Ask me for a list of my favourite things and three things will invariably find themselves near the top: film, indie pop, and musicals. Regular Ca Va Cool readers may remember my unabashed love for the quirky underside of Broadway or my yearning for certain bands to return to their indie pop roots. Needless to say, when I heard that Belle & Sebastian frontman Stuart Murdoch was working on a movie musical, I immediately set out to learn as much as possible about the project. Hours of tireless investigative journalism later (read: I googled it), here’s what I know, and what you should be excited to learn, about God Help the Girl.

About five years ago, while out for a jog, Stuart Murdoch first had the idea for a song entitled ‘God Help the Girl’. In his head, Murdoch could hear the tune sung by female vocals backed with strings. He realized this was something new, which would have to be separate from his songwriting work with Belle & Sebastian. During the recording and subsequent touring of Belle & Sebastian’s latest LP, The Life Pursuit, more songs came to him. He started to identify two or three main characters behind the words to the songs. Murdoch held auditions and internet-wide singing contests, searching for the voices to match these characters. He found three main vocalists: Catherine Ireton, Brittany Stallings, and Dina Bankole. Along with seven other vocalists, including Neil Hannon from the Divine Comedy and Asya from Smoosh, the trio recorded the soundtrack of a musical film which has yet to be written, much less filmed. The result is an album which shares the title of that very first song, set to be released June 22.

Murdoch is currently writing the screenplay to accompany his soundtrack, with plans to film sometime in 2010. Though the final script has yet to be written, we do know that God Help the Girl (the film) will be about a three-woman singing group, that it may end tragically, and that the music will be beautiful. God Help the Girl (the album) features two songs previously recorded by Belle & Sebastian (‘Act of the Apostle II’ and ‘Funny Little Frog’ from The Life Pursuit) and a host of new songs which showcase Murdoch’s original vision. Gorgeous vocals from Ireton, Stallings, and Bankole, along with sweeping orchestral accompaniment hint at the cinematic potential of the finished product. The remake of one of my favourite Belle & Sebastian songs, ‘Funny Little Frog’, allows for a direct contrast between Murdoch’s two musical minds, with the new female version trading in the the Scottish group’s indie pop jangle for 60’s-inspired strings and harmonies.

Continue reading spotlight on God Help the Girl >>

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— , June 6, 2009    2 Comments

Dirty Projectors - Dave Longstreth

Listening to Dirty Projectors usually requires your undivided attention to plumb the depths of Dave Longstreth’s labyrinthine musical mind. This is the case whether he is re-imagining a punk album (as on Rise Above) or writing a rock opera paying tribute to Don Henley (The Getty Address). In the group’s latest album, it feels as if Longstreth has emerged from his cerebral musical world to take stock of the simpler things, and found them worth setting to music as well. The result is a sun-drenched tracklist which manages to retain the unexpected rhythms and expansive choral harmonies from albums past, but reconfigures these elements into the band’s most accessible album to date.

To call anything from Dirty Projectors “pop” is using the broadest definition of the word, as each song contains influences from far-flung corners of the musical world. ‘Useful Chamber’ hints at African influences from between its synthesized chords (and in the headbanger breakdown smack dab in the middle of the song). ‘Stillness Is the Move’ interprets R&B as sung by a four-part all-girl chamber choir, lead by Amber Coffman’s gorgeous vocals. Coffman is showcased throughout the album, such as on the sweetly sorrowful acoustic ballad ‘Two Doves’. Longstreth takes lead vocals himself on other tracks including ‘Temecula Sunrise’, which to my mind is best described as a classic summer guitar jam reinterpreted using every time signature available.

Taken as a whole, Bitte Orca is an eclectic collection which surprises and intrigues as a Dirty Projector record should, only this time around Longstreth and company seem to be inviting us to stop thinking so hard and start singing along.

Dirty Projectors – Useful Chamber
Dirty Projectors – Stillness Is the Move
Dirty Projectors – Two Doves

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— , May 11, 2009    3 Comments

I first heard Camera Obscura on an indiepop compilation, from which I made the often-drawn comparison with that other Glasgow-based band, Belle & Sebastian. At their indiepoppiest, both bands really did sound like his-and-hers counterparts, both keeping their tunes small, soft, and contained without losing the catchy sweet melodies that define the genre. From those beginnings, Camera Obscura has stretched outside their chamber pop roots, adding sweeping folk-rock and country twang to their repertoire in subsequent albums.

Their latest album, My Maudlin Career, which is out on April 20 on 4AD, may kick off with ‘French Navy’, a song as danceable as anything Camera Obscura has produced in the past, but by the middle of the record we find singer/songwriter Tracyanne Campbell at her most melancholy. From the spare folk of ‘James’ to the country ballad ‘Forest and Sands’, Campbell appears to be in no short supply of ways to lament lost loves. At first, this put me off of My Maudlin Career, since I’ve always been a bigger fan of the poppier side of the band and found the transition between the few upbeat songs and more mournful tracks jarring. After a few listens, I grew to appreciate Campbell’s sincerely wistful ballads, if only for the fact that they show yet another facet to the band’s ability to skip genres while maintaining a unified sound, one that distinguishes Camera Obscura from Belle & Sebastian.

I would probably still play Let’s Get Out of This Country or another earlier Camera Obscura album if I was in the mood for an indiepop fix, but I can appreciate listening to their latest outing in a more, well, maudlin moment.

Camera Obscura – French Navy
Camera Obscura – Forest and Sands

Bonus round: Is she saying “like a river in Toronto” in the chorus of ‘Forest and Sands’? If so, there’s a Canadian connection!

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— , April 1, 2009    9 Comments

I’ll be the first to admit that A.C. Newman’s solo work has an awful lot in common with his ‘mainstream’ work with The New Pornographers – considering he’s a lead vocalist and songwriter in both projects, I suppose it makes sense that his particular brand of arrhythmic rock-pop would be a common denominator.

The line between the two is particularly blurred when comparing Challengers, TNP’s most recent release, with Newman’s brand new Get Guilty. Before Challengers, The New Pornographers’ sound focussed mainly on tricky rhythms underlining harmonious vocals to form catchy-yet-complex pop hits. Newman’s first solo album, The Slow Wonder, took a different slant on his style of songwriting, delving in heavier electric guitar and some country twang to accompany simpler rhythms and melodies than TNP offered. Challengers reflected a more introspective attitude from The New Pornographers, focussing more on acoustic sounds and single melody lines. And now Get Guilty finds Newman moving his side project towards the New Pornographer’s trademark complex rhythms and melodies, while dressing down the guitars to the acoustic sensibility of Challengers. It basically feels like the two projects are meeting in the middle – sounding to my ears like two parts of the same whole rather than distinct projects in their own right. And honestly, I couldn’t be more content with it (double the TNP is double the fun!), as both albums show the softer, sweeter side of what Newman does best.

A.C. Newman – Prophets
A.C. Newman – The Hearbreak Rides

For comparison’s sake:

The New Pornographers – My Right Versus Yours

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— , January 22, 2009    3 Comments

Faded Paper Figures

There’s good news to those of you who, like me, spent a good part of 2003-2004 with Postal Service’s Give Up on repeat (ah, remember those salad days, when you could still enjoy Garden State free from the knowledge of what a d-bag Zach Braff was, or how cliche Natalie Portman’s manic pixie girl character would become).  Though Postal Service has not graced the airwaves with another record, I’ve found Faded Paper Figures‘ debut album Dynamo to be an excellent supplement for those craving pretty lyrical music with an electronic backbone.

That’s not to say Faded Paper Figures is merely a Ben-Gibbard side-project knockoff; the California trio ground their electronic sound with acoustic and electric guitar, combining the two elements to make a kind of electronic-folk hybrid.  The vocals provided by R. John Williams are well complemented by Heather Alden’s harmonies which, when backed by Williams’ and Kael Alden’s instrumentals, produces a sweet sound which reminds this listener as much of Stars as it does Postal Service.  And that is a beautiful thing.

Faded Paper Figures – North By North
Faded Paper Figures – B Film

— , October 22, 2008    5 Comments