Sometimes life gets in the way of writing about a great album. Case in point—Wildlife’s …On the Heart. Since releasing this sophomore effort early in 2013, this Toronto band has reached a promising echelon of indie rock stardom; getting to perform in volcanoes and having their songs used in beer commercials. Haven’t heard them yet? You need to change that.
…On the Heart is hard to pinpoint; while marinated in glowing nostalgia, it also manages to be a present-day, youthful rallying cry. It’s the soundtrack to that night many of us have had—when you get into the car just to drive, to think, with nowhere in particular to go.
Staying true to the title, this is a collection of songs for lovers and the heartbroken alike. Contemplative and calculated, it’s an older, wiser version of the reckless teenager that their debut album, Strike Hard Young Diamond was. Hurt for the first time, they’re less eager to wear their heart on their sleeves, replacing blind emotion and angst with a reserved sense of experience. And with this new sense of maturity comes a more refined sound. The layers stripped away, intensity emanates from the brooding melodies, and silence between beats.
While Dwayne Christie’s signature palpitating drums, and the adrenaline-infused gang vocals make a return on this album in some respect; there is nothing formulaic here. Just when you think you know where a song is going, it breaks down, or builds into something wonderfully unexpected.
Refusing to settle into the familiar patterns of their previous work, Wildlife has made conscious and pointed moves in new directions on this effort. ‘One for the Body’ and ‘Dangerous Times’ toy with a blue-collar rock vibe, channeling Springsteen, and The Arkells. A few others teeter dangerously on the edge of becoming ballads. ‘Don’t Fear’ in particular, saves itself with one of lead man Dean Povinsky’s patented tear-your-heart-out vocal wind-ups.
‘Lightning Tent’ may unravel into repetitions of “I will always let you down”, but don’t let that lower your expectations for this album. Polished, smart, and powerful, …On the Heart is a pensive journey through loss and love, and a natural next step for Wildlife as a band.
Top 10 Albums
It’s that time again, when I ask myself “which CDs did I bother to buy this year?” You read that correctly—yes, I still buy CDs, and yes my best-of list is based on personal preference. No album is getting on here because everyone else thought it was cool. And seeing that several of my very favourite bands made a comeback in 2013, it wasn’t difficult to compile this top ten:
1. AFI- Burials
If you know anything about me, this one will be no surprise. AFI would have to release something pretty awful in order for me to leave it off my favourites list. But this album is nowhere close to awful. In fact it marks a return of the old, dark and angsty band that caught my attention over 10 years ago (albeit with hints of their more recent synth-pop style.)
2. Nine Inch Nails- Hesitation Marks
This is another default pick, of sorts. Though I was initially disappointed at how hard this album wasn’t, it has since grown on me. And that’s the main idea here—growth. You’d be pretty bored if Trent released Downward Spiral ten times over, no?
This is undoubtedly the most heartbreaking album of the year. A bit of a departure from their folk-rock roots, Heartthrob is super poppy, heavily 80s-inspired, and will remind you of every breakup, and lost chance you’ve ever had. Get out the tissues.
4. Volbeat- Outlaw Gentlemen and Shady Ladies
I stumbled up this Danish band at the beginning of the year, and quickly fell in love. A peculiar hybrid of metal, rockabilly, and country, they’ve been compared to everyone from Metallica to Johnny Cash. While I’m not going to say this is the best release of their stellar 5-album catalogue, it is a great standalone piece, and a good introduction to their discography.
5. Ghost B.C.- Infestissumam
Another excellent discovery this year, Ghost—or Ghost B.C. as they’ve been forcibly named— is a Swedish metal side project. The catch is, no one knows whose side project it is. Following up on their incredible 2010 debut album, these Nameless Ghouls have released a piece that is way too good to be a sophomore effort.
6. Wildlife- On the Heart
The success Wildlife has been receiving with this album has been so great to see, considering how earthshaking (yet, almost unnoticed) their last effort was. A slower, somewhat mellower follow up to Strike Hard, Young Diamond, they show both maturation and musical growth on this release.
7. The Creepshow- Life After Death
The Creepshow changed singers (again), added an additional guitarist, and slightly altered their sound between album releases. The aptly titled, Life After Death may lean more towards punk than the horrorbilly/psychobilly the band is known for, but still boasts some standout tracks. Not to mention, it’s pretty tight for essentially being the debut release for this now-fivesome.
Check Out: Born to Lose, Take it Away
8. The Beaches- The Beaches EP
Want to feel like you’ve wasted your life? Check out this debut effort from a bunch of Torontonian high schoolers. Brash, catchy, sexy, and smart, these girls prove they’re already way cooler than you will ever be.
9. Queens of the Stone Age- Like Clockwork
I won’t lie, I wasn’t super enthused about this album at first. Slower and mellower, it seemed a lot less exciting than QOTSA’s previous efforts. Take a few listens, the multiple gems will begin to unearth themselves.
10. Cvrches- The Bones of What You Believe
Chvrches have achieved the seemingly impossible—putting out a chipper electro-pop album that doesn’t get tiresome halfway through. Seeming to take a page out of the Naked and Famous’ book, they keep things fresh by combining male and female vocals, and alternating between slow and upbeat tracks.
It’s that again! When “music people” such as myself wrack their brains to try and predict the Polaris Music Prize Short List. This year was difficult, as there weren’t as many standout albums for me on the Long List as in previous years. But here are a few that caught my ear:
A Tribe Called Red- Nation II Nation
Alaclair Ensemble – Les maigres blancs d’Amérique du Noir
The Besnard Lakes – Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO
Hannah Georgas – Hannah Georgas
Jim Guthrie – Takes Time
Kid Koala – 12 bit Blues
Danny Michel with the Garifuna Collective – Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me
AC Newman – Shut Down The Streets
Suuns – Images du futur
Tegan and Sara – Heartthrob
Find out on July 16th how horribly off I am!
Sara Bareilles Goes it Alone
April 29th 2013
If the title of Sara Bareilles’ Brave Enough tour were a question, the singer-songwriter has already proven herself only a few shows in. Clearly, she’s brave enough to tour alone, unaccompanied on stage by backup musicians or an opening band; traveling with only a small crew. She’s also not afraid to break a number of performance customs; going on early for a headliner at 8 p.m., turning GA rock clubs like the Phoenix Concert Theatre into intimate seated venues, and opening the show with her two biggest hits- ‘Uncharted’ and ‘Love Song’.
A playful tone is set early in the night as Sara tells us not to be fooled by the other instruments on stage; there isn’t going to be anyone accompanying her. “So don’t expect Josh Groban to come out, it’s not fucking happening!” Laughing, she hops from her piano bench to grab a glass of whiskey that’s been brought to the edge of the stage.
It’s clear that this isn’t a show, as in something to be watched and admired from afar. It’s an intimate evening, a conversation between friends. This, she makes apparent when she calls on volunteers from the audience, asking them to explain the story behind ‘Love Song’ to everyone else in the room. There is no rock star façade to be found here, as she stops a song to tune her ukulele, forgets her lyrics, and generally draws attention to her (adorable) geekiness. Her witty one-woman banter and “verbal diarrhea” easily fill the spaces between songs, weaving a seamless flow of entertainment.
Her voice, as effortless and equally real as her personality, stuns. During ‘Once Upon Another Time’ she actually renders a 500 capacity crowd completely silent with her a capella- something I thought impossible amongst often chatty, distracted, and apathetic Torontonians. As if her vocal talent weren’t enough, she also plays the piano, acoustic and electric guitar, ukelele, and harmonium. Even if they are, Sara jokingly points out, all variants of the same instrument.
Not wanting to play her new music until fans have had the chance to actually hear it first, only ‘Manhattan’ is debuted from her upcoming album (along with the first single, ‘Brave’). This tour is to showcase songs that don’t often get put on a set list. Including covers of ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of the Bay’, ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’, and a brilliant blues reconstruction of ‘Come Round Soon’.
On every stop of the tour, fans have been writing what they’re “Brave Enough” to do on postcards left at the merch booth. Tonight, a fan holds up a sign saying she’s brave enough to sing with Sara, so she’s invited on stage to perform ‘Fairy Tale’. While it could have been a complete disaster (even Sara admits this later), it actually turns out to be the highlight of the evening as the girl, Sarah Vanderzon, absolutely killed it.
Without getting too cheesy here; it’s easy to tell someone to be brave, or to just be themselves. It’s another thing to do it. Especially in front of hundreds of judging eyes night after night. Though Sara sings “I wanna see you be brave” in her new single, apparently she’s put herself up to the same challenge, and there’s no sign of failure so far.