Photograph by Justin Broadbent

Photograph by Justin Broadbent

November 16, 2013 – There’s something magical about performing in your home city. There’s also something magical about listening to homegrown talent. Maybe it’s because we form a deeper connection with them, given that we’ve walked the same streets as them and eaten at the same greasy spoons. Shad himself must’ve felt this way as he proudly revealed on a cold Saturday night that kids from his grade 6 class were in the audience. And if his music indicates anything, it’s that Shad is all about remembering your roots. The dude was glad to finally be home.

The opening acts were decent. London-based hip hop group The Nicest spat stoner rap after stoner rap. Toronto rapper Casper the Ghost brought his TreeTop Entertainment cronies on stage and exchanged a couple of words. And We Are the City left the crowd drenched in glorious waves of dreamy, saccharine feedback. I’m also quite certain they left a number of people scratching their heads, what with their off-kilter drumming and math rock tendencies.

But Shad stole the show, as expected. He flashed his trademark smile and dove right into “Lost”, the opening track on his new album, Flying Colours. From there on, the crowd was his to command. If he wanted hands in the air, they appeared in seconds. If he wanted a chorus, the crowd gave him one. Even I’ll admit that I was rapping every word to “Stylin’”. Shad could simply do no wrong.

Most of Flying Colours’ hits were delivered, but the real treat, however, was when he dug deep into his discography and brought out his old hits, the tracks that have chronicled his rise as a Canadian hip hop figure. I’m talking about “Rose Garden” and its iconic video, the humorous narrative in “The Old Prince Still Lives at Home”, and “I Get Down”, the song that probably started it all. Needless to say, the crowd went crazy.

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Tags: Shad

— , November 23, 2013    No Comments
Photograph by Yasmeen Ghebari

Photograph by Yasmeen Ghebari

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

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

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Tags: Braids, Great Lake Swimmers, Halifax Pop Explosion, Japandroids, Lunice, The Zolas

— , November 19, 2013    No Comments
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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Tags: Belle & Sebastian

— , October 28, 2013    No Comments
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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Tags: The Dismemberment Plan

— , October 14, 2013    No Comments

The Weeknd

No matter how good he may be in years to come, Abel Tesfaye’s music will always be doomed to comparisons with his breakout trilogy of mixtapes. It’s an inevitable fate. Those mixtapes ripped apart the skin of a genre that had grown a little too safe, and injected it with a generous dose of innovation. We heard it in the grimy nightclub party vibes of House of Balloons, in the noise-meets-acoustic mashup on Thursday, and in the sprawling yet epic Echoes of Silence. But let me stop myself before I too fall victim of these comparisons.

On Kiss Land, The Weeknd’s major label debut, the production is cleaner and the sounds are more ambitious. Album highlight “Belong to the World” opens with a crack of thunder and the chirping of birds, only to fade into a jarring, sped-up beat sample of Portishead’s “Machine Gun”. The vocal overdubs on the chorus are angelic yet dark, and Abel comes through with the lyrics, painting a somber love story full of heartbreak and regret. Another high point is the title track. It starts off mysterious and nocturnal, accompanied by haunting screams and shimmering wind chimes, but at the halfway point the beat picks up and the song descends into a hypnotic nightmare of blurred moans and swirling synths. I can’t help but think of Abel running through the dank, smoke-filled alleyways of Neo Tokyo, his figure illuminated by the neon signs that line every storefront.

Unfortunately, the songwriting and imagery run thin on Kiss Land. “Professional” could not be a more unfocused opener as Abel struggles to fuse two separate ideas. Its abrupt end doesn’t help either, and leaves much to be desired. “Live For” boasts an overly-repetitive chorus, and Drake’s verse, while not a bad one, doesn’t seem to fit the off-kilter beat. And when we’re on the topic of not fitting in, “Wanderlust”, with its straightforward beat and funky melody, sticks out on the album like a sore thumb. The song is catchy, and I find myself singing along with the chorus, but it should’ve been released as a separate track.

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Tags: The Weeknd

— , October 8, 2013    No Comments