Having heard a few new songs during Austra’s CMW show at Danforth Music Hall in February, “excited” doesn’t even begin to express how much I was anticipating their new album. Austra’s sophomore album, Olympia, released almost a week ago, has already been named Itunes Canada’s #1 electronic album.
The band produces a different, but familiar sound. It isn’t quite as head-bopping as some songs on their previous album. The songs on Olympia seem to be more experimental, where the instruments ebb and flow. On Feel It Break, their previous album, songs were held up by a memorable synth riff and a strong bass line. There are a few hits on the record, such as “Painful Like,” “What We Done” and “Home,” which have a similar sound to older songs.
On Olympia, the instruments present themselves enough to make them just danceable, but not quite. Although the instruments take a more minimalist approach, Katie Stelmanis and her incredible classically-trained voice and wide range highlight the emotional lyrics. It exposes a more personal and vulnerable side of Stelmanis. In tracks such as “We Become,” it’s evident that the group has gone for a more democratic approach in the album’s production. More vocal contribution from the twins can be heard, which helps shape their overall eerie and penetrating sound.
The songs seem to follow a common pattern, where they begin very minimalistic and then slowly build up to a dark electronic climax. This arrangement really made the album cohesive and audibly well-crafted. The distinct and more developed sound clearly sets this band apart from their contemporaries and show that they do have the ability to grow and avoid the sophomore slump.
In all honesty, it took two listens for the album to finally grow on me. The songs may not be as catchy as those on their previous album, but the subtle musical craftsmanship and lyrics are without a doubt a huge leap forward and demonstrate that Austra can get out of the comfort zone of “dance-pop.”
Hard Times is Olenka Krakus’s fifth album released last October. Produced by multi-instrumentalist band member, Simon Larochette, and mixed by Dan Weston (Paper Lions, Grey Kingdom, City and Colour), the album’s sound seems fuller and more matured.
The band’s instrumental and vocal qualities comfortably puts them in the folk and country territory and would invite favourable comparisons to Tom Waits, Wilco, Cat Power, and Timbre Timbre. Everything is carefully arranged so that each instrument enters humbly, plays its role, and quietly leaves. In fact, everything slots together nicely on the album. There’s barely anything out of place. Olenka’s night-silk voice weaves through delicate violin melody lines in ‘Grey Morning’ and is underscored by the lap steel solos in ‘Don’t Make Sense.’
Olenka’s voice is paired with lyrics which may seem delicate and beautiful but underlying them is a darker narrative that evokes nostalgia for the her old country, Poland, and explores themes of foreigness, loneliness, and the unknown, in both foreign and familiar landscapes. Sung by a warm and comforting voice, the songs seem to be made to be listened to with a cup of tea by a living room fire or with a glass of whiskey in a musty bar.
This album can be perfectly described by the band’s name. It is really for autumn lovers.
Olenka & the Autumn Lovers are participating in this year’s NXNE and you can catch them at the Rivoli on 23 June as a part of the Box Salon Series.
From the sound of Function Falls, the new EP by Brooklyn-based band Buke and Gase, you’d probably have no idea that they’re a two-piece. With stomping percussion and loud “buke” (bass + ukulele) riffs, their songs sound meaty enough to be backed up by at least a quartet. And the fact that all that ruckus is made by two people stamping their feet and strumming away on homemade instruments (which they call “Frankensteinian”) makes their beautiful noise all the more impressive.
But what’s more impressive about this EP is that most of the songs were completely improvised. As an “experiment in writing processes,” Buke and Gase set out to write a song per day for a week, and ended up falling a bit short, but still came out with three solid original songs. The first of which, “Misshaping Introduction,” is an eerily tense track with dark guitar tones and ghostly vocals. The band describe the song as a gourmet “dessert dish” you’d probably get at a fancy restaurant, but it feels much more subversive than this – like an entrée item that you can’t even pronounce, much less understand, but for some reason it’s the only thing on the menu that you’re drawn to.
“Tending the Talk” is a “to the note” recreation of an improvisation, which is surprising because it comes off as perhaps the most structured song on the EP and has the closest thing we get to a hook, with the line “This heart is not too hard to guarantee.” The razor-sharp harmonics draw you into the track until lead singer Arone Dyer’s voice cuts in and guides us through the layers of noise and catharsis.
The empirical point of Function Falls is saved for last with their cover of New Order’s new-wave classic, “Blue Monday,” which inspired the songwriting process they used for the rest of the EP. The original song’s iconic bassline is reimagined on the “gase” (guitar + bass) and becomes the perfect breeding ground for Buke and Gase’s experimental nature as they paint their instruments with effect pedals until they shine like synths.
I don’t know many other bands that can make a collection of improvised songs sound so well-crafted while still retaining the raw expressiveness that comes with creating music on the spot. Function Falls works not only as a short collection of highly accessible songs, but as a testament to Buke and Gase’s creative process, asserting their command over structure and fluidity and proving that the two don’t always have to be mutually exclusive.
Buke and Gase will release a full-length album, General Dome, on January 29, 2013 on Brassland.
Ritual Tradition Habit can be simply described as a lovely, dark surprise. I couldn’t help but give in to the tantalizing and frightening moods of The Belle Game, as the Vancouver natives’ debut album captures heartbreak in the most intricate way. With this album, The Belle Game weaves us through a journey of emptiness and fulfillment all at the same time.
This album truly tells a story. The band launches us into a confusing adventure of highs and lows – but it somehow all makes sense. From the start, Andrea Lo’s mesmerizing vocals are a stunning companion to the crashing symbols and atmospheric sounds blaring from the guitars. Without question, the most compelling song on the album is “River.” Lo’s voice trembles when she finishes confessing, “I’ve been your river since we were kids.” Whatever pain Lo was feeling when she sang this song, I could feel it too.
There are pivotal moments in RTH, specifically “Tradition,” that left me with chills. The only way I could describe this album is that the name of it describes it perfectly – the band reminds us of all the memories past and present that we don’t want to remember, yet we are programmed to revisit. It’s a habit.
George Lewis Jr., or more commonly known as Twin Shadow, returns with his particular brand of 80’s revival jams in his new album, Confess. Most of us were won over by the nostalgic melodies and melancholy lyrics from Forget, his first album released two years ago. It’s safe to say that this sophomore release has all that and a lot more.
Right from the get go, “Golden Light” starts the album with a real slow build accumulating to a powerful chorus that just teases you on what’s to come. Two songs later, you are blasted with the punchy “Five Seconds,” which makes you feel like you are in a montage from a John Hughes movie. The album dips from these real fist-pounding rock riffs, to more sorrowful songs like “Run My Heart” and “Mirror in the Dark.” You can feel the lonely crooning, paired with the reverb guitar and high pad synths that make for powerful pieces. The one thing I would comment on about this album is that after a full listen, the lyrics begin to feel a tad repetitive. But they still end up working for the genre. The lyrics aren’t necessarily profound, but the emotion and feeling are all there nonetheless.
The whole album works as a very interesting first listen, one that might not leave you absolutely in love with it. But if you give this album that second or third listen, I can pretty much guarantee you will be blasting Confess in your headphones as you bike down the street as fast as you can. So far the album of my summer, this release couldn’t have come at a better time.
First things first, if the title of No Joy’s latest EP made you think of Sailor Moon or Darkwing Duck villains, then thumbs up to you. Yay for 90’s kids’ TV shows and nostalgia! If this leaves you completely befuddled, my apologies. Moving on.
For fans of No Joy’s 2010 debut album Ghost Blonde, Negaverse can be considered its complementary companion. Staying true to their shoegazer, wall-of-guitars sound established in Ghost Blonde, all five songs on Negaverse are a swirl of pitch bends, distortion and indiscernible vocals. Clocking in at just under 15 minutes, Negaverse is perhaps a quick preview of what’s to come for the Montreal-based band. Hopefully a follow-up full-length album is in the works. For best results and maximum shoegaze chill-out, play this EP immediately following Ghost Blonde. On its own, this EP is over far too soon.
No Joy will be playing Lee’s Palace on July 17 (supporting Lower Dens).