Forgiveness Rock Record by Broken Social Scene

Given how the various members of Toronto's "musical collective" Broken Social Scene have gone on to their own success, Jimmy Shaw & Emily Haines of Metric and Feist perhaps the two best examples, and the pair of "BSS Presents" solo albums by co-founders Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, it was not unreasonable to be in doubt of the future of the group. But after "slimming down" to a core nine members, the group feels more like a band, and less like a loose gathering of musicians. There are still guest stars galore -- there are 30-something credited musicians on the album -- but most just pop in for a song or two, including BSS alumni Feist, Haines, Amy Millan, Jason Collett, members from The Sea & Cake, Pavement and many more. But will the new, streamlined lineup provide the same magic that previous albums hit?

Forgiveness Rock Record starts as the almost seven minute long "World Sick" slowly creeps in, before swelling to grandiose proportions. The sprawling song is reminiscent of their previous work, but once the frantic and frenzied "Chase Scene" kicks in, you know the album is going to be their most diverse yet. The topical "Texico Bitches" is an effortless song, and "Forced To Love" is a more straight ahead rocker, featuring Sebastien Grainger. Those gives way to the more electronic-y "All To All", the first song to showcase the vocals of relative newcomer Lisa Lobsinger, who proves she is right up there with the rest of BSS's talented female vocalists. The horn-laden "Art House Director" is another high energy rocker, where the influence of Apostle of Hustle's Andrew Whiteman shines through.
"Highway Slipper Jam" slows things down with a more chill, loose, acoustic-y vibe to it, and the lo-fi and twitchy "Ungrateful Little Father", crawls to a dreamy ending. But then the energy is right back up with the epic "Meet Me In the Basement", an absolutely intense instrumental battle of guitars and horns that leaves you drained at the end. Which is probably best to be followed by "Sentimental X's", which starts a little more subdued, but then builds to a grand climax. It also, if I am not mistaken, marks the first time Feist, Haines and Millan have sung on the same song.
The sexy bass line of "Sweetest Kill" belies some of the darkest lyrics on the album, which seem to have a focus on romance, abandonment and death, as "Romance To the Grave" also does a good job of showcasing. After a few slower tracks, "Water In Hell" brings the energy back up with another great cacophonous rock song. The album ends with a kind of strange song, "Me and My Hand", which sounds like it's a one-take screwing-around song that should be a hidden track rather than the closer.

In the end, the album manages to be their most eclectic, yet most accessible. It is less sprawling, and while at first it may seem a bit too focused, the more you listen to it, and peel back the layers, the more you see new elements you missed the first, second, or even fifth times. Is it their best yet? No, probably not, but that is only a testament to how brilliant their previous albums are. But it is definitely their most engaging, and absolutely worthy of being short listed for a Polaris Prize.

Download Chase Scene

Download All to All

Download Meet Me In The Basement

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This Is Good by Hannah Georgas

I don't know what it is about Vancouver, but it seems like an abundance of musical talent has popped up in the last few years. It's not like there has been a dearth of talented people from here, but it just seems like the last little while, a huge pool of talent has formed. Case in point, Hannah Georgas (even though she is originally from Ontario, which we forgive her for). After last years stellar EP, The Beat Stuff, she is back with This Is Good, her debut full length. Produced by Ryan Guldemond (of Mother Mother, who also plays on the album) and Howard Redekopp (who has done a crap load of great albums from excellent artists), there is certainly no lack of creative force behind the album.

The punchy "Chit Chat" opens the album, and sets a good tone for what you're in for. While never crossing the line into Morisette-esque bitterness, when she acerbically spits out "is it just that you like to hear yourself speak?" you know she isn't afraid to say what's on her mind. Or wear her heart on her sleeve, for that matter, as seen with the fantastic harmonies on the revealing "Lovesick". Electro-pop infused "Dancefloor" was, as the title implies, made for dancing and it's impossible not to at least bop along to. The album doesn't stop its twists and turns, with the lush and encouraging "The Deep End" showing off Georgas' talent at arrangements and layering sounds. Her sharp tongue returns in both "Lovers Breakdown" -- "winners lose and lovers break down" -- and "Thick Skin", an eerie song, full haunting strings that builds to a dramatic crescendo (with an interesting video). A great one-two punch follows, with the more straightforward, but catchy "This Is Good" leading into the even catchier "Bang Bang You're Dead", bringing back a little synth for a great sing-a-long track. The album then brings things down for a bit with two slower songs; "Your Ghost" features more harmonies and lush arrangements, and has perhaps grown to become my favourite off the album, and the most [heartbreakingly] beautiful song on the album, "Shine". And to wrap things up, a song that is completely out of left field, in the best way possible. "Something for You" sounds like it was taken right out of a 50s jazz club. It is quirky, fun, a perfect way to end an album, and it is impossible not to listen to with a big grin on your face... and maybe even fall in love a little with Ms Georgas.

I'm always wary when an artist puts out an excellent EP because I've found it can sometimes be followed up with a sub-par full length; the same amount of awesome, spread out in twice the length, watered down with mediocre. But that was definitely not the case here. It was long-listed for the Polaris for good reason (and probably even deserved to be short listed) as it is an excellent debut. And I can't wait to see where she goes from here.

(Also, I am somewhat proud of making it through the review without making the obvious [and overused] "This is Good" pun!)

Download The Deep End

Download Your Ghost

Download Something For You

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Denim on Denim by Library Voices

"Pop as fuck!" That is how Regina eight piece Library Voices describes their music, and their debut full length Denim on Denim exemplifies that. Even though it is full of gang vocals, and more instruments than some acts have in their entire library of music, they never step on each others toes, creating an incredibly rich and vibrant sound. And even though there are more than a couple references to the apocalypse, the whole album is just fun and energetic.

"Drinking Games" kicks off the album, starting out very quiet and subdued, but adds instruments one by one until the whole thing erupts into something impossible not to sing along to. The energy is kept up with the insanely infectious "Insider Trading (On Outsider Art)" and "Haunt This House", both of which overflowing with hooks that will get anyone moving. "Party Like It's 2012" is one of the more obviously apocalyptic on the album, with them urging us to "Do the oblivion shuffle / Do the redemption twist / Do the salvation shimmy" and proclaiming "we'll party like it's 2012 / like they'll be no morning after [...] let's hear it for the rapture!" Another prominent theme on the album is literature, and "Write Me a Myth" is one of the better examples of that.
Mark Hamilton (of Woodpigeon) guests on vocals for the next two tracks, "Bookish", a twist on the age old tale of falling in love with the cute shy girl and another not-quite-love-song "Bodies of Fiction" which is "just another song about love" with a "nameless narrator" that "starts with 'I' and ends with 'we'". They bring the tone down for a moment, with "Model City", whose beauty shows that they can do more than just the energetic pop songs. "End Time" seems like another upbeat song about embracing the end of the world, but when they tell you "but you can live your life fearing death / ... or you can just get on with it" you believe them. But then "Family Night" turns around and warns that the perfect life may not be so perfect -- it's interesting when the song about family life is the darkest on an album full of apocalyptic songs. The anxiety is played up when the end adds layers upon layers of vocals which gets so close to overwhelms the listener, before grinding to a halt and almost stopping dead. The slow end leads into "Balloon Menagerie", another soft and somewhat nervous song, thematically, which features scratch and distortion. The album wraps up "Hello Cruel World", an interesting choice for a closing track. Again, the upbeat track belies the somewhat ominous lyrics, starting with a near-death experience (or perhaps not-so-near?) and coming to a close with the lyrics "Sometimes a man just needs to get away / or think he got away..." and then drawing to an end with the sound of footsteps walking away. It definitely gives a sense of finality to the album.

The other thing about the album that struck me was the packaging/artwork. It is not anything too fancy or elaborate, but it has some nice touches, like the lightning bolt cut out to show the denim-sleeve, or the mini-poster that comes with in. In fact, instead of me describing it, just take a look for yourself. And since the artwork was just this morning nominated for a West Coast Music Award (as well as the album itself, for Independent Album of the Year) I know I'm not the only one to notice it.

No doubt Denim on Denim will remain one of the most fun albums of the year. Catchy hooks. Energetic songs. Clever lyrics. Pop as fuck indeed.

Download Party Like It's 2012

Download Bookish

Download Family Night

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In This Together by Wil

From the moment I first saw Wil hit the stage, years ago, I was drawn in. His live show was just so incredible and energetic that I was an instant fan. But while I enjoyed his first album, Both Hands, it seemed to be missing a little piece of what made him so special live. His next album, By December, was a huge step forward, both in his writing and music, and seemed to capture that live quality. So needless to say, I was more than a little excited for his third album, In This Together, hoping it would be as big a leap as Both Hands was from By December.

"Long Kiss Goodnight" opens the album heartbreakingly, lamenting on a ruined relationship with the music matching the emotions that swing between angry and melancholy. The album picks up from there, though, with "Why Ask Why?" slowly building to an explosive climax and the infectiously catchy & roots-driven "Baby Baby" both taking a more positive (or at least less bleak) look at relationships. "The River" -- a song he's been playing live for years now, so it's great to finally have recorded -- has an upbeat tune that belies the dark lyrics. "Cooder Mountain" is another track that just builds and builds; starting somewhat ominously and then piles on the intensity until the end leaves you breathless.
"If You Want Me Too" brings the mood down slightly, as it sounds like it should be a gloomy song, but is actually quite touching, lyrically. The worst least good song on the album is probably "Way Too Long", which isn't really all that bad, just a little... forgettable, not sticking with you like the rest. That is quickly remedied as "Uh Oh!" bursts forth with energy and enthusiasm, though "The Deal" brings the dark intensity back, with another building song, this time about sacrifice.
The moody and longing "Hold Me Tonight" seems has an optimism to it, when Wil begs "hold me tonight / and everything's going to be all right", a sentiment that leads perfectly into "Together", an aptly named song which gives closure both musically and lyrically, assuring you that "the days ahead get better". The combination of the two songs is an excellent way to bring the album to a close, and is a great counter to the opener.

The first thing I noticed about the album is that it does not have that one song on it that was head and shoulders above the rest, like both previous albums had ("Spitfire" and "Honey Pie"), but it is more evenly good. And while I may have been a little unenthusiastic towards the album, at first, the more I have played it, the more intricacies and nuances I find, to the point where I think it might be his best yet.

Download Baby Baby

Download Cooder Mountain

Download Together

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Mt. Chimaera by Brasstronaut

Every once in a while something comes along that completely and totally takes you by surprise. For me, this was Mt. Chimaera, the full length debut from Brasstronaut. I am not quite sure why, but for some reason I was expecting them to sound completely different than they do -- which is funny in retrospect, as their name is a perfect indication of their sound. The Vancouver band is fronted by Edo Van Breemen on keyboards & vocals and he is joined by a roster of great musicians playing a wide range of instruments: Bryan Davies (trumpet/flugelhorn/glockenspiel), John Walsh (bass/guitar), Brennan Saul (percussion), Tariq Hussain (lap steel/electric guitar), & Sam Davidson (clarinet/EWI); the EWI being a great and underused instrument which looks like a Space Clarinet. Their website points out that while all play in a number of other projects, they are quick to profess that this is their one and only golden egg. And with the recent inclusion of the album on the Polaris Prize long list, it looks like "golden egg" may be an apt metaphor.

The album starts out with "Slow Knots", which gives you a good idea of how the next 40 minutes are going to go. Cinematic, atmospheric, haunting and intense are all words that could describe the band, and they manage to exemplify all of those adjectives in this break-up song (Do you really think that I betrayed you / honey don't you know that I'm too dumb for that / you kept a list of all those bad nights / and we both know it got too long). "Hands Behind" shows off the bands jazz influence and weaves trumpet with acoustic and slide guitars together seamlessly. That leads in to "Lo Hi Hopes" which is more of a rocking, upbeat track, yet still finds time for woodwind solos, and almost grinds to a halt for the breakdown, before exploding again at the end. The energy isn't let up with the piano driven "Six toes", a song that is all over the map, but never in a sloppy way.
"Hearts Trompet" is my favourite track off the album, and quite possibly one of my favourite songs of the year thus far. It starts out with a laid back bass line and slowly adds things like horns and strings until it hits the midway point, and then just launches into a breathtaking symphonic climax, before stopping almost dead in its tracks, trickling it's way into "Ravan", which takes the opposite approach, as it slowly fades to a gentle ending. "Same Same" is given an ethereal quality with the echoing vocals and dramatic horns and well placed flourishes of guitar. The album draws to a close with the epic eight minute "Insects", the darkest track on the album, which also drips with emotion. This single song does more than I have heard some bands do in an entire album, flowing perfectly through what could almost be called separate movements within the song, encapsulating the band almost perfectly.

With the amount of stuff going on, it would be easy for a band like Brasstronaut to collapse under its own weight into a complete mess, but it a s testament to the musical abilities to all involved that it comes together as perfectly as it does. The more I listen to this album, the more it grows on me, and the less doubt I have that it will make it on to my "best of" list this year.

Download Lo Hi Hopes

Download Hearts Trompet

Download Same Same

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