List of coverage from Juno Fest

The Juno Awards took place this weekend and surprisingly they did really well! Congratulations to all the winners and nominees.

I didn’t get to attend the actual awards, but I did do some coverage of Juno Fest, a two day festival leading up to the awards, full of nominees and friends.

Here’s my coverage for Spinner. On Friday I checked out Said the Whale, who went on to win New Group of the Year the next day, and Horsey Craze, the Neil Young cover band formed of members from the Constantines and Lullaby Arkestra. On Saturday, I saw Hannah Georgas and Basia Bulat, both who were nominated for Best New Artist.

Friday:

Said the Whale Blast Through Hits at Juno Fest

Horsey Craze Rock Out With ‘Like a Hurricane’ and More at Juno Fest

Saturday:

Hannah Georgas Dedicates Song to Mother at Juno Fest

Basia Bulat Wins Over Crowd With Auto Harp at Juno Fest

Album Review & Interview: We Are the City – High School

The following was originally published on Exclaim.ca.

we are the city high school

We Are the City
High School
By Jessica Lewis

High School was intended to be something on the side, simultaneously eschewing the bad feelings of a line-up change, welcoming in someone new and bringing up times of youth thought sour. Cayne McKenzie and Andrew Huculiak had to fend for We Are the City’s future when guitarist David Menzel left, and the pair turned to this project as a distraction. Assuming fake identities and wiping away the clues, it was something new for a while. Somewhere along the timeline, High School turned out to be the next chapter of the BC-based band, and once Blake Enemark was introduced, things became clearer, including the trio’s sound. Now on their second release, following 2009′s In a Quiet World, they’re playing more with speed and let pauses do much of talking. It’s experimental, in their pop rock world, and it works for them. Enemark brings a crunchy guitar sound, Huculiack shines on percussion in “That’s It, That’s All,” taking over vocals for the tropical “Dark/Warm Air,” while McKenzie’s fuzzy Rhodes and clear vocals carry bravery, self-consciousness and weight. Everything is laid out in the open, with storylines intertwined from each other’s memories, having the alternative reality bleeding in to what’s here, now, and we get to watch it all grow up.

Why was High School originally a side-project?
McKenzie: David, who is still our best friend and was our guitar player, is engaged now, so at the time last summer, he was spending a lot of time with his girlfriend and his family. Andrew and I were pretty alone and David had started to not love touring as much or playing lots of basement shows ― not desirable shows. He wasn’t into it anymore. Andrew and I live for the chance to play a pool party. I was trying to get into playing guitar, because I’m the piano player in the band. Andrew and I were just jamming, so we were like, “let’s just make up a band, what can we do for fun? The only thing we know how to do is be a band, so why don’t we make up another band?” And we just decided to call it High School, because that’s where Andrew and I met, and we just felt good times and remembering back to those times. We just thought that was a really good representation of our friendship. There’s this band from Kelowna called Kingdom Cloud and we basically started the band so we could play some shows in Kelowna with them. We wanted to play with them so much we started this band in my basement and we recorded some terrible demos, kind of about these shameful memories from high school and what we were like now. It was a little different from We Are the City because I find with our last record, I felt like we were writing about spiritual development and journeys, and that’s what the album is about: family and spiritual journey, for us, figuring out what you think about everything. Whereas we started to write about other things like actual memories and I feel like we hadn’t really done that before. We started a band, we made a MySpace and we didn’t want anyone to know that we were from We Are the City because we didn’t want whatever we did in High School to affect We Are the City and we didn’t want We Are the City to affect High School. We just wanted to do an experiment to see what it would be like to start over with different songs and, basically, a different kind of music. And then when David told us he was leaving the band, we were just like, “okay, well, what are we going to do?” We didn’t know Blake and we weren’t really sure what we were going to do; it was just like, “maybe we should record these High School tunes and make them into We Are the City tunes.” The guitar parts were written, the ideas were there, so we wrote a couple more tunes with that idea in mind and that’s how the recording came to be. I feel like we were really lucky that we did the High School thing because if we didn’t, I don’t know what we would have done when David quit. I don’t know what we would have recorded. Because High School was already just Andrew and I, it was a good transition into bringing someone new into the band, because it was like, “okay, we already had the band as just the two of us so adding someone new isn’t hard,” whereas taking someone away is hard.

It was the swap of members that made you decide to make it a We Are the City project again.
Definitely. It would have never become part of We Are the City if it hadn’t had been for the member swap.

Were you feeling lost, in terms of We Are the City, for a while?
Yeah. To be honest, Andrew and I were sure that there wasn’t going to be We Are the City anymore. It’s totally important to me, in what we’re going for in our ultimate goal, to show people so much love, and that’s still the most important thing, to me. But I still feel like I was more confident in We Are the City before and now I’m not as confident. I’m confident in myself being in We Are the City, I mean, but I’m not sure what will happen to it. We just went out on a limb here, especially with the recording of this album and then releasing it, as the songs are quite a bit different because they were written for a different band. I was feeling distance from We Are the City and now I feel a lot closer again.

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Album Review: Nightbox – Nightbox EP

The following was originally published on Exclaim.ca.

Nightbox

Nightbox
Nightbox EP
By Jessica Lewis

Ah, to be young and to want to dance all the time. That’s what listening to Nightbox feels like, surely no matter how old and/or tired you are. With adrenaline off the charts, in just four songs they’ll quicken your pace during any activity. The five-piece (featuring two brothers and three friends from Wicklow, Ireland) now call Toronto home. The gain is all T.O.’s though, as they bring their angular guitars, club beats and accents. The four-song-long EP (produced by Death From Above 1979′s Sebastien Grainger and MSTRKFT’s Al-P) delivers high energy. While “Pyramid” almost catapults itself too high, the rest find the right tempo. “Fumes” is darker, with more riffs, “Relocate You” sings of an alien/human romance and “Bears,” an incredibly infectious dance ditty, leaves us wanting more of Nightbox’s grooves. (Independent)

Album Review: Snowblink – Long Live

The following was originally published on Exclaim.ca.

snowblink long live

Snowblink
Long Live
By Jessica Lewis

Just two years ago, singer Daniela Gesundheit moved from California to Toronto, ON, roping in Dan Goldman. Snowblink’s been something of an open book for a number of indie musicians; this record alone includes contributions from members of Deerhoof, Dirty Projectors, Vetiver and more. Gesundheit’s voice is as pure as they come, floating above the surface of all of the instruments, which feel carefully pieced together. In 16 tracks (six of them being under two minutes), it’s as if an enchanted forest is growing and thriving right in front of you ― a modern soundtrack to Snow White. The majority of the album is quite delicate and quiet, so your ears need to work a bit harder. In order to grasp the beauty Snowblink have put into their debut album, headphones or complete surround silence are in order. (Out of this Spark)

Album Review: Peter Elkas – Repeat Offender

The following was originally published on Exclaim.ca.

peter elkas repeat offender

Peter Elkas
Repeat Offender
By Jessica Lewis

Released in the dead of winter, following Valentine’s day emotional crash, the former member of Local Rabbits and Joel Plaskett Emergency returned solo (but with backing band) for a solid third album on complicated relationships. It’s scorn or be scorned, yet Elkas creates a warm atmosphere full of soul and early rock influences. Recorded between his basement and Giant Studio, Repeat Offender delivers lively songs featuring relaxed guitar, piano fit for a bar and Elkas’s silky timber. Most of the numbers are memorable, such as the album’s middle ground of “Tiny Valentine” and “Misery.” It’s fit for cleaning your home, slow bike rides or some other activity that lets you reflect during a long day. The most noticeable flaw is Elkas’s plain lyrics. They’re not a crime, but they can feel basic, at times, with distracting lines like, “misery loves company” or “on a bicycle built for two.” (New Scotland)

Album Review: Imaginary Cities – Temporary Resident

The following was originally published on Exclaim.ca.

imaginary cities temporary resident

Imaginary Cities
Temporary Resident
By Jessica Lewis

When you have a unique voice like Marti Sarbit’s, it’s hard to see why you would want to surround it with basic computer handclaps, high synth notes, bird chirps and drumbeats. Her old soul’s voice is occasionally hindered by these qualities on her debut album with multi-instrumentalist Rusty Matyas. The Winnipeg, MB-based duo use Sarbit’s voice as an anchor, but everything around it feels like simple pop rock. They have a few catchy tunes, such as “Hummingbird,” “Don’t Cry” and “Ride This Out,” which will get your feet tapping, but towards the end of the album, the steam runs out. It feels like there’s something here, and the Pixies clearly felt it too, choosing the duo to open for them on their upcoming tour. Here’s hoping that in the future, Imaginary Cities get a bit realer. (Hidden Pony)

Sit down, listen to this: The Albertans

The Albertans

Last Tuesday, I gave you a dance party. Today, I give you something to sit down with and really listen. I’m being a bit selfish, as I can’t really dance because I recently broke my pinky toe and doing such an activity is sadly painful. So I’m making you sit with me. Got that? Good! Anyways, I’ve found the perfect song for sitting and daydreaming this week, so it works out.

The Albertans – “The Wake”

This is one of those songs I’ve been waiting for, and oh it fills me with warmth to just type that. It’s got a groovy bass, fluttering + fuzzy guitars, dreamy vocals, a keyboard pattern that suggests it might be up to no good and simple drumming highlighted by a tambourine. I still can’t completely wrap my head around this goodness. It flows splendidly and has so many layers to unwrap, lyrically and musically. It leaves me with intrigue after every time I’ve listened, I feel like I’m searching for some puzzle piece. They sing of suicide and pressure, so when it all comes together, it’s like you can hear the song’s character(s) opening their eyes.

The band was formed in Vancouver out of members from our prairies and the U.S., but they headed to New York. Now I guess they split their time between the two metropolises. The album that holds this gem of a song, New Age, was recorded in Brooklyn, at Chandelier Studios, and now we have a Canadian tie to the borough’s distinct energy haze.

Just listen for yourself, and join me in my excitement in looking forward to their album. They remind me of Breathe Owl Breathe and Dirty Projectors (a little). There’s also some New Pornographers and Mother Mother similarities in there in terms of the team vocals, but I feel more of a connection to the Albertans than I do with those two bands at this point.

Watch music videos set to old films for “The Wake” & “Megan” & “New Age” and then there’s one of them playing “Mila.”

New Age comes out in Canada on April 19.