Growing up with a band is a rare, weird thing. It makes you feel special, and entitled, and old. For the past 15 years Okkervil River have been providing the soundtrack to our lives, so when they hit the stage at the Phoenix in Toronto this Saturday, we at Ca Va Cool feel we’ve earned the right to shout out a few numbers. Short of demanding they shut up and play the hits, here’s what we want to hear:
In Pitchfork’s review of this month’s The Silver Gymnasium, Stephen M. Deusner bemoaned the fact that frontman Will Sheff seems to have abandoned his patented rock and roll hysteria. Let’s go back to Black Sheep Boy for our fix: on “For Real” Sheff is a tight coil of manic energy, and the band backs him up on each slammed riff, egging him further into madness.
Sheff’s lyrics can be long on wit and short on feeling, but here he nails both. The double conceit–a date to a rock show, or an additional number to timeless rock songs–plays out brilliantly: he sings of “a 100th luftballoon” and “the fourth time you were a lady” with a smirk on his face and a tear in his eye.
This swoony track is still the highlight of 2003’s Down the River of Golden Dreams. The violins are moaning, and Sheff’s words are strung so tightly together they seem to be spilling out of his mouth. The pros know that the song’s melodrama works well: Charles Bissell chose to cover this track several years ago in response to Sheff’s near-perfect version of the Wrens’ classic “Ex-Girl Collection.”
Tags: Okkervil River
There was something very exciting about The Weeknd’s ascent in 2011. R&B had finally outgrown its ’90s persona. It no longer had to be about tender love making, or cutesy courtship. Its performers no longer needed to be dancers first, and singers second, or spend the majority of their music videos displaying abdomen wet with sweat, rain or both. Its emotional pallet could be more broad than the template: triumph, love, heartbreak. Perhaps most importantly, it no longer had to play on radio. This was the new R&B, presented to the world by Abel Tesafaye, a shrouded 19 year old, whose first four songs hit the internet, and instantly caught the eyes of millions in months.
When I came across FKA twigs earlier this summer, it took me back to the same excitement I had when hearing “What You Need” two and a half years ago. Much like Tesafaye, Twigs’ music often feels like quiet inside a smut-filled storm. She’s an observer to the seedy scenes of London’s clubs, where she’s tended bar for the better part of a decade. Like Tesafaye, whose vocals have drawn comparisons to Michael Jackson (particularly after his “Dirty Diana” cover), Twigs has already been compared to Janet.
Framing Twigs’ music in the context of R&B, however, is limiting. With only one eclectic EP and an excellent lead single for a forthcoming full-length out, her choice in production veers from the tenants of current R&B, instead drawing more from London’s dub scene. And that might be what makes her sound most exciting.
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.
Listeners—and some critics—have accused The National of being too dreary, too drunk, too awash in self-pity. They’re not totally wrong, and on their sixth record, Trouble Will Find Me, the band has sunk further into their swamp of sadness than ever before. But The National are getting older, and if they sound defeated it only makes sense. Once upon a time, frontman Matt Berninger sang about the twenty-something transition into “the un-magnificent lives of adults.” Trouble Will Find Me is what it sounds like when you’re finally there.
There’s something about the 13 tracks on Trouble Will Find Me that feels very adult, even for The National. These are complex, layered melodies, and band MVP Bryan Devendorf still carries tracks like the first single “Sea of Love” and “Graceless” with his driving drums. But the band’s frantic energy, which burned so brightly on Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers and Alligator, has dimmed over the years. The man who used to scream “My mind’s not right!” on “Abel” is still here, but now he’s come to terms with his situation.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Berninger’s lyrics are still wonderfully weird, and on songs like “Pink Rabbits,” his grandiose, tragicomic imagery fits perfectly with the music’s heaviness: pianos and choirs are moaning right along with him. These songs aren’t meant to build you up, the way that rock music often does; they’re designed to weigh you down instead. Trouble Will Find Me is the soundtrack to the life the band is living rather than the life you want them to be living, and in that, it’s shamelessly honest. Sooner or later, we all have a moment where we need our girl.
Tags: The National
These days it’s seemingly impossible to distance one’s self from the gripping distraction that is technology. With handheld devices that do a million things and the internet just a click away, we’ve become enslaved by it. It’s ironic because technology, under our control, is designed to simplify our lives, and yet we’ve become dependent on it to the point where it controls us. Our daily routines are dictated by our phones and computers, our actions sparked by the looming desire to share a photo or update one’s status. In this world of technological diversions and piercing stimuli, Savages are grasping for something organic, something raw. And if their concert signs (or the album name, for that matter) aren’t obvious enough, the music they make drives the point home. Savages want your attention and that alone. No videos, no flash photography, nothing. Just music.
But don’t misinterpret their back-to-basics philosophy as an act of simplicity. On Silence Yourself, the all-female quartet’s brand of gothic post punk is equal parts chaotic and composed, and showcases a knack for musical diversity. From harsh punk (“Hit Me”) to sprawling, atmospheric compositions (“Waiting for a Sign”, “Marshal Dear”), Savages are able to cover a lot of ground. Much of the credit goes to the band’s playing abilities. Jehnny Beth’s voice is energetic yet sorrowful, and her banshee-like wails on songs like “I Am Here” are spine-chilling. Ayse Hassan’s throbbing bass and Fay Milton’s powerful drumming form a menacing rhythm section. But guitarist Gemma Thompson steals the spotlight. Her dynamic style transitions from shimmering melodies to distorted power chords to noisy waves of feedback, albeit with such poise and certainty. Together, these four women burn through song after song with relentless stamina and passion.
Musically, Silence Yourself is a turbulent mix of gloom, fright, and angst, and the lyrics only amplify those feelings. Album opener “Shut Up” is a bold statement about the distractions of today’s world and how they rob us of our identities. “No Face” follows in a similar vein, but delves into desperate pretension and mimicry as a means of defining one’s personality. And “She Will” is a tale of lust, sexuality, and the consequences that may ensue upon the embodiment of such traits.