In response to The Grid’s “Is Toronto the greatest music city in the world?” article

the grid music city

This week's cover of The Grid. Courtesy of their website.

Here’s an unusual post for me and this blog. A rant! After griping about The Grid’s cover story on Twitter this morning and receiving a slightly overwhelming response, I’ve decided to air out my feelings here.

This week, The Grid got a cover story about music published. Awesome. But when it’s posing the question “Is Toronto the greatest music city in the world?” I somehow have a problem with it (and not because all of their covers look like web ads I would never click). I don’t want to have a problem with it, but I do. Here’s why.

Just because there are a lot of bands from Toronto on some popular Best of 2011 lists, that makes us worthy of ruling the world? I want to give a hearty congratulations to Feist, Fucked Up, Austra and even Drake for putting out successful albums last year. Good job. You guys did great! Critics loved you! But I don’t think you’re ready to rule the world quite yet. But hold up, since when did any city ever rule the world for their music? I have never heard of such a thing. I had never thought ‘Oh yeah New York City just dominates those little towns with their music scenes.’ Why do we feel like we have to rule the world? What competition is this? Don’t people realize that every city has lots of different kinds of music and LOTS of people who make it? Be happy with what your city is producing, and be proud people are getting a lot of recognition, but do we have to go farther than that? This is so sensational and something we’d say when we were teens.

Sure that article is the kind of post most writers secretly want to write. But I wouldn’t say they’d want to write it like the way it was written. Part of a music journalist’s job is to get the word out on who they think deserves it, and sure they want everyone to like what they like and see the good that comes from where they are. But it does not have to be done in such a shallow, vain and redundant article. And I bet anyone outside of Toronto barely cares and is even probably quite annoyed.

As someone who absolutely adores this city, works to promote it and its fantastic music scenes and has been thinking about ways to take closer looks at music scenes in cities, I want to like something like this. But I just can’t. I just feel face-palms. I like that we can show how we have many talented people working here and I like that others take notice, but let’s save this for our next tourism books and websites. In fact, I highly suggest that tourism channels for Toronto use the music scenes to get more people here.

Here’s an excerpt from the story:

You don’t have to love all of the bands that have emanated from Toronto in the past decade to recognize that this has been a period of exceptional musical quality, not to mention bracing originality.

So has this gust of creativity made Toronto the greatest musical city in the world, more dynamic and vital than even London or New York? The question is deliberately grandiose, and, of course, impossible to answer.

Response to that: First paragraph – okay, cool, yay. This is true. Second paragraph – did you actually just write why this question is useless?

The New York Times blog even picked up. Written by a Torontonian. And yes I know this, because he wrote disclaimers in the post four times.

I guess because Megavideo’s down, Jay-Z’s back to saying the word bitch and we might finally be over Lana Del Ray, we don’t have much else to talk about.

Basically what I’m trying to say is: way to go Toronto, your stars shine pretty brightly these days. But whatever, we’re a city. Just like all the other cities. Now let’s go back to looking for more talented people, telling people about them, but with some context and modesty. There’s no need to rub an opinion like this in everyone else’s faces.

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: 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.

Contest: Win two tickets to HotKid, the Cheap Speakers, Dilly Dally & Alex Pulec DJ set

One lucky person and one lucky friend of theirs will win guest list spots to next Friday’s (July 15) killer Two Way Monologues show at Sneaky Dee’s. The wicked lineup is Dilly Dally, the Cheap Speakers, HotKid and a DJ set by the Ruby Spirit’s Alex Pulec.

TO ENTER:
Email roundletters @ gmail . com with “I want to get sweaty at Sneaky’s”
I will compile all the entries and pick a winner from a random draw. I will only contact the winner.

ENTER BY:
12:01AM Thursday July 12

Dilly Dally is a Newmarket-based pile of spunk. Their sound feels like those summer memories years ago that are just a daze but you’re reaching out in front of you trying to get them back just for a taste. It’s woozy but in the kind of way that one eyebrow is raised, always at the ready.

The Cheap Speakers is a Toronto rock band that I forsee will turn the volume and the crowd up on Friday night. They’re polite rabble rousers and it makes for a refreshing attitude. They’ve recently come off of an Eastern Canadian tour and are apparently armed with new material.

HotKid was on tour with Sloan just last week. The guy/gal duo have updated their website with blog posts about it a bazillion times since, so I’ll say there’s not much doubt that their excitement will be gone by next Friday yet, and I’m looking forward to hearing them blow the roof off the venue with their gritty garage rock.

Alex Pulec has been getting into DJ’ing surf rock and rockabilly around town lately and he’s ready to take over the last spot of the night, letting everyone continue to sweat it out to dance moves across the jumpy Sneaky’s floor. He’s been beefing up his vinyl collection, so get ready to Rock Around the Clock (or at least until last call).

Good luck!

Stories: The Ruby Spirit – Born Under a Veil

The Ruby Spirit
Here’s the third installment in my short story album review series, in which I incorporate an album I see as visual and memorable into some imaginative story of my own. This is usually what I see when I listen to this album. There’s no telling if I’m on the dot, but try it out for yourself. I’ve also embedded the songs throughout (and italics are lyrics).

I’ve chosen The Ruby Spirit’s Born Under a Veil for its theatrical personality, gusto and storytelling. The Toronto band released the album in September. I also reviewed the album for Exclaim.

The band plays the Great Hall tonight with The Wilderness, Bella Clava, The Lovely Killbots and more! $10. Band of Heroes comic book launch. For more information, see the Facebook event.

This story is focused on a character named Jody and her quest to break out of her boring lifestyle into something more thrilling by starting an underground theatre with her friends and putting on her first production.

She burned through the hallways, she burned through the liars

Continue reading

Watch Nightbox’s new video for “Pyramid”

Nightbox

The lads of Nightbox premiered their official music video for “Pyramid” via this week’s episode of The Wedge on Much Music. Now we have it via YouTube. Just in time for the weekend, as this is that cute dancey party track you’ve been waiting for. Watch the five-piece revel in colour and imagination at an old, abandoned house and in a field (it looks cooler than how I’ve described, honestly).

Pyramid can be heard on the band’s debut EP and as a single, downloaded for free.

The band will open for the Radio Dept at the Horseshoe on Sunday.

Check out music from The Wilderness, Brazilian Money and Rattail

Today, we’re getting a sparkling dose of new wave, low-fi bedroom experimentation and off-kilter indie pop.

the wildernessThe Wilderness

I’ve been aware of this Toronto band for a while, but it wasn’t until recently that I decided to put some verb into the sedentary thought bubble. I’m particularly keen on their single, “Realpolitik,” off their November-released album .272. It is hollow, electric and explosive. “Dancing’s all I can do lately, I’m so tired of everything,” is an easily identifiable line, and yet so blissfully ironic. The Wilderness are part glam, part new wave and part gritty electro rock. There’s definitely a little bit of something in there for numerous different kinds of listeners. Sometimes the instrumentation gets much more action than the vocals, which leaves the vocalist in this state of floating with some upwards static movement. .272 is like those neon lights you see at night through the car window as you blaze down the street, adding detail to a world that can otherwise be drab. You can stream the album on the band’s BandCamp page. Here’s a plus: see them at the Great Hall this Saturday with The Ruby Spirit, Bella Clava and more for the Band of Heroes comic book launch.

brazilian moneyBrazilian Money

While I may only have a certain amount of appreciation for bedroom low-fi pop, that means whatever does break through the barriers is impressive to me. Enter Alberta’s Garrett Johnson, aka Brazilian Money. Johnson actually recorded the album This is Not a Dream while feeling isolated from fun in Kelowna, BC. The product is a bit goofy, what with song titles like “Give Up That Dog” and “Bianca, Make Out With Yr Boyfriend!” Johnson is total funk and soul, from his high-pitched belts to the sassy looped guitar. It’s all covered in glitter and marked with post-its of reminders to go to the beach or pick up some party favours. There’s plenty to take in on this album, from warped noises to wide eyes. It’s quirk that I plan to keep around for the summertime. Stream the album on the BandCamp page.

rattailRattail

Though the name doesn’t really conjure up the best image, Rattail is a promising new sound to my ears. This Toronto band has recently released four songs re-worked, which you can stream on their BandCamp page. Opener “I Swim” is a fluid, tribal electro daze, “George Tronic” is a slow, subtly distorted ballad with some really neat lyrics (“I share my eyes with you in hopes that my hands can be free, cross my bones and hope to die for you”), “ByeBye” takes things a bit more experimental with samples of funny vocal techniques and strings and “The Heat” has some nice melodies. Rattail has this weird underwater pioneer texture to them that I dig, it’s odd and adventurous but it feels smooth and comforting at the same time.