Trevor Abes: Writer

Tag: music 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.

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.

Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE: A Review

Frank Ocean, r&b singer and member of Odd Future, released channel ORANGE, his debut album, on July 10, 2012.

The first single, “Thinkin’ Bout You,” tackles the inherent fickleness of relationships. It’s what Maxwell would sound like without his tacky approach to romanticism.

On “Super Rich Kids,” Ocean shows how deep his pop roots go by offering a track that develops a predetermined subject (same goes for “Forrest Gump”); this method of song-writing is akin to poetry, in that the artist limits his subjective scope like a ballad or Shakespearean sonnet form limits verse; he cannot fill up time by spitting loosely associated mental wanderings without veering off topic. It is by focusing on this class of kids, and the substantial repercussions their money brings to the table, that Ocean and a haunting Earl Sweatshirt force themselves to and succeed at tailoring their skills to an existing semantic mould to produce an example of Darwinian hip-hop adaptation.

Around the 3:50 mark on “Pyramids,” Ocean turns up the Scissor Sisters and lets it be known that he can get down too; his overreliance on repetition to sustain this nine-minutes-plus mammoth is quickly evident, and can be forgiven on nerd credentials, namely the use of Cleopatra/Ancient Egypt as an allegorical device that doubles as a framing device for the story of a lover turned prostitute. Brilliant.

The album is full of prospective moments of brilliance: “Fertilizer” could easily be extended into a full song riding on its unexpected blend of bawdy and Motown. The memorable “Bad Religion” seeps  tangentially into politics with the refrain, “If it brings me to my knees / It’s a bad religion,” and is backed up by Ocean’s agony-ridden high-register harmonies  His relaxed and sombre delivery on “Pilot Jones” matches emotion with context, aiding listeners in occupying the space of an addicted dope dealer, in feeling her isolation; this is the difference between Ocean and someone like Chris Brown or Ne-yo: Ocean’s minimalistic production values and narrative-driven lyrics are not aimed at tween masses but at everyone old enough to find joy through the expression of personal pain: in this way, channel ORANGE dishes out as much blues as old-school soul rhythm.

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