Category Archives: Review

[review] Hospitality // Trouble

hospitality trouble cover

I’ve had Hospitality’s newest effort, Trouble, knocking around in my head for the better part of a week until its recent displacement by that swirly Holy Wave album. It’s the Brooklyn band’s second full length, and while second albums require swift and immediate comparisons to any band’s first release, Trouble is good enough to stand on its own merits without being overshadowed by its predecessor.

It’s not that Trouble abandons Hospitality’s initial essence, but instead the band augments it. It’s like dating: how well can you really know someone after a handful of scattered dates? The other person is still putting on their best airs, as if they have no baggage or skeletons hanging around in the back of their closet. Maybe you’ve slept with them; maybe you’ve woken up in the same bed the next morning and done something cute like head down to the farmer’s market for coffee and croissants. Sure, it’s nice, and it might even be starting to feel comfortable, but let’s not claim that you have any more than a cursory knowledge.

Trouble is less concerned about letting you see its seedier side. You’re in it now; you’ve disseminated your respective lists of people you’ve slept with and met parents. You’ve had a good fight and debated with yourself if you can see yourself putting up with the habits that were previously deal breakers over the long term. It’s taking more work, but it’s a real relationship, and that’s undoubtedly better than constantly dating someone new, despite the new challenges it brings.

It’s a world-wearier version of Hospitality on display on Trouble. Gone is the optimism of life right after college, when you’re still on the parental income teat. In its place is the recognition that life can, and so often does, just fucking suck. And while that seems like a needlessly bleak observation on my part, do not let it diminish how good this album really is.

Where Hospitality reeled us all in with their two-minute, catchy focus on their debut, the band is content to drag things out on Trouble, meandering through guitar solos where songs would have ended on their first album. Trouble is every bit as engaging as Hospitality was, but for almost completely different reasons.

An Update on the Remaining Members of Women

The Calgary based noisy experimental band Women released two of my favorite albums of the past 10 years. Their 2nd album, Public Strain, stands as one of the most interesting, challenging and intricate albums that I have ever heard. The attention to detail and Chad Vangaalen’s production, which added grit and depth in unique ways to each of the tracks, proved Public Strain to be the perfect realization of what the band was capable of.

On October 29, 2010, a fight on stage between band members in a Victoria, BC venue, quickly followed by the cancellation of the remainder of their tour, put the future of Women into question. Sadly, they never played another gig before guitarist Chris Reimer tragically died on February 21, 2012. Passing due to complications from a heart condition, the entire indie rock community in Canada mourned the loss of their friend and guitarist, and any hopes of Women carrying on were dashed.

The dissolution of Women finds the remaining 3 members – guitarist and singer Pat Flegel, bassist Matt Flegel, and drummer Mike Wallace – forming two different bands that take wholly different approaches to making music. Pat formed a band called Cindy Lee, while Matt and Mike got together in Viet Cong.

Viet Cong finds Matt and Mike, together with Scott Munro of Lab Coast and Danny Christiansen of Sharp Ends. The band performs a mix of post-punk and brightly colored new wave that sounds strangely English. Synth sounds and hypnotic bass lines underscore jagged guitar parts, shifting meters and subtly echoed vocals. They released a cassette on Bandcamp with virtually (read: actually) no promotion or advertisement. The only way that I found it was by chance, cruising the shoutbox for Women. At the time that I found the Bandcamp page for Viet Cong it consisted of only one track. A live version of a song called “Quality Arrangement.” On September 5th “Quality Arrangement” disappeared and was replaced with the 6 tracks totaling about 25 minutes of music, sitting somewhere between EP and LP. The release is titled “Cassette” on Bandcamp, and I’ve yet to figure out if that is the name of the release, or if there are actual cassette copies of this floating around somewhere. Currently $5 CAD will only buy you an instant download of the album.

The songs retain the overall ambient nature of some of Women’s less noisy material, and the guitar work does seem to take its cues from friend and former bandmate Chris Reimer. “Oxygen Feed” is an ultra-catchy, upbeat guitar driven track that could be released as a single on an album that is chock full of great melodies and moody vocals. The acoustic guitar of “Static Wall” starts out by sounding like Buffalo Springfield before morphing into something completely different. “Structureless Design” amps up the buzzing synth sound and new wave elements set behind mechanical singing along with guitar and bass locked into a steady groove. The track then descends into a wild, noisy guitar freak out, taking an unexpected turn that grows more chaotic as the song comes to a close.

Chaos is also a good word to describe Pat Flegel’s new project Cindy Lee. The album Tatlashea could not be any more different from Viet Cong if it tried. This recording will doubtless provide a completely different listening experience than most people, including the most dedicated fans of Women, are ready to handle. Each track is a nearly formless, anarchic maelstrom of loud bursts of atonal, distorted guitar with vocals buried deep in the mix. Songs sound like they were recorded instantly, as the ideas seem to form out of nothing, allowing each track to document the journey of the process of writing itself. Album opener “Fuck Myself Stupid,” the title alone giving the listener at least some inkling of the kind of rough, antagonistic sound that is explored throughout, finds Flegel’s de-tuned guitar strings bending in and out of focus with a timbre reminiscent of the early drumsticks-jammed-under-guitar-strings sound of Sonic Youth.

The more one listens to Tatlashea the more that the recording begins to come into focus. Little bits of tunes start grabbing your attention. For example, there is something even resembling a chorus in “Find Another Man” somewhere before the drummer goes insane on the cymbals and the guitar follows suit, also descending into madness. It even comes back before the end. And, there is something that is truly intriguing and satisfying to my love for new sounds in Flegel’s out of tune electric guitar over the acoustic strummed rhythm. The closing of “Find Another Man” takes noise and feedback to a whole other level, squealing and screeching at an unbridled volume and even going so far as to mess with the recording, tapping on the microphone over the course of its 10 minutes.

Overall the sound of Tatlashea is incredibly dark, possibly recorded in a cave or some dark, empty club. Despite it sounding like it is somewhere between improvised and barely rehearsed, there are a few songs that not only hold themselves together, but manage to hold the entire recording together as well. Right in the middle of the album “Holding the Devil’s Hand” throws in some 60’s ballad, falsetto singing and arpeggiated guitar with a quick verse and chorus while “Assassination Reality” brings in some honest, thrashing rock. Where Viet Cong is flexing their new wave muscles, Cindy Lee is placing themselves squarely into no wave territory. The album was released on cassette, but is currently sold out. Like Viet Cong, though, it is still available for download on Bandcamp for $2 CAD.

Viet Cong and Cindy Lee take the different elements toward distilling the sound of Women, exposing the influence that each of the members had on the overall sound of their former band. If you’d like to read a bit more about Viet Cong or Cindy Lee there are a few interviews with Matt and Pat available that provide at least some insight into the direction that these guys are headed. Viet Cong have been touring fairly extensively across the US and Canada, though it appears as though they only have one more date listed for October 20 in Edmonton at Wunderbar. (editor’s note: edited and posted much later than post was submitted) There are currently no tour dates listed for Cindy Lee.

[review] Local Natives // Hummingbird

local natives hummingbird cover

Local Natives made their initial splash at the 2009 iteration of South By Southwest, playing nine separate shows during the festival’s run. Their live show drew comparisons to Grizzly Bear and Arcade Fire – stalwarts of the independent music scene – and high praise for a band that had been in operation for such a short period of time. The then-fivepiece didn’t immediately release an album to accommodate the mounting affection; instead, their debut, Gorilla Manor, was released nearly a year later, comprised of updated versions of songs that had been kicking around the blogs in the previous year. And while it showcased an eager, talented band, it also had the trappings of an album that lacked cohesion and often felt fused together. The band’s joy, however, was never in question. This was a band that was clearly happy to be creating, and lucky to be able to share their creation with a wider audience.

With that in mind, Hummingbird, which was produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner, is much darker in theme and tone than Gorilla Manor was; it’s apparent from the outset of the album’s first song – “You & I” – that the Local Natives with which their audience had become familiar is no longer as festive. There’s a certain gravity to the newly-minted foursome; gone is the naiveté of before, the levity of their debut replaced with a sort of sobriety. It’s a by-product of any aging process – the increased maturity that’s evident here.

The intervening years between Gorilla Manor and Hummingbird, while they’ve propelled the band to a much larger audience, haven’t, based on the lyrics here, been wholly kind to the band. They parted ways with their bassist in 2011. Kelcey lost his mother, Patricia, to whom the record is dedicated. These life changes are reflected here, and the resulting album is a visceral nod to them, and to the band being forced to ask the sort of questions that don’t have easy answers.

It’s that gravitas that gives Hummingbird its punch. A promotional photograph of the band for the album shows them chest-high in the ocean; it’s an appropriate vantage point from which to take the new album in. Hummingbird is an immersive experience. There’s a sense that at anytime it could overtake the listener in the same manner it did the band.

Though thematically the album is heavier, musically, the band hasn’t missed a step. Though they’re somber, the songs are still gorgeously arranged and adeptly performed. The harmonies that initially endeared everyone to Local Natives haven’t been replaced, but there are times on Hummingbird (see: “Three Months”) where Kelcey’s vocals are front and center, and those are the most poignant of the album.

After a debut that was strong but could at times feel forced, for Local Natives to return with such a cohesive, exquisite sophomore release is a large and important step forward.

Connect with Local Natives // Facebook | Twitter | web

[review] Renny Wilson // Sugarglider

renny wilson sugarglider cover

Disco, when viewed through the lens of the past forty years, has become a cliché, reduced to spaces where people dress up in outlandish outfits and dance to the overplayed staples of the much-maligned genre. Even now, releasing an album with disco undertones runs the risk of being viewed as inauthentic at best, or at worst, cheesy. So with Renny Wilson’s debut album, Sugarglider, and its unabashed love of the cloying genre, that risk becomes much greater. Fortunately for Wilson, he pulls it off with aplomb, and as a result, has released what will undoubtedly stand as one of the most interesting debuts of 2013.

Sugarglider opens with “By and By”, which builds on the back of a distant saxophone before morphing into its core – a funk groove that sounds like it was recorded with lossy compression somewhere in the distant future and sent back to the present. It’s the direction the entire affair ends up taking, with most of the songs on the album sliding seamlessly into each other. Overall, the album gets a little long in the tooth around the middle of song 7; however, the goodwill it built up over the course of the first half is enough to push the listener through the end. Sugarglider, in that sense, might have worked better without some of the excess – just tightened up a bit; overall though, the album’s high points stand far above any missteps Wilson makes.

While Wilson, who hails from Edmonton, might seem like he’s steeped in some romanticized version of music’s past, he’s not without an awareness of the modern landscape in which he finds himself. “Feel Like a Child”, interestingly, incorporates a riff from fellow Canadian Mac Demarco’s “Only You”, which I couldn’t quite place until I read the notes on Wilson’s website. That appreciation of disco’s better parts, updated for the present, is what makes this album work. Sugarglider, which used to be Wilson’s performing name, ends up being a single, singular nod to an era that has been oft-derided.

Wilson’s disco-opus is available on a wider basis next Tuesday, January 22nd, through Vancouver-based label Mint Records on vinyl, cassette, or digitally. Personally, I could use the heat it brings since the temperature is going to be getting down to 1° next week. In the dead of winter, Sugarglider is a welcome glimpse at the warmer weather to come.

Connect with Renny Wilson // Facebook | Twitter | web

Renny Wilson // By and By [mp3] from the forthcoming Sugarglider

[review] Christopher Owens // Lysandre


Any critical discussion of Christopher Owens’ music seems to be required to delve deeply into his well-worn backstory – his time in a cult, his sexual and chemical experimentations, etc. However, with the release of Lysandre, Owens’ first post-Girls album, on Fat Possum next Tuesday, the need to re-mine Owens’ background in a review should come to an end. That’s not because those tales have become less interesting in the retelling, but more because how those experiences have informed Owens’ music has become common knowledge. If background for the understanding of Lysandre is required, it simply be this: during his time as a member of the Children of God cult, Owens was exposed to limited, AM radio staples from the decades prior to his birth, and that musical education has become a primary source for all his subsequent output.

Lysandre opens, fittingly, with “Lysandre’s Theme”, an instrumental elegy to the object of the album’s affection: a Frenchwoman Owens met while on tour with his former band. The theme resurfaces frequently over the course of the album, nearly to the point of oversaturation; the fact that it’s played using different instruments doesn’t diminish that exhaustion. The same thirty seconds are used at the end of most of the songs on the album’s first half, starting on flute, moving to horns, then guitar, then lying dormant before resurfacing at the end of the album, again played on the flute. If naming the album (as well as three songs on it) after this woman wasn’t enough to drive the point home that she was Owens’ inspiration, the repetition of said theme surely gets it across.

That repetition, however, is a nod to a practice that’s fallen out of fashion in music with the proliferation of iTunes and single song downloads: the goal of making a complete album. On Lysandre, for the most part, Owens accomplishes that task. The album rolls together well enough, but because of the aforementioned repetition, it can feel forced at times.

Similarly, Owens’ infatuation with creating music in the same vein as what he was raised on can also feel forced. As a member of Girls, that genre was explored more liberally; on Lysandre, it feels like the cleaned-up, radio-ready version of the 1960s, viewed through rose-colored glasses. There’s nothing here that compares with the genius of 2009’s “Lust for Life” or even with the expanse of “Vomit” from the last Girls album. Girls ended, in part, because of Owens’ belief that he needed to “progress.” In that sense, Lysandre seems like a backwards step. Seemingly gone from Owens’ repertoire is the ability to explore the rougher edges of his influences. It shows up in snippets – the guitar part at the end of “Here We Go”, for example – but for the most part, it’s been muted. For a record about longing, about falling for someone, about findings and failings, it’s decidedly clean.

That’s not to say Lysandre is without redeeming qualities. In its quieter moments, the album is vulnerable and honest about Owens’ experience with someone who was clearly important to him. In its better moments the album doesn’t feel like a trite musical homage to what’s come before it. But it crosses the line into hackneyed – on both fronts – rather quickly when Owens doesn’t reign himself in.

In the end, Owens has presented the best version of himself on Lysandre. Here, he’s become someone you can take home to meet your mother, entrust to spend time with your father without worrying that he’s going to cause offense. Lysandre is an album built for the new vinyl generation: scrubbed up, arranged neatly, and packaged perfectly. Knowing where Owens has been in the not-so-distant past, that’s a disappointment.