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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/05/2012 (4042 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


Death Dreams (PAPER BAG)

THE stellar debut record from the Kingston duo of Paul Saulnier (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards) and Benjamin Nelson (drums), Meet Me at the Muster Station, set the bar high for the band’s followup. Death Dreams fulfils that promise in many ways, with stronger, more propulsive, more nuanced songs that still sound as if they’re on the verge of a glorious, scrappy indie-rock meltdown.

There’s just one drawback. Saulnier is not the strongest vocalist, but his passionate, ragged whoop worked on Meet Me. On Death Dreams, however, he seems to have given up any attempt to hit the notes squarely and resorts to indiscriminate yelping. It’s not clear whether it’s an affectation or a lack of ability, but either way, it’s often sorely to the songs’ detriment.

It’s too bad, because there are so many meaty melodies on Death Dreams that are begging to be belted out (Saulnier’s vocals are mostly mercifully buried in the mix). With its lovely, liquid guitars, Don’t Go has the passionate melancholy of a new wave love song, and Future Dontcare could be the feel-sad hit of the summer.

And on the plus side, when Saulnier lets his guitar do the singing, whether it’s a snarling J. Mascis-style assault or a more intricate, chiming affair, it’s a thing of beauty. Three and a half stars

— Jill Wilson



Strangeland (Universal)

DON’T let the title fool you: there is nothing remotely strange about Keane’s fourth album. After dabbling with ’80s electro pop on its 2008 release, Perfect Symmetry, the British band gets back to keyboard-driven mellow-pop comfort zone with shimmering guitars and synthesizers backing melancholy tales of nostalgia, romance gone wrong and self-help.

There are moments of pure Brit-pop bliss, most notably on the end-of-romance tale Neon River, the (latter-day) XTC-sound-alike Disconnected and the nostalgic Sovereign Light Café. Main songwriter Tim Rice-Oxley has a knack for writing stadium-sized melodies, but when he misses the mark the tunes are nothing but bland piano ballads that sound like they were written to be used in weepy montages for prime time television hospital dramas. Maybe they were. Three stars

— Rob Williams



Harmonicraft (Volcom)

TORCHE isn’t easily categorized. Is it a metal band with pop leanings, or pop band with a metal edge? Call it what you want because in the end it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that the Florida quartet has carved out its own unique niche and offered up some of heaviest batch of hooks we’ll hear this year.

The band has mostly ditched the sludge and shoegaze wanderings of its earlier material to focus on crafting mini-melodic masterpieces filled with harmonized guitar, vocal harmonies and fret board workouts that range from the stoner rock riffs of Skin Mouth, the Sabbathy doom of Looking On and the serpentine arpeggios of Snakes are Charmed to the sheer jubilation of the soaring Letting Go and Kicking. It’s a little slicker than 2008’s amazing Meanderthal, but Torche can still go for the quick gut punch of pure adrenalin and guitar solo madness in less than two minutes as Walk it Off and Sky Trails prove.

Call is pop, metal, or metal-pop, but Harmonicraft is an album fans of either genre should appreciate. Four and a half stars

— RW



Mannequin (Independent)

WINNIPEG singer-songwriter JP Hoe finds a nice balance between rootsy singer-songwriter and pop artist on his third full length-album, Mannequin.

Fans of his poppier anthems will roar for Lions and Tigers, an infectious earworm that shows off his melodic skills and knack for arrangements with guitars and piano playing off each other to crash together during the chorus, featuring some vocal harmonizing. Another highlight includes Nothing’s Gonna Harm You with Hoe cleverly shoehorning his rapid-fire lyrics into a meter that almost sounds designed for different vocal syncopation, yet it works as an effective device as it builds to the climax.

There are odes to love and relationships gone right and wrong, but even on tender ballads like Veils on the Way and the string-drenched I Only Did it for Love Hoe never forgets to include hooks that bring his Mannequin to life. Four stars

— RW



All Is More than Both (Soccermom)

BESIDES having cool band and label monikers, former Waltons’ singer-songwriter Jason Plumb has created a likable album that any fan of sincere Canuck pop rock should get behind. With a hot cast of guest musicians and singers (including members of Barenaked Ladies, Chic Gamine, Rush and Shuffle Demons) Plumb offers a charming combination of tight rockers and sincere ballads on these 11 well-produced tracks.

There is a little something for everyone here whether it’s soaring lap steel and strings (Under A Gun, Falling Star) or half-remembered Jackson Browne riffs (Alone With You) the band works up plenty of magic. And if you are looking for a new style Kim Mitchell-esque bar room rocker, All By Myself kicks out more than a little jam in that direction.

Thoughtful lyrics and melodies abound here and Plumb keeps his songs just as real as they need to be. Recommended. Three and a half stars

— Jeff Monk



Master of My Make-Believe (Warner)

IF you’re missing M.I.A., you could do worse than picking up the second album by Brooklyn hipstress Santigold, who continues to work with M.I.A. producers Diplo, Switch and John Hill. This would be a bore if it stopped there, but she also gets help from Q-Tip, Dave Sitek, Boys Noize, Buraka Som Sistema and a guest appearance from Karen O. Affinities for ’90s alt-rock (Breeders, Pixies), booty rap and dub/dancehall reggae fill out the bill.

Santigold continues to represent the cool kids by mixing up-tempo tracks, deep grooves and laid-back pop anthems into a savvy, globe-trotting, club-rock-chill mix tape. You’ve got your guitar grit, your funky beats and your introspection, tossed together in equal measure with style, finesse and just a tad too much discernible effort. Three and a half stars

— T’Cha Dunlevy, Postmedia News





Seeds From The Underground (Mack Avenue)

KENNY Garrett acknowledges his influences on this 10-track disc of new compositions, a mainly post-bop outing that sizzles in the hands of the saxophonist with the stinging tone.

J. Mac, a tribute to the great alto saxophonist Jackie McLean, is the best of a good bunch as Garrett sprints through the tune. Detroit is an emotional ballad, made intentionally to sound like an old scratchy LP, in homage to Garrett’s home town, intensified by wordless vocals by Nedelka Prescod. Haynes Here is a waltzing nod to drummer Roy Haynes, while the title track features Garrett on some athletic soprano sax.

This set is the melodic Garrett in top form. Four stars

— Chris Smith





Chopin: Nocturnes; Ballades; Berceuse; Barcarolle (Chandos)

EVERYTHING Louis Lortie does in this second volume of his Chandos Chopin project is so inevitably drawn that one senses the music is unfolding on its own without a trace of intervention. Chopin doesn’t usually get that since the temptation to imprint his work with pulls, tugs and “feeling” is such a minefield for pianists, but Lortie gives us the most honest sentences and paragraphs, bathed in beautifully finished pianism with affection and power never amiss when needed.

There are a lot of recordings of Chopin’s four Ballades. Unlike most, Lortie prefaces each, along with the Barcarolle, with one of the Nocturnes in a related key. As he notes, this was a traditional practice to give a sense of something improvised coming just ahead of the more substantial piece. It is very effective and an added bonus on this splendid Chopin experience. Four and a half stars

— James Manishen





Dirt (Open Road/Universal)

DEAN Brody is one of few acts embraced by country radio that actually sounds country. Amid the sonic embellishments of fiddles, mandolins and Dobros, the British Columbia native expounds on the virtues of rural routes, pretty girls, fishin’ poles, returning troops, barbecues, sharing sleeping bags and dirt, of course.

He applauds the music of Bob Marley, yet thankfully forgoes the usual faux reggae many of his contemporaries succumb to. Brody really hits pay dirt with Canadian Girls, a track celebrating how the most northerly of the fairer sex love hockey and Gordon Lightfoot while looking sexy in a tuque!

There are a few disappointments and one of the biggest is It’s Friday where Brody goes Country and Eastern with Great Big Sea contributing vocals, accordion, bouzouki and bodhran. You’d expect a lively kitchen party, but instead it moves like its early Saturday morning and you’re hung right over. Three stars

— Bruce Leperre

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