When Flying Was Easy
If lying on your back in a field, examining the clouds on a summer day had a sound; it would be Cookie Duster’s newest release, When Flying Was Easy. At the risk of sounding like your yoga-loving aunt; “sunshiny” and “dreamy” are really the best descriptors of this album.
Formed in 1997 and quietly put on the backburner after a self-titled release in 2001, Cookie Duster has been resurrected by front man Brendan Canning (By Divine Right, Blurtonia) after the dissolution of Broken Social Scene. Reunited with co-founder Bernard Maiezza (Change of Heart) on keys, the lineup is now a veritable Can-Con orgy; a tangled web of former bandmates. Damon Richardson (Danko Jones, Dearly Beloved) takes drums and guitar, with production and guitar contributions from Sir Ian Blurton (Change of Heart, Blurtonia, C’Mon) and bass-slappin’ from Rob Higgins (Dearly Beloved, By Divine Right and, surprise, Change of Heart). The only one who doesn’t really fit this mess is vocalist Jeen O’Brien, an established singer-songwriter, and former lead lady of grunge group, Lilith.
Like a good pop album should, the content is not as sweet as the surface wants you to think. Songs like ‘Space Will Follow’, ‘Standing Alongside Gone’ and the first single, ‘Two Feet Stand Up’ are simply joyful; capitalizing on Jeen’s ultra-feminine, almost cutesy vocals. However, heartbreak and pain do find their way into some of the songs, like ‘Living on a Fine Line’ and ‘Something Evil Again’ which slow things down, taking them a little more seriously.
Alternating between upbeat rock beats, robotic electronica, trance, and atmospheric, pseudo-spoken word; this album doesn’t stay on the same note for long. It’s a sonic tug of war; there’s simplicity to the sound, without it being simple at all. And its sleepy sultriness would wash right over you, save for certain elements that beg for your attention. Digital bits and pieces are thrown over layers of conventional instruments. Everything is lush; nothing is ordinary. Xylophones, strings and synths entangle to evoke images of jungle thunderstorms (see ‘We Stepped on Glass’), sun-drenched meadows, outer space, and flying.
While the sound is nostalgic and reminiscent of youth, you won’t hear anyone emulating preteen pop stars. Both Brendan and Jeen ooze a cool, self-aware maturity, a sense of experience. Oddly enough, their voices often rest on the same wavelength, weaving in and out of each other seamlessly, indiscernible, adding to the dreaminess of the album. Whether it was planned or not, the songs are almost perfectly divided between the vocalists, each taking the lead on five, and sharing the other two. Preventing When Flying Was Easy from becoming just a “chick” album or “Another one of those BSS spin offs”.
Posted in Album Reviews
Tags: Album Review, Bernard Maiezza, Blurtonia, Brendan Canning, Broken Social Scene, By Divine Right, C'Mon, Change of Heart, Cookie Duster, Damon Richardson, Danko Jones, Dearly Beloved, Ian Blurton, Jeen O'Brien, Lilith, Living on a Fine Line, Rob Higgins, Something Evil Again, Space Will Follow, Standing Alongside Gone, Toronto, Two Feet Stand Up, We Stepped on Glass, When Flying Was Easy
Hawk vs. Pigeon
It may have taken four albums, but Dearly Beloved’s Rob Higgins has learned to share. While still the mastermind behind the band and their latest release, Hawk vs Pigeon, Higgins has relinquished his position as the vocal and bass centerpiece in favour of exploring a wider variety of sounds. Continuing in the same vein as their last single, ‘Make It Bleed’, this album hands a large portion of the lead to vocalist Niva Chow. She sings, howls and pseudo-raps; shadowing and complementing Higgins, grappling for power and winning on songs like ‘Day Trader’ and ‘Living Proof’.
On the whole, there’s a sense of relaxation and space to this record. While predecessors You Are the Jaguar, Repo Repo Repo and They Will Take Up Serpents (Make it Bleed in the US) have unabashed in-your-face qualities, Hawk vs Pigeon takes a deep breath and a step back. The intensity remains, but finds itself in the spaces between, the subtler details. Not to say that this album is soft, far from it. It just disarms you with a pretty smile while slowly tightening its hands around your throat. Perhaps to assure longtime fans that the old Dearly Beloved sound has not been abandoned, Higgins screams his little bearded face off all the way through ‘To Better Days‘. And he can’t resist showing off his signature swaggering bass lines in ‘She’ and ‘Lizard Fight’ either. After all, they’ve always been the band’s defining factor.
A lot of the change in artist demeanor can be contributed to Joshua Tree, California. There, at Rancho de la Luna, the studio of Eagles of Death Metal’s Dave Catching, Hawk vs Pigeon was born. The desert seeps its way into almost every track; the sandstormy ‘Doves Above a Door’, the slow, lazy intensity of ‘World Series of Fedoras’ and ‘Trash’. Most notably, the guitar in ‘Miles Around’; glimmering like merciful droplets of water landing on parched earth. Perhaps the peace of the desert inspired the introspective lyrics as well; they read like a diary or therapy session, dealing with both external and internal conflict. ‘Aimed Right At Me’ plays the victim, lamenting “I can’t believe what I’ve seen” while ‘Living Proof’ sounds off, a pointed “fuck you, we made it”. ‘She’ struggles with temptation, reasoning “If you give it away, she’s just gonna break your heart”. ‘To Better Days’ is exactly what it sounds like- an ode to hope and emotional liberation.
Dave Catching isn’t the only “big” name tied to this album. Care Failure of Die Mannequin provide vocals on ‘To Better Days’ while Patrick Pentland of Sloan shreds on guitar. Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning provides guitar in ‘Miles Around’ while ‘World Series of Fedoras’ shows off the distorgan work of The Trews’ Jeff Heisholt. Rather than being a label’s idea to move units, these are just collaborations among friends; subtle artistic flairs that don’t make or break any song.
Hawk vs Pigeon is further proof that Dearly Beloved is incapable and unwilling to colour inside the lines. Every song takes on a different personality, relishing in eccentricity. The somewhat psychedelic instrumental ‘Doves Above the Door’ draws the album to a close. Starting slow and gentle before turning fervent and churning, it summarizes the desert experience, the writing and recording process; the band’s rebirth.
Posted in Album Reviews
Tags: Aimed Right at Me, Album Review, Anthony Bleed, Brendan Canning, Broken Social Scene, Care Failure, Dave Catching, Day Trader, Dearly Beloved, Die Mannequin, Doves Above the Door, Gavin Maguire, Hawk vs Pigeon, Jeff Heisholt, Living Proof, Lizard Fight, Make It Bleed, Miles Around, Niva Chow, Patrick Pentland, Rancho de la Luna, Repo Repo Repo, Rob Higgins, She, Sloan, The Trews, They Will Take Up Serpents, To Better Days, Toronto, Trash, World Series of Fedoras, You Are The Jaguar
Broken Social Scene may have disbanded, but that doesn’t mean Brendan Canning has resigned himself to a career in real estate. In fact, he’s resurrected his former band, Cookie Duster, and (surprise!) they’ve already pressed an album. When Flying Was Easy drops on June 12th (pushed back from May 15th unfortch.)
The first single, ‘Two Feet Stand Up’ shows hints of BSS’ rock arrangements, infused with glittery pop-techno, delivered with a ‘Walking on Sunshine’ type of joyfulness. Sweet, ultra-feminine vocals ride the musical chaos; a throwback to 90s girl-fronted bands like Joydrop and Veruca Salt. If this song is indicative of the rest of the album, we may in fact have the perfect summer soundtrack on our hands.
Better Days Are Coming…
What are you going to be doing on May 22nd? Visiting your local record store to pick up Dearly Beloved’s Hawk vs. Pigeon, that’s what. Or I suppose you can purchase it online through one of those newfangled digital media sites like iTunes or Bandcamp…
If you were paying attention, you caught the desert-infused ‘World Series of Fedoras’ and ‘Trash’ last fall on the Canadian cop drama, Rookie Blue. Now two more previews have been sent our way. The high-adrenaline ‘To Better Days’ punctuated by Rob Higgins’ frenzied screams, is a perfect driving-too-fast-with-the-windows-down soundtrack (just try to keep those hands on the steering wheel and off the air guitar). Where the former is in your face from the get-go, ‘Miles Around‘ teases, working up to a head-spinning climax. Both tracks are currently streaming on Soundcloud.
The most immediately noticeable aspect of Hawk vs. Pigeon so far is the crapload of guest appearances. Not because Dearly Beloved rides coat tails; Rob, Niva and Gavin are veterans of the Canadian music scene and make friends everywhere they go. Past tourmates Care Failure of Die Mannequin and Sloan’s Patrick Pentland can be heard on ‘To Better Days’ while Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning appears in ‘Miles Around’. (As if life weren’t hectic enough, Rob has also joined Canning’s Cookie Duster. Their album, When Flying Was Easy drops one week prior to Hawk vs Pigeon, on May 15th).
Catch Dearly Beloved and Die Mannequin when they hit the road together this May in promotion of their new albums:
11-May-12 Thunder Bay ON Crocks
13-May-12 Winnipeg MB Pyramid
15-May-12 Calgary AB Dickens Pub
16-May-12 Edmonton AB Pawn Shop
18-May-12 Vancouver BC Cobalt
19-May-12 Nanaimo BC Queen’s Hotel
20-May-12 Victoria BC Club 919
23-May-12 Lethbridge AB The Rhythm House
24-May-12 Regina SK The Exchange
25-May-12 Brandon MB North Hill Inn
30-May-12 Ottawa ON Zaphod Beeblebrox
Hands & Teeth
What do you get when you put five musically inclined friends together into one house? Well, probably some noise complaints, but also Hands & Teeth’s new effort, Hunting Season.
The collaborative feel of this album picks up where Broken Social Scene left off, or perhaps where they started. Images of summer jam sessions at a cottage or a city rooftop patio are conjured at every turn. Nostalgic events you’d find documented in your parents’ yellowed photo albums of their youth- or your hipster friends’ Instagram account.
Those impressions aren’t far from the truth; Kevin, Adam, Derek, Natasha and Jeff actually share a house in downtown Toronto. It’s also where they recorded Hunting Season. Not in a home studio, but in hallways, closets and bedrooms. This method is championed by the album’s softness; sounds left untouched by the glossy, over-compressed, hard edges of the “machine”.
Simplicity is Hunting Season’s main theme. The instrumentation plays it cool, letting the multi-harmony vocals shine. ‘Missing’, in particular, sounds live off the floor; as if the tune just broke out at a party. ‘Sound of Hamilton’ is the only track that diverts from the clean sound, adopting distortion that emulates the grimy steel city. While each of the eight songs veers off in a different sonic direction, a mixture of electric and acoustic instruments paired with heavenly harmonization can be expected from every one.
According to the band, all of their songs bear the fingerprints of every member, regardless of who brought the idea to the table. There is no “lead singer”. Sometimes the vocal lead is even traded off several times in one song. Their lyrics ooze with twenty-something insecurities; longing for the past, fear of the future and confusion of being.
Listening to Hunting Season is easy; defining its sound is difficult. It fits comfortably anywhere from the 1970’s until now; hints of Spiral Beach, Fleetwood Mac and Stealers Wheel gleaming through the indie folk-rock façade. You’re not going to like it just because you like folk, or dislike it because you despise indie, but I can almost guarantee that there’s something in this album for you. Just give it a try.