Occurrence – The Past Will Live Forever

The Past Will Live Forever by Brooklyn electronic duo Occurrence, embarks on an auditory journey through dark, moody, cyber-landscapes, that stimulate chilly feelings of isolation, the stomach burning acidity of lust-filled loneliness, and the numbing acceptance after reflecting back on a life wasted, or never even begun, in a tech-obsessed world.  The stories are told through vocally beautiful songs and spoken phrase, backed by rich synths and bass lines reminiscent of early Orbital and The Crystal Method.  On vinyl, the combination sounds superb.

As hopeless as the songs may be thematically, The Past Will Live Forever doesn’t leave you feeling depressed.  Instead, by illuminating the multitude of intense emotional struggles that people deal with every day, the songs encourage self-reflection and inspire change.  After all, we still have control over the skin we’re in, unlike our friend in “Skin For The Win”.

Dave MacIntyre

Oran Mor Session by The Twilight Sad

The Twilight Sad have released Oran Mor Session, an album stripped of the noisy sound wash we have come to expect and love from the Scottish trio in lieu of crisp and moody guitar melodies from Andy MacFarlane and the visceral heart-wrenching vocals of James Graham.  Most of the music has been re-envisioned from the band’s 4th studio release Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave, a few select b-sides and a cover of Arthur Russell’s “I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face”.

Surprisingly, stripping the music of synths, bass and percussion, adds a ton of emotional weight to the songs as focus narrows from the musical experience of the originals to the words that Graham so beautifully and powerfully articulates.  Songs such as “Pills I Swallow”, “It Never Was The Same”, and “Drown So I Can Watch” are laid bare emotional gut punchers that radiate as much as they sting.  Start to finish, Oran Mor Session is an all-encompassing and poignant experience best enjoyed uninterrupted with a top-end sound system or headphones.

With the recent announcement of The Twilight Sad’s upcoming tour dates with The Cure, it will be interesting to see if the band splices their set with original versions and some of these acoustic gems.  A full acoustic session would be beautiful to experience but would leave drummer Mark Devine out and would be better suited to small venues and seated concert halls with top-notch acoustics.

If it does happen, don’t forget to bring along tissue.

Dave MacIntyre

In Photos: Chvrches at The Danforth Music Hall, Toronto

Scottish synth-pop trio Chvrches, played two sold out shows at The Danforth Music Hall this past Sunday and Monday.  Drawing music from both their debut hit album The Bones Of What You Believe and their 2015 release Every Open Eye, the band put on a highly energized 90-minute set that had fans singing, dancing and clapping along to the music all night.  Lead singer Lauren Mayberry is a vocal powerhouse, her singing a compliment to the bass heavy synths and guitars of Iain Cook and Martin Doherty.  A fun night out and worth catching should they stop your way.

Photos by Dave MacIntyre

 

Gotta Be a Loose Fit: Happy Mondays

 

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“I wrote for luck. They sent me you.”

Happy Mondays erupted out of a Manchester that was somehow entirely different than Morrissey and Marr’s town, twisting The Smiths’ wry wit by the ear.

They bore nothing at all in common with other greats from their city who came before them: Joy Division, New Order, James;  except that they were also singular and also great.

Even twenty odd years on since Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches, it’s astounding and ever thrilling to hear the cocktail of sex, drugs, debauchery, profanity, humour, satire and weirdness that falls out of Shaun Ryder’s stream of consciousness lyrics which are actually often quite pointed and full of cultural criticism, beautifully uncensored and unfiltered, unfettered. They shimmer with true freedom as so many great, at times opium fueled poets of ages past would have loved to be.  These words and intonations were carried on a sketchy breeze of cool, unfussy rebellion, of the sound of Baggy itself, of a shrugging toughness that could never be faked. Whispered in the ear,  mumbled, or barked lyrics travelled round the world and made kids everywhere want to be part of one local scene that existed too briefly in one Northern English city, and the larger unknown culture that formed it, as we nodded if not knowingly, than wishfully, that we could get even a tenth of the inside references. A lifetime mission to penetrate this dialect was born in suburban hearts everywhere.

For to learn the slang of the gang was as worthwhile a pursuit as any we could think of from miles and miles away. Shaun Ryder, the unpredictable bard, made “twistin’ my melon” sound needlessly dirty, naturally, while “four, four in a bed. Three giving head. One getting wet ” came out sounding, oddly, rather romantic and sweet.  The bite of anger in “Wrote for Luck” was mitigated by the naturally funny and freeing lift of Ryder’s offbeat moments, like a long yell in the middle of the song that seemed to say as much about what it felt like to be young in 1990, in northern towns, far from the centre, in faded empires, under grey skies as it seemed to maybe just say, “eh, fuck you”. And today, the same howl and stomping cool of this anthem offers commuter relief in its forever unpackaged originality. Try it on a loop, it’ll change everything on the coach.

They were Bummed. They were Happy. They said Yes Please while picking your pocket, because singing about the travails of a Mondays’ “Holiday” involving “one small sneak” is just too damned funny to be any kind of crime, no matter what the contraband. They were unabashedly street. And they were smart. They reminded us that “Stinkin’ Thinkin’ gets you nowhere (but comes from somewhere).”

“Kiss me for screwing everything in sight. Kiss me for never getting it right. Kiss me goodnight. Kiss me for old time’s sake. Kiss me for making a big mistake.” How could anyone resist?

Have the Mondays ever received their due? In spite of the question that lingers like smoke for this band and so many others who burned so bright in the early 90’s, The Mondays are bigger than petty concerns or a waste of time jostling for cred, as ever. Instead, as if summoned by the endless dreams and devotion of global fans, The Mondays are on a major anniversary lap this past year, a high point of which is undoubtedly headlining the unusually cohesive line up for November’s Shiiine On Weekender.  This festival boasts a roster of the top albums of 1990-91 (and beyond) from across Indie, Dance, Ambient, and Manchester bands and offers a full weekend of music, films, DJ sets and pool parties, including one hosted by Bez himself. Pinch me.

And here we are, 15 years into this goddawful new millennium, when the jetpacks we were promised are still backordered, seeing The Clone Roses. Yes, please. We’ll take two: seeing the great Peter Fij (Adorable, Polak) for the first time ever. Oh and that’s just my personal favourites there’s The Wonder Stuff, Inspiral Carpets, Northside, Peter Hook and the Light, Stereo MCs, The Farm, The Orb, The Real People, Thousand Yard Stare…It’s a month away, and already historic for the happiness its triggered in anticipation.

Shaun Ryder and Rowetta in 1990But back to The Mondays. We’ve waited years for this band’s compositions and Shaun Ryder’s lyrics to receive the acclaim they deserve. True to form, cool resists such things and the body of work has instead gone on to be something better: an inside joke and a secret handshake understood by a select number of global insiders, a knowing head bob, and an appreciation that defies definition. “Show you what the cat’s been doing, and how he gets around” is no less funny if it’s a reference to good ol’ “Grandbag” shortly before his anticipated death, or an image of a family standing around watching and discussing the antics of the family pet (the true meaning of the line holds a decadent amount of air time at Step On Mag HQ of late; we suspect it’s the former, but we are endlessly entertained by the notion of the latter.)

In the intervening years when we all, unfortunately had to grow up (and before the welcome resurgence of our top 90’s bands now that our lot has the keys and can fill the roster like good Indie kids) The Mondays stayed on rotation through the LP, CD, and iPod years. We may never have dabbled in anything stronger than the evil, legal alcohol, but Pills, Thrills and Bellyaches has, through some strange northern magic, served as effective holistic medicine for what ails on that morning after commute. Somehow that Chill Out Room of a brilliant record (and it works best if played end to end) covers the hungover listener in a blanket of comfort that keeps subway rage to a minimum, and its smooth rhythms are a tried and true balm for the self-inflicted wounds of the drinker – a remedy we’ve prescribed to anyone who’ll listen for two decades. This band is not shambolic, you see. Rather, they were and are ingeniously tight and comfortable together, honed over many years before their breakthrough;  as well as their outside projects, their real lives and their individual survival. Back in 1990, their musical looseness, captured rather perfectly on their records along with Ryder’s off-the-cuff ramblings, gave us all something that sounds ridiculously fresh and spontaneous. And free. And offers a different kind of happiness: the darker, weird and authentic kind that we know is all.  And Shaun Ryder’s singing is still one of the most original, fearless and cool in all of music history. His rhymes and left turns contain multitudes that hold up ridiculously well alongside the greats of the English canon:

“We all learned to box at the Midget Club
Where we punched with love and did someone good
It’s good to see ya, to see you nice
If you do me once, well, we’ll do it twice
We’re twice as likely we’re twice as right
You say it’s wrong but we know it’s right

Ride
Ride on, right on”

Northern Soul is alive and well and will be celebrated in fine form down south at the seaside for one big weekend beginning one month from today. It might be time to pack up the skin tights and put on the Loose Fits again (Hallelujah!). The original and definitive Happy Mondays line up, with, of course, the inimitable and essential Queen Rowetta, will headline.  And will always shiiine on.

All lyrics c. The Happy Mondays (Ryder, Paul Anthony/ Whelan, Gary Kenneth/Day, Mark Phillip/Davis, Paul Richard/Ryder, Shaun William) Warner/Chappell Music Inc., Universial Music Publishing Group.

Happy Mondays 

Shiiine On Weekender

By Jacqueline Howell

Drenge Live at Adelaide Hall, Toronto

Eoin and Rory Loveless, the Sheffield duo better known as Drenge played the far-too-small and now ridiculously named Adelaide Hall on Saturday night in support of Wolf Alice.  The former Limelight has undergone renovations that has redefined the space from what was once a spacious multi-level club with great overhead views of the stage from the second floor railing into something more akin to a large wreck room in someone’s basement.  It has nice acoustics and is an ideal space for smaller emerging bands, but quite inadequate for these two bands.

Needless to say, getting anywhere closer than 5 feet from the back wall would require slinking through fans with elbows extended, apologies galore, sheepish looks, behaviour that I deplore as would the fans who arrived early.  As it turned out, the band were bathed in dark red light all night anyway, a photographer’s worst nightmare, aside from no light at all.

All griping about the space now vented, Drenge were incredible, tearing through a near seamless 45-minute set, reserving chit chat to simple hellos and a few jabs at Taylor Swift, much to my delight.  I was put on to the band by a friend in Bristol who is friends with their touring bass player Rob Graham.  I checked them out online and really liked what I heard, but no streaming site can capture the raw and visceral experience of seeing these guys live.  Songs such as “Never Awake”, “Nothing” and “Running Wild” infuse elements of Punk, Metal and alternative rock and sound absolutely massive whether on the stage at Reading Festival or in a tiny rock club in Toronto.

And like their sound, I expect this band will be massive.  Check out the tune “Running Wild” below.

Dave MacIntyre

Self-Titled EP by I Am Lono

Atmospherically engrossing and instantly captivating is how I would describe my first listening experience of the 6-track self-titled EP by I Am Lono.  And that experience is both exciting and rare.  If asked to define their sound, I would say the music is dark synth wave, but the duo out of Nottingham transcend and morph into other musical realms too.

Opening track “Infra Red” starts the EP with rich, sweeping, melodic synths that remind of us the beauty of The Cure.  Then the pronounced bass guitar hooks kick in and we are taken back to Joy Division’s Peter Hook.  When Matthew Cooper sings, it’s the influence of David Bowie that ties it all together.  Despite the comparisons however, I Am Lono have a sound that is unique and entirely their own.

“Why Everything Is Made Of Fives” builds on the formula with more aggression and drive propelled by the wall of sound guitars of David Startin. Its relentlessness is nothing short of addictive and oddly resonates in my mind long after the song has finished, like a sped up version of Ministry’s “Everyday Is Halloween”.

The anxious tension of “Only Love” touches the closest to Robert Smith territory you’ll find; and it’s pretty close to perfect.  With vocals surrounded by synths that transform between dissonant monotoned alarms and threatening low-toned buzzsaws, it ends side one on a high note.

Side two takes a major departure in sound and style starting off with the eerily robotic “I Wanted To, Once”.  It’s a composition of industrial sound and samples that Kraftwerk would take their hats off to, which transitions seamlessly into the beautifully melancholic instrumental “Waltz”.

We are reintroduced to Cooper’s vocals again on the EP’s final and wonderfully moody track “A Macquette”.  It’s a perfect close for the EP embodying the Bowie-esqe vocal elements of side one with darker industrialized synths reminiscent of Depeche Mode’s early catalogue.

Throughout the EP, I Am Lono manages to infuse a perfect balance of light and dark with underlying currents of warmth and cold.  It’s a delicate equilibrium that builds and releases tension throughout and creates an entrancing listening experience that never risks complacency.

Dave MacIntyre

The Most Lamentable Tragedy by Titus Andronicus

TitusAndronicusRock opera. Those two words have a certain promise in them. Structure takes some precedence over instrumentation. Lack of quality represents something other than plain laziness. And symbols, whenever they are not beaten like a dead horse by English academics, function as key to unravelling the musical tarmac. From the recognizable American Idiot by Green Day and Tommy by The Who to the Toronto locals Fucked Up and their David Comes to Life release, the rock opera requires a grasp of control. With The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Titus Andronicus manages to control a behemoth of ideas, even with some vague notions of what some of those ideas are.

Titus Andronicus, a Punk Rock band based out of New Jersey, had already soaked their feet in musical complexities, as indicated by their previous release, The Monitor, an album that shoves the Civil War backdrop onto a compelling love story, using volume, evocative lyrics, and an urgency that maddeningly leaves the listener wanting more. Though Local Business follows The Monitor, it is The Most Lamentable Tragedy that feels like a blood relative to their Monitor. What differentiates this album to its predecessors is its use of acts and several crises.

Five acts. Within these lie mental illness, heritage, a multiple personality disorder, love, drugs, and much more, leading me to be sceptical as to how vocalist and guitarist, Patrick Stickles, would commit to a rock opera. Encompassing several seasons, the album’s overall premise, in its simplest form, is that depression sucks, but mania also sucks, especially when you have a split personality–and also, somewhere along the line, you will have some strange dream sequences revolving around an ancestor that goes through similar things you go through. In the end, the album becomes a matter of finding the hero facing off against himself in a Star Wars-esque meeting of the minds. The question is, does it work?

Underlying all of these aspects of life are the instrumentation and punk fury that the band has been known for delivering. The thrashing chords and the purposeful silences act as a vehicle to, as smoothly as possible, take the listener on this voyage that, sometimes, can overwhelm the important lyrics. Opening up with feedback in “The Angry Hour,” the assemblage of all six band members set themselves up on the stage for the non-complex “No Future Part IV: No Future Triumphant,” a track that is purposefully simple. With depression of our hero encompassing the first act, there is a lack of extravagance; it is just punk and throaty shouts. These simple antics go on until “The Magic Morning” where hypo-mania kicks up the more up-and-at-’em melodies. And, yes, there are two tracks labelled “I Lost My Mind.”

Tracks like “Dimed Out,” the first single off the album, “Fatal Flaw,” and “Come On, Siobhán” should be singled out on their own as tracks that are filled with life and, without the whole rock opera tent around it, can be stand-alone songs. The stranger tracks, such as “More Perfect Union,” which has a folk-like and Irish style that dresses up our newly introduced ancestor story line, and “(S)HE SAID / (S)HE SAID,” which is a long look of mental dreariness, have interesting structures. The former track has a slow change of pace with a long instrumental breakdown, and the latter has the hero take you to a dark place, slowly allowing you an intimacy around their desires and painful search for sense, especially regarding their personality, their double, a lookalike.

This album is about I, about me, about the self. It is an over ninety-minute piece that is rich in how it forms a character portrait–a case study on one individual. The album takes the internal and makes it gargantuan, still allowing the external to play a role in the hero’s fragmented mind. Stickles wants to make the album overt, positing his mental map through interviews and videos. Of course, like the fractured mind, some things will remain vague, such as the eventful fifth act, but the band can be forgiven that. What the album ends on is not a Wizard of Oz style of grainy quality, but the return to sadness and the idea of mortality. Our hero faces his split personality; his lookalike. A synth blankets everything and the album takes one last breath before everything ends.

This is an inspiring work of ambition, one that should influence later generations of musicians, whether they be of a punk background or not.

Dustin Ragucos is a writer of things fictional, poetic, and musical. His main loves include Death Grips and Indie music. Dustin’s blog is host to a weekly blurb about albums old and new.

Deep In The Iris by Braids

Braids - Deep In The IrisAlbums that manage to just barely escape the flavour-of-the-week sound are ones that are special. Not only because they infect you, but also due to their ability to bring at least one novel thing onto the table. Calgary-based Indie Rock trio Braids manages to escape flavour of the week by throwing their Deep in the Iris onto a table and watching the wooden legs break under the pressure of its creative loudness. The band accomplishes the feat of sounding like Björk mixed with Tegan and Sara, as well as a little bit of Grimes, not just in vocalization, but in overall sound. Pursuing many artistic directions with this third record, the band balances the pop sentimentality, commonly found in radio-friendly Ellie Goulding jams, and an artsy-fartsy rock style that fans of Jenny Hval crave.

When singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston sings, it is not her voice that captures our ears for the first half of this album–it is how she manipulates her voice in binaural fashion that makes our ears properly attuned to the sonic barrage the band brings together. “Blondie” is a perfect example of her taking advantage of effects to manipulate how listeners take in her falsettos and long-winded words. Even the synths on the track have a misty texture that drenches us. “Happy When” is another track that keeps us entertained. Using a falsetto, Raphaelle first creates a welcome intimacy that quickly transforms into a Holly Herndon-inspired art singing. The song’s almost casual lyrics is in contrast to the post-rock sound that the piano and guitars attempt to emulate. The final third of the track posits imagery of bloody knees, yet with an underlying melody that makes everything seem romanticized.

In its most artistic form, BRAIDS throws a lyrical curve-ball with “Miniskirt,” opting to sound like a ravenous spoken word piece about consent. The dissonant and atonal synths allow the clean vocals to have its scary substance. Halfway in is a change of pace with wonky notes and an out-of-control singer speaking about Canada as if it were another planet. Deep inside we feel Raphaelle’s feelings for a dark society, creating a track that can be compared to Grimes’s “Oblivion,” a song about assault. It is upsetting that after this halfway point in the album, the songs begin to lose their steam, feeling almost mediocre.

“Getting Tired” feels exactly just that–a tame piece that is vocally slowed down, one with a piano that plays its constant dissonant melody to keep the album moving along. “Sore Eyes” is also sobering, with its talk about walking to the store and picking up cigarettes and the old man behind a counter. Unsustained keyboard notes, crescendos created through distortion, more melodic keys, and interspersing of different effects adds textures that do not feel as experimental as previous tracks. “Bunny Rose” has a clacking percussion that would have seemed an interesting addition in the more poppy songs. What tracks like those in the final half do for the listener is take them away from quasi-abstract sceneries and drop them back to more unsatisfactory ones caked with artificial keyboard playing and dull structures.

This album makes me wonder whether the band wants a concrete song or not. While the transfusion of different vocalists is interesting, especially when compounded with fairly rounded instrumental textures, I feel we do not get very intimate with the entire band. Sounds are at different wavelengths and, while that is good experimentally, it makes me wonder whether imbalance is their sound or not. That said, I feel like cutting this into an EP would have been a better decision.

Dustin Ragucos is a writer of things fictional, poetic, and musical. His main loves include Death Grips and Indie music. Dustin’s blog is host to a weekly blurb about albums old and new.

Star Wars by Wilco

Wilco - Star WarsOne glance at the cover of Wilco’s most recent album, and nothing is indicative of what goes on inside.

Ok, that’s only a half-truth. Front man Jeff Tweedy stated last week that the album was released as a surprise free download simply because “it would be fun”.

With an oil painting depiction of a fluffy white kitty behind the vintage lettering of Star Wars, the obvious interpretation is that the record was made with that same frame of mind.

Because of this, it’s safe to say that the mid-western alternative rock band’s freshest output is void of any kind of pressure. That’s not to say it’s lacking intensity. Wilco has forged a long career out of laid back folk jams that are blanketed in out-of-tune lap-steel feedback squealing over tender lyrics.

As a whole, Star Wars is somewhat of a return to form after the expansive folk-rock of 2011’s The Whole Love. If you could consider A Ghost Is Born-era Wilco to be the most genuine version of the band.

Star Wars is a fleeting, 33-minute effort that is as spirited as any of their other releases. Unlike its predecessor, it’s more formulaic in approach, yet embodies the same earnest quality of signature Wilco.

Swirling guitar riffs carry the bulk of the load, while the sonic crescendo of tracks such as “You Satellite” help build the foundation, and the steady fuzz build-up and drop off of “Pickled Ginger” provide the backbone of the record.

After nearly clocking in a full runtime, Star Wars saves the most saccharine moments for the mid-tempo closing ballad “Magnetized”.

It’s evident that Wilco is not keen on pulling any punches with Star Wars. It would be unfair to say it lacks in surprises, as Wilco has a reputation of playing it safe over the course of their career. Yet with this offering, Wilco remain the purveyors of honest folk-rock, even if the rural tendencies of their music has all but dissipated over the last few albums.

There may be a hidden joke connecting the track  “Random Name Generator” with the innocuous album title, but Star Wars should be tempered with honest expectations from the very first listen.

Score: 3 1/2 out of 5

Star Wars is available now as a free download from Wilco’s official website.

Chris Dowbiggin is a graduate of broadcast journalism at Sheridan College. Besides Ultimate Frisbee, his true passions lie in his musings on music and pop culture. You can follow him on twitter here.

Los Angeles by The Lovely Lonely

Coined as an experimental electronic album that is the soundtrack to the city, the debut album Los Angeles from producer/artist The Lovely Lonely, radiates with infectious synthetic melodies and depth that spreads far beyond the borders of California.

Starting the record off is the instrumental “Arrivals”, a rich yet simplistic loop of echoing synthy goodness that reveals what is to come deeper in.  The relentless heartbeat pulse of the song is palpable and surges with an urgency that is both strangely calming and anxiety inducing all at once; the life force of LAX captured in music.

We get our first taste of the robotic electro lyrics that permeate the album in “UNI”, a song that blends a modern electronic backing track with classic flavours of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn”.  The formula works and carries on through “Favor” and the highly catchy “Nightlife” before hitting “Away” the first of many truly standout tracks on the album.  Fans of “Under Your Spell” by Desire will adore “Away” for its 80’s inspired Synth-Pop energy and familiarity.

Only half way through the album and I am already sold on The Lovely Lonely.

The pulsating synths of “Streets” is downright sinister and threatening and does not relent throughout its entire 3-minutes.  It’s a song that would fit nicely as a B-Side for the darker parts of Depeche Mode’s Music For The Masses.  “Desole” is the closest to modern electronic dance music that the album touches upon and would make a fine addition to any club DJ set, yet the song does not deviate significantly enough to make it non-cohesive to the rest of Los Angeles.

One of the few tracks on the record to feature non-digitized lyrics is “Save Me”.  Its combination of sensual female vocals, buzz saw synthesizers and deep bass is both hypnotic and blissful, and is another standout track.  This is immediately followed by “Missing”, a song that oozes with 80’s synth-pioneers influence.  Think Camouflage, OMD and once again Kraftwerk, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of the feel of this song.

Leaving Los Angeles we hear “Departures”, an instrumental piece that is all about depth and atmosphere.  It’s dark and unapologetic, much like the city itself, and makes a fitting end to an outstanding start to finish record.  In Los Angeles, The Lovely Lonely have crafted an album that pays homage to the synth masters of the 80’s while remaining very much unique and fresh.  It’s a sound and style that today seems reserved for only the greatest movie soundtracks, making both The Lovely Lonely and the debut album, a diamond in the rough.

Los Angeles is available on iTunes, Amazon and all other major online digital stores.

Dave MacIntyre

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