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.

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RoundLetters’ picks for Best of 2011 so far

I’m going to be honest. 2011 has not been that great for music in my books thus far. I am still listening to a lot of 2010 favourites in my free time. I am constantly meh on most of these 2011 buzz bands my music writing colleagues, friends and the general public seem enamored with (which doesn’t play in my freelance music journalist favour). I’m simply waiting for music to knock me off my feet, bring tears to my eyes and make me exclaim about it to everyone I know. So far, there’s been a handful of that, and you know what, that’s good enough for such high standards, isn’t it?

Here are the albums that I’ve loved and really liked so far (not in too much of a particular order):

tune yards new album
tUnE-yArDs – Who Kill

I adore this woman. She is my hero in numerous ways, and this sophomore album was absolutely Killa.

austra
Austra – Feel it Break

Everything just fits together so beautifully in ways you can’t completely figure out, it’s captivating.

Pat Jordache – Future Songs

I’m much more in tune to Jordache’s catchy musical quirks than his vocals, but I dig that too, especially when I thought I’d get annoyed with it and I haven’t. It’s an interesting full package.

Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo

So much emotion and yet not enough; can fit to numerous settings such as laying in the sun or even grieving.

Jeans Boots – txt msgs

Attitude and sensitivity in just the way I like it.

Miracle Fortress – Was I the Wave?

Adventurous, dreamy, every time I listen I feel like I’m listening to it for the first time.

The Albertans – New Age

They caught my attention earlier on this year as Canada’s answer to that Brooklyn indie sound; quirky, curious and soft.

Hooded Fang – Tosta Mista

This album isn’t out yet, but I have heard it and I’m convinced it’s my album of the summer. So much fun.

What I’ve liked:

Braids, Peter Elkas, Snowblink, Little Scream, Sin Fang, Slow Down, Molasses, Jenn Grant, Graham Wright

What I’m looking forward to getting into now (ones I just haven’t given enough time yet):

Handsome Furs, PJ Harvey, Young Galaxy, Rubik

Later this year:

Dog Day, St. Vincent, Elliott Brood, Little Dragon, Evening Hymns, Wild Flag

Here are the EPs I’ve loved:

beth ditto EP
Beth Ditto – Beth Ditto

This is a self-loving session wrapped into four songs, you’ll be left tired from dancing and feeling good about yourself. Glad to see Beth’s solo foray.

Nightbox

Nightbox – Nightbox

Punchy local indie rock shooting for the stars; have a song “Bears” I still can’t quit.

We Are the City – High School

Passionate indie pop from BC from guys who went through a lot and came out of it so much stronger.

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!

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.

Take a Look: Slow Down, Molasses

slow down molasses

Photo by: Chris Graham // chrisgrahamphoto.com

I’ve yet to go to the Canadian prairies. I hear they’re vast, with wide skies, long roads and friendly people. I have some great friends from those parts, who feed me lovely stories. While most say land like that can be boring, I’ve always wondered about going there. Last week I met some other Saskatonians, those touring for Slow Down, Molasses. They have a band name that most could pair with the thought of prairies, but their music is a guide to the interesting routes only they know.

This collective released their second album, Walk into the Sea, on March 15. It has nine lush songs, each full of instruments that flutter in and out or swell up like a gorgeous sunrise. Sometimes with everything together it can sound a bit messy, but there’s beauty in that. The highlighting of horns and strings whether together or separate always shines light on songs heralded by fuzzy guitars.

“Bodies,” the longest song clocking in at almost seven minutes, boasts soft siren-like female back-up vocals and soothing guitars and then half-way through, switches to lullaby-like strings that build up into something more worthy of a story book’s climax. “Late Night Radio” is the group’s indie rock hit, but I find the stream of “Feathers,” “Wake Me Up at the Coast” and “Light” together are the album’s true winners. “Feathers” is a bit more country with nice vocal pairing of one of the group’s singers, Tyson McShane, with Julie Doiron. “Wake Me Up at the Coast” gains great momentum, like you’re running happily in a movie montage, plus you can really feel the fun that went into making this, especially when the guitar changes half-way and kicks things up a notch. “Light” is a gorgeous, female vocal-led (who I believe to be miss Jeans Boots) trek. It makes me think of weaving through a forest at night with a flickering lantern, and it all comes to a point when she sings “the hardest part of being a light is knowing you’ll go dim. So hurry to make a mark for all the places you’ve been.” It’s also worthy to note some of the cool production work that they’ve employed on vocals, especially in this song.



Honestly though, there is so much to absorb with this album. It’s taken me many listens to feel like I even skimmed the surface of what I was hearing. There are a lot of members in the group; though six tour, there are easily a handful more on the album and who play the hometown shows. Even¬†Olenka and the Autumn Lovers have contributions here, and James Bunton of Ohbijou mixed it. Each member’s part builds off someone else’s, and it just keeps revolving. It’s nice to listen to on a sunny walk, but you’ll gain more out of the experience if you can sit down with it.

Seeing them live is something else, where you get the full blast of instrumentation and frienliness. See it for yourself tonight at the Garrison, where they’ll play with Kite Hill and Forest City Lovers. $10, doors at 9.