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This article was published 29/3/2018 (664 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
All Nerve (4AD)
The sinewy, elastic bass, drum and guitar riff that starts the Breeders’ one true hit, 1993’s Cannonball, is unforgettable to those who know it. To hear it now is to be transported immediately back to an age that teemed with possibility.
Nearly 25 years later, the Breeders lineup that created Last Splash is back together and it’s a credit to Kim and Kelley Deal, bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer James MacPherson that All Nerve doesn’t come off as the earnest wheezing of a nostalgia act. If anything, it delivers on the promise of all those years ago, proving that, regardless of their personal struggles, side projects and Pixies reunions/fallouts, the Breeders’ ability to create arrestingly noisy, off-kilter-yet-melodic post-punk is pleasingly intact.
The album opens with a killer one-two punch. Nervous Mary begins tentatively but quickly becomes the kind of pounding, jangly stomper that kicks off the best live shows, while Wait in the Car is an adrenalized, stop-start rave-up with a relentless riff and doubled vocals from the Deal sisters that just won’t quit – heck, Kim even meows.
MetaGoth is Wiggs’ first lead vocal for the band, and the combination of reverb-laden sing-speak set to a Joy Division-ish soundscape perfectly reflects its title. Spacewoman, meanwhile, sets a wistful lyric to a dark, foreboding tone. The ominous, lo-fi threat of Walking with a Killer, meanwhile, will raise the hairs on the back of your neck. HHH1/2
Stream these: Wait in the Car, MetaGoth, Walking with a Killer
— John Kendle
Black River Drifters
Drive by Feel (Independent)
In the music industry, three years between albums might as well be a lifetime. The fickle tastes of fans can warp and shift over time and it becomes a full-out crapshoot as to whether a band’s new music will hit the same high-water mark.
However, it’s immediately clear that the downtime between albums for Winnipeg’s Black River Drifters was not wasted. Track for track Drive by Feel is a challenger in any class of Americana/roots music. The opening trio alone (Rumble Strips, Jelly Bean, The Way I See It) is worth the price of admission to the Black River Drifters’ world.
The outlaw-country music side of the band is in full evidence lyrically as well. The lyrics to Down in El Paso ("It’s just a lifestyle, I ain’t afraid of thrills / that ain’t my teeth a chatterin’, my skull is rattlin with pills"), Mi Casa, su Muerte ("Relax, do a line, get a shine on, it’s just my way") and Old Friend ("She found a bag of powder and a blackened spoon / I said it was a one-time thing") detail some interesting and dangerous lifestyle choices made by the songs’ characters. By allowing these darker insights into their music, the band creates something of a mythology that sets it apart from others less comfortable detailing such things in song.
Drummer Ryan Cyr and guitarist Don Norman share lead vocals and their tight harmonies on tracks like These Chains I’m In and Precious Scars reveals a depth of emotion and a striking grasp of how two voices can ideally mesh. Lead picker Leo Kopelow gives no ground to the competition — he is a twang-wrangler to watch for sure. Sophomore slump? How about Manitoba country music album of the year. HHHHH
Stream These: Down Near El Paso, Precious Scars
— Jeff Monk
Avi Granite 6
Orbit (Pet Mantis Records)
Avi Granite has recorded over the years with his Toronto-based band the Avi Granite 6, although this is the group’s first release in a decade. The guitarist basically hangs out in New York these days and has several bands there, but convenes the Avi Granite 6 — Jim Lewis on trumpet, Peter Lutek on reeds, Tom Richards on trombone, Neal Davis on bass and Ted Warren on drums — back home in Canada when needed.
Granite’s own bio humorously states that he’s "a guitarist and composer of questionable pedigree and curious intent," but there is nothing questionable about the music or musicianship here. His compositions leave interesting spaces for improvisation that allow each member to appreciate the trust placed in him. The seeming "looseness" of the melodies is designed to keep the entire band totally focused on the whole picture. The music is both melodic and challenging; these compositions have apparently been gleaned from the last few years leading up to Orbit specifically for the musicians of Avi Granite 6.
A recurring pattern is a simple introduction by a single instrument, and then a slowly building intensity and complexity as horns and the rest dig in. Trumpet, trombone and saxophone are effectively intertwined, and Warren’s drumming keeps everything moving. Granite’s guitar is central without taking undue control of the tunes. There is humour as well (Hortez the Chihuahua) and more serious tracks (Critical Eddie).
This is a clearly contemporary sound with a sextet of completely capable practitioners. (By the way, the Pet Mantis label is Granite’s own company.) HHHH out of five
Stream These: Undo Process, Boston
Englabörn & Variations (Deutsche Grammophon)
The haunting music of the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson gains even greater resonance with this new release. The award-winning artist who wrote electro-acoustic works extensively for theatre, dance, television and film had been working toward reissuing his 2002 debut album, Englaborn, before his untimely death at age 48 on Feb. 9. His inaugural recording had been originally inspired by Havar Sigurjonsson’s Icelandic play of the same name, with this two-CD set including both the original release, as well as newly reworked tracks for the lion’s share of its 16 miniature pieces.
One of those is his new, less-is-more piano version of the title track performed with great delicacy by Víkingur Olafsson — in fact, several different incarnations of the same work are offered, including one by ambient music duo A Winged Victory for the Sullen. Other highlights are Joi & Karen re-interpreted by Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, as well as Theatre of Voices’ contemplative version of Eg heyroi allt an þess ao hlusta.
That same vocal ensemble’s reworking of Odi et Amo, which opens the original album, also becomes its own grace note to Johannsson’s life, an elegiac requiem for his all-too-brief, yet glorious career. HHHH out of five
— Holly Harris