Wednesday, December 21, 2011

So Many Great Records, Part 2

Ensemble – Excerpts [FatCat]

I wrote about this one on Ear To The Sound previously. My feelings for it haven’t changed.

Eternal Tapestry - Beyond The 4th Door [Thrill Jockey]

Superdrag had an album called Head Trip In Every Key. Eternal Tapestry took that title and ran with it.
eternal tapestry - beyond the 4th door (album preview) by experimedia

Explosions In The Sky - Take Care Take Care Take Care [Temporary Residence]

These guys always slay me.
Trembling Hands by Explosions in the Sky

Fatoumata Diawara – Fatou [World Circuit]

This one got on my radar thanks to Gilles Peterson. I STILL can’t believe BBC isn’t keeping him on as a host next year. If it weren’t for a whole bunch of bullshit with the cops dealing with Occupy folks (like pepper-spraying that grandma), it might have been the shittiest move of 2011.

Listen to "Bakonoba" here.

Feist – Metals [Arts & Crafts]

What can I say? This is a great follow-up to The Reminder because it is absolutely NOT a follow-up to The Reminder. She took her time and she did something new – credit to Feist for the confidence to do so.
Feist - How Come You Never Go There by Arts & Crafts

Field Assembly – Curtains [Independent]

I’m not entirely sure if this qualifies, because Curtains has yet to be released, but my buddy The Fantastic Mr. Fox sent it my way ages ago and I was blown away by it. So much so that it might make a repeat appearance in 2012 if it finds a home for release. FYI, "Daylight" is not from Curtains.
daylight by Field Assembly

First Nations - Black Beach [Independent]

Every now and then, an album comes into the station with artwork that just screams ‘you will like what I have inside.’ Black Beach was one of those.

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues [Sub Pop]

Shit. How is this not on my Top 20?
Fleet Foxes - Montezuma by gypsysphere

Florence & The Machine – Ceremonials [Universal Republic]

Epic, if occasionally overblown. Plus the whole racist video business kinda bummed me out.
Florence + the Machine - Only If For A Night by Talenthouse

Ghostpoet - Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jams [Brownswood]

More greatness courtesy of Gilles Peterson, this time it’s some thoughtful hip-hop via his Brownswood imprint.
Ghostpoet - Survive It by ghostpoet

Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost [True Panther Sounds]

Is this NOT on anyone’s list this year.
Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost by Rodrigo Fonseca

Greg MacPherson - Disintegration Blues [Disintegration Records]

Greg is one of those people who are so quiet and self-abashed that you’re constantly shocked at how loud they rock and how well they command a stage and an audience.

Check out the awesome live session Greg did for my radio show, here.

Happy Unfortunate - No Time To Sleep [Spaceship Audio]

These two local rappers were actually born in the era of hip-hop they hearken back to. Must’ve been listening to Tribe in the womb or something.

High Places - Original Colors [Thrill Jockey]

I kinda wanted to like this one more than I actually did. It was great, but it didn’t blow my mind like their self-titled record did.
High Places - Sophia by MysticalLunar

Himalayan Bear - Hard Times [Absolutely Kosher]

At times the Bear reminds me of Timber Timbre (with the haunting voice) but his music is warmer. It’s like a sad hug instead of a cold tingle in your spine.
Himalayan Bear "The Caballo" by AbsolutelyKosherRecords

Ikebe Shakedown - Ikebe Shakedown [Ubiquity]

Ear To The Sound readers will know my love for Nomo – this is from the same label and helps fill the afro-beat space they occupy in my year-enders.
Ikebe Shakedown - "Tujunga" by Ubiquity Records

Implodes - Black Earth [Kranky]

If the Mayans were right and the tectonic plates go haywire and the earth drops from beneath us, I want this to be the soundtrack to the end.
implodes 'oxblood' by kranky

Iron & Wine - Kiss Each Other Clean [Sub Pop]

It’s not as good as The Shepherd’s Dog, but an alright album from Mr. Beam is better than most things out there.

Isolee - Well Spent Youth [Pampa]

This was the very first record I put on the longlist this year when I heard an advance copy last Christmas. It stuck around.
Isolée - Transmission by Pampa Records

Jamie Woon - Mirror Writing [Polydor]

I know this dude gets a little lost in the James Blake shuffle, but his record stands on its own. Plus he got the Burial remix treatment.
Jamie Woon - Night Air by cameelah

Jennifer Castle – Castlemusic [Flemish Eye]

After previously recording under the name Castlemusic, Jennifer Castle put her own imprint on this, her most personal album to date.
Jennifer Castle - Powers (courtesy of Flemish Eye Records) by Pop Montreal

Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble - From The Stairwell [Denovali]

Credit to my good friend Jeff Friesen for putting me on to this one. If you're not tuning into his great show, Scene and Not Seen, you're missing out.
the kilimanjaro darkjazz ensemble - from the stairwell (album preview) by experimedia

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

So Many Great Records, Part 1

Here we are once again. At the end of the year, reflecting on all that we’ve been through. Scrolling through the longlist I’ve been keeping on Notepad in my iPod, 2011 has been an especially good year for new music – in fact, this is the longest longlist I’ve had since I started keeping track this way about 5 years ago.

Once again, my Top 20 (albums and songs) will be recapped on a countdown show on UMFM beginning at 4pm CST on December 31, 2011. Until then, I've got four posts of about twenty albums I'm going to list alphabetically, starting with A-D. Maybe you should fix and drink before you settle in...

A.M. Overcast - Shepherd Moon [Independent]

The best Pinback album Rob Crow had nothing to do with. Still hoping to get the band in for a live session at UMFM.

A.M. Overcast - Haystacks Northbound by A.M. Overcast

Acid House Kings - Music Sounds Better With You [Labrador]

Their last album was my #1 record of 2005. This was solid, just not as mind-blowing ear-worm packed as Sing Along With… You're going to see several past Top 20 artists amongst the longlisters as the 20-of-11 features a lot of the newness.

Akron/Family – Akron/Family II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey on Shinju TNT [Dead Oceans]

Sometimes albums are able to overcome the ludicrous nature of their title. This was one instance.

AM & Shawn Lee - Celestial Electric [ESL]

Shawn Lee is the friggin’ king of collab. After fantastic results working with Clutchy Hopkins and Bei Bei, he teams up with AM (no relation to A.M. Overcast) and drops another funk-bomb.
AM & Shawn Lee - City Boy by AMSOUNDS

Antlers - Burst Apart [Frenchkiss/Transgressive]

“Putting The Dog To Sleep” gives “Bear” a run for its money as the most heartbreaking song Antlers have recorded so far.

Arbouretum - The Gathering [Thrill Jockey]

This may be the first time a Thrill Jockey artist didn’t make my Top 20, but there are a few more from the label on the longlist. First up is this big, ballsy rock record.

Atlas Sound – Parallax [4AD]

Bradford Cox just got a “Gummy” as one of the Top 10 Indie Rock Crushes of 2011. I didn’t submit his name (*cough, cough Feist cough*), but maybe I should have. Though based on prior appearances by Atlas Sound and Deerhunter on my year-end lists, I should probably just name the award after him.
Atlas Sound - Parallax - 03 - Te Amo by Moonpixel

Balam Acab - Wander/Wonder [Tri Angle]

Maybe it’s because I’ve gotten older and expend energy keeping up with a toddler, but I just can’t keep up with all the micro-genre distinctions we seem to be making these days. Could I tell you what ‘witch house’ actually is? No. But apparently Balam Acab makes witch house and I know that Wander/Wonder is really good. So I guess I like witch house.

Baseball Project - Vol. 2 High and Inside [Yep Roc]

I play in a fantasy baseball league with a bunch of other folks involved in the music ‘business’ (I use that figure loosely since I’m including myself) so I can tell you that an album of indie-rock songs about baseball is most definitely target-marketed.
C'mon Prince (Stay In Milwaukee) by The Baseball Project

Battles - Gloss Drop [Warp]

While Mirrored ranked at #8 in 2007 Gloss Drop didn’t really blow me away like the debut. It’s solid, but it left me wondering what they were up to beside touring during those four years.
Ice Cream (Featuring Matias Aguayo) by BATTLES

Ben Westbeech - There's More To Life Than This [Strictly Rhythm]

Listening to this album is dangerous. End-up-with-a-baby-in-10-months dangerous.
ben westbeech - inflections (produced by henrik schwarz) by frau.hirsch

Black Keys - El Camino [Nonesuch]

It used to be you knew that December was a waste-land of Best Of compilations and Christmas albums so you didn’t have to worry about any last-minute entries on your list and could spend the month whittling it down. But the Black Keys had to go and make me question my Top 20.
The Black Keys: El Camino by -gaga

Bog River - Hands In The Ground [Independent]

I reviewed the record from this local roots trio for Airtimes, and I’d encourage you to give it a read.

"Before I Let You Go" can be heard here.

Braids - Native Speaker [Flemish Eye]

I had the great pleasure of recording Raphaelle Standell-Preston at UMFM years ago in a late-night session after a show. I knew then that she (and her band) were bound for greatness. Native Speaker is that greatness.
BRAIDS - Native Speaker by BRAIDS

Charles Bradley - No Time For Dreaming [Dunham/Daptone]

The story behind Bradley and this album is almost as good as the music itself. Almost.
Charles Bradley by Dunham Records

Christine Fellows - Femme De Chez Nous [Six Shooter Records]

Fellows always releases sleepers. And by that I don’t mean albums that put you to sleep (although she does write some lovely lullabies). I mean the great albums that fly under the radar.

Cut Copy – Zonoscope [Modular]

This album nearly made it on the strength of one amazing song, but there’s some other really solid stuff if you can get past hitting repeat endlessly on the best Talking Heads song David Byrne didn’t write.
Cut Copy - Blink And You'll Miss A Revolution by modularpeople

Dawes - Nothing Is Wrong [ATO Records]

This seems to be one of those bands that are finding their way onto a lot of disparate year-end-lists. Folkies and roots rockers love it as much as the indie set. Not sure which camp I belong to though.

Deer Tick - Divine Providence [Partisan/Dine Alone]

One of those records that feels like it should have a layer of dust on it - like you found it in your cool uncle’s old collection. These are songs that have been lived in, and still have life in them.
Deer Tick - Chevy Express by flamgirlant

Devotchka - 100 Lovers [Epitaph]

This was the great leap forward for Devotchka. They eased off on the straight-up gypsy sounds and found their own, distinct sound that incorporated their past but pointed to an exciting future.
All the Sand In All the Sea by Mad Guru

Dominant Legs – Invitation [Lefse]

I wrote pretty glowingly about this record back in September, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see it make the longlist…
8. Dominant Legs - Hoop Of Love by wepromised

Friday, November 18, 2011

Dive Into This Album

Yeah, I know. The title for this entry is a pretty awful pun. But if you can look beyond that, you should really and truly check out Tycho's second full-length, Dive. Five years on since Past Is Prologue (released on Merck), Scott Hansen has finally delivered the goods. Actually the greats. Tracks like opener "A Walk" and "Daydream" have some of the same whip-crack percussive pulses and atmospheric keys that Ulrich Schnauss has perfected - at once insistent and forward-moving while still ethereally light.

Check out "Hours" below (or visit Ghostly International's page where you can download the mp3 for free).

A vast majority of the tracks clock in at over five minutes in length, giving Hansen an opportunity to stretch out and build his sonic ideas slowly rather than forcing them at a rushed clip. Languidness isn’t usually a virtue, but he manages to make it so. The shorter tracks (“Melanie,” “Epigram”) come across as sketches in contrast to the longer works – half-formed ideas that hint at what they could become, given time. In a way they remind me of the difference between this and this.

Normally I associate music like this with sun-dappled summer days, but looking out the window and seeing the snow fall, Dive still seems like the perfect accompaniment.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Rocking the Blocks

This album came in the station's mail today, and like I always do when I get something from Blocks Recording Club, I gave it a spin.
And another spin.
And then another spin.
And then yet another spin.

Of course at only 17 minutes long, Close To The Bone, is easy to play over and over - it would fit snugly on one side of a 12-inch. But length isn't the reason I keep hitting repeat on this record - quality is. Carmen Elle and Andy Smith have crafted five electrifying, electrified rock songs with an insistence and a bravado that challenges listeners to face them head on. Elle's raw voice practically grabs you by the ears, looks you in the face and sings "listen to me."

So, you know, listen to them:

Great stuff, right?

From the looks of the video below, Army Girls live is no less electric an act. I can't wait to hear more from this duo, but for the time being I'm content to keep listening to what I've got.

ARMY GIRLS - THE POWER from untold city on Vimeo.

You can grab the album on their Bandcamp page, and for more info on Army Girls, check out their Tumblr.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Gem Club's Breakers Really Is A Jewel

I've already posted a blurb about Gem Club on my "other" blog, Reductive Reviews . But that one's just where I post quick hits (and that one didn't have the video for "Twins") - I save the commentary for here on Ear To The Sound, so it's time I tackled Breakers and posted a new entry here.

I can't get over how heart-breakingly beautiful Breakers is. On the surface, it seems so simple - haunting voices + strings + piano interweave on each of the album's nine songs. There is minimal (and subtle) percussion that serves to embellish without overwhelming (the bells on the title track, the plodding bass drum on "Lands") the piano and voice at the center of every song. The pace the group establish on opener "Twins" [below] isn't quite plodding, but deliberate and the rest of Breakers never attempts to run. Yet even with the heaviness of the pace, the music feels weightless; floating with only the strings and piano to tether it to earth.

Not an album you'll want to put on to have a good time, but oddly enjoyable in its sadness and heartbreak.

Gem Club - Twins from Gem Club on Vimeo.

You can download the song for free after you've watched the video.

Check them out on Hardly Art and their own site, and maybe even "Like" them on Facebook.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Don't Understand The Name, But I Love The Music

Can't say I fully understand what 'dominant legs' are (is it supposed to be like a dominant hand?) but I know that Invitation, the latest record from San Francisco band Dominant Legs is a keeper.

Playing it in my car this past weekend, with the fall sun providing more warmth than usual it was the perfect soundtrack to holding onto summer. The guitar lines are shimmery, the synths are spiky and the boy/girl harmonies are note-perfect. Just listen to lead-off single "Hoop Of Love" below:

That song along should convince you to check out Invitation (and it won my discerning two-year-old over), but if you need further evidence this record is for you, listen to this as well.

Much as I love "Hoop Of Love," I think my personal favourite has to be "Lady Is Sleek and So Petite," a track that channels the new jack swing sound of New Edition but features Ryan Lynch's breathy, high-pitched lyrics instead of Ralph Tresvant's. It may be the only time I recommend a contemporary, white indie-rock band for their take on an historic, black r&b form. I'd also recommend the record to anyone who liked Chairlift's last record, Does You Inspire You.

Be sure to visit the Dominant Legs page on Lefse Records and their Facebook page.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

This specter is pretty spectacular.

I've been a little behind on Ear To The Sound with a surprise trip to Toronto at the end of August to see some friends and baseball (courtesy of my wonderful wife), September long, and the craziness that is Orientation Week at the university had me running around and sweating my ass off. But the UMFM stage is in the history books for another year and I'm back at my desk listening to all sorts of new stuff and catching up.

The album I'm featuring with this post actually comes out September 27th so I'm even a little ahead...

My familiarity with Partisan Records has been centered around their roots and rock acts (i.e. Dolorean, Mountain Man, Deer Tick and Paleo) but damned if they haven't diversified with Narrows, the new album from Warm Ghost. The Brooklyn duo are a departure for the label and have crafted a strong synth-pop album that manages to evoke chillwave without the airiness and recalls the ominous tones of Depeche Mode without the angst.

Opener "G.W.T.S." has a plodding bass-line and a snare beat that falls somewhere between martial-crisp and broken-beat, and sets a brisk pace for the first four numbers. But at the midway point, "Ply 7" acts as a bit of a sonic sorbet, cleansing the palate for the more introspective, restrained material that ultimately leads to album highlight and closer "An Absolute Light," a song that seems to evaporate as it ends.

It's interesting to see where electronic music is being taken these days as acts like Neon Indian go dance/noise and M83 blends gauzy soundscapes with pop songs. Warm Ghost add to the list of possibilities and directions for the genre by opening things up with Narrows.

Check out Warm Ghost's website and download lead-off track "G.W.T.S." courtesy of Stereogum.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's lots of things, but mostly Solla Solla is something else.

Most people are familiar with the idea of Bollywood, even if they've never seen an actually Bollywood film, but I doubt too many know about Kollywood. Apparently it's the epicenter of the Tamil language film industry located in the Kodambakkam neighborhood in the city of Chennai. I only learned about this alt-Bollywood while looking up the history of its most stori composer, Ilaiyaraaja. And I was only researching him because of the fine at B-Music/Finders Keepers who sent the station a fantastic two volume collection of his compositions.


This stuff puts the same-same nature of Bollywood soundtracks to shame. Ilaiyaraaja is too old to have been diagnosed as having ADHD as a child (he was born in 1943), but he clearly found the right outlet for his temperament as he traverses the sonic globe drawing influences from its farthest reaches and synthesizes them into something distinctly his own. Take a look at the "Impact and musical style" section on his Wikipedia page for the double-digit list of sounds he's drawn on. Of course when you've done 900+ film scores over a 34 year career, you're going to need a bigger palette to paint from than the James Newton Howard's of the world.

Or just check out this clip of "Solla Solla," the song from which this t compilation takes its title and hear how Ilaiyaraaja melds psych-guitar with tabla and funk inside of the first thirty seconds.

Then go check out the official pages for Solla Solla Volume 1 and Solla Solla Volume 2 and pick these records up (and check out some of the other amazing stuff those fine Finders are releasing).

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

One of the Dirty Projectors, Not one of the Baldwin Brothers

Nat Baldwin is probably better known for his day job (if you can call it that) as double bassist and singer-songwriter for the high-flying lo-fi act Dirty Projectors. Taking a step away from that band's output, Baldwin has a wonderful - and wonderfully quirky - solo record out on Western Vinyl entitled People Changes.

It's not a complete departure from stuff you'd find on Bitte Orca (we're not talking about a grime record or death metal here) but thankfully it stands on its own. Baldwin's voice - literally and figuratively - is different than DP's main man Dave Longstreth, though he shares an affinity for peculiar phrasing that rises and falls in seeming opposition to where you think the tune is going (as evidenced on opener "A Little Lost").

Baldwin plays to his strengths on People Changes - he clearly knows his instrument inside and out and he wrings every possible sound out of it in service of the music. Consider "Real Fakes" where he works the bow down below the bridge to mirror the skronking horns at the four-minute mark after overdubbing ominous bowed notes with pizzicato strikes at the lower register until that point. The song begs to be listened to at least once paying attention only to Baldwin doubling down on his double-bass. It's outstanding stuff.

"Weights" is the first single from the album People Changes and is available as a free mp3. The video for "Weights" was, in true Brooklyn fashion, recorded live on a local basketball court. Lovely stuff.

Be sure to visit Baldwin's Facebook and Western Vinyl profile page.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Not so dark, definitely not mean.

An album four years in the making!

A band recording in seclusion in the woods!

Insert other cryptic pull-quotes that merit exclamation points (!!!!) and italics.

Ultimately, Dark Mean's debut LP is just really good. Period.

A trio from Steel Town, Canada (aka Hamilton, Ontario), Dark Mean began work on a full-length in 2007 and released two EPs in the interim (Frankencottage and Music Box) which built steam, and interest in this, their self-titled debut. And just like it took a while to make, it takes a while to digest. It's a slow-burner, but ultimately those are the fires that provide the most warmth and last the longest. Dark Mean play a brand of indie-folk that bands like The Wilderness of Manitoba and The Deep Dark Woods also perform (though not as symphonic as the former nor as 70's AM radio as the latter). It's a music where you can hear the notes breathe on the quiet parts, but isn't afraid to shout like it's lost in the woods now and then (see: "Lullaby"). The song that ultimately won me over was "Finland," with its gorgeous trumpet line - I'm a sucker for horns and handclaps - but there are many entry points and reasons to love this little album.

The video for "Happy Banjo" is below, and is available as a free MP3 if you provide your email address over at the band's website.

Happy Banjo from Dark Mean on Vimeo.

You can purchase Dark Mean via Bandcamp.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Sunny future for A.M. Overcast

I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that Alexander Litinsky is a genius. Or at least a musical savant.

In a little over half a year, he's recorded two phenomenal albums of angular pop that hearken back to Pinback and run their course so quickly you're left exhausted and eager for more. December of last year saw the release of Eyes Up, and one week ago Shepherd Moon dropped onto an unsuspecting public, unprepared to be pummeled like Sugar Ray Leonard working the ring; quickly and efficiently. There are no wasted moments and no slackening of the pace from opening salvo "Valentine's Night Out on the Town" (59 seconds!) to the "Cannonball" that leaves no survivors in its wake (at 2:26 it's 9 seconds shy of being the longest track on the album).

One unexpected benefit of an album this brief is that wanting to listen to it over and over doesn't require a giant time commitment. My bus-ride to the station takes less time than Shepherd Moon - I nearly made it twice through thanks to traffic.

Check A.M. Overcast out on Facebook, and grab the album via Bandcamp. And keep an eye on my show blog since I'm trying to get A.M. Overcast to come appear on my show (and I'm definitely hoping Alex will rope in the Catherine, Kevin, and Andrew he mentions on Facebook contributed to this album to play with him as they sound like a very tight unit on highlight "Haystacks Northbound").

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Thursday, May 19, 2011

To paraphrase a certain monster, 'me wild for Wildcookie.'

Though the album came out in February, I haven't heard too many people talking about Cookie Dough, the collaboration between Anthony Mills and Freddie Cruger - which is a shame because it's an excellent record, and one I keep going back to the well on.

Things start with the simple, repetitive, and entrancing "Song With No Ending" that puts the spotlight on Mills' voice. And what a voice - 'mellifluous' may in fact be selling it short (even with the hollowed-out effecting). Mills pulls the plodding keyboards along behind him as he intones the song's title over and over on the chorus. If it really was a song with no ending, I'd actually be alright with the loop that Cruger and he have created. But instead they end the song and dive into one of the two drug-themed standout tracks, "Serious Drug."

The song is about cocaine, and about some of the crazy things that have happened to the likes of Rick James and Richard Pryor as a result of using. The song is almost smooth enough to sound like it's endorsing blow, but when Mills sings "Smokey Robinson / he coulda wrote more songs" it's obvious Wildcookie isn't wild about the nose candy. Midway through the album, the duo return to the subject of drugs in music with "Heroine" [video below]. The lyrics take the tack that "heroin made / my favourite jazz." Having seen Ken Burns' Jazz documentary series and read more than a few biographies of jazz artists, the position has a great deal of merit. There were a lot of jazz artists riding the horse back in the day (including purveyors of the West Coast cool jazz which seems like the last thing someone strung out on heroin would make).

It's clear from listening to Cookie Dough that Cruger and Mills have a shared love of jazz - sounds creep into the production and song structure that owes a huge debt to the genre, but like most forward-thinking stuff released by Tru Thoughts (one of my favourite labels), there's broken-beat, nu-jazz, neo-soul and other elements thrown into the mix for something distinct and eminently listenable.

You can download "Heroine" via their Bandcamp page.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What's in the water over there?

I've long thought the Swedish government is secretly putting soda-pop in their drinking water instead of fluoride. How else to explain the long line of note-perfect pop music coming out of that country? This Is Head is another example of what gorgeous music comes out of a lifetime of ingesting the stuff, though their water was also laced with Police's Ghost In The Machine era keyboards.

Personally I like "0007" best (video below)), but "0002" is the lead-off single, available at Spotify. The album is available for purchase through Adrian Recordings here.

This Is Head - 0007 from Adrian Recordings on Vimeo.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tension isn't always a bad thing

I had to double-check, but Western Vinyl is one of the labels I've mentioned most here on Ear To The Sound. I don't do it intentionally, but I sometimes play favourites with labels because - if they build their roster right - there's usually some sort of overlap or common appeal to the artists they release (which is not to say their roster is cookie-cutter identical). So it is with this Austin label - I've written about or mentioned Ola Podrida, Secret Cities (who also have a great new album out right now), Sleep Whale and Botany in the past and now, thanks to their deft decision-making, South Bronx duo Wires Under Tension have been added to their line-up and my playlists.

Like Russian Circles, Wires Under Tension are another one of those duos who manage to make way more music than two people should be capable of producing. And like Russian Circles, multi-instrumentalist Christopher Tignor and drummer Theo Metz convey a great deal of emotion and ideas in their lyric-less tunes. Metz is the muscle of the outfit - he pounds the hell out of the drums on "Position and Hold" and "A List of Things to Light on Fire." But that doesn't mean he's all brawn and no brains; the proof is in the intricacy and fluidity of his drumming on "Irreversible Machines" and "Mnemonics in Motion."

As you'd expect from a band with the moniker Tignor and Metz chose, listening to Light Science can feel like your heart is in a vise grip sometimes - there's an urgency to much of the material and it can be unrelenting. After it ends though, you're left with the same breathless exhilaration that accompanies an activity like bungee jumping or a riding a big roller coaster. Light Science is the best kind of intense.

This isn't an official video for "Electricity Turns Them On," but it's still my favourite track on the record:

If you like it, Western Vinyl has it available as a free download here, and if you want to see an actual video, check out "Mnemonics In Motion," which admittedly is also a great track.

Check out their website and Western Vinyl artist page.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Matthew Maaskant should be Matthew Maas-can

Okay - time to get back on the horse here before bambino #2 totally derails things and I stop listening to new music and spend all my time singing 'rock-a-by-baby' (which, when you consider the lyrics, is a pretty creepy song).

Matthew Maaskant's Believe It Or Not, This Is The Place is a quiet, restrained album that has made its way into my head and heart since it arrived March 28th at the station. This isn't an album that hits you over the head with its greatness, or holds up a sign that says 'NOTICE ME,' but insistently burrows into the folds of your thoughts and takes up residence.

Opener "Katie Cruel," with its piercing viola notes creates a feeling of unease that is softened by Maaskant's gentle vocals - a sonic balance that he deftly achieves throughout the record. And when he intones "here I am where I must be," the sentiment can be taken as an artistic statement that this truly is "the place" the album's title alludes to.

Blending strings, electronic elements and more with his 'folk' (and I use the term loosely - this isn't Bruce Cockburn we're talking about here), Maaskant's sound is unique, but strangely familiar - and because of his experience as a recordist/producer, that sound is also exceptionally well captured. Take standout track "Fall To Pieces" (video below) with the layered vocals of Amai Kuda serving as a ghostly intro to Maaskant's own weightless voice. The vocals are tethered to the song only by the upright bass - it's the only thing that has a solidity to its sound. The attention to detail Maaskant clearly put into the recording pays dividends in rewarding the attention of listeners, both on this song and throughout Believe It Or Not, This Is The Place.

Check out Matthew's website and Bandcamp page, where you can purchase the CD or download the mp3s.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Just grab these...

I'm behind on writing actual posts (believe me, there's some great new music I want to write about, it's just a matter of finding time. Too busy preparing for bambino #2), but I thought I'd do a quick one about a few artists I LOVE that really don't need a lot of introduction or background. Chances are you've heard of them, and, if your tastes are in line with mine, you probably love them like I do. And they've got free stuff for you to grab and listen to!!

First up - The Sea & Cake have a new record due out in May called The Moonlight Butterfly and the first track is available courtesy of the folks at Thrill Jockey. It's called "Up On The North Shore" and, as expected from these masters of their craft, it's another in a long line of exceptional tunes. To give you an idea of how much I love this band, my son is named Archer.

The second track you need to grab comes courtesy of RCRDLBL and it's a remix of my man Will Holland. Most folks know him as Quantic, the moniker under which he has been plumbing electronica, latin rhythms and more over the years. Most recently he moved to Columbia and formed the Combo Barbaro to play with him - their latest is the Caliventura Remixes EP on Tru Thoughts (another phenomenal label). The Daedelus remix of "Undelivered Letter" is a keeper so check it out and pick up the EP if you like what you hear.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Friday, March 11, 2011

An affecting 'single effect.'

From Merriam Webster:

en·sem·ble noun \än-ˈsäm-bəl, äⁿ-\ : a group producing a single effect

Sprung from the mind and pen of one Olivier Alary (London ex-pat, now resident of Montreal), and performed by a group of musicians fittingly called Ensemble, Excerpts displays the magic that can come from the efforts of many focused on one single aim.

That aim?

Beautiful music.

Excerpts is front-to-back gorgeous, playing like a blissful dream [I had thought of referring to it as a 'fugue' but it turns out that's a disturbed state of consciousness, and not something altogether pleasant] that you won't want to wake from.

Amongst his collaborators, Aliary is most capably assisted by vocalist Darcy Conroy, whose voice is the first heard on "Things I Forget," which follows the instrumental "Opening" (a track that bears a similarity to an orchestra warming up, but in a more unified, purposeful way). The pizzicato violin that pushes the song forward is in marked contrast to Conroy's gauzy, melancholic delivery, creating a strong tension that draws listeners in. Once in, you won't want to come out.

The mixture of folk, classical and post-rock elements in the compositions (they seem to be weightier than 'songs') are meant to invoke some of the trippier folk recordings of the '60s an '70s according to Aliary and it certainly brings to mind artists like Jay Bolotin, Rodriguez and Vashti Bunyan, but Excerpts' inclusion of orchestrated elements pushes it outside any boundaries those might have established in their musical exploration.

Here's the understated and lovely video for album closer "Before Night"

And you can listen to the title track below:

Find more artists like ensemble at Myspace Music

Be sure to check out their Facebook or Myspace pages since their website is a bit of a work in progress.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Some of my favourite body parts...

I know that February is the shortest month, and it flies by really quickly, but that's really no excuse for not updating Ear To The Sound since February 4th. Things have been crazy at the station as the large portion of our renovation project was completed and we moved back into our offices and broadcast booth. Unpacked LOTS of CDs that had been boxed up and re-organized our library on our beautiful new shelves.

But while I may have been dealing with a lot of old albums in the past weeks, there's still been time for more recent music so there are some impending ETTS pieces about great new music to listen to. First up is Toronto quintet Hands & Teeth. This pop act released a fantastic EP late last year and are starting to spread it far and wide with the help of the fine folks at Audio Blood.

"Missing" isn't on the Enjoy Your Lifestyle EP, but the video is from the ever-reliable Southern Souls and shows Hands & Teeth's live chops and demonstrates that their songs hold up in an acoustic treatment (which is a departure from the lushly produced EP).

HANDS & TEETH - Missing from Mitch Fillion ( on Vimeo.

Over the course of just five songs, Hands & Teeth manage to deliver a lot while still suggesting there is more great music on the horizon. Boy/girl harmonies, layered, shimmering guitars, and atmospheric mixes that are all in service of tunes (i.e. melodies worth humming) will leave you hitting repeat on your iPod, willing the EP to last longer than its brief but weighty 22 minutes.

Take a listen to "Until The Night" and then head over to Bandcamp and download Enjoy Your Lifestyle. If you're still into things like Myspace pages just click on the link.

Find more artists like Hands & Teeth at Myspace Music

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Friday, February 4, 2011

すごい !! aka Awesome

Thanks to the fine folks at CJSW in Calgary, the album featured in this entry just fell into my lap this week. Included as part of their mailer to fellow campus/community stations and spotlighting the latest and greatest to come out of Cowtown, heRajiKa Tracks full-length Love Universal is instantly in the running for best albums of 2011. Front to back it is a beautiful piece of work that is all of a note without succumbing to monotony.

One of my all-time favourite "slept on" albums is Ki-Oku, the collaboration between DJ Krush and Toshinori Kondo (FYI: I bristle at the Chris Botti comparison in the AMG review... way off mark). Love Universal instantly took me back to that 1998 record though with its blend of manufactured beats and live instrumentation. But where Ki-Oku featured Kondo's fantastic, restrained trumpet work balanced against Krush's dynamic beats, Love Universal is weighted towards Koki Aihara's exceptional piano work - just listen to "Shi-gure" below to hear how Aihara's trills and repeated patterns draw you into the center of the song while Ryuto Shibata's beats construct the sonic buildings that surround the listener. In my mind's eye, the picture this track paints is standing still in the middle of Trafalgar or Times Square, surrounded by bustle and buildings.


Be sure to 'Like' the duo on their Facebook page.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Don't sleep on Narcoleptic Dancers

Haven't heard anything but the one song, courtesy of Paper Garden Records' Lovely Hearts Club (where it's available as a download), but Dutch-French brother/sister duo the Narcoleptic Dancers song "Not Evident" is catchy as hell. I usually try to wait until I've heard a full-length before posting here on Ear To The Sound, but this song seems so promising, I'd be surprised if the EP isn't as winning and wonderful.

Here's the video:

Friday, January 14, 2011

Out of the Boxx

Halfway through the last decade, Wroclaw, Poland produced one of the most interesting acts on an already interesting label when Ninja Tune released the self-titled album from electronic duo Skalpel (and followed it up with their sophomore release Konfusion). Blending the jazz traditions of Poland (which had a strong underground scene during the Soviet occupation of the country) with contemporary electronic sounds, Skalpel produced music that was at once familiar to fans of jazzy downtempo music, but with a distinct flavour that set it apart. The duo dropped off the map since then, but Igor Pudlo has resurfaced under the moniker Igor Boxx and his debut album, Breslau, is the first Ninja Tune release of 2011.

Breslau isn't a big step away from Skalpel and Konfusion, but seems to come from a darker place at times. "Festung" to take one example, has a foreboding tone with its thundering bass and skittery drums. "Fear Of A Red Planet," which follows "Festung" seems considerably lighter in comparison, but still sounds like the music in a chase scene from the POV of the pursued and not the pursuer - it's vaguely sinister and unnerving. Boxx dabbles in funkier tones on "Street Fighting" and "Last Party In Breslau," but even at his most exuberant, there are vague overtones of menace (which may well be an echo of Poland under Russian control). None of this is to say Breslau is not also an enjoyable listen.

Here's the video for "Last Party In Breslau"

Check out album closer "Downfall" below.

Find more artists like Igor Boxx at Myspace Music

Be sure to check out Igor Boxx's Myspace page and artist page on Ninja Tune.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Braids have me tied up in knots

Back when they were known as the Neighborhood Council, I had the good fortune of participating in a late-night recording session with vocalist/guitarist Raphaelle Standell-Preston (along with Mark Andrew Hamilton of Woodpigeon and Mike Hanson of These Hands). Since that time, Standell-Preston and the rest of her band have moved from Calgary to Montreal and changed their name to Braids.

I'm pretty certain the name change followed a sonic shift and not the other way around, but as to whether the music Braids makes could have been birthed in Calgary or is the direct result of their relocation I can't say. Regardless what's done is done and we have the recorded result on their full length debut Native Speaker (out January 18th on Flemish Eye).

The songs are complexly layered soundscapes that don't sound difficult or inaccessible - in fact they're willfully catchy, engaging songs that only reveal their depths on repeated listens. And repeated listens won't be a problem since one pass at Native Speaker won't be enough

The band is streaming the album in its entirety at Hype Machine and you can download "Plath Heart" and "Lemonade" courtesy of Killbeat Music.

Teen Daze has remixed "Glass Deers" and it's floating around the interweb as of today (which actually prompted this post). Strong work by both parties, and it hints at what kinds of directions Native Speaker can be taken in beyond the far-reaching sound of the album itself.

Be sure to check out Braids' Myspace page and blog.

Thanks for reading, now start listening...