Live Review // Moonface // Monday 27th January 2014 // Elgar Room, Royal Albert Hall // Londres

What opens with the singular closes with the plural

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As you walk up to the Royal Albert Hall it’s difficult not to take a sharp intake of breath. The regency buildings of Kensington glimmer in the floodlit night, wealth permeates from every pore and the ghosts of Victoria and Albert are laid thick in the air. Almost tucked away, the old building has a steady, knowing confidence like a rich treasure stowed away in a corner of affluence. When you enter refined grandeur strikes you, the history of all the masters who have graced the stage seep into your conscience and images of flag waving bombast stir in your heart. In short, it’s not a place to see just anyone.

Entering the Elgar Room you find a small stage, empty apart from a grand red piano standing in the spotlight. It is obvious who this stage belongs to. The stark loneliness of the piano finds a partner in Moonface’s heart-wrenchingly singular new album Julia With Blue Jeans On. For a love album it’s one seemingly to be enjoyed alone; it requires your undivided attention, with no distraction or sound apart from the awareness of your own heart beating. But without its partner the piano is little but an ornate object, full of beauty yet futile; a polished box of unrealised potential. Tonight the piano lives and breathes as Spencer Krug’s vocals dance around the dramatically poised suspense it weaves. His piano playing drips with gravitas as he hovers over the keys a cross between manic puppet and grand master. All the while his vocals soar, slightly tortured and charged with feeling, and his soul is laid to bare with emotion straining from every sinew and each delicate but pained movement.

Mixing literal with allegorical Krug creates his own narrative, referring back to personal reference points, so much that the long-term listener can hear themes revisited from previous vessels. It’s easy to hang off every word. Home is one constant theme on Julia With Blue Jeans On, alongside the uneasy self-reflection of the heart. Krug is too clever to fall into lazy clichés, but I feel like he’s telling me home is where the heart is.

Some of the best songwriters have a knack of tapping into our hopes and fears, of articulating human emotion in a way others can’t, of writing songs that speak to us on a deeply personal level. Tonight, Moonface does just that. Tonight is one of those rare moments when it feels like we are spoken to directly; we hold hands and feel like we have an audience with Spencer. Tonight is something different, tonight is something personal. There is a raw empathy in the minimal set-up and if you close your eyes it is just you, him and his piano. Except; for tonight stood next to me is a beautiful soul, intimately sharing this personal moment seemingly designed only for us. Without knowing it, we’d all but sold our souls to the day.

Julia with Blue Jeans On is an album of love songs. It is a concept album if the concept is love, and unashamedly so. If unabashed feeling is good enough for Moonface then it is certainly good enough for me: Tonight as we sway gently arm in arm, our cheeks touching, our eyes closed and our hearts beating – we don’t need our voices as Moonface articulates everything we need to say. We give him our mouths and when he comes up for air we kiss. Love does not discriminate, and tonight, we share it with Spencer and each other.

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Our Favourite Albums of 2013 // Part 2

Our love for The National, Nick Cave and Arcade Fire is almost unconditional. Although some albums marked our hearts differently this year. Here are some more. All hail to musicians that rock for the fun of it.

AroarA – In the Pines

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In the Pines inspires nothing less than an enchanted journey through unknown pastures. All the elements of spellbounding are there; a myriad of charming strings, the sounds of dreamy electronica and heavy drums. The quietude, the exuberance, the soft and scabrous melodies, the highs and lows of skilled vocalists. Partners in marriage, Ariel Engle and Andrew Whiteman recorded a LP which will undoubtedly catch the attention if merely by its variances. Their rendition of Alice Notley‘s book of poems of the same name, shoots them up there with all the great Canadian story tellers, nothing less. But the technique of recording makes it all the more magical: All of the equipment used in the making dates before 1975.

The love and intensity they share on stage makes it not only one of the most beautifully crafted records of the year but one of the most interesting live performance. One that AHDTR writers were lucky enough to enjoy together.

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Eons – Arctic Radio

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Ever prolific Canadian musician Matt Cully took time away from collaborations with friends and being part of badass folk collective Bruce Peninsula to craft a collection of heartfelt country songs. An extensive LP that could make you rethink your love (or hate) affair with Canadian folk. They are songs seemingly trapped in a personal set true to a one-man-and-guitar act, true to traditional folk motifs.  While the songs of Arctic Radio are all his work, Matt joined forces with Bruce Peninsula bandmate Misha Bower to deliver them on record which warms up the icy cold feel of emotions exposed like we would do around a bonfire with friends. The passionate texts take you elsewhere; out of the body and solely into the mind where the reflection of the self is fed by their delicate voices. ”We are the young, we are not the world”.

Arctic Radio; yet another collection of tunes that have been first played to me live, in an intimate setting.

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Gianna Lauren – On Personhood

Gianna Lauren On Personhood

 Being first introduced to Gianna Lauren’s music during a intimate live performance, in a tiny wooden attic  on a chilly spring night can only be a definitive moment. 2013 had started roughly on a personal level and what I found within On Personhood is a dose of comfort very much needed.

 They are songs attentively written; songs of self reflection, on dealing with one another, on emotions brought by others, on personhood. The LP, her third,  consists of indie rock tunes enriched with luxurious notes of electric guitar and extensively lyrical material. Semi heavy, semi soft. Gianna’s voice and lyrics act as a balm on wounds, a reminder that shitty things fucking happen, that feeling shitty is allowed, that it comes and goes and that you are not the only one. It charms, it opens to wonder, it almost commands the body to let go. So it became a regular listen.

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cousins / Construction & Destruction – Split

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Nothing beats winner sweet perks from a cool blog like Quick Before it Melts and raddest of rad label NoYes Records. Unless maybe the actual perk being this fantastically grunge mudge pudge of indie poppy garage songs mounted on a royal blue vinyl.  With this split, Nova Scotia based and coolest duos cousins and Construction & Destruction combined efforts to bring to the world a sheer example of what maritimers do best: rock to shreds. And they do it in similar ways; slightly obscure tone-setting intros, elephantine guitar lines, experiments with guitars and vocals that get you to close your eyes and willingly immerse. And it scratches and screeches and becomes heavier and heavier. It’s fucking cool.

Note: AHDTR writers had their first date at a cousins’ gig in Brighton UK. Swoon all over this fact.

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A Grave with No Name – Whirlpool

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2013 marked the release of Alex Shields third LP with his solo project A Grave With No Name. The album, being our favourite of his work so far, is a beautifully crafted experiment of the parts of pop music that we rarely see mixed together. Where Mountain Debris (2009) and Lower (2011) had more of a solitary feel to them, Whirlpool is a bundle of songs with hazy guitar riffs and lazy vocals; they are songs of boredom where collaborators share a huge part, proof that sharing boring times with friends makes boredom enjoyable. The LP opens with an line of raw sensibility, which stays present throughout the record. Aurora being the fist track, feature the vocals of Alanna McArdle(Ides, Joanna Gruesome) and shows how collaborations work well for Shields. But its wholeness is what makes this record a definitive piece for AGWNN; coming back to it over and over and listening to it in it’s entirety because it flows naturally.

Whirlpool shows sensibility and carelessness like a heart in the right place and just enough time for what really matters.

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Paula – Relaxed Fit

Paula

Stalwart figure of Montreal-based label Arbutus Records, David Carriere followed the 2012 success he had with band TOPS to release Relaxed Fit, the debut effort of solo project Paula. The LP is heavy with electronic samples that seem straight out of the  catchiest tunes of the 70’s and 80’s, yet all the contemporary feel of poppy punk music is there. From speedy synth riffs to mellow drums, all ground of party pop is covered. His texts, while seemingly light hearted are unequivocally sincere. It had me turn up the volume and bust-a-move more than once. And wait for the cool 90s hip hop/dance pop mash duo with Cadence Weapon. Delectably sexy.

 It’s the ultimate party rocking (oh yeah) album of 2013. Period.

Our Favourite Albums of 2013 // Part 1

2013 has just finished so we thought it would be a good time to post about some of our favourite albums of the year. We haven’t got a clue about the ‘best’ but we can tell you the ones that mean the most to us. The only rules were they must have been from Canada or Britain, and released in 2013. Here are the first 6:

Traams – Grin

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Grin rattles and rolls along in an agitated, restless manner with an an irresistible urgency. The drums and bass are perfectly intertwined as one beating heart as the guitar swirls across them, with frontman Stu Hopkin’s vocals adding a muffled vitality. It’s the sound of a man locked in an airtight room, distant and desperate. And it works because although it might seem discordant it adds resonance to a sound that is anything but: It is a sound that has been studiously and perfectly crafted.

Within Traams master a number of styles, speed and feeling. Opening with the haunting Swimming Pool, an atmospheric nod to TV on The Radio, they lurch from the blistering Flowers to the emotionally fragile and heart-rending Hands while the closing track Klaus is a krautrock epic from the word go, capturing you in a groove and locking you in until long after the record stops spinning.

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Valleys – Are You Going To Stand There And Talk Weird All Night

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The opening bars of Micromoving tell us a lot about the shading to Are You Going To Stand There And Talk Weird All Night? There is a heavy gravitas in the slow, deliberate key changes, like a church organ firing up to pronounce life or death. In Mark St Louis’s baritone vocals there is a intoxicating richness and inebriated confusion. It is a sombre, stately opening that slowly lifts; Matilda Perks shade of light pierces through St Louis’s dark and the synths gracefully transform into blissful rapture. It is a logical culmination. Made to a backdrop of death and loss – two of the more powerful artistic aphrodisiacs, Valleys poignantly chart stages of grief onto a sonic map.

At it’s most euphoric the album encompasses dream pop mixed with fluffy electronica clouds, but a sense of unease always lurks behind the hazy reverie and thick atmospherics. It can be found in the lyrical content and haunting visions of melancholy that colour the melody. Album closer Undream a Year is one of our favourite tracks of the year; in equal parts uplifting, magical, confusing and heart meltingly simple, the chorus soars and makes us skip a beat.

https://soundcloud.com/kaninerecords/10-undream-a-year

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Boats – A Fairway Full Of Miners

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Superbly demented lo-fi fun, with trumpets, glockenspiels, harmonies and yelps, hooks so large they could catch a shark, vocals that lurch from high pitched hyperactivity to pagan chanting, and the kind of joyously eccentric exuberance that is probably illegal in 52 countries around the world: Boats are the kind of band who steal your heart and smile whilst doing it. Bands like Boats were the reason that I fell in love with music, albums like A Fairway Full of Miners are what get me through a year: their irresistible intensity brings a smile to your face and warmth to your heart.

Album highlight O Jumbotron crashes along at 100mph, a mash up of the sublime and the absurd, with anthemic yelps and probably the finest, most rousing interlude-cum-chorus-cum-instrumental-cum-thrashy mess I’ve heard all year. It’s life affirming stuff.

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We Are The City – Violent

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Vancouver’s We Are The City second LP, Violent, is an almost spiritual affair, stirring and emotive, and fraught with meaning. In Violent, We Are The City create a brand of experimental rock that never feels too experimental because they have an ear for melody and an eye for fleeting beauty. Each song feels like it has been tenderly crafted into an expansive, soulful sound with just the right amount of quirk. Cayne McKenzie’s vocals drip with significance and sagacity, pregnant pauses hint at an unspoken truth, and introspection rules throughout.

The album highlight, Friends Hurt, is another song that evokes the happiness of childhood memories and the sadness of age, but it’s strangely uplifting, and musically and lyrically combines to create a blissed out empathy that screams – ‘it’s all ok’.

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Joanna Gruesome – Weird Sister

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Weird Sister comes in at just under 30 minutes. 30 minutes of pure teenage summer adrenaline rush; a blur of emotion, feeling and vitality. At times caustic, it brims full of exuberance and melody, a roller-coaster of a ride on the immortality of youth. Musical sub-genres are screwed up and rammed down the throat, acerbic lyrics are coated in saccharine, their nascent talent scrapes in feedback and soothes in twee abandon. It’s an alluring mix. Joanna Gruesome wear their hearts on their musical sleeves, and in doing so they created possibly the most unrestrainedly enjoyable record of the year.

Secret Surprise is my favourite number, a pop-punk classic, with a deliciously sweet and affecting chorus. I love a band who can sing “I’ve been waiting to crush your fucking skull” as if butter wouldn’t melt.

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Public Service Broadcasting – Inform – Educate – Entertain

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PSB’s 2012 The War Room EP was something of an epiphany for me. So the eagerly anticipated debut LP Inform – Educate – Entertain was in some ways on a hiding to nothing. But with repeated listens a stunning cross genre masterpiece of style and substance emerges. J. Willgoose, Esq. has the wonderful knack of combining elements of his samples to the most uplifting and euphoric electronica. At it’s very core it’s a celebration of human-kind, a unique history and strangely moving as eras collide in a way Michael J Fox could only have dreamt of.

ROYGBIV encapsulates the art magnificently, the instruments mirror the colours of the rainbow, the samples gaze in wonderment at a technological advancement that we all take for granted, and as the song reaches it’s climax our rooms are indeed filled with an explosion of light, colour and optimism. Spiffing, one might say.

7Tracks #9 (Christmas Special)

Christmas Special

”All I want for Christmas is you”

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Of all the times of the a year when I get corny and emotional, Christmas might be the number 1. Nothing brings back more memories than the Christmas tree set up in our family room, heavy with memorabilia of a pleasant and cheerful childhood – my favourite being little mailboxes made of plastic canvas that my sister and I would pack with wishes on pieces of paper. I look forward to spending time with my family, playing trivia games, eating all kinds of vegetarian Christmas food my mummy makes me and above all, singing songs. I grew up listening to The Carpenters An Old-Fashioned Christmas Album as well as Billie Holiday, Jean-Pierre Ferland, etc..

In an effort to give something new and exciting to my folks to listen to, I have put together this mixtape: some of my favourite artists sharing their take of classic carols – Summer Camp would have had my Granpa share a dance with me. Hot Club De Paris, because I am ridiculously in love and so fucking thankful for it. White Poppy with dreamy vocals served on a savoury bass line and She & Him country sound topped with Zooey’s old-timer voice, to comfort me. In early December, Will Currie & the Country French‘s Christmas in Berlin made my heart swoon with their mention of Victoria Station which I like to imagine is the one in London, where so many times over the summer, I took the train to Brighton. Bright Eyes sings the sorrow of being apart over fuzzy guitar notes and The XX create eletronical magic out of my all time favourite.

It’s a mix of joyful and sad, a little bit like my cute self – excited for the parties, dances and cocktails but with my mind drifting away, one continent over, to the bearded man I love.

The 12 Days of Christmas // Forward Thinking :: Maica Mia

Maica Mia

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I was first introduced to Maica Mia on a warm end-of-summer night of September 2013 in Quebec City when an impressive lineup of Montreal ensembles were opening for New Yorkers ARP. They went first and made my night. Nothing charms me more than being surprised, when all you know of a band is the name you saw on a cool poster. With Maicamia, you can forget your expectations. The duo turned trio in the last year – joined by bass player Mauro Pezzente of GY!BE – create a unique and personal rock; a slightly eerie, musically pungent, always intense experience.

From being tagged slowcore to dark folk, Maicamia doesn’t seem to follow genre rules. Guitar barely audible, overtaken by the penetrating vocals until it explodes into shreds and dismantles any idea you had of where the song was going. A similar phenomenon with the drums: live, it turns into a cohesive battle. Their texts, like a ripple of complex emotions, might speak to you,  although it feels as if they are not meant to be guessed or deconstructed; Maicamia are simply there, they exist because they feel a need to.

December of 2012 marked the release of their spectacularly dense and capable debut LP, Sparcity Blues.Therefore, 2013 was an important year for the band; in the aftermath of the release, they played many festivals around the province, notably EMF(I WANT TO GO) and Pop Montreal. Shows played in churches can be really special and I can imagine how their darkly ethereal sound would resonate in such a space. The band also took the time to record Des Era which will be available January of 2014:

‘’Getting this new album recorded felt really good. We look forward to having something out there that represents us.’’

They recorded this new LP in their pratice/recording studio in Montreal a.k.a. Paradise Studio. The writing process of such unrestricted, experimental music comes in waves where they feed off one another’s inspiration:

‘’ It’s always pretty organic in the sense that, someone just starts playing something and somebody else jumps right in there to keep it going. It’s like you catch a bus and you might not even realize that you did so, but someone else in the room is very aware of the magical bus you are on and they go make sure to keep it driving.
However, when Jonny is working on the MPC, it’s much more of a process. He spends hours and hours in his room and every once in a while, he will call me over to listen to some new beats or whatever and then we take it from there.’’

Maicamia plans to start recording again in March. Maybe 2014 will bless us with two of their releases. I wouldn’t complain nor would I be surprised if their ascertainable talent made them the linchpin of an scene everflowing with talented musicians.

The 12 Days of Christmas // LABEL :: You’ve Changed Records

You’ve Changed Records

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My love affair with You’ve Changed Records began three years ago, on a sticky summer night. Through my actions, I had managed to break my young heart and I was chain smoking, sitting by the window of my flat, listening in the dark to this record a friend recommended. Daniel, Fred and Julie, S/T. Saying that the folky notes of sadness and impressive story telling were soothing would be a lie, but it wasn’t the point. Is it ever the point, with country music? Where I believe it might work for some, for me it just scrapes my heart raw.

Operating since 2007, YCR is a personal and unpretentious endeavour serving a creative group of friends and collaborators who, in the word of co-founder Steve Lambke (Baby Eagle), ‘’share certain thoughts on certain things: that songs can hold more than they are often asked to do; that creative independence takes a lot of work but is work worth doing; that as people we are always changing and learning things and that playing music is a nice way to move through life; that we can help each other out and are enriched by doing so.’’

This group of artists and I dare to say friends, are responsible for some great LPs in 2013. They are driving by collaboration which can be witnessed throughout the various releases of the label. Taking a look at the album credits is proof. It’s as if working together became the source of their creativity; as if they feed off of each other.  This year, the label introduced what quickly became a favourite heart-wrenching listen of mine;  The Weather Station Duet series in which Tamara Lindeman (The Weather Station) pairs with her favourite song writers to craft with eloquence a collection of sincerity-injected country songs.

Going into their 7th year of existence in 2014, not only can we expect a continuation of The Weather Station duets but a very exciting split with Headless Owl Records will be released; an extensive piece of collaborative work featuring brand new tunes from Shotgun Jimmie, Marine Dreams, Richard Laviolette, Baby Eagle, The Burning Hell, Construction and Destruction, Wax Mannequin, Michael Feuerstack and Kyle Cashen, recorded during a recent stay in the Yukon where they played in history-rich Dawson City.

When I asked him about his favourite record of the year, Steve Lambke describes beautifully his appreciation for the work of friends:

“My favourite record this year that we didn’t put out (Marine Dreams – Corner of the Eye and Shotgun Jimmie – Everything, Everything being the two excellent records we did release) was Construction and Destruction – Dark Lark; a great weird cry from the wilderness; heavy, dark, and spooked; well-read rock outs; nature-haunted. It’s a beautiful looking LP too.”

For my part, I am completely charmed and utterly impressed by their work. It’s heartfelt and candid; there are songs to contemplate our own worries to, some to sing-a-long and ride your bike to.  And to dive right into the depth of them procures a certain tranquillity.

The 12 Days Of Christmas // Forward thinking :: Doom Squad

Doom Squad

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I have to say it. End of year lists, top 50 best albums and similar endeavours intimidate me. Not only does it seem to require a tremendous exercise of memory and an exhaustive consistency at documenting, but I am not a particular fan of the effect it has on me. Or people. On one side, it might make me question the first impression I had of an album (which is great, I might give it another go!) but on the other, it makes me feels inadequate for all the releases I had no time to give a listen to. And in a friendly conversation about music, it feels slightly weird when everyone states Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys and The National as their 2013 favourites. Maybe I am just difficult, maybe these lists are too influential. Either way, as much as we love The National and Arcade Fire here at A House Down the Road, we like to be challenged. And weirdo magicians Doom Squad have something on the go I am looking forward to.

I came across these Montreal-by-way-of-Toronro siblings  a few months ago when Hand Drawn Dracula released a tribute album for the 25th anniversary of In Utero. A bunch of Torontian bands covering Nirvana in all kinds of different ways from the heavy use of synth to a real sludge fest. I already stated my excitement here. I noticed the somehow familiar name on there, loved the track. Same week, I realised they’d be playing Quebec soon. The music god works in mysterious ways.

The phrase ‘washes over you’ may be thrown around like an old pair of Levis, but using it here would be an understatement. Doom Squad sounds are a growling meditation. From the very first notes of their set, memories of my early teenage dabbles into witchcraft and wicca books appeared in my head. And all the feelings of then; the uncertainty, the secret power, the surreptitious rituals… It felt unsurprising yet so strange to remember such distant souvenirs. It stayed within me for a few minutes. Then I shifted back to listening mode. Their music being mainly electronic is astounding in it’s variances: some heavy guitar riffs, all kinds of mystical flutes, heavy percussion, and phantom-esque vocals, chanted at times. They are highly skilled musicians, the definition of layered sounds, of texture. What they offer is an atmosphere propitious to introspection, physical redemption and abandonment.

Over 2013, Doom Squad managed to create something quite prolific. They released their self titled EP, which contains the most complex, mesmerizing cover of Riders of the Storm ever. They toured Canada, playing with HSY, Viet Cong, Petra Glynt and ++. They annouced their debut LP ‘Kalaboogie’ for February 2014 and dropped the singles ‘Ovoo // The Cools’ available for streaming here. Alongside, they release a spellbinding video for ‘Ovoo’, directed by Chris Boni. They were signed to UK label No Pain in Pop for European distribution. They have been noticed by the BBC’s Tom Ravenscroft. And finally, they hopped on a plane to tour is some of the coolest cities of Europe.

This is not just fact-dropping. I am genuinely excited. They have that effect; to draw you in. A hypnotic sorcery.