Photograph by Giulia Mazza

Hailing from the burgeoning music scene in Calgary, Alberta, Women’s 2008 self-titled debut impressively harmonized tunes the likes of the Velvet Underground, Pavement, and the Zombies on a boombox like outback wilderness to deliver a well-received album. Recorded with fellow Calgary native Chad VanGaalen, its lo-fi quality was in part cultivated by an interesting blend of recording spaces, apparently ranging from a crawlspace to a culvert. Patrick Flegel, Matt Flegel, Chris Reimer, and Michael Wallace have returned with much of the same bravado to hammer out their second album, Public Strain, out September 28 on Flemish Eye. While their first album smashed nostalgic good vibrations with a ravaging brashness, Public Strain takes a few steps away from this juxtaposition, focusing on a heavier, darker sound.

Women often shift tempo to create dynamic highs and lows within individual songs. ‘China Steps’ opens with urgency then mellows into a gentle close. ‘Drag Open’ delivers similarly; a crash of guitars burst out of the gate and trot to the finish. Contrasting these more aggressive moments are the softer ‘Penal Colony’ and the minimalist ‘Bells’, which blends an electronic sea with distant operatic church bells. The Beach Boys vibe from the debut is not lost on Public Strain, as evidenced by ‘Eyesore’, a smooth tapestry of 1960s Venice Beach with a Canadian roughness, a trend appearing in several young bands.

Those unfamiliar with Women’s style may have to listen with patience as the harsher guitars often overpower the vocals, requiring several replays to catch the lyrics. While Public Strain is more cohesive than Women, the album as a whole will still be difficult for the average radio listener to appreciate. Nevertheless, it is a solid round two for the group and will be perking a few ears very soon.

Women – China Steps
Women – Eyesore

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— , August 15, 2010    Comments Off on Women: Public Strain

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

Continue Reading ‘Snow Blindness’ Review »

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— , August 29, 2009    1 Comment

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.

Continue Reading ‘Polaris Music Prize’ Article Feature »

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— , July 1, 2009    27 Comments

The festival concert is an interesting beast. They beguile you with their attractive band list (which look oh-so-impressive on the back of a t-shirt), their free-spirited collective nature between music lovers (slash, mass gathering of musical hippies/hipsters), and the promise of an excellent juxtaposition of genres. Although, there’s always another side. Between ferocious heat, growling crowds, and overpriced couscous, the three-day festivals bite back with a vengeance. Perhaps after a few different festivals, one acquires a sense of what they want over the course of the musical extravaganza, and not all of these expectations can be met. A few quick notes about Primavera Sound:

The setting: Fórum, by the Mediterranean Sea in Barcelona, Spain. The gusts of salty breeze were refreshing, but didn’t compensate for the lack of luscious grass as at Coachella or the abundant shade at Chicago’s Lollapalooza. Pavement ground covered with empty beer cups and cigarette butts just isn’t the same. Although the side program held in Parc Joan Miró – in an oasis of palm trees and a more personal feel with the band – was a different story.

The timing: Aside from the side-program, the shows didn’t start until the late afternoon/early evening. Likely, this is to avoid the stifling heat of the midday. That, and the Spaniards do things late (DJ Medhi’s set started at 4:30am!). I have mixed feelings about this. While I prefer the nighthawk approach, I think it leads to a tighter schedule with very unfortunate show overlap. On that note…

The scheduling: Oh God, why? Why were The Pains of Being Pure of Heart playing the same time as Carsick Cars, who were cut short by My Bloody Valentine? Gang Gang Dance with Sonic Youth? (Sarah’s personal nightmare). Andrew Bird and Phoenix? Deerhunter with my only opportunity to eat during the night? Sigh. It happens every time.

Continue Reading ‘Primavera Sound’ Concert Feature »

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— , June 8, 2009    10 Comments

This year’s mixtape is ready for you to download. The two disc set is packed with 2008 favourites from all of our writers.

Download: The Ca Va Cool Mixtape 2008 – Disc 1

01. She & Him – Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?
02. Hot Chip – Ready for the Floor
03. Chad VanGaalen – TMNT Mask
04. Bloc Party – Signs
05. Mystery Jets – Young Love feat. Laura Marling
06. TV on the Radio – Family Tree
07. DeVotchKa – Transliterator
08. Wilco w/ Fleet Foxes – I Shall Be Released
09. Wolf Parade – Soldier’s Grin
10. M83 – Graveyard Girl
11. Albert Hammond, Jr. – GfC
12. Vampire Weekend – Walcott
13. Brendan Canning – Churches Under the Stairs
14. Cut Copy – Lights and Music
15. Los Campesinos! – This Is How You Spell…

Download: The Ca Va Cool Mixtape 2008 – Disc 2

01. MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
02. Passion Pit – Sleepyhead
03. Born Ruffians – Little Garçon
04. The Clips – Space Kidz
05. The Radio Dept. – Freddie and the Trojan Horse
06. Bon Iver – Re: Stacks
07. Lykke Li – Dance Dance Dance
08. Portishead – Machine Gun
09. No Age – Eraser
10. Plants and Animals – New Kind of Love
11. Bodies of Water – Gold, Tan, Peach, and Grey
12. Fleet Foxes – Oliver James
13. Deerhunter – Never Stops
14. Santogold – Creator
15. Beast – Ashtray

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— , December 24, 2008    4 Comments