Lydia Ainsworth, Darling of the Afterglow

Lydia Ainsworth, Darling of the Afterglow

It’s easy to forget how big My Chemical Romance were. The too-cool type may lazily write them off as emo–the most taboo and redundant of the genre tags–but their importance to a generation of music lovers and not-quite-cool kids trying to make sense of the post-9/11 world cannot be overstated. They were the over-the-top, fun, awesome, theatrical and yes, emotional band that we needed. I try to avoid assuming the influences of artists, but when listening to Lydia Ainsworth I can’t help but think that she found inspiration in MCR. Not necessarily musically–My Chemical Romance were like a pop-punk Queen fronted by a man who at various stages of his career looked like a vampire and a skeleton–but the dramatic catharsis of Ainsworth’s music has a similar emotional effect and grandiosity to it; and damn do I love it.

The striking thing about the music and instrumentation on Darling of the Afterglow, Ainsworth’s second album, is how many ideas and sounds are packed into its eleven songs. There are club-worthy pop numbers, groovy slow jams and gothy meditations. It’s an album that needs repeated listens to unpack and fully digest everything that is going on.

“The Road” sets the mood of the album perfectly, showcasing Ainsworth beautifully layered vocals, but the album really kicks into gear with “What Is It?”–a delightful wouldbe late 90s pop number whose chorus is propelled by some brilliantly funky bass playing topped up with whimsical banjo and horns for accent. “Afterglow”, the album’s standout track is constructed around a minimalist beat and carried along by some quiet synth drone and Ainsworth’s apocalyptic, layered hums. “Spinning” is the album’s best contender to get people dancing, but it avoids any radio-ready tropes; the songs remains distinctly Ainsworth’s.

When the chorus of the album’s lone cover, “Wicked Game”, kicks in, it is breathtaking. Ainsworth’s incredible take on the sexy Chris Isaak classic, placed between ten creative originals, grounds the album and proves Ainsworth to be a great interpreter as well as a songwriter. “I Can Feel It All” sees the album reach its peak with some almost heavy metal drumming and an appropriately stadium-ready chorus. “Nighttime Watching”, the weirdest cut on the album, brings Darling of the Afterglow to an end but not before leveling the listener with one more infectious chorus.

Darling of the Afterglow is a powerful display of creativity, great song writing and smart production. While current rock music, especially the stuff the veers toward pop, feels devoid of drama and grandiosity, Ainsworth is filling a worthy space and is doing so with passion and individuality. Her songs might not change the colour of your black heart but they will certainly fill it up and inspire you to sing it out.

The Wilderness of Manitoba “Brigden Fair”

The Wilderness of Manitoba
Zuzana Hudackova

For my money, there’s not been a better chamber folk record than The Wilderness of Manitoba’s 2009 debut, Hymns of Love and Spirits. While their sound evolved and expanded on subsequent albums, founding member Will Whitwham’s voice always retained the whispery intimacy first displayed on that debut.

Whitwham’s all that’s left from the iteration of The Wilderness of Manitoba that made Hymns of Love and Spirits, and his new single, “Brigden Fair” harkens back to the band’s origins, stripping away excesses and extravagances to reveal the soul of his songwriting. He says it’s meant to feel as if “…Donovan wrote the lyrics but it was sung and recorded by Simon and Garfunkel.” It does, echoing that dynamic duo’s version of “Scarborough Fair” in tone, title, and tempo.

“Brigden Fair” finds The Wilderness of Manitoba in familiar musical surroundings. Like the amusement ride Whitwham reminisces about in the song’s lyrics, The Wilderness of Manitoba are coming full circle, their new hymns of love and spirits sounding rejuvenated and renewed.

Various Artists, Cha Cha Cha: The Songs of Shotgun Jimmie

Various Artists, Cha Cha Cha Tribute to Shotgun Jimmie

I steadfastly believe it is impossible for anyone named Jim to be anything but a good guy. As proof, I present Exhibit A: Cha Cha Cha: The Songs of Shotgun Jimmie, a 30-song, 15-year career retrospective tribute album covering the songs of Jim Kilpatrick, aka Shotgun Jimmie. The project may seem excessive in print, but the finished product is an engrossing and captivating encapsulation of Shotgun Jimmie’s impressive musical canon.

Kilpatrick is the consummate Canadian songwriter, touring cross-country multiple times and making connections with fellow musicians from Surrey, BC to St. John’s, NL and all points in between. Admired by fans and musicians alike for his consistency and dedication to crafting smart and memorable music, the Shotgun Jimmie catalogue is ripe for reinterpretation. Songs this well written and constructed offer the perfect canvas for others to impress their own visions.

Former Shotgun & Jaybird partner Frederick Squire starts things off with a pared down interpretation of the early unreleased “There is a Line Girl I’d Like To…”. Squire’s trademark stripped down presentation further confirms what Shotgun Jimmie fans have known for years: he’s a fantastic storyteller whose eye for detail comes through in his vivid lyrics. From there, friends By Divine Right, Spencer Burton, Bruce Peninsula’s Misha Bower, The Burning Hell’s Ariel Sharratt and Mathias Kom, and Jon McKiel each explore their own favourites from Jimmie’s prolific back catalogue.

All 30 songs are faithful covers that manage to avoid feeling like carbon copies of the originals. Whether you’re familiar with the tunes or experiencing Shotgun Jimmie for the first time, Cha Cha Cha: The Songs of Shotgun Jimmie is sure to put the whole country in a party mood. The feel-good vibes extend all the way to The Yukon, too; all proceeds from sales of *Cha Cha Cha…” benefit Dawson City Music Festival’s Songwriter in Residence initiative.

Eiyn Sof, Meadow Thrum

Eiyn Sof, Meadow Thrum

At 6:28 AM Eastern Standard Time on March 20—the Vernal Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere—Eiyn Sof released Meadow Thrum, an album pitched equidistant from full-out folk and mind-melting psychedelia. Meadow Thrum is a consistently riveting, occasionally confounding collection of escapist sounds and musical textures. File Meadow Thrum next to the most verdant and lush folk records or the most transcendent of alternative records in your collection; Eiyn Sof sits comfortably in both worlds.

Eiyn Sof is the moniker of Waterloo, ON-based musician Melissa Boraski, who’s structured Meadow Thrum to play out like the disembodied soundtrack of someone’s long-lost, home-made Super 8 reel: each track a brief scene that quickly cuts to the next. The perspective changes slightly between some songs (like “Two Thousand Paws” and “Bogland”) while others juxtapose Boraski’s fondness for freaky found-sounds and absorbing acid-folk (“In the Fount” and “Pyre”). “Battleaxis” bristles with a half-minute of backward incantations before the record takes a sharp left turn into further trippy, esoteric territory on “The Heirophant”. “You’re on a Hill” is a wild mix of ancient hymn and mystic spell, bound together by unspooling guitar strings and a second-hand theremin.

Partner “Comfort Zone”

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.