Tally Hall

In the afternoon on 12/12/2012, while the world patiently waited to take screenshots at twelve minutes past noon, a mysterious album quietly went up on Bandcamp with the mysterious name ミラクルミュージカル (the phrase “Musical Miracle” transliterated into Japanese katakana characters, presumably just to fuck with your iTunes). The mysterious band of mystery turns out to be a side project from singer/guitarist Joe Hawley of Tally Hall, something of a cult band from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Think Barenaked Ladies’ goateed American evil twin, or Ween on mood stabilizers.

Aside from the lack of humility, Hawley’s messianically monickered “musical miracle” actually offers something close to that. It’s bizarre, grating, stagy, and breathtakingly cool, with a scattershot set of influences—early Pink Floyd, Postal Service, the Katamari Damacy soundtrack, African chant, Gorillaz, Air, popular music of the 1910s—not shoved in a blender, but sewn together with the deliberate care of Dr. Frankenstein assembling his übermensch. Much like giant monsters made of corpses, Hawaii: Part II is kind of weird and not for everyone. But there’s no denying it’s interesting.

The album unfolds as a sort of intergeneric cabaret (or for that matter an intergalactic one). Opener “Introduction to the Snow” sounds like it belongs on an old 78. “The Mind Electric” is a single tape running backwards and then forwards, mirrored in the middle. “Labyrinth” offers a diverting side dish of chiptune rap. The closest thing to a consistent sound, running through “Isle Unto Thyself” and “White Ball” and “Time Machine”, is a vocoded glitchy space-pop concept that I’d like to nominate for the title of True Spiritual Heir To The Postal Service. (Death to the usurper Owl City!) As in any worthy stage show, bits of conceptual DNA wriggle between songs. A sublime bonus track, “Variations on a Cloud”, recaps and twists themes and lyrics not only from earlier in Hawaii: Part II but also from Tally Hall’s first/best album Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum.

Continue Reading ‘Hawaii: Part II’ Album Review »

Tags: ,

— , February 14, 2013    2 Comments

Photograph by Vanessa Heins

It’s been a busy few years for Hey Rosetta!, Newfoundland’s premier indie music export. They’ve become a fixture on the Polaris Prize shortlist and toured their ambitious Can-rock virtually non-stop, though judging by their multiple sellout crowds at the cavernous Phoenix in Toronto this week, the country is still in the mood to hear more. In that spirit, I joined frontman Tim Baker and cellist/guitarist/utility outfielder Romesh Thavanathan on one of the band’s rare days off for a traditional Toronto burrito lunch. Read on if you’ve ever wondered about the hidden gems of the St. John’s music scene, or how to start a rock band without owning an electric guitar, or what kind of burrito a true Newfoundlander enjoys.

Josh: First things first. What kind of burritos did you get, and why?

Romesh Thavanathan: I got the large halibut, because I’m a baller.

Tim Baker:  I got the small halibut, because I’m not a baller, or at least less of a baller.

Josh: With a couple days off in Toronto before your next show, what are you getting up to?

Both: Recovery. [Laughs]

Tim: It’s been a long run and a long time since we’ve had any days off. I think the last time we had a few was a month and a half ago, when we got to Australia.

Continue Reading ‘Hey Rosetta!’ Feature Interview »


— , November 24, 2011    1 Comment

Photograph by Chris Graham

Who are Library Voices? They are a seven-piece pop group from Saskatchewan whose new album Summer of Lust should be popping up on a number of Best of 2011 lists. They are fun-loving literary types who will probably kick your ass at shot chess. They write with one foot in the 1960s and the other in the not-too-distant future. In short, they’re a bit like Vampire Weekend, except that they’re Canadian and don’t give you a mild urge to punch them in the face.

As they endeavour to spread their name (memorably misremembered by a friend-of-a-friend as “The Shushing Librarians”), the live act should help. Library Voices bring serious weapons-grade energy to every show. Eoin Hickey-Cameron (above: top centre), for example, isn’t a bassist out of Central Casting lurking in the corner in a hoodie. He’ll jump up on a monitor or kick drum, get soaked with sweat by the end of the third song, trade stupid faces with the sax player, flop his hair back and forth like a really gross shampoo commercial—and there are seven of these guys. The notoriously dance-averse Horseshoe crowd at their recent Toronto show even showed moments of bopping and swaying, if not, you know, actual dancing.

I sat down with 28.6% of the band, namely songwriter/synth player Mike Dawson and guitarist Brennan Ross (above: far right and far left, respectively), to talk about audiobooks and how to get kicked out of one’s apartment.

Josh: How’s the tour been so far?

Brennan Ross: It’s great. It’s hard to really tell when it started—it’s been sort of perpetually going on. We went out to Victoria and Halifax and back, we’re starting to go into the States.

Josh: How do you find it touring in the States as a Canadian band?

Mike Dawson: It’s sort of like starting over. We’ve been feeling really well accepted when we meet people down there, when they discover our band, but people aren’t aware. In Canada people are a little spoiled because having access to bands from the States is second nature. They might as well be from down the road. It’s not the case the other way round—because there are so many incredible bands in the States, they’re not always so aware of what’s going on in Canada. So in that capacity it sort of feels like a first tour sometimes, building crowds and meeting people, sleeping on the floor at the sound guy’s house. With his six roommates. But it’s awesome. It helps you keep yourself in check.

Continue Reading ‘Library Voices’ Feature Interview »


— , November 13, 2011    Comments Off on Library Voices

Photograph by Jonathan Taggart

In the spirit of the season, let’s take a moment before we get started to thank Dan Mangan for giving the world ‘Robots‘.

There may not be anything quite as wonderful on Mangan’s new album Oh Fortune as that track from his last release, a plea on behalf of our mechanical friends for the oft-overlooked affection they so require – but so it goes. Oh Fortune is still a gorgeous neo-folk album that tops Nice, Nice, Very Nice on points, comparing favourably with Chad VanGaalen’s Soft Airplane and Andrew Bird’s last few releases. The continuing emergence of the Vancouver-based Mangan plants Canada’s musical epicentre even more firmly on the West Coast, which really isn’t fair since they also got the Olympics and some nice beaches, but what can you do?

There’s a lot to like in Mangan’s congealing style. He’s got a tricky voice that delivers wall-eyed melodrama track after track and somehow still comes across as a little understated. He doesn’t hide behind effects and instrumentation but doesn’t avoid them either; he puts himself out in front of the noise of the track, like Andrew Bird with a better sense of direction. On ‘Daffodil’, when he does slip into vocal filters and a shy moan borrowed from M. Ward, the result is a sublime low-fidelity lullaby.

This isn’t an album for good moods, though. The lyrics are a buffet of death, regret, grief, warfare, dread, more death, and anything else depressing I’ve forgotten to mention. There are tracks titled ‘If I am Dead’ and ‘Regarding Death and Dying’ and ‘Post-War Blues’ and they’re just as resigned, morose, and cynical (respectively) as you’d expect. Anything positive gets crushed out: “Nice to have the kids around – oh my God, it’s killing me” closes out the title track. For his part, Mangan has an explanation for all this: he mentioned in a recent Globe and Mail interview that writing these dark songs helps him live in a better headspace day to day. Food for thought.

Continue Reading ‘Oh Fortune’ Album Review »


— , October 12, 2011    Comments Off on Dan Mangan: Oh Fortune

Photograph by D.L. Anderson

How do you follow a universally adored debut like For Emma, Forever Ago? Give the masses more of what you know they love? Fight the current, tear off in a wild new direction, and dare them all to follow?* Bon Iver’s sophomore, self-titled record tries for a mix of both with mixed results, renewing and expanding For Emma without really improving on it.

Where For Emma, Forever Ago was built out of little more than an acoustic guitar and Justin Vernon’s overdubbed falsetto, sounding as dusty and spare as the secluded winter cabin in which it was famously written and recorded, Bon Iver goes electric and beyond with an ambitious arsenal of synths, drums, autotune, and yes, that is a saxophone a-wailing on the album’s closing track ‘Beth/Rest’. The tinkering is welcome, but it yields an inconsistent batch of songs with some sublime highs and a few baffling lows, in contrast to For Emma all of whose nine tracks were solidly worth knowing by heart.

Four of Bon Iver’s tracks do stand out as excellent. ‘Towers’ is accessible and catchy; ‘Michicant’ is mournful and wintry, Vernon’s bread and butter, playing with a pointillistic 3/4 rhythm. ‘Perth’ and ‘Calgary’ are two of the band’s strongest songs to date, the most emotionally touching pieces on this album and the most likely to wind up on mixtapes and moody playlists. Like the overlooked gems on the Blood Bank EP, their structural essentials would have them sounding just like missing For Emma tracks if stripped down to guitar and vocals, while their arrangements here on Bon Iver make strong use of the band’s new electric toys to add power and weight. As a matter of staying in character while going electric, Sufjan Stevens should be taking notes. Although then you get to a track like the aforementioned ‘Beth/Rest’ and it all seems to come apart in chunks of post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd b-side power ballad, which is really and truly not a phrase I ever expected to type about this particular band.

Continue Reading ‘Bon Iver’ Album Review »


— , June 13, 2011    3 Comments