Tame Impala – Currents

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Tame Impala – Currents

According to Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, the origins of Current are encapsulated in a scene that’s as retro as his band’s first two albums.  In celebration of the end of the Lonerism tour, he and some friends were driving around L.A. in the twilight, done up on cocaine and mushrooms; the stereo was playing loud, and when the Bee Gees came on Parker came to the sudden realization that the disco-pop legends – Australians like him – were actually really, really good.  Following this revelation, Parker holed up in his home studio in Melbourne, chasing a sound that was an amalgamation between his previous work and a sound that could fill dance floors and get played for everyone, not just indie-psychedelic nerds.

If this is a rather off-putting idea, it’s only because long decades of artists seeking crossover appeal has left a bad taste in people’s mouths.  The number of groups that have tried to win legions of fans by crafting their music with an eye to the dancefloor are many; the number who have succeeded from an artistic standpoint are far fewer.  For every David Bowie circa Let’s Dance there are a hundred groups like KISS circa “I Was Made For Loving You”.  When Mumford & Sons ditched the banjos in favour of big radio pop sounds people scoffed; when Daft Punk went neo-disco it caused a schism in their fanbase that was never repaired.  It’s a risky venture, especially when you are known for a particular style that has a rich and lengthy history, and that style comes with a fanbase known for being particularly pedantic when it comes to sound and result.  Psychedelic fans are picky, to be blunt, and Tame Impala makes a number of the more hardcore fans suspicious.  “Baby’s first psych” is thrown around a lot.  So when the words “Tame Impala influenced by disco sounds” floats across my eyeballs, I get a little worried about things like direction, and legacy, and flame wars.

As it turns out, what Parker really means with regards to the whole “disco” thing is that he decided to focus less on guitar work and more on synthesizers, smooth production, and a certain songwriting aesthetic that sits perfectly between the poppier moments of 1970s-era prog rock and modern synth-rock crossovers like Passion Pit.  Parker brings the big synth bass and gossamer synths of a band like Passion Pit, but ditches the dross and slick three-minute pop confections in favour of relentless studio perfectionism, deeply intricate instrumental sections, and an attention to atmosphere rather than building everything around a riff-heavy groove.  This is not the lysergic Lennon channeling of Innerspeaker, or the lurching sun-worship of Lonerism.  Think ELO with a better studio, and a better-developed sense of their own decade.  This is psychedelic disco-prog, and if that sounds bizarre to you, it should; on paper, it might not work, but Parker is not the average songwriter, and in his hands it comes into its own glorious vitality like an orchid blooming in the night.

That’s not to say that there aren’t riffs here:  “Let It Happen” and “The Less I Know The Better” ride gnarled guitar lines and layer buttery-smooth vocals and built-up synths on top of them.  It’s just that those aren’t the only thing going anymore, and the band works much better for it.  “Past Life” is especially fascinating:  beginning with a synth arpeggio straight out of an early 1980s soundtrack, it welds a deep hip-hop influenced beat underneath and mixes spoken word effects with Parker’s vocals, like M83 without the Hughesian urge behind it.  “‘Cause I’m A Man”, perhaps the strongest of the singles that preceded the album, remains a centerpiece on the totality of Currents; of all of the songs presented here, it’s the one that betrays Parker’s update from the 1960s to the 1970s the most.  It’s AM pop gold, slathered in synth work and filtered guitar work until it becomes both perfectly retro and utterly modern.

Tame Impala get ambitious on Currents, and they aim for a lot of sounds.  What it really sounds like, though, is sitting in the passenger seat of a car, loaded up on psychedelics, not a care in the world, and realizing that the Bee Gees might have been the best band ever.

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Follakzoid – III

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Follakzoid – III

I’m often disappointed but rarely crushingly so.  Follakzoid, however, manage to accomplish the task.  The Chilean post-Krautrock band’s 2013 album II was a stone highlight of the year, a perfect blend of motorik beats and the kind of songcraft that sounds best as its coming out of the stereo in a car winding it’s way through the mountains with the windows rolled down.  It, along with Lower Dens’ Nootropics, half-seriously threatened to bring about a new age of Krautrock in a world that probably didn’t need any more.

III, on the other hand, takes the concept of II and stretches it out too thin, like Bilbo Baggins after wearing the Ring for a decidedly long time.  People have been using the word “trance” with regards to III and while it fits, the positive way in which they’re using it baffles me.  This is not trance music like the Navajo use in their religious ceremonies.  This is trance music that lulls me into a trance because there’s nothing going on.  A simplified beat (compared to II at any rate), some spread-out harmonics, and a locked modular groove.  Twelve minutes later, we peter out on the exact same thing.  There’s little change, and there aren’t even subtle dynamic shifts.  There’s four tracks that do the same thing, three of which are in and around the twelve minute mark, and by the end of it you’ll see God in all His glory.

Just kidding!  I’ve never made it to the end, because it’s the same goddamn thing over and over again!  Maybe it sounds better on heavy psychedelics – but I didn’t need that for II.  It’s odd, I’m rarely disappointed with Sacred Bones releases, and yet here we are.

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Hop Along – Painted Shut

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Hop Along – Painted Shut

So, the Nineties.  They were quite the time, right?  So it would seem, at any rate, from the state of popular culture right now.  Twilight brought back flannel fashion for a while, making me wonder for several years if I’d stepped back in time to a Nirvana concert, or if maybe I’d just gotten blackout drunk and woken up in rural Washington.  Now all I see around town are girls in crop tops and floral print pants, Blossom-style.  Jurassic Park is killing at the box office, the U.S. election is shaping up to be Bush vs. Clinton, and I think I saw someone with frosted tips the other day.  Hold me.  I’m scared.

Musically we’re seeing signs of nostalgic flashbacks from people who should chronologically only barely remember any year starting with “19”.  Yuck thought Dinosaur, Jr. was awesome; Speedy Ortiz is a big fan of crunchy American indie rock circa 1996; Joey Bada$$ really wishes that Illmatic and Enter The Wu Tang just came out yesterday.  Further on, we have exhibit D:  Hop Along, the Saddle Creek-signed project of Frances Quinlan, former freak folk enthusiast.  At first blush it’s crunchy college rock for college kids who attended college just as Felicity was making college look far more glamorous than it really was.  There are subtle signs of something deeper buried within, however: the circling vocal strikes of Quinlan, who seems at times the sum of Ben Gibbard, Conor Oberst, and Jeremy Enigk; the gnarled lead guitar lines that are as much inspired by early Modest Mouse as anything else; the smoky, country undertone to the slower tracks, especially the darker ballad “Horseshoe Crabs”.  There’s more to Painted Shut than simple rote 90s worship, which is important to note as we move headalong into an era that promises nothing but.

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The Fifteen Best Canadian Summer Jams

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Canada is best known for its winter – this is an undeniable fact to anyone who’s ever had to live through one.  What many outside of the country don’t realize is that Canada isn’t a snowbound wonderland of Bonhomme de Neige and frozen maple syrup hockey pucks 365 days of the year.  The inhabited parts of the country also get hot, sticky summers for several months.  For some, the hot weather provides an impetus to “get away from it all”, whether it be on vacation to a natural wonder like Niagara Falls or just to go north and hang out on the dock of the cottage all day.  For others, the summer is a magical time in the city, where the clothes and pretensions come off and that keening je ne sais quoi drives you further into the core in search of love, life, and the pursuit of rock ‘n’ roll.  The songs in this list reflect that:  part dock rockin’ good times, part hot-town-summer-in-the-city, all north of the 49th.

 

Summer of ’69 – Bryan Adams

Once upon a very long time ago (the 1980s) Bryan Adams was a Canadian teen heartthrob who represented the northern vanishing point between Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi.  He later became briefly famous for a featured power ballad in that one movie where Kevin Costner plays Robin Hood but can’t be bothered to master an English accent.  Northern audiences know him best, however, for this ode to being young and full of rock ‘n’ roll dreams in that most fabled of Boomer summers, the summer of 1969.  Adams, of course, was ten in the summer of 1969 – the song was co-written and largely about Jim Vallance, a Canadian songwriter and producer who was 17 in that same year.

Working For The Weekend – Loverboy


“Working For The Weekend” is the ultimate “get out of the city up to the cottage” jam, and one that classic rock radio in Canada pumps out nonstop once the snow melts.  How could it not be?  That early-80s vintage production drives those drums right at you, and the synths say “wouldn’t you rather be relaxing by the water with a cold beer in your hand”?  Meanwhile you’re stuck in the office, staring at the spreadsheet for the Warner account while freaking Janice is microwaving fish again despite the fact that you put a freaking sign up.  Don’t worry.  Loverboy has your back.

Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) – Arcade Fire


The best song Blondie never wrote is also the song that best encapsulates the yearning our suburban youth feel when the summer comes and the spires of the city rise out of the hazy horizon to beckon.  While much of Arcade Fire’s third album is about Win Butler’s youth in the suburbs of Houston, the last full song on the album is Regine Chassagne’s ode to the siren call of Montreal as seen by someone wasting away in boredom.  “Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock,” they say, but she wants something more:  to dance through the streets of a vibrant, urgent metropolis, to feel the summer sun as it bakes the masses in the streets, to find herself and others like her before the snow comes to lock everything up again.

The Spirit of Radio – Rush


Written in honour of CFNY – Toronto’s once-mighty 102.1 The Edge – “The Spirit of Radio” captures the feeling of driving down the highway with the windows all the way down and the radio cranked.  The wind blowing back your hair and whipping at your face, the music drowning out all conversation and thought, the endless road stretching out before you with all of its crackling potential energy yet to be consumed:  all of this is spoken of in that initial rush of synths, drums, and guitars.  Plus, it’s Rush – one of the few bands that the average American can point to and say “oh yeah, they’re from Canada”.

Raise A Little Hell – Trooper


Personally it’s between this and “Boys In The Bright White Sports Car”, but “Raise A Little Hell” is definitely more ubiquitous.  The anthem of hellraisers the world over, the song is the perfect soundtrack for getting deep into it at the cottage, around the fire, or pretty much anywhere in this great wide country.  Just remember, though, to raise only a little hell; this is Canada, after all, and we must maintain a veneer of decorum even when the rye bottle is nearing empty.

Tornado ’87 – The Rural Alberta Advantage

Let’s stop here for a moment to consider the slightly darker side of Canadian summers.  The hot, sticky days are fun, but when they turn ugly it’s often quick and vicious.  Many places throughout Canada are susceptible to tornados, including where I grew up, and they’re a fact of life children have to learn about alongside fire safety and not pulling Uncle Joey’s finger.  The center square of the picturesque port town of Goderich, Ontario was demolished by one such storm.  “Tornado ’87”, meanwhile, from the band’s second album Departing, chronicles the storm that struck at Edmonton on July 31st, 1987.

Patio Lanterns – Kim Mitchell


Here’s the thing:  there are objectively better Kim Mitchell songs (“Go For A Soda”, “A Million Vacations”) but none of them capture the spirit of summer as a blossoming awkward teenager quite so well as “Patio Lanterns”.  It’s actually quite a horrific song, in it’s way.  It depicts a summer patio party attended by a bunch of shy and nervous adolescents, the kind of hell everyone’s parents shoved them into when they wanted to go off with their adult friends to do adult things, like drinking wine and finishing sentences before getting corrected by a goddamn know-it-all.

Drunk Teenagers – The Joel Plaskett Emergency


The Halifax native’s ode to youth and getting wasted at a bush party is quintessentially Canadian.  It is a rite of summer for the kids in and around the rural parts of the country to disappear into the woods on the weekend with cases of beer and rye and get smashed.  For certain swaths of the population, it’s true that you did it, your kids are doing it, and their kids will do it too.  Plaskett even gives specific directions for where he did it:  Clayton Park is a suburb of Halifax, and the Ashtray Rock is apparently a real place in the woods near Clayton Park where many a drunken night of shenanigans took place.

Echo Beach – Martha and the Muffins


This international New Wave hit wasn’t about any particular beach (although it may have been inspired by a night Mark Gane spent at Sunnyside Beach in Toronto in the fabled year of 1977) it was about every beach.  It’s a song about being an office drone in a boring job, watching the clock slowly tick down towards five o’clock and wanting to be anywhere else.  It’s the reality for everyone working in the summer, and thus it’s the premiere anthem for everyone looking forward to the weekend cottage getaway on a Wednesday.

Soda – Gob


I WANT TO JUMP IN A LAKE!  SUN SHINING DOWN ON THE BEACH IN THE SUMMER!  I WANT TO JUMP IN A LAKE!  It’s self-explanatory, really.  The British Columbia band’s teenage symphony to the sun struck a chord with sun-seekers in 1995, many of whom went on to emulate the song’s simple message of jumping in lakes in the summer.  Fun fact:  the video for this song was shot by an amateur on 16mm and got shot into heavy rotation by the once-great MuchMusic.

Five Days In May – Blue Rodeo


Summer is the time for romance – forget spring, it’s all about finding love under the scorching sun, or maybe while taking shelter from a fragrant rain storm.  Blue Rodeo knew this quite well, and “Five Days In May” is a wistful, nostalgic alt-country hymn to summer flings and the lasting memories that they create.  It’s also perfect for singing around the campfire, or for just putting on the stereo while you relax in the yard and watch the sun set into the haze of the horizon.  Crickets required, mosquitoes optional for the masochists.

Summer Dress – July Talk


The summer months can get sticky and they can get gritty.  People get desperate and they can get crazy with the heat.  “Summer Dress” is all about that – getting tangled up in love and leaving for the city to do dumb things without thinking much about them.  The riff that the song rides is pure grit, a rock ‘n’ roll punch in the gut that sounds like the sweat pouring off of you in a dark, loud rock club in the height of July.

This Beat Goes On/Switching To Glide – The Kings


A party-ready rock ‘n’ roll song that will get things going whether you’re at the cottage, stuck in commute, or trying to convince your boss that five o’clock really means four, or better yet, three.  After all, nothing matters but the weekend from a Tuesday point of view.  It’s a Stones-inspired stomp that layers on the keyboards for that extra-summery effect, and then it switches into an even better groovy summer jam.  If this hybrid mutant of a song doesn’t play from your radio at least once while you’re reclining with a drink in your hand, you’re doing it wrong.

Come For A Ride – By Divine Right


For some of us, summer is all about getting in the car and just, like, going somewhere, man.  “Come For A Ride” captures that blissful feeling.  You’re bored, it’s summer, there’s nothing to do – and suddenly your friends show up at the door with a car and no particular place to go.  It’s breezy, relaxing, and perfect for cruising around.  Also of particular note is the presence of Brendan Canning on bass and Leslie Feist on guitar, both of whom would go on to seminal Canadian indie outfit Broken Social Scene.

Sun – Caribou


A pulsing electronic slice of summer, and one in which Dan Snaith makes things as clear as possible:  the song’s lyrics consist of the word “sun” repeated endlessly.  When it comes right down to it, that’s all we really ask out of summer.  Some of us will point to the cottage, and fishing, swimming, hiking, etc.  Some of us will point to the city, and patios, hazy streets, exposed skin, and magic in the parks.  Either way, though, what we want out of summer is the sun.  We want that big, constantly exploding ball of nuclear fusion way out in space to light up our lives and heat our days, so that we can enjoy them to the fullest.

Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon

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Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon

The neo-psychedelic haven of Melbourne, Australia is also home to the Grammy-nominated “Future Soul” group Hiatus Kaiyote, whose second album, Choose Your Weapon, is making people go “like, wow”.  There’s some good reason for the hype:  Hiatus Kaiyote crafts some next-level soul music out of the cutting-edge sounds of contemporary hip hop and R&B and then adds the funk-mining groove that the group is best known for.  When gets into a serious thing, it’s some of the best head-nodder music you’ll find.

The problem, though, is that beyond an unearthly ability to find their way into the pocket there isn’t much to recommend on Choose Your Weapon.  Tracks like “Shaolin Monk Motherfunk” and “Atari” are stone killers, but there’s sixty-nine minutes of tracks just like them, and after a while it wears thin.  By the time “Building A Ladder” comes along it’s exhausting, and you’re left feeling tired and aimless.  Choose Your Weapon is at its heart a groove in search of a message, or an anthem, or something to bring it up to the next level and turn them from a pretty great jam into a band worth encapsulating on an album.  Choose Your Weapon feels like a demo reel of its maker’s talents, which is unfortunate when you consider those talents.

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Matthew Good’s First World Problems

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According to Internet culture archivists Know Your Meme, this song – “Omissions Of The Omen” from Canadian alt-folkie Matthew Good’s 1995 debut album Last Of The Ghetto Astronauts – is the first known reference to the phrase “First World Problems”.  The song contains the lines “Somewhere around the world / Someone would love to have my first world problems“.

My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall

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My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall

It’s been a full decade since My Morning Jacket hit their undisputed peak.  2005’s Z was a masterpiece of soaring, momentous rock that fit together the Dead, the Who, and the Flying Burrito Brothers.  When they released the scattered, utterly forgettable Evil Urges as a followup in 2008, the band was written off, and despite a decent comeback attempt in 2011 with the solid Circuital they have obviously gone down the same path of descent as Band of Horses or Plants and Animals.

All of this makes The Waterfall something of an unexpected treat.  Rather than continue down their road, they stop and make a case for being one of the great…slightly less appreciated bands?  There’s no point in pretending that they’re obscure – they were an episode-long obsession for Stan Smith on American Dad after all – but their stature has certainly depreciated.  “Believe (Nobody Knows)” is a great classic rock track though, and “Spring (Among The Living)” features some searing guitar work that holds its own with the great works of the past.  “Big Decisions” is a crunching anthem shot through with pedal steel guitar, and serves as a perfect reminder of the power that country inflection in music can have when it’s done right.  “Only Memories Remain” is a textbook closer, something to ride the sunset out on at a festival, but it has a hook that will stick in your head and leave you singing it at 2 AM when you actually should be sleeping.  If it sounds like I have first hand experience in this then you would be right.

The Waterfall is at it’s heart a stellar summer album, something to listen to in a field, or on the deck, or while on a hike.  It screams early evening relaxation and mid-afternoon sunshowers in equal measure, and the juxtaposition is epic.

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Goodnight Ornette Coleman

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The music world has lost a true game-changer today.  Ornette Coleman has died of cardiac arrest at the age of 85.

Coleman was amongst a handful of similar innovators in the late 1950s and early 1960s – a group that includes Mingus, Coltrane, Parker, and Davis – that changed the rules of jazz.  The sharp divide between people who hear the word jazz and think of vocal American Songbook exercises a la Norah Jones and people who hear it and think of angular note-heavy freakouts is due in large part to the early work of Coleman, especially his 1959 masterpiece The Shape Of Jazz To Come.

 

Fuck This Guy In Particular

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Meet Andrew Bankovitch

Some background:  Single Mothers is one of my favourite bands.   Hailing from my birth town of London, ON, they kick ass in a serious way.  They’re like a hardcore version of the Hold Steady – imagine that band if they ditched the classic rock and played the stuff they grew up getting fucked up to.  That’s Single Mothers.  They’re a small band, up-and-coming: broke up in 2009 and have been touring ever since.  Their debut, Negative Qualities, was well-regarded, but they’re still a small band touring their asses off to support themselves.  Like all small bands in their situation, they survive partially off of gig money but mainly off of merch sales.

Enter Andrew Fucking Bankovitch.

Andrew Bankovitch likes to steal band logos, slap them with the sloppy style of a rank amateur onto a t-shirt, and sell them for his own profit.

FUCK.  HIM.

Bands need that merch money to survive.  They can’t survive and continue to kick ass if the likes of Andy Bankovitch steal their logos and sell them as their very own.  Andy Bankovitch is literally killing rock ‘n’ roll.