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New Music Tuesdays: June 23, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On June - 23 - 2009

mondo2By Jake Shenker

Some weeks it’s hard to find time to pore over new releases — I have a day job, you know.

Here’s what’s new this week:

The LeamonheadsVarshons (The End)
What, you don’t care about the Lemonheads? If nothing else, they get my accolades for their awesome 90s version of “Mrs. Robinson” (think Wayne’s World 2), but frontman Evan Dando is in fact a pretty excellent songwriter. Of course, his writing doesn’t shine on Varshons, an entire album of cover tunes. Dando and company continue the great work they did in the 90s with smart covers of some obscure, some well know, and some hilarious tunes. Among them: a driving folk rendition of Gram Parsons’ “I Just Can’t Take it Anymore,” a melancholy arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye,” and a country-western version of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” Pretty hip stuff. Read the rest of this entry »

Gregory Pepper’s With Trumpets Flaring reviewed

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On June - 19 - 2009

Gregory Pepper & His Problems
With Trumpets Flaring
Fake Four Inc., 2009

By Jake Shenker

Gregory Pepper is deceitful. The newest record from this Guelph, Ontario-born multi-instrumentalist is not an indie-rock record, as its press release made it out to be; With Trumpets Flaring is a bizarre trip through time, cobbling together doo-wop, jazz, vaudeville, and rock into a delightfully trippy — and magnificent — musical journey.

51unlmze9rl_ss500_Despite its misleading (read: deceitful) “band” title, this brilliant record was made by a single man — although the concept of Gregory Pepper’s problems as his band-mates conjures up an alarmingly appropriate image, considering the music. The record opens with a brief snippet of the catchiest accordion riff ever recorded, before launching into the neo-disco groove of “7ths and 3rds”, an anthem about Pepper’s evident distaste for pop music. This evasive opening track moves back and forth between the opening disco groove and a driving, rock-infused chorus — a transition which somehow happens seamlessly, as if the two sounds were meant to exist side-by-side.

Next, the album delivers “I Was a John”, a dramatic piano number reminiscent of Hawksley Workman’s earlier, more eccentric music. Pepper spends the rest of his opus swiftly moving through styles and influences, from the Brian Wilson-inspired group vocals of “It Must Be True”, through the accessible indie-rock flavor of “Drop the Plot” and the solemn piano ballad, “Built a Boat”. The record ends with the unambiguously titled “Outro”, a minute-long piano tune played on an old, slightly out-of-tune piano — a perfect, relaxing finale for the turbulent ride the listener has just been on.

With Trumpets Flaring is not an easy record to digest. Its songs are complex — no cheap hooks here — and diverse enough to avoid simple genre classifications. But once you open your mind to Pepper’s unique style, the depth of his eccentrically-arranged songs become not just accessible, but stunning.

New Music Tuesdays: June 16, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On June - 16 - 2009

nr1By Jake Shenker

A special greatest hits package, a confusing 8-bit indie record, a fantastic modern jazz album, and Spinal Tap? No two things are alike on this bizarre New Release Tuesday.

Here’s what’s new this week:

IncubusMonuments and Melodies (Epic)
What’s that, a new Incubus album? Think again. Monuments and Melodies is one of those irritating greatest hits albums that record companies release when a band is on hiatus. This 2-disc set, however, is pretty well put together. Disc 1 features the obvious radio singles and a couple of mediocre new tracks, but disc 2 is a compilation of b-sides, soundtrack cuts, and remixes that are mostly unreleased (or at least not readily available). While it won’t gain Incubus any new fans, this release will at least prevent Incubus fans, with their pea-sized attention spans, from forgetting about the band. Incubus are expected to release a proper new album in 2010.

Math the BandDon’t Worry (Slanty Shanty)
This bizarre duo sound like your average indie band on acid, making music with an original Nintendo, and a drumset. Their music is fast and ridiculous, but somewhere in the frenzy of double-time programmed drums and 8-bit synth is a friendly, endearing quality that makes Math the Band’s newest record worth hearing. Frankly, Don’t Worry is a record that actually can’t be accurately described — visit their myspace and form your own opinion.

Spinal TapBack From the Dead (The Label Industry)
Has it really been 25 years since Spinal Tap, the immortal 80s hair band parody film? It has, and the hilarious Spinal Tap — comprised of actors/musicians Christopher Guest, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean — are releasing this special package to commemorate the anniversary. Back From the Dead features re-recorded, remixed, and often rearranged versions of Spinal Tap songs, chronicling the fictional band’s entire career. For this disc, you’ll definitely need to crank your sound system to 11.

Christian McBride & Inside Straight Kind of Brown (Mack Avenue)
One of the best modern bass players is back, and he brought some friends. Christian McBride has played with everyone from Chick Corea and John McLaughlin to Sting and DJ Logic, and he does it all with an unparalleled joy and finesse. Kind of Brown features McBride’s new quintet, Inside Straight, and explores just about every kind of jazz you can imagine. Vibraphonist Warren Wolf shines on the Modern Jazz Quartet-tinged “Brother Mister,” while the fast-paced, funky head of “Theme for Kareem” has a more modern sound. This is one of those rare new jazz releases that brings a new style to a very old genre, sounding alive and fresh while still respecting the foundations of jazz.

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New Music Tuesday: June 9, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On June - 9 - 2009

nrBy Jake Shenker

Depending on your disposition, this week either brings you a bunch of records to stay far away from, or a big shopping day. Try and figure out what I’ll be spending my money on this Tuesday

Here’s what’s new this week:

Black Eyed PeasThe E.N.D. (Interscope)
The only way I can express myself about the Black Eyed Peas is through a haiku:
Why must you come back?
Fergie’s “Humps” were bad enough,
Please leave me alone.

Mos Def The Ecstatic (Downtown)
Mos Def is certainly one of the best modern MCs, and his newest effort is as vibrant as his earlier work. With a broad variety in beat styles, there’s something for all kinds of hip-hop fans on The Ecstatic: from the heavily rock-infused “Supermagic” to the afro-beat percussion of “Casa Bey” and the big bass vibrations of “Wahid,” Mos Def runs the gamut of styles on this surprisingly succinct record. With producers galore — including Madlib, J Dilla (from beyond the grave?), and Oh No — it’s no wonder The Ecstatic covers more ground than a typical band’s greatest hits album.

PlaceboBattle For the Sun (Vagrant) and Sonic YouthThe Eternal (Matador)
I group these two albums together because I was damn surprised to see both these bands with new records out this week. So, what’re these guys doing to keep their existing fans happy and ensnare new, hip listeners? Not much. These records aren’t bad, per se, but they’re not fresh. If you’re a fan of either band, go enjoy their new album. If you didn’t like them before, these releases definitely won’t convert you.

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New Music Tuesday: June 2, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On June - 2 - 2009

newBy Jake Shenker

This week sees new releases by three of my favourite artists. Sorry ’bout the severe biases.

Here’s what’s new this week:

Dave Matthews BandBig Whiskey and the GrooGrux King (RCA)
I think I might be the only person who still cares about the Dave Matthews Band. Their last truly excellent album came out in 1998, and in the meantime they’ve released three unacceptably mediocre albums. But now, 11 years since Before These Crowded Streets, DMB has done something good. Big Whiskey isn’t your classic, acoustic-driven Dave Matthews Band: it’s full of electric guitars, glossy production, and succinct tunes. While it might piss off some diehard fans, it’s an undeniably well-made, enjoyable record.

RancidLet the Dominoes Fall (Epitaph)
Rancid is one of the few modern punk bands who have — arguably — never released a disappointing album. Well, their newest effort is much better than “not disappointing” — it’s fantastic. Let the Dominoes Fall has all the energy of previous albums — and its share of double-time drums and scream vocals — but it allows the aging band to explore some new territory. While tracks like “This Place” and “Up to No Good” maintain Rancid’s heavy punk and ska elements, “Civilian Ways” is a truly gorgeous acoustic tune, complete with slide guitar and mandolin. To top it off, the deluxe edition of the record comes with a bonus 12-track disc of acoustic versions of select new songs. In all, a very impressive effort.

Jeff Buckley - Grace Around the World DVD (Sony)
This eagerly anticipated DVD set chronicles Jeff Buckley’s live performances in promotion for his debut album, 1994’s Grace. Though many of these performances have been circulated on bootlegs, Grace Around the World is the first official DVD to compile them, along with previously unreleased videos. If you’re not sold yet, check out the special 3-disc edition of this set, which comes with a CD soundtrack of the film and — the coup de grâce — the as-yet unreleased documentary, Amazing Grace, which documents Buckley’s life and career, pre- and post-Grace, culminating in his untimely death.

Next week: a haiku about how much the Black Eyed Peas piss me off.

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New Music Release Tuesday: May 26, 2009

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On May - 26 - 2009

imgBy Jake Shenker

Yes, it’s that time of week — New Release Tuesday! This week, MONDOmusic introduces a new weekly feature designed to help you spend your hard-earned paycheck on shiny new CDs (or digital downloads, if you run with the cool crowd).

Here’s what’s new this week:

Grizzly BearVeckatimest (Warp)
These guys opened for Radiohead last summer, and despite that ridiculously high-profile exposure, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Grizzly Bear. They did their best and put on an interesting show, but the cutthroat Radiohead fans were having none of it. Grizzly Bear got booed, they got ignored, and I’m pretty sure someone chucked something at them. Do these guys a favor and check out their Arcade Fire-flavoured record — they’ve earned it.

Marilyn MansonThe High End of the Low (3D)
That’s right, a fresh new way to scare children and another album on which to blame senseless violence. The High End of the Low is an earnest effort to sneak Marilyn Manson back into the mainstream, and… it’s actually not bad. You’ve got the usual Manson sound, but a good chunk of this record is infused with a classic Nine Inch Nails-meets-Beck sound. If that comparison just blew your mind, go give this record a listen.

PhoenixWolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (Glassnote)
I’ll be honest, there’s nothing here I haven’t heard a hundred times before — Phoenix’s new record is another album full of potential background music for iPod commercials, but that doesn’t make it boring. If you like The Kooks or Jet, go have a listen.

Next week: I shower undue praise on the new Dave Matthews Band album.

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Found in the Back-Issue Bins

Posted by Comics On May - 26 - 2009

amazing-spider-manBy Owen Craig

One of the most fun things about being a comic book fan is getting to rummage through back-issue looking for the collector’s version of buried treasure. Recently I was at Dragon Lady, a neat store with some old comics and magazines checking out their 30-50% off sale and walked home with a great haul. Let’s take a quick look at what I bought.

Amazing Spider-Man #162

Nightcrawler was guest-starring in Amazing Spider-Man with The Punisher…I dunno, seemed like fun to me.devil-dinosaur

Devil Dinosaur
#1

Devil Dinosaur. It’s a comic about a giant red tyrannosaurus. Not only that, but it’s a Jack Kirby-created red tyrannosaurus with a monkey-man sidekick. This a slam-dunk.

house-of-mysteryThe House of Mystery #249

I bought this one based on the amazingness of the dialogue on the cover. “No! NO! You were just a voice on a record!” “Yes! The voice of your DOOM!” That’s fantastic. I miss dialogue on the covers of my comics these days. It still happens once in a while, and I always appreciate it when it does. I can only hope that the story inside this issue is as much fun as the cover. Plus it features two terrifying tales. Two!

thorThe Mighty Thor #364-366

Ever since I heard of Frog Thor I knew I had to own those issues. Thor is turned into a frog, awesomeness ensues. If you’re reading Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers (and if you aren’t then why not?) and want to know where the concept of Frog Thor originated then this is what you need to track down.

uncle-scroogeUncle Scrooge #300

I’m a huge Uncle Scrooge fan, so it’s hard to resist a cover like this one where Don Rosa draws a bunch of characters from Scrooge’s past. The issue also reprints some great stories I hadn’t read.

worlds-finestWorld’s Finest #289

This is the famous (on the internet) issue of World’s Finest that I read about on The Invincible Super-Blog and had to check out for myself. Sure enough, Superman and Batman are engaging in long handshakes, reaching out gently for each other and helping alien creatures mate. It’s awesome. They make a cute couple.

I can’t remember the last time I walked away with a stack of comics I was so pleased with. Feel free to recommend great old comics for me to look for next time I’m doing some rummaging through back-issue bins.

A Right-Hand Turn on to Kidstreet, Please

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On May - 15 - 2009

Kidstreet
Kidstreet
Independent, 2007

By Helen FylactouPhoto by Helen Fylactou

Everyone has that one album that helps wake them up in the morning, that helps them withstand their day in the office — or at least the morning commute. For the last year or so, Kidstreet has been a prominent member of my morning music rotation. Their self-titled album is a well-developed dance record, weaving from jazz and rock to new wave and pop. Their sound is innovative and bold, and, unsurprisingly, it pays off: Kidstreet is fresh, loaded with texture, precision, and an energy that brings the audience together on the dance floor.

Kidstreet is a three-piece band from Waterloo, Ontario, comprised of siblings Cliff, Edna, and Karl Snyder. I’ve been a fan of Karl Snyder for a long time, following his music from Stargazer to K-Pet and finally to Kidstreet, where he has far surpassed all of my expectations. His talents as a producer, creator, singer, and drummer show the true commitment to music of an exciting Canadian performer that is, without a doubt, on the verge of super-stardom. “Working with siblings is great and weird,” says Karl Snyder. “The main thing I love about it is the lack of ego. They’re both grounded, kind people who I enjoy spending time with. A band is a lot like a family no matter how you come together.” This special combination definitely works: with her breathy-girly voice, Edna’s distinctive vocal performance is reminiscent of a more upbeat Elizabeth Fraser, and is the perfect accompaniment to Kidstreet’s explosive sound. “Penny Candy” showcases Edna’s sensual and feminine voice, which is framed by Cliff’s mastery of the guitar and keyboards. Always captivating the audience, Cliff Snyder delivers an animated performance.

Photo by Helen FylactouKidstreet’s influences vary from “international superstars to local artists such as Mike Bond from Bocce and Mike Mercey [formerly from The Sourkeys],” giving the band an advantage in reaching an assortment of people. With growing popularity, Kidstreet played at the Mod Club on Saturday night, where they ignited a dancing frenzy throughout the audience. Making it impossible to stand still, Kidstreet’s always bubbly, candy-flavoured attitude is contagious. “BMX Love,” the album’s opening track, is an abrasive electro piece that stole the show, forcing us to clap along with its throbbing pulse and Stereolab-like disco beats. The dance-floor friendly “Disk Mixer 2013″ was also a crowd-pleaser, making use of a children’s toy as an instrument to produce a sound comparable to quirky German duo Stereo Total.

Since forming in 2006, Kidstreet’s buzz has being building steadily, even gaining the attention of the Ford Motor Company of Canada. Recently, Ford licensed Kidstreet’s music and used their song “Song” in a national ad. “Song” — the least poppy-sounding song I’ve heard from Kidstreet — is piano-driven and perfectly orchestrated with strings and drums. With any luck, this exposure will drive Kidstreet more into the mainstream, where they deserve to be.

For upcoming shows, videos, and music check out Kidstreet’s MySpace.

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NOMO’s Invisible Cities Reviewed

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On May - 5 - 2009

nomoNOMO
Invisible Cities
Ubiquity, 2009

By Jake Shenker

I first encountered NOMO a few years back at the Montreal Jazz Festival. I’ll admit that I was less than sober, but I’m pretty sure NOMO would have drawn me in regardless of my mental state.

Back then, this self-labeled “Michicago” band was touring in support of their outstanding second album, New Tones, which I immediately went out and bought upon waking up the following morning with the mysterious word “NOMO” scrawled on my hand in blue pen. Surprisingly, the record was just as sensational as the previous night’s show seemed to be in my memory — a phenomenon that any substance-abusing music fan can attest to as being pretty rare. NOMO’s unusual — and seamless — blend of traditional afro-beat rhythms, funk harmonies, and modern electronica produces a huge sound that somehow translates perfectly from their larger-than-life live show to my CD player.

This week, NOMO released their fourth album, Invisible Cities, and I’m happy to report that this record is just as exciting as my drunken night in the NOMO moshpit. While their sound has evolved slightly, incorporating more traditional African rhythms and less soundscape electronics, their tunes are just as jaw-dropping. From the call-and-response horn lines in “Waiting” to the slow buildup of “Crescent,” NOMO have once again created a masterfully danceable record. Although Invisible Cities has less memorable melodies than New Tones and instead focuses on longer jams, this shift doesn’t seem out of place for a band exploring the more improvisational roots of their music. The meandering sound of tracks like “Ma” might not be perfect for entertaining dinner guests, but it definitely gets my feet tapping… or my whole body dancing wildly, depending on my mental state.

To preview some tracks from the new record, check out NOMO’s myspace.

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Public’s New EP Reviewed

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On April - 24 - 2009

Public
…And in the End, Release
Independent, 2009

By Jake Shenkerpublic-img

I’ll admit that I hadn’t heard of Public until a promo copy of their EP popped into my inbox, but I’m happy to have been informed of their existence. Although their recently released EP, …And in the End, Release, is immediately familiar — it bears resemblance to some of those carbon-copied bands with names like The Somethings — this five-track EP features a surprisingly fresh bunch of songs with a wide range of influences. While album opener “Walk Away” could be straight off a Franz Ferdinand album, tracks like “Traffic” and “Now and Again” would find themselves more at home on Radiohead’s In Rainbows. What stands out most on this short EP is that these five catchy-as-hell tunes have few clichéd radio hooks — these are simply five well-written songs with climactic choruses and smart instrumentation. And so while this genre’s pedigree has typically focused on hyperactive singalongs, Public has instead focused on proper songwriting.

Public will be at Toronto’s Mod Club this Saturday night, and are definitely a band to check out. Drop by the gig, pick up a copy of this wonderfully succinct EP, and groove your ass off. In the meantime, check out their myspace to hear some tunes.

The Hip are back! We Are the Same reviewed

Posted by MUSIC_Jake On April - 14 - 2009

wearethesame_largeThe Tragically Hip
We Are the Same
Universal, 2009

By Brian Last

Canadian rock legends The Tragically Hip are back! Their new album, We Are The Same, is the band’s follow-up to their 2006 album, World Container. Now, The Hip could cut a polka album and records would still fly off the shelves, but for their 11th record The Hip stuck with their winning formula: great instrumentals and frontman Gord Downie’s always interesting lyrics. It’s been working for them since ‘83, and it’s one of the many reasons these guys are a Canadian institution.

The album kicks off with the beautiful “Morning Moon,” one of the lead singles and a great way to start off the album. The front half of the album maintains the mellow, softer sound of the opening track — trumpet player Derry Byrne contributes to this vibe on the track “Coffee Girl,” bringing a slight jazzy feel. With the addition of strings, the album moves in a different direction around “Now The Struggle Has a Name,” the record’s epic fifth track. This track feels a bit like “Bobcaygeon,” but taken up several notches. This different direction continues with the lengthy “The Depression Suite,” which is essentially a nine-minute run-on sentence. Despite this mid-album low, The Hip bring it back on track for the back half of the album, which, thankfully, feels like a throwback to classic Tragically Hip with its driving instrumentals and the catchy riffs that we love so much. Two more singles are found in this back half, including “Love is a First,” which features Downie’s signature rambling (if you’ve been to a live show, you know exactly what I’m talking about). The album ends with “Country Day,” a softer song, to close out the record the way it started.

Though overall the record is quite good, it isn’t perfect. While previous Tragically Hip albums have been packed with catchy songs, We Are the Same lacks as many hooks. Downie himself is not at his best — while his lyrics are always excellent, he seems to be holding back on his vocal performance. While in the past Downie has passionately belted out his vocals even on the most mellow of songs, this record feels like he’s walking through it. That said, The Hip’s 11th album is a solid addition to their already classic discography.

Choral by Mountains, Reviewed

Posted by music On February - 20 - 2009

coverMountains
Choral
2009, Thrill Jockey

By Allana Mayer

Mountains’ third release, and the first not on their self-started label Apestaartje, reminds me of my grandma’s house. Choral is thick, warm, like a stew that’s been simmering for a week. The press release insists it’s “largely live and performed in real time”, which is a welcome change from the mental picture of guys perched in front of laptops, obsessing over panning and balance. While it’s impossible to make work like this without those moments, there’s yet a comforting sense of handmade craftwork, layering patiently and methodically, like making candles.

The first and title track is a soft fuzz, a gentle panning of samples with cyclical amplitude changes, a soft high note that bounces around the landscape, and one long-held chord — all it needs to fit perfectly on a Stars Of The Lid album is a wordy title. “Melodica” and “Telescope” are similarly stark, though not to that extent. These tracks contrast with more structured songs; the slow guitar picking in “Map Table” is perfectly offset with aleatoric sounds, sounding like a missing track from Six Organs of Admittance’s School Of The Flower.

As passionate as I am about the beauty — the brilliance — of this album, it’s very difficult to write relevant words. There’s little to describe because nothing happens — layers of ambience, static, or single tones play simultaneously, barely growing, rarely changing, never detailed. While entire books can be filled with words about John Cage’s “4′33″”, they concern his political and philosophical statement, not the tone and amplitude of his silence. When someone analyzes a minimalist piece, much the same situation occurs. With so little to describe, what left but to discuss but the intention behind the work? But so often ambient work has no ideal anymore; it’s merely an aesthetic, a mimickry of artists gone before. The theoretical intent of any musical genre during its inception is in no way guaranteed to be shared by later waves of its artists. But what’s theory when it sounds this good?

I’ve reviewed several albums that don’t seem to contain any tension, that don’t begin with a problem and certainly never find a resolution. While tension is often a requirement for a pop song, and is the motif of choice for any elementary composition, somehow it’s perfectly acceptable for groups like Mountains to work outside that formula. It’s important to note that they do it without fading into the background, without losing their poignancy. Choral is a retreat to a cabin in the woods, a warm fireplace and a bearskin rug, where you can live and think free of distraction. It’s the contentedness we all hope hibernation can be, minus the boredom it probably is.

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MONDO is a non-profit, weekly, Toronto-based, online magazine that focuses on arts, culture, and humour. We’re interested in art of all kinds (music, theatre, visual art, film, comics, and video games) and the pop culture that we inhabit.The copyright on all MONDO magazine content belongs to the author. If you would like to pay them for more content, please do. To contact MONDO please email us at editor@mondomagazine.net

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