Tag Archives: Canadian indie bands

“Sloan 12” Is Solid Indie Rock from a Canadian Band with a 27-Year History

2 May

Sloan 12 is the twelfth album from the Canadian power-pop band, Sloan.

Coincidentally, this is a 12-song set of indie rock that showcases the distinct songwriting talents of all four band members. Guitarists Patrick Pentland and Jay Ferguson, bassist Chris Murphy, and drummer Andrew Scott each contributed three songs to the new release.

The musical mix on Sloan 12 ranges from big, guitar-driven anthems to 1970s-style progressive pop and even some folky pop-rock that’s reminiscent of the Byrds or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSN&Y).

After 27 years, the four original band members are still part of the band. The only change is that Sloan has added Gregory Macdonald to play keyboards when they record or tour. Murphy and Pentland sing most of the lead vocals, but when the band is performing one of drummer Scott’s songs, he not only sings the lead vocals, but also steps out front on guitar — with Ferguson and Murphy switching to the bass and drums, respectively.

With that kind of songwriting and multi-instrumental talent, you might assume that you’re in for a treat. And Sloan 12 does not disappoint.

Track highlights: The album opens with “Spin our Wheels.” With its searing guitars, driving drums, and big ‘classic rock’ backing vocals, this is a great anthemic power-pop single.

“Right to Roam” is reminiscent of one of those catchy progressive pop songs that became a hit with the rise of FM radio in the 1970s.

“The Day Will Be Mine” is another catchy song that offers potential as a single — with its crunchy guitar and soaring lead vocals.

“Essential Services” is really nice piano-based pop with sweet harmonies and a lightly skipping melody, enhanced by Beatles-like harmonies.

Finally, my review wouldn’t be complete without writing about “44 Teenagers,” the closing song in the set. It’s a more pensive rock tune that starts like the rich folk-rock of the 1960s, but shifts to a heavier sound in the middle. Lyrics reference the death of Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie from brain cancer.

Sloan 12 reflects the maturity of more than a quarter of a century writing, performing and playing together. It’s a solid indie rock album from this veteran Canadian foursome.

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The Wooden Sky’s “Swimming in Strange Waters” Captures 2017’s Angst

31 Jan

The Wooden Sky is a Canadian indie rock band from Toronto. The group’s music is a mix of alt-rock and folk-rock, with a psychedelic edge to their music and just a hint of Americana at times. Don’t be expecting banjo and pedal steel guitar, however — the sound is truly guitar-driven rock.

The title of the latest release, Wooden Sky’s fifth full-length album, is Swimming in Strange Waters. It’s adapted from a line from Frank Herbert’s 1965 sci-fi classic novel, Dune. “Survival is the ability to swim in strange waters.”

For many people, 2017 was that kind of year. It saw us thrown into the deep end without a rope or life preserver. U.S. politics turned upside down. In Canada, the citizenry has dealt with a number of crises from oil pipelines to an influx of refugees. Frontman and lead vocalist, Gavin Gardiner, also was facing a number of personal issues in his own life.

This resulted in an album that’s full of energy and angst. There are a lot of big guitars, organ, other keyboards, distortion, and noise. Gardiner has a distinctive vocal style with a notable Southern drawl and a rawness that works well with the band’s almost live, big stadium sound.

Track highlights: “Swimming in Strange Waters” is shimmering and atmospheric with growling and ringing guitars and alternating keyboard layers including a distinctive high-pitched organ. Gardiner’s vocals are similarly growled, reminiscent of Jim James of My Morning Jacket or Adam Granduciel of The War on Drugs.

The third track starts off with a drum riff and bass line that’s almost identical to Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” The song evolves into an easy-going stroll with a warm folk-rock feeling and some noise layered in.

Next up is “Deadhorse Creek.” This tune is the closest thing to Americana in the set, with Gardiner’s vocals straining until they distort. Harmonized vocals in the chorus take some of the edge off.

On the fifth song, we get to hear Wooden Sky at its most naked, honest and vulnerable in “Born to Die.” Gardiner sings, “Life is just these questions/And we’re never certain why/We were born to die.”

The second-to-last song on Swimming in Strange Waters is “Matter of Time.” This track veers almost to alt-country, with a swingy, relaxed feeling until building to a bigger rock sound toward the end.

If you like bands and artists such as Phosphorescent, Kurt Vile, My Morning Jacket, and The War on Drugs, you definitely need to check out Wooden Sky’s Swimming in Strange Waters.

 

Destroyer’s “ken” Is One of Dan Bejar’s Best Albums in Many Years

17 Jan

Dan Bejar has been recording and performing as Destroyer for more than 20 years. The Canadian artist has been prolific, with 12 full-length albums to his credit — not counting his work with the popular New Pornographers, of which he is a founding member.

But as familiar as his distinctive, slightly dry and somewhat quirky, narrative vocal style can be — with nods to artists such as David Bowie and even Leonard Cohen — his lyrics are consistently designed to take you out of your comfort zone and challenge your thought process.

Bejar’s latest, ken, is no exception. The title is borrowed from the working title for Suede’s ballad, “Wild Ones,” from 1994. Bejar has been quoted as saying he was thinking about the last years of Margaret Thatcher’s 11-plus-year reign as prime minister of the U.K., from 1979 through 1990. Assuming that’s the case, it’s interesting that Bejar has incorporated some tasty synth-pop and delicious brass flourishes, which make it seem like ken could have been one of Bowie’s artsy masterpieces from the 1980s.

Destroyer’s work isn’t meant to be easy to consume, although this album has several extremely catchy, melodic tracks such as the first single release, “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood.” But Bejar’s work — especially on this album — slowly gets under your skin until it’s affecting you in profound ways.

Track highlights: The second song, “In the Morning,” is a march-like, anthemic rock number with searing guitars and oblique references to the “Death Star in bloom.”

“Tinseltown Swimming in Blood” is as big a “hit” as Bejar has had in many years. It integrates a mesmerizing synth bass line, synth strings, an out-of-sync beat, and smooth vocals with just a touch of trumpet (or synthesized trumpet).

“Cover from the Sun” is next with a bit more than two minutes of wide-open, uplifting, jangly, fun rock ‘n’ roll that takes Destroyer in a very different direction from what we’re used to.

Track 9, “Ivory Coast” features a big pulsing synth with leisurely liquid guitar chords in the choruses. The album closes with “La Regle” Du Jeu,” with jittery keyboards overlaid with swelling synth strings and an 80s pop melody confidently sung by Bejar.

Critically acclaimed by most of the online music publications, Destroyer’s ken is an outstanding addition to indie rock’s solid 2017 portfolio.

 

The New Pornographers Release Confident New “Whiteout Conditions”

3 May

The New Pornographers debuted in 2000 as something of a Canadian super-group, bringing together three accomplished lead singers — A.C. “Carl” Newman, Dan Bejar and Neko Case — every few years for a new album and a tour. It should be noted that while Case is often identified as Canadian due to her lengthy association with the New Pornographers, she’s American. She was born in Virginia and considers Tacoma, Washington to be her hometown.

On the New Pornographers’ most recent album, Brill Bruisers,” the band incorporated generous helpings of synthesizer into its set-list with the help of something called an arpeggiator — a hardware- or software-based gizmo that takes the notes of a synth chord and effortlessly transforms them into an arpeggio.

Whiteout Conditions, the band’s seventh studio album, again makes liberal use of the arpeggiator. And while this album doesn’t have quite as many hits packed into it as Brill Bruisers (which was, after all, about the hit songwriting factories of New York City in the 1960s), it’s still a dynamic, high-energy indie musical feast.

The album features propulsive, synth-driven pop-rock, with fabulous vocals and mesmerizing harmonies from singer-songwriter Newman, Case, and Canadian keyboardist, Kathryn Calder. Newman’s tightly packed, crisp lyrics are meaningful and thought-provoking.

By the way, absent from this New Pornographers album is co-founder, Bejar, who was busy with his other band, Destroyer, at the time this was recorded.

Track highlights: The album explodes out of the starting gate with “Play Money,” with its rapid-fire rhythm, multiple layers of sweet and fuzzy synths and Case’s lead vocals effortlessly rising and falling.

On the title track, Newman takes the lead, backed by strong harmonies from Case and Calder. It’s anthemic, with the arpeggiator creating a jittery, skittering landscape.

On to track 3, the biggest hit of this collection. “High Ticket Attractions” features Newman and Calder on call-and-response vocals, with rich harmonies and big synth chords in the chorus.

Track 10, “Clockwise,” starts with angelic backing vocals and builds into a driving road song with wonderful imagery painted by Newman’s lyric, “In the valley of the lead singers.”

The album closes with a throwback 70s feeling on “Avalanche Alley.”

While the album is weighed down a bit by some sameness from one track to the next, you’ll find Whiteout Conditions to be a great addition to your pop-rock portfolio.

 

One of the Most Intriguing Indie Albums of the Year

1 Dec

Half Moon Run is a Montreal-based indie rock quartet that had its debut in 2012 with the release of its Dark Eyes album. That first album was very well received, and the band played many tour dates including prestigious festivals such as South by Southwest.

With all four members being excellent vocalists, the band is known for its rich three-part harmonies. Songs cover a variety of musical styles — from Fleet Foxes-like folk and Americana to edgy guitar-based and synth-based rock.

Half Moon Run’s new album is called Sun Leads Me On. Writing for the album was split between two locales: urban, worldly Montreal and sunny, laid-back Southern California. As a result some of the songs in the generous 13-track set have a bit more of that Cali influence — even extending to Beach Boys-like harmonies.

Album opener, “Warmest Regards,” could be a Beatles song from the White Album era. The song brings together elements such as earnest lead vocals, rich Beatles-era harmonies and piano with standard rock instrumentation and even a flute and trombone.

“I Can’t Figure Out What’s Going On” features a jangly guitar, the band’s trademark three-part harmonies throughout, and orchestral accompaniment.

“Hands in the Garden” is soft, expressive and playful folk-rock. This must have been one of the songs written in Southern California because the harmonies in the choruses really recall the Beach Boys. And for some reason, there’s even a Stevie Wonder-like harmonica solo.

The fifth track shifts toward electro-pop-rock. There’s a timekeeper synth bass running throughout. Layered in are bell-like synth notes, an edgy guitar and emotive lead vocals. The last minute of the four-minute song is a synth-y, psychedelic haze with jazzy piano and snare drum.

The title track, “Sun Leads Me On” is marked by lush, rolling verses and jangly guitars. There’s a very uplifting feeling to the composition.

Track 8, “It Works Itself Out,” may be the best on the album. The melody ebbs and flows over an urgent tom-tom rhythm. Falsetto backing vocals are somewhat eerie and ominous.

The last track on Sun Leads Me On is called “Trust,” and it was the first digital single Half Moon Run released. The song is really intriguing, inventive electro-pop-rock. Pulsing synths are mixed with an intricate rhythm and occasional synth swirls.

As you can tell by the number of songs I’ve mentioned in this write-up, I really like the album, top to bottom. Sun Leads Me On represents continued growth by the band, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Side note: For my San Francisco Bay Area readers (and listeners on KZSU, Stanford University’s radio station), Half Moon Run will perform live at The Independent in San Francisco on Saturday, January 16th at 9 p.m. Tickets are on sale now.