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.


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 – 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

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.

Album Review & Interview: We Are the City – High School

The following was originally published on

we are the city high school

We Are the City
High School
By Jessica Lewis

High School was intended to be something on the side, simultaneously eschewing the bad feelings of a line-up change, welcoming in someone new and bringing up times of youth thought sour. Cayne McKenzie and Andrew Huculiak had to fend for We Are the City’s future when guitarist David Menzel left, and the pair turned to this project as a distraction. Assuming fake identities and wiping away the clues, it was something new for a while. Somewhere along the timeline, High School turned out to be the next chapter of the BC-based band, and once Blake Enemark was introduced, things became clearer, including the trio’s sound. Now on their second release, following 2009’s In a Quiet World, they’re playing more with speed and let pauses do much of talking. It’s experimental, in their pop rock world, and it works for them. Enemark brings a crunchy guitar sound, Huculiack shines on percussion in “That’s It, That’s All,” taking over vocals for the tropical “Dark/Warm Air,” while McKenzie’s fuzzy Rhodes and clear vocals carry bravery, self-consciousness and weight. Everything is laid out in the open, with storylines intertwined from each other’s memories, having the alternative reality bleeding in to what’s here, now, and we get to watch it all grow up.

Why was High School originally a side-project?
McKenzie: David, who is still our best friend and was our guitar player, is engaged now, so at the time last summer, he was spending a lot of time with his girlfriend and his family. Andrew and I were pretty alone and David had started to not love touring as much or playing lots of basement shows ― not desirable shows. He wasn’t into it anymore. Andrew and I live for the chance to play a pool party. I was trying to get into playing guitar, because I’m the piano player in the band. Andrew and I were just jamming, so we were like, “let’s just make up a band, what can we do for fun? The only thing we know how to do is be a band, so why don’t we make up another band?” And we just decided to call it High School, because that’s where Andrew and I met, and we just felt good times and remembering back to those times. We just thought that was a really good representation of our friendship. There’s this band from Kelowna called Kingdom Cloud and we basically started the band so we could play some shows in Kelowna with them. We wanted to play with them so much we started this band in my basement and we recorded some terrible demos, kind of about these shameful memories from high school and what we were like now. It was a little different from We Are the City because I find with our last record, I felt like we were writing about spiritual development and journeys, and that’s what the album is about: family and spiritual journey, for us, figuring out what you think about everything. Whereas we started to write about other things like actual memories and I feel like we hadn’t really done that before. We started a band, we made a MySpace and we didn’t want anyone to know that we were from We Are the City because we didn’t want whatever we did in High School to affect We Are the City and we didn’t want We Are the City to affect High School. We just wanted to do an experiment to see what it would be like to start over with different songs and, basically, a different kind of music. And then when David told us he was leaving the band, we were just like, “okay, well, what are we going to do?” We didn’t know Blake and we weren’t really sure what we were going to do; it was just like, “maybe we should record these High School tunes and make them into We Are the City tunes.” The guitar parts were written, the ideas were there, so we wrote a couple more tunes with that idea in mind and that’s how the recording came to be. I feel like we were really lucky that we did the High School thing because if we didn’t, I don’t know what we would have done when David quit. I don’t know what we would have recorded. Because High School was already just Andrew and I, it was a good transition into bringing someone new into the band, because it was like, “okay, we already had the band as just the two of us so adding someone new isn’t hard,” whereas taking someone away is hard.

It was the swap of members that made you decide to make it a We Are the City project again.
Definitely. It would have never become part of We Are the City if it hadn’t had been for the member swap.

Were you feeling lost, in terms of We Are the City, for a while?
Yeah. To be honest, Andrew and I were sure that there wasn’t going to be We Are the City anymore. It’s totally important to me, in what we’re going for in our ultimate goal, to show people so much love, and that’s still the most important thing, to me. But I still feel like I was more confident in We Are the City before and now I’m not as confident. I’m confident in myself being in We Are the City, I mean, but I’m not sure what will happen to it. We just went out on a limb here, especially with the recording of this album and then releasing it, as the songs are quite a bit different because they were written for a different band. I was feeling distance from We Are the City and now I feel a lot closer again.


Full list of Canadian Music Week coverage

Well folks, my Canadian Music Week is over. It’s been a ton of fun, but I am exhausted! Since Wednesday, I’ve:

  • trudged through a lot of disgusting weather
  • saw 15 bands play, although not as many as I’d hoped to catch
  • finally met people I’ve been meaning to meet for ages and saw plenty of good friends from all over
  • did some entertaining interviews on whims (like Isis Salam who kissed me on the cheek but made fun of me for not wanting to have some of her drink or Cayne McKenzie who had us squished in a bathroom stall, you guys rock)
  • was disgusted by a club district bar and the people in it
  • danced
  • wrote reviews at ridiculous hours in the morning
  • had great dinners with the other bloggers
  • got into a venue through the back door after a crazy glitterati band performed, so the backstage area looked like it was straight out of a movie
  • ended the festival at a house party until 6am
  • and much more.

Now, here’s my full list of coverage for Spinner:

Pre-CMW interview with the Wilderness of Manitoba, who shared a memory of an undercover city inspector visiting their house concert

Pre-CMW interview with Paper Lions, who talked about how much the East Coast has helped them, plus some really cool tour stories

Pre-CMW interview with Aidan Knight, who discussed his Friendly Friends, future projects and as he says, taking over the world

Wednesday: Gentleman Reg @ Gladstone

Thursday: Cadence Weapon @ Opera House
Thursday: Isis Salam @ Opera House
Thursday: Hollerado / Land of Talk @ Opera House

Friday: Sheepdogs @ Horseshoe
Friday: Nightbox @ Underground Garage
Friday: Humans @ Rivoli

Saturday: We Are the City @ Garrison
Saturday: Madrid / Kidstreet @ El Mocambo

How was your CMW? Who’d you see?

Watch: We Are the City release video for “Happy New Year”

we are the city high school

I reported a few weeks ago on We Are the City’s new EP. Now you can see the video for the first single “Happy New Year” below. Each of the six songs on the upcoming EP will get the video treatment, so sit tight!

If you’re antsy like Cayne is when he breaks the light bulbs, head to the link above and download the song and that should do you over for a while.

January to mid-February articles

Alright, alright. Sometimes I forget to update my portfolio on here, but if you’re a Twitter follower or a Facebook liker, then you haven’t missed a thing.

Just in case, here’s what I’ve been up to in January and February so far (there was definitely a lull in my work when I spent a few weeks recovering from tonsil surgery).


Video interview with Badly Drawn Boy

DOWNLOAD OF THE WEEK: Destroyer’s “Chinatown”

Mexico’s Chikita Violenta tackle international markets with Arts & Crafts

Watch the trailer for Ages and Stages, a Meligrove Band documentary

DOWNLOAD OF THE WEEK: Katie Moore’s “Montebello”

Allie Hughes to have wedding-themed concert in Toronto

Austra announce debut album, Feel it Break

DOWNLOAD OF THE WEEK: Hey Rosetta! – “Welcome (Live)”


We Are the City Reveal New High School EP
(this also includes tour details and the first single, free download)


Jason Collett Begins Annual ‘Basement Revue’ Series in Toronto


February Monthly Music column

From Far and Wide New Music Challenge