Download Bravestation’s new song “Signs of the Civilized”

Bravestation signs of the civilized

Bravestation’s back! After stowing away for half a year, the Toronto band who I feel like describing today as mystical wave rock have put forth their first new offering, “Signs of the Civilized,” from their upcoming album.

“Signs of the Civilized” is airy and promising. It flutters and flaps its wings like a baby bird getting ready for its first take-off while under the tree it sits in, there are fish in a stream swimming down their yearly route as the ground seems to thaw. Bravestation’s rejuvenated, bringing the spring closer to us than global warming already has (and for that I’m thankful, to be honest).

Take a listen to the calm confidence. You can download the track in exchange for your email address.

RoundLetters’ Best of 2011: Top Albums

little dragon ritual union

Part Two in my Best of 2011 coverage: Top 10 albums!

Now, I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again: I did not really like 2011 for music. It was pretty bad. I waited and waited and waited multiple times this year for music to hit me in the face that I would love and it took forever. I don’t like what feels like all the indie artists who got really popular this year. I don’t like Top 40 either. It just happens. I can dance around to stuff but that doesn’t mean I’m going to sit and really give it my time and thoughts. Though I’m a total grump about this, the albums that did break through for me are pretty great. I can say that I’m in love with my top two or three, I think they’re amazing. It’s similar to what happened to me last year. (My top 3 were Foals, Junip and !!! – still three of my favourite bands, and still three albums that I listened to well into 2011.) My top 3 mean the most to me this year and they’re a mixture of a band someone got me into and I then became obsessed, a singer who I’ve been into since her first album came out a couple years ago and a new local band that shot to stardom as fast as you can say stardust.

So here goes:

10. Peter Elkas – Repeat Offender

I spent January dancing around to Repeat Offender, and I’ll always remember my mom dancing around to it too when I had it on one day while I was visiting home. Peter brought us simple yet hearty songs that were infectious in charm and easy to sing along to, and it was even more fun to see him play them at the Dakota Tavern.

9. Pat Jordache – Future Songs

Pat took me by surprise. At first I didn’t think I could get into his music, but it didn’t take me very long to fall right into it. He keeps you coming back, leading you by a hook on a string, to his carefully crafted quirkiness and dark, deep vocals. His bass playing drives every other little bit through and through all of that, the songs come out catchy.

8. Dog Day – Deformer

I cannot resist Seth Smith and Nancy Urich’s ways. Deformer saw the band’s first full-length release as just a duo of the married couple, and I found it to be their best work yet. Songs like “Part Girl” and “Scratches” are gems, and I still can’t help waiting for Seth’s high notes that work so perfectly. I was also really glad to be able to see them play again this year – if they ever come through your town, go.

7. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy

This year, St. Vincent fully caught my attention, and not just for those big brown eyes. (Note: if you see her live, many a bro will yell things like ‘Annie, you’re so beautiful!’ ‘Annie, I LOVE YOU!’ which just feels hilarious, but there is more to this siren.) Her lyrics are amazingly well thought-out, you won’t find work like that very far in indie music these days. Strange Mercy puts a hold on you, but it doesn’t shake you or anything like that, it sits you down and explains things and maybe ruffles your hair up a bit. “Cheerleader” is one of my favourite songs of the year.

6. David Lynch – Crazy Clown Time

2011 was the year I was introduced to Twin Peaks and I’ve loved every minute of it. So when I found out the creator/director David Lynch had an album coming out, I was intrigued and excited, knowing my neck hairs would raise and be tingled in weird delight. David definitely has songs on here that sound just like you’re in that wooded town, and every time it comes on it feels like an adventure. “Pinky’s Dream” and “Good Day Today” are two of the coolest songs I’ve heard in a while, and they make me dreamy and optimistic, respectively. Try playing this album while driving along the highway at night, I have, and you’ll be captivated. Each song on this album brings up crazy imagery to me, which is another reason that made me love it. I’ve pictured a cyclops dragging his arms along his sides in woe and so much more. Now that’s how you do music.

5. Hooded Fang – Tosta Mista

I declared it then, Tosta Mista was my album of the summer. It’s full of fast jams and lyrics that somewhat mask the opposite feeling of what it’s showing in a sunny light. It’s a lot of fun, and that’s exactly what I needed when it came out. It’s impossible to resist bopping around to.  It’s over very quickly and so you just play it over again. A fine piece of work that came from a local band.

4. High Places – Original Colors

Though I have to keep stopping myself from writing ‘colours’ and they’re not as good live as they are on record, I still loved this. It brings me to a new level of mindset whenever I listen, like I’m in some hazy art gallery club where the walls are slanted and the lights are red and moving around and people are all dressed in glittery costumes. But they’re talking about reality, not dreams. It’s slow and fast at the same time. “Year Off” is compelling.

3. Austra – Feel it Break

Austra blew up in 2011. It was the craziest rocket to fame I’ve seen for a band since the emo days in high school with Cute is What We Aim For (heh). I remember Dorian, the bass player, talking about how he was in a new band with a bunch of girls after Spiral Beach ended, and they had to come up with a name before a show. They were Private Life, then back to the leader’s name Katie Stelmanis and then Austra. I interviewed Katie in the spring and I was stunned by the response to them then, but look at where they are by now, it’s incredible. And well-deserved. Feel it Break is a magical piece of work, like Katie and the gang struck gold while digging and digging and digging for years. Yes, they had to switch gears in the music they were normally working in, but as long as they love what they’re doing now, I’ll love it too. “The Beat and the Pulse” knocked me over and still does every time it comes on. I’ve seen them live a couple times and it’s dazzling, even though the Phoenix last month felt packed beyond capacity and I was all the way at the back. I’m really curious to see what’s in their future, and for god sakes I hope they get some rest soon. Poor guys, getting to go to Europe about a million times this year.

2. tUnE-yArDs – w h o k i l l

Dear Merrill Garbus, you are my hero. I dressed up as you for Halloween and won a costume contest. I wish I could dress that way every day. I can’t stop smiling whenever I see you play (twice this year, hell yes) and neither can anyone else. Your shows are my happy place. Your energy is extremely positive, whether you’re feeling that or not, which makes me think you’re a strong, in control woman who knows how to get things across, even though every time you play, you seem utterly surprised at the response you get from the crowd (not just the things people try to get your looping pedal to pick up). It’s just warm and fuzzy and it’s so great to see an entire venue dancing and smiling. So great. Especially in Toronto. I loved BiRd BrAiNs but w h o k i l l knocked it out of the park for me. I knew this kind of music was coming – more streamlined and focused, but put together much better and with you taking on drums – so I was prepared. This album is brilliance to me. I tear up to the “Bizness” video and I get my girl power on with “Killa.” I played “My Country” over and over when I was upset at the ugly response of Americans to the death of Osama Bin Laden (yes, it’s a good thing this is over, yada yada, but those people were ridiculous in the way they celebrated, and it made me ashamed to come from there). This album will stick with me for a long time.

1. Little Dragon – Ritual Union

My coworker introduced me to Little Dragon in the summer and my year was changed from that point on. I was obsessed with Ritual Union. “Nightlight” and “Brush the Heat” are mesmerizing and exciting. I saw them play in the fall and fell in love with the entire band. Each member has this way they move and it’s amazing to watch. They have their own charm that works together even though they all seem so different. I wasn’t too familiar with their other two albums at that point, but seeing those songs played live – especially the ones they let loose on – was so cool. From that point on, I wanted to hug myself whenever I played them but it wasn’t until I could not stop playing older songs “Place to Belong” and then the trio of “Looking Glass” “My Step” and “Feather” that I was really, really hooked. Ask any of my close friends and they will tell you. Those songs mean so much to me and the year I’ve had, and they bring this strange aura over me whenever I play them, especially “Place to Belong” and “Feather.” Ritual Union is my album of the year, but really it’s all three of their albums together in my mind. Plus, Little Dragon makes it very easy to be a fan, they’re all over the web from Twitter to Facebook to Instagram to YouTube. I’ve watched a ton of great things from them on YouTube that are quirky and cute or captivating and interesting. Everything about this band is so fascinating to me, and their blend of electro soul is so fresh and exactly what I needed.

 

Albums of note from 2011:

Handsome Furs – Sound Kapital
Rubik – Solar
Casiokids – Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen
Little Scream – The Golden Record
The Albertans – New Age
Young Galaxy – Shapeshifting
Sam Roberts – Collider
Feist - Metals
Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo

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.

Album Review: WAZU – EP

wazu

Consider this a premature review for an EP that won’t be released until January 10th. But seeing as WAZU is so kind to put up the three tracks up online for streaming, the good words need to be spread earlier than later.

I saw WAZU two weeks ago in Brooklyn. It was the first show I’ve ever been to outside a city I’ve lived in, and the first I’ve seen in New York City. I was in town with The Ruby Spirit, and this Aussie couple played the set just before the Toronto art pop-rockers. The Ruby Spirit curated the show, and have been fans of WAZU for a while, but this was the first I’d heard of them. Their curious stage persona was instantly appealing to me as Matt (WA) punkily plugged away on his guitar and Riz (ZU) played her synth with one hand and the other hand on her hip, donned in all black — an Adidas t-shirt, pants and jacket to the floor. With them in front of a movie projection, it was striking to their dark, electro pop.

WAZU have this sneaky charm about them, they seem to find optimism in the seediest places. These songs kind of taunt you and please you in a way you might not expect at first. What we hear from them is edgy and mysterious, and especially because we only have three songs right now, it definitely leaves you wanting more. (Their album is set for a May release.)

From the haunted house full of anxiety and zombies in “Murder 1″ with numerous pressure points (perhaps my favourite being the tornado synths at 1:15) and alternated hushed and rise-from-the-underbelly vocals to the upbeat whirligig with a killer hooked chorus that’s  “Happy Endings” to “Walk All Night,” which is ghostly and lovely, WAZU shows a lot of promise and I know I’ll be paying attention throughout 2012 and you should too.

Stream the tantalizing earworm EP below:

Concert Review: Army Girls, Bent by Elephants and The Elwins

bent by elephants live garrison

Army Girls, Bent by Elephants and The Elwins at The Garrison in Toronto, August 4, 2011.

It’s rare that a line-up of local and up-and-coming bands fits so well together for me. As soon as I heard of this show, I was dead set on going. Each of these bands deserve any praise they get right now, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for them in the future. So here are my thoughts sorted from over the weekend about the event:

Army Girls took the 10pm slot instead of their scheduled midnight post, for a reason I’m unaware of. Carmen Elle and Andy Smith didn’t let the earlier eve faze them though, as they tore through their new material and let any stops between songs be filled with giggles, jokes and thanks. Carmen’s voice is incredibly strong and gorgeous, and put to her guitar playing is a sweet sucker punch to the gut and heart. Andy Smith’s drumming is relaxed and serves as backbone well; but he had a solo moment towards the end when he let loose a bit, and that was fun to see. I see great things for this new duo in the future, hopefully when they release Close to the Bone next month.

Check out “The Power.” (One of my favourite songs this summer.)

Bent by Elephants has been here a few times this summer already, so if you missed them again, I shake my head in your direction. These Montrealers bring jazz to indie rock in a big, big way and they get better every time I see them. Led by Chesley Walsh’s lovely croon and wide range, there’s a plethora of findings through the horns, guitars, upright bass and drums. It’s unfortunate that Charlotte Cornfield left the group to focus on her solo efforts (which is also pretty good, and she’s taking off pretty quickly), but new drummer Eric Dew brings a new sense of urgency and gusto to the group, especially when the focus is between him and bassist Paul van Dyk. The group played a handful of new songs that left my concert companion and me with goosebumps and jaws hanging. The band will be embarking on a long US/Canada-wide tour soon, and I’m quite excited for everyone else to hear them.

Check out “Saskatchewan Pool.”

The Elwins have been playing around Toronto so much all summer, it’s like there’s another show every week (and even this week there’s been at least three). So while that gives plenty of opportunities for us to see them, that means a lot of times I’d be able to say “I will see them soon.” But I finally saw them, and I can say that it was really fun. They’re all charmers, interacting with the audience via giving us buttons, starting a dance competition and more. They’re youthful, but they have the adult groove to make everyone move. All of these qualities prove for not only an entertaining live show but nods towards their work, excitement for what they’ll do next and oh, the thought that they’d make a terrific wedding band.

Check out “Larry Pastorus.”

Album Review: Dog Day – Deformer

Dog Day deformer

The record’s skipping in my head, ohh

Dog Day is back. Halifax howlers Seth Smith and Nancy Urich have finally released their anticipated album that first fully sees them as a duo after last year’s split from Chrystal Thili and Robbie Sheddon. Deformer is that look we’ve all been waiting for closer into the duo’s dynamic. It’s refined but messy, sour but oh so sweet and droney but full of melody.

Dog Day’s sound hasn’t changed much, it’s just become a bit simpler, what with only four hands. You can barely tell though, as this married couple makes a lot of noise and sometimes adds some effects.

They both still have their trademark singing drones, which is interesting for the fact of how well they pull it off. I’m willing to bet if I heard many other acts sing like this, I wouldn’t be so pleased to the ears. But I can’t get enough of their vocals that flow so well together as Seth goes low and Nancy gets high, like in the point-blank “Nothing to Do.” (But when Seth works the notes up high on a ladder, it’s one of the finest points, like in the stellar ‘Part Girl” and “Scratches.”) Seth still rips at his noisy guitar, but now Nancy’s plodding away on the drums and even singing more lead parts (“Blueish Grey” is like that summer thunderstorm you’ve been waiting out). They’re shoegaze but starting to let more obvious fun slip into the cracks, whether it’s recording their dog Woofy while he yips during dreams or through the lyrics that are smart, tender, happy, honest, conscious of anything and everything.

When you showed up on the scene, I fell into a daydream. You’re not so bad

Deformer is a really enjoyable listen for multiple moods and headspaces. Seth and Nancy live in a forest, raise chickens and are actually two of the sweetest rockers you’ll meet. They’ve created something that both encapsulates their environment but is also accessible to those not living in the bubble.

I’ve been waiting for this album since 2009’s Concentration kicked things up a notch, but especially since I saw the duo play at Sneaky’s last summer, when it was clear they were pleased as their plump chickens to be in a space they wanted. Deformer is the confidence to their former shakiness, and Dog Day are all the better for it.

Someone took the life out of my heart, I won’t let it put me down, I used to have a negative approach, I’m turning it upside down, think positive, positive, positive, yeah yeah yeah

mp3 download: Dog Day – Part Girl

Stream Deformer on the band’s Bandcamp page.

Album Review: Hooded Fang – Tosta Mista

hooded fang tosta mista

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Tosta Mista is the album of my summer 2011. And not only is it summery in a breezy, surf rock, fun, light-hearted party kind of way, or even the I feel like I’m on vacation with the Brady Bunch way, but it also dons the air of the ’50s, a time of nostalgia, polka dotted dresses, bowties, pumps and lots and lots of dancing. Sounds good, right? Right.

So Tosta Mista is clearly a grand old time, we will boogie oogie oogie like the best of ‘em when it marathons itself through every rotation. But one of the most notable qualities of the album is the change in this Toronto band’s sound. (Perhaps this has something to do with the main songwriters also having a surf rock sideproject, Tonka Puma.) Since last year’s cleverly titled Album, they’ve sped up, grown up and got down to business. Album was long-listed for this year’s Polaris Prize, but frankly, as much as I loved that album too, I wish it was this one that got the nomination. Listening to Tosta Mista blows Album right out of my mind. It’s sharper, wittier, faster, more refined and more aware of itself. The lyrics are snarky and memorable, filling songs with stories of love and hate and phrases like “legs like stems” and “gypsy gnome.” They’re thoughtful and point blank, something you can appreciate out of a song and write down as a note for later.

Tosta Mista is only 22 minutes long. And that includes three tracks of the same running trance interlude 30 seconds-long or less. So the album as a whole starts to feel like it’s racing itself to the clock towards the end until it’s broken up by one of the interludes or even the swoon and croon melody of  “Den of Love.” The start of the album is the strongest, with “Clap,” “ESP,” “Brahma” and “Tosta Mista” all proving themselves as groovy gems. “ESP” is the best out of those, with “Tosta Mista” a close second.

Overall, Tosta Mista is a great album, showing significant growth and achievement for this band who just a year ago were still trying to rev themselves up in the local scene. I think we can say now they’re abandoning the “cute” moniker they were given with Album (I am guilty of saying such as well, but I was honest and still back that) and I assume that was a big goal of theirs. I also can honestly say I hope this boosts their live performance, as it hasn’t been their strongest suit when I’ve seen them in the past, but I think a cleaner sound could mean a cleaner set, easier to play through. I’m intrigued to see them again. I just hope that when I do see them play Tosta Mista they’re donned in ’50s garb.

Hooded Fang play as part of SummerWorks festival with Steven McKay on August 5. Let’s all dress up and get ready to tap that jukebox.

Tosta Mista came out this week, but you can hear the party for yourself, the band is streaming the album on their Bandcamp page.