Trevor Abes: Writer

Tag: album review

The Band Has Gears: Atom and the Volumes – EP


Atom and the VolumesToronto’s Atom and the Volumes’ self-titled EP comes across as built around the idea that the best music feels just like closing your eyes and dancing. The band could be the spawn of Wilco and Failure, a cocktail of raw emotion, storytelling and unexpected flourishes.

“Pointed Pins” is a brooding garage anthem topped with 80’s glam metal flare. The fuzzy, whirling guitars lend the pop-sensible chorus an edge like bacon on maple. “Lick Your Tears,” about a corroding relationship, has the slowest tempo on the album and is at least twice as angsty; the short wah-wah riff that reappears throughout the song evolves into a  comment on the dangers of repression. The playing thickens at about the two and a half minute mark, becoming stronger than the sum of its parts, and you’re liable to be blanketed in sound.

“Boardwalk,” sultry and distant, floats along on an almost country-western twang from both strings and singer. Any Toronto flâneurs looking for a soundtrack best have a listen.

“To The Beat” typifies something to look forward to on future Atom and The Volumes releases: the band has gears. Mellow groove can morph into full-on jam session at the hiss of a cymbal. 

The outro’s called “Ultimate Power Question” and its suggestion about what fuels human progress and creativity will have you paying close attention to your hips.

Get the full scoop here: Atom + the Volumes.

 

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Ashley St. Pierre – Star Spinning: A Review

Ashley St. Pierre

The wandering, searching trumpets that start off “A Momentary Lapse” lead us to St. Pierre’s poised and elegant soprano.  She sings and we notice two things:

1) The song’s lyrics are too iambic to be a fluke, meaning we’re dealing with an artist versed in rhythm.

2) She stops singing at 1 minute 20 seconds to make way for a round of solos, and starts singing again only at 6 minutes 50 seconds. Louis Armstrong would never show off less on purpose, so why would St. Pierre disappear on the album’s first song? She disappears because “A Momentary Lapse” doesn’t need more lyrics, meaning we’re dealing with an artist for whom the music is top priority. The song is a knockout opener for a contemporary jazz album for its neat arrangement and complete lack of weirdness. It could serve as a sonorous definition of jazz in your favorite encyclopedia.

On The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” St. Pierre’s nuances are like patterns on a Rothko, assured, unpredictable, and free of self-consciousness, an airy dream that ends too soon as dreams tend to. And that goes doubly so for her seamless scatting (i.e. vocal soloing) display at the end.  St. Pierre utilizes her voice as an instrument and is able to incorporate it into the playing; rather than singing over background music, everyone’s in more or less the same relief.

(It’s at this point, four songs in, that I wonder why the title, Star Spinning? Stars are of course already spinning.

The title could be a cheeky way of expressing the rotation of the Earth.

A star may be spinning now, but it won’t be later when it turns into a black hole: Is the title then a commentary on youth’s fickle romanticism and the irrevocability of death? Decide for yourselves.)

The guitar solo on “Afro Blue” begins with a dare and descends into a joyous, frenetic jig that distills time and emphasizes texture. It’s the album’s freest, most purely improvisational moment. The finest is the trumpet solo on “Jorea;” it’s so regal it’s probably purple for synesthetes; the mariachi universe within which the player operates is as bad ass as your favorite television ranger and offers a short window into what Sketches of Spain might sound like if it was recorded in the 21st century.

There’s something refined about the kind of jazz this band creates. From the tender and cinematic “You’re Not Here,” to the yearning, unreserved “What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?” the players, including St. Pierre, sound live. They sound like they’re putting on a performance and we’re being presented with a show, something rehearsed, not engineered; a good thing if you enjoy vulnerability on your iPod.

Have a listen here: Ashley St. Pierre.

Buy it here: Star Spinning.

Big Boi’s Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors: A Review

Big Boi Vicious Lies and Dangerous RumoursA benefit of being an O.G. is that you can expand your musical horizons without fear of losing credibility. Fans are going to be willing to give your change in direction a chance and listen with an open mind, while artists in your preferred genre won’t be so quick to deride your non-traditional leap.

Antwan André Patton, A.K.A. Big Boi, A.K.A. Daddy Fat Sax, is not pained by the anxiety of influence. On his second solo album, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors  he enlists a pair of acts more used to weaving computerized dreamscapes than serving as the backdrop for someone’s rhymes.

The first, indie psych pop duo Phantogram, prevents “Objectum Sexuality” from devolving into a futile ladies’ jam by crafting a self-reflexive hook (It’s all you want these days cause you feel nothing inside / You know there’s nothing wrong, but you’ve been wondering why) that works in opposition to Patton’s explicit confessions. The duo also produced the track, opting for a multilayered, synthesized approach that stays as true to the funk of Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik as it does to personalizing Southern Hip Hop, a subgenre known for its posing and the at times numbing similarity of its beats and lyrics.

Little-DragonThe second, Swedish electro quartet Little Dragon, feature on “Descending” and “Thom Pettie,” a dirty ditty produced by long-time Outkast collaborator and Grammy-winning producer Chris Carmouche (Album of the Year, Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, 2004). Dragon vocalist Yukimi Nagano’s short and sweet contribution lends a gospel edge to this otherwise formulaic flossing platform.

Compared to “Pettie,” the regurgitated “In The A” feels conservative and out of place because Vicious isn’t about going hard (definition number 3), it’s about looking inward. Despite T.I. and Luda’s strong cameos, the track falls flat for not eschewing the braggadocio and bombastic production that is their comfort zone, even though Patton and his cohorts have earned the right to let their guards down whenever they please. Luckily, deviations from Vicious’ meditative, unrushed aesthetic (including “Mama Told Me”) are both minimal and forgettable; and forgivable as well, as we’ll see later on.

Phantogram“CPU,” featuring Phantogram, is a love song whose chimes and buzzy synths dial in on a vulnerable sense of longing born from always being on the road. It starts out like a hipster 80’s reimagining, one that’ll reach out and tap your feet til they learn what’s good for them; then, it morphs into an expression of weakness (against black stereotypes), the purest I’ve ever heard from Patton, whether alongside his virtual brother, André Benjamin, or not. A question “CPU” leaves us with is whether, after however long, we are able to differentiate between a loved one and his or her internet trail.

Phantogram equals Patton’s lyrical depth through straight hook mastery. On “Lines,” Sarah Barthel wails “I’ve wondered how / I’m happier when I lose what I’ve needed all my life,” successfully daring to make an important point about the value of indecision, of letting go of what was once thought as the nearest path to becoming somebody in hip-hop: It may seem like a small achievement, but Barthel is talking about losing interest in material things, and so is Patton. When the princess cut diamonds, fur coats and Escalades no longer matter, he says, one’s mind spends all its energy on identifying “the dangers in the circle of angels,” a circle the battle-worn rapper now frequents with caution, having once thought, like many newcomers to the game, that it contained friends loyal beyond questioning.

I’m not exactly displeased about the “contractual obligations” that prevented André Benjamin, A.K.A. André 3000, from appearing on this album. Let’s face it, if Benjamin is the strange half of Outkast that drops the commendable “Prototype” as a single, Patton is the time-honored half happy to excel within hip-hop’s established parameters: After Benjamin’s “Hey Ya!,” his “The Way You Move” was the second song to hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in ‘04 (and both songs can take some credit for all the number one’s on that chart until the end of the year coming from African-American artists); its accessibility and elaborateness surpass your average spitta’s crossover club anthem, but it’s still a club anthem, doomed to not have survived in the public consciousness a mere eight years since dropping.

However, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors feels immune to such a fate. The principle that informs it, broader than genre or an experienced ear, is a willingness to collaborate with an indie music scene Outkast never really had to find a place in after signing with LaFace as teenagers in ’92. And such a collaboration required of Patton that he make room for sharing his personal imperfections, which only became more arresting themes once conveyed through uneven, remarkably concrete, form-mimics-content song structures: this is why any review that faults Vicious for lack of cohesion fails to understand that the album sounds like the cautious self-actualization that pervades it.

In a way, Big Boi is a new artist, risking emotional openness for the first time, hoping for a response that’ll have little to do with platinum certifications or his decorated professional past.

Listen to: “Descending,” “Tremendous Damage” and  “C.P.U.

Toronto Trio Heater Girl Releases Debut Album

Heater Girl’s first L.P., Nouveau, is a punk/indie pop adventure hosted by two poets, Darren Hutz and Aaron Florendo, with Stewart Byfield’s joyous ruckus on drums (particularly on “The Archfiend’s Haven”).

Hutz starts things off with “The Love I Was Waiting For,” an enlightening and side-splitting song about what concupiscence can do to one’s worldview. His delivery is clear, tragicomic, and Johnny Cash rich as he declares, “I found my Holy Grail, rubbernecking and chasing tail/ And there’re a few fine arts that I’m mastering/ Grab-assing and finger-blasting in the women’s bathroom.”

Then, a shift in diction. As if in response to Hutz’s libido-driven aspirations, Florendo takes the mic on the heart wrenching “What’s So God Damned Scary About Being Loved For The Rest Of Your Life,” a grungy look at losing his band-mate’s tardy ideal without expecting it.

The two vocalists operate on different wavelengths that intersect and maintain their essential features. Florendo’s verses, constrained by form, offer confessional narratives metaphorically bent, and his raspy tone has a tendency to transpose harmonies, tying them together much like a trombone in a brass band. Meanwhile, Hutz’s preference for explosive riffs and earnest aggression guards an emotional depth his intonations are quick to imply; it’s depth, or the feeling of being young and ahead on mistakes, that runs through Nouveau’s 10 song set.

On “The Archfiend’s Haven” (which opens like an R-rated version of The Lion King), Florendo is poised and contemplative. Over a pointillist battlefield dotted with drumsticks, he describes how “the illusion of endless joy” (as of today a pretty multifaceted commodity) is best applied to someone you can argue with. On “Sleep Is For The Weak,” Hutz argues with himself; whether he wins or not depends more on how he sounds than what he says.

Turning to clairvoyance for a moment, I foresee that some people might call the album disjointed and conclude that what we’re really listening to is a collaboration between two solo artists and a bad ass drummer. Maybe we are. The same people might raise a similar point about Lou Reed and Metallica’s recent effort, Lulu; and while Nouveau isn’t nearly as abstract, the avant-garde is definitely a core value by number of tackled genres alone: punk, pop, rock, grunge, country, indie and an acoustic ballad all find their places on the polycarbonate. Disjointed or not, the album’s alternating structure allows Florendo and Hutz (a great name for a cop drama) to 1) show off their personalities, and 2) embody Wilde’s gem of a notion that you have to be yourself, because everyone else is taken.

Nouveau is available on Itunes and Amazon.

For a lengthy and detailed history of Heater Girl, penned by Florendo himself, please visit www.heatergirl.com

Here they are performing “Aches and Pains,” a fan favorite.

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