POP / ROCK
Exhaling (Artoffact Records)
So, after years of touring like maniacs, refining your sound and releasing two singles, two EPs and a full-length album that have since sold out of their limited pressings, what do you do when the pandemic that shut down your world just won’t end?
Well, if you’re in cathartic Winnipeg noise-rock trio Tunic, you sign a deal with premier Canadian hard/metal/post-punk label Artoffact Records, hit the studio to record three new songs with your favourite producer, Jace Lasek (God Speed! You Black Emperor, Besnard Lakes), package them together with the 20 tracks from your previous recordings, press them on yellow vinyl and release them to the masses.
Singer/guitarist David Schellenberg, bassist Rory Ellis and drummer Dan Unger create riotously aggressive, thrashing, pummelling soundscapes that combine Unger’s thunderous beat and Ellis’ sinuous bass with Schellenberg’s slashing, angular riffing and primal-scream vocals. Schellenberg has admitted that his music is an outlet for his negative thoughts and several of these songs feel like the raging comebacks that occur to us hours after frustrating confrontations — set to the soundtrack of a brutal, bare-knuckle fistfight.
The three new songs on this collection — the title track, Invalid and Fade Out — are stop-start, dynamic marvels that each rise to all-too-brief crescendos before stepping back for a breath or two and going for broke once again (check out the raging guitars at the end of Fade Out, for example). The new material comes bundled with the 11 tunes from 2019’s Complexion album, that year’s digital-only single Nylon, plus the four tracks from 2017’s Disappointment EP and another four from 2016’s Boss. All are available on vinyl, CD and as digital downloads. Tunic has also promised a new full-length album before the end of 2021. ★★★1/2 out of five
STREAM THESE: Exhaling, Fade Out, Radius
— John Kendle
GOSPEL / ROOTS
Heavy Sun (eOne)
Daniel Lanois was one of the most important and influential producers in the world in the ‘80s and ‘90s, lending his atmospheric, reverb-heavy sound to classic albums such as U2’s The Joshua Tree, Peter Gabriel’s So, Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind and Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball. He’s a constant collaborator, an impressionistic guitarist (especially on pedal steel), a questing experimenter and an occasional songwriter.
His solo works have been sporadic and varied, sometimes focusing on traditional songcraft (his 1989 debut Acadie), sometimes on instrumentals (2005’s Grammy-nominated Belladonna).
On the one hand, Heavy Sun sounds like a Lanois production. It is rootsy, but with subtle experimental touches of loops and vintage beatbox percussion. It moves in waves but nestles into comforting mid-tempos. It is moody and familiar.
On the other hand, the real star of Heavy Sun is Johnny Shepherd, the organist and vocalist and sometime leader of Zion Baptist Church in Shreveport, La. This is a gospel album, full of life-affirming spiritual messages and impressive singing with Lanois, guitarist Rocco DeLuca and bassist Jim Wilson providing harmonies to Shepherd’s impassioned voice — and usually taking a backseat to his churchy organ playing.
Lanois is in his collaborator form here. He co-wrote the songs with DeLuca and Shepherd. His guitar twines with DeLuca’s. His voice meshes in the four-part harmonies and rarely takes the lead. A spirit of community is central to Heavy Sun’s supportive and reassuring effect. ★★★1/2 out of five
STREAM THIS: Way Down
— Steve Klinge, Philadelphia Inquirer
Never Is Enough (Cuneiform)
I have noted on my radio show (Voyage on CKUW 95.9 FM) that if a band is called Thumbscrew, chances are it’s not going to sound like elevator music. Without diminishing its musical worth in any way, that reality is reflected here.
Thumbscrew is Tomas Fujiwara on drums, Mary Halvorson on guitar and Michael Formanek on double and electric bass. Collectively, they are a terrific example of the forward motion of the jazz trio mode and the genre generally. Halvorson’s guitar is now immediately recognizable in her music, with its creative sound. Here she is intensely tied in with her colleagues. The music is, of course, challenging but always within a structure that has unity and energy.
The group recorded two albums in a session from late 2019 that started out with a tribute album to American composer/saxophonist Anthony Braxton and ended with the original compositions on this one. While maintaining an experimental and often dissonant style, the music is surprisingly gentle. Camp Easy, for example, which starts the album, drifts around the melody with a repeated rocking movement that underpins some very avant-garde riffs. Each member contributes equally to the music, with cascading solos and duets. The title track is almost eerie in mood, with loops and silences that are very effective.
Experimental jazz is often considered to be jarring, but there is a wide range of effect that, once accepted, is very powerful. Obviously the tunes are not (easily) hummable, but there is structure and form. The rhythmic capacity of all three instruments translates into a strong underlying pulse. As well, gentle tracks like Heartdrop give lovely solo lines for bass as well as guitar. Halvorson has a characteristic sliding effect that informs much of her music. Her skill is remarkable within the context of the full on adventure and challenge of developmental jazz. This is a very fine session from a very fine trio. ★★★★1/2 out of five
STREAM THESE: Never Is Enough, Emojis Have Consequences
— Keith Black
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 ‘Eroica’
Étienne Nicolas Méhul: Overture from Les Amazones
François-Xavier Roth, Les Siècles (Harmonia Mundi)
As the latest in a series of albums pairing Beethoven symphonies with contemporary or slightly earlier fare, this new release features the German composer’s revolutionary Symphony No. 3, a.k.a. the "Eroica," reputed to be his favourite of his nine large-scale works.
François-Xavier Roth leads the chamber ensemble he founded, Les Siècles, with their period instruments infusing each of the expanded four movements with historical verisimilitude. He immediately sets a bright tone during opening movement Allegro con brio, with the Scherzo particularly nimble with crisp passagework. The unusual Marcia funebre, composed in the wake of Beethoven’s disillusionment with his hero, Napoleon Bonaparte, instils greater gravitas to the overall performance, though its relatively brisk tempo diminishes its dramatic arc. The Finale: Allegro molto — Poco andante — Presto bursts with coiled energy and textural effects, including pizzicato and idiosyncratic accents, with Roth keeping a firm rein throughout on his players.
Also included is Beethoven’s 19th-century contemporary, French composer Étienne-Nicolas Méhul’s Overture, Adagio — Allegro agitato from his opera Les Amazones ou La Fondation de Thèbes. The one-movement work provides fascinating contrast to the symphonic offering, as well further opportunity to ponder why one composer rises to legendary prominence, while another becomes a bookend to those of loftier status. ★★★★ out of five
STREAM THIS: Symphony No. 3, Finale: Allegro molto — Poco andante — Presto
— Holly Harris