RoundLetters’ Best of 2011: EPs and Shorter Albums

beth ditto EP
Here’s Part One of my Best of 2011 coverage — the best EPs and shorter albums I’ve had the pleasure of listening to this year.

1. Beth Ditto – self titled

Whenever I needed a dose of girl power this year that wasn’t more aggressive (at those times, I’d play Le Tigre), Beth Ditto was my girl. I adore this EP because not only did it get Beth Ditto back into a spotlight where she should be and pair her to really good dance music with Simian Mobile Disco, but her lyrics are inspiring and empowering. This was an EP that had me dancing while doing the dishes, walking to work and at parties. I only hope we hear from Beth or her band, Gossip, sometime soon.

2. Jeans Boots – txt msgs

Another empowering female, Jeans Boots took my breath away this year with txt msgs. I still remember her hair flying all over the Horseshoe’s stage and her shiny, sparkly dress from when she came many months ago with her other band Slow Down, Molasses. This lady’s got guts, a powerful voice and her mysterious air keeps you interested. And, random extra points, she’s an arts journalist for the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

3. Army Girls – Close to the Bone

This really was a year that ladies took over in music for me. (See my top 10 albums to come as well.) Carmen Elle’s voice is mesmerizing and even though it feels like she’s punching you in the gut, it’s the sweetest damn punches you’ll ever feel. Paired with Andy Smith, these two came up with a dynamic that’s really worked for them, and Close to the Bone was a beautiful release. I’m excited for more from them in the future.


4. We Are the City – High School

I spent a good amount of time at the beginning of the year getting to know We Are the City and their transformations for an article for Exclaim. I feel like I really got to see a lot of growth from them since their first album came out last year, and it made me proud. I think High School was a huge accomplishment for them as people and as a band, and they’ve still got so much more ahead of them if they keep on that path. The songs on High School are quite catchy and my favourite, “Dark/Warm Air” even got the drummer Andy onto main vocals.

5. Parks and Rec – Seeds Grown Here

Seeds Grown Here reflects on life and death with music that makes you feel like flying; it’s a heartbreakingly beautiful release. There’s a lot of love that pours to and from this band in the Toronto scene, which is also great to see.

6. Each Other – Taking Trips

I just can’t get enough of the weird music that comes out of this band (formerly part of Long Long Long). They’ve got this distant way of angling everything that turns the floors upside down and lets you figure out what to do. Taking Trips came out of nowhere to me when I realized Long Long Long broke up (and yes, I realized months later) so this was a pleasant surprise. “Goosing Statues” is a wicked song.

7. Heartbeat Hotel – Intae Woe

Their most cohesive album yet, Intae Woe gives Heartbeat Hotel more lasting power. It’s dreamy and chill with the best of em, but the hooks and melodies are ones that will stick around like wisps in the air.

8. Nightbox – self titled

A short dance soundtrack for me earlier this year, Nightbox came out with full force to Canada and now they’ve had a show on Much Music, toured with Lights and played with Death From Above 1979. Pretty good year for these lads!

9. Armen at the Bazaar – Noor

Armen is equally as interesting to hear as he is to watch. As a one man band electronic set-up with big goals, he’s got a lot to do, and pulls it off nicely. Noor is quirky, pretty and intriguing, and like I’ve said before, his rendition of “Over the Rainbow” is awesome. I’ve seen him live a couple times this year and I do hope that in the future I can see him play full rooms, but perhaps more in a DJ capacity, as he elongates some of his songs into full dance numbers that should be enjoyed like that.

10. Long Long Long – Who the Fuck Said Family Ain’t Family No More

As mentioned above, Long Long Long were what birthed Each Other. But they’ve put out numerous solid releases under this name, and this is just one of them I’ve really liked. (Last year’s Shorts should have made my lists.) One of my favourite things about this then-East Coast band are the guitars, that sound like confusion but in an exciting way that makes you want to push through your mental capacities or just lie there for a while in the reverberating lines.

Introducing: Static Zine

static zine - cover
Things around these parts have been a bit mum from me lately. I’ve been incredibly busy putting together the first issue of Static Zine – a fun new Toronto arts and life zine. Yes that’s right, a zine. Every time I go somewhere to drop them off now and say that word, I get some pretty funny looks. But this has worked out really well so far with an amazing team of contributors, already running out at numerous locations after a few hours and we’ve already been interviewed!

Besides just launching the zine, we also put together a mixtape of 16 Toronto bands: Maylee Todd, Sister, Austra, Bravestation, Heartbeat Hotel, Dora Alexander, Sports, Matters, Action Makes, The Ruby Spirit, Allie Hughes, Nightbox, The Meligrove Band, Timber Timbre, Bruce Peninsula and The Wilderness of Manitoba.

Download the first Static mixtape.

static flyerWe’re throwing a launch party on the last day of NXNE. Here’s the Facebook event, and you can see the show poster above.  We’ll have performances by Jeans Boots, Kat Burns of Forest City Lovers, Lowell Sostomi of Great Bloomers, The Ruby Spirit, Bravestation and Sister. I am beyond excited!

Check out new music from Rain Over St. Ambrose, Reversing Falls and Sports

Pack your week with some gritty guitars and satisfied gloomy skies with songs from Rain Over St. Ambrose, Reversing Falls and Sports. Then tell me that you feel at least a little more oomph in your steps.

Rain Over St Ambrose CoverRain Over St. Ambrose

“DG Gold Paint” is off their debut self-titled April-released EP. Packing crunchy Canadiana into three songs, this Yarmouth five-piece may have risen from the ashes of the unfortunate passing of singer Cory’s father (the band name is a testament to that), but they could work their way into a future with clearer skies. The single utilizes some classic rock patterns with the guitar, keyboard and drums and paired with Cory’s vocals, they remind me of The Hold Steady. Download the EP here.

mp3 download: Rain Over St. Ambrose – “DG Gold Paint”

reversing falls little goodbye doom beachReversing Falls

Here’s an edgy ear worm for you, straight from Montreal. Guitars power through to a trembling tempo and Tyler Crawford’s vocals go back and forth, solidifying the hooks. Part of a teaser EP with the darker song “Doom Beach,” it shows a promising future for the LP that is to come. The EP was produced by Mark Lawson (Arcade Fire, Timber Timbre, The Unicorns). Download the EP and previous material at their BandCamp.

mp3 download: Reversing Falls – “Little Goodbye”

sports bandSports

This Toronto band has been working their way up to this full-length release with a much steadier pace as of late. The album, which you can download for free (or name your price), is full of energy, whether it be dark or light. My favourite track as of now is “Light,” which has this great bass hook line and thick, ghostly vocal structures. It’s one of the darker songs, and it feels good. The band will officially release the album on June 7 at the Horseshoe Tavern.

mp3 download: Sports – “Light”

Download Lesionread’s album, PUSH

lesionread cover art push

Guys, my brother is in a band. It’s called Lesionread. They put out an album, Push, last month.

Push is a colourful mixture of everything Shawn (my brother) and Jonathan Reed have absorbed musically over the last few years. There’s a little bit of Radiohead/Thom Yorke influence in Shawn’s voice (it can’t be denied, no matter how much nobody wants to admit that sort of thing, but this is knowing how much he listened to them and how he started learning about music, and there’s nothing wrong with that) and then there’s groovy, electronic blending of dotted lines with the occasional riffing guitar or other bombastic instrument. Reed delves into spoken word and soothing soul. Things slow down, get experimental. Auto-tuned for a song, even. And that’s just the first half of the album. There’s acoustic guitar, strings, and more in the second half.

Push is a lot to take in, but it’s interesting to see this exploration of learning and exploration itself. It’s different, it’s hard to categorize, but it’s compelling. And I’m not just saying this because Lesionread is 1/2 Lewis.

If you’re looking for something off-kilter and fresh to your ears, download Push on the band’s Bandcamp page.

Download new songs by Sam Roberts and Liz Powell, Elliott Brood and Racoon Bandit

It’s a pretty blah week, Canada. I don’t have to reiterate all the reasons though, so instead I’ll just give you three glorious new songs to perk up your spirits.

sam roberts band

Off the soon-to-be-released Sam Roberts Band album Collider, here’s “Longitude,” a duet with Land of Talk’s Liz Powell. This is a much better track than the other two I’ve heard off Collider so far, which is both a good and bad sign. Liz’s voice is much lighter than her own work here, and there are nice, dreamy moments when her and Sam’s voices come together. The song also just seems to go back to older Sam Roberts Band sounds rather than whatever they’re trying to do with this new album (and what they did on the previous one). But anyways, what a great mash-up of Canadianness this song is.

mp3 download: “Longitude” — Sam Roberts Band ft. Liz Powell

elliott brood

Elliott Brood have announced that they will be releasing an album later this year, and I am pretty freaking excited. If it’s anything like this first single “Northern Air,” we’ve got nothing to worry about. It’s been since 2008 that we’ve had something new from these guys, it’s about damn time! “Northern Air” is a beautiful five minutes, lead by Casey Laforet rather than Mark Sasso, who sang on most of Mountain Meadows. Honestly, I like Casey’s voice better, so that might be why I respond to this song more strongly. He’s just got this rolling calmness to him, and paired with the banjo, harmonica and the one-twos of the piano and bass, it’s goodness.

mp3 download: “Northern Air” — Elliott Brood

racoon bandit

I’ve recently been introduced to Charlottetown band Racoon Bandit (seriously though, why the typo in the name, band?). I’m only a couple listens in to Into the Hills so far, but I really dig it. It’s got a lot of heart, and this is evident through “Silver Bullet,” a song at a run’s pace that might call upon your memory of Arcade Fire or Plants and Animals. “Silver Bullet” just has this escapist passion to it, like it’s trying to get out, they want to get out, you want to get out, anything, and it sweeps you into wherever it’s going.

mp3 download: “Silver Bullet” — Racoon Bandit (password is Bandit)

Download Youth and Teen Daze remixes of Bravestation’s “White Wolves”

bravestation white wolves

Bravestation‘s on a roll! They announced their “White Wolves” video and UK tour last week (check it) and now we have bumpin’ remixes of the track.

I particularly love the Youth one, which has expanded “White Wolves” into something really danceable. It cut up Devin Wilson’s vocals into ghostly grooves and added more beats, electro swirls and toy-piano like highlights. It’s already been on repeat for me today.

Download here.

And download the Teen Daze remix here, which is a slower and dreamier interpretation.

Three sides to the “White Wolves” tale, not bad, not bad at all.

Take a Look: Jeans Boots

jeans boots

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Saskatonians Slow Down, Molasses. Today I want to introduce to you one of the members and her solo work, Jeanette Stewart, aka Jeans Boots.

Jeanette put out her debut album txt msgs on March 11, and it’s easily become one of my favourites of the year so far. Recorded live in her friend’s home in February in less than 48 hours, these six songs showcase her cool, confident writing style with her blend of soft, dreamy moments and those times she kinda, probably just wants to go kick some ass.

Here’s a bit of a play-by-play of txt msgs:

“Woonsocket” starts us in quickly only to slow us down again, repeatedly, as she sings about a relationship’s messy ending. The guitars really enforce that, especially after she exhales “was it anything at all?”

The next track, “Dark Forces,” has become my favourite of the album. It’s got a great, catchy chorus where she delicately sings “dark forces are at war with my heart and I’m trying so hard.” But after a few repetitions, it doesn’t sound like she’s trying hard at all, it sounds like she’s losing steam or just not caring as much anymore, and there’s something really endearing in that. We all get that way, and here it is, right in front of us. But I also love the song for the rolling guitar and percussion pairing, the “sooo hard” backup vocals and the buzzing guitar solos. When I saw her live (she played after the Slow, Down Molasses set at the Horseshoe), this song was the one that reeled me in, and her hair was all over the place (which just completed the cool stage atmosphere with Tyson and Ryan of SD,M). It changed my perception of her from what I had thought was something sweet and simple into something twisted, bad ass and groovy.

But “Money,” “Postcard” and “Moonbase” are also very high contenders on the album. The first showcases her sweetness masking kicking up dirt and her volume up a notch ( “so I’m going to run run run run run, get away, I’m going to run run run run run, make you pay”). The second is more heartwarming and fast-paced (“take this postcard, mail it off to someone so far, cause your dreams have come true your dreams have come true”). The third hits a high when she sings as if to your face, shaking her head while rolling her eyes, “you t-t-t-tease, what are you running from?” (and thus, she almost becomes the tease), then the song closes as her and the band let loose a bit more. “Old Growth” then ends the album on some softer more inspirational notes as she yelps “if music saves immortal souls, we’re on fire!”



Jeans Boots has created music that is commanding and peaceful all at the same time through her voice and penchant for repetition. She carries this confidence that we all want to have, and isn’t afraid to show her vulnerabilities behind that, either. All six of these songs are beautiful, with interesting lyrics and fun fuzzy guitars. Between rocking out, cooing or getting groovy, there’s tons to immerse yourself in. Sometimes her vocals are a bit hard to hear or the guitars might reach maximum fuzziness, but that comes with the live off the floor territory. I’m glad it was recorded this way, it gives the music a nice texture, although now I’m curious to know what future studio recorded material will sound like.

Jeans Boots doesn’t have any shows coming up as far as I know (she did just come off a long cross-Canada tour…) but you can stream/buy (“Money” and “Moonbase” are free) txt msgs on her BandCamp and that’ll satisfy you for a while.

Download My Morning Jacket’s new single, “Circuital”

my morning jacket circuital

Well it’s been a nice morning already! My Morning Jacket have been sending live recorded tracks in e-letters for the last few weeks as a countdown to their new album Circuital, and today we finally get to hear the title song. Our first peek at the album. It’s seven minutes long and at a moderate tempo, with Jim James bringing back his signature high croon. Oh I’ve missed this voice. Even though now I can’t resist thinking about the American Dad episode when I hear the music (great). “Circuital” is more Americana and much lighter in sound than their most recent works. At times I feel it’s a bit safe, but it’s a pleasant song that I’ll be listening to once in a while nonetheless. I think I’ll always like the MMJ with a sharper edge (even with the peanut butter pudding surprise…), but they have a lot of layers that I like to explore. Circuital will be out May 31. The song will be a Record Store Day exclusive too. The band will make a triumphant return to Toronto’s Kool Haus on July 11 and you better believe I will be there rocking out with my dad (hi dad!).

Download the song, read Jim James’ awesome explanation, hear those live tracks & more on NPR.

What do you think?

Listen to J.J. Ipsen and the Paper Crowns’s new single, “Da Da Da”

jj ipsen and paper crowns

Today, Toronto is rainy. It is gross, grey and saddening as our sky has been the bluest of blue for the last week or so. Typical weather, but it’s always a bit of a let down.

But then you hear a song like “Da Da Da.” It’s simple folk-pop and it’s just what you need for a few minutes of brightness. It has whistling, a happy piano and the entire band chiming in on the chorus of ‘da da da.’

JJ Ipsen and the Paper Crowns of Guelph will release their debut album Entertainment Ordinaire on April 26 via Label Fantastic!.

mp3 download/stream: J.J. Ipsen and the Paper Crowns –  “Da Da Da”

Download: Teen Daze remixes Said the Whale’s “Holly, Ontario”

I never thought I’d hear gentle Vancouver rockers Said the Whale remixed, but fellow BC buzz man Teen Daze went and did it.

Released this morning, the remix of “Holly, Ontario” revolves on quite a tiny axis, so it’s miles different from its original ( slow, acoustic). I wonder why they went with this song of all songs.

Either way, it’s pretty. So give ‘er a download.

PS – Teen Daze just released a free EP of reworked parts of Geotic’s Mend.

EDIT: My pals Kirk and Bryan have pointed me towards the “Gentleman” remix/mashup of 2009, with clips of Holy Fuck, Shad, MGMT and more. I guess I’m a bit behind the times, folks.