Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chad Kichula - Killer

Regina singer/songwriter Chad Kichula has been honing his craft over the last few years, releasing two solid albums and an EP of rootsy Springsteen-inspired tunes. In the process, Kichula has played across the country, winning over people one venue at a time. As well, he has managed to get some steady radio airplay south of the border. With his profile growing, Kichula knew it was time to really step up to the plate and swing for the fences. Well, it's safe to say that he delivers the goods with Killer, his third full-length release.

In the past, Kichula found a nice niche with his no-frills, earnest rock tunes with the odd ballad thrown in. However, with Killer, he has thrown out the rule book and shook up his sonic palette. In the process, he has decided to let loose and have some fun with some of the songs. While he has always been a strong songwriter, Kichula has really developed an uncanny knack for writing some damn catchy melodies. The end result is a wonderfully conceived album in the classic sense of the word. It's obvious that plenty of thought went into the sequencing of the songs, where the ten tracks would fit perfectly on two sides of an LP.

The album kicks off with the menacing title track, which is constructed around a hypnotic, pulsating bassline, courtesy of Philip Legrand. As well, guitarist and coproducer Matt Kaip rips off a really cool, fuzzed-out guitar solo. The pace then abruptly picks up with the bouncy, ska-inflected "Still Around." Up next is the chugging rocker "Over Me," which features Kichula's rich, raspy baritone, and the wistful country ballad "Miner Road." "Miner's Road" features some beautiful violin, courtesy of Suzanne Pavrovsky, along with some smooth harmony vocals from Sheenah Ko. Keeping with the LP motif, Side A ends with the spare, acoustic folk of "Mothers Cry."

Side B kicks off with the album's standout track, "Bar Fly." This is an immediately infectious ska tune and features backing vocals from Thomas Roussin of the nancy ray-guns. This song is so much fun that I bet it could even make Bill O'Reilly or an English guard smile. Local CJTR radio personality (and all around nice guy) Redbeard has described this song as a "guilty pleasure" type of song. Well, I don't feel one ounce of guilt for liking this song... and neither do the people that shake their butts to it at O'Hanlon's and The Exchange during Kichula's shows. After the sugar rush of "Bar Fly," the album switches gears with the country ballad "King of Despair," which is a really nice reworking of a song from his first album. Here, Kichula steps out of his vocal comfort zone, singing with a soft falsetto at times. The album finishes strong with the uptempo country of "Listening," the country-rock of "Few Dollars More" and the waltzy, folk ballad "Miles and Miles."

At ten songs and only 35 minutes, the album leaves you wanting more, which is definitely a wise move... all Killer, no filler. Chad Kichula has definitely arrived.

You can get your hands on the album on January 15, when Chad will be playing at The Gaslight Saloon for his official CD Release Party. It'll definitely be money well spent. See ya there!

Monday, December 13, 2010

An Interview with The Villain Avian Symphony’s Denyss McKnight

A while back I got to thinking that I need to write an article or do an interview on a genre that I am not as familiar with. I have written a lot about rock’n’roll, some punk, some country and a lot of pop, but virtually no metal.

So I decided to that I needed to interview someone with a fresh new project… baby fresh. It had to be someone in the metal scene. If I reviewed someone from this vast genre it may come off uneducated or even ignorant based on my lack on knowledge on the subject. The way I see it, what better way to familiarize myself with a genre that I am not as familiar with, than to do an interview?

I was fortunate enough that the first person I thought of was more than happy to let me pick his brain.

Denyss McKnight has played in various notable bands in the Vancouver area. Some of these bands are artists such as hardcore act Until We Have Faces, the monochrome glam-punks the Black Halos and industrial/cyberpunk band Left Spine Down.

I first ran across Denyss at a show here in Regina while he was playing with one of his previous bands. He instantly caught my eye and I knew there was something really special about this man. Last year I got to know Denyss better when he came through with another band. I enjoy talking music with someone who obviously has a lot of experience and diverse interests when it comes to his craft. One can learn a lot from him.

Without further ado here is an interview with my friend of The Villain Avian Symphony, Denyss McKnight.

SPUN: Do you remember what first sparked your passion for music? Did you grow up in a musical family?

DM: Ever since I’ve had any kind of sentient thought I’ve been a musician. I was playing two-handed scales before I could even properly ride a bike. My parents are still in a band and are a constant source of encouragement. Not that they ever really understood what I was into, I believe at one point they even confiscated my Nine Inch Nails and Slayer records. They couldn’t turn me onto Stevie Ray Vaughn to save their lives, but they did get me into Muddy Waters in a big way. So, go them.

SPUN: How would you describe your band’s sound to someone who hadn’t heard the music before?

DM: I can’t remember who, but someone described us as “metal songs written by punks who are way too into hardcore with a bunch of electronics on top of it.” I think I’m going to stick with that as far as general description.

SPUN: What is your local metal scene like and how are metal bands received in Vancouver in general?

DM: We are really blessed right now in Vancouver as far as the metal scene. There really isn’t any separation in the sub-cultures anymore. So much genre crossing has left everyone knowing each other and going to each other’s shows and just growing at a rapid pace. Vancouver is starting to become a metal city again. Devin Townsend’s solo show sold out beyond capacity. Over 300 showed up to a local metal festival. Production companies are putting on shows regularly and getting their numbers in. GOOD bands are starting up and playing out as often as they can. I could list off at least 15 bands that I see at every opportunity.

SPUN: There is a lot of metal bands out there. Why should someone come see your band?

DM: I don’t think it’s self-deprecating to say I often ask myself that question. Maybe that’s why I try to keep it interesting and as genuine as possible. This band is all about guts and effect. We’re not nearly as skilled as half of the bands out there so we make up for it in sincerity. Not saying that more well- crafted bands don’t have that quality either, but I think there really is something vicious and visceral about the VAS. There, that was almost alliteration.

SPUN: The name The Villain Avian Symphony really intrigues me. What was the thought process when naming the band and/or what inspired you in terms of the name?

DM: In reference to myself obsession with ravens and crows. Simple as that. Symphony in reference to well, I never actually thought that this would ever be a live band so I just laid down track after track after track etc. Making the wall of sound. Now, I have a new challenge.

No process, it just came to me before I went to sleep one night. I woke up and went “Fuck yeah” over my coffee.

The acronym sounds tough. Like a gang or an organized crime syndicate.

SPUN: I read in your Beatroute article that there will be a revolving door of band members? Tell me about this. Do you think that this will complicate the writing process or even planning tours and such?

DM: I really wish I hadn’t of made that comment truthfully. At the time I said it the intent was only ever to do a few shows here and there while everyone was in town. After rehearsals started I felt more and more like it was something I was actually into doing on at least a semi regular basis and I need a band to do that. So I’ve been headhunting people down and the process is actually quite easy. I found a drummer instantly and I’ve been speaking to a ton of guitarists who are interested in doing it. Picking the right people to work with will be hard, there are so many factors at play as far as what we want out of band-mates. I would like this thing to actually, pardon the pun, take flight.

SPUN: Where do you draw inspiration from?

DM: Everything really. Sometimes things just hit me the right way and I suddenly have a new take and perspective on them. The first batch of songs were written during a really…difficult period of my life so it’s a lot of internal struggle and reconciled notions were worked through during the process. Fear, depression and anger were at the forefront of my world for a solid year and it took a while to really pull out of it. Lyrically I can afford to be a little more free now that I’m not so inwardly turned. I have an elaborate belief structure as far as my politics, spirituality and personal stances, but I try to stay away from them as much as possible in order to not be pigeonholed as a “political hardcore” band or an “insert religion here” metal band. Some days I need to use a fictional character to get my idea across, some days I don’t mind displaying something of myself in order to really squeeze the intent out of the song. I draw inspiration from being alive and all that comes with it. Is that a cop-out answer?

SPUN: Has being in a wide variety of bands been beneficial to the new project? If so what did you learn from past projects?

DM: Oh bloody hell yes. Mostly? I’ve learned not to put the brakes on something because it doesn’t fit into the mold. I’ve never once scrapped an idea because it’s “too poppy” or “not VAS enough”. When I think back on how many songs I’ve written were shot down because they didn’t fit the appropriate pattern, it makes my nose bleed.

I learned how to be professional when it’s called for, how to let loose and be an asshole when it’s needed and mostly to be able to compromise while holding fast to your idea.

SPUN: What are The Villain Avian Symphony's plans for the upcoming new year?

DM: We are talking about recording at the moment, we have an EP that’s being mixed but that was only the efforts of myself and Justin and Shane(of 3 Inches of Blood). Now that I’ve got a band coming together, I’m more focused on actually writing as a unit. Telford(bass) and I have been writing a lot and working out some of my pre-written material. Offers have come in for shows and tours as far as Montreal so that’s something I’d like to look into when I feel that we’ve really nailed down what we’re doing and have a good chemistry on stage.

SPUN: What is your fondest career highlight so far? Anything you are itching to do that you haven't done yet?

DM: I’ve had the chance to meet, exchange ideas and share the stage with so many amazing musicians that I couldn’t even nail down one. I’ve been really fortunate to have done the things that I’ve done at my age and I’m really grateful for every opportunity I’ve had. I’ve accomplished more than I ever set out to do, so at this point I’m at a point where I’m kind of like, “Fuck it, let’s do it again!”.

SPUN: What has been your biggest challenge been? Have you been able to overcome that challenge?

DM: My biggest challenge so far has been learning to incorporate the live electronics into the set. The whole thing used to mystify me and I had to learn to do it efficiently and flawlessly. It’s more work than I thought it was going to be but now that the first show has come and gone without a single glitch, I feel that I’ve overcome it yes. My next challenge is being the best frontman I can be. That will just have to come with time and experience.

SPUN: Are there any plans for an upcoming full-length album or other releases? Videos?

DM: Full length, definitely. I’ve already named it, now it’s just a matter of writing it. I have dozens of half finished songs in the vault but when the time comes to actually put something out, I hope we have the chance to work with someone who actually understands what we’re doing and helps us really define our sound. I don’t have much in the way of artistic integrity but I do know what I want from this band and I would like to see it achieved. As far as videos? I couldn’t even tell you what I would look for visually. That’s Telford’s department.

SPUN: Where are your best crowds after countless tours to different countries/cities?

DM: Spain and Germany know how to throw down when it counts. You can’t fool the Germans, they know what they want and they’ll tell you if you didn’t deliver. Spaniards are just so…intense and open. But really, in the end, I love my homeland and my countrymen. The True North, Strong and Free.

Now for some general interest questions for Denyss McKnight:

SPUN: If you weren't a musician, what profession do you think you would have taken up?

DM: I’ve been delving into that as I get a bit older. I’m noticing things that I excel at and I hope I have the chance one day to explore them a bit more fully. At the moment I’m actually filling out applications to culinary institutes. Go figure.

SPUN: What bands and albums have you been listening to lately?

DM: I’ve really gone back into my hardcore days as of late. I’m spinning a lot of Converge, Curl Up and Die, Botch, old Zao, Shai Hulud etc. For the past year or so I’ve been really into Gallows. To me they’re the perfect marriage(or divorce depending on how you look at it) of hardcore, rock & roll and traditional punk rock.

To get ideas for electronic elements I’m still really digging on Meat Beat Manifesto and Clint Mansel. I would love it if I had people to throw me new music that they thought was cool. Or that they thought I would think is cool. My friends from Belgium Psy’Aviah always put me in a good mood and when I’m slightly enraged, there’s this great French project called Jabberwock that does the job.

SPUN: What's the most embarrassing record in your collection?

DM: Depends on your view of embarrassing. I listen to Neil Diamond and George Jones unabashedly. I really like Justin Timberlake. I even own records by My Chemical Romance.

I have all of my old Fat Wreckchords stuff in my iTunes.

I’m generally always shy about having my own records in my collection…?

SPUN: What was the first record you ever bought and do you still own it?

DM:> First record as an actual musical lover? Like, first cassette I ever bought with my own money? Pennywise ‘About Time’. And yes, I still do have it and revisit it from time to time.

If anyone says it’s not a good surf punk record, they’re obviously trying to be more punk rock than you. Poser.

Visit them on Myspace:
Visit them on Facebook:!/pages/The-Villain-Avian-Symphony/139932226032617

Cheers Rockers

Photo courtesy of Agata Majda

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Kent Rocks' Top 15 Albums of 2010

So it’s that time of year again, the end of it. I posted a ‘best of’ last year and decided to do so again this year. I could make the list that Rolling Stone or Spin would make as those lists ‘look’ correct but rather I am again going to give you MY best of list for this year. Some of the artists I will mention you may be quite familiar with, while others maybe not so much.

2010 had many a great live show put on by local artists here in Regina. The Hot Blood Bombers, Rah Rah, Library Voices, JJ Voss, Chad Kichula, The Bystanders, The Dustin Ritter Band and Rye n' The Vats are all acts that all blew audiences away. My favourite however was country/roots singer/songwriter Cam Wensel and his band Black Drink Crier.

I, like my co-blogger here at SPUN JJ Ramone also feel that live records, reissues and EP’s while had a great many spins in the cd player feel should be left off the main list. It would be incomplete not to mention them however. Here are some of the highlights of the year..

Best Live Record: The White Stripes – Under Great White Northern Lights

Best Music Film or Biopic: The Runaways.
Now I know it was completely based around Cherie Currie’s book ‘Neon Angel’ and thus the film focuses largely on the relationship between Cherie and Joan Jett. This is okay with me as though my eyes I see the Runaways as the Cherie and Joan band. Lita hit her stride as a solo artist later in her career.

Best EP: Vancouver Alt Rock band Red Vienna’s self titled release was perfect and addicting. Honorable mention goes to Regina’s own Bystanders with a brilliant EP as well.

Best Show: Grady. A Canadian self proclaimed cow metal outfit based out of Austin TX. Honorable mention goes to Motley Crue, Airbourne, Arkells & Huron, Lustkillers and Nashville Super Pussy & Civet.

As with any other year, there are rotten eggs or disappointments. Albums I looked forward to but was incredibly disappointed with are:

The Goo Goo Dolls – ‘Rest Of Us’
Hole – ‘Nobody’s Daughter’
The Hold Steady ‘Heaven Is Whenever’

And without any further ado here is my Top 15 of 2010

15. American Hi-Fi – Fight the Frequency
14. Airbourne – No Guts, No Glory
13. Gin Blossoms – No Chocolate Cake
12. Dustin Ritter Band – Dead Airwaves
11. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Beat the Devils Tattoo

10. John Mellencamp – No Better Than This

After years of being a rock star Mellencamp says he has made the most American folk record he ever has. It was recorded with a 1955 Ampex portable recording machine while musicians gathered around the mic as a nod to the old school. It was recorded in mono to boot. Highlights include "Thinking About You," "No One Cares About Me" and "No Better Than This."

09. Black Keys – Brothers

A great psychedelic blues rock record done by the guitar-and-drum duo Black Keys. Brothers is a chill out listen kind of record that still really rocks. Highlights include "Next Girl," "Tighten Up" and "Everlasting Light."

08. American Bang – American Bang

Strutting hard out of Nashville TN these rockers put out a classic rock record that sounds like Buckcherry and Black Crowes spawned a love child. Highlights include "Whiskey Walk," "Wild and Young" and "Hurts Like Hell."

07. Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues

Justin Townes Earle has a voice that sort of resembles his fathers slightly but other than that, if you are looking for another Steve Earle record… keep looking. Justin Townes offers a more traditionalist style country crooner rather than his father’s singer/songwriter alt-country. Harlem River Blues stands on its own and flows better than his last record. JTE is really maturing. Highlights include "Ain't Waitin'," "Rogers Park" and "Slippin' and Slidin'."

06. Against Me! – White Crosses

White Crosses is a high energy pop-rock record that has a huge sound. I refuse to call this a punk rock record but you can definitely hear the punk rock influence. I am willing to say I like ‘White Crosses’ better than ‘New Wave’… there, I said it! Highlights include "Rapid Decompression," "Spanish Moss" and "High Pressure Low."

05. Jesse Malin and the St. Marks Social – Love it to Life

Jesse Malin decided to switch from Adeline Records (Green Day) to Side One Dummy Records (Gaslight Anthem and Flogging Molly) and make a raw, loose fast record. He did that, and did it well. I still like ‘07’s ‘Glitter In The Gutter’ better but ‘Love it to Life’ is still worthy of its spot on this years list. Highlights include "Burning The Bridge," “All the Way from Moscow" and "Black Boombox."

04. Gaslight Anthem – American Slang

American Slang was a hit for me from the moment heard the opening to the title track on the radio… yes radio. Weird hey? It’s more of a Gaslight Anthem record than ‘The ’59 Sound’ was, which was more a tribute to influences and even more than ‘Sink or Swim’ which was a “Let’s throw it all against the wall and see what sticks”. The Gaslight Anthem finally seem comfortable being the Gaslight Anthem. I don’t know they will ever shake the Springsteen comparison… but it could be far worse like Fall Out Bore or some shit. Highlights include "Stay Lucky," "Boxer" and "Orphans."

03. Huron – Huron

Some days this quartet from Hamilton ON could take the number one spot. I was pleasantly surprised when I witnessed this band open for the Arkells this year. A riff rock band that sounds like you melded the Odd’s, Blue Rodeo and some really good pot. Did I mention the Gretsch, SG and Telecaster guitars blended with pedal steel and distortion... interested yet? Highlights include "Chicken Wing," "Living and Dead" and "Could Not Understand."

02. Butch Walker - I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart

To me every Butch Walker record is brilliant. He never disappoints and seems to get better and better the more he ages. The man writes great songs period. ‘I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart’ has a healthy mix of songs and is quite exquisite. Highlights include “Don’t You Think Someone Should Take You Home," “Trash Day" and” She Likes Hair Bands."

01. The Biters EP’s – Self Titled & “It’s Ok to Like Biters”

This is an exception to the no EP rule for my list. Instead of putting out one full length record for their debut, the Biters have put out two stunning 5 song EP’s. The end of March the band released the first self titled EP and followed it up with another called “It’s Ok to Like Biters”. This quartet are good-time rock’n’roll revivalists that touch heavily on bubble gum pop and 70’s glam. This is my kind of music. Highlights include "Hang Around," "Melody For Lovers" and "Beat Me Baby."

I really hope Amanda Marshall and the Ripperz put out the records I expected to hear this year. Also I am really excited for Civet’s ‘Love and War’ and Social Distortion’s ‘Hard Times & Nursery Rhymes’ both due out January 18 as well as Frankie Whyte and the Dead Idols upcoming release.

I'm saying my prayers at night that bands I wish to see in the new year come through such as Vancouver’s ‘Red Vienna’ and Toronto’s ‘Darlings of Chelsea’ as well as ‘Frankie Whyte and the Dead Idols’.

Cheers Rockers

Monday, December 6, 2010

JJ Ramone's Top 25 Albums of 2010

Well folks, it's that time of year again. I can't believe December has already arrived, but here we are. Are you as sick of crappy holiday mall music as I am? Does Jessica Simpson REALLY need to release a Christmas album? At any rate, the year is almost over and now everyone's "best of" lists are starting to trickle out. So this is your humble scribe's favourite 25 albums of the year. I've been doing this for a few years now and I must say that this has to be one of the best and deepest years in music in a long, long time. I don't ever recall a year where I've bought (yes, bought... imagine that!) so many albums. It just seemed like every week there was at least one or two albums that caught my attention. And there are plenty albums that I still have to pick up at some point.

Internationally, the world has been dominated by the aural atrocities of Biebermania, Black Eyed Peas and Ke$ha. (And if I hear one more fricking song that uses autotune I am going to snap. Just because Cher thought it was a good idea in 1998 doesn't mean it's a good idea in 2010!) However, as is always the case, there are lots of amazing bands and artists out there... if you decide to look a little harder for good music instead of willingly being force-fed the next autotuned flavour of the month. Most of these great bands just happen to be from Canada... and some might even be playing at your local pub or bar.

I think it's safe to say that 2010 has been an incredible year for Canadian bands. This year saw fantastic albums by the likes of Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Stars, The New Pornographers, Sarah Harmer, Great Lake Swimmers, Zeus, Wolf Parade, Plants and Animals, Hannah Georgas... well, you get the idea. I remember when I was growing up that it was almost embarrassing to say that you liked a Canadian band. Well, things have definitely changed. Nowadays, the Great White North has a bottomless well of talented bands and artists. I think we are definitely in the Golden Age of Canadian music. This ain't the land of Anne Murray and Gino Vanelli anymore. Although I do think Kish and Harem Scarem were ahead of their time. ;-)

In terms of local Regina bands, the year was dominated by Library Voices and Rah Rah. Both put out amazing indie albums that can stand side-by-side any band in the world... and both have a plethora of rave reviews across the country to prove it. Rah Rah also got some steady rotation of their video for "Henry"on MuchMusic... during those rare times when MuchMusic actually plays music videos, that is.

While these two bands got the most press, lots of other bands have released albums and EPs, got radio play and/or put on some kick-ass live shows. So I'd just like to give a big shout-out to The Bystanders, Chad Kichula, JJ Voss, The Dustin Ritter Band, The League of One, The Rabid Whole, Black Drink Crier, Dan Silljer, Dangerous Cheese, The Real Canadian Threetles, Wonderland, Sonic Orchid, Melissa Mannett, Kerri Senkow, Into Eternity, Lest We Fail, Dirtbred, Cherrybomb, Hot Blood Bombers, Amy Nelson, Carli's Angels, Rye n' the Vats, SheKillsMe, etc etc etc. This list is just the tip of the iceberg, so don't ever say there's nothing to do in Regina!

For my list, I only included studio albums released this year. So no best-of's or live albums. There are so many other great albums that could have easily cracked the list on any other given day. As well, there were also some classic reissues that I have listened to a lot: Iggy and The Stooges' Raw Power, R.E.M.'s Fables of The Reconstruction, The Rolling Stones' Exile On Mainstreet, and Weezer's Pinkerton, to name a few. As well, I still have to pick up that impressive Bruce Springsteen Darkness On The Edge Of Town deluxe boxed set. So much music out there but so little time... and money.

So without further ado, here my Top 25 Albums of 2010... just in time for you to do your Xmas shopping. Enjoy.

25. Semi Precious Weapons - Semi Precious Weapons
24. Zeus - Say Us
23. Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
22. Vampire Weekend - Contra
21. Tired Pony - The Place We Ran From
20. M.I.A. - MAYA
19. Rah Rah - Breaking Hearts
18. Gogol Bordello - Trans-Continental Hustle
17. Jesse Malin & The St. Marks Social - Love It To Life
16. Sleigh Bells - Treats
15. Robyn - Body Talk
14. Hollerado - Record In A Bag
13. The Black Keys - Brothers
12. Grinderman - Grinderman 2
11. Sarah Harmer - Oh Little Fire

10. The National - High Violet

If you want a fun, uplifting album then avoid this album like the plague. However, if you want the perfect soundtrack for a rainy day, getting dumped, or the morning after, then this album is perfect for you. Brooding never sounded so good. Highlights include ""Bloodbuzz Ohio," "Terrible Love," and the sublime "Runaway."

9. Against Me! - White Crosses

I am a huge sucker for melody and big, crunching choruses and this band has them in spades. This is perfect music to run to. These former anarchist punks have delivered a stunning followup to New Wave, again with help from producer Butch Vig. I was fortunate to see these guys at the Riddell Centre and was really impressed... lots of energy, great vocals, and a genuine sense that they were having fun... although I did feel a little old. Highlights include "High Pressure Low," "Teenage Anarchist," "Suffocation" and the Springsteen-esque "Because of the Shame."

8. Jenny and Johnny - We're Having Fun Now

Jenny Lewis has to be my favourite female singer right now. After her inward-looking Acid Tongue, Lewis has teamed up with her longtime boyfriend Johnathan Rice to release a rollicking collection of songs. The lyrics still contain Lewis' acerbic wit and bite, but the songs are sugarcoated with sunny California harmonies to help ease the sting a bit. Highlights include "Big Wave," "Scissor Runner" and album closer "Committed."

7. Library Voices - Denim On Denim

Regina's own Library Voices deliver a near perfect collection of "pop" songs... in the classic Beatles, XTC, Elvis Costello, Talking Heads sense of the word. This is a band that is becoming legendary for their live show. However, the reason they have developed such a rabid following is because because their songs are so damn good and catchy. In a perfect world, songs like "Haunt This House," "Drinking Games," "Bookish,"and "Bodies of Fiction" would be as huge as Biebermania.

6. Pete Yorn - Pete Yorn

Pete Yorn just made his best album since his classic debut Music For The Morning After. With producer Frank Black at the helm, Yorn has released his most loose and fun set of tunes. There are some definite nods to the Pixies here, but this is still definitely a Pete Yorn album... albeit more of an amped up, garage rock version of Yorn. Highlights include "The Chase," "Rock Crowd" and "Precious Stone."

5. The New Pornographers - Together

On their fifth album, this Canadian "supergroup" find a happy balance between their recent mellow Challengers album, and the super charged power pop that they're famous for. Carl "A.C." Neuman's British Invasion-esque songs + Neko Case and Kathryn Calder's dreamy vocals = power pop heaven. And if that's not enough, former Reginan (and formerly of Age of Electric/Limblifter) Kurt Dahle holds down the fort with his rocksteady drumming. Highlights include " Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk," "Crash Years," and "Moves."

4. The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang

It's amazing how an album can grow on you over time. I was initially really disappointed with The Gaslight Anthem's third album, largely because my expectations were so high after The '59 Sound. Some critics slag them off as merely being revivalists and rehashing Springsteen and The Clash, but I am willing to forgive them since they bring the goods with killer songs. It's pretty hard to be original nowadays with a guitar-bass-drums setup so you may as well emulate the best. Highlights include "Stay Lucky," "Boxer," "Bring It On" and "The Spirit of Jazz."

3. Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record

After surviving internal tension, solo albums and seeing several of their satellite band members see success in their other "day jobs" (Metric, Feist, Stars, Jason Collett, Apostle of Hustle, etc), Kevin Drew and company have put together their best batch of tunes, keeping their self-indulgence to a minimum. This album is a total experience from start to finish. Highlights include "All To All," "Forced To Love," "Sentimental X's," and "Texico Bitches."

2. Stars - The Five Ghosts

This album has definitely received mixed reviews, but I have pretty much listened to this album nonstop since I first picked it up in June. This album is a bit more surface-level than these indie dream-poppers classic Set Yourself On Fire, but I think this stands up to Stars' best work. The focus this time around is on the electro-pop of their early records instead of the chamber pop of their last two albums. I would argue that the opening 1-2-3-4 punch of "Dead Hearts," "Wasted Daylight," "I Died So I Could Haunt You" and "Fixed" is the best string of songs on any album this year.

1. Arcade Fire - The Suburbs

This is probably the "No shit, Sherlock" pick of the year and no doubt it'll wind up in the top 5 lists of Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, Spin, ChartAttack, NME, etc, but there is just no denying how utterly incredible this album is. After the somewhat disappointing Neon Bible, Montreal's Arcade Fire deliver an undisputed masterpiece. This album may not zap you right from the first listen, but give it a bit of time and you'll be hooked. I am seriously kicking myself for not making the trek to Saskatoon for the concert because I heard it was transcendent. Highlights include "Ready To Start," "Empty Room," "Month of May" and "The Suburbs." However, "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" is hands down the best song of the year. Who knew Win Butler could write a Blondie song?

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Well, there you have it kids. It has definitely been a helluva year for music. Like I mentioned earlier, there are tons of albums I never had the chance to pick up so this list is only the tip of the iceberg for great music that was released this year. I'd love to hear if you agree or disagree with my picks. The fun thing about music is debating lists like these. If I were to draft up this list next week, I am positive it would be quite different. Even though I do have impeccable tastes, they are just MY tastes. :-)


Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dustin Ritter Band – Dead Airwaves

The Dustin Ritter Band or the DRB as most fans have shortened are a three piece rock band based out of Regina. DRB was formed in 2009 by frontman guitarist/songwriter Dustin Ritter, bassist Chicken Fingers Travis Reshaur and Judd Stachoski.

The band put out a three song demo featuring songs “Broke Feet”, “LTD” and “Swing for the Fence” in 2009. It was apparent that this was a band to take notice of. Their versatility as a band lends them to play with anyone and anywhere in the province. They come by it honestly with the three members all being Saskatchewan boys and supporting our eclectic live music community.

Just recently the band put out their debut release. I was excited for this as I enjoy the band very much live and thought their ep/demo had great songs that could make a great record. I wondered if those songs would make the cut on the new record. They did. They sound bigger, better and fuller on the finished product, Dead Airwaves. They are accompanied by ten other equally great songs. The band is hard to describe. They take from all sorts of influences. This is apparent in their record, but if I had to describe DRB I would say they are a Headstones kind band with more folk, more pop and more funk sounds.

The record is great for all ages. It really has something for everyone. While it is probably best described as folk-rock record, some songs rock harder than others. Songs such as ‘Do This Thing’ which is reminiscent of 90’s grunge with killer backing vocals that make it my favourite “rock” song on the record and ‘The Most Annoying Thing’ which really picks up at the end making surprisingly better than it already is. Others walk the fine line of almost being country such as ‘Stuck in the Psych Ward’. The song never quite falls there, rather the song just takes guitar elements of the country genre all while Dustin’s vocals keeps it the steady at the folk-rock wheel.

‘No Avoiding This’ is an anthemetic sing-a-long that Travis shines on seamlessly. ‘Broke Feet’ and ‘Echo When I’m Gone’ are campfire-esque songs that make my shoulders sway while listening to them. I can picture the smiles and good time fun that the DRB bring to every show in these two. ‘Let’s Pretend’ is a relaxed reflective piece about life that Judd’s larger than life sound is apparent on.

‘Into Steam’ almost has a Goo Goo Dolls like feel to it. That being said Dustin is sure to make it his own with distinct vocals. Dustin chooses some unique vocal phrasing on my favourite track on the record ‘Swing for the Fence’, however it also makes the song. It’s still is a dancey sing-a-long that I have had on repeat for entire afternoons.

I can’t help hear an almost Sesame St melody in ‘Backup Plan’. I know it was completely unintentional but it makes me smile. The record ends with the title track that I could lay on the couch and listen to for hours. It’s a relaxing therapeutic song to me that is complimented with the nice addition of Donnie Johnson’s violin.

There are no blistering solos on the record. No songs about strip clubs or heroin. It’s just a great folk-rock record in which all the songs meld together nicely.

But don’t take my world for it… buy the record.

Cheers Rockers.

Album Artwork by: Evgenia Mikhaylova
Evgenia Mikhaylova: Dustin Ritter Band New Album Coming Soon!!!!!!!!!guess....with my cover!!!!!

Band photo courtesy of Kim Jay photography

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's Ok To Like Biters!!

Lately I find the only way to find great music in today’s saturated culture is browsing my facebook news feeds to see the bands friends are posting. Luckily I have few with good taste in major centres. So I was browsing the feed the other day and came across a post with text that read “I love good time rock’n’roll. This Biters band is winning me over.” I naturally clicked the link and was more than pleasantly surprised.

Singer/Guitar player Tuk is from a couple bands that you probably have never heard (the Heart Attacks as well as the Poison Arrows). He hopes to make a go with this bubble-glam-punk quartet the Biters.

The Biters first two releases have both been stunning 5 song ep’s. The end of March the band released the first self titled ep and followed it up with another called “It’s Ok to Like Biters”.

Sometimes doing the revival of a genre thing sinks fast, but from the few bands I have heard doing this type of music the Biters may just do it the best. I may even like them better than the Pink Spiders. Its close I am not sure yet, but I will get back to you on that.

Highlights off the first ep are songs like “Hang Around” which bangs it out with lots tambourine, hooks and fun guitar licks. It’s an Exploding Hearts type song that has you singing along before you hardly know the words. Another one from the first ep that I really liked was a song called “So Cheap So Deadly”. This song sounds like it’s the grandchild of Bowie in the early 70’s.

On the second ep “It’s Ok to Like Biters” is from start to finish is catchy, fun and confident. The standout track on this record called “Melody For Lovers”. Come on who doesn't like hand claps and fun strut pop. “How could I know that lovin’ you was suicide? That’s how it goes when you’re standing on the landmine. Oh baby you move over but so do I. We’ll keep on walking till we make to the other side. Take me to the other side” Tuk sings. Watch the video below and try not to have smile on your face… I dare you.

All of the songs on both ep’s really strive to be hits. That being said I don’t know why any of them couldn’t. The Biters are four young men in skinny jeans, leather jackets and the raddest mullets you have ever seen. All they while they are slinging freewheeling, energetic good-time rock’n’roll songs at you.

If you like anything from Cheap Trick and the Only Ones to the Pink Spiders and the Stokes then this band is for you. If not I have to wonder, were you allowed to have fun as a kid... or now for that. The Biters won't save rock'n'roll but maybe they aren't trying to save it. By the looks of things they just like a good time like you and I and I am more than glad that it's apparent in their music.

Cheers Rockers!!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Pete Yorn - Pete Yorn

Almost ten years ago Pete Yorn stormed out of the gates with his brilliant debut album Music For The Morning After, which is still one of my favorite albums of the last decade. That album had hints of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska with its melancholic tone and spare song structures. However, his output since then has been a little spotty, culminating in last year's collaboration with Scarlett Johansson. But hey, I'll forgive him since he recorded an album with Scarlett freakin' Johansson.

Well, now Yorn is back with his self-titled fifth album. And he's back in a big way. This time Yorn has brought in Frank Black (aka Black Francis) from the legendary Pixies to produce. This collaboration has definitely jolted some new life into Yorn. The end result is a great batch of tunes with more of a raw edge compared to Yorn's earlier work. Yorn hasn't sounded this loose and lively since his cover of the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend" a few years ago.

The album opens with the garage rocker "Precious Stone," which begins with some haunting background vocals vaguely reminiscent of "Where Is My Mind." With Black on hand behind the booth, there are definitely more than a few nods to the Pixies. For instance, Yorn attempts a few Frank Black yelps on occasion and alternates between spoken word verses and quasi-screaming choruses on the furious "Badman." Black's production has the feel of a band playing live off the floor.

While Black's influence is evident (and more than welcome), this is still definitely a Pete Yorn album. Lyrically, he doesn't sing about slicing up eyeballs or monkeys going to heaven. Instead, with his everyman voice, Yorn focuses on love, lust and... um... velcro shoes. I think it's safe to say that Yorn is the first artist in history to record a song called "Velcro Shoes."

The standout track of the album is "The Chase," which features the lines "I can see you anytime/ That's why I don't care/ I want what isn't there." It's a little harsh but I'm sure a lot of people can relate to this sentiment. Another highlight is "Rock Crowd," which is essentially an ode to his fans, dealing with the "shared experience" of a performer and audience at a show. A song like this has the potential of verging on Nickelback territory. However, this sounds like it could've been a lost Springsteen track.

This album is being hailed as Yorn's "return to form" album and rightfully so. It's definitely worth checking out. You can check out his performance of "Velcro Shoes" on Jimmy Fallon below...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Grinderman - Grinderman 2

Very few people in the world of rock 'n' roll get cooler with age. Nick Cave, along with the likes of Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen, is definitely one of these rare people. Over the course of thirty plus years (through his work with The Birthday Party, The Bad Seeds, and now Grinderman), Cave has defied the odds and has arguably become as relevant as ever with his recent string of releases.

Grinderman is basically The Bad Seeds pared down to a core of four members. The end result is a a raw, stripped down band that specialize in a "seedy" and explosive brand of blues-based rock. Grinderman 2, the band's unoriginally titled second album, is a natural progression from their debut. The guitars screech and rip, the bass and drums shake the earth's foundation, while Cave howls and hollers at times like a man possessed.

Some albums come straight from the heart. Well, this is not one of those albums. This one comes straight from the crotch. Case in point: "Well my baby calls me the Loch Ness Monster/ Two great big humps and then I'm gone." It's safe to say that Cave isn't as concerned with subtlety here as he has been with The Bad Seeds. Grinderman provide an outlet for Cave and his cohorts to get their ya-ya's out and have some good old fashioned fun. Well... that is if your idea of fun includes stories of heathen children, the Big Bad Wolf and children who cry like demons.

Standout songs include "Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man," "Heathen Child," and "Worm Tamer." However, the album's highlight is the one song that strays from the central feel of the album. The gospel tinged "Palaces of Montezuma" sounds like The Bad Seeds covering a U2 outtake from The Joshua Tree. On paper it doesn't sound like it should work. However, Cave and company have instead given the album a semblance of heart... instead of just a hard on.

You can check out the band's NSFW video for "Heathen Child" below. I can't lie, it's pretty bizarre but really entertaining.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sharing the Love Rock Revolution, Scatterheart to the Rescue: Second Interview with Vancouver Love Rockers Scatterheart

Scatterheart, a Theatrical Love Rock band from Vancouver are playing an all ages show in Regina at the Exchange tonight September 9th.

With a new western Canadian tour under way in support their Love Rock Revolution, I recently had a chance to ask the boys of Canadian glam/punk-rock outfit Scatterheart a few questions. They are on their way to your town to dazzle you with their Love Rock Spectacle.

"The flavour is reminiscent of the '70's and '80's. Think Platinum Blonde meets Freddie Mercury with a little Bowie tossed in for good measure." - Camrose Canadian writer Kelly Barrett had this to say about Vancouver based band Scatterheart.

Handstands, guitar solos, sing-alongs, dance contests, catchy songs - and above all... an amazing live experience!

Here is what the fantastic Scatterheart had to say:

SPUN: How would you describe the sound of your music and what makes you feel that your album is different from other artists in your genre?

Scatterheart: Our overall goal is to create music that is uplifting AND powerful. There’s a lot of softer music that is uplifting and a lot of heavier music that is dark and intense. Both are cool, but we’re trying to take elements from each and create a two headed super music. Like if Zeus and Cupid had an illegitimate child.

SPUN: Have you written or created a song that didn’t make the album cut that you wished would have?

Scatterheart: Yes and no. There are times where you write what seems like a great song and you want the whole world to hear it but at the same time when we are working on a full album, it’s the full album that we’re creating, if that particular song doesn’t fit then it’ll have it’s place elsewhere. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

SPUN: Do you have any musical pet peeves?

Scatterheart: We tried to keep a few pet peeves, but we found it cost too much to feed them. Also, they wouldn’t let us take our peeves on the airplane with us. Oh - and they weren’t very musical. We tried to teach one to play keyboards and sing background vocals for us but he just hit all the keys at once and yelled. We gave them away to a nice family in Delaware who takes care of them for us, but there isn’t a day we don’t think about them... Oh peeves...

SPUN: Besides music, what are your favorite things to do? What keeps you grounded?

Scatterheart: Wes likes Hockey, Jesse likes Yoga and Mike and Doug like long walks on the beach. Together. Yes, you heard us.

SPUN: What would you say is your favorite song on the album and why?

Scatterheart: Those are our babies you can’t make us pick one over the other, but if we had to it would easily be Beautiful, it’s such a feel good song, or maybe The Free, love the energy of it, or no, wait, Take A Look Around.... uhm, ya, we can’t pick.

SPUN: What do you miss most, besides family and friends, while you are out traveling and touring?

Scatterheart: Sleeping in our own beds, making food on a stove and doing laundry (all at the same time). Jesse misses his hyperbaric chamber and pet monkeys.

SPUN: When not on stage you and your bandmates can often be found around the merch table? How important is it to be available to your fans?

Scatterheart: It’s the most important thing we do, without the fans we wouldn’t have anywhere to tour. And we have such awesome loving fans that it’s a pleasure to get to meet them all. We’ve had the pleasure of meeting a lot of great people because of it. “Hi everyone!”

SPUN: What kinds of comments do you get?

Scatterheart: I love the wings, can I wear them? I love the hat can I have it? I love your jacket, where’d you get it? I love your drummer, can I kiss keep him?

SPUN: What’s the secret to living on the road?

Scatterheart: A 12” color TV with a collection of Steve Martin movies.

SPUN: What phrase do you never want to hear again?

Scatterheart: Hit me baby one more time!

SPUN: This is where it gets random!!

Scatterheart: Yes. Yes it is. Good question, by the way.

SPUN: If you could pick which character from the wizard of Oz you are like, who would it be? The Lion, The Tinman, The Scarecrow, Dorothy or the Wizard?

Scatterheart: The Lion, because he had the most heart - plus I think he’d look good in feathered shoulder pads.

SPUN: Have you ever shaved any part of your body other than your face?

Scatterheart: Do eyebrows count?

SPUN: How come rappers never smile in photo's?

Scatterheart: Because they are afraid of letting people know that they are beautiful inside. (And maybe they can’t afford to go to the dentist.)

SPUN: Amanda wants to know who does your hair?

Scatterheart: All hair is done within the band, colorings, cuts, the whole she-bang! You need to when you’re on the road, we can’t bring a stylist with us yet so we’ve learn to be crafty with the scissors.

SPUN: Rick Wants to know if you could live out one movie what would it be?

Scatterheart: 1984, it was such a great year for music, oh wait....

SPUN: Kim wants to know if the moon is in the 7th house and Jupiter aligns with Mars... do you really believe that peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars? If you don't know just smile and nod like I do to her.

Scatterheart: *Smiling and nodding :) Jesse agrees though.

Scatterheart Loves You!! :)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Scatterheart - The Masterplan

I first saw Scatterheart well over a year ago at The Distrikt when they opened for Bif Naked. Right from the start, this was a band that commanded your attention. Even before the opening notes, the band just looked like they had IT. The band dressed sharp and their charismatic singer, Jesse Enright, was wearing his now trademark football shoulder pads adorned with feathers. Right away it was obvious that this wasn't going to be shoe-gazing music. That night they definitely won over the Bif crowd, who no doubt recognized guitarist Doug Fury from his decade-long tenure with Ms. Naked.

Since then, I've had the pleasure of seeing them two or three more times while they've toured the hell out of their debut album, The Masterplan. These guys are definitely road warriors! Since they are an independent band, they are building their audience one show at a time. And what a show they put on... feathers, yoga headstands, bubble machines, dance contests and covers of Rush, Queen and U2 thrown in for good measure. Simply put, Scatterheart are just tons of fun. They combine the dumb fun of hair metal, the energy of punk rock and the artsiness of 7o's glam rock. With his stage get-up and piercing voice, Jesse Enright reminds me of what would happen if Perry Farrell, Dee Snider and David Bowie had an orgy. These guys are the most fun Canadian rock band since Robin Black decided to focus on MMA.

As good as their live show is, it would all mean nothing if their songs were shite. Luckily, The Masterplan is a stellar batch of tunes. Aside from one or two forgettable songs, their debut is loaded with instantly memorable melodies, crunching guitars and a tight rhythm section. These are unabashed pop songs brimming with positive energy. It's so easy to be cynical and negative in today's world. In particular, it's easier to write songs filled with angst and negative energy. So it's refreshing every now and then for a rock band to have the balls to promote potentially hokey and cheesy themes as love and positivity. Thankfully, they pull it off just fine. Standout songs include "Beautiful," "More Man Than A Man," "The Free" and "We Are Stars."

Make sure to check them out when they spread their "love rock revolution" at The Exchange September 9! You can check out a great live clip of their performance of "The Free" at the Busan International Rock Festival. (I don't think The Exchange can fit this many people...)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

American Hi-Fi: 'Fight the Frequency'

To say that ‘Fight the Frequency’ is a lot different from American Hi-Fi’s previous efforts would be a lie. However after taking a break to be Miley Cyrus’ back up band (yeah I know… *scoff*) and label issues the band is able to put their latest effort’ Fight the Frequency’ was supposed to be out in ’07 to follow up ‘05’s ‘Hearts On Parade’.

The record is strong and to me has a ‘Lit’ meets ‘Something Corporate’ feel. They don’t follow regular mainstream formula's where ballads are ballads and rock songs are rock songs. Instead they kind of meld the two ideas’ on most. That being said they still generally lean on way or another. There are some balls out rock tunes on the record such as ‘Fight the Frequency, ‘Frat Clump’ and ‘Bullet. The only ballady one is “Where Love is a Lie” but even that is a stretch and ‘Tiny Spark’ has elements of a ballad, however I would hardly consider it a ballad. The other eight are a meld of the two, straight up great song pop’n’roll songs like ‘Acetate’ and ‘Lost’.

I believe they have taken some tips from their friend Butch Walker in making sure this record was polished and produced well. Lead singer Stacy Jones is no slouch as a producer as well. Where this record beats the previous ones is that I would have taken some tracks of previous records. This one I wouldn’t. A couple tracks may get played less but they stay. The sound quality is here. If you like well written pop songs and their previous efforts, give it a spin. I love it but always have liked this band. I would say it’s their best record to date, just edging out ‘03’s ‘Art of Losing’…just barely. American Hi-Fi is definitely a consistent band.

As much as I love their first single ‘Lost’, I probably would have picked something with a little more punch. It’s a great record with a lot of swagger and riffing energy. ‘Fight the Frequency’ is great… not superb or excellent and far from classic… just great. I am looking forward to the bands next record that will be a lot similar to this one and the one before and the one before.

My favourite on the record is ‘Keep It Like a Secret’

“I don't know how you love
With that smile on your face
It's all take and no give
You're an amazing disgrace

Hide the lies between the bloodshot eyes
Keep it close to me
I'll never let it show

You got your army but they're my spies
Keep it like a secret man
I just cant let it go
Let it go”


The first single 'Lost' has embedding disabled by the users request. Check out the link.

Cheers Rockers!!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Liz Phair - Funstyle


Liz, Liz, Liz. We had such a good thing going. Ever since 1994 when I immersed myself in Whip-smart and Exile in Guyville. To this day I still rate Exile as one of the top 5 best albums ever made. Since then, I've been extremely patient with your sporadic release dates. However, each time I've been rewarded for the most part with some great music. I even let slide your blatant attempt at going from an indie critics' darling to a MILF version of Avril Lavigne. I understood this because you once sang "It's nice to be liked, but it's better by far to be paid" on "Shitloads of Money." Hell, I even really enjoyed the much maligned MOR adult-alternative of Somebody's Miracle.

But now you've gone and done THIS.

Please tell me this is a joke. Funstyle? More like Exile From Tuneville. One of the first lines of the opener "Satisfied" is "It's nice to take a detour sometimes." Well, this is one helluva detour Liz! I hope you're satisfied because my ears sure aren't! So I really hope you are taking the piss out all of us and just releasing this unannounced album as a joke.

Let's start with the album "artwork." Really? A half-assed screensaver? I know you're not on a major label anymore since your attempt at being a mainstream pop star failed, but really? You couldn't spend an extra fifteen minutes to make something more presentable? Hell, I have a few friends that could've whipped up something nice for you in 30 minutes or less. You could've just called.

And what about the "songs"? This collection of songs (I won't even call it an album) sound like they were just thrown together. "Satisfied" has a nice enough melody, but a line like "I came, I saw, I kicked it's ass" makes Chad Kroeger sound like Bob Frickin' Dylan. And I know M.I.A. is all the rage with the indie hipster kids out there, but "Bollywood" is just downright embarrassing. You have a couple songs that sound like typical Liz Phair songs, but they sound like you just punched in and punched out. Other tracks sound like they could be the backing tracks for Randy "Macho Man" Savage's "rap" album.

Seriously Liz... this is a joke, right? You're just pulling an Andy Kaufman on us, like that time where he read the The Great Gatsby from start to finish in front of the university crowd that were expecting Latka. That's what's going on here, right? If so, I get it. I really do. It's bad on purpose. You're just making this detour before hitting us with a classic album, right? Okay then. Whew. I'll just wait for the next album and laugh at this "effort." You really had me going there. Whew.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Stars - The Five Ghosts

With The Five Ghosts, Stars return with their fifth full length album of sublime dream pop. After going for a more mellow chamber pop sound on the classic Set Yourself On Fire and In Our Bedroom After The War, the band has gone for a more electronic sound this time around. As the title suggests, the majority of the songs here deal with ghosts. Appropriately, the electronic soundscapes that dominate this album are perfect for this subject. Sonically and thematically, the songs have a light, airy, ethereal feel.

This is by far the most concise album Stars have released to date, clocking in at approximately 37 minutes and consisting of just 11 songs. The emphasis here is uptempo songs in the vein of "The Night Starts Here," "Ageless Beauty," and "Elevator Love Letter." Fans of slower earlier songs like "Personal" and "Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" may be slightly disappointed, but The Five Ghosts has lots for a Stars fan to love.

The trademark male-female vocal interplay between Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan is still evident, particularly in the stunning album opener "Dead Hearts." However, Millan simply DOMINATES this album. "Wasted Daylight" and first single "Fixed" are hands down two of my favourite songs of the year. That being said, Campbell doesn't exactly punch it in for this record. He shines on the atmospheric, pulsating album focal point "He Dreams He's Awake."

Despite dealing with grave subject matter like death and ghosts, Stars manage to make the songs light and fun. This album is not as strong as their masterpiece Set Yourself On Fire (what albums are?), but it's definitely worthy of a spot in their stellar catalogue. This is definitely one of my favourite albums of the year so far.

You can check out their video for "Fixed" below.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Gaslight Anthem - American Slang (both Kent Rocks & JJ Ramone thoughts)

Here is what Kent Rocks had to say:

After two records of figuring themselves out I think the Jersey boys of The Gaslight Anthem have really come into their own. Where the first two records are very aimed at educating on their influences (primarily Springsteen), this is the first Gaslight Anthem record in many ways.

The Gaslight Anthem deserve commercial stardom and I am amazed this band hasn’t reached that level. They should be everyone’s new favorite band. This record is a healthy blend of old school tradition done in their own way mixed with pop sensibilities of the 21st century. Brian Fallon and band seem to be done being the flag runners for the bands that have inspired them and have come to the conclusion that many bands have, which is “Fuck it! We are gonna do this our way.”

The musicianship of this record is a lot tighter than the first. There is something going on ALL the time. Killer riffs and more intricate guitar parts than that last record are peppered throughout the record that work perfectly. Open chords and campfire songs seem to be leaving the band. Sure there are Against Me comparisons, however, I will say this: The Gaslight Anthem writes way better songs than Against Me! This record is more rock and less sing-along which is the Gaslight Anthem’s strong suit. I am sure I will get crucified for this but “Sink or Swim was in my eyes a better, raw, “knock your dick in the dirt” kind of record, where as “The ‘59 Sound” was all like “come sing with us”. Now that being said I feel their two best songs are on “The ‘59 Sound” but “Sink or Swim” was a better record. This is because it was their first record. Most bands do this. Throw it all against the wall and see what sticks. The thing about “American Slang” is that they took all the best attributes of the first two records and expanded and made it more beautiful.

These four young cats approached this record aggressively and made a gorgeous record. The Gaslight Anthem seem focused on great records. They are paying dues and doing it the meat and potatoes way. I am scared to think how phenomenal the fourth record could be. Brian Fallon can write a fricken song. Can Justin Beiber?

Highlights? For me it’s definitely the most pop friendly song on the record “Stay Lucky” and “Boxer” which the cadence of Brian’s voice mixed with the fact that it’s a superbly well written song really hit home runs with me. All around stunning record. HMV is selling it at a price of $9.99 so be sure to pick it up.

Cheers Rockers!!

... and now for JJ Ramone's thoughts

After showing potential on their debut, The Gaslight Anthem struck gold with 2008's The '59 Sound. Hailing from New Jersey, Brian Fallon and company wore their influences (namely Jersey's golden boy Bruce Springsteen) proudly on their sleeve. Not shying away from his idol, Fallon even referenced several Springsteen lyrics on their last album ("Bobby Jean," "No Surrender" etc). However, if you are going to emulate your heroes you can do far worse than Mr. Springsteen!

With American Slang, the Springsteen influence is still readily apparent. Fallon still writes arena friendly songs with lyrics that hearken back to nostalgic 1950's cinema and Jack Kerouac... classic cars, girls and rebels without causes. The danger with writing songs with these grand, sweeping themes is that the lyrics can often wind up sounding trite, cliched and hokey (see Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams and most mainstream country music.) When done well, the results can be exhilarating (see Tom Petty, The Killers circa Sam's Town and The Arcade Fire.) Luckily, Fallon hits the mark most of the time.

This time around, the band also brings another influence to the forefront, The Clash. This is particularly evident in the reggae tinged "The Queen of Lower Chelsea." As well, Fallon specifically references The Clash's "Tommy Gun" later in the album. (In a related note, Fallon appears in Springsteen's new concert DVD... entitled London Calling, where Springsteen indeed covers The Clash.)

The Gaslight Anthem are definitely not the most original band out there, but they do what they do extremely well. American Slang is an energetic album of punked up Springsteen anthems with a couple slower tunes thrown in to showcase Fallon's soulful rasp. Album closer (without counting the iTunes bonus track "She Loves You") "We Did It When We Were Young" is the perfect way to end the album. The song gradually gains momentum with stripped down, echoing guitars and Fallon's double-tracked vocals that sound like they were sung underwater.

If you didn't like The '59 Sound, this album probably won't convert you. However, if you did like their last album, this definitely won't disappoint. It's definitely worth $10. Highlights include "American Slang," "Boxer," "Stay Lucky" and "Bring It On."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The New Pornographers - Together

For their fifth album, indie supergroup The New Pornographers find a happy medium between the pure power pop of their first three albums and the lush, restrained sounds of their last album Challengers. Carl (A.C.) Newman and his troupe of indie rock darlings have yet again put together a stellar batch of well executed pop tunes that will linger in your head long after the album is over.

Once again, the incomparable Neko Case is their self-described "secret weapon." Her powerful, sultry vocals are perfect for Newman-penned tunes like the insanely catchy "Crash Years" and the crunching "Your Hands (Together)." "Crash Years" also features a wacky hook consisting of whistles... human whistles. I was really impressed when they actually pulled this feat off live on David Letterman a few weeks ago.

One of the many highlights of this album is "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk," which features Kathyrn Calder (of Immaculate Machine) on lead vocals for the first time on record. Initially, Calder was brought into the band to fill in for Neko Case while on tour but is now a full-time member. Her voice is a little more thin than Case's, and not as distinct (but whose voice is?), but it is pleasant nonetheless. She definitely holds her own on this tune, which sounds like it could be an outtake from The Beatles' Revolver or Rubber Soul.

As always, Dan Bejar (of Destroyer) contributes some songs. I haven't been the biggest fan of his songs on earlier New Pornographers albums but he really steps up to the plate for this go around. In particular, "Silver Jenny Dollar" really fits in with the feel of the rest of the album. Normally, his tunes sound like quirky diversions from Newman's pop masterpieces.

The New Pornographers can really do no wrong. They are one of the most consistent bands out there right now. You can check out their video for "Crash Years" (whistles included) below.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Butch Walker - I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart

Butch Walker is a pop genius that has once again truly outdone himself with "I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart". The follow-up to 2008’s heartache born nostalgic autobiographical "Sycamore Meadows" is loaded with crafty pop hooks and his smashing songwriting ability is as always very apparent.

The record starts strong with “Trash Day” which is much like the stylings of legend Tom Petty and ends just as well with his classic smile and wink wit in “Days/Month/Years”. That being said the going gets great at about the middle of the record.

It’s hard to believe that this artist that is doing very much something similar to the California country thing of the 70’s that was made famous by the Eagles and Jackson Browne was once in a hair band from Georgia “South Gang”. “I was in one, so it's a little too close to home." Walker explains in “She Likes Hair Bands”. This track is a witty gem about a smutty girl. It has probably my favourite lyrics from the record such as the following:

“She likes Mary Jane

But she says she doesn't like the smell

And She's got a baby

And by the way she walks I can't tell

She's got a birthmark

On the inside of her thigh

Ask me how I know (Ha)

About the inside of her thigh

She knows the Japanese alphabet

But She don't know me-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e


Going the piano-ballad route is that classic Walker Ballad in “Canadian Ten” that doesn’t disappoint. Also a nice bonus if the record was purchased in store is a download card comes included for a superb cover or Taylor Swift‘s “You Belong With Me”. You can't help but smile at the thought of this.

This record has everything that makes a record great. Great la-la-la-la-la’s, great hand claps and great influences such as the glorious pop track that reeks of Phil Spector “Pretty Melody”. It’s the song that’s going to make me a Beatles fan…

In a time where contemporary music is loaded with bands making folk/indie records that fall short, Butch is making great records from start to finish. Most artists can’t make a record this fresh, modern and relevant and still make every song count...but then again most artists aren't Butch Walker.

"I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart" is power pop soaked and folk/indie infused. I don’t think this is going to be the record that defines his career or catapults him to stardom but it’s going to keep his extremely loyal fan base extremely happy… at least till the next record.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The National - High Violet

I had huge expectations for The National's latest album since their last full-length, Boxer, remains one of my favourite albums of the last few years. As well, I was fortunate enough to see them live when they opened up for R.E.M. and Modest Mouse a couple years ago. When I picked up this album almost a month ago I was initially disappointed. However, over the last couple weeks it has REALLY grown on me. I think part of the reason is that The National released the album when the weather here in Regina was prematurely Summer-like. Since this band's music combines elements of Nick Cave, The Velvet Underground, Joy Division and Leonard Cohen, it's not ideally suited for bright sunny days. Jimmy Buffett this ain't.

So maybe it's the turn in weather that has made me appreciate this album that much more. Since it's been raining almost non-stop I've had a chance to really absorb this album. High Violet demands your attention. With each successive listen, this album's charms trickle out until it finally becomes mesmerizing and stunning. It's pretty much a flawless album. Each of the 11 songs (plus iTunes bonus track "Walk Off") blends seamlessly into the next, creating a moody atmosphere which is perfect for late nights or early mornings. Singer Matt Berninger, with his rich, deep baritone, and his band create the perfect soundtrack for people in their late 20's and early 30's. Their songs aren't sad or gloomy... they're just realistic. For instance, every adult can relate to lines like "I still owe money to the money I owe." This is guaranteed to be on my shortlist for album for the year.

You can check out the video for their excellent first single "Bloodbuzz Ohio" below.