Thursday, June 14, 2012

Hell yes, Way Yes.

From the folks that brought you past ETTS act  Dominant Legs, Lefse Records is back and starting the summer off right with a little EP from Columbus, Ohio trio Way Yes called - appropriately enough - Walkability. As the title suggests, this is perfect for adding to your mp3 player, slipping on a pair of ear-buds and taking a stroll through your neighbourhood. The tropical vibes propelling off-kilter indie-pop songs remind me of past favourites Secret Cities' Strange Hearts album, their Western Vinyl label-mates Callers, and even Victoria, B.C. act Chet - whose Kauai is a criminally overlooked record.

At a brief 5 songs and seconds shy of 20 minutes, striding to the pace of Walkability will get you two-thirds of the way to your daily recommended 30 minutes of exercise, and you'll likely want to hit repeat at least once and give 133% effort.

The title track (below) shimmers into view like heat rising from the hood of a car on a sun-baked stretch of highway and then the band intones its 'go it alone' lyrics: "don't need no breakups / don't need no friends at all / they'll just bring heartache ... it's walkability / it doesn't matter to me." The subtly reverb-ed and ringing guitar line surfs above the waves of percussion before washing ashore on a beach of electronic noise that bends itself into the beat that pushes "Important" forward.
  Way Yes - Walkability by yvynyl 

I believe I've made mention in the past of having a bit of a dark fascination with composing the playlist for my own funeral, and I may just have to include "Singing" with its optimist outlook on going out on a positive note: "I get older every day / I get closer to my death / and I hope / that when I go / I'll be singing." Maybe that'll leave the crowd in a positive place as they scatter my ashes in the South Saskatchewan River valley.
  Way Yes - "Singing" by Some Kind of Awesome

I may be writing about Lefse label-mate Teen Daze and his great new record All Of Us, Together in the next few days (he plays the LO Pub here in Winnipeg next Wednesday, June 20th), but in the meantime, you can pre-order Walkability at Lefse Records web store.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Poised for the Polaris?

Last week - June 7th to be exact - the polls closed in one of the biggest votes of my life (I would count voting in the last federal election, only that didn't go so well - seriously Canada, WTF?!). For the first time ever, I submitted a ballot for the Polaris Prize. The Long List will be announced tomorrow in Vancouver, and when the world learns about which 40 albums made the cut, I will learn which (if any) of the 5 records I voted for are included for consideration in the winnowing down to a shortlist of 10 and eventually a winner for the 2012 award.

I was super-excited to be included in a batch of new jurors for the prize, and both witness and participate in the discussion that goes on among jurors about which albums are being and should be considered for the Polaris. As someone who has tried to predict the award-winner on an annual basis and once tried to guess the shortlist a year in advance based on release dates for albums from established Canadian acts that were due to be released during the following Polaris 'calendar' of June-to-May (I did pretty well considering I had the eventual winner and a few other albums make my 'cut'), it's exciting to be an active participant in determining what album will snag the prize. But it's also become clear that I'm no more likely to know what exactly will be on the list tomorrow despite being privy to the discussion among jurors than I was on the outside looking in. And that's because ultimately my ballot is MY ballot and I'm not voting as part of some hive-mind. The five records I put on my list were the ones I believed were the best of the bunch and I am certain that these specific picks, in this specific order, were not replicated by any other juror - and it's quite likely a fact that holds true for every juror. There are just far too many albums to be considered, jurors' perspectives to account for (and likely some other variables I'm not even thinking of) to say with certainty that the Long List will reflect my opinion.

**Speaking of how many albums were under consideration, please know that I listened to every album my fellow jurors recommended (at least once) as well as a great number of records that were never mentioned. My job at UMFM allows me the luxury of having a huge number of albums cross my desk and so a good eighty-to-ninety percent of the 'nominated' titles were already familiar to me, but for those I hadn't heard previously, I took the time to familiarize myself with the argument for the album and the contents of the album itself. This will likely make voting for the shortlist a bit easier as I fully expect to have a few of my personal picks not make the cut and require me to 'fill out my five' from among the Long List titles.

Without further ado, here's what I voted for:

Number 5: Yamantaka // Sonic Titan - Yt // St [Psychic Handshake]

This is an act that made my own long list when it came time to select my Top 20 albums for 2011 (which is, I should point out, not Can-Con exclusive like the Polaris), and one for which my fondness has only grown since the calendar turned to 2012. Yt // St is a captivating listen with a lot of disparate elements working in a weird harmony. The band describes themselves as:

a psychedelic noh-wave opera group fusing noise, metal, pop and folk music into a multidisciplinary hyper-orientalist cesspool of 'east' meets 'west' culture clash in giant monochrome paper sets.

It bears up to repeated listens, revealing layers with each new play - the band has packed a lot into these seven songs.
You can listen to the album on the bands' Bandcamp page.

Number 4: Kathryn Calder - Bright and Vivid [File Under: Music]

I wasn't too big on Kathryn Calder's first solo effort, Are You My Mother? While I understood her attempt to deal with the period in which she took care of her terminally ill mother, and put a voice to the feelings and experiences, the songs themselves were a bit flat. A little more time and distance gave the former Immaculate Machine member and sometime New Pornographer the opportunity to develop her songs more fully and the results are exactly as the title suggests.

Number 3: Slim Moore & The Mar-Kays - Introducing... Slim Moore & The Mar-Kays [Marlow Records]

When I'm not writing here or on Reductive Reviews, I try to contribute to Airtimes, UMFM's online culture zine. In fact, when we were building the site, I wrote a review of the Slim Moore record to test the back-end because I wanted more people to know about this album. With Light In The Attic and Numero Group reissues and brand new release from Daptone Records, the past few years has seen a renaissance in the soul music realm and Introducing... is a really fine addition to the canon. Moore's got a supple baritone that moves from croon to growl, while his band shifts from smooth shuffle to funky hustle, all with aplomb.

Number 2: Cannon Bros. - Firecracker / Cloudglow [Disintegration Records]

I'm really hoping that the full-length debut from Winnipeg duo Cannon Bros. isn't just a "Peg City pick" and their Pavement-era guitar rock appeals to jurors from across the country. Certainly the album will appeal to those who came of age in the early nineties (i.e. me) and look fondly back at the music coming out of Chapel Hill, Athens GA, and other college towns. Hard to believe that Cole and Alannah (aka the "Bros.") were just toddlers at the time.

Number 1: Jos. Fortin - Typewriter [Shuffling Feet] 

Had this album come out last year, it would likely have unseated Cookie Dough by Freddie Cruger and Anthony Mills (aka Wildcookie), as my top album of 2011. I actually had the good fortune to hear a rough version of Typewriter last August and heard the mastered copy before the calendar turned to 2012, but the album wasn't released until this March. I've had a long time to fall in love with this record - and unlike some crushes, this one hasn't worn off; it's only gotten deeper. I feel that Fortin decided on the title of the album because when people wrote on typewriters, words carried more weight and had more permanence than they do in an era when a "Delete" key can make a thought disappear in an click. People can revise their thoughts in an instant and leave no trace of the original. In contrast to that, Fortin's lyrics (and songs) demonstrate an understanding of how finely-crafted words can stick with a reader/listener. I have listened to this record dozens of times and find new elements to appreciate each time. You can hear the record for yourself below via Bandcamp.

**One last thing - winnowing this list down was arduous and I certainly left several albums I really, really like off . I just want to give shout-outs to (in alphabetical order):
Apollo Ghosts - Landmark [You've Changed Records] - really strong rock record, classic and catchy.

BADBADNOTGOOD - BBNG2 [Independent] - how disappointed am I that these guys cancelled their Winnipeg Jazz Fest appearance...

Cold Specks - I Predict A Graceful Expulsion [Arts & Crafts] - Al Spx voice is incredible and these songs are simple, unadorned vehicles for that voice.

Fraction & Fresh Kils - Extra Science [KilZone] - I thought this was a very strong year for Canadian hip-hop and this is one of two records that really grabbed my attention this year. Plus Fresh Kils production on numerous other records / singles was seriously on point.

Japandroids - Celebration Rock [Polyvinyl] - I honestly didn't get enough time with this one. I got my first full listen about a week before the ballots were due. It's very strong.

Moonface - With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery [Jagjaguwar] - pretty much everything Spencer Krug (Sunset Rubdown, Frog Eyes, ...) puts to tape is of interest to me, but his Moonface gig is poised to be my favourite. After the very solid Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I'd Hoped was released last summer, he followed up with this stunner which may be his best work under any name.

Teenburger -  Burgertime [Droppin' Science] - a collaboration amongst Timbuktu, DJ Jorun Bombay and one of my favourite rappers, Ghettosocks that took me back to the days when thematic hip-hop didn't mean a masters thesis set to beats, just a whole lotta fun songs that play well together.