Thursday, May 9, 2013

LENGTHWISE: The Burning Hell - People

It's pretty interesting that the first song ("Grown-Ups") on People, the new album from The Burning Hell, sounds like a bittersweet lament of what might have been. This is a band whose last record, Flux Capacitor, traded quite heavily in the joys of nostalgia. A shift in tone this abrupt is quite telling; these St. John's upstarts once content to unleash their ambitions on song cycles about life cycles have now turned their ambition towards the songs themselves.

People still has that unique blend of deadpan vocals (the dulcet baritone of Mathias Kom) and klezmer stomp, but there is a tender side to Kom's lyrics (particularly on "Travel Writers" and the aforementioned "Grown-Ups") that pushes the album and the band out of the novelty-song dugout. It's an alternate-universe Yo La Tengo, with reed instruments.

Perhaps the world record amount of touring has turned Kom's previous fixation on death into a mellower, yet more world-weary fixation on life's variety. The record's theme, resonant on the stand-out  up-tempo "Amateur Rappers" (sure to be a live favourite) seems to be that of human potential. We are all capable of doing anything, Kom asserts, no matter how trivial. This theme finds it's obvious conclusion on album closer "Industrialists", an epic that sounds like Leonard Cohen's lost Lee Hazlewood sessions. It may be easy to make broad generalizations about all people everywhere, but it takes a certain maturity and perspective to make broad generalizations so simple that they are irrefutably true. "It takes all kinds of people to make a world" is a pretty basic statement to make, but it's wise beyond The Burning Hell's years.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Is Feedbands A Scam Or Is It Just Useless?

I clicked on the ad. It's a relatively unobtrusive black block you've probably seen on your favourite music blog. It says something about subscribing to monthly records and getting the first one for free. Hey wait, I like records! I clicked on the ad for Feedbands. What the hell is Feedbands?

Here's what their business model looks like according to their website:

This struck me as a pretty interesting idea. As I scrolled through the sales pitch, however, it struck me just how strange it really is. Even though Feedbands insists they have a policy of accepting returned records should subscribers not actually enjoy what's been sent to them, there is no way to preview the records and prevent all that hassle. They keep the releases a secret, stating it is to uphold the integrity of the product.

I call bullshit on that. The company itself has a mobile app where songs are streaming and can be voted on. While any band can upload music on the Feedbands site, it's up to Feedbands to decide what music makes "the cut" onto the mobile app. Votes for songs on the mobile app help determine which record gets pressed each month. This makes sense from a fiscal point of view; focus-group testing the music you are about to release is a good way of ensuring subscribers will not return the records, and thereby making more money. Y'know for the bands, since it's all about the music. Music that "rocks" and is "killer" and "smashing". 

So I downloaded the app and I started streaming songs. None of the music was inherently bad. It all seemed pretty well put together and unobtrusive. As I explored the options available to me I was exposed to rap, folk, funk, synth-pop, and some more folk. All of it sounded fine, but none of it left much of an impression on me. These are just people trying to get their music heard by new ears, people who might like a paycheque out of it too. It struck me pretty quickly, though, that I WOULD NEVER WILLINGLY BUY $20 RECORDS FROM ANY OF THESE ARTISTS. 

That might make me a snob. I buy plenty of music, though, and I regret buying quite a bit of it. All of it means something to me at some point, and that's really where my passion for music comes from. I connect to music on a personal level, associate it with memories and experiences and other people. I can't just listen to something out of the blue, immediately connect to it, and want to buy 40 minutes of it. I need a bit of context. 

I started to think a bit about Feedbands system of curation:

1) The music on the app is curated before it's available to stream. Feedbands listens to songs and chooses which bands make "the cut" based on... well they say it's how much the music "rocks". I listened to a bunch of stuff and none of it remotely rocked based on my personal definition of the word. None of it was rock. You would have to be extremely naive not to know the real way music makes "the cut": it has to be sellable. Anything too weird, in ANY way, is going to polarize people. Polarizing music, while  often actually good, doesn't always sell well. 

2) People vote on streaming songs to help determine who gets their record made. There's a giant problem with that: people are mostly pretty stupid. You're either going to be faced with records that while sellable are pretty generic, or are by bands who harnessed the power of social media to garner votes. The Feedbands site only says the votes "help" them decide who gets their record pressed each month, so it's possible this step is also subject to the curation of a shadow jury of people who like "killer" music. 

3) Feedbands selects one band a month to get a record made, but keeps it a secret. This is a great way to keep people from questioning the integrity of their curation process. And even though the band in question might be getting "fed" from the sale of their record, they receive no promotion whatsoever. They are just providing the product so Feedbands can profit off of it. 

Therein lies my true problem with this entire thing. Sure, bands are making money; sure, people are hearing new music they wouldn't have otherwise have heard; sure, there's a bit of a community that can build up from this limited group of special people who get limited edition records in the mail; these are all good things. But Feedbands, a company that purports itself to be "music without the label" are, for all intents and purposes A RECORD LABEL. They select music to release that they think will sell, and try to do just that. They control the means of production for their artists, they hold the pursestrings, they take a cut (presumably). They are the exact thing they are fighting against in this YouTube video. They don't have to do any of the legwork, though, because bands will come to them and fans will pick the winners. It's a lot like those online contests where you think you're trying to win a sweet prize and a bunch of money from a company like Doritos, but really you're making a Doritos ad that Doritos doesn't have to pay you anything for. 

I would argue that we don't need music curation these days. The beauty of the Internet lies in it's ability to connect people to the things they want, and to help them curate their own reality. Who are the folks at Feedbands to say what music "rocks" when I have a perfectly apt "rock"-o-meter that has been working great for years? I don't think I'm going to subscribe to this. 

This isn't all to say that I think Feedbands is evil, or anything. I just think it's a completely unnecessary cash grab, and I don't have a lot of cash to spare. And besides, how could I trust my record subscription to people who don't even know how to hold one properly?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

OVERHEAR: Ketamines - "You Can't Serve Two Masters"

In the year or so since the release of Ketamines' debut LP Spaced Out, the band members have undergone a lot of personal change. It's good to hear musical proof, then, that the band itself is alive and well. This morning the Lethbridge-via-Toronto psych/garage heavyweights announced a new record coming out in the "summer" from Mammoth Cave/Southpaw.

If the title track, "You Can't Serve Two Masters", is any indication of what's to come, this summer just got a bit gnarlier. It's little more than a defiant refrain and a wicked fuzzy guitar lick alternating with motorik jamouts, but the midway-point synth riff gives a hint of the kooky power the full length is sure to be chock full of. Groovy.
Listen to the song below. Also below, check out footage of Ketamines and B.A. Johnston tearing Saskatoon a new one last year at MoSo Fest (Ketamines come in at about 5:00).

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

LENGTHWISE: Young Galaxy - Ultramarine

On Young Galaxy's 3rd full length record, 2011's Shapeshifting, they opened up an entirely new (to them) bag of tricks. Some chalk it up to the production work of Dan Lissvik of Swedish electronic duo Studio, taking their powerful songwriting chops and applying a wash of warm synths and naturalistic percussion. There is no doubt that the songs themselves were more than just window dressing, though. This band of upstarts from Vancouver who made grand-gesture psych-pomp their home had traded in their West Coast consciousness for modern Montreal cool. 

Their new record, Ultramine, (the band's 4th album and 2nd for Toronto mega-indie label Paper Bag Records) feels like Shapeshifting's direct sequel: opener "Pretty Boy" has the same mid-tempo uplift with vague lonesome undertones as the last record's breakout track "We Have Everything"; "Fall For You" has the same slinky nautical authority of the last record's "For Dear Life". Everything feels like further exploration of previously covered ground, like going back to a place you love so you can bring back more than pictures this time. When Catherine McCandless sings "my skin is new and shining / it may be hard to tell" on the hushed, pulsating "Hard To Tell", she could be making an album statement. 

This is not a bad thing.

If there's one thing Shapeshifting accomplished beyond it's catchy hooks and the recasting of a great-band-in-the-making, it instilled the desire for more. It seems to have instilled that same desire in the band, who turned to Dan Lissvek once again for the album's production, but opted to up the ante by recording with him in person in Gothenburg to enhance their collaborative power. The resulting 40 minutes of charming pop is a cold popsicle box of new flavours for Young Galaxy: Giorgio Moroder-esque basslines ("What We Want"), prom night slow jams ("Sleepwalk With Me"), and 90's acid-tinged piano riffs ("Out the Gate Backwards"). 

Like all of my favourite summery music, Ultramarine drowns the senses in sun-kissed, sweetly sweaty warmth even in the cold of night. This is road trip music you save to listen to until you've reached your destination. Which, if you're Young Galaxy, you just might have done. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

EXTENDED: Hustle and Thrive - The Super Professionals

Fans of old-school turntable/sample-based hip-hop with clever and unabashedly self-promoting rhymes should download this pay-what-you-can gem from Saskatoon's wonder twins, Charly Hustle (he's the DJ) and Chapter Thrive (he's the rapper). They have formed like Voltron to serve up a forty of intoxicating charm, courtesy of Phonographique. Sometimes, I need to swallow my cynicism and remember that I actually live in a seriously great town for rap music.

From the Animal House-jacking "Intro", the EP sets the mood appropriately: this is party rap. Hustle and Thrive will turn your workday into a forgotten Friday night, replete with badass James Bond-esque swagger ("Chapter's Disaster Pt. 2"), iPhone ringtone samples ("Jade Summer"), and a bhangra banger that deserves a sequel (closer "Victory Lapse"). Thrive's lyrical dexterity is obvious, slouching between Q-Tip-esque mellow and sped-up hyped.

A handful of fortnights has become an eternity in the life cycle of music on the internet, which is truly a shame. Even though Hustle and Thrive's Super Professionals EP has been out for a couple of months, that's no reason not to return to it and shine a light on it anew. Also I wasn't blogging in February. Go download this.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

OVERHEAR: Paper Beat Scissors - Tendrils

If there was an award for Halifax's best smile (because there probably should be), Tim Crabtree would be a contender. It's interesting that someone with such a contagious grin could craft powerfully contemplative acoustic heartbreakers, but that's exactly what Crabtree does with his project Paper Beat Scissors. It's been about a year since the debut PBS album was released by the venerable Forward Music Group, and fans of this type of music haven't had a lot else to keep them company in the ensuing dark winter.

Like a ray of cold spring sun comes the announcement that the list of limited releases for Record Store Day (which happens this Saturday, April 20th, wherever you get your quality wax) includes Paper Beat Scissors' first 7". Recorded last summer at Halifax's St. Matthew's Church with contributions from My Brightest Diamond and Clogs, this live recording proves how potent and pure the Paper Beat Scissors sound is. As crisp and pristine as a masterful studio recording, "Tendrils" and b-side "Onwards" are a welcome release. Along with the single comes a digital download which includes 5 other PBS favourites including the very excellent "Rest Your Bones", all recorded in the church's terrific atmosphere. Make sure to line up early at your local record shop to snag this one before it's gone.

If you are in Saskatoon you get the chance to catch Crabtree in all his live glory at this year's MoSoFest. Other live dates are here. Watch the video for "Tendrils" below.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Song Remains The Same

It can be a weird thing, starting a blog.

Regardless of the subject matter, it's usually started as a personal pursuit. This blog was no different when I decided to disregard any/all impulse against the idea to go ahead and start furiously typing my unimportant thoughts about music and sending them into the cloud to join the rest of the rain storm. I wanted a chance to write regularly, give myself structure, and maybe meet a few cool people.

I did that, for a time.
I wrote semi-regularly, I introduced weekly and monthly features, and I conducted interviews with members of Ohbijou, Miesha and the Spanks, Crocodiles, Ketamines, Bayonets!!!, and Dinosaur Bones (look at all the plural nouns... there's a blog post in that). I had some fun.

It can be a weird thing, continuing a blog after a lengthy lapse.

The online landscape has changed around me, but one thing that hasn't changed much at all is people's reliance on the same handful of websites for their information. It can be tough to get anybody to look at your low-fi efforts in a world of HD, of HTML5, of live-streamed everything. I, for my part, am going to try my best to earn your eyeballs. The rest of this year will bring a new focus: less on the playlists from my radio show, more reportage from the front lines of the crowd; less about the same "blog favourite" artists of the moment, more bandwidth spent on artists and music I truly care about and think is worth sharing.  There might even be an overhaul of the site's design in the near future.

I meant well when I started this thing. I mean better now.
Come with me. It sounds great in here...

(below is an example of what I have done in the same vein as SSH since I fell off the deskchair... Zachary Lucky, Mike Feuerstack and Bry Webb moving musical mountains at MoSoFest last year in Saskatoon... more like this to come)