Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pull in to this Station

I'm beginning to think I need to come up with some sort of ass related music measurement system. Now I don't mean that I'm going to start awarding albums one to five of these anytime soon. It's just that in reflecting on some of the artists I've spotlighted so far here, the music has had a literal or figurative effect on my ass. Woodhands for instance, actually moved it and got me dancing. And way back when, Arrows and Black Mountain rocked it and got me motivated to start writing.

Now along comes Chicago band Russian Circles, with a record that has a new effect on my ass - it absolutely slays it. Station is a gargantuan record with layers of guitar that alternate between eerily atmospheric, ringingly melodic and fiercely charged - Mike Sullivan wrings every possible note and emotion out of his instrument. Drummer Dave Turncrantz sometimes has to resort to bashing out a rhythm to be heard amidst the squall Sullivan whips up, but when things quiet down you can hear that he has a deft touch with the sticks.

Russian Circles are ostensibly a duo after the loss of bassist Colin DeKuiper following the release of their debut full-length Enter, but the record does feature some kick-ass (there's that word again!) bass work by guest Brian Cook (of These Arms Are Snakes and Botch), as well as Blood Brother Morgan Henderson on double-bass on "Xavii." Listening to "Harper Lewis" as I write this, I wonder just how the duo are able to translate this mammoth wall of sound they've recorded to a live show without at least adding a touring bassist to the roster.

Personally I come at Russian Circles' music from a post-rock angle and it was the melodic guitar that first caught my ear, reminding me a bit of Explosions In The Sky. But reading up on the band and having Station wash around between my ears for a little while, I can hear where fans of metal groups like Mastodon, or math-rock and prog listeners might find an angle to approach this record and enjoy it for their own reasons.

Vinyl collectors will also dig this band for the 12" release of Station which I've discovered is being released in three different 'colours': half gold / half black, all gold, or gold with black splatter. You can pre-order the vinyl here, and it comes out on May 15.

The CD meanwhile is being released by Suicide Squeeze (the label of Minus The Bear among others) and pre-orders ship on May 1. For that, visit the Suicide Squeeze site.

I'll leave you with the track I was mentioning above; "Harper Lewis" but I strongly encourage you to listen to the album in its entirety.

And be sure to check out the Russian Circles' Myspace page and website.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

M is for an upside-down W

In addition to flipping the script from 'M' to 'W,' I'm also abandoning my alphabetical posting project and henceforth all the Ear To The Sound posts will be whatever floats my boat with no concern for following a straightforward path. Making it to 'L' was a feat unto itself and I was this close to halfway through the alphabet which was decent for something I decided to do on a whim.

My abandonment of alphabetized posts isn't happening on a whim, but there's a touch of caprice to my selection for this post: I managed to catch Woodhands performance at the LO Pub last night (their second Winnipeg appearance in just over a week), and while I've enjoyed their album Heart Attack with its catchy keys and pulsing rhythms, after seeing this dynamic duo live I'm completely won over. Usually when I go to a show I'm a 'hands in my pockets, head-bobbing at most' kind of guy but Woodhands actually got me dancing.

According to multi-instrumentalist Dan Werb and drummer Paul Banwatt, that's exactly the response they're looking for:
"woodhands is dirty electronic music. we are interested in emotional, sweaty dance floors. we want to make you cry while you're having sex. and it'll be the best damn sex of your life. and you'll be dancing."

Alternating between playing key-tar and what looks like an oscilloscope (some sort of loop machine/synth), Werb wrings soul and sweat out of instruments that typically produce cold, sterile sounds. Where Kraftwerk used synths to create music that Deep Blue would add to its iPod, Woodhands are channeling Rick James to craft nooky-music for Droids. "Can't See Straight" could function as the soundtrack to C-3P0 picking up at a robot-gay-bar with Werb singing "why can't I/speak to you/I want to come home/I want to come home," voicing the droid's inner monologue. The freak-out at the 3 minute mark is clearly when he convinces the other robot to go home with him.

The interplay between Werb and Banwatt is part of what makes Heart Attack a success - Banwatt's drumming perfectly matches the programmed beats Werb employs and the pair trade vocals smoothly and to great effect, with Werb alternating between smooth croon and strangled screaming while Banwatt favours a direct delivery and some decent MC chops.

I couldn't find an mp3 to link to directly, but at Hype Machine, they've got a few tracks to listen to including the incredibly catchy "Dancer" and the Woodhands Myspace page is streaming pretty much the entire album.

As a bonus though, I managed to make a video of part of the Woodhands performance at the LO, and while it's a bit dark, the audio is fine and proved to be a very interesting cover of "California Love."

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

L is for Ladyhawk

Alright, it's been out for over a month now, but in addition to allowing me to stick to my alphabetical-guns, talking about Ladyhawk's great new album Shots also gives me the opportunity to mention that the 'Hawk will be returning to Winnipeg on June 18th, opening for the Constantines (whose new album Kensington Heights is kickass in its own right). UMFM will be presenting that show at the Pyramid and I can hardly wait - these are two of the best live bands I have ever seen and they'll be sharing the same bill! While I missed Ladyhawk when they opened for Black Mountain a couple weeks ago for family reasons, I did catch them shortly after they released Shots, at The Aquarium down in Fargo, ND. [This entry's photo is from that show.]

The new material is just as good on the record as it is live, and credit for that goes to the way in which the band recorded the album: it took place at an abandoned farmhouse behind a shopping mall in Kelowna.

"We'd booked some time with Colin [Stewart], the recording engineer, but the studio that we usually record at – The Hive in Vancouver – it was booked up during the only time that we could record so we were looking for another place to just set up all our stuff but we couldn't find anything good in Vancouver," Driediger recalled in our interview "Then we had the idea of going to Kelowna 'cause we're all from there (not Colin, but all of us in the band) and then the place, which was called the White House, and it was sort of like an 'art space,' some friends of ours were running it and they offered it to us and we just said 'sure,' paid them a bit of money and spent two weeks recording there." [See the April/May issue of Stylus for more of my interview with Driediger].

With plenty of sangria on hand and a batch of new songs that were road-tested while touring their self-titled debut on Jagjaguwar, Ladyhawk came up with a rocking album that listeners of all ages can enjoy [more on that in a moment]. The band is as tight as ever with Driediger and lead guitarist Darcy Hancock trading scorching guitar parts atop the tectonic-plate rhythm section of Sean Hawryluk (bass) and Ryan Peters (drums). Driediger's vocals run from gentle to impassioned, delivered with a ringing clarity throughout and the lyrical content touches on anguish, urban decay and miscommunication though Shots can be enjoyed whether or not you can make out the lyrics - this is after all rock music and sometimes it's loud enough that you can't hear Driediger's words for the ringing in your ears.

Back to the comment about listeners of all ages - one of the best things I've seen on Youtube of late (apart from some great Minnesota Twins commercials) is this video of a baby rocking out to Ladyhawk's "I Don't Always Know What You're Saying."

You can check out that track for yourself here.
And be sure to check out Ladyhawk's website and Myspace page.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

K is also for Klima

For those of you who live in Winnipeg, here's a sneak-preview of one of my reviews for the April/May issue of Stylus. And for those of you who can't pick an issue up at Music Trader (or other fine locations in the 'Peg) and also can't afford the subscription price well this'll be a chance to read what I write for the magazine. Herewith, a review of the Klima record on Peacefrog Records (home of Jose Gonzalez, The Innocence Mission and more).

If you've seen the Hugo Boss Femme "Underneath It All" commercial, then you've heard the lead-off track from this self-titled album from Klima. You'd likely remember it for the spooky, atmospheric keyboard lines and a breathy and peculiar vocal delivery from Angele David-Guillou (who for all intents and purposes is Klima – she employs a trio to perform live with her, and used a small roster of artists for the recording of the album). The peculiar delivery is due in part to the fact that David-Guillou is a transplanted Parisian, singing in halting English.

For the orchestration – mixing electronic sounds and subtle percussion with sweeping synths and guitars – David-Guillou was assisted by Piano Magic's Jerome Tcherneyan, whom she has collaborated with in the past. The pair has a natural chemistry and Tcherneyan has an innate understanding of what sounds augment Angele's voice. Consider "You Make Me Laugh" with a quiet but martial snare drum propelling the song while a litany of bells and glockenspiels dance all around David-Guillou's "dum-da-dah-dum" chorus – it sounds strange, but also perfect. Later the bells reappear on "Her Love Is Happy," this time ringing out a tune that wouldn't be out of place in a haunted circus big-top.

The album is replete with moments like those on "You Make Me Laugh" and "Her Love Is Happy," which ultimately make it one of the most original pieces of music I've heard in quite
some time. David-Guillou's songs of ennui and mystery leave me happily puzzled.

Be sure to check out Klima's Myspace page.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...