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Morrissey Live in Buffalo

Posted by music On April - 21 - 2009

p2050750Morrissey
at the New York University at Buffalo Center for the Arts
March 19th, 2009

By John Hastings

I was 16 years old when I started getting into The Smiths. I was way behind the curve, seeing as how Morrissey, Marr, and Co. had all parted ways years earlier, and the mysterious frontman was already several albums into a solo career. But better late than never, I guess. I’ve fallen in love with everything Morrissey’s touched over the years but, until a few weeks ago, had never seen him live. He has a moral objection to the seal-hunting that occurs on Canada’s east coast and so has refused to play in the great white north for the past several years. Somehow he doesn’t object to playing in the United States, the logic of which boggles my mind, but that’s for another article.

When I found out that Moz would be playing Buffalo upon the release of his newest album Years of Refusal, I jumped online and purchased tickets, then got the disc when it came out. Neither disappointed. I rocked Years of Refusal at every opportunity during the weeks leading up to the show, and convinced my wife and two friends to take a day off so we could head across the border in a leisurely fashion.

On the day of the show, we visited a vineyard in Niagara, perused a few antique shops, and gambled at the casino, then crossed the border. Finding pre-show sustenance turned out to be harder than I’d imagined. The concert was held at the beautiful New York University at Buffalo Center for the Arts, which was a dream venue to see someone like Morrissey perform, but there’s very little surrounding the university. In search of a restaurant that wasn’t fast food, we pulled into a gas station; the lady behind the counter wasn’t helpful enough to point us one kilometre down the road to the sports bar we eventually found. (The sports bar had a great variety of beer, many Canadian brands — and they’d won “Best Wings in Buffalo” with their “Crown Royal and BBQ sauce.” The food was the greasiest thing I’ve ever eaten and caused one of my friends to actually vomit in the washroom. The next time I head to Amherst, New York I’ll definitely pack my own dinner.)

Morrissey was flat-out amazing. He opened with the classic “This Charming Man,” the rendition decidedly modern, with guitarist Boz Boorer adding sludge and grind to the song. In terms of other Smiths content, there was a decent version of “How Soon Is Now” and, one of my personal favourites, “Ask.”

By far the highlight of the show was “The Death of a Disco Dancer.” I actually welled up at Morrissey’s low croon, and was so moved by his performance that I’ll say that it has to rank in the top three live show moments for me. Passionate and beautiful, the entire show was riveting and sad, heart-warming and exciting: a perfect blend of the dark, brooding, fervent, and loving style Morrissey so adeptly brings to all of his music. The majority of the show was drawn from his solo discs, mostly from Years of Refusal. The new material was captivating, though I was disappointed not to hear “Mother Lay Softly On the Riverbed,” one of my favourites from the new album. “I’m Throwing My Arms Around Paris” was true to the album version yet still engaging, and Moz really showcased his register on “Something is Squeezing My Skull,” despite having cancelled a number of shows early in the tour due to sickness. “Irish Blood, English Heart” seemed a crowd favourite, and the encore, “First of the Gang to Die,” was a great way to end the show.

Before leaving, my wife — in the great way of someone who loves you — pushed her way to the front of a line and purchased me a signed vinyl version of Years of Refusal, one of only 20 being sold after the show. I plan on having it framed, along with ticket stubs and a couple of great photos we took that day. It was an amazing show, and the highlight of my year so far. I may have been “16, clumsy, and shy” when I first started listening to him, but I think I’ll be a fan of Morrissey until I’m old and grey.

Why I Hate The Police

Posted by music On February - 10 - 2009

the_police-the_police-frontalBy John Hastings

The Police are ear-poison and Sting is the creepy British fairy pouring them into your head. I dislike them so much that I’m inspired to pen this piece despite the fact that they are almost completely off the radar at the time of writing. In fact, nothing specific has happened to spark this rant. They don’t have a new album, they aren’t touring, and I didn’t even hear one of their songs on the radio recently. I just woke up today and thought, goddamn it, I fucking hate The Police.

Let’s begin with the basic fact that Sting is a wanker. He’s the bass player, for christ’s sake! Reinventing himself with tribal rhythms every once in a while just makes him that much more of a loser. As my ears will attest, the only honest song this goof has ever coined was “King of Pain”.

I’ll admit that some of the actual music is bearable, even danceable at times, but it’s the drivel The Police try to pass off as lyrics that disgusts me. I’ll also admit that “Roxanne” was enjoyable at one point in my life — in fact, The “Roxanne” Drinking Game was one of my favourites back in university, and the song works well at strip clubs and bachelor parties. But, unlike real artists, The Police weren’t able to write a song about prostitution without blatant statements like “walk the streets for money / you don’t care if it’s wrong or if it’s right.” At least The Animals’ classic “House of the Rising Sun” only inferred the selling of flesh. How stupid do The Police think we are? Must we be force-fed the oh-so-risque meaning? The only red light should be the alarm in your head, warning you that this lazy simplicity is insulting.

Then there’s the ever-popular, always vomit-inducing “Message In a Bottle.” Ostensibly, this song is about a lonely soul who discovers that others are lonely, too. This is the kind of swill that high school students put into their independent study units in an attempt to be deep. I’d have respect for this song if it was about Sting going on a bender lamenting the fact that he’d bottled a dude and banged a hooker, but instead it’s just sentimental tripe. I’m not even going to get started on “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”, as every little thing Sting does pisses the shit out of me.

The one that really twists my nibblets, though, is the painfully obvious “Don’t Stand So Close To Me.” I can almost see Sting hunched over his desk by firelight, scribbling furiously about the student who seduces the teacher, and licking his lips at all the money he’ll make off the teenage girls who will lap up this insipid, melodramatic mush.

Nothing speaks louder to the dreadfulness of The Police than their video for the aptly-named song “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.” What the fuck are they doing — skiing? And why hasn’t God brought down the mountain upon them? This is sacreligious at the least, and sanctimonious for sure. How did these clowns ever become superstars?

The list of nonsensical twaddle goes on and on. I couldn’t believe the support The Police got for their reunion tour from some of my friends. I’m sickened to the core that this dribble is regarded as “classic 80s.” It’s the “oh-my-god-I-love-this-song” attitude whenever one of these overplayed Police songs pollutes the airwaves that really gets me. Hopefully, with their reunion tour done, we’ve seen the end — because, with every breath I take, I fucking hate The Police.

Merriweather Post Pavilion in Review

Posted by music On January - 27 - 2009

animal_collective_merriweatherAnimal Collective
Merriweather Post Pavilion
Domino, 2009

By John Hastings

I’ve had a really hard time getting into the music of Animal Collective over the years. With the release of their 8th studio album, Merriweather Post Pavilion, I was determined to find out the reason for so much praise. I put on my tracksuit, fluffed up the pillows on the couch, and hunkered down to give this album a solid combing-over (with my ears). And guess what? I think I finally get it. I think I like it.

Animal Collective is just that, a collective, each musician with their own sound and story, together in a strange but engaging combination. While the group has consisted of a number of different artists over the years, the main collaborators are Panda Bear and Avey Tare, as well as Geologist and Deakin, all of whom have their own solo projects. If you’re completely unfamiliar with anything Animal Collective, let’s just be simple and call it folky electronica.

Merriweather Post Pavilion opens with “In The Flowers” and reminds me of watching The Wizard of Oz cued up with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. I can just envision a tripped-out Dorothy wandering through a field of poppies, complete with the sounds of birds and water and everything else Animal Collective drips into their songs. One great thing about this release: it sounds different on each replay, and I find new, and mesmerizing, sonic alleyways every time. There are so many layers that each track can veritably take the helm depending on where, when, why, and how you’re listening. The whole disc is solid, though the first half is most memorable. There’s a great tribal sound to “Lion in a Coma,” and they save some of the best for last with “Brothersport,” the album’s longest — but possibly most accessible — tune.

The second track, “My Girls,” has to be the standout on this disc. It’s spacy but captivating and builds into a great groove, where the vocals really find themselves and Animal Collective’s talents shine the brightest. If a tune was going to break the group into the mainstream, it would be this one. Following closely behind would be “Summertime Clothes,” where we hear that “a voice from the clock says you’re gonna get tired” — but we don’t, and as the chorus breaks out with a heavy clap-along rhythm, we fully understand why they belt “I wanna walk around with you.”

Rumour has it that Animal Collective is being seriously considered as the opener for U2’s next world tour, though this remains to be seen. Still, Animal Collective will play a show at the Sound Academy on May 15th as part of their own massive world tour. Reportedly, their live shows make the records seem dim in comparison. Though they’ve taken me years to appreciate, I don’t plan on missing the Collective this time. It’s being stated by everyone, but remember this disc in December when we think back on albums of the year for ‘09. Enjoy.

John Hastings’s Top 7 of ‘07 (sort of)

Posted by music On February - 5 - 2008

By John Hastings

Making a “best-of” list can go in many different directions; I’m going to tell you the albums that I listened to the most, as opposed to those I thought were most genius. Some of them fall into both categories. Sometimes the mainstream produces some pretty kickass music, and hey, occasionally that’s not just a fluke. We can all appreciate Person Pitch and In Rainbows for the masterful pieces of art that they are, but I wasn’t blasting these gems in cottage country all summer, or hosting Halloween parties with them humming in the background. So, my list rocks a little harder, and may overlook some golden discs that deserve mention, but here’s to variation!

1. Kaiser Chiefs — Yours Truly, Angry Mob (Universal)

Kaiser Chiefs: Yours Truly, Angry MobI chose the Kaiser Chiefs’ Yours Truly, Angry Mob because, well, it’s awesome. The single “Ruby” is just the right catchy song for radio station overkill — but if you don’t listen to radio, it’s just an incredibly irresistible song for your stereo. The second track, entitled “The Angry Mob,” is my reason for putting the Chiefs first. Despite being an obvious rail against conformity and the like, I found myself destroying this song all summer. It’s great for the car, great for the dock, great for an iPod on the streets, and perfect for making cleaning dishes a little more exciting. With all the tranced-out-dark-folk-meets-cheerful-geek-and-ancient-instrument-crossover music (to lump several genres under one unfair moniker), it’s nice to have a disc that lets you bang it out without having to think about it. (Same goes for the Foo Fighters’ newest.) Let’s hope that 2008 can provide us with a few mainstream beauties like Yours Truly, Angry Mob, and that our lesser-known favourites continue to be as stunning.

2. Modest Mouse — We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (Sony)
3. Foo Fighters — Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace (RCA)
4. The National — Boxer (Beggars Banquet)
5. Interpol — Our Love To Admire (Capitol)
6. Arcade Fire — Neon Bible (Merge)
7. Band Of Horses — Cease To Begin (Sub Pop)

The Virgin Music Festival

Posted by music On September - 25 - 2007

Virgin Music Festival
on Toronto Island
September 8-9, 2007

By John Hastings
Photo by Tavishe Coulson

Day 1 – Saturday

Last weekend I went to the Virgin Festival on Toronto Island. Now you’d think that, with a name like that, there’d be several thousand 20-something males in short shorts and sweat bands sporting clumpy, unattractive facial hair arguing about who is the most uncool and whether Devendra Banhart will ever be as great as he was two years ago. You’d expect some comic book geeks. You’d expect the 40-year-old virgin at VIRGIN FESTIVAL. But great expectations lead to great disappoints and sometimes great underestimations lead to exciting and unexpected adventures. Virgin Festival was not what it seemed, and I’ll tell you why.

I can’t vouch for the virginity of anybody but a few close friends last weekend, but I can say that there were all sorts of people boarding the ferry and crossing the harbour to check out this summer’s most anticipated outdoor mega-concert. Despite reports of two-hour lineups, I was able to basically walk onto the ferry at Harbourfront because we waited until about 4pm to head across. As a seasoned outdoor festival-goer, I’ve learned that most people don’t actually think about the logistics of getting into the concert until they’re already several hundred people deep in a massive line with no nearby washrooms and not a beer tent in sight. I like to sacrifice seeing a couple of early bands just to save myself the anxiety of waiting for three hours just to have my ass patted down. That, or I’ll go wicked early for the same reason and catch every band the festival has to offer.

Anyway, the crowd on Saturday was a nice mix of people. We met a couple with a newborn on the ferry who couldn’t wait for their daughter to experience her first concert. There were young and old, blond and brown, drunk and sober and everyone seemed to be enjoying the decent weather. After all, it was pretty much the end of summer last weekend and I think we all were counting our lucky stars that the rain had held off. I was pretty hyped to get to the island, and my first order of business was to get into the beer tent.

This is where things went a little south for me at Virgin Festival. You’d think that a huge corporately-sponsored rock concert would be well-stocked and well-oiled, but it wasn’t. First, you had to line up to get beer tickets. Then you had to jump in a queue to have your identification scanned and inspected. If you passed that test, you got into the beer tent where you had to line up again to get a beer. This process took anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes depending on when you attempted it. It was infuriating and very poorly-manned. Food was basically the same process. Plus everything cost a fortune. Not really in the spirit of rock n’ roll in my opinion.

There were four stages set up at Virgin Festival. I can’t comment on three of them because in all honesty I only watched shows on the main stage. I realize that there were a lot of great artists that didn’t grace the “Virgin Stage,” but I went with a large group of friends and really just wanted to have a few beers and see Arctic Monkeys and Interpol on Saturday. We just missed M.I.A. who I heard was probably the best act of the weekend, but anyway. With Amy Winehouse’s cancellation there was an hour of nothing before Arctic Monkeys hit the stage just after 6pm. They were loud, energetic, and pretty much played all the good songs from their two studio albums, including the crowd favourite “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” and my personal favourite “Fake Tales of San Francisco.” I saw a decent mosh pit frothing near the stage – when they called it quits, the crowd was sufficiently pumped for the arrival of Interpol. This band was the main draw for me and they didn’t disappoint. I was initially a little disappointed with Interpol’s newest album Our Love To Admire, but seeing some of it performed live has totally changed my opinion. They opened with an awesome version of “Pioneer to the Falls” and had me mesmerized for the remainder of the set. “Evil” and “C’mere” were definitely highlights and I’d have to say that Interpol was my favourite act of the weekend.

After Interpol wrapped up we snuck into a VIP tent which was anything but. A huge two-storey deck was constructed with handicap access which I thought was awesome, but someone in their infinite wisdom put a VIP tent BEHIND it, so needless to say we didn’t stay long. Bjork was the headliner on Saturday and opened with a killer laser show that, in hindsight, I would have liked to have seen more of. Despite the fact that I have nothing but respect for her and her music, we ducked out and left about four songs in. This was by far the best move of the weekend as we only waited for about 20 minutes for the ferry back to the mainland. I was safely home by midnight, and although I’d not been impressed with the logistics of the festival, I was pumped to get back to the island on Sunday.

Day 2 – Sunday

Sunday was the big day at Virgin Festival. The return of The Smashing Pumpkins in Toronto seemed to be the main draw, though a dozen awesome acts graced the stages that day. Again, I didn’t end up visiting any of the side stages, despite some stellar appearances by bands like The Clientele, Blonde Redhead, Explosions in the Sky, and Editors. It probably would have been a better idea to watch these bands on the second stage for most of the afternoon. We arrived in time to see Stars put on a fairly lacklustre 30-minute set that really disappointed some of my friends that love the band. Metric followed up with one of the worst performances I’ve seen in recent memory. It wasn’t that they sounded bad, but a massive outdoor concert is not the place to showcase drawn out songs that nobody knows and then follow up with forgettable tunes from the discs you’ve already released. I honestly almost fell asleep. The only saving grace for Metric was that Emily Haines (as always) looked super sexy rocking out in the late afternoon sun.

With Metric’s departure came a sense that the day was ruined. When you go to a concert and only watch the main stage big name bands and they suck, it’s a huge kick in the stones. We lined up for what seemed like hours to use the washroom, had a couple more beers and hoped deep down inside that The Killers would do something to bring the day back around. They hit the stage around 7:15 and totally enlivened a crowd that seemed ready to go home. I absolutely love The Killers and they absolutely rocked. I heard a lot of people bad-mouthing Brandon Flowers and Co. over the weekend, but I have to say that they know how to put on a show and I really think that it’s only rock-snobbishness that prevents people from appreciating them. Their set was awesome and turned a dour afternoon into something charged with energy.

The Smashing Pumpkins closed out the Virgin Festival on Sunday night. I’d seen them twice before in Toronto over the years and had been badly disappointed. I told my friends that they would probably suck ass and not to expect too much. I was wrong. Billy Corgan (looking older and more decrepit, if that’s even possible) put on a show that was both original and diverse. They played the expected four or five tunes off of their comeback disc Zeitgeist but intermingled the set with classics like “Bullet With Butterfly Wings,” “Zero,” “Hummer” and Billy Corgan doing “1979″ acoustically. There was a 20-minute long HARD ROCK mélange that really utilized the lights and took the band to a space that wasn’t new or old, but just cool as crap. The Smashing Pumpkins came back for an encore of “Today” and apparently were set to play “Muzzle” but were ushered off because of the Toronto Island’s curfew policy. What a sham.

Sunday was fun, but with the end of the show came 20,000 people lining up for one ferry to get them home. This was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen. Talk about dragging people down at the end of something special. We didn’t even bother lining up with the masses. Instead we waited for an hour for a water taxi and ended up actually just paying some dudes with a houseboat to take us to the mainland. I was exhausted and angry and I have to say that despite some great performances, I will never go to a show on the island again. I usually go to small shows at small venues around Toronto, but when I pay to actually go to a huge corporate mainstream show, I expect that it’s going to at least run smoothly. Virgin Festival 2007 had its highs and lows, but not being able to get home for three hours after the show pretty much made it one of the crappiest weekend festivals I’ve ever attended. Maybe I should have spent less time in the beer tent and more time checking out the side stages, but for those fans who just went to chill and see the main stage, it was more of a hassle than anything. Kudos to the Pumpkins for putting on a rocking respectable set, and to Interpol and The Killers for really turning things up a notch. All in all: music good, venue brutal.

Oh yeah, and the tickets were nearly $150 each and I spent over $100 on food and beer for the weekend. Next summer I’m just gonna play some CDs on my deck and get a keg.

Review — Spoon

Posted by music On August - 14 - 2007

Spoon
Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Merge Records, 2007

By John Hastings

If you’ve never spooned, well, you’re a lonely soul indeed. If you’ve never Spoon-ed your ears, then I suggest you get off your ignorant ass and do it.

Let’s not draw comparisons to Spoon. They are as unlike other bands as their utensil counterparts are to knives, forks, and spatulas. Spoon simply is and Spoon simply rocks. Without further ado, let’s get down to their latest release Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.

While in this humble reviewer’s opinion, no Spoon album will ever rival 2001’s Girls Can Tell, the latest effort from this Austin, Texas quartet is a nice addition to any record collection, and if you’re not a Spoon fan yet, you may as well start here and work your way backwards. The opening track “Don’t Make Me a Target” (which rumour has it was recorded for their previous release Gimme Fiction but eventually shelved) ranks with some of Spoon’s best efforts and sets the tone for an album that combines blues and jazz with the modern rock sound that makes this band so unique. If this isn’t “south” enough for you, then skip immediately to track five, “Rhythm & Soul,” where lead singer Britt Daniel reminds you that “the winter gets cold in ways you always forget/ Ah you know/ Mm-a-Rhythm and Soul…”

It’s classic and cool and stylish as hell with Spoon. Take track eight, entitled “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case,” which happens to be a standout, but is comprised of only the lyrics: “It’s just my Japanese cigarette case/ Bring a mirror to my face/ Let all my memories be gone.” Somehow Britt and company can elucidate so simply and beautifully a particular object or moment or time (see “Chicago at Night” from aforementioned Girls Can Tell) without expounding. There’s just so much happening in these lyrics and in the music itself. Take the “The Underdog,” a track that starts with some frantic strumming and progresses into a Beatles-style tune full of horns and clapping and a tambourine. Other standouts include “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” “Don’t You Evah,” and “Finer Feelings.” Gem after gem inhabit Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga.

That being said, at least one of the tracks does fall a little short of genius. “The Ghost of You Lingers” appears second on the album and should probably have been relegated to the back of the pack since the previously mentioned opening track has the listener so engaged and this one is a muffled and (almost) boring tune. Despite this minor slip, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is an outstanding album from a band that deserves far more credit than they seem to receive. Spoon slides through Toronto every now and then, and if you can catch them live you’ll learn to love them even more.

Now, why don’t you go SPOON YOURSELF.

P.S. Spoon would be a welcome edition to my “Twelve Tracks of Summer,” which you can read along with my colleagues’ lists in our archives!

Twelve Songs of Summer

Posted by music On July - 17 - 2007

Or, John Hastings’ love affair with breezy guitar riffs.

By John Hastings

So, here’s my shot at a Twelve Songs of Summer list. It’s all over the place, but that’s what a good mix tape should be! I’ve spent summers at my cottage and lived on islands in Southeast Asia, so I’ve got all sorts of reasons for dropping songs down here. It was hard, but here’s my best shot, in no particular order, with a dash of explanation as well.

1) Ween – “Bananas and Blow” from White Pepper (2000)
Who better than Ween to get everyone laughing and dancing? This was a staple for me in Thailand. It couldn’t NOT be on the list and it might just be my favourite beach song of all time.

2) Lily Allen – “LDN” from Alright, Still… (2007)
A new track that I’ve been loving in 2007. It’s got cottage road trips written all over it – that or bike riding in the city. Don’t miss this awesome summer tune.

3) Led Zeppelin – “Over the Hills and Far Away” from Houses of the Holy (1973)
I had to throw a classic in here. Who doesn’t love a little Zep on a hot summer day? This one has a distinctly warm afternoon feeling to it. Classic – and awesome.

4) Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Around the World” from Californication (1999)
In 1999 I climbed the fire escape of Sam The Record Man on Yonge St. in Toronto to see the Chilis play a free show on the street below. I also won tickets from a case of beer to see them at The Docks. My friends and I KILLED this disc. It will forever be a wicked summer album and this is the first track off of it.

5) Stellastarr* – “My Coco” from Stellastarr (2003)
Though not one of my favourite bands, Stellastarr*’s song “My Coco” absolutely rules. This tune will make ANY mix better. Start an afternoon of fun in the sun with this gem.

6) The Decemberists – “July, July!” From Castaways and Cutouts (2002)
I didn’t pick this song just because it’s called “July, July!” but that does help. One of my favourite bands of the last 5 years, something from Colin Meloy & Co. had to make my list and this one simply radiates summer (yes – for obvious reasons).

7) The Tragically Hip – “Bobcaygeon” from Phantom Power (1998)
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, The Tragically Hip have a few special tunes that make any evening on the dock at the cottage a special one. This track is perfect in particular if you ever find yourself in cottage country just outside of Toronto. It was hard to choose as a fan of The Hip, but for a mix “Bobcaygeon” is great.

8 ) Porno For Pyros – “Tahitian Moon” from Good God’s Urge (1996)
Often overlooked, Perry Farrell’s Porno For Pyros rocked once upon a time. This song cannot be left out of a mix if you’re planning on skinny dipping on a beach or stargazing from your back porch. Beautiful and poignant. Don’t miss out.

9) Kings of Leon – “Red Morning Light” from Youth & Young Manhood (2003)
A bit of country twang always helps a cold beer on a summer afternoon. I started loving these guys during monsoon season in Taiwan and found a new love for them on hot summer days back in Canada. This is my favourite offering from their best album so far.

10) Modest Mouse – “Float On” from Good News For People Who Love Bad News (2004)
Maybe an obvious choice, but there’s just no denying that this song is totally awesome. Not my favourite album from these guys, but this song is so summer it hurts. That riff is just so damn catchy. Great for the car.

11) The New Pornographers – “Letter From An Occupant” from Mass Romantic (2000)
For some reason I’ve just loved this song for mixes since I first heard it. Neko Case is great on this track. I wouldn’t call it my first choice, but since I’ve been rocking it for so long I just couldn’t keep it off. I had to have that good Canadian rock n’ roll.

12) Sublime – “Santeria” from Sublime (1996)
One of the best songs ever written for the summer. ‘Nuff said.

So that’s my Top Twelve Summer Songs. I’m sure I’ve overlooked something that I absolutely love, but this will do. I’m going to burn this mix right now and catch some rays. Here’s to a great summer 2007!

Review — The National

Posted by music On July - 2 - 2007

The National
Boxer
Beggars Banquet Records 2007

By John Hastings

If you really want to get the most out of The National’s new album Boxer, then wait for the darkest, rainiest, and most somber night of the summer and take a drive in the country. This disc just oozes back roads and dashboard lights and is tailor-made for an evening when you need to clear your head. Take the wheel and prepare yourself for one of the best rock releases of 2007 thus far.

The National have kicked around for a few years now, and their 2005 release Alligator had rock-snobs slavering for a couple of months. With the release of Boxer, this Brooklyn-based rock quintet has broken into the mainstream. Singer Matt Berninger’s voice is a deep, resounding baritone that you’ll not forget and the band layers its guitars and percussion beautifully on this album. While Berninger’s voice is a constant, the tracks change gears from hard-paced and drum-driven to soft and melodic without a slip in style or substance. Don’t bother trying to find a weak song here — there simply isn’t one. From the opening “Fake Empire,” we’re tossed into a darkly harmonic world of solemnity that somehow doesn’t drag us down. Instead, there’s an air of nonchalance, a feeling of acceptance that transcends the evils of war and the trials of lost love. It’s captured lyrically on the track “Racing Like A Pro” when Berninger croons “Your mind is racing like a pro, now/ Oh my God it doesn’t mean a lot to you.”

To say that any one or two tracks off Boxer is a standout is pointless and untrue. This disc is simply awesome from start to finish and there really is no in-between. You may want to check out “Ada” first, if only to hear Sufjan Stevens sitting in on the piano, or perhaps “Mistaken For Strangers,” if something a little more up-tempo gets you into new albums faster. Bryan Devendorf’s drumming is spectacular on this album and simply drives the fourth track “Squalor Victoria” so that we want to join The National and “Raise our heavenly glasses to the heavens!” Drums also loom large in “Apartment Story” and we tap our fingers off the steering wheel while Berninger proclaims “Tired and wired we ruin too easy/ sleep in our clothes and wait for winter to leave.” It’s a good thing winter’s over so that summer nights in 2007 can be filled with the sounds of The National doing their thing, and doing it oh so well.

Fans of Interpol and The Arcade Fire should find The National easily accessible. If you’ve never heard this band before then give Boxer the solid listen it deserves, preferably at night, in a car somewhere. Though Berninger sings “You could drive a car through my head in five minutes,” this album merits a road trip of its own. If you don’t have a car, a bus ride will do just fine, or even a walk around the neighbourhood. Happy late dark listening, stranger!

Review — Frog Eyes

Posted by music On June - 4 - 2007

Frog Eyes
Tears of the Valedictorian
Scratch Recordings/Absolutely Kosher, 2007

By John Hastings

If a medieval gleeman were to come across an electric guitar and a microphone, he just might have created something akin to Frog Eyes’ Tears of the Valedictorian. The newest offering from this Victoria, British Columbia, group comes across as a Lewis Carroll story set to music. A mind-bending and complicated smorgasbord of sound, the songs on this album are nearly incomprehensible at first, as keyboards, drums and wildly tinkering guitars overlap and spill above the vocals. Lead singer Carey Mercer’s voice is melodic and strained but sometimes almost inaudible. At the same time, you know it’s there and upon subsequent listens you begin to pick out words, then images, then characters that all combine to make Tears of the Valedictorian worth an extra couple of listens. Hyped for the addition of Spencer Krug (of Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown fame), Frog Eyes’ newest disc isn’t a masterpiece by any means, but deserves a place on your shelf nonetheless.

Behind a wall of pounding drums, we hear about burning boats and monasteries shrouded in doubt, about drunken peddlers and red monks and generals singing to the sun. Mercer paints twisted pictures that seem to ebb and flow into each other as the album progresses. Several tracks stand out, including “Bushels,” which is arguably the highlight of the album, ending in a wild, fluttering crescendo and Mercer repeating “I was a singer and I sang in your home.” In the track “Evil Energy, the ill twin of…” and its subsequent sister track “Eagle Energy” we go from heavy drums and keyboards and an almost Modest Mouse style tune of frantic lyrics and wailing guitars, to a calmer pre-battle call to the sun where we hear that “The Tempest within us is no Tempest without us.” Fittingly, this river-ride of an album ends with the eerily nascent “My Boats They Go,” and we can imagine Mercer and company boarding their ship in search of future adventure.

While Tears of the Valedictorian will undoubtedly impress fans of the band, Frog Eyes are not necessarily for everyone. At times, the album seems almost too experimental and obscure, and some tracks fall flat, including “The Policy Merchant, the silver bay” which is a barely audible acoustic muttering. “Idle Songs” lacks the bite that you’d expect from an opening track and the lyrics are incomprehensible without the album jacket, though it is one of the more upbeat tunes on the disc.

All in all, Frog Eyes seem to have matured as a band, and if you dug them before you’ll dig them still. Tears of the Valedictorian is an album that grows with every listen, so don’t dismiss it if at first it’s not your cup of tea. Tracks like “Stockades” and “Caravan Breakers, they prey on the weak and the old” deserve that third, fourth and fifth listen, and by the sound of things, Frog Eyes probably deserve a bit of your time and money the next time they swing into town.

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