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Archive for the ‘Sal Hassanpour’ Category

EfterklangSlaraffenland and Efterklang
at the El Mocambo
May 31st, 2008

By Sal Hassanpour

In 2007 I praised Parades, from the Danish dream-pop collective Efterklang, as being the best album of the year. When I say that seeing the band live was the best concert experience so far for 2008, therefore, understand that I had a positive bias from the outset. Nevertheless, the band overcame even my high expectations.

The inherent problems with trying to translate into a live context a sonically dense, impeccably produced album that features more than forty musicians, vocalists, choirs, and string and brass sections is fairly obvious (unless the band is in the Björk big leagues). Most of the time bands will cross the Atlantic with half their core members, who get stuck playing along with pre-recorded material and have no room for fresh arrangements nor even solos. So it was a great delight to not only see eight Efterklang band members on stage, but to see them with all their gear as well. To put that last bit in perspective, there were more FX pedals on the El Mo stage than at a My Bloody Valentine gig and more brass and woodwinds than you’d find with The High Llamas.

Opening band Slaraffenland (who are with Efterklang’s label Rumraket in Europe) took advantage of all those musical toys in their impressive opening set, augmenting their big three-part harmonies with the clarinet, saxophone, and trombone and with samplers. They’ve earned comparisons to Animal Collective in the past (because of their harmonizing and “tribal” drum sounds), but it was only with a new untitled track (performed live for only the second time, they said) that the comparison is most deserved. With throbbing bass, cavernous drums, and echoing guitar stabs that were not unlike those of Joshua Tree-era U2, it was clear that the wide, open roads of North America have left their mark.

As this was Efterklang’s first major tour of our continent, their setlist cherry-picked four years’ worth of music from their three EPs and two LPs. The men were decked out in early 20th century twill breeches (the kind that blossom out in the pockets-region and taper severely in the lower half) held up by suspenders. Also (and this applies to Slaraffenland as well), nearly all the men sported perfectly-trimmed moustaches. This kind of anachronistic get-up compliments the band’s music, which is caught somewhere between traditional continental European music, post-rock, glitch, and anthemic indie-rock.

slaraffenlandTthe band relied far more on analog and acoustic sound sources than I would have suspected. This is appropriate for a live performance and was amazingly executed. The non-musical aspects of Efterklang’s performance, however, were what sealed the deal.

An image that stuck was that of band members with drumsticks battering beat-up kits hard enough to break them and even battering the El Mo’s brick wall. Another was that of gifted lead vocalist Casper Clausen interrupting an earnest all-group a cappella in order to get the whole band to dance along to the intrusive sounds of the live funk bands upstairs (I later found out it was the Footprints monthly dance night), to rapturous applause. Other memorable moments include the band’s playing of a new song that involved the trumpet and trombone to a level almost akin to Calexico, and the encore, which ended with a Slaraffenland augmented, eleven member samba line that snaked its way through the audience and halted around and on top of the tables in the back. It was not what Efterklang played nor how they played it (in terms of instruments and arrangements) that made this a staggering concert, but rather the energy and enthusiasm with which they prepared and performed their live act.

The word “efterklang” translates as either “remembrance” or “reverberation,” and after this concert I was left with a surfeit of both. Though I suspect the band won’t need more trumpeting in the future, I will nevertheless repeat that Efterklang is one of a handful of current bands that are worth all the time and passion their music demands, and from as big an audience as is imaginable.

The Top Seven of 2007: Part 2

Posted by music On January - 8 - 2008

More of the music that we liked in the last 365 days

Sal’s Seven Samurai

1. Efterklang — Parades (Leaf)

I always love it when bands exceed expectations. The classic example is Radiohead, who – circa Pablo Honey – were nothing more than a third-rate, Johnny-come-lately group of UK grunge kids with some glam-rock sparkles and an okay single (“Creep”); you’d forgive critics at the time for being underwhelmed, but much history would prove them wrong. Same idea with Efterklang: discovering that the band was still active earlier in the year was a bit of a shock for me. While their earlier albums were a really good marriage of múm’s organic-glitch and, say, Sigur Rós’ orchestral take on post-rock, Efterklang were both late to the party and, um, not Icelandic. Given the muted reception to their output, I’d have assumed they’d disbanded by now. Thank God these five Danes chose to stick it out, because Parades is a stratospheric spike in greatness for Efterklang and the best album I heard all year.

Demanding a fully-immersive listening experience each time, Parades is also one of the biggest albums of the year, and boasts a string quartet, a brass quintet, and three choirs (for a total of thirty guest musicians). It is able to sustain all at once the brass sections and koras of Björk’s Volta, the ecstatic choruses of Akron/Family’s Love Is Simple, and The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse’s approach to indie songcraft. Meanwhile, Parades maintains digital manipulations of traditional folk sounds à la Greg Davis, a commitment to classical instrumentation, and phrasing in the vein of Max Richter. In sum, everything you wanted in an indie album in 2007, and then some, you found in Parades.

2. Phosphorescent — Pride (Dead Oceans)
3. Caribou — Andorra (Merge)
4. Dark Bird — Long Gone (Alien Girl)
5. Deerhunter — Cryptograms/Fluorescent Grey 2LP (Kranky)
6. Tunng — Good Arrows (Thrill Jockey)
7. Fridge — The Sun (Temporary Residence)

Jan Streekstra’s Selections

1. Skeletons & The Kings Of All Cities — Lucas (Ghostly Int’l)

I never expected to have so much trouble picking through genres I had loved and dismissed already: I figured French-touch electro and synth pop were relics of my youth. Although 2007 makes me suspect that I’m getting old and that nostalgia is beginning to cement my tastes, I’m happy that this list represents some unique and fun stuff that happened this year. I picked Lucas because it had a profound and mysterious influence on my concept of melody; there are still so many parts about this sound that don’t make sense to me. I don’t understand why I like the faster-than-fast guitar loops, or the ring-modulated echoes skulking under every chorus, or the saxophones that just won’t shut the fuck up. I don’t understand why such an oppressive barrage of traditionally loud instruments breaks down into something I’m tempted to call pop. I don’t understand why the breathy, rambling singer is fun instead of annoying. I especially don’t understand why other people like it too.

2. Bumps — Self-Titled (Stones Throw)
3. Dag Rosenqvist & Rutger Zuydervelt — Vintermusik (independent)
4. Studio — Yearbook 1 (Information)
5. Erik Friedlander — Block Ice & Propane (Skipstone)
6. Best Fwends — Alphabetically Arranged (Moshi Moshi)
7. Karl Blau — Dance Positive (Marriage)

Eva Bowering’s Top Seven

1. José González — In Our Nature (Mute)

José González surpasses his first album Veneer with In Our Nature, by far his best work yet. Following in the footsteps of his debut, it branches out further than his primarily melancholic past, focusing on Gonzalez’s master guitar work and vocals. Unembellished and bare, In Our Nature is a solid force of a folk record. It’s truly original, and bursting at the seams with introspective earthiness. His work is strong, polished and forceful. Never does González get carried away or try to impress with over-the-top performance antics. After having had the opportunity to see him live this month at the Mod Club, he proved that, for one man, he is quite the presence. The album is comfort and solace at its best. Of this year’s lyrical and instrumental works, In Our Nature is truly one of the most beautiful.

2. Feist — The Reminder (Cherry Tree)
3. Blonde Redhead — 23 (4AD)
4. Sunset Rubdown — Random Spirit Lover (Jagjaguwar)
5. M.I.A — Kala (XL/Interscope)
6. The National — Boxer (Beggars Banquet)
7. Arcade Fire — Neon Bible (Merge)

Allana Mayer’s Picks

1. Bowerbirds — Hymns For A Dark Horse (Burly Time/Revolver)

I know I was shouting to everyone within earshot about Panda Bear being album of the year. But I missed the chance to crow about Ticonderoga’s angry and bitter self-titled album in 2005, so when lead singer Phil Moore resurfaced at the helm of Bowerbirds, well….

Hymns for a Dark Horse is actually phenomenal. Not in a joyous we-are-Panda-Bear- join-us-in-worship way, but in an I’ve-returned-to-nature- and-am-now-one-with-the-animals way. I’m not sure which is better, but I’m putting Bowerbirds first this time, dammit. Okay, the point is, the songs are beautiful and heartbreaking and tender, and Moore’s voice is as expressive and arresting as ever. Despite a few rough patches where the rickety old piano seems a bit out of tune with their sea-shantying vocal rounds, the arrangements and dynamics are clever and moving, and every instrument has the power to rip out a ventricle. I think that’s enough reason, don’t you?

2. Panda Bear — Person Pitch (Paw Tracks)
3. Oxbow — The Narcotic Story (Hydra Head)
4. Eluvium — Copia (Temporary Residence)
5. Pterodactyl — Self-Titled (Jagjaguwar)
6. Stars Of The Lid — And Their Refinement Of The Decline (Kranky)
7. Menomena — Friend and Foe (Barsuk)

Review — Prints

Posted by music On November - 20 - 2007

Temporary Residence, 2007

By Sal Hassanpour

“Easy Magic,” the first track of Prints’ self-titled album starts with an acoustic guitar, a Rhodes groove, and a bunch of whoa-whoa-whoas and do-do-dos, all with the arrogant confidence of early Billy Joel, minus the bombastic production. The bassline, seemingly straight out of Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell” kicks in at the same time as Zac Nelson’s airy lyrical delivery. Shortly, partner-in-crime Kenseth Thibideau (of Sleeping People) will introduce a distorted thumb-piano which sounds like a synthesizer melody ripped from post-Peter-Gabriel Genesis. The track fades out with more do-do-dos and the “is it magic?” refrain.

All this to say that our expectations for the impeccably-crafted debut of bedroom duo Prints is to settle into forty minutes of 1976-to-1981 genre-revival stew. By the end of the album, that expectation is not just met, but surpassed.

“Too Much Water” has Nelson adding some of that Neil Young helium into his vocal chords, whereas the hand claps and drumrolls play out like Echoboy – or, Broadcast as if remixed by Caribou. The lyrics were improvised, which explains a lot; at best, they’re very light-weight and they serve as another musical element rather than actual prose. For example, the “Pretty Tick” in question sucks our “blood and shit.” There’s also a mention of an eagle and a rabbit. Yeah.

Musically speaking, however, the track is caught somewhere between Menomena and Brightblack Morning Light and “Meditation” is its extended coda: the cello-aping synthline accompanied by a repeated acoustic guitar strum and some reverberated oohs, adequately padding out the album’s track-length.

The first half of Prints reminds me of Run Chico Run, the most underrated Canadian band who does much of the same thing but with better indie-rock chops. Granted, they’ve also been playing for much longer than Prints.

Another criticism of the duo is how, in the process of pilfering musical styles of the past (which is totally legitimate, by the way), they come close to pastiche, by which I mean inauthentic imitation — so that while “Blue Jay” mines the same territory as William DeVaughn’s 1974 hit “Be Thankful For What You Got” (covered by Massive Attack), the flute melody that gets dropped into the song halfway through is a little bit too predictable.

Good thing that next track “I Wanna Know” gets it so completely right. It reminds me of many of the Shibuya-kei artists of the late 1990s such as Buffalo Daughter, Cibo Matto and Kahimi Karie, who welded sixties pop with seventies kitsch and finally reworked it to suit their contemporary needs. This track is basically the indie-circa-2007 version of that same impulse.

But nothing on the album, much less the lacklustre strum of “All We Knead” (“…is all we need,” apparently) prepares for the appropriately-titled “End”. One could describe its sublime electronic beauty as Hot Chip covering Vangelis, but this long instrumental actually comes close to the epic and emotional heights of something like Orbital’s “Belfast”. It tips the entire album in its favour, so that I can at least call it a keeper. And since Temporary Residence is selling it at relatively cheap (you should see it sell for something like thirteen dollars), Prints is a no-risk purchase.

Ultimately, despite an impressive debut, I get the feeling we will be hearing more and better from Prints.

Review — Efterklang

Posted by music On October - 23 - 2007

Under Giant Trees and Parades
Leaf, 2007 and 2007

By Sal Hassanpour

Danish eight-piece Efterklang have been merging glitch with post-rock for about five years now, and the critical consensus surrounding their first two full length albums suggests that the band’s music is incredibly accomplished, but not much more. If that sounds like faint praise, it has to do with the band’s 2004 release Tripper landing at a time when the sentiment, especially in terms the Canadian indie scene, was “No, really, enough with the post-rock already!” Even closer to home, Sigur Rós (whose string section, Amiina, Efterklang has always shared) and múm had and wouldm realready made it to the top of major year-end lists, and who needed a band that, at least musically-speaking, was a merging of those two?

So OK, Efterklang have had to play second-fiddle for a while now, at least as far as us North Americans are concerned, having released but a one-sided vinyl in 2006 in terms of new music (2005’s Springer being a re-release). Doomed to the status of, say, Billy Mahonie, Efterklang chose to fight back with their best material to date.

Under Giant Trees, a five-song EP released in April, fires the opening salvo: Violins, trumpets, trombones, woodwinds, accordions, harps and kora all play their little tinkertoy melodies, often all at once (as in the stunning closer “Jojo”), framed by a gentle percussive clatter of folk drums, pianos, bells and chimes (or wood-creaks, in the epic sea-storm dirge of opener “Falling Horses”). This is all handled with the deft precision and swift inventiveness of, say, Kieran Hebden (Check the processed folk ambience of “Himmelbjerget”). Then come the gentle murmurs of Thomas Sjšberg and Linda Drejer Bond, the longtime female-male vocal duo at the heart of Efterklang, backed in nearly every song by a choir from Greenland. The vocals here are closer to the front of the mix than anything since Springer (which was always the most traditional-song oriented Efterklang work anyways), and that seems to indicate, if more obvious signs have not so far, that the band have accrued a level of confidence in their work that is unwavering, so that on “Hands Playing Butterfly,” everything strips itself down to a simple piano melody and lets the violins slowly hover above it for a couple minutes.

It is safe to say that Efterklang’s accrued musical knowledge has now surpassed that of most of their supposed peers’, so that only evocative descriptors such as “nautical,” “rustic” or “autumnal” carry any real meaning with them. Yet in the end, Under Giant Trees is merely Efterklang refined, none of which prepares for Parades, released in mid-October.

“Polygene” develops slowly like all of Efterklang’s opening songs, and one of the first sustained sounds we hear are voices. This is indicative of what is to come, because with Parades, Efterklang have let what was for them the afterthought — the vocals — take over the often central position digital processing had held up to now. Steam pipes hiss, oboes and saxophones grunt, cymbals clap, and a boy’s choir blends in and out of Thomas and Linda’s suddenly dynamic vocals. This is Bjõrk territory, had she decided to go a bit post-rock.

Buy yourself a good pair of headphones before delving into Parades: “Mirador,” which is the anthemic, heart-on-your-sleeve track, has a huge dynamic range. Sometimes the soaring voices will fill your ears, and at other times the string quartet, only to be replaced at the forefront by the brass quintet. Not including the three choirs, Parades has a guest list of thirty musicians and was recorded in large rooms over a period of a year and a half. So in effect, Under Giant Trees is the B-sides of the Parades sessions. Have said that,”Horseback Tenors” is the full realisation of a certain neo-folk flavour (think Penguin Café Orchestra) that was buried under much of that previous release — that is, until the military snare and voices force the song to get off its feet and march, well, parade-like, only to abandon it to some ambient hums. Later on, the optimistically-titled “Frida Found a Friend” turns out to be clothed in sheets of hissing guitar noise and mournful brass lamentation. “Caravan” is likely to be a single, since it features a dynamic choral chant and a propulsive beat, complemented by layers of brass and guitars, a flute and gamelan: At the same time that Parades is Efterklang’s most musically progressive album, it is also their most pop-oriented., the most obvious example being album closer, “Cutting Ice To Snow”, which actually does captures the joy of early spring and snow-thaw and has, for the first time in Efterklang history, an electric rhythm guitar line!

So, Parades is a genius record, full of vitality and every moment bears the fruit of the intensive, labourious process, and stands as the most convincing way out of a post-rock pigeon-hole and shows a band completely re-energized. The only worry is that they regress into an even more backlash-friendly pigeon-hole, that of the anthemic indie super-group, and never gain the wide audience they’ve deserved for years now.

Review — Brian Ruryk / Gastric Female Reflex

Posted by music On September - 25 - 2007

Brian Ruryk / Gastric Female Reflex
Alliances For Debris / Nairobi Pieces 13-26 Split LP

Beniffer Editions, 2007

By Sal Hassanpour

There aren’t many noise bands in Canada. Granted, as compared with countries with larger populations like the States, that’s an unfair statement but holy hosanna, New Zealand? That country is infested with them! The point, then, is that when any of our home grown extreme sonic generators do come out with material, it’s always a treat, and doubly so when it’s released by the Toronto-based Beniffer Editions, especially now that they’re outputting on black plastic discs. In this case, the weird-as-hell drawing on the paper sleeve in turn houses two 10″ record inner sleeves that are then hand-dyed and hand-cut to fit the 12″ record itself. So the delicate packaging is fun: now, onto the music.

Brian Ruryk has been around since the 1980s, and has built a solid reputation surrounding his guitar-based noise. Well, not so much here. The title of his side of the record is appropriate, especially the word “debris.” Basically, what you will get is around twenty-odd minutes of the sounds of glass and metal connecting with hard surfaces at fast speeds, chopped up and re-spliced into microscopic fragments and at what eventually feels like a frantic rate. There is no way this is all done live, although if it is, I wouldn’t put it past Ruryk. Add to the mix random phrases recorded from audiences, bits of his live guitar work and some minimal passages, and the listener is left with a jaw-dropping dynamic and engaging experience that even stops being perceived as noise. In fact, I couldn’t believe this variegated cacophony ended when it did and wanted much more. Thankfully, Ruryk is one of the most prolific noise makers we have and so getting another fix (this is addictive stuff) is not too much of a problem.

Gastric Female Reflex also happen to be the people behind Beniffer Editions, so I guess they get to invite themselves to any of their own releases they wish. This batch of Nairobi Pieces (who knows where the first twelve went) has nothing to do with Kenya, but instead shares the diverse micro-sampling of Ruryk. If anything, the Gastric Female Reflex side is much of the same but sloppier: longer samples drawn from decaying radios and televisions, in-between-song recording outtakes, prayer tapes, random clicks, crackles and cuts, ambient bass rumbles, Tim Allen. Later on, we get a rather amusing series of three-second sound effects, each bridged by a wet fart rip.

Despite the even greater breath of sonic cues displayed by Gastric Female Reflex, the relentless pace of Brian Ruryk’s piece makes it the stronger side for me. All in all, as well as serving as a good starting point for neophytes, this split is a landmark release in the particularly obscure and disparate Canadian noise scene, and is well worth tracking down.

Limited quantities of Beniffer Editions releases, (including cassettes, cdrs and 7″s) are available at The Record Shoppe (458 Parliament Street, north of Gerrard) in Toronto’s Cabbagetown or on the label’s website.

Review — Dark Bird

Posted by music On September - 18 - 2007

Dark Bird
Long Gone

Alien Girl Records, 2007

By Sal Hassanpour

The first words that greet me when I open the cardboard gatefold CD case that houses Dark Bird’s first full length album is “Thank You.” What for? Actually buying a compact disc in an era where, increasingly, the only two legitimate formats are digital files and in a curious reversal, vinyl? Perhaps. For supporting independent/local musicians? Could be it’s for all the people who’ve come out to the Tranzac residents’ (seemingly the only venue they play in town) live shows? Maybe Dark Bird are just a really nice bunch of people.

Whatever the case may be, once the static hiss and the ambient bass hum of “Point A” dissipates, “Facsimile” starts up with an acoustic guitar, a crunchy lo-fi beat and a twinkly broken synth line, all of which back main-Bird Roan Bateman’s subdued Neil-Young-like voice. The lyrics, which are found along the insides of the beautiful sleeve that houses the disc use nature metaphors effortlessly to speak of emotions, and are perfect for drab and wet autumn days. This is music to sip hot cider to, curled up in a sweater.

The gentle guitar reverb of “Burning Hearts” helps carve out leg-room for Melissa Boraski who harmonizes with Bateman on half the album. The vocal delivery of both is considered, and so seduces your attention. The Dark Bird approach to songcraft is that rarest of things: careful, but without a hint of preciousness. And so the Durutti Column-like guitar line halfway through the upbeat (by Dark Bird standards) “Right Behind Me” makes perfect sense.

In fact, that whole soft ambient dream-pop sound of bands like Felt, Montgolfier Brothers and Gnac is a huge influence here, especially on album highlight “Outside of Time”. Others would be some of Dark Bird’s Canadian ambient electronic forebearers — such as Beef Terminal, The Hermit and pretty much any intr.version label artist, an influence best heard on closing track “On The Ocean”. Finally, Dark Bird picks up on that “lost-in-the-pinewoods-on-a-foggy-midnight” vibe that seems to inform the darker moments of Bonnie “Prince” Billy, or for a more local reference, Timber Timbre. This is best heard in the cold, magisterial echo chamber of “Deep In The Woods,” “where the forest blocks the light.”

The last quarter of the album relies on electronic gear and what we are left with is their weakest songs. “Walk With Me” and “Animals Hide” will work better live, but are not as poignantly memorable as everything else on the album.

That minuscule complaint aside, Long Gone is without question one of the best Canadian independent releases of the year: I’d known Dark Bird’s full-length would be good, but the result has exceeded even high expectations — and so, thank you, Dark Bird, many, many times.

Long Gone is available at Soundscapes in Toronto. Everyone else ought to try Alien Girl Records, or can contact the band via their MySpace.

Review — Proxy Set

Posted by music On September - 4 - 2007

Proxy Set
Proxy Set EP

Independent, 2007

By Sal Hassanpour

Proxy Set are the hardest working band in the Greater Toronto Area. To date, they have played a hundred gigs (ninety or so of those in the last three years alone), and yet, this is their third EP.

Now, some of you might see an unequal ratio between live performances and recorded material and might start making assumptions, but mistake them not for a jam band. Sure, there are impeccable solos, especially on “Lucky Machete” and “Bad Smoke,” but each song here is impeccably written, with singer Melon Miles’ voice pitched perfectly in between Eric Burdon (of The Animals)’s blues howl and Jim Morrison’s drugged croon. In fact, if the five tracks here are any indication, Proxy Set are more than due their full-length.

So while opener “Driver’s Seat” is the closest thing to a pop hit single here, complete with an amazing white-hot guitar solo, the thrash-metal dirge at the start of — and throughout — subsequent track “Punch The Motor Wild” will make sure you don’t forget that Proxy Set can rock as hard as a mountain. That’s not to say that the band hasn’t evolved over the years — the atmospheric psych-blues of “Lucky Machete,” with its time-signature shifts, is a jaw-dropping display of the band’s musical experience as well as the song-writing chops you acquire a hundred gigs later. Next up, “Bad Smoke” rains down on you like a raging tempest pouring boiling-hot water before everything slows down, just to bring it back up again, with intense, pummelling drum-work and later, some old-school metal twin-V guitar action. Finally, the echo-FX guitar drifting through the beginning of last track “Dark Heaven” is a clue that this is the 70’s rock-inspired chill-out track. It’s also the best showcase of Miles’ vocal range – in fact, if I have any complaint with the EP at all, it’s that sometimes Miles’ voice is buried in the mix.

That one quibble aside, this is a strong twenty-five minutes with not one second of flab by a group of seasoned musicians at the top of their game — at least, until the (fingers crossed) full-length will school us once more.

The latest Proxy Set EP is available for purchase from the internet, from the band at their shows, and from their website.

Two Way Monologues Showcase #3 in review

Posted by music On August - 28 - 2007

Two Way Monologues Showcase #3
with Roflcopter, Key Witness, and Beth In Battle Mode
at Rancho Relaxo
August 10th, 2007

By Sal Hassanpour

Two Way Monologues is, strictly speaking, a competition. Not only do they feature music reviews galore, mostly of the newest-of-the-new Canadian indie bands, but for most of summer 2007 they’ve also held a monthly showcase of up-and-coming bands at Rancho Relaxo.

When I say “up-and-coming” I don’t mean just-about-to-release-their-EP, already-done-two-Wavelengths, I mean very new and raw – with, in this case, one exception.

Roflcopter, presumably named after the ASCII web-game as if that were an excuse (sorry, I have to say it: terrible band name), are a perfect example of the above. While their recorded material to date is well-mastered (the nice way of saying “polished”), their live show displayed tons of new-wave energy colliding with noisy, mathy indie and was all the better for it. Both live and recorded, the band shines best when they’re playing their instrumental jams, like the one where the Korg keyboard and the guitar played the same chords. Lead singer Mike fared very well when it came to his vocals (keyboardist Efehan comes off as way too emo for my tastes) but given that at least one of their songs this night was written mere hours before the show, the practically non-existent, place-holder lyrics will, in time, develop.

Key Witness buck the perceived Two Way Monologues Showcase rule by being “established” in terms of their live act, as well as having already released a few records and EPs to date. No complaining, however, as their well-deserved live reputation was only solidified this night. J.M. McNab is easily one of the city’s most sincere and confident front-men; he may spit like a deadly snake when he’s not (Elliott) brood-ing, but like most great acts, Key Witness sound only like themselves. However, the band does share at least two things with the closest comparison I could think of – namely, Television Personalities – and those are (1) punk energy and drive mixed with a folk core, and (2) a commitment to songcraft. The guitars (two electric and one acoustic) blend perfectly together, and at other times you can distinguish what each is doing. It’s a damn shame violinist Jacques Mindreau is leaving the band: if his solo on the last track of the Key Witness set tonight was any indication, the band will have a hell of a time filling those shoes. In sum, a band to start going to see now, while the gettin’ is good, especially if they still have free copies of their latest EP to give away.

Beth In Battle Mode were the night’s biggest surprise. Here’s a trio that’s got a synthesizer but isn’t interested in being electro. Their bio describes them as “garage-prog-disco,” and that’s a good starting point. Imagine a band that’s inspired by new wave but totally uninterested in carbon-copying any of the trendy 80s groups, opting instead for, say, Huey Lewis and The News. Now, and here’s the surprise, Beth In Battle Mode make it work, in part by diluting big, mainstream 80s pop with a hefty mix of 60s West Coast garage by way of Weezer. Excellent lyrics and melodies emerge, with an energetic and compelling front-man in Edward Maher. Their songs display humour and wit – “Everyone Is In A Band,” “Fanta,” and “IKEA Sangria,” the latter which, at least melodically, reminded me for some reason of Madness’ excellent mid-80s material like “Tomorrow’s Just Another Day.” Not giving a toss about being trendy goes a long way, then.

Toronto is not lacking in curated weekly/monthly music nights. Before Two Way Monologues there was Wavelength, Pitter Patter Nights, ALL CAPS! and Poor Pilgrim to name but a very few in walking distance. Nevertheless, Dan Wolovick and co. really have their ear to the ground and have proven that there is reason yet for the newest and most under-exposed groups to have another venue to display their auditory wares, and one less excuse, dear reader, to stay indoors (playing web-games).

Review — Architecture In Helsinki’s Places Like This

Posted by music On August - 21 - 2007

Architecture In Helsinki
Places Like This,
Polyvinyl Record Co., 2007

By Sal Hassanpour

My guess is that most reviewers will pan the third Architecture In Helsinki album, Places Like This. So let’s go over what the most obvious charges against it and then try and rebut them and see how things stand.


— People who loved the band because of their affinity for twee pop are going to be turned off by the loud synths and big beats, which come off as filtered Prince. In other words, the two female members who left Architecture in Helsinki in 2006 seemingly took the flutes, acoustic guitars and wood-blocks with them.
— Most songs on Places Like This clock in just shy of three minutes but feel longer, mostly because the whole band yells these annoying choruses ad nauseam at the end of most songs.
— Band leader Cameron Bird’s new vocal style: whereas before he would whisper, croon and falsetto, Places Like This sees him growling at us, rounded off with an even-more-noticeable-than-before American accent.


— The tendency towards synth-funk should come as no surprise to anyone listening to Architecture In Helsinki: It was in the background of the “Do The Whirlwind” single and in the foreground of the band’s cover of B[if]tek’s “Hi Fi”. So really, it was only a matter of time before they would record their synth funk album.
— The choruses ARE annoying for the most part. But let’s be honest, Architecture In Helsinki themselves can be annoying as fuck when you’re not in the mood for them, and there’s no end to the amount of potential pet peeves about the band given that every one of their songs up to now has had about one new thing thrown into the mix roughly every ten seconds or so.
— Um, about the vocals… Kellie Sutherland takes over for most of “Nothing’s Wrong” and it’s an album highlight because of it? OK, this brings me to my big point about Place Like This: It’s a “grower” — A term that’s disappearing in a world where more bands are creating more music from more places for people who have more access to it, a world where people don’t really have a reason to stick with an album that doesn’t immediately reveal its merits to them.
For the most part, I feel that way as well. However, certain albums — The Beta Band’s self-titled LP comes to mind immediately — sound at first like a band playing around with a big studio rather than writing songs (or anything particularly interesting at all, really). But on repeated playback, an admirable if at times misguided ambition slowly emerges and finally, once its perceived challenges are conquered, the album receives its due and proper recognition.

So maybe Places Like This is not as good as the other stuff before. It certainly doesn’t sound like it, but that’s OK, since there are a lot of great moments waiting to be discovered here and I’m probably not done finding them all. Even if we come to terms with the fact that this is Architecture in Helsinki Mark II, Places Like This might well end up being an album one respects or admires more than one likes in the end, faint praise though that may be.

Spoons\' Stick Figure Neighbourhood

Stick Figure Neighbourhood
Ready Records, 1981

Arias & Symphonies
Ready Records, 1982

By Sal Hassanpour

Canadian new wave was a pretty shallow pool. Martha And The Muffins, Men Without Hats, Gowan and yes, Rush were the cream of the crop in the field. Burlington, Ontario’s Spoons, stuck in a state of perpetual rediscovery, were always just a notch shy from receiving the kind of acclaim the above have or had enjoyed and remain best-known for the “Nova Heart” music video which was, production-wise, one of the best at the time from a Canadian band.

Their first album, Stick Figure Neighbourhood, misfires as often as it hits its mark, the mark being a synth-enhanced update of late 70s, time-signature shifting prog-rock. Songs are either trying to be cynical, odd and witty like Devo or Adam and The Ants in the titular track and “Dropped Dishes” (failing for the most part) or trying to be topical, as in “Friends In The Media” and “Capitol Hill” (faring better at these). Unfotunately, lead singer/guitarist Gordon Deppe’s lyrics are mostly fluff and at worst, on “Red Light” are simply excruciating: “Red light/Free man’s world/Green liiiiiiiight/Woman/WOMAN!!” Rob Preuss’ synths are really good, however, and there are some nice melodies, especially on the eurotrashtic “For Tran” that remind me of the Mega Man 3 soundtrack – albeit slowed down.

In sum, Stick Figure Neighbourhood is a disappointment and its obscurity is somewhat deserved, frankly. Fun trivia fact: While Graeme Pole produced it, Stick Figure Neighbourhood was one of the first albums to be recorded at Grant Avenue Studios in Hamilton by its founder, a certain Dan Lanois.

Spoons\' Arias and Symphonies

Arias & Symphonies is the one most people know Spoons by. In fact, it’s impossible to mention this album without referring to the title track or the aforementioned “Nova Heart,” the two big Spoons singles. But for now, I’ll try.

No sophomore slump here, kids. One of the first things one notices is that the lyrics are much more well-written and there’s none of that half-sung, half-spoken, “I’m so cynical and clever” vocal delivery that plagued album one. Musically, everything is faster and there’s always an electronic beat driving things further. This means very little of the Stick Figure Neighbourhood guitar solos that would have Daft Punk salivating actually carry over, but there are more pop hooks, like the sweet melody that makes up the chorus on the delightfully over-the-top “Arias & Symphonies.”

Meanwhile, the guitar on “South American Vacation” doesn’t sound too far removed from the sorely-missed John McGouch’s work, and around the same time, bassist Sandy Horne gets to sing more than a chorus line, best demonstrated by the convincing duet on “One In Ten Words”. The microscopic synth bubbles gurgling in the background of the otherwise loud “Walk The Plank” reminds one of “The Reflex”-era Duran Duran, if only for a couple of moments, and a stately synth melody on final track “Blow Away” – the only one with a time-signature shift here – casts Arias & Symphonies into the stratosphere. Phew.

Recorded in London and Toronto, John Punter’s production suffers somewhat from a throw-everything-at-the-wall mentality and is a bit overstuffed as a result – except for the subtle handclaps and bass synth stabs on “Nova Heart” that offers some reverb-drenched respite – but is nevertheless overdue for a remaster.

Spoons would go on to even bigger things: Their next album, Talkback, was actually even more successful and produced by legendary producer Nile Rodgers to boot, but that’s for another week (maybe the next time MONDOmusic reviews something Spoons-related?)

Review — Boat Club

Posted by music On August - 7 - 2007

Boat Club
Caught The Breeze EP
Luxury Records, 2007

By Sal Hassanpour

This band is the most pleasant surprise of the year 2007. This duo from Gothenburg are doing all sorts of things right, and none of it has to do with any of Sweden’s best-known musical genres (funeral metal, garage, disco-tech, and twee pop).

Actually, that last bit isn’t exactly true. They are pretty dance-y, and kind of soft too. Imagine taking Junior Boys back in time to nineties Manchester and you’ve got Boat Club. In other words, here is the recipe for a Boat Club track:

2 parts guitar in the style of John Squire of the Stone Roses
2 parts bouncy beats derived from a TB-303 in the style of 808 State or Andrew Weatherall
1 part lysergic vocals in style of shoegaze acts like Jesus and Mary Chain and Slowdive
Combine all ingredients and simmer on low to acquire a reverb reduction glaze.


The Junior Boys is an apt reference, not only because Boat Club is a bedroom techno-pop duo but also because both bands share an inclination for serving up a good side of wistfulness with the main course, so that “Always Away” complains that “You’re always away/On rainy days” and “Warmer Climes” confesses that “I lose my mind/for warmer climes/but I can’t stay forever/cuz you, you can’t face the sunshine”. Even if it were possible to relate to that last sentiment in forty degree Celsius weather, it takes some effort to actually make the words out through the fat acid-house basslines, the jangly guitar, and the banks of reverberated synths.

That said, the lyrics aren’t excruciatingly terrible. I understand that Boat Club is going for the kind of yearning sentiment Bernard Sumner would hardwire into the best New Order tracks, as evident in the more lyrically-heavy (and lyrically-successful) “Memories” and “Spanish Castles”. However Boat Club doesn’t seem nearly as desperate to hit the benchmark, so half the time they come off as weak-kneed.

Nevertheless, as perhaps the first nineties-revivalist band, Boat Club have cherry-picked all the sounds that made music alive and exciting fifteen years ago and have slow-cooked them to perfection, emerging with an EP where each track sounds almost identical to the previous one but is still worthy of at least several dozen listens. This one comes highly recommended.

Buy a copy at

Songs omitted include: Boys of Summer, Summer Girls, Summer of ‘69, Summer Lovin’, Kokomo.

By Sal Hassanpour

There’s something about listening to acoustic-guitar heavy blue-eyed soul and unabashedly perfect pop would-be-hits that says “summer” to me, more than anything else at this point in my music listening history. (Objectively, I’m already way past “music snob”.) Here’s a tribute, then, to these wonderful bands, most of whom survived solely on an intense cult following before recent re-release campaigns saved most from near-obscurity.

So apply some mousse, put that denim jacket on, go outside, and put this in your Walkman as you glide through the city. On a hoverboard.

1) Haircut 100 – “Love Plus One” (from Pelican West, 1982; 1995)
Think “Come On Eileen” but cuter. The tightest rhythm guitar riff in the world sets-up what follows: Loads of bongos, saxophones, vibraphones, super-silly lyrics and wobbly, melodic bass. In sum, Nick Heyward’s Haircut 100 were the most adorable bunch of geeks you could find in 1982: Check out the sweaters! (Not to mention splashing water onto women and a “boiling pot” shot that’s surely the inspiration for a certain Daft Punk video). In any case, this is the best slice of sugary indie-pop to start your day, one that bands like The Coral, Mystery Jets and Guillemots have clearly been studying.

2) The Go-Betweens – “Streets Of Your Town” (from 16 Lovers Lane, 1988; 2004)
Screw Depeche Mode, Echo And The Bunnymen, The Cure and New Order. Screw The Smiths. As much as I have loved and love those bands still, Australia’s The Go-Betweens were the best band of the 1980s. The problem is, you either fall obsessively in love with them or they seem to you like no more than an rootsy version of Crowded House. Nevertheless, this is the quintessential guitar-pop anthem for bumming around the city in the summer, with a cool faux-flamenco guitar, heart-warming woodblocks and violinist Amanda Brown’s sunny refrain (“Shine”). The lyrics by the sorely-missed Grant McLennan (who passed away last year) speaks of “shining knives” and “battered wives,” but it’s the pop melody that’ll put a pep in your step.

3) Prefab Sprout – “Bonny” (from Steve McQueen, 1985; 2007)
With superstar producer Thomas Dolby at the helm, a smart acoustic riff blows in like a cool breeze and the keyboards echoes like sips of ice-cold water. The lyrics are drenched in the “Missed chances and the same regrets” that spring up when the one we love has left for good, but Paddy McAloon’s soulful delivery seems to be exorcising the sadness right out of him, and we’re left feeling that everything will be OK.

4) XTC – “Grass” (from Skylarking, 1986; 2001)
Part of the appeal of 80’s guitar-pop was how deliberately and knowingly naïve much of the lyrical sentiments were. Part of it had to with a resurrection of that delicate British psychedelic “paisley pop” vibe, and one of the more simple moments of 80s neo-psychedelic pop comes from XTC’s Todd Rundgren-produced career highlight. The lyrics have to do with “the things we used to do on grass” and how “the way you slap my face just fills me with desire”. Wikipedia tells me that Andy Partridge described Skylarking as “a summer’s day cooked into one cake”. Whether the statement was actually said, it holds true for “Grass”.

5) The Durutti Column – “Sketch For Summer” (from The Return Of The Durutti Column, 1979; 1996)
This is simply the best instrumental guitar song ever recorded. I could play it literally forever and it would never grow old for me. And all it is, is a beat-box emulating a heart beat, some fake bird-song and overdubbed guitar with loads of echo FX. “Sketch For Summer” draws out the mysterious, deadly, secret and tragic underside of summer that lurks just beneath the surface of warm, pleasant days.

6) Aztec Camera – “Working In A Goldmine” (from Love, 1987/ Best of …, 1999)
When people use the term blue-eyed soul, it’s this kind of super-slick, slap-(bass) happy pop perfection they’re talking about. In this case, imagine a young Billy Bragg covering Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody”. Only the biggest humbug wouldn’t smile when Roddy Frame’s free-associating lyrics dish out lines like “Drowning in the sunshine” and “‘I believe in your heart of gold”. This is the aural equivalent of a sugar high after eating too many popsicles.

7) PM Dawn – “Set Adrift On Memory Bliss Of You” (from Of The Heart, Of The Soul And Of The Cross: The Utopian Experience, 1991)
OK, I know. I can read the album’s date and this song does exude the spiritual, daisy-age hip-hop of the early Nineties in spirit, but sonically, it’s a mash-up of the guitar line from Spandau Ballet’s 1983 hit “True” and the distinctive beat from Eric B. and Rakim’s “Paid In Full” from 1987 – and therefore counts as a two-in-one! As if the song itself wasn’t enough, check out the jaw-dropping video, full of Day-Glo spiritual iconography crayoned onto the faces of children and mouth-watering underwater shots guaranteed to make you rush to the nearest pool. Like PM Dawn itself, “Memory Bliss” the song and video is so completely genuine and un-ironic it’ll almost make you cry.

8 ) The Stranglers – “Always The Sun” (from Dreamtime, 1986; 2001)
If you’ve heard of The Stranglers, it was probably “No More Heroes” on some “history of punk” compilation. Well, by the mid-80s, the band had dtiched those pretension (they were never, ever punk) and became the smart, sophisticated (on the surface at least) continental-pop band they were meant to be. For anyone wishing they were anywhere on the French Riviera driving a Lamborghini after a good tennis match, this what you put into the casette player.

9) The Lilac Time – “American Eyes” (from Paradise Circus, 1989; 2006)
It was due to the efforts of bigger bands like XTC, who butted heads with record companies to be able to release acoustic, pastoral-themed albums right in the middle of the great synthesizer era that the great guitar-pop bands crawled out of the woodwork. One-hit wonder Stephen Duffy (of “Kiss Me” fame) went down the acoustic path and produced some of the best-written pop songs of the sub-genre. Never mind that he’s writing for Robbie Williams now, this whimsical two-and-a-half-minute tune will make sure you have your “apple-pie eyes” showing, too.

10) Antena – “Camino Del Sol” (from Camino Del Sol, 1982 and a million re-releases ever since)
Imagine asking Kraftwerk to cover an Antonio Carlos Jobim album. In 1982, a trio of French synth and bossa-nova enthusiasts from the hot, sleepy and Southern town of Montpellier relocated to Belgium to do just that, and this slowly pulsating gem, whose French lyrics are all about quiet vacations and tropical climates, will transport you through time and space (on a Concord) as you end up gently swaying the night away on a Club Med beach in Cartagena circa Romancing The Stone.

11) The Blue Nile – “Tinseltown In The Rain” (from A Walk Across The Rooftops, 1984)
Everyone has what they consider underrated bands. Well, The Blue Nile have the lion’s share of perfect-rating reviews for their albums (I guess it helps that in two decades they’ve only released four). In terms of critical acclaim alone, then, they ought to rule the world by now, so “underrated” doesn’t apply at all. And yet, popularity for them has been more elusive than the Holy Grail. Never mind: When the next summer storm hits and you’re at home, listen to angel-voiced Paul Buchanan as you pour yourself a dram of good single malt and stare out the window, pretending you’re Michael Douglas.

12) The Style Council – “Long Hot Summer” (from Introducing: The Style Council, 1983)
This slice of breezy, blue-eyed proto P-funk/pop with nary a guitar, coming from the man who used to front soul-punkers The Jam is further proof that sometimes crossing over to the pop side is not a complete sin and nicely sums up this list, although I’d much rather have had this slightly more dubbed-out version instead. Thank you early VHS player buyers, and Youtube!



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