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.

Land of Talk “Inner Lover”

Land of Talk
Tyler Knight

When I hear the story of how Land of Talk’s Elizabeth Powell lost all her work after a hard drive crash, effectively wiping out all her creativity with one fatal error message, I wonder whether we’d all be better off unplugged and offline. Powell says “Inner Lover” is a song about finding the “freedom to live and love as one chooses”; about fully owning oneself. It’s a lovely idea that everyone should aspire to, yet the reality is that many people are shackled by both the online pressures of social connectivity and real-world social expectations. For better or worse, our earthly existence has inextricably melded with our digital, hyper-connected world, each informing the way we live and move throughout the other.

I learned about a place just the other day, somewhere deep in West Virginia, where researchers have telescopes pointed heavenward in hopes of hearing the sound of galaxies exploding on the edge of the universe. To do this, they’ve established a 10 000-plus- square-mile “quiet zone” around the facility: no cell towers, no internet lines, no microwaves. I can imagine Elizabeth Powell finding herself in a similar state after losing all her working data. However instead of turning her ear towards the heavens, she’s listening for the sound of inspiration inside herself. “Inner Lover” is a new romance born in the quiet space between the imploding digital world and the new universe forming from the debris

Men Without Hats “I Got the Message”

My younger days aren’t numbered, they’re gone. Long expired. The math says I’m at or beyond mid-life, the point where middle-aged me goes into crisis mode, trying to hang on to my “youth”. Like a switch suddenly flipped, you wake up in the middle of the night and realize that somewhere in the last quarter century, your life started moving to a different beat. A mundane tempo as pedestrian as two cats, a mortgage, and a spouse. It’s as if younger you was only ever a dream, a figment of older you’s imagination.

That’s not me, though. It’s never been. For me, the reverse is true: the older I get, the more youthful I feel. You see, there really is a thing they call the rhythm of youth. It’s always there. It’s in me. It’s in you. C’est dans nous. It’s the beat you heard all those times you felt like dancing when there wasn’t any music playing. It was the pulse of those days that seemed to stretch longer than their allotted 24 hours. The rhythm of youth coursed through the random wisdom we scribbled down in notebooks. It made our temples throb as if we’d been banging our heads against the wall whenever we felt love, loss, confusion, or chaos.

This thing Men Without Hats call the rhythm of youth? You may not feel it anymore, but it’s still there. It’s playing in the background, drowned out by the din of this thing they call the rhythm of life. It has a way of breaking through, though; in small starts and fits, you feel its pull start to grow. Like revelations from pop prophets of the past, it sends its message: “Act now, and act fast. This feeling isn’t meant to last.”

It gets harder to hold onto the rhythm the further you move away from it. So in those instances when it makes itself known, turn up the volume and let it move you like the rhythm will never reach the run out groove. You can’t be in crisis (midlife or otherwise) as long as you’re dancing.

Misc, Misc

Misc, Misc

I love good design just as much as I love good music. That’s why I have no qualms admitting that I picked up Montreal jazz trio Misc’s self-titled album because I like the pretty colours and the cool geometric design of the artwork. Go ahead and roll your eyes at me if you want, but in this instance, judging a record by its cover worked out for me. I’ve returned to Misc over and over again because of the elaborate melodies, and the sophisticated intersection of jazz and contemporary rock on the record’s three original compositions and three covers.

The trio used to play and record as Trio Jérôme Beaulieu, but changed their name to Misc in order to reflect their decision to move towards a collective approach to composition; more full-on band than the traditional jazz paradigm of composer and band. The most traditional Misc gets is in their choice of instruments. Pianist Jérôme Beaulieu, bassist Philippe Leduc, and drummer William Côté are well versed in jazz’s improvisational history, but they embrace strong melody and rhythms in a way that moves the storied genre forward for new audiences. Like many jazz artists, Misc enjoy reinterpreting the works of other artists, but here again, they do not take on the traditional jazz standards. Their cover of Blonde Redhead’s “Messenger” retains the nuances and driving rhythms of the original. The unhurried atmosphere and ambience of James Blake’s “Overgrown” remains intact on Misc’s version, growing in intensity and intimacy as it closes out the record.

“Overgrown” is the perfect counterpoint to “La fin”, the album’s opening original composition. It touches on all the colours and shapes Misc are about to play with: passion, tension, musicianship and inventiveness. If your mind goes right to BadBadNotGood when you hear the words ‘modern jazz’, Misc’s delightful musicianship offers new musical avenues to explore and unexpected delights inside its crisp and clean cover.

Yoo Doo Right, Nobody Panicked and Everybody Got On

Yoo Doo Right, Nobody Panicked and Everybody Got On

Last week, I attended the taping of what will be the first episode of the TV version of Long Night with Vish Khanna at The Great Hall in Toronto. The episode’s subject, discussed with esteemed music writer Carl Wilson, Shad and Jasmyn Burke of Weaves, was the often pondered and rarely answered “is rock still relevant” question. While the guests answered with a resounding but optimistic no, there is one facet of the question that was left relatively untouched: sure, rock music doesn’t sell as much anymore and maybe it’s not “relevant”, but is there still good rock music being made? If so, does only a handful of people caring mean it’s not worth anything artistically or otherwise? And what makes rock music “good” for that matter?

To answer those questions in a positive manner requires you to know where to look. The world (aka music websites, half empty venues, newsfeeds) is inundated with what I would (cynically) call recycle rock — rock music directly and intentionally influenced by a specific band, specific album, or a specific song. There is no attempt to hide the recycled nature of the music. Instead, the inspiration is often flaunted and used a promotional tool to entice people who are fans of the music being rehashed. There is a long history of this, and it can prove an exciting task for a music nerd to historically trace the influences other artists have had on the songs and artists they love. In fact rock music, and almost all popular music nowadays, was taken from some sound or artist or band that was influenced by another and so on and so forth. It’s evolution, baby!  Yet there is a key ingredient missing from this process, particularly in “guitar music” these days.

In reading Bob Mehr’s excellent history of The Replacements, Trouble Boys, I was struck by a Paul Westerberg quote about the song “Swingin’ Party”. Westerberg, a voracious music consumer and rock historian himself, had a long history of lifting melodies, chords, and song structures from older artists, but his goal was to try and mask that fact as much as possible: “If you steal from everybody, nobody can put a finger on you.”

It’s not easy to strive for a sound that is original. Bands can mine for years before stumbling upon a sound or vision that is unique, but as long as there is some intention of finding originality, their music has the potential to be both palpable and exciting. Take for example, Montreal’s Yoo Doo Right.

While my mind goes to many different musical places and touchstones while listening to their debut EP, Nobody Panicked and Everybody Got On, it showcases a band who are driven by a sort of musical manifest destiny. They sound absolutely determined to discover new twists and turns on the “guitar music” road map.

While the EP plays out like one long suite, its four tracks find Yoo Doo Right condensing the overindulgence of some of their psychedelic influences into tight and sophisticated songs that breathe with introspection, but also blast off with propulsive and often exhilarating fury. Though the vocals are sparse, they are used wisely and are delivered with a bite that elevates the already solid post-rock instrumentals. “Fear Of Elevators” pushes out of the foggy ambience of its front half like a neon freight train, while the title track’s primal repetition and digital-dream ambience is the best argument on the EP for why rock music may not be ‘relevant’, but can certainly be very good.

The question of whether it’s worth anything to try and push a bygone style of music forward is harder to answer; it’s a question that I struggle with personally and I can only imagine other artists do as well. “Worth” here does not equate to money, because if that’s the case everyone should hang up their guitars right now. It’s worth it for those who hear the music and recognize the band’s drive to create something special artistically. Musicians pushing their own music forward can have a great affect on other musicians and artists around them, hopefully inspiring them to be more than mere recycle rockers. The hardest question is whether it’s worth it for the musicians striving for new ground. I see bands keeping it simple, rehashing the same decent ideas over and over and getting more attention than most bands who are not as easily marketable or digestible, and I think “Why wouldn’t everybody just do it this way?”

It falls on musicians to push music forward, and to keep it worthwhile for fans who come to the shows and listen to the records, but the creators need to have reason to create. Music made with guitars, drums, and whatever else, has the potential to be, and often is great. There are countless songs and albums by countless great bands that can prove that, but they all did their best to avoid anybody putting a finger on them. Bands: avoid the finger. Fans: learn how to spot those artists and bands who you can’t easily pin down — they deserve your attention and your life will be enriched because of it. It’s your support that gives those bands a fighting chance to push further than we have yet to sonically imagine.

The Luyas “All Of Everything”

The Luyas, Montreal QC
John Londono

The Luyas exist in a world all their own. Their music is a kaleidoscope. It refracts a stylized and beautifully rendered version of reality back to us, surrounded by a bohemian orchestral frame. I could spend hours absorbed by their impressionistic songwriting and still come away with a different view of their work from the last time I listened.

That continual shift in composition and sound, like the movement in Van Gogh’s Starry Night, is why it’s so hard to nail down the essence of a Luyas song in one sitting. Take “All Of Everything” as an example. After listening to it on repeat recently, I started to hear how the song breathes. Like a long draw on one of those e-cigarettes, The Luyas inhale deeply and hold. Then slowly a controlled exhale fills the room with the song’s pillowy essence.

As Jessie Stein describes in its opening lines, “All of Everything” releases its identity “…into the arms of all of everything”, simultaneously sounding like everything and nothing you’ve ever heard before. Sometimes a song is just a song. Sometimes, and often time in The Luyas’ case, a song manages to capture all of everything.

Towanda “Love Is Wasted”

Towanda, Montreal QC
Emily Smits

I’m not the kind of person who comes away from Towanda‘s “Love Is Wasted” unscathed or unaffected. I’m the guy who gets a lump in his throat and a bead of sweat trickling down from his scalp. I’m the one whose collar feels three sizes smaller than it did seconds before the needle dropped. Remorse? Regret? I know it all too well.

In the skilled, scalding hands and voices of the Montreal-based trio, “Love is Wasted” lays waste to my psyche. Every base emotion I’ve ever known is thrown into Towanda’s heady brew. Do they know how hard it is to swallow such bitterness and smoke? Can they tell my tears are as much from the storm their guitars have unleashed in my mind as they are from the sheer sonic wallop they deliver? Does Towanda know that in just three and a half minutes, they ate me up for breakfast and burned my soul to the ground?

You bet your ass they do.

The Luyas “Self-Unemployed”

The Luyas, Montreal QC
John Londono

Finding meaning in a song can require many listens. “Self-Unemployed” by Montreal’s The Luyas, is not one of those songs, not for me at least. I’ve been relatively “self-unemployed” for about a year and a half. While I was a student that didn’t seem so bad, but it is a vortex of demoralization once you can no longer claim studenthood, especially “when you don’t make money.”

That being said, as a musician, being self-unemployed is the goal. To be free of the normal day-to-day slog that so many people find to be an unfulfilling burden. It’s a nice dream and if you got the appetite (or a lack of literal appetite) maybe being a musician is right for you. The reality of being a musician, however, is that it’s damn hard to pursue your art and have nothing else propping you up. Even if things start rolling for a while, it’s pretty easy for the wheels to fall off the beautiful, flawed and fragile thing you and your friends have created.

It’s about balance, I suppose, and being able to laugh at the absurdity of modern life, especially modern artistic life. Hell, even people who don’t like what they are doing are being forced out of jobs or are unable to find work. “Self-Unemployed” balances the light and the dark side of being in a band perfectly, meaning it’s about 90% dark and 10% percent light. The swirling, ominous and intoxicating music is the constant uncertainty, and the lyrics are just tongue-in-cheek enough to bring the song above despair up to at most a nervous giggle. As a whole, though, as art occasionally does, “Self-Unemployed” defines modern, connected life for a generation hoping for some salvation from the challenges that lie ahead and just a bit of cash.

Harfang “Pleasure”

Harfang, Québec City, QC

It’s Sunday morning and I’m in church. Québec City’s Harfang is leading the service, a melding of the sacred and traditional with the mystical and (maybe) profane. “Pleasure” is a small selection of their forthcoming Laugh Away the Sun but it makes a major impact. Arresting vocals and atmospheric arrangements blend to create that anxious feeling in the pit of your stomach. It’s one you get when you know, as John Cougar Mellencamp so plainly describes, that something’s gonna hurt so good. I’d happily toss a couple coins into the collection plate for the ritual of Harfang’s “Pleasure”.

CTZNSHP “Tropical Kings”

CTZNSHP, Montreal QC
Richmond Lamb

There’s a saying I used to be quite fond of: “Evolution, not revolution.” It makes sense in my professional context, where there’s a strong emphasis on reflection and re-evaluation. It’s the essence of that HR buzzphrase, ‘professional development’. Until recently, I hadn’t considered that someone who engages in an artistic pursuit, like making music, also looks upon their craft as a succession of skill development, and not just in creating a finished product. Whether you make art, make automobiles, or mould malleable young minds, the biggest growth (and greatest success) comes from engaging in the journey and not focussing on the final destination.

CTZNSHP‘s Jesse LeGallais understand that. On “Tropical Kings”, he and his bandmates, Florent Clavel and Scott Steven Delaney, recognize their journey is taking them somewhere new, somewhere different than where they’ve been before. “I think something here has changed,” sings LeGallais in his familiar baritone, “I can hear it in the rain”. I hear it too, in the gentle cascade of trumpeting guitars, in the song’s steady tempo, like footfalls in the pitch black of night, testing with each step, ensuring you’re on solid ground even if you can’t see what’s in front of you.

I think something with CTZNSHP has changed. With “Tropical Kings,” their imminent revolution is just an evolutionary step away.