Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Carla Bruni - Quelqu'un M'a Dit

This album reminds me of girls, of slow dancing, of warm nights in the winter. Seriously, it's got a deep place in my heart. And it's beautiful.

Carla is now the wife of France's president. Former model turned musician, Carla certainly doesn't write these songs, but damn if she can't sing them.

Acoustically driven, always soft and soothing, Carla's voice is pure and smooth like a 500-thread bedsheet in a fancy French five-star hotel. It reminds me of a lullaby, only if the person singing it wasn't your mother but a former supermodel and you weren't at all related. It's like chocolate, only spelled without the e.

"Le Plus Beau Du Quartier" uses almost no instrumentation for most of it, relying on Carla's lush sexy vocals to carry the tune to its blissful conclusion. I don't know what she's singing and I don't care. Skillfully arranged and at great expense, the album is a professional, shiny piece of work that must be appreciated in a warm house with someone special.

First and last lame post from me. But my class is full of girls and they'll probably like it, if they make it this far.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Howlin' Wolf - The Real Folk Blues

I'll admit it... I didn't know about Howlin' Wolf until I picked up a random $9.99 greatest hits CD and saw his howlin face on the cover. For some, Howlin' Wolf is blues bread-and-butter, a go-to song man of the '60s. For me he was a new taste of a powerful blues sound I've known, but never been immersed in.

The album opens with Killing Floor, a version recorded as a single in 1964. His voice is dirty and powerful, a traditional black sound that exploded around this time and changed how white music sounded. Before this, popular music included "Who's That Puppy in the Window?", romance ballads and crooning standards. Who needs it?

The "Real Folk Blues" series includes all the greats like John Lee Hooker and Memphis Slim, and this rendition includes what's surely the best of Wolf. I don't know his other stuff except the random Grooveshark search, but the dazzling piano and guitar work behind Wolf's incredible scowl makes it a must-have album for anyone interested in the real folk blues.

One thing I like about this genre is how the lyrics are simple while being, often, entirely sexual. Take this song about a "sugar mama" who gives Wolf sugar for his tea at night. Oh that's right. "You know they're bragging about your good sugar, mama!" he barks. "You know they're bragging all over town. Yeah that's granulated sugar!"

No kidding! Amazing. Listen.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Plants and Animals - Parc Avenue

The band wrote this album in a studio loft in Montreal. The street? You guessed it, Parc Avenue. It quickly earned attention from the Canadian music scene and was soon nominated for a Polaris Prize among some of my favourite bands of all time, including Caribou and Basia Bulat. They didn't win.

But! -- the album is astounding. There's definitely that Montreal sound in there, similar to Arcade Fire in instrumentation across the board, with various strings, piano, and a touch of spicy indie vocalizations from Warren Spicer (see what I did there... spicey?). Arcade's Sarah Neufeld offered string compositions for the album and it shows.

Spicer's songs are manifested around the earnesty of any good young man. "Bye bye bye," he sings during the album's catchiest song, which was also a free iTunes download that you missed at the end of August. "It's very easy to do. We never needed to."

Another standout is "Feedback in the Field." The seemingly endless affected guitar solo for the second half evokes grunge-funk spaceout solos of the 70s. I can practically see Johnny Depp in some drug movie overdosing while Sienna Miller stares out of a window balcony. What do you see?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunparlour Players - Wave North

This was one of the first bands I discovered from CBC Radio 3 and I was really excited about it. Their single, "Battle of '77, " seemed like a strange enough tune to make for an interesting album. I also started hearing about their existence through the festival tour grapevine and on the internet, so I knew they were popular enough for me to dip into.

The album is pretty consistent with "Battle of '77," its grating vocals permeating throughout, and not much wandering away from the standard pop song structure. Over time, Andrew Penner's voice does become a bit too grating, either because his voice is at times too strained or because the words aren't particularly moving. Even "Battle of '77" has pretty literal lyrics as Penner asks "What was underneath the road? I guess no body knows. What was underneath the farms to make them fight, to bare their arms?" It feels like something important because the Players do the Arcade Fire thing with the guitar, piano and drums being somehow constantly building to the expected epic finale.

On tracks like "North" the songs can't rest on the virtues of momentum earned in "Battle," so it just kind of falls flat. I guess that's why the same structure is pretty much used the whole time, so songs like "Nuclear" can build enough to remain interesting despite the lyrics.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Dirty Projectors - Bitte Orca

Before I bought this album, I was hearing about it all over town. In record stores, at shows, at school, at work -- everyone was talking about it. With good reason. It's a record I need to listen to a few more times before I have a perfect idea of how great it is. But it's pretty great.

Fitting what sounds like the familial/collective mentality of groups like Broken Social Scene, the Projectors are a tribe of instrumentalists and vocalists, apparent best by the differences between tracks. The first, "Cannibal Resource," uses what I'll call "retro vocalizing" from tribe elder Dave Longstreth, with its verses holding just guitar and drum rhythms. They keep things interesting with backup oos and ahhs from the girls in the band.

Skip forward to track five to find an acoustic, female-sung ballad "Two Doves." The melodies in all songs leap this way and that. This is ultimately Bitte Orca's greatest virtue -- its variety. And I'm banking on it to develop into a deeply rooted favourite after another few listens.

Here's a favourite track: "No Intention." Loaded with hand claps and noodling guitar, it will start your toe-a-tappin', so go on and listen.

The Decemberists - Picaresque

My first experience with the Decemberists was during a guitar solo competition between guitarist Chris Funk and Stephen Colbert. I found Funk's solo to be unusually underwhelming, anti-climactic and kind of boring. When I heard Picaresque, I thought it was unusually underwhelming, anti-climactic and kind of boring. Go figure.

The album opens with momentous pomp in "The Infanta," which is about camels, princesses and a palanquin. Right away I noticed the similarities to Neutral Milk Hotel. The more you consider it, singer Colin Meloy's abrasive, raw vocals mimic Jeff Magnum's signature plain-stated style. Compare "Airplane Over the Sea" with "On the Bus Mall." Even the Decemberists' "Eli, the Barrow Boy" could have been written while they listened to "Two-Headed Boy." Who knows.

But the comparisons end acoustically because the Decemberists can't evoke the kind of emotion and authenticity that's a given with Neutral Milk. Instead they seem to mash together an eclectic mix of whatever instruments are around and ham together a very dry and emotionless album.

But I do like the late-90s pop rock sound of "16 Military Wives," even if it's feels a little heavy-handed lyrically.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Timber Timbre - Demon Host

This year's Polaris Music Prize had several travesties (like playing it safe with the nominees and risky with the winner... slow clap, Polaris, you're still legit) but none were more painful than when Timber Timbre didn't make the short list. Just after the list was announced, Timber Timbre was on the cover of Exclaim with the headline "Band of the Year." Fact.

This is spook folk at its finest. It's music that sprouts from the rich loam of lush forests where few have cared to meander. You can feel the earthiness in tunes like "Lay Down in the Tall Grass" where synthesized keys drone behind Taylor Kirk's affected vocals while the protagonist stalks from shrouded surroundings.

But it's songs like "Demon Host" that show why Timber Timbre is indeed Band of the Year and destined for fame larger than a single Polaris Prize could reap. Creepy and brooding, it's the catchiest spook folk pop song I've ever heard, with oo-oo-oos tied around the choruses so snuggly yet eerily, they could be either a bow or a noose.

When I saw them at the Arts & Crafts showcase during NXNE, they didn't play "Demon Host." The crowd went into a frenzy after the set, crying for an encore, but the rigid NXNE schedule didn't allow it. At least there's this fancy video to watch over and over again.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Death Cab for Cutie - Transatlanticism

My first obsession with Death Cab came from Plans, the album following Transatlanticism. I remember seeing Transatlanticism at HMV when I was in high school but I wasn't as enlightened to music then and the name seemed too strange.

What I loved about Plans is painted all over Trans. The wispy, alto vocals about being sad sometimes, happy sometimes, in all kinds of seasons is found here -- just like you can find it all Death Cab and most of the Postal Service. The textured melancholy Death Cab eventually creates on Plans has a minimalistic counterpoint on Trans with songs like "Passenger Seat" becoming far less climactic and sparser than the equivalent Plans follow-up "Different Names for the Same Thing."

If Death Cab learned anything from Trans it was to amp up the amplification, experimentation and rise-and-fall song structure that elevates their follow-up to ethereal heights. But Trans is a startling, moving album all its own. So have a listen.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

VIDEO: Interview with Final Fantasy

While at LOLA fest in London this weekend, I took a break from my booth with the Open House Arts Collective to interview Owen Pallett of Final Fantasy. One of my favourite bands, Owen was happy to talk to us about his new tour, his new album, and his old EPs. I also had a chance to film his entire set from the stage, which I'll be posting in its entirety soon.

Check out the interview and let me know what you think by, you know, leaving a comment.