Photograph by Shervin Lainez

Photograph by Shervin Lainez

The first Dismemberment Plan song I heard was an incredibly unique version of The Cure’s “Close to Me” that still ranks among my favourite covers. From there, I delved into their back catalogue, most notably their latter albums Emergency & I and Change. This was a sound I’ve never heard before; the Dismemberment Plan managed to condense a vast field of influences into something both familiar and remarkably ahead of its time. Beyond the idiosyncrasies and complexities of the music itself, the tone and lyrics were equally refreshing. Blending a sense of melancholy and frustration tempered by a wry sense of humour, songs like “Spider in the Snow” spoke to me like no other band has.

As the band had broken up in 2003, seeing them live wasn’t a possibility, and I had to remain satisfied with recordings of the “Death and Dismemberment Tour” they did with a pre-fame Death Cab for Cutie. When they announced a brief reunion tour in early 2011, I made my way out to New York to witness one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, and of course, rumblings of new material being recorded began. A few years later, The Plan’s fifth album, Uncanney Valley has emerged.

Reunion albums aren’t new; however, going against the norm, recent years have spoiled us with excellent albums by Dinosaur Jr. and Superchunk. There’s also been a particularly bad EP released by the Pixies. Sadly, on that scale Uncanney Valley is closer to the Pixies. It’s not an unmitigated disaster, but it’s by far the weakest album The Dismemberment Plan has put out. The idiosyncrasies and freneticism that characterized their earlier work is in short supply, traded for a poppier turn drenched in omnipresent keyboards. It’s much closer to frontman Travis Morrison’s solo albums than anything else, which were by no means worthy of Pitchfork’s infamous 0.0, but were also not his best work. “Waiting” was the first track released from the album, first heard on a call-in hotline. It’s quirky and goofy, but ultimately lacking in substance. “Invisible” and “Mexico City Christmas” best connect the band back to their past, but for the most part, the album just sounds flat. It’s missing that unique energy, and suffers for it.

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— , October 14, 2013    Comments Off on The Dismemberment Plan: Uncanney Valley

Phoenix

The Garrison at Fort York has become the go-to festival grounds in Toronto this summer, and with good reason. Avoiding the annoyance of getting to either Downsview Park or the ferry to Toronto Island, Arts&Crafts’ inaugural Field Trip provided a great showcase for the label’s roster and the treat of seeing You Forgot It in People performed in its entirety by Broken Social Scene.  Add the multitude of food options, great beer provided by Amsterdam Brewery, and other events, and it proved the grounds could be used with great success. The Toronto Urban Roots Festival was a different beast, stretched over four days, but it managed to weather a torrential downpour on the final day, ending with a triumphant set by Belle & Sebastian. So when the Grove Music Festival was forced to evacuate its original location in Niagara-on-the-Lake (while losing acts like Bob Mould and Macklemore), it seemed the infrastructure for a successful day was already in place.

However, the Grove Music Festival proved to be a poor facsimile of previous events, suffering from several disappointing developments. The set times for Palma Violets and Wavves were swapped with zero notice. Drinks were available for the ridiculous price of $11 a can, while the only water available was some sort of strange brand of “sport water.” The Jagermeister tent in the middle of the crowd served to block sightlines, and was complete with staff obnoxiously squirting passersby with super soakers on a rather mild day. There was a lack of merch from any of the headliners, to the point where the tent was selling discounted Edgefest shirts from a few days before. The forty minute set times for the likes of Hot Chip, Girl Talk and the Gaslight Anthem were ludicrously short. Earl Sweatshirt’s 20 minute set was its own joke. But most damning of all was the atrocious sound mix. The vocals were muffled and at times inaudible, particularly during Hot Chip’s otherwise stellar set. These issues seemed to be fixed by the time Phoenix hit the stage, but it cast a pall over the day. The other gripes could have been forgiven had the sound not been an issue.

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— , August 9, 2013    Comments Off on The Grove Music Festival
Photograph by Dan Martensen

Photograph by Dan Martensen

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.

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— , April 9, 2013    Comments Off on Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Mosquito

Tegan and Sara

If the last Tegan and Sara song you’ve heard was “Monday Monday Monday,” the electronic pop of Heartthrob might come as a bit of a shock. The shift has been foreshadowed in the recent years by “Someday,” the final track on Tegan and Sara’s last album, Sainthood, and perhaps more blatantly by their collaboration with Tiësto, “Feel It in My Bones.” Whether it works is up to the listener. The subject matter is the same as ever, and the hooks are as catchy as ever, so it really comes down to the presentation.

The buzz of the synthesizers on opening track and first single “Closer” is as good an introduction as any, and it sets the tone for what you’re going to hear for the next nine tracks. The album is not subtle. It’s called Heartthrob and it’s filled with heartbreak. Individually, the songs are fine, taken together, they can be difficult to distinguish. “I Was a Fool” manages to buck the trend, slowing it down and shifting the electronics to the background.

Heartthrob is Tegan and Sara’s pop album, that much is clear. I’m not normally one to rail on production, but Tegan and Sara songs usually do better when they’re less dressed up. It’s nowhere near as cold and synthetic as Metric’s last album, but the glossiness makes me yearn for something as raw as If It Was You’s “Living Room.” Heartthrob isn’t going to supplant So Jealous, The Con, or Sainthood in my collection. It’s an amusing shift in sound, but I’m not sure it’s for the better.

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— , February 7, 2013    Comments Off on Tegan and Sara: Heartthrob

Photograph by Riei Nakagawara

Written and recorded by core members Loel Campbell, Tim D’Eon, and Paul Murphy, Wintersleep’s fifth album, Hello Hum, was co-produced by Dave Fridmann, known primarily for his work with the Flaming Lips. From what I can tell, his key contribution is making the vocals sound a little spacier than usual, as this is very much a Wintersleep album. It proves to be the lightest sounding Wintersleep album to date; however, unlike the latter half of New Inheritors, this doesn’t come with sounding wildly out of character, nor does it contain a distracting string section.

I was introduced to much of the album at the band’s performance at Canadian Music Week earlier this year. Now having titles to pair with the songs, Hello Hum lives up to my expectations.  Songs like ‘Resuscitate’ and first single ‘In Came the Flood’ seem sure to become live staples, while ‘Nothing Is Anything (Without You)’ seems to be chasing the radio success of ‘Weighty Ghost’.

I distinctly remember ‘Saving Song’ during the live performance. Much as it did then, the slow acoustic song serves to bring the album’s momentum to a halt. It might work as a closer, but smack dab in the middle of the album seems to be the wrong place for it. As it’s mostly Murphy solo, it would probably be more appropriate as a Postdata song. The album perks up with ‘Rapture’, one of the album’s highlights.

If there is a criticism I can lay against Hello Hum, it’s that it seems to be missing any extended jams in the vein of ‘Miasmal Smoke’ or ‘Nerves Normal’.  The songs are solid, but somewhat straightforward. Despite that gripe, Hello Hum is another strong release from an excellent band.

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— , June 15, 2012    Comments Off on Wintersleep: Hello Hum