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The $20,000 Question: MONDO’s Polaris Picks

Posted by music On September - 26 - 2008

MONDO prides itself on the fact that our readers are culturally savvy, politically-minded creatures who want nothing more than assurance that our country and its people kick ass. We, too, are keen to see how and when Can-con gets its due. While Monday’s Verge Awards resulted in 25 grand each for The Weakerthans and Hey Rosetta!, the Polaris Music Award (handed out this coming Monday) comes with a bit more prestige and history (three years of it, to be exact) and, yes, a slightly smaller chunk of change. The nominees are also a bit more obscure (notice no Dallas Green is represented in the Polaris list). Your fearless Music editors spent a sleepless night reviewing each band’s chances — get in on those betting pools now!

By Allana Mayer (AM) and Jake Shenker (JS)

The Rockers

Two Hours TrafficLittle Jabs
The “indie rock” label has become this decade’s “alternative rock”: while it actually does denote a specific genre, the term is now used so broadly that it essentially means nothing. That said, there are some albums that really are indie rock, and Two Hours Traffic’s Little Jabs happens to be a good one. The songs are punchy and well-crafted, the band is energetic and tight, and the record has a great flow with lots of attention-grabbing dynamics. But, in truth, there’s nothing groundbreaking here — just a really good album that sounds like a dozen others. Enjoy Little Jabs — it’s a lot of fun; but don’t give it the prize. (JS)

Plants and AnimalsParc Avenue
Parc Avenue is the love-child of Coldplay and The Arcade Fire — not that that’s a bad thing, per se, since the name “Arcade Fire” causes critics to salivate and throw around lavish praise. But Plants and Animals have created a pretty cool record here, and the group deserves to be judged on its own merits, and not unduly praised (or ridiculed) for its similarities to other bands. Parc Avenue actually has some great songs on it: “Bye Bye Bye” builds up from an intimate piano ditty to a grand sing-along in under four minutes, while “Feedback in the Field” is instantly danceable and has some hip texturing going on. This kind of music really isn’t my thing, but that doesn’t make this a bad record. If you like indie music with lots of instruments — hell, if you like The Arcade Fire — you’ll probably love Parc Avenue. (JS)

The Laptop Heroes

CaribouAndorra
It baffles me that a relative nobody like Patrick Watson could walk off with the award last year while Can-scene stalwarts like Caribou, Stars, and The Weakerthans are left in the dust. Actually, these groups shouldn’t have been nominated in the first place, since they’re all fully established bands whose CDs fly off the shelves at MusicWorld, HMV, and Sunrise. Still, if I were to ignore the inherently confusing politics of an award that is, repeatedly and emphatically, based on artistic merit and not record sales, I’d make Dan Snaith’s Caribou moniker a shoe-in. Why? Because it fucking rocks. (AM)

Holy FuckLP
I have to admit, electronic music isn’t my thing. I get bored waiting for — well, anything, really. There’s no hook, no melody, no chorus, and no changes. But with Holy Fuck, at least there’s a phat groove, and those of you who spend your nights dancing in strobe-lit rooms will love Holy Fuck’s energy and psychedelia. Album opener “Super Inuit” will definitely get you moving and “Lovely Alien” actually comes close to a slick melody. If you like Holy Fuck, do yourself one better and buy the new Ratatat record. On the other hand, this album has “indie” written all over it and, in the end, isn’t that what Polaris is all about? (JS)

The Chanteuses

Basia BulatOh, My Darling
Acoustic guitars, strings, light piano, and shy, quivering-yet-powerful female vocals? You guessed it: Oh, My Darling is the quintessential folk record. Don’t get me wrong, Basia Bulat is a talented songwriter with a one-of-a-kind voice, and the songs on Oh, My Darling are beautifully arranged and have catchy hooks. But somehow all these great ingredients have created — let’s be honest, here — a boring album. It’s great background music, just not prize-worthy. (JS)

Kathleen EdwardsAsking For Flowers
Seriously, though, do you think they would give the award to a country artist? (AM)

The Dependables

StarsIn Our Bedroom After the War
Good pop band? Sure, if that’s your thing. But to me it’s generic, and if I were wondering what “artistic merit” meant, I’d probably go for something on the innovative side, rather than anyone meekly following in the humongous snowshoe tracks BSS left in the snow. Stars has their own style, and it’s a crowd-pleaser, but it’s not in need of being encouraged financially, nor is it the most exciting sound this year’s crop has to offer. So put down your glittered placards, you screaming teenybopper fans, and go home (if this were a real awards show, which it isn’t, being invitation-only and thus completely boring). (AM)

The WeakerthansReunion Tour
John K. Samson’s weak, warbly voice is another high-school-depressive favourite, and has been since it first got its chance after Propagandhi. But a consistent fanbase doesn’t justify his doing the exact same thing on every single album. And, again, it’s just pop music. It’s got power chords and 4/4 time and some vague, poetic lyrics. The Weakerthans are great when you’re sixteen, but depreciate at an steady rate as time goes by; I don’t think it’s reason enough to hand over a Polaris cheque, but I wouldn’t begrudge the Junos for handing out a very early Lifetime Achievement Award. (AM)

The Oddballs

Black MountainIn The Future
You guys know how I feel about this album — I wrote a review of it on this very site. Allow me to quote:
I’d hate to think that my love of their self-titled was a fluke, a one-trick-pony admired for the novelty but never really taken seriously. I’d rather believe they’ve got a certain essence, that’s just being obscured by fluff and nonsense on In The Future.”
I’m actually convinced that the Polaris nomination of In The Future is a sort of belated nod to Black Mountain’s self-titled album’s success — and yes, I have become very good at ignoring all other critical reviews. Eight out of ten from NME, blah blah, but it’s been months and I still find nothing other than “Wucan” worth listening to. Still, these guys have a serious chance, if what others say is true. (AM)

ShadThe Old Prince
From what I’m told, Shad used to play solo sets opening for other acts, just him and his acoustic guitar. That might be business as usual for mopey singer/songwriters, but it’s pretty unusual for a rapper — and unusual is a great introduction for The Old Prince. This record sounds like some kind of future music that hasn’t been invented yet: electronic samples à la Timbaland mixed with old school-style verses and intelligent lyrics. Plus, Shad gets instant credibility for his music video “The Old Prince Still Lives at Home”, a parody of the Fresh Prince theme song (go watch it; if you were born in the 80s, you’ll see what I mean). A rapper with fun beats, a solid flow, and a sense of humor? Give this man the Polaris! (JS)

Allana’s Best Bet: Black Mountain
Allana’s Preference: Caribou

Jake’s Best Bet: Plants and Animals
Jake’s Preference: Shad

A Personal Guide to Upcoming Music (Spring)

Posted by music On January - 15 - 2008

The Eels

Because my taste is narrow-minded.

By Jess Skinner

Eels – Useless Trinkets (January 15 )
Some people probably can’t believe this band is still around, but old man E keeps it coming, and reached a rare kind of late-period creative awakening with that Blinking Lights album. He’s evidently amassed a great enough throw-away catalogue to fill a full release, rivalling Tom Waits in a prolific ability to dig up remains. He’s also writing a book about his life, which I guess will be like his albums – only longer and quieter. Look!

Black Mountain – In the Future (January 21 )
This clan from Vancouver is set to unleash its second full-length, and it’s apt to be the first great album of the new year. It’s a bit of an indulgence, to be sure, both for artist and listener: they’re unapologetic about taking ideas from the classics. You can either accept it or not. I do, and they are a great homeland group.

Sons & Daughters – This Gift (January 28 )
This Scottish band writes strange and addictive songs, pop with some biting sarcasm, all giddy and inebriated. I don’t know how this will go over with some people, but the melodies are sure stuck in my head.

Xiu Xiu – Women as Lovers (January 29 ) Xiu Xiu
Taking a break from being the best live band in the world, angry Jamie Stewart and Co. drop another (probable) proto-art-rock marvel on us. What to expect? Adding a fourth member (Devin Hoff on bass) may expand the sometimes-claustrophobic style Xiu Xiu has so deftly held on to. First track “I Do What I Want When I Want” has been out for a while, and it recalls everything fans expect: hushed hostility against a pulsating, technological beat. I doubt this will be the one that gets them on the TV, if that was ever going to happen.

Hot Chip – Made in the Dark (February 8 )
I got on the Hot Chip bandwagon late; I still haven’t digested The Warning completely. But, here is their third effort of the decade. Their energetic white-boy approach to dance music continues. Expect at least some of these songs to nest in your cortex for a while: that’s what they’re there for, after all.

Pete & the Pirates – Little Death (February 18 )
Although I would go for another LP from front-man Tommy Sanders’s other band, Tap Tap, P&P will do. It’s jumpy and catchy and all that jazz – very English rock that everyone should appreciate. This is technically a debut after a couple EPs, which both had greatness underneath that inevitable wall of bad quality. Little Death will hopefully get them over that hurdle into a perfect sound.

Crystal Castles – S/T (February 19 )
Crystal Castles Upstart youngsters Alice Glass and Ethan Fawn like to make a lot of noise. They may dress like hipster caricatures and possess an unsavoury love for the 1980s, but this duo makes something of a quality racket, and they’re from Toronto! So, bonus points for that. Pay attention.

Destroyer – Trouble in Dreams (March 18 )
One-man band Dan Bejar is one of those musicians doing four things at once all the time, it would seem. With time served with The New Pornographers, Swan Lake, etc., he goes solo for Trouble, at least in principle – he still sees the project as a band, despite its indefinable lineup. His brand of folk has always been unique, if off-putting. His voice is akin to Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, still a fanciful, half-joking tone, evident on first preview “Foam Hands.” Like Bejar’s mass output, it consciously avoids a grand dramatic lift, choosing to coast along comfortably instead.

A Silver Mt. Zion – 13 Blues for 13 Moons (March 25 )
A new one from this Godspeed You! Black Emperor offshoot, now firmly established with their own identity. One of the most idiosyncratic acts in Canada (known to change their band name for every release), Silver Mt. Zion eschews sloganeering and accessibility for an “epic” approach to song writing; 13 Blues changes tracks only four times, every 13 minutes or so throughout the record.

Sun Kil Moon – April (April 1 )
No indication that this is an April Fool’s joke just yet, unless it turns out to be crap. Highly unlikely as, despite what some people say, Mark Kozelek’s moniker of the aughts is still putting out fairly great music. His last effort Tiny Cities attempted to traverse the catalogue of Modest Mouse with some success, losing its way when transforming some songs that were kind of half-baked to begin with. But April’s first single “Moorestown” is a return to his recognizable quality.

The Breeders – Mountain Battles (April 8 )
I agree with Kim Deal’s avoidance of new Pixies material. Frankly, that band was much too ingrained in its time and place to start writing songs for the current youth. Instead she’s sticking with The Breeders, as their six-year gap in material ceases and they let out Mountain Battles, their fourth album. She should give this act up, let’s say, when she turns 50?

Animal Collective – Water Curses EP (April 8 )
Didn’t get enough Animal Collective in 2007? If you like them at all then you probably love them, which is why a brief EP can count under a “new albums for the year” list. We do know it will include Strawberry Jam outtake “Street Flash,” which will hopefully not be a song chronicling a man running around in a trench coat.

Where You Should Be, Who You Should See

Posted by music On September - 17 - 2007

The top 9 upcoming shows for the young and restless with good taste.

By Jenny Bundock

All hail the 30 hour work week I was struggling through this summer. It has helped me afford things like vinyl I don’t need but really wanted, and has financed my vacation to California to see Rage at Coachella. It is the job that has paid my way through a number of festivals, and allowed me to eat for free almost 6 days a week for the last 4 months. That being said, it totally swallowed up my ability to see the small shows that are my life-blood the rest of the year. It has been months since I stood in the Opera House, the Horseshoe, or the Pheonix. The Mod Club sweet balcony spot has not had me claim it early, and the stairs of the Reverb have not been scaled at all this summer. A tragedy, I understand, that you all can relate to.

There is, however, hope: the school year has officially started, and I have a big fat bank account just begging to get blown on tickets. I started amassing the pile about a month ago when I realized that tickets for Animal Collective went on sale, and I didn’t have any in my hands, and started to sweat bullets and got anxious hiccups until I received an email conformation in my inbox telling me that I would get to see them soon. This has happened now 4 more times since then, and I now have an envelope full of hope waiting patiently to admit me to the next 2 months of awesomeness in the city.

Now, because I’m not just into show-boating my own successful navigation on the coming Toronto music scene, I have prepared an upcoming list of things worth seeing, and why you should go see them.

1) Grizzly Bear – Mod Club – September 20 – $16.50
You remember that one time you were like driving through that really pretty spot outside of the city and you looked over and your friend looked so like, perfect, and you felt totally at ease, and realized that this is your life and this is you and that it actually may not suck as bad as you thought it did? You were probably listening to Grizzly Bear.

2) Devendra Banhart – Danforth Music Hall – September 21 – $35.00
Oh my God I wish I was going to this show. Like every person I know is going, but not me, no no, I have to write the LSAT that day and try to get into a good program after my undergrad and think about my future, when all my friends get to think about Chinese Children instead. Life is not fair. Go in my stead, and be happy happy oh.

3) Akron/Family – Lee’s Palace – September 23 – $15.00
Last year my friend Alex looked at me and said out of nowhere, “Hey do you like Akron family?” and I said to him “You know Alex, I don’t know if I have ever heard them before,” and he said “Really? Here take my CD, I have it in my bag” and I took that CD and listened to it on the way home… and you know what? You should go see Akron family, and thank Alex for telling me so I could tell you. Good move.

4) The Klaxons – Opera House – October 10 – $17.50
I saw these guys at Coachella, and I mean I always liked their music, but I hadn’t really got why everyone loved them so much until I saw them live. I think these guys must have shot-gunned beers, and made out with supermodels before running out on stage and being so totally kickass and rock’n'roll… really. They make you wish that they were your friends, not so you could say that you were friends with the Klaxons, but so that you could party like you were 17 again…

5) Architecture in Helsinki – Opera House – October 18 – $17.50
Do you feel like listening to like, the cutest band in the world? You know that Peter Bjorn and John song that everyone likes, with the whistling? Want to hear the band who invented that style of whistling? Spend the $17.50.

6) Do Make Say Think – Phoenix – October 20 – $15.00
If I have to tell you why you need to go see Do Make, then you don’t deserve to see Do Make, and I won’t encourage you to take up the place of someone else who understands why you have to see them play.

7) The Misfits – Phoenix – October 25 – $39.50
OMFG!

8 ) Shout Out Out Out Out – Phoenix – October 26-27 – $15.00
If you haven’t seen then, go and dance you fucking ASS off, really. If you are mourning the death of Holy Fuck, this will make you feel better.

9) The Go Team – Opera House – October 31 – $18.50
This is going to be the best Halloween party ever. I’m already getting the kinks ironed out of my jumpsuit, and polishing my goggles. Is everyone ready for 2 drummers and synchronized dance routines? Because I am… I was born ready.

So yeah, if you end up at any of this stuff, look for the excited short girl who looks like she toiled in a grocery store all summer to be there, because that girl is me, and I’ll be happy that I was able to influence your September/October goodtime.

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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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