October 9, 2010 – It was a drizzly night as we arrived at the Rickshaw Theatre in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The weather had only just turned sour, but Vancouverites seemed to have already resigned themselves to their rain-filled fate for the next several months. I for one was okay with that, because the change in the weather signalled a move from backyards, BBQs, and beaches into the indoor spaces of the city. The bill for the evening captured this sentiment pretty well, a kind of anger-tinged celebration of fall’s arrival. Or was it a celebratory-tinged protest of fall’s arrival? Either way this three-way between acts on the avant-garde of Canadian (post-)rock – Japandroids, Ladyhawk and PS I Love You – gave us good reason to let off a little steam, even if it was just the moisture in our damp clothes evaporating.

The Rickshaw Theatre really was a theatre at one point, although unfortunately not in any grand sense of the word, a more recent victim of the rise of the cineplex, or perhaps the unfortunate circumstances of its infamous environs. The seats at the front of the theatre have been removed, making room for both a large stage and a decently-sized standing area which was not even half full when PS I Love You took the stage. The set seemed like the perfect prelude to Vancouver-natives, Japandroids. Both acts rock a similar brand of loud, yet thoughtfully soundscaped rock. Both acts are meat and potatoes combinations of drums and distorted guitar that manage to sound like so much more. And both acts are relatively recent additions to the Canadian musical landscape, with Japandroids debut album being a little over a year old, and PS I Love You dropping theirs earlier this month.

PS I Love You – Breadends

Ladyhawk was actually the question mark for me in this line-up. I had their latest album, 2008’s Shots, on heavy rotation when it came out, but with no records released since, and the bulk of their catalogue leaning a lot more towards a Dinosaur Jr. sound than the two edgier acts they were sandwiched between, I was not sure how it would turn out. In the end, they used their two-man advantage so that their set packed a lot more punch than I expected. They rose to the occasion, but despite being one of two local acts on stage that night, it never really seemed like this was their audience.

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— , October 15, 2010    2 Comments

The 2010 Polaris Music Prize Long List was released a couple weeks ago, and it is a long list. At first, I thought I was reading a list of all the albums released in this country over the last year. Not surprisingly, Swim, the latest release from Caribou, the moniker used by expatriate canuck and 2008 Polaris winner (for his 2007 LP Andorra) Daniel Snaith’s electronic orchestrations, made the list. I don’t expect the jury will award him the honour again, not that it wouldn’t be deserved. With Swim, Snaith has deviated from the course established on The Milk of Human Kindness and taken to its most euphoric on Andorra, veering for a darker, more nuanced sound, that remains fundamentally Caribou at its heart.

Caribou – Bowls
Caribou – Jamelia

In anticipation of catching Caribou live at Sasquatch! Music Festival, we caught up with Snaith on his cellphone before a show in San Diego to talk about being a Canadian making placeless music, why Snaith works alone (except on tour), and the city-cum-genre he looks to most for musical inspiration, Detroit.

Justin: Can you talk a bit how being Canadian has shaped the trajectory of your musical career?

Dan Snaith: Generally, I kind of feel like I’ve made music that is geography-less, that it doesn’t really have a national identity. I’m not particularly interested in making Canadian music. The music that I listen to comes from all over the world and I want the music that I make to sound like it could come from anywhere in the world. On the other hand, I guess the thing that challenged or changed that perspective was the Polaris prize a couple years ago. You know I work in an isolated way, so I always thought of myself doing my thing over in this corner, you know in my own little apartment, my own little world. Being included in the community of Canadian musicians and being able to meet all the other people who were nominated was really nice, really affirming. Pretty much all the musicians I collaborate with are in one way or another Canadian, just because of the kind of personal connections growing up living in Canada.

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— , July 2, 2010    3 Comments

It’s hard to remember that February even happened, and why would you want to now that spring is well underway? Here at Ca Va Cool we have a pretty good memory, at least where music is concerned, and we think back to those chilly February days and remember that Woodhands had a new album less than a month old and were playing a show in Vancouver that would put some serious heat into our bones.

I had a chance to sit down with Paul Banwatt of Woodhands and The Rural Alberta Advantage a day before the show at my favourite coffee shop in Kitsilano. Having just reviewed the recently released Remorsecapade, we thought we should sit on the interview for a while. Now, a few months later Woodhands has released a remix album, obviously titled Remixcapade, featuring some substantially dialed-down remixes by touring-mate Diamond Rings and others. It’s available for free download from Paper Bag Records.

Woodhands – Pockets (Diamond Rings Mix)
Woodhands – Dissembler (French Husband Mix)

Justin: The new album just came out, are you happy with the result?

Paul Banwatt: Yeah. It’s a weird thing, we were super excited about it but also kind of scared. It’s really different for us then Heart Attack was. We felt like it was a little bit deeper and darker and maybe a little less instantly appealing. It might be a couple of listens before you start to feel some of the songs on there. The response from critics so far has been so overwhelmingly positive that we’re like “People are getting this, this is awesome.” It makes us really confident going forward to keep pushing ourselves that way. It’s like, if this is still cool, then watch out.

Justin: Is there even crazier stuff in store? Is there new stuff that isn’t on the album?

Paul: Well we always do, because our songs tend to come from a lot of different places. A lot of them come from jams we just come up with while we’re in the middle of a show. We use to do a lot more just straight improvisation than we do now, but we still do a lot. There was a time when we use to have a residency in Toronto every month and we would just play hour long shows of just pure improvisation. Those kinds of things are where a lot of the songs come from and they can get really crazy. Just weird electro-freakouts that we realize sound kind of cool and try to turn into a song later.

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— , May 28, 2010    Comments Off on Woodhands

Photograph by Chris Frampton

To reiterate a common cliché; the fear with a sophomore release is always the expectations listeners have built-up from the first album. This is especially problematic for the instantly-adored indie sensations, the Bloc Partys and the MSTRKRFTs of the world. For these bands future releases often fall flat just by virtue of the success of the debut. This however is not the case with the second full-length from Toronto-based, dance-rockers Woodhands.

The duo’s debut Heart Attack was not an album that garnered much immediate attention from myself or that internet echo-chamber of the blogosphere. It was an under the radar release, mostly known by CBC3 devotees and other passionate followers of Canadian indie. However, as understated as the band’s publicity may have been, their music and their live act was anything but.

The pair, comprising of synth and keytarist Dan Werb (a west-coaster and originally the band’s only member) and drummer Paul Banwatt of the Rural Alberta Advantage, began packing small venues in university towns across the country in 2008. The shows were an over the top performance of electro-pop energy. It was as though they knew they had to work twice as hard to relay the same kind of energy as your average four person act. This tactic seemed to pay real dividends however, with the act’s stage presence being accurately described as “super-human.”

Super-human strength worked well to deliver Heart Attack’s material to live audiences. The music was emotionally charged, but the object was to sweat out those emotions in a mass of bodies gyrating to the infectious electro offerings. Remorsecapade has not lost any of that raw energy or emotionality, but it fails to capture and record that energy for the at-home listener. The album comes on too strong and a little too unpolished for a recorded effort.

Woodhands – Dissembler
Woodhands – Coolchazine
Woodhands – I Should Have Gone With My Friends

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— , February 2, 2010    2 Comments