It’s hard to believe we’re four months into 2013. Winter has worn out its welcome, spring is slowly creeping into the picture, and another year of university has come to a close. This mixtape is pretty self-explanatory: a collection of nine tracks that have accompanied me through yet another semester.
A cold, calculated piece of electronic sprawl from Thom Yorke and company. I love the clickety-clack beat and the icy synths on the chorus, which are so hostile and distant. It feels like I’m back in the land of Kid A.
I consider myself an atypical Yeah Yeah Yeahs fan, in that I’ve always preferred It’s Blitz to Fever to Tell. Then again, I’ve always been more into “Y Control” than “Date with the Night,” so the poppy electronics of It’s Blitz were incredibly appealing. Mosquito finds the band reverting back to a more rocky sound, though not quite as edgy as their earlier stuff. I’m not sure what the goal of the hideous album art is, but despite the initial impression, Mosquito is mostly alright.
The biggest issue is one shared with their second album, Show Your Bones. Beyond the singles, the songs blend together into an indistinguishable mush. It’s fine to listen to, but doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression. Dr. Octagon’s rap on “Buried Alive” seems like it should be an exciting divergence from the rest of the album’s sound, but beyond calling himself Doc Ock and getting me thinking of Spider-Man again, it’s not particularly interesting. Opening track “Sacrilege” hinted at a more adventurous album. Yeah Yeah Yeahs and a gospel choir! And it works! I just wish the rest of the album lived up to the promise.
As the dust of Canadian Music Week settles, Montreal’s unique brand of shoegaze and psychedelia departs town in the form of Suuns. Releasing their first LP, Zeroes QC, back in 2011, they’ve been looked to for an equally eclectic mix of electronic and rock sounds in their follow-up. On March 4, Suuns released Images du Futur, their most accomplished effort, produced by Jace Lasek of The Besnard Lakes. With a spray of noise rock laid out across their expanse of hypnotic rhythms and murky vocals, Suuns remained a band capable of keeping control of their sound, no matter how chaotic, in forming one of the critical Canadian releases this year.
I managed to catch up with Joseph Yarmush, Suuns’ guitarist, as he navigated the frantic streets of Montreal, before heading to Toronto. He discussed the nature of the band’s unique sound, enlightened me on some of the noises sprawled across the new album, and recalled the story of the band’s harrowing encounter in the Portugal club scene.
Anthony Boire: Coming into Images du Futur after Zeroes QC, how did you change your songwriting?
Joe Yarmush: A little bit, I guess. I think it all just got a little bit better. All those songs [on Zeroes QC], they were kind of roadtested, before we had recorded them. So we had been playing them a lot live. So we kind of knew them inside and out. With Images, we basically started from scratch. We recorded a bunch of songs that had never been played live. It’s just a different thing. You’re not really sure, what will work, and what won’t. It’s tiring, because you’re just in there for hours making sure everything sounds the way you want it to.
Anthony: How did you come up with the riff in “2020″? It’s got some noise elements but somehow definitely gets stuck in your head.
Joe: That one wasn’t me, but if you’re just playing one note on the bass you’re pretty free to do anything. [Laughs] I mean, I was doing a lot of slide. Like on “Pie IX”, live I always used a slide even though on the album we didn’t. Originally it was called “Son of Pie IX”, I think. That was the working title [for "2020"].
In the spring of 2010, a song called “Ffunny Ffrends” was uploaded to a Bandcamp page. Little was known about the track until a backlash fueled by angry bloggers and viral reposts forced Ruban Nielson and company to claim it as their own. A year later, Unknown Mortal Orchestra had signed to Fat Possum Records and were jamming in the studio. It’s a success story we’ve heard before, but the band couldn’t have been more nonchalant about it. They’ve learned to accept whatever progress has been made and focus their efforts on what matters: the music. UMO prefer the easygoing life, the ability to lie in an open field, limbs spread apart, and bask in the sun’s rays. If only life could be like that all the time.
Much like the band’s rise to fame, II is a carefree affair, a loose collection of ideas you may happen to stumble upon as you rummage through dusty stacks of forgotten basement cassettes. Its lo-fi, sepia-toned recording emits an old-school charm and pays homage to The Beach Boys, Southern California sunsets, and Polaroid pictures. The songs are grainy yet vibrant, boasting colourful, steady drumming and whimsical guitar playing. II, for these reasons, is relaxed without succumbing to laziness, and demands your attention without conceding to brute force.
UMO aren’t afraid to get a little flashy with their influences either. Opener “From the Sun” could be a Sgt. Pepper’s B-side, and “One At a Time” is the result of listening to one too many Funkadelic records. “Dawn” is a short, pulsating instrumental which could be easily mistaken for a Boards of Canada song. And “No Need for a Leader” is a must for any road trip soundtrack with its driving backbeat and fuzzy guitar riff. Unfortunately, the band can get a little repetitive, as they do on “Monki”, a 7-minute tune with what is essentially the same exact chorus on loop (thank Elvis the song has a bridge). And “So Good At Being in Trouble”, while delightful with its crooning vocals and shimmering guitar lick, ends up feeling empty and hollow, as if a piece of the puzzle is missing.
Jagjaguwar’s release of Foxygen’s Take the Kids Off Broadway last year introduced audiences to a duo of psych-pop revivalists that made it their mission to cram as many influences as they could into one album. Although fuzzy and unkempt, it was a laudable endeavor. On We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, Foxygen continue their shtick, but this time around it is much more polished. Crammed-full of familiar melodies and elements of superstars from the ’60s and ’70s – with famed multil-instrumentalist Richard Swift producing – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic is a full-bodied album that is far away from the lo-fi world of their debut. From Sgt. Peppered album opener “In the Darkness” and “Oh No 2,” to the Dylanisms scattered across “No Destruction” to Bowie, Lou Reed (in the Velvet Underground days), and all eras of Mick Jagger – especially on the title track – Foxygen are appreciative of the sound that defines them, and they do their upmost not to mimic, but to pay tribute.
There have been plenty of bands that would fall into the realm of reconstruction, but Foxygen spans two decades of past musical high notes, quite the accomplishment for a band that have been recording under their current name since the age of fifteen. Countless bands before Foxygen have dabbled with quick change and cosmic patchworks of older influences, but few have succeeded in crafting songs as moving and catchy as these. The thick accents and psychedelic swirl of “San Francisco” walk the line of being patronizingly nostalgic until the hook-heavy chorus comes in. Singer Sam France is a nostalgic virtuoso, who can not only throw his voice into any era, but can do so while always maintaining the flow of the song. Foxygen are in complete songwriting control.
We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic is a beautiful, non-stop convergence of ideas, some borrowed, some original, some revised, and some outright plagiarized. In the end, however, the album’s coherence comes in its incredible architecture of all these ideas, and the way the band sells them with a carefree, fun-loving attitude. France and bandmate Jonathan Rado give it everything they’ve got, taking a project that could have very well ended in disaster and allowed their nostalgic hearts to fully grasp the predecessors that shaped them, creating a delightfully frantic, yet playful ode to the yesteryears.