Partner “Comfort Zone”

Partner
Colin Medley

For over 10 years now, music blogging has been my personal comfort zone. Listening to music has always been my preferred leisure activity but in the last decade blogging about music has become an active, creative outlet that I can’t live without. For me, blogging is just as much about self-preservation as it is self-expression. Though I know and understand the role blogging plays in my life, its importance has never been clearer to me than it has in the last month.

Partner understand the need for self-care, too. The humour and enthusiasm they bring to “Comfort Zone” doesn’t take the edge of such meaningful subject matter; it sharpens the blade. Like all of Josée Caron and Lucy Niles’ rollicking post-punk anthems, “Comfort Zone” carves out time and space for peace (the personal variety) and gives everyone permission to close the door on the outside world for however long it takes to recharge and re-energize. Though I’d rather be earning my livelihood for doing my duties as legislated, I’ll make the most of every minute I get to spend in my personal comfort zone.


Dan Misha Goldman, Champion of the Afterworld

Dan Misha Goldman, Champions of the Afterworld

Dan Misha Goldman is no stranger to sleepytime music. As one-half of Snowblink, he’s made endearing, delicate music that both soothes and stimulates the soul. On Champion of the Afterworld, Goldman continues to explore similar sonic territory with an emphasis on making “…a word/wordless based record that [offers] listeners the freedom to listen actively or passively with equal parts joy”.

Working with The Pendercki String Quartet and his Snowblink partner Daniela Gesundheit, Goldman set about finding the musical zenith between these two extremes. Whereas often times instrumental interludes act as a break between songs, the wordless musical textures and whispery lyrical numbers on Champion of the Afterworld float side by side, both essential for the success of the record as a whole. Though Goldman dedicated time to figure out what the album’s lyrical content would be, his musical arrangements offer as strong a narrative throughline as his words.

One would think that with Gesundhiet’s prominent presence, Champion of the Afterworld would feel more like a Snowblink record than a Goldman solo project, but that’s never the case. Songs as enchanting as “Sleepwalker”, “Corners”, and the wordless wonder of “Winterbloom” conquer the dreamy divide Goldman set out to explore with aplomb. Champion of the Afterworld is very much Dan Misha Goldman’s dream, fully realized and vividly captured.


Wolf Saga “Keep Dancing”

Wolf Saga, Toronto, ON
Adam Madrzyk

I’m not the world’s most graceful mover and shaker, but I take the sentiment of Wolf Saga’s “Keep Dancing” to heart: even when the universe conspires to hold you back and push you down, you have to keep moving. Forwards, backward, side to side, whatever; all that matters is your continued engagement in the dance.

Some very fine (and likely tired) folks are dancing on my behalf right now. Approximately 800 of my colleagues and I have polished our dancing shoes and are ready for a marathon performance of the picket line shuffle. Saga’s uplifting pop anthem is just the kind of fuel we need to keep our feet moving and our spirits high.


Gregory Pepper and His Problems, Black Metal Demo Tape

Gregory Pepper and His Problems, Black Metal Demo Tape

A Smörgåsbord is a Swedish buffet-style variety plate, often featuring both hot and cold options. Maybe the options go together in obvious ways, like cheese topping a cracker, but occasionally you may find yourself mixing foods that aren’t exactly peanut butter & jelly. Even when the flavours you’ve chosen don’t mix, you at least get the personal satisfaction of controlling your own Scandinavian culinary expedition.

Gregory Pepper and His Problems consists of Guelph songwriter Gregory Pepper and his problems, which may or may not include self-awareness.

Pepper’s latest album is self-written, performed and recorded. He is the lone creative force behind Black Metal Demo Tape and because of that freedom, he has made an album that is exciting, raw and entirely unique. While Pepper has made a name for himself by writing perfect power pop, BMDT is almost lo-fi and features sonic nods to nearly every genre of guitar music. It is a sprawling and often contradictory experience, but Pepper’s liberated songwriting often yields beautiful results.

“Big Sister”, likely an ode to his older sisters introducing him to Guns N’ Roses and Metallica, is based around a drum loop and a wash of shoegaze guitar, topped with a chamber choir of Peppers. “Problems Theme Part 3” is a song that would make teenage Rivers Cuomo proud. “I Don’t Care” almost justifies the black metal typeface and the corpse-painted cat sacrificer on the cover. By the finale of “When We Were High” you are certain that, despite not being black metal, this weird and wonderful album is a perfect home for certain characteristics of the genre.

BMDT‘s darker, Scandinavian overtones brings us back to the Smörgåsbord. It really sounds like a melding of both hot and cold musical impulses. “Nothing Song” and “This Town”, despite the latter being thematically dark, are closer to the classic Pepper mold: fun and bright. “My Roommate Is a Snake and My Landlord’s a Bat” is a full on doom tune; think Ben Gibbard fronting Black Sabbath. It’s all brought to a frigid end on “Quirky”, which starts with a wall of guitar à la Deafheaven and in a flash becomes an acoustic ballad that is haunted by the sustained noisy drone of the intro.

Black Metal Demo Tape will be an enjoyable listen for any rock fan. Even if some of Pepper’s combinations seem weird at first, they become increasingly delightful as you get more and more used to the taste.


Century Palm “Reset Reaction”

Century Palm
Rico Moran

Your worst enemy is often your own mind. With all the vigor and aggression of marauding Vikings, anxiety and fear have the potential to attack your thoughts, conquer your better judgement, and leave you disoriented from the assault.

Century Palm’s Andrew Payne has been in the thick of such a battle and persevered so that he could tell his story. The agitated melodic angles and stuttering rhythms of “Reset Reaction” twitch and spasm like a bout of St. Vitus’ Dance. Poisoned by “toxic thoughts,” Century Palm’s tension-filled post punk/new wave triggers incompatible neurons to fire and form foreign synapses. Mind and body are no longer communicating and connecting as they should; the call is coming from inside the house.

Payne and Century Palm know a reprieve is coming— a period when the chaos settles and normalcy returns before the cycle inevitably starts again. What they don’t know, and will never know, is when the next anxiety siege will occur and for how long it will last. The band play “Reset Reaction” like seasoned warriors who know full well that the only way to get through a paralyzing anxiety attack is to ride it out. They know the drill and know that this is not a practice run; it’s the real deal.


Torandaga “After Life”

Torandaga, Toronto ON
Laura Harris

Latching onto the existence of an afterlife—despite the damning evidence to the contrary—is a pretty justifiable cognitive leap for somebody to make. The hard stop of death is a giant, looming inevitability and it’s really not that difficult to see how a belief in something else can help assuage some of the anxiety.

These notions are especially understandable when it comes to the death of a loved one. It’s become commonplace to wish for a “better place” for ones we’ve lost and held dear, as the idea of death as a transition, rather than a terminus point, helps us cultivate a meaning from their loss. It’s nice to think that consciousness could potentially carry on in some non-corporeal state, where the grief of lost time and lost relationships is either forgotten or cannot follow.

On their new song “After Life”, Toronto’s Torandaga flips this comforting concept of life post-death on its head. The duo provides a solemn glimpse of what it would be like to have the burden of memory tag along into the beyond. Death, in this way, becomes yet another emotional state where lost love can fester like an open wound.

“In the afterlife, I’ve given up. In the afterlife, I’ve seen enough. I really lost you baby,” laments Torandaga’s weary traveller, channeled through Andrew Jurrinen’s ghostly falsetto. The blunt simplicity of the lyrics is a welcome contrast to the metaphysical grandeur of the situation. Rather than get lost in heady conceptions of the afterlife, the duo stresses the importance of cherishing our relationships in the fleeting time that we have to do so.

“After Life” breezes along with a simple structure, but it is bolstered by massive, immediate instrumentation. The airy introduction gives way to post-punk guitars and thunderous drums, all textured by tasteful production flourishes. Like with the lyrics, Torandaga utilizes an economy of musical elements combined in a way to suggest something both otherworldly yet relatable. “After Life” is an excellent example of minimalist songwriting used to maximum effect.


Blackpaw Society, Let’s Destroy Humans

Blackpaw Society, Let's Destroy Humans

I never did understand why having a conversation with yourself should raise eyebrows and suspicions about one’s mental state. After all, we all have internal dialogues with ourselves all the time. When your inner conversations are as wickedly delightful and musically inspired as those Blackpaw Society has with himself, externalizing them lets the rest of us in on the fun.

The sole (and obsessively secret) member of the Toronto-based musical project has a habit of approaching music as an experiment. On 2015’s People Doesn’t Care/1955 he played with time and put a contemporary spin on

50s-style pop to dramatic effect. Let’s Destroy Humans takes the concept of unearthing and resurrecting music from the path a step further by getting personal. The nine songs on Let’s Destroy Humans takes unfinished demo material from Blackpaw Society past and fuses it with more recent ideas and recordings.  He calls it a “collaboration between my young, stupid self and my older, stupider self.”

Don’t let the self-deprecating tone fool you; there’s nothing simple-minded about the results. From the groovy shuffle of opener “Swamp Kids” through to the wholly satisfying space-rock/folk-fusing finale “Fortunetelling”, Let’s Destroy Humans is a solidly compelling listen. Blackpaw Society easily out-creeps the creepiest Canadian spook-rockers without being overly sinister. Classic pop songs and eerie, eldritch sound effects blend on “Is It Evil” and “The Skin You’re In” to make a hybrid musical beast that makes the Venus Flytrap-faced monster from Stranger Things seem like a poodle.  Pulsing piano chords at the opening of “Numerals pt. 1” sound hauntingly familiar and sustain the tension throughout its brief run before “Numerals pt. 2” lets go of the leash, allowing the album’s highlight to run free.

Whatever interactions Blackpaw Society had in the studio with his younger and older selves is ultimately between them; we need not be privy to those conversations to appreciate the art they’ve spawned. I’m just thankful he’s let us eavesdrop in, and decided not to keep Let’s Destroy Humans to himself.


Mary Margaret O’Hara, Miss America

Miss America, Mary Margaret O'Hara

It’s no surprise that in the most recent round of voting for the Slaight Family Polaris Heritage Prize, Mary Margaret O’Hara’s Miss America won the critic-based Jury Vote for 1986-1995 time period, while fellow Torontonians Blue Rodeo picked up the Public Vote nod for the fan-favourite 5 Days In July. Miss America, Ms O’Hara’s only full-length studio album, has remained highly regarded amongst her peers and the music press in the 29 years since its release. It is an album of stunning preternatural beauty. Time hasn’t weathered these songs; it has only strengthened them.

Much of what makes Miss America such a compelling listen is the way familiar musical conventions take on new and otherworldly forms. It sounds as if the ghosts of jazz, pop, and classic rock music–wispy, eerie versions of their former selves–are haunting O’Hara’s dreams and influencing her creative output. The music of opener “To Cry About” circles O’Hara’s signature vocals like tendrils of cigarette smoke, shifting and taking on new shapes with each breath she takes and each line she sings. Elsewhere, O’Hara’s improvisational, deconstructed singing focuses less on the poetry of her words and more on the powerful emotions of her performance. Her tone, volume, and clarity spin through the songs like free-flowing dials, finding the right moment to pierce through and connect with listeners (as on the Pasty Cline-inclined “Dear Darling”).

I read recently that O’Hara was so disillusioned with the music industry machine, that she delayed releasing Miss America by almost four years. She also started work on a follow-up but scrapped it so as not have to endure the record company shenanigans that so hindered her first release. I don’t blame her for that; she wasn’t the first artist to face the pressures of consumerism and popular culture, and certainly would not be the last. As much as Ms O’Hara may regret the man-handling that Miss America went through, I for one would not want a thing to change about it. As it nears its 30th anniversary with no follow-up in sight, Miss America doesn’t need awards and popular recognition to validate its status as a Canadian musical treasure,all it needs is to be heard.


Kingdom of Birds, Kingdom of Birds EP

Kingdom of Birds EP

 

There’s this sweet spot between the early to mid-20s where musicians (primarily pop and rock artists) appear to have more credibility than at any other age. When’s the last time you heard about a ‘next best thing’ artist or band whose members were in their 30s or older and who weren’t already a proven talent with a well-established career? The older a rock or pop artist is, the more likely they’re perceived as being past prime and their work marginalized as retro. The same applies to artists under 20, usually considered kids playing at a grown-up’s game. They’re kitsch and a gimmick; all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, forgotten in a heartbeat.

Toronto quartet Kingdom of Birds challenge that paradigm. All of them are under 16 years old, one isn’t even 10 yet, but collectively, they exude wisdom and instincts beyond–but not far removed from–their years. In his excellent profile of the band, writer Josh O’Kane points out that Kingdom of Bird’s talent and drive isn’t just the product of happenstance, but it’s also not because of parental pressure. Ása Berezny, Brighid Fry, Zeul Mordasiewicz and Sam Heggum-Truscott aren’t trying to make it big; they’re trying to make it great, and fun. Their recently released self-titled EP is peppered with witty references to Broken Social Scene, knowing nods to 80s new wave minimalism and a post-punk spirit that would be captivating regardless of their age.

There is a fearless quality to Berezny’s first-person lyrics, and she delivers them with more honesty than performers twice her age. Her songwriting is detailed and nuanced, expertly executed by her bandmates. Mordasiewicz and Sam Heggum-Truscott’s rhythm section rumbles through “Rain Song” (co-written by Fry) while Berezny and Fry shower this showstopper with touching harmonies. “Ása Dreams of Broken Social Scene” may namecheck an obvious influence, but the song (and the EP as a whole) is instinctually Kingdom of Birds’ own.

Kingdom of Birds has marked out their own sweet spot, one where youth is not a liability nor a contrivance. “I’ve been working so hard,” go the lyrics to “Keep Trying”, and it shows throughout the EP. A few lines later Berezny sings of being patient and persevering, qualities that the members of Kingdom of Birds have in spades. You get the sense that regardless of how old the calendar says they are, as long as these four musicians are making music, they’ll be in their golden age.


Charlotte Day Wilson “Work”

Even as we stand still, we are in constant motion. Without moving our lips, we can speak volumes. In the solitary engagement of an everyday routine, we move in solidarity with our community. Existing in our world doesn’t take any effort at all. Exercising our rights as individuals, as human beings? That takes work. In some circumstances, that takes guts. In some countries, that’s taking your life in your hands.

“Work” is a soulful hymn to human struggle in all its forms. “People come and go” and “It’s gonna take a little time” intones Charlotte Day Wilson on this tenacious, meditative song, acknowledging that our efforts sometimes all feel in vain. Hope is not lost, though. Take heart: “I think you should know / I think this will work.”

Like a charm, I say.