Black Mold - Chad Vangaalen

Polaris nominee and musician extraordinaire Chad VanGaalen has released a collection of experimental electronic sounds created, recorded and brought to us from the depths of his basement. Although he’s been releasing under his own name (to great acclaim) for several years, CVG has released the album Snow Blindness Is Crystal Antz under the alias Black Mold.

Black Mold is a pretty evocative name for a basement production, in the “I’m really worried for this guy’s health if he’s not bleaching this stuff” kind of way. My mind is involuntarily swimming with fears of whatever else is living in that basement, but in the meantime I’ll focus on the music. It’s a collection of ideas that VanGaalen has put together using everything from crazy synthesizers to traditional instruments (like clarinets!) to pots and pans, and everything in between. Included with the album purchase is bonus access to a hundred or so other tracks, accessible online.

Snow Blindness isn’t exactly an album, and the tracks aren’t exactly songs. Each track seems to capture merely a thought or a whisper of a full idea. Like a scrapbook full of partial drawings or a writer’s Moleskin of random ideas, this album sounds more like VanGaalen’s version of the Charlie Chaplin tapes – snippets of brilliance. But unlike Chaplin, VanGaalen hasn’t put any of the tracks, or indeed the whole album together to create a solid piece of work with a beginning, start or end. Instead, his listeners are given the opportunity to engage in his mental regurgitation in its rawest form.

Black Mold – Rotten Walls
Black Mold – No Dream Nation

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— , August 29, 2009    1 Comment

Cherry Chapstick

Cherry Chapstick hail from Kingston, Ontario and consist of Julian Flavin, Evan Mullen and Nigel Ward. The trio celebrated the release of their debut EP Silencer last weekend at the Wolfe Island Music Festival where I had the opportunity to meet up with the guys and talk about what’s going on.

The band were open, humble and really excited to be there; in my mind all of the necessary hallmarks of great musicians or great-musicians-to-be. These guys have been playing together for a few years – in fact, they met back in high school, but have only existed as Cherry Chapstick for the past three months. Three months isn’t long, but while the rest of us were playing in the sun, the trio have been busy writing and recording an their excellent EP, booking shows and winning lots of hearts.  Including mine.

The music is incredibly well-mixed, well-balanced shoegaze or electronic indie dance. A couple of tracks have a touch of a disco beat which have won me over heart and soul. The band cite Fred Falke, Daft Punk, the Radio Dept, M83, French House, and the 80s in general among their influences. In short, they’ve got taste.

For now, Chapstick are going to be taking an eight month hiatus come September (something about education and future careers), but will be back sooner than we know it with a full album that will be knocking us off our feet and taking our breath away. “We’re planning for World Tour oh-eleven,” Evan told me, and I’m going to hold him to it. By then they’ll hopefully be able to incorporate some new sounds including one from a crazy synth Nigel told me about that “sounds like a tiger or a chainsaw, just more major.”

Cherry Chapstick – The Drop
Cherry Chapstick – Silencer

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— , August 17, 2009    7 Comments

The tenth annual Wolfe Island Music Festival is happening in Kingston, Ontario this weekend. Interestingly enough, it will take place on Wolfe Island, one of Kingston’s most beautiful places and probably the world’s most perfect spot for a small indie music festival. I’m obviously biased, but if you’ve ever had the chance to catch the free ferry that goes from downtown Kingston right through to where the Cataraquai River empties into Lake Ontario, across to where the ferry docks right on the island’s main street, well, you’ll know what I mean. Add some excellent music to the mix, some drinks, some camping and some good friends and there’s actually nothing better you could ask for. Actually.

I’ve only made it to the festival once before, but I am still forever talking about the experience. It usually runs for two days – the Friday and Saturday of the second weekend in August – and features awesome Canadian indie bands. Last year I had the privilege of catching Handsome Furs, the Abrams brothers, Land of Talk, the Acorn, and Plants and Animals among many others.

If you don’t have plans to come pitch a tent over here for the weekend and kick back with a cold one, bring your laptop outside (if it’s not raining) and chill out with my Wolfe Island Musicfest ’09 playlist.

Sarah Harmer

Sarah Harmer

To start is Sarah Harmer. A Kingston local, she’s always sure to turn up at a rocking indie show as a guest drummer or vocalist. This weekend she’s got her own gig at the General Wolfe Hotel and it’s sure to be breathtaking. This is the first Sarah Harmer song I ever heard, and once I heard it I was hooked for life.

Sarah Harmer – I Am Aglow

Ohbijou

Ohbijou

Next is Ohbijou, who will be playing on Saturday, set up in the island’s baseball diamond while we lucky listeners will either be getting baked in the sun or drenched in the rain. The forecast doesn’t look too good, but nothing will keep me from catching these phenomenal Toronto-based musicians; especially not from their soulful layers or Casey Mecija’s unique vocals. This track is from their latest release, Beacons.

Ohbijou – Wildfires

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— , August 7, 2009    4 Comments

Handsome Furs

A couple of weeks ago, the Polaris Music Prize announced its  long list of nominees for 2009. Each year the prize is awarded to the best Canadian album chosen by a jury of a hundred-odd music writers, editors and bloggers from all over the country. Any album produced in Canada within the last year by a Canadian band is eligible for nomination. How it goes is that jury members select their five favourite albums, and the top forty make the Polaris long list. A few weeks later, after the albums on the long list have been played repeatedly and agonized over, the Jury selects their top ten for the Polaris short list. This year the short list will be announced on July 7 and the grand prize, an amazing $20,000, will be awarded on September 21.

The Polaris Music Prize was started a mere three years ago in 2006. The very first winner of the prize was Final Fantasy for his album He Poos Clouds. Since then the contest has served to assist numerous Canadian artists by promoting their albums and giving a massive boost to its winners. In 2007, Patrick Watson won for his album Close to Paradise and in 2009 Caribou won for Andorra. Other giants have been included in the Polaris short list for their remarkable releases, including Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, Feist, Miracle Fortress, the New Pornographers, Sarah Harmer, the Weakerthans, and the list goes on and on.

This year’s long list features a ton of amazing Canadian talent. Many bands are fresh members of the music scene and many are well-established veterans. The Arkells, Beast, and Coeur de Pirate have all been nominated for debut albums, whereas Metric, The Stills, Martha Wainwright and Leonard Cohen are all recognized for their ongoing work. Patrick Watson is back with another album after his big win two years ago, as are Wolf Parade, Junior Boys, Joel Plaskett and Chad VanGaalen who also all made the short list in 2007. Finally, Ca Va Cool favourites Japandroids, Handsome Furs, and Pink Mountaintops made this year’s long list, much to Ca Va pride.

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— , July 1, 2009    27 Comments

Bruce Peninsula

On top of having just been announced as being on the Polaris Music Prize 2009 long list late last week, Toronto’s Bruce Peninsula have just started their three week Canadian tour with their first  performance taking place on Saturday in a slightly soggy Kingston, Ontario at the annual Skeleton Park Music Festival. More a collective than a band, the group usually consists of anywhere from 7 to 12 members. Started in 2006 by Matt Cully and Misha Bower, the group has grown to include a dynamic cast including Neil Haverty, Andrew Barker, Steve McKay, Leon Taheny, Kari Peddle, Daniela Geshundheit, Katie Stelmanis, Caseey Mecija, Maya Postepski, Isla Craig and Doc Dunn.

Bruce Peninsula’s sound ranges from folk to gospel, from jazz to soul. Focus is put on choir vocals. Honest, uninhibited and gutty, they use beautiful harmonies and call-and-response singing to utterly enchant their listeners. I challenge you to listen to them without finding yourself wishing to be a part of that beautiful choir, or at least thinking you’re lost in some alternate ethereal universe.

Listening to Bruce Peninsula is a pleasure. They are an awesome gang with an awesome sound. In the spirit of awesomeness, I sat down with Matt and Neil. Rather, I sat, they stood. What else can you do when its pouring rain and you have to crash the remnants of a bake sale tent to make sure your paper stays dry? As you read: start with a listen to ‘Shanty Song’, included below, off the well-deserved Polaris nominee A Mountain Is a Mouth.

So we didn’t steal the last lonely muffin or the crumbs that sat next to it, but we did talk some music. I learned some pretty cool things about this band, two things in particular that need to be shared: how Bruce Peninsula has chosen to approach their music and what their up-coming tour means to them.

Matt let me know that when putting the band together it was important for them to make sure they were doing so from a non-commercial standpoint. Therefore, they weren’t going to allow themselves to be in any way constrained by questions of “why?” but ask instead, “why not?” So when they added instruments or their amazing choir there was no need to consider whether or not they could do it. As Neil put it, “we want to hear what we want to hear.” Never mind the rest. Following on that same ethic, they told me of how the Bruce Peninsula sound is a result of songs being worked and re-worked – that writing a song can take up to six months – that the sound cannot be accepted without everyone getting to put their own hands in the plasticine and everyone having their say. As Matt put it, “we are our own audience.”

Bruce Peninsula – Shanty Song
Bruce Peninsula – 2nd 4th World War
Bruce Peninsula – Weave Myself a Dress

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— , June 22, 2009    1 Comment