Photograph by Steven Walter

South by Southwest is kind of like the Twitter of music festivals. It’s peppy, popular, easy to mock, highly corporate and desperate to hide that fact with little stabs at techy subversiveness. The scene on the ground is as though social networking itself was suddenly given life by a trickster god, as musicians of every flavour and every level of grunginess mingle with industry suits and club kids on spring break. Iffy metaphors aside, the festival deserves its widespread reputation as a hipster-heavy network-a-thon that saturates Austin from downtown to the sticks with more man-hours of music than could possibly be experienced in a standard human year. It’s fun.

I arrive in Austin before the official beginning of the music festival, while the interactive tech and film expos are still in full swing, and before you can say “Wes Anderson” I’m comfortably installed on a patio, chatting with a group of Portlanders about different brands of free-range chicken. I’m off to a comfortable head start on all my stereotypes.

The main drag on Sixth Street is already fairly happening, though it’ll get exponentially more clogged as the week goes on. I spy a familiar face through the open window of the Bat Bar: it’s icon of awkwardness Michael Cera, playing bass with his supergroup-of-a-sort Mister Heavenly. The band is rounded by members of the Unicorns, Man Man, and Modest Mouse, but it’s pretty clear who the gaggle of college girls are crowding around to see, cell phones straining upwards for photos like a curious herd of electric giraffes.

Mister Heavenly – Mister Heavenly

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— , May 10, 2011    3 Comments
Photograph by Ryan Pfluger

Photograph by Ryan Pfluger

Owen Pallett, the former Final Fantasy, previously relied on just a violin and loop pedal. His third LP, Heartland, has the distinction of being his first fully orchestral album. Does the music’s newfound complexity retain the charm of his previous releases? For the most part, yes. On record, Final Fantasy has always been very layered; so the expanded instrumentation feels organic and serves as a natural extension to his previous work. I miss the simple setup of yesteryear, but I imagine that the live show will go on as it always has, and I look forward to hearing the different arrangements.

The 2006 Polaris Music Prize winner He Poos Clouds was loosely about the eight schools of magic in Dungeons & Dragons. Heartland has a similarly high concept, the short version being that it’s about a fictional farmer named Lewis that Pallett is enamored with. It’s fitting then that the album’s two best tracks refer to Lewis directly. ‘Lewis Takes Off His Shirt’ stands out as one of Pallett’s best songs ever written, right up there with ‘This Is the Dream of Win and Regine’. The gradual build up and lush textures allow the orchestra to shine. Preceding track ‘Oh Heartland, Up Yours’ also makes great use of the newly available soundscapes, straying away from the string section and leaning toward the strings and woodwinds. ‘Flare Gun’, which has been played live for years now, appears here making it clear that Heartland was long in the making.

Pallett’s first foray under his own name is ultimately a successful one. It’s slow to start, but once ‘Lewis Takes Action’ kicks in, we’re treated to the usual magic. The only sad thing is that I can no longer make any forced video game references, and that’s worse than when Kefka poisoned Doma’s water supply.

Owen Pallett – Lewis Takes Action
Owen Pallett – Lewis Takes Off His Shirt

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— , January 7, 2010    Comments Off on Owen Pallett: Heartland
Photograph by May Truong

Photograph by May Truong

As the decade comes to a close and music magazines and blogs publish their “Best Albums of the Decade” lists, we here at Ca Va Cool decided to take a different direction. Sure, we could tell you that Kid A or Is This It is the greatest album of the last ten years, but you’ve already heard that. Instead, we’ve decided to make a list of something we hold very close to our hearts, Canadian music. By counting down the 20 best albums of the decade, we hope to pay respect to truly classic albums and shine a light on some underappreciated gems which can be enjoyed no matter where you come from. From regional hits to international sensations, our list showcases the best albums that music scenes all over Canada, from Vancouver to the Maritimes, have released this past decade. Here, in all its glory, is Ca Va Cool’s Best Canadian Albums of the 2000s.

Photograph by Chris Smith

Photograph by Chris Smith

20. Joel Plaskett EmergencyTruthfully Truthfully (MapleMusic, 2003)

When thinking of the greatest Canadian music genres/scenes of this past decade, it’s seemingly impossible to forget the influence of East Coast pop music. We begin our list with Nova Scotia’s best indie musical export, Joel Plaskett. Carrying the torch from ’90s legends Sloan, Joel Plaskett maintained the chugging electric guitar of 70’s power pop, incorporating the lyrical romanticism of his father’s folk idols, all from his hometown Halifax. On the Emergency’s second album, Truthfully Truthfully, Plaskett’s showcases the best of his charmingly witty lyrics and hook-ridden guitar work. As lovably awkward as Jonathan Richman, Plaskett nonetheless seemed as comfortable rocking out as Angus Young. Following the release, Joel Plaskett became a household name to Canadian music fans. He has been nominated twice for the Polaris Music Prize for his later work, produced countless albums for young East Coast bands, including the wonderful Little Jabs by Two Hours Traffic, and he still lives in Nova Scotia. — Daniel Hernandez

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— , December 7, 2009    7 Comments

Covers are tricky. If you don’t do justice to the song, you run the risk of being in the shadow of the original artist. Often the better covers are those that do something a little different, but those that revel in the awesomeness of the original can be enjoyable too. I feel the need to share some of my favourites in a possibly reoccurring segment known as Duck and Cover, because I thought that was clever.

The Dismemberment Plan – Close to Me

This is a cover of one of the Cure’s more upbeat songs (they exist, I assure you), and the reason I started listening to the Dismemberment Plan. Gone are the handclaps, saxophones and Robert Smith, in are guitars, bongos, Travis Morrison and a couple of DJs. Record-scratching is probably not the first thing to come to mind when doing a cover of this song, but honestly, it adds so much to the atmosphere that I prefer this to the original. This is a great example of where going into a completely different direction works.

Radiohead – Ceremony

Performed during a webcast at the end of last year, this is a fairly straight-forward cover of New Order’s first single. Nothing is really altered from the original song, but it is a solid rendition no matter how you look at it. Plus it sent me on a 4-month New Order bender that hasn’t ended yet.

Final Fantasy – Fantasy

I never thought I’d willingly be listening to a Mariah Carey song, but Owen Pallett has done it. In a surprisingly faithful and un-ironic performance with only his voice, violin, and a loop pedal. You’ve probably already heard this, but it needs to be heard again.

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— , March 9, 2008    Comments Off on Duck and Cover