I have to confess I was a little relieved the first time I heard ‘Hey Jane’, the initial single from Jason Pierce’s latest offering Sweet Heart Sweet Light. Clocking in at just less than 9 minutes, the song stays true to earlier Spiritualized form, building, swelling and driving forward until the inevitable gospel choir begins. And it only gets better from here.

A lot has been written about this album and the mental state of J. Spaceman during the recording process. A few years after recovering from an almost deadly pneumonia, and recently undergoing chemotherapy for a degenerative liver condition, Pierce is said to be in a good place and to have created his most “happy” album to date. I’m not entirely certain I agree with this initial assessment. Although tracks like ‘Freedom’ and ‘Too Late’ are a little more immediately assessable, with lyrics on ‘Life is a Problem’ like “I won’t get to heaven, I won’t be coming home, I will not see my mother again, cause I’m lost and I’m gone,” I wouldn’t say that this is an album made for a sunny day. Like much of Pierce’s work, sadness and pain is often cloaked in beauty.

This album does bear a very similar structural resemblance to Spiritualized’s masterpiece Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space, and some songs seem very much related. ‘Get What You Deserve’ has a very comparable undertone and flow as the earlier album’s ‘I Think I’m in Love’. And there are even hints of very early influences, with ‘Headin’ for the Top Now’ sounding like it could have been on Pure Phase.

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— , April 21, 2012    1 Comment

Photograph by Alex Southam

I Break Horses are Swedish duo Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck, who, as the story goes, met online while both were visiting a medical site catering to hypochondriacs. The two were able to connect and decided to put their worries into music. The resulting catharsis is Hearts. Finding themselves labelmates with Fleet Foxes and Explosions in the Sky on Bella Union, I suspect they feel pretty good right about now.

The first two singles ‘Hearts’ and ‘Winter Beats’ have been available for some time, and being a devout follower of all things shoegaze (typically the floppy haired guitar variety), these offerings had me excited for things to come, even if the noise I Break Horses generates is created electronically. These songs gently layer into an astonishing and repetitive, beautiful sound, with the vocals softly adding to the atmosphere.

Although there are some obvious older guitar-based influences, most notably My Bloody Valentine with Loveless and Ride with Nowhere, I Break Horses still come off sounding fresh and relevant. The comparison with M83 has been made, but I would argue that this material could rival anything Anthony Gonzalez has to offer, especially as he seems to have progressed little since Saturdays = Youth with his latest single.

Hearts as a whole doesn’t sound like the first two singles, but overall the remaining seven songs tend to take on the same formula, shifting and progressing slowly. ‘Wired’ deconstructs itself and becomes somewhat foggy and unrecognizable near the end, while ‘Pulse’ utilizes hazy vocals that swell with beautiful harmonies. I never thought I would use the word ethereal to describe a song entitled ‘Cancer’, but somehow I think this is what I Break Horses had in mind, perhaps trying to understand something that they have both professed to fear greatly. And while the album as a whole could hardly be described as positive, the finale ‘No Way Outro’ certainly ends with a triumphant drum roll.

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— , August 28, 2011    3 Comments

Photograph by Liam Maloney

May 16, 2011, London, England – Sometimes I like to imagine that I’m Bill Murray in Groundhog Day and I can relive fantastic events over and over again for eternity. If this were ever to happen to me I would insist on including a Handsome Furs gig in the mix. The Montreal husband and wife duo of Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry certainly know how to perform and I defy anyone to find a live act with more passion and energy. Essentially, if they were to become a routine part of my life I may be able to quit caffeine.

Handsome Furs played the Lexington, a small pub in London’s North End known for showcasing acts with a little edge that have yet to break into the overwhelming London scene. The venue itself boasts incredible sound and atmosphere, which amplified the band’s penetrating sound. The fascinating thing about the Handsome Furs is that they play every show as if it were their last ever. They own the stage and sweat more than I have ever seen at a live show before.

With a new album Sound Kapital set to be released on June 28, the show was almost entirely dedicated to new material. On occasion this can be disappointing, but on this night it couldn’t be further from the truth. From what I’ve heard, the new album promises to be very good indeed. The new material is fast, hard and much more electronic than previous offerings. Some tracks are void of guitar and rely heavily on pulsating beats. A few songs from Face Control, including ‘I’m Confused’, ‘All We Want, Baby, Is Everything’ and ‘Radio Kaliningrad’ were scattered throughout the new material while songs from 2007’s Plague Park were noticeably absent. It seems the Handsome Furs are moving on, and in all fairness their earlier more sparse music might have dampened the energetic mood.

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— , May 28, 2011    Comments Off on Handsome Furs: The Lexington

April 19, 2011, London, England – I can’t explain why, but I have always been rather protective of The Dears. They’re a band that I’ve followed since their lounge inspired and critically acclaimed debut EP End of a Hollywood Bedtime Story. And yet despite years of hard work, touring, and fantastic albums they always seem to be just on the cusp of a breakthrough. Perhaps it’s just a classic case of wanting the good old Canadians to get what they deserve, and that’s why I take such issue with their recent release Degeneration Street getting some less than favourable press (including a harsh and unnecessary Pitchfork review). I’ve seen The Dears perform on countless occasions and was admittedly a little worried to see if all this had gotten them down a little. Needless to say, The Dears don’t need anyone to protect them. They’re doing just fine thanks, and dare I say I’ve never seen them so happy on stage.

The venue itself, The Borderline in London’s trendy Soho district, is certainly an interesting place. With a capacity of only 275 (sold out on this occasion), it is so strangely laid out that they actually have two TV monitors set up for those with obstructed views. Fortunately we found a spot that wasn’t completely blocked by either a bar or massive pole. Despite the weird set-up the sound was fairly decent and didn’t distract from the show itself.

The Dears started with a string of new songs including ‘Omega Dog’, ‘5 Chords’, and ‘Yesteryear’. Some actually come across live as heavy and almost classic rock sounding. Lead guitarist Patrick Krief is simply fantastic to listen to and watch. I can’t imagine that this material would come across as well live without him. A smattering of tunes followed, all from previous albums. Basically every period of their career was touched upon nicely as the crowd was treated to songs such as ‘Lost in the Plot’, ‘Whites Only Party’, and a superb version of ‘We Can Have It’.

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— , April 23, 2011    Comments Off on The Dears: The Borderline

Photograph by Pavla Kopecna

March 3, 2011, London, England – I haven’t seen a band play a university for quite some time, so it felt strange walking up the six flights of stairs to reach Tutu’s, the club attached to King’s College in London. I had to check my ticket to make sure that the Pains of Being Pure at Heart were actually the band playing and that there hadn’t been some gross error on my part. Moving from the stairwell to the venue, I entered a modest-sized room with a breathtaking view of the River Thames and London’s South Bank. After finding a good view from the small balcony, the opening act began.

I must say, there are few things more enjoyable than when an opener you’ve never heard of blows you away. Spectrals are a five piece from London that play really tight, surf rock-inspired music. I made the comment that they sound similar to Best Coast and afterwards my Google search revealed that they’re actually opening for them over the next few weeks. Definitely worth a listen to if you haven’t done so before.

This was the Pains’ final show of their European tour, showcasing material from their self-titled debut as well as from their new album Belong, out at the end of the March. While they all appeared rather tired, this didn’t stop them from putting on a fantastic and physically engaging show. They put their heads down and just hammered away at their instruments. Favourites such as ‘Come Saturday’, ‘Contender’, and ‘Young Adult Friction’ got the crowd warmed up for a string of songs that I didn’t recognize and can only assume are from the forthcoming release. One new offering, ‘Heart in Your Heartbreak’ is simply beautiful live, and if the rest are any indication of what Belong will be like, we are all in for a treat. The only disappointment was that keyboardist Peggy Wang’s microphone was very quiet and we weren’t able to enjoy the melodic harmonies between her and lead singer Kip Berman that make the first album so enjoyable. Overall they put on an enjoyable performance of jangly indie that was well worth the six flights of exercise.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – Heart in Your Heartbreak
Spectrals – I Ran with Love (But I Couldn’t Keep Up)

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— , March 9, 2011    Comments Off on The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: King’s College