Photograph by Reuben Cox

Photograph by Reuben Cox

There are two distinct and equally great sides to Belle & Sebastian’s career: 1996 to 2003 and 2003 to now. Their fifth album, 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress found Belle & Sebastian jumping to Rough Trade Records with a new clean and slickly produced sound. Gone were the standard album openings of whispering vocals backed by a quietly strummed acoustic guitar; Belle & Sebastian came out to delightfully shock everyone with modern pop songs. The Third Eye Centre collects the b-sides to Belle & Sebastian’s three albums from this period: 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress, 2006’s The Life Pursuit and 2010’s Write About Love. 

Much like their DVD, this release is very much “For Fans Only”. Though there are a good handful of tracks that very much hold their own, I can’t imagine a casual fan gravitating to this as a standalone record. Seeing that I am not a casual fan, I will praise this collection as an interesting look in to their later years and the creation of their last 3 records. What gets left behind is sometimes more interesting for wondering why it was left behind.

Starting with a batch of Dear Catastrophe Waitress b-sides, we can understand why some were left off, not for of any weakness of the song, but for just not fitting in. Guitarist Stevie Jackson’s “(I Believe in) Travellin’ Light” is a quiet gem that would have fit in great with say, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, but doesn’t quite fit in with the other hi-fi pop songs. “Love on the March” is a strange jazzy number that works on its own, but would have stuck out like a sore thumb if included on Dear Catastrophe Waitress. “Desperation Made a Fool of Me” and “Your Secrets” are definitely the closest you’ll get to songs that were worthy for Dear Catastrophe Waitress, their shimmering guitars and groovy baselines would have fit right in, but I guess album length always plays a part in decision making,

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— , October 28, 2013    Comments Off on Belle & Sebastian: The Third Eye Centre

Photograph by Danny Clinch

When Death Cab for Cutie released their first single from Codes and Keys, ‘You Are a Tourist’, I wasn’t very into it. It sounded like a hit single with its melody and lyrics written for a third grade school choir, but I was worried that it would be a case of releasing the best song first, much like the Strokes earlier this year with ‘Under Cover of Darkness’. While it may be the lead single, it is also the weakest song on the record. A week or so later Death Cab released ‘Some Boys’, and all my worries disappeared.

Codes and Keys finds Death Cab exploring new territory with electronic sounds, using Ben Gibbard’s voice as an instrument, almost reminiscent of Animal Collective’s most radio-friendly track ‘Fireworks’. When I first heard ‘Some Boys’, I instantly thought of ‘Fireworks’, and sat amazed that this sound fit Death Cab for Cutie so well. Opening track ‘Home Is a Fire’ dips its toes quite far into the electronic sound, almost sounding like a Postal Service b-side. The precise picking and rapid scattering drum beat can sound at times electronic, yet still organic enough to question whether or not it is.

Codes and Keys is probably Death Cab’s biggest change in sound from one album to another, both lyrically and musically. Narrow Stairs was a very raw and at times depressing record. Codes and Keys has a very studio-centric sound to most of its tracks, and lyrically may be Death Cab’s happiest and most charming record. Narrow Stairs left listeners with a tear jerking break up song, while Codes and Keys‘ closer leaves you wanting and happy to be in love.

Death Cab for Cutie are at a strange place in their career following their first number one record. Each record they put out in this stage of their career will always make early followers of the band ask if they are still relevant. It’s asking myself this where I realized that it doesn’t matter. I don’t expect them to put out a masterpiece by any means anymore, they are a pop band, and their new record demonstrates their ability to continue to create wonderfully melodic and jangly guitar pop songs they have come to be known for.

Death Cab for Cutie – You Are a Tourist
Death Cab for Cutie – Some Boys

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— , July 13, 2011    Comments Off on Death Cab for Cutie: Codes and Keys

August 3, 2010 – Toronto does not like Molson Canadian. However, we do like Blitzen Trapper. That was the consensus drawn by a fairly full Opera House on Tuesday night. When guitarist Marty Marquis raised his tall boy of Molson Canadian and proclaimed it as the best beer Canada had to offer, he was met with a series of boos. But they were friendly boos, and he was only saying what the ad had told him. That said, the rest of the night was all cheers.

Blitzen Trapper took the stage and kicked off with ‘Fire and Fast Bullets’, an appropriate opener to an evening that felt like it could have happened just the same back in 1970. Part of Blitzen Trapper’s appeal has always been that good old fashioned rock and roll feeling you get when you listen to Bob Dylan and The Band, but they don’t get close enough to it to feel unoriginal. Lead singer Eric Earley has his own unique writing style, which was showcased throughout the night.

About halfway through the show they got into a mainly acoustic set. Eric Earley’s songwriting was demonstrated on songs like, ‘Lady on the Water’ and ‘The Man Who Would Speak True’. Though they could have used a more attentive audience, Earley’s voice shined loud and clear in the Opera House, eyes wide open to those paying attention. The highlight of the night was when they finally got around to ‘Furr’. That song is already a classic that will be around forever, and everyone there knew it. It was a full on foot stomping sing along, and drew the biggest ovation of the night.

By the end of the show Marty had learned of Moosehead Lager, the option of the flask, and that we have much more to offer than Molson Canadian. And those in the Opera House learned that classic rock is still happening in 2010, and it’s just as good as it ever was.

Blitzen Trapper – Dragon’s Song
Blitzen Trapper – Lady on the Water

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— , August 9, 2010    2 Comments

I arrived at a surprisingly packed Horseshoe on March 14 without expectations. I had seen Real Estate open for Girls the last time they were in Toronto, but had never seen Woods live, and wasn’t sure how their music would translate to the setting. Both proved to be way better in person than I was expecting.

Real Estate took the stage first, opening with their self-titled album’s opener, ‘Beach Comber’. Their jangling guitars had some people swaying along, but it wasn’t until their last song that the crowd seemed to get into it. They played a few new songs that make their next record sound very promising in my mind, one even featured what was probably their best vocal melody yet. It’s always good to see a new band with a lot of hype touring with new songs that sound better than their past songs. By the time they closed their set with ‘Fake Blues’, the crowd was alive and moving, something that can be hard to get a Toronto audience to do.

Real Estate – Fake Blues

Woods were up next, and as soon as I saw them pull out their gear and set up, I could tell I would be in for something different than what I was expecting from them. Their setup included one member of the band sitting on the floor fidgeting with effects and strange sound loops. If you hadn’t seen him come out at the beginning, you would have never known he was even there. They kicked things off with a jam that lasted a good five minutes before their first proper song. I now understand the Neil Young comparisons that Woods frontman Jeremy Earl has been receiving. It seemed at times I was experiencing what Neil Young and Crazy Horse might have sounded like around Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. The crowd favourite was probably ‘Rain On’, but it was the ten minute jam near the end of their set that had me captivated. The texture and noise that makes their music so unique translated perfectly into a live show, and the sheer joy of watching Earl thrash out on his electric made this show quite the experience.

Woods – Rain On

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— , March 23, 2010    Comments Off on Woods/Real Estate: The Horseshoe Tavern

Telekinesis

The last time I wrote about Telekinesis was in October, 2008. A lot has happened since then. After finishing the album, Michael Lerner found a home for it, signing with Merge Records.  He then put a band together that seems to fit together perfectly, featuring members of Discover America, and formerly The Prom. Since then, they’ve been on tour with Ra Ra Riot, Cut Off Your Hands, Death Cab for Cutie, An Horse, and hitting the infamous SxSW.

The debut album arrived in April filled with power pop to last you all summer long. The songs bring out a sense of familiarity, that you feel like you might have heard them before, or maybe you’ve been waiting to hear them. The song ‘Awkward Kisser’ sounds like it could have easily come out in the mid-60’s, but fits perfectly in 2009 along with the rest of the tracks. Telekinesis isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel or anything with their songs, but expand on formulas of pop music that sticks in your head and has you humming along.

Recently, I had the chance to see them play at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, and they absolutely blew me away. They took the stage after a great set from An Horse, set up their gear, and filled the tavern with power pop for around an hour. For a relatively new band, it felt like they’ve been playing together for years. The live full band version of ‘Calling All Doctors’ was a pleasant surprise, and totally brought a new life to the solo piano version on the album. I had the chance to ask Michael Lerner a few questions about the new album and tour:

Telekinesis – Coast of Carolina
Telekinesis – Tokyo
Telekinesis – Awkward Kisser

Kyle: Ok, first question, who is the fellow that you have stuck on your guitar?

Michael Benjamin Lerner: I have no idea! I’m not so sure who he is, but it is a cutout from this super old picture that I found in an antique store in downtown Seattle. It was a bunch of old pictures. I just love looking at pictures and movies from the 50s. Things looked so much cooler back then. Simple.

Kyle: So how did you come about having Chris Walla produce your debut album?

Michael: Well, Chris and I met through Jason McGerr, who plays drums in Death Cab for Cutie with Chris. We’d only been introduced a handful of times before one day when I received a message from Chris on my MySpace that said he liked the songs I had up on MySpace. At that point, I think it was just Coast of Carolina and some other random demos up there. I don’t think that the band was even called Telekinesis at that point. So, a week or so later, we went to see Death Cab in Bremerton, WA on the kickoff for their Narrow Stairs tour. After the show, Chris came over, and matter of factly said “Hey, can I make your record?” And I of course said yes. And that’s really how it went down. It was really quite amazing, and I can’t quite believe we made it happen. I feel lucky.

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— , July 8, 2009    2 Comments