Every October, about two weeks after Thanksgiving, the city of Halifax transforms as 180 bands play in over 20 bars across five days for the Halifax Pop Explosion. You may wonder whether it’s practical for the city, as images of Coachella and Osheaga come to mind, but Halifax is home to the highest amount of bars per capita in Canada and the city is quite small, 262.65 square kilometres to be exact. Walking from bar to bar is an easy feat and there is even a free festival bus to get around the city. The Halifax Pop Explosion hosts a variety of events, including digital workshops and art markets during the day, and in the evenings the city is filled with music. Here is a first hand account of some shows with photos to entice you to visit Halifax next year.
The Zolas were a perfect start to the festival with their upbeat indie tunes. The Zolas epitomize the Canadian indie rock scene with sing-along melodies and some enthusiastic musicians, causing vivacious singing and dancing from the band and the crowd. They played in the intimate Gus’ Pub in the north end of Halifax, letting the crowd get within arms reach, and instigating Zachary Gray (vocals/guitar) to jump out into the crowd.
Bandcamp: The Zolas – Ancient Mars
As the dust of Canadian Music Week settles, Montreal’s unique brand of shoegaze and psychedelia departs town in the form of Suuns. Releasing their first LP, Zeroes QC, back in 2011, they’ve been looked to for an equally eclectic mix of electronic and rock sounds in their follow-up. On March 4, Suuns released Images du Futur, their most accomplished effort, produced by Jace Lasek of The Besnard Lakes. With a spray of noise rock laid out across their expanse of hypnotic rhythms and murky vocals, Suuns remained a band capable of keeping control of their sound, no matter how chaotic, in forming one of the critical Canadian releases this year.
I managed to catch up with Joseph Yarmush, Suuns’ guitarist, as he navigated the frantic streets of Montreal, before heading to Toronto. He discussed the nature of the band’s unique sound, enlightened me on some of the noises sprawled across the new album, and recalled the story of the band’s harrowing encounter in the Portugal club scene.
Anthony Boire: Coming into Images du Futur after Zeroes QC, how did you change your songwriting?
Joe Yarmush: A little bit, I guess. I think it all just got a little bit better. All those songs [on Zeroes QC], they were kind of roadtested, before we had recorded them. So we had been playing them a lot live. So we kind of knew them inside and out. With Images, we basically started from scratch. We recorded a bunch of songs that had never been played live. It’s just a different thing. You’re not really sure, what will work, and what won’t. It’s tiring, because you’re just in there for hours making sure everything sounds the way you want it to.
Anthony: How did you come up with the riff in “2020″? It’s got some noise elements but somehow definitely gets stuck in your head.
Joe: That one wasn’t me, but if you’re just playing one note on the bass you’re pretty free to do anything. [Laughs] I mean, I was doing a lot of slide. Like on “Pie IX”, live I always used a slide even though on the album we didn’t. Originally it was called “Son of Pie IX”, I think. That was the working title [for "2020"].
The conclusion of Ca Va Cool’s best albums of 2012 picks up where the first half left off, featuring old favourites and brave new sounds side by side: indie pop sits next to a “post-internet” patchwork sound; thematically-advancing hip-hop sidles up to our beloved indie rock. Without further ado, here are our writers’ ten favourite albums of the past year.
10. Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t
How could anybody break up with Jens Lekman? Unfathomable as it may be, the Swedish songwriter is no stranger to frank relationship-ending songs; ‘I’m Leaving You Because I Don’t Love You’ from his 2007 orchestral pop magnum opus Night Falls Over Kortedala could be seen as a prequel to this year’s ‘She Just Don’t Want to Be with You Anymore’. On the former, he seemed to be trying his hand at a long tradition of breakup pop songs (from ‘Breaking Up Is Hard to Do’ to ‘A Case of You’; from ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’ to ‘Ms. Jackson’), whereas now you can tell he has experienced heartbreak firsthand. I Know What Love Isn’t never wavers from its main theme as the stages of recovery play in chronological order: the difficulty in forgetting on ‘Every Little Hair Knows Your Name’, the sadness of imagining his lover with another on ‘Become Someone Else’s’, and after some time, a joyous moving on during the title track. This sad bastard music doesn’t sound like a particularly fun way to spend 38 minutes, but with the sincerity, warmth, and goofball humour that have always characterized Lekman’s music, he delivers an album that’s insightful, upliftingly melodic, and ironically, hilarious at points. In the end, he may have learned what love isn’t, but he hasn’t given up on love, because, well, he’s Jens Lekman. — Daniel Hernandez
Amidst all of this holiday season craziness, here is a list of favourite things that happened at the Halifax Pop Explosion 2012, the twentieth anniversary of the festival, for you to ponder how awesome the festival is and why you should probably attend it next year.
Not sure if you guys all know (you probably do) but of Montreal is fantastic live. Hands down one of the more entertaining shows I’ve ever been to. I found myself giggling uncontrollably a number of times throughout their concert, which included body suits, pretend action fights, and lots and lots of balloons. When two guys in bodysuits unleashed long, tied-together balloons from between their legs (resembling a number of things…) I was quite taken aback at first, but it was absolutely hilarious and the balloons created some unbelievable fun in the crowd. More magic was added with Kevin Barnes adorning the stage in lace and vibrant make-up, which, when paired with the psychedelic lights and their funky pop music, made for a lively and delightful show.
Like we always do at this time, today Ca Va Cool presents the 20 albums we collectively overplayed and played loud in 2012. The first half of our list includes some faithful R&B from the unlikely state of Colorado, past CVC favourites both noisey and subdued, psychedelic rock from the West coast of Australia, cinematic Neil Young covers, coming-of-age rap from the city of Compton, a new indie rock superduo of sorts, and turn of the century hipsters growing up. Don’t read too much into that last one, we’ll continue our list-making ways for years to come.
20. How to Dress Well – Total Loss
It’s quite possible that 2012 will be remembered as the year that R&B re-entered the zeitgeist. It’s not only been an important year for the genre on a commercial level, but for the first time in decades we’ve been reminded of just how advancing it can be. Tom Krell, like his contemporaries Frank Ocean, Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd), Miguel, and Solange, is a vanguard, and Total Loss, his second LP, is a turning point, where R&B became less about a type of content and more about a type of sound, less rooted in the story of a race and more rooted in the story of a person. Krell is a white guy from Colorado who learned about R&B through a childhood affinity for Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. On Total Loss he not only creates a beautiful and wrenching exploration of chronic depression, he also manages to deliver the single best ode to Houston since her passing, on album standout ‘& It Was You’. — Sal Patel