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:

RoundLetters Recommendations: David Lynch, High Places and AA Wallace

It’s been a while! Once again, I’m here for you, apologizing. But I was pretty busy making the second issue of Static Zine and all. What’s everyone been listening to this fall so far? Are you starting to work on your Top 2011 lists yet? I am.

But WAIT. Those lists better not be finalized just yet. I’ve got some recommendations that I hope will put the wind back in your hair and the bounce back in your step. The sun may be taking its sweet ol time to wake us up these days, but these recommendations have sure made an impact on me so far.

David Lynch – Crazy Clown Time

david lynch

While I’ve been slowly wading my way through Twin Peaks (and LOVING it), its creator and main director David Lynch has been working up his first solo album. I was hooked as soon as I heard “Pinky’s Dream,” which features Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on vocals. It’s absolutely mesmerizing, and the album continues to loop you into this twisted world that’s sometimes underwater, sometimes actually what you’d picture to be an vast, empty white space where Lynch is just sitting there getting all mind-bendy. It helps that it definitely feels like youre in the sad, sleepy Washington town of Twin Peaks at times, but overall this is a very intriguing, artistic and exciting release for this year.

Stream “Crazy Clown Time” on NPR.

Stream Lynch’s mixtape for The Stool Pigeon with James Blake, The Kills & more.

High Places – Original Colors

high places original colors

No other album will make you feel like you’re in a drugged-up, tripped-out art gallery; hazy bedroom as light trickles in; Bollywood; a dance club; soundtrack and generally curious landscapes. That sounds like a smorgasbord of locations, but tie it all up together in wire and you’ve got one of the coolest records to come out this year. I’ve spent weeks using this as my soundtrack for the walk to work (or anywhere for that matter) in order to get there faster. The California-by-way-of-NYC art pop duo are dreamy for the best of times and turn lyrics about dirty water into something captivating. This album is a lot more dancy (even though there are also some nicely done slower tracks), addictive and just better off for them. I’m excited to see them at the Garrison on November 14.

Download “Altos Lugares” on NPR.

AA Wallace – “Bowie”

aa wallace

Here’s my latest favourite dance track. Straight outta Halifax, the dance party reaches this-a-way all in the name of one pretty cool dude. AA Wallace seems to have made quite a name for himself over on the east coast in bands, making remixes and his own material, but it seems this could be the track that breaks him out even farther, as he makes all the noise he can make. I think from now on, every time “Moves Like Jagger,” that cursed earworm, comes anywhere near me, I’ll try to get this on in time to fight it off.

Download “Bowie”:

And there are remixes too!

RoundLetters’ Guide to Fall 2011 Releases

metals

A couple months ago, I wrote about the music I’ve loved through 2011 so far. Now it’s time for what I’m looking forward to for the rest of the year, and it’s surprisingly a much longer list than I thought it would be. And with the artists that have found themselves on this list, I can rest knowing that 2011 should hopefully end up with some great albums to boast.

Soley – We Sink – Sept 2

This beautiful Icelandic singer releases her first full-length, We Sink, after last year’s lovely daydream EP, Theatre Island. (It was a RoundLetters favourite of 2010.) You may know her as a member of Seabear, the cute beyond words pop band, but she’s really starting to come into her own solo, all soft and imaginative. Hear “I’ll Drown.”

CANT – Dreams Come True – Sept 13

Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor goes solo via his own Terrible Records and Warp. Take a listen to “Answer,” which is a gloomy, underwater groove kingdom.

St. Vincent – Strange Mercy – Sept 13

Annie Clark will release her long awaited for third album, and if the rest of it is like the new single “Cruel,” it’s bound to be a beautiful expedition into tenderness, texture and many layers. Watch the video for “Cruel,” in which the gorgeous songstress gets kidnapped and buried alive.

Wild Flag – Wild Flag – Sept 13

This lady super group of members from Sleater-Kinney, Helium and Minders release their exciting debut on Merge, and it’s bound to put a spark under grrrl power for the rest of 2011. Check out the track “Romance,” with a quirky keys riff and head boppin’ beat. In fact, why don’t you just go stream the entire album right now?

Jens Lekman – An Argument with Myself – Sept 20

Like a true artist, Lekman may be arguing with himself, but he’s emerged four years after his last full release with an even sunnier and snarkier exterior. It’s time to hit the beach in every last moment you can; cha cha to the same titled song.

Elliott Brood – Days into Years – Sept 27

Finally, this ever-Canadian trio is back with a new album, one that, from the two songs I’ve heard, sounds more light-hearted but aged. Casey Laforet seems to have taken more control of the singing, which is a different kind of texture than what Mark Sasso boasts. Check out the latest of the two country-folk tracks, “If I Get Old.”

Ohbijou – Metal Meets – Sept 27

These Toronto darlings are back too, since 2009’s Beacons. Metal Meets is their third album, and no doubt it will have the essence to bring us locals smoothly into the fall via their soft tones and Casey Mecija’s lovely vocals. You can hear the new single, “Niagara,” on their website.

Feist – Metals –  Oct 4

Metals marks Feist’s foray back into the music world since the music world got to know her by “1 2 3 4.” That’s a pretty high standard to live up to, but the name and talent hasn’t been shattered once, so she’ll bring this next album up strongly. You can hear teasers for the album on her website, listentofeist.com.

Loney, Dear – Hall Music – Oct 4

This sweet Swede Emil Svanängen will release Hall Music, the first since 2009’s Dear John. His beautiful, quiet orchestral tunes can be heard if you download the single “My Heart.”

Casiokids – Aabenbaringen over aaskammen – Oct 11

These Norway popsters on Polyvinyl have a new party to bring to us this fall, but let’s get excited now. This release, translated to “The Revelation Over the Mountain,” is bound to be heaps of fun. On stage, they’re known for puppets, light shows and general crazy fun, and on record it’s a light bounce to get you through the day. This album features pals of theirs Of Montreal, too. You can listen to the first sleepy hopper single, “Det haster!”

Marketa Irglova – Anar – Oct 11

This half of The Swell Season is going solo, and it’s interesting for the facts that she’s the quiet, timid one of the Once-couple and seemed to like the shadows. Her talent is undeniable though, and that was best seen in concert. She’s gotten more and more into writing her own material, and now we have Anar to look to as a new view of the shy musician. Hear her break out of the shell on the soulful “Go Back.”

High Places – Original Colors – Oct 11

Rob Barber and Mary Pearson took their band from Brooklyn to LA, giving it a sunnier, shinier texture. Original Colors is their third full-length, after last year’s sleeper hit High Places vs. Mankind. The first artsy electro offering from the album is “Year Off.”

Kathryn Calder – Bright and Vivid – Oct 25

This precious BC-based songstress of The New Pornographers and now defunct Immaculate Machine is back with her sophomore solo album, and it’s much more of a foray into electronics than her previous work. It’s layered, adventurous and light, as evidenced by the first single, “Who Are You?”

Update:

Also looking forward to Dan Mangan’s Oh Fortune, as well as local releases from Army Girls, Heartbeat Hotel and the Darcys. TBC.

Wednesday pick-me-up featuring Beth Ditto, Hercules and Love Affair and Handsome Furs

If you know me, you know I like to dance. I’m not a good dancer by any means, but I just can’t resist movement when a danceable song is playing around me. So, if you’re like me, and you need a little Wednesday pick me up, the medicine this week lies in the clubs. Not that I would go to any clubs really, but there’s definitely one going on wherever I am when I play these songs.

Beth Ditto – “I Wrote the Book”

Beth Ditto can do no wrong. This powerful lady is all kinds of sexy as she traipses through this video. I still play her EP often, and that’s enough danceable music to last me a while. But, all I want are remixes to these songs! Do they exist?

Hercules and Love Affair – “My House”

This song makes me want to dance AND clean. Seriously, from now on, whenever I clean, this song has to go on. “Oh myyy house is in ooordeeer!” brrrackacha!

Handsome Furs – “What About Us”

Dan Boekner’s rhythmic voice and Alexei Perry’s synths work so well together on this battle cry of a dance track. I can’t resist going a little wild to “go on go on go on go on and break my heart!”

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.