Shirts vs. Skins was created following a break-up after a tour with Wright’s band, Tokyo Police Club. Years later, we’re hearing how the light-hearted atmosphere found here emerged from that. Wright, usually a keyboardist, isn’t a natural singer, but establishes himself as a confident one, as well as a multi-instrumentalist and witty lyricist. As the first in a planned trilogy of albums written during that time, this solo foray uses characters dripping with snark and irony to tell accessible stories accompanied by fun, friendly music. It’s identifiable and honest, feeling like you’ve heard it before, meaning you’re instantly caught by Wright’s indie pop guitar-/handclapped-/harmonica-laden hooks. Recorded at Toronto’s Chemical Sound studio, using the talents of owners Dean Marino and Jay Sadlowski, as well as Will Currie, Luke Lalonde and Mika Posen, among others, Wright’s album shows how he learned to stand on his own, and at the ready. (File Under: Music)
Coming to this Atlanta, GA-based band with new ears ― turns out they’re neither British nor an orchestra ― makes for a powerful introduction. A concept album of conversations between frontman Andy Hull to his wife, or God, there are many dark themes, lyrically, mainly about dealing with failure and Hull feeling sorry for himself. There’s a great deal of frustration and guilt packed in, but it’s laced with strong electric guitar pushes and percussion. It has the intention for fingers to bleed and ears to perk. Simple Math is aggressive (“Mighty”), tender (“Deer”) and sometimes both (“April Fool”). This means it changes pace constantly throughout, but as a concept album listened to in full for its effect, it works. Dan Hannon’s production is clean and grandiose; it’s an exciting release for new listeners and a look deeper into the band’s mentality for old fans. (Columbia)
Montreal one-man band Armen Bazarian lets us in on the delicate details on this five-song EP. Full of looping, cut-and-paste outbursts and more, each of the 22 minutes is a discovery. “Fire” begins the experience, with sweet, soulful hooks and a confident chorus. “Drive with Me” is easily the EP’s strangest piece of work ― Bazarian basically makes monkey noises for the rhythm and overtop sings about being high on speed. But try getting it out of your head after. “The Static White” and “Anna’s Song” are softer, yet just as contagious expeditions. At this point, you’ve made your mind up about Bazarian. And then the last song kicks in: a cover of “Over the Rainbow.” Your original reaction might be, “oh, come on,” but honestly, it’s fun and trippy, giving new essence to that memory, leaving you wanting more. (Independent)
Much about Euphoric Heartbreak is straightforward ― you’re in for a lot of sombre songs, sweeping, melodic vocals and equally stretched out guitars and keyboards. It’s the kind of atmospheric rock that you have to be in a similar, epically bummed out place for, or watching some sad indie flick. Just got a new job, partner or are generally in a good mood? Nah, this isn’t the best time for Euphoric Heartbreak. Guess when is? Sure, “Shine Like Stars” celebrates a happier time and “Stronger than Dirt” is an ego boost, but most of the album focuses on the black and blue or struggles with sexuality. That’s fine ― we all feel these emotions and want to hear them reflected in music ― but this grand, dreamy soundscape simply isn’t a record that could easily be on repeat most days. (Columbia UK)
Freedom or Death’s story is about making the music they want to make after learning about industry motives while the Toronto, ON duo worked at a major label. Steve Fernandez and Sway Clarke found their joined voice and are confident about it. What we hear is something dreamy, wistful and melancholy. On their second EP, they continue exploring soft electronics and soulful textures. “Inside” is watery, bursting with instrumentation and “This Crowded Room” quickly goes into ballad territory. “Elefant” takes it up again, based upon explosive drums and electronic beats, and is one of the album’s highlights. “Gesprach (Talk),” “Human” and “Virginia Woolf” orbit guitars and high vocal notes. The vocals throughout are in long, sweeping notes and sound quite sad. They’ve got atmosphere down, but that means you have to be in a similar mood while listening. A good effort, but they haven’t quite reached their ultimate goal of redemption just yet. (Independent)
The key behind the Albertans is the pairing of pleasant, sunny tunes to bold, dark lyrics. Though their stories are a bit vague, it’s clear that there are usually some passive-aggressive frustrations, such as in “Megan”: “why won’t you text me back, what does this mean for now?” and “People Don’t Go”: “I’m fine, yeah, hollow and dry.” It gets into that mindset of all smiles on the outside but gloomy thoughts behind the eyes, and let’s face it, that can be easily identifiable. Besides that though, this Vancouver, BC, by way of Brooklyn, NY and back to Vancouver again five-piece are simply quirky and you want to get to know them further. “The Wake” is a gorgeously airy track mentioning suicide, “May” and “Mellow” both aim to slow things down, and “Jackpot” and “Furniture” are bouncy and imaginative, about family. New Age is a brightly tinted view of the buzzing band. (Ernest Jennings)
From goth and witch house to New Wave and electronic pop, Austra‘s lead singer Katie Stelmanis isn’t sure what genre her Toronto-based band falls into.
“Honestly, I don’t even know what to call it,” Stelmanis tells Spinner. “It’s pop music. It’s electronic music. You can say whatever you want. It’s not like I hate it if people call it witch house, it’s just I feel witch house is a small genre that isn’t going to take over the world or anything — it’s not like grunge. I think it’s just a convenient place where my music fits in right now.
“It’s funny because I have been making music with the same aesthetic for a long time — the music that I was making three years ago, people still claimed it to be goth.”
Stelmanis was a trained choir and opera singer before she released her solo album ‘Join Us’ and subsequently formed Austra — who will release their debut album, ‘Feel It Break,’ this week via Paper Bag Records/Domino — so some of those vocal styles and moods have found their way into her work.