeknd. It’s a nice reminder of Sia’s cross-genre potential, which we saw not too long ago with her guest spot on David Guetta’s “Titanium”.

Speaking of mainstream appeal, “Hostage” features one of the best, most blatantly poppy hooks of the year. To me, it feels like a song Miley Cyrus could have done if her career had taken a moderately different turn, but Sia does bring a refreshing maturity to the track that doesn’t often come along with bubble gum pop.

1000 Forms of Fear is almost always interesting on a song-to-song basis; Sia’s buffet approach to songwriting means that there’s lots of variety to be found. But I also can’t help but be left a bit cold by the album as a whole. Maybe it’s a little too uneven, or maybe there’s a deliberate sense of remove from Sia’s end to keep the listener at a distance. But even when she sings passionately and sparse accompaniment (such as on the gorgeous penultimate track, “Cellophane”) I find it difficult to find much of an emotional connection. However, Sia is an undeniably unique voice in pop. This latest album shows impressive crossover potential while still staying true to Sia’s artistic integrity, and the value of that shouldn’t be understated.

3.5

Songs of the Week: July 6, 2014

ryan adams

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

Ryan Adams – “Gimme Something Good”

So this was one of those rare and wonderful weeks where a bunch of musicians I really like all released new material. Among them is Ryan Adams, who also announced the upcoming release of his 14th studio album (out September 9). “Gimme Something Good” will kick off the album, and it suggests a return to Adams’ plugged-in, more rock-influenced sound. From the opening notes, it sounds an awful lot like Tom Petty, but that’s certainly not a bad fit for Adams. Here, he proves that he’s still more than capable of writing one hell of a catchy hook.


Spoon – “Do You”

Speaking of catchy, Spoon hasn’t sounded this good since their excellent, poppy 2007 album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. “Do You” is lively and fun, showing us that Brit Daniel’s signature yowl and the band’s songwriting chops are both still in fine form. We’ll get to see the full force of that soon, when they release their new album, They Want My Soul, on August 5. In the meantime, “Do You” feels like a perfect summer entry, inviting listeners to shimmy along while still packing a wallop.


Bon Iver – “Heavenly Father”

Justin Vernon is a perpetually busy guy, but this is the first new material we’ve heard under the title of his Bon Iver project since 2011. “Heavenly Father” is on the soundtrack for Zach Braff’s new movie, Wish I Was Here, and if nothing else, Braff is assembling some pretty fantastic music for his flick. “Heavenly Father” finds Vernon singing in a lower octave and a fuller voice than usual, which in my opinion is his sweet spot. Vernon rarely disappoints, and hopefully this is a hint that more Bon Iver material is just around the corner.


Titus Andronicus – “Stranded (On My Own)”

Patrick Stickles spoke openly about his personal struggles when he appeared on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast earlier in the year, and while it made for compelling listening, it also suggested that the future of Titus Andronicus was somewhat up in the air. Now, Stickles seems to be making steps to return to what he does so well, and “Stranded (On My Own)” is just as gritty, searing, and inviting as anything off Titus Andronicus’ phenomenal 2010 album, The Monitor.


Foxes In Fiction – “Shadow’s Song” (Feat. Owen Pallett)

Foxes in Fiction might be the least familiar name on this list to many, but by this point, Owen Pallett (who contributes some lovely, swooning strings on the track) has built quite the name for himself in the indie world. It’s a beautifully sombre collaboration, suggesting great things from Foxes in Fiction’s new album, Ontario Gothic (love the name), which will be out on September 23.

June 2014 Quick Takes

first aid kit

“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. Being that the Faint Uproar is just a week old, there’s plenty to catch up with in terms of June releases. Let’s begin!

Sam Smith – In the Lonely Hour

Sam Smith is currently finding his footing in the U.S. top 40 charts based on the strength of his swooning, gorgeous single “Stay With Me”. Unfortunately, much of the rest of his debut album doesn’t meet the same standard. “Leave Your Lover” is a startlingly direct plea to a platonic friend to leave their lover in favour of Smith, and that seems to be the realm that Smith is most comfortable in. There, his voice shines with a magnificent ache that is absent from some of the album’s more dance-friendly (and more anonymous) tracks. In the Lonely Hour is a prime example of a developing act with the vocal heft to demand your listening attention but who lacks the material to back it up.

2.5

 


First Aid Kit – Stay Gold

Swedish duo First Aid Kit made the jump to the major labels with their sophomore LP, Stay Gold. And while their throwback-folk style remains largely intact, the pair seems a bit swallowed up by the album’s shiny production. Lead single “My Silver Lining” – a pleasant, Fleetwood Mac-esque pop gem – is a perfect example of how their songs here tend to get undermined by just too much stuff all going on at once. There are certainly some good songs to be found, and sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg sound as pleasant as ever, but Stay Gold sounds a little too drenched in ‘70s retro vibes to ever take completely seriously.

3

 


The Antlers – Familiars

Fans of the Antlers’ stunning, muted 2009 LP Hospice might be a little confused by Familiars on first listen. (Or second listen. Or sixth listen.) Here, the band opens up their sound more than ever, adding in horns and featuring noticeably stronger, full-voiced vocals from frontman Peter Silberman. However, Familiars feels just as exquisitely crafted as Hospice – just in a different way. “Palace” is a big, shimmery exhale, and the perfect way to kick off the album. From there, they craft a specific groove for the album, and while it may not be one that everyone appreciates, it does mark decidedly new and interesting territory for the Antlers to explore.

4

 


Lana Del Rey – Ultraviolence

If the endless media cycle has taught us anything, it’s that the world needs a pop princess to collectively debate, worship, and vilify. Rihanna, Miley, and Gaga can step aside, though, because apparently in 2014 the best we’ve got is Lana Del Rey. (Someone please tell me that 2015 won’t be the year of Ariana Grande.) And after 2012’s largely hollow Born to Die, Del Rey returns with more tragic/sexy mid-tempo sonic meanderings for bloggers to attempt to analyze.

Granted, The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach is a very welcome addition as producer on the bulk of the album. He adds some psychedelic guitars and brings out some new layers to Del Rey’s sometimes enchanting and often confounding vocal delivery. But while the album has moments of genuine loveliness (the plaintive guitar of “West Coast”, the straightforward croon and strings of “Old Money”, crackling opener “Cruel World”) most of the songs just shuffle around between styles for a while before eventually fading out. And rest assured: the lyrics are just as daft and numbingly clichéd as ever.

2