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Bright, Burning Red -Taylor Swift


 

Ok so just a warning first…I do NOT typically listen to Taylor Swift nor have I ever thought she was an artist I would like to see perform one day. Not because I have an elitist taste in musical genres or a tendency to favour obscure artists from indie labels. I just never listened to her much because I never gravitated towards the modernized country, quirky bubble-gum pop sound she tends to embody. However, I always thought she possessed a unique, and impressive vocal range with just a little more depth and integrity to offer than other typical Pop princesses. Still, despite believing she had slightly more substance than Katy Perry et al. I never felt the urge to purchase any of her albums.

So that being said, I thought maybe I should try listening to something I had never given a fair try before. It’s important to keep an open mind and I admit I was curious to see why she’s so prominently featured on the cover of Rolling Stone’s October issue. After much consideration I must say her fourth studio album, Red wasn’t all bad. Much more good, than bad in fact. The opening track State of Grace is one of the albums best, with soaring vocals and an upbeat melody that makes you feel as if life is one big wonderful experience, full of surprises you can never see coming. It’s inspiring and uplifting all at once. The next track Red is very predictable and full of cheesy metaphors and one-liners that lack any real emotion such as the one about how “loving him is like driving a maserati down a dead end street.” But it’s hook is still catchy enough to become a hit I bet. Each song is fairly different and Swift proves she isn’t afraid to experiment with this album. Her confessional songwriting style has a way of captivating your attention as you contemplate which celebrity she dated was capable of making her feel as if “a new notch in your belt is all I’ll ever be.”

Her track, I knew you were trouble even leans towards dub-step, which I can’t say she entirely pulls off but she gets points for bravery. Ever since I heard her track, Safe and Sound performed along with The Civil Wars for the Hunger Games soundtrack, there was no denying that Swift really does have talent instead of just being another marketed pretty face. On heavier songs like All too well, I almost Do and The Last Time I remember what separates Taylor from the rest, she maintains some country subtleties amongst the collection of Pop songs on this album. Not a horrible mixture, instead it’s a refreshing change. Her voice has an indescribable quality that changes from sweet to angry and raw in an instant. All too well contains real emotion that carries a heavy impact when you realize you can connect as a listener to all her past relationship turmoil and unanswered questions. This album is full of memories and experiences that seem incredibly honest and authentic and I think that’s why Swift is so appreciated and admired. But just in case you feel the floodgates opening the arrangement sets up a perky, boisterous diddy like 22 and Holy Ground to follow every serious tune to remind you life isn’t all sorrow and heartache. These songs serve as a reminder that you will smile again after all the hurt and pain of a breakup. You might even be able to laugh about how dramatic and stupid it all was, which Swift definitely does on her catchy overplayed single, We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.

So before you judge me for actually liking this album, (Yes, I do like it) just try listening to Holy Ground a fast paced, feel-good tune. Or Everything has Changed, a hopeful simplistic ballad about wanting to know someone better. Or Begin Again, a melancholic yet sweet tune. I know how annoying it can be to hear one of Swift’s hits played repeatedly in stores, on the radio and everywhere else in the public, but it is merited because she does have talent, as well as a wholesome image.  And she did recover from an angry, indignant, pompous, drunken Kanye West in her face with measured grace and class.  So would I be appalled if my nieces decided they wanted to go to a concert of hers? Not quite as appalled as I would be if they decided to emulate Katy Perry. Honestly, at least Taylor acts her age.

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Beach House at Koolhaus Oct 13, 2012


The voice of lead singer/song-writer Victoria Legrand captivates and comforts many dedicated fans.  Unsurprisingly, her stage presence is just as hypnotic and speaks volumes of her talent that is unlike any other singer-songwriter I can think of.  I felt incredibly privileged to see Beach House perform live this past Saturday, since I have loved their sound for quite some time now and never thought I’d be able to witness them on tour. But as soon as I saw their name on the list of upcoming shows in Toronto, I had to get my tickets right away. Even though it seemed a little silly to buy them way back in June, my decision turned out to be a wise course of action since their show inevitably sold out amongst the numerous fans who can identify really good music within a mainstream culture saturated by Pop music, uninspired lyrics, all about visual aesthetics and lacking actual substance.

So being able to unite with a chill crowd who didn’t shove or push me despite being super excited was a new experience for me.  It was good enough just to sway back and forth and be swept away with warm feelings and genuine appreciation of beautiful music with soaring vocals and emotion.  As much as I love the track, A walk in the park, I was actually reluctant to sing along for once and ruin the beauty and simplicity of Legrand’s mournful refrain as she sings “More…you want more…you tell me…”

I can only imagine, that had I sung along loudly, the look of awe and rapture that seemed so common on so many faces would quickly change to frustration and hostility aimed in my direction.  So I refrained from the urge to belt out the lyrics (that are so easily identifiable with anyone who has ever been in a relationship) and spared my fellow Beach House fans from my atrocious vocals.

There tends to be a real sense of connection amongst the crowd, at so many shows but this one had a really special vibe.  The energy was content, introspective appreciative and mature even though it was an all ages show.  People just seemed to experience the same emotions at the same moments. Hearing Victoria sing “Real love finds you somewhere, get back to it” just seemed so incredibly brilliant and insightful.  I’ve never been into the deification of celebrities but she truly seemed ethereal, androgynous yet beautiful and fascinating on so many levels.  I felt like attending this show was a real gift.

Finally what struck me most about the show was the performance of the closing song.  Irene is a song off their latest album In Bloom, that I had somehow managed to overlook. So I was lost when they started playing and I couldn’t figure out which song this could possibly be.  The discovery of how lovely it was seemed like an incredible bonus added to the splendor of the night, and when Victoria did a perfectly synchronized execution of head banging and thrashing and twirling with that trademark mass of curls to the beat of the music, it was the PERFECT ending to a striking performance.  I really believe that everyone left the koolhaus thoroughly satisfied and convinced that Beach House is the real deal.


Feeling the Love


 


A powerful, familiar beat fills the air, I recognize the sound of the Kanye West hit Monster as the crowd packed into Queen st. west’s Wrongbar eagerly anticipates what’s going to happen next. Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper enter stage left with huge grins on their face, and the audience cheers as they introduce Lovely cup and burst into song. They proceed to deliver one of the most passionate, energetic shows I’ve ever been privileged enough to witness and I’m blown away by their genuine happiness and appreciation of playing at a packed venue like this. The amount of people who have come to see Grouplove have far surpassed my expectations. I guess word spreads fast in Toronto when you hear some positive music for once. The band seems flattered, and impressed by the size of the crowd. If I had known it would have been so packed I would have arrived in time to see the opening band Reptar.

Grouplove’s new tour companions Reptar seem to be respected immensely and praised by Christian throughout their own set onstage. It’s nice to see mutual support of fellow indie bands. Highlights of the show included a wicked drums solo where drummer Ryan Rabin pounds away with glowing drumsticks and intensity amidst flashing strobe effects. An unexpected Whitney Houston tribute by Christian broke out when he spontaneously started singing “I wanna dance with somebody” that had the whole audience enthused, bouncing around and singing along.

After the crowd starts earnestly chanting Grouplove in order to bring them back onstage for an encore, I half expect them to come back turning cartwheels and performing back handsprings. They really are that exuberant and joyful. I can’t imagine them ever arguing or being overly critical with one another. Their energy is palpable and infectious. Everyone around me has huge smiles on their faces. They all share the spotlight as each member gets introduced and applauded. I love that each member seems to be an essential component to making the band work. Hannah and Christian have the sort of chemistry that seems to inspire each other as well as the crowd. When they finally played Tongue-tied and closed with Colours, the crowd was pulsing with good vibes. Never have I been to a show where I dropped my bag and my sweater and multiple phones lit up in order to help me search for my lost items. It was as if they influenced us all to be more considerate, peaceful and happy. I really could not have asked for a better show although it did seem much too short. Most likely because I could watch them for hours on end and remain riveted by their stage presence and charismatic uplifting tunes.

Grouplove is as honest as it gets. No gimmicks, attitude or affected boredom and pretentiousness with these guys, just genuine happiness and unity all around. Listening to their music is awesome in itself but seeing them perform live is like being swept up by a hurricane that transports you someplace far better than you ever were before.


Blunderbuss?


A Blunderbuss is…

A)   Dr. Seuss character?

B)   A chaotic state of confusion?

C)   Some sort of British slang?

The answer is none of the above. It is in fact an outdated muzzle-loading firearm and much more importantly the title of Jack White’s debut solo album.

Just like the stunningly loud report of the short-barreled blunderbuss, Jack White’s album is a surprising assortment that will definitely impress his fans.  White has created a complex and diverse collection of songs that have been deemed “brilliant” by Rolling Stone regarding the trials of loss and the disillusionment of all that unfolds in the aftermath of a successful partnership.

The dissolution of his marriage to Karen Elson and the end of The White Stripes may have been the push he needed to venture out on his own.  Always one to collaborate with others, White has performed incredibly well within The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather and of course, The White Stripes.  So it’s relieving to see he’s just as talented as ever on his own. Already a master at singing the blues, this time you can expect some more country and piano than ever before.  Recording in Nashville definitely influenced the sound of this record, although White’s style remains recognizable.

Blunderbuss opens up with Missing Pieces that provides a bit of insight into how he’s been feeling lately…

Sometimes someone controls everything about you

and when they tell you that they just can’t live without you

They aint lying, they’ll take pieces of you

and they’ll stand above you and walk away,

that’s right and take a part of you with them

 Those who have previously loved White’s guitar riffs will love the familiar sound of Sixteen Saltines and Freedom at 21.  For those who crave something different prepare to fall in love with Love Interruption.  A song that reminds us all that love can feel as horrid as it once felt good, how it can change suddenly from grabbing your fingers gently to slamming them in a door. The frequent piano playing heard on the album is a nice alternative to the heavy garage rock and electric riffs, White has become known for. The album titled track, Blunderbluss is a soft, wistful and beautiful track that contains a Neil Young vibe. Hypocritical Kiss is a short and powerful track that is also my personal favourite.  Slow paced, beautiful and vengeful, White lashes out at those who pretend to be something they’re not.

Although this album is a solo effort, receiving some support never hurts. White surrounds himself with an assorted band of talented women, Ruby Amanfu is responsible for most of the background vocals and Karen Elson herself participates in “On and On and On.” Brooke Waggoner plays piano beautifully and Carla Azar and Olivia jean rock out on the drums.

This record has already gained numerous reviews full of praise and excessive flattery, so I will not bother with any acclamations of my own. I’d much rather you give the album a listen and learn to appreciate it for yourself.  There’s probably a good reason why so many critics seem fascinated by Blunderbuss and even better reason as to why Jack White has reached the No.1 slot on the Billboard 200 for the first time ever.


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Grimes – Canadian Goth-electro Pop star


 

 

“I’ve come to realize that so much about this job doesn’t have to do with skill, but about the way you perceive yourself and the way in which you make other people perceive you. If you tell someone you’re doing something innovative, they’ll think you’re doing something innovative. If you tell someone you’re playing a flawless show, they’ll think you’re playing a flawless show.”

Truer words could not be spoken by a musician who has achieved critical success and is steadily gaining popularity without any proper vocal training or musical education.  Claire Boucher is gaining quite a bit of attention as an emerging Canadian producer/singer and she’s pretty much doing it on her own.  Her sound has been likened to Enya on steroids or the Cocteau twins on rohypnol, but avoiding blatant comparisons, Grimes music embodies an ambient  dream like state of a future Utopian world.  Labeled as shoegaze-bedroom pop to electro-goth and all that’s in between, Grimes is a genre bending musician who beautifully blends all her influences seamlessly. The Vancouver born Montreal-based musician has previously released two albums, Geidi Primes and Halfaxa yet it is her third studio LP, Visions that is generating the most buzz.

Released on Feb 21 by labels Arbutus and 4AD across North America, Visions has been receiving favourable reviews and Grimes is being heralded as one of the most compulsively listenable albums of 2012.  She has received amazingly favourable reception for an experimental musician from the Montreal indie scene.  She sings in a moody falsetto that is childlike and airy, not at all what you’d expect from someone with Grimes as their stage name.  But she defies expectations, delivering an album that is both beautiful and dark.  Boucher has opened for Lykke Li, a suitable match since both young women share  a similar passion for  eerie dark melodies. On Visions, Grimes commands your attention with whispery vocals and smooth compositions. Listening to her album is like letting oneself drift out to sea without a care in the world, getting lost in the beauty and never wishing to return.  Her music is a much needed vacation from standard dream pop and the dreariness of a monotonous life.

‘Genesis’ kick starts the album with a melody that captivates. Keyboards and Boucher’s angelic voice transport you to another world. ‘Oblivion’ is a lo-fi ambient jam whereas ‘Eight’ reminds me of chipmunks who have tripped out on acid at a rave, the song has a distinct raver feel but works in a crazy, hallucinogenic sort of way.  Experimenting with her vocals never diminishes how awesome this record is.  The New York Times even named Visions “one of the most impressive albums of the year so far.”‘ ‘Circumambient’ is one of the best tracks this album can offer, with a killer dance beat and intense energy drawing from dubstep, electronic and goth influences. At times reminiscent of Zola Jesus and Fever Ray, Grimes album is moody but often infuses uplifting beats and atmosphere. Visions plays out like a mish-mash of layers and loops, whispers and sighs, indecipherable lyrics, electronic bliss and energy.  ‘Be a Body’ makes me want to dance on a crowded subway with my headphones on.  Her album is nothing if not infectious. Anyone who was lucky enough to grab a ticket for her sold out performance March 19 at The Horseshoe Tavern on Queen St. West will not be disappointed. After Pitchfork named Grimes in their Best New Music section, I doubt many will get the privilege to see Grimes in such an intimate setting again.

Her album is much like her aesthetic appeal, cutting edge and attention grabbing.  Her sound is easily identifiable and her voice is clearly distinguishable as are her omnipresent, perfectly cut, baby bangs.


Canadian Music Week is coming!


Most Canadian musicians don’t become household names until they’ve achieved mainstream success first, in the States or Overseas, but that’s not indicative of a shortage in existing talent. Musicians just need an outlet to show what they’re capable of, a venue and an audience to listen. That’s what Canadian Music Week is all about.  If you realize that you don’t know much about Canadian music and you’re lucky enough to live in Toronto, March 21-25, 2012 is the perfect time to go out and see what the Toronto music scene has to offer. Canadian Music week is quickly approaching and it’s generating a lot of excitement for good reason.

CMW means a diverse selection of live music, awards shows, comedy and films. There’s so much to do and see that it’s never too early to start planning which events you want to attend. After all tickets go fast and shows will sell out.  So make sure you don’t miss out on the chance to go out and enjoy some homegrown musical talent. Seriously there are so many bands, (Canadian as well as International) that are worth seeing, and they’re all performing at local venues with intimate settings.

Headliners include the Sheepdogs, Dragonette, Temper Trap, Treble Charger, the Trews, Andy C and Nneka amongst 150 other musicians who will be performing across 60 venues throughout Toronto.   Tickets may be purchased individually or as part of a 5 day wristband package for 75$ through Ticketmaster or Rotate This and Soundscapes. Performances can be caught at The Fairmont Royal York, The Hoxton, Lee’s Palace, Massey Hall and various other locations that will feature an impressive selection of Canada’s freshest musical talent. Which is why it’s a good strategy to plan ahead and avoid disappointment before shows are sold out, as is the case with the return of I Mother Earth.  For all of you who used to be obsessed with popular hits like, ‘One more astronaut’ and ‘Another Sunday’ and would go party at Tattoo Rock Parlour just to catch a glimpse of Edwin, this was your chance to see him perform live again. Other significant bands reuniting for the week’s events include iconic Canadian pop-punk group, Treble Charger widely known for hits like ‘American Psycho’ and ‘Brand new low’ along with 90s Indie-rock group, The Inbreds.

Amongst the most exciting features of CMV are Bassweek and the SiriusXM 2012 Indie Awards. Bassweek will be featuring legendary drum and bass DJ, Andy C at The Guvernment on Friday March 23, and Hospitality featuring Netsky, High Contrast, and Camo & Crooked at Kool Haus on Saturday, March 24. So if you’re feeling the whole Dubstep/D&B culture you’ll want to ensure you experience at least one of these nights. The Indies will be held Saturday March 24 at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel where you can witness Treble Charger’s induction into the SiriusXM Indies Hall of fame, and watch performances by breakthrough artists like The Sheepdogs, Dan Mangan and Young Empires.

Whether it’s indie-rock, drum and bass, blues, punk, alternative or folk that you’re into, there couldn’t be a better time to find out what makes Canadian music so remarkable.

To discover more about events, visit http://www.cmw.net/.


Lights – Siberia Review


I was more than pleasantly surprised upon listening to Canadian singer-songwriter Lights’ sophomore album Siberia.  I never really considered myself a fan of the 24 year-old, synth-pop star until I heard this album.  Lights inclination for experimentation has led to vast improvement since her 2009 debut album, The Listening.

Siberia starts off with her traditional synth-pop style but grows harder and edgier right into the second track “Where the fence is low.” It quickly becomes evident that Lights Poxleitner has decided to go with a heavier dubstep-influenced album this time around.  Which suits her angelic voice perfectly.  Her vocals seem effortless and provide a nice contrast to the distortion of the dubstep sound. Thus making the genre tolerable for those who reject the controversial genre as meaningless noise. She also changes up her sound with the inclusion of hip hop, creating an unpredictable pop album that is quite different than the ordinary mainstream fare served up, non-stop daily on the radio.  Any electro enthusiast will be able to appreciate the direction Lights has decided to take with her second studio album.

This album sounds a little dirtier, and a little grimier than The Listening.  Most likely due to heavier beats and the collaborative efforts from Canadian hip-hop artist Shad and electronic band, Holy Fuck providing drum production and synths. You can expect an upbeat, feel good tone for most of this album but there are some surprises with a rap here and there and some chilled out numbers like “Cactus in the Valley” where Lights slows it down with a moving electro-ballad. Vocally, Lights Poxleitner seems perfectly suited for the dubstep genre, her voice is soft yet strong and capable of conjuring whatever emotion she wishes to express. Popular tracks like “Toes” and “Banner” will reassure her earliest fans that Lights has not abandoned her pop beginnings while tracks like “Flux and Flow” and “Everybody breaks a glass” will entice new listeners that crave something a little more than synth-happy pop.

Her debut album established Lights as the 2009 Juno award winner for Best new artist and gained her respect as a self-made musician.  So it comes as no surprise that Siberia has also landed her a 2012 Juno nomination for Pop album of the year.   It’s clear she deserves the recognition and respect.

Best tracks – “Where the fence is low,” “Timing is everything,” “Everybody breaks a glass,” and “Flux and Flow.”