Introducing Little City; and The British Columbians, Made for Darker Things

I spent a week in Toronto this spring, fittingly, during Canadian Music Week. At first, I was determined to do that thing where you post a few times a day about all the awesome stuff you’re doing and the cool new bands you’ve heard. It was a good idea and I managed to keep it up for a whole 45 minutes before I realized I had more important things to do like seeing cool new bands. I think I’m starting to understand why most blogs and media outlets send multiple correspondents to these things. It’s just too much for one person to take in.

Even now, six months later, there are still at least a dozen incredible sets that I have yet to cover, which, I think, surprised even me. I can still remember puzzling over how they’d managed to keep so much talent hidden for so long. So, how it is that a band comes to be voted best undiscovered band in Canada is beyond me. I’m just glad I don’t have to vote in that particular competition because I’d likely be crushed under the weight of all those zip files and Spotify playlists long before I ever came to any sort of conclusion.

It’s a title Vancouver quartet The British Columbians took in 2009 (not bad for a band that got together to “just [play] around without any big ambition”). Listening to them, you could easily mistake their brand of filthy blues rock for the work of a band from the Deep South. And their sophomore release Made for Darker Things is no different. From the wailing opener “Evil in the Pines”, Darker Things conjures up images of balmy summer nights and dodgy dive bars where hard living old men on rickety three-legged bar stools play Delta blues behind a haze of stale cigarette smoke and cheap beer. Made for Darker Things is an album that lives up to it’s name. Dirty, dingy, with moments of arena-ready grandeur, this is the music your grandmother warned you about.*

Made for Darker Things is out 13th September. For those in the Vancouver area, there’s a release show on the 9th.

You probably know by now that I like a band that know who they are—I’m very much like a cliché personals ad in that sense—but it’s true. It makes the whole first impression thing that much easier. So, when I stumbled out of the cold and into Bread & Circus late on the last night of Canadian Music Week perfectly unwilling to think critically about anything, I was thankful to find a band like Little City onstage. And I realise that, from the way I’ve just phrased that, it could be inferred that the band play some kind of mass produced autotuned tripe, but nothing could be farther from the truth. It takes a special degree of care and attention to navigate a band setup with as many potential timbral pitfalls as theirs includes, but the Toronto area natives clearly have their route mapped out (pop band + banjo + lap steel + French horn = brilliance, apparently).

The truth is, Little City are the kind of band it’s really hard not to love which will be made abundantly clear to anyone who has 21 minutes to listen to their debut EP The Going and the Gone. While the lead track, “Bright Glow” with its prominent harmonica and lap steel parts betray some country roots, Little City are first and foremost a band with an innate pop sensibility and indie rock attitude. Just check out the infectious “Rise Up” or the closer “Lincoln Learning French” to see what I mean. (And, if that’s not enough, well, when was the last time you saw someone do this with a banjo?) With Frances Miller’s lush, cool vocals the perfect complement to the richness of the band’s instrumentation, Little City’s performances are marked by a sort of luxurious sincerity reminiscent of Laura Marling** or 40 Acres era Caedmon’s Call that is absolutely irresistible.

*…if your grandmother ever warned you about music. Mine never did. Mostly, we just hung out at her house, watching Oprah and General Hospital until my mom got off work.

**Special thanks to Mishkin from Birdeatsbaby for talking me through my writer’s block on this one. And for the Laura Marling reference.


up! from below!

Ok, you all know by now, I hope, that I live with my musical head stuck in the sand, and I’ve totally lost any grasp I used to have on what “mainstream” means, and I feel that I must use this disclaimer in front of or behind every post I ever make, but I’m really insecure about how Eric finds all the cool new bands and I find all the bands that have been around for years and get way post-excited about them.

I did ask him last night, Eric, are Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros too hipster for us to cover? What do you think? And he asked, Do you think they’d have a drink with me? and I’m not Alex or Jade or any of their company so I don’t know for sure, but I would imagine they’d have a drink with us (by the way, I’ll be in Richmond in a couple weeks if you DO want to get a drink) and even really like us. So, that’s how we’re gauging whether music is too hipster to cover. If you’d have a drink with us, we’re good.

That being said, I ask Reid Kerley for his forgiveness and Eric for his patience and here is my new obsession: Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Yes, friends, as of July 7th, the album Up From Below has been around and available for exactly one year, and yes, I am just now listening (and obsessing).

This wild ensemble, led by Alex Ebert, has pieced together Up From Below in a way similar to the way I formulate a mix–the tempos, the dynamic, the feel–they all flow together in one big musical happening; however, I tend to love the tempo, dynamic, and feel of the first 6 tracks the best of all. And “Om Nashi Me.” Eh, maybe it’s not really that formulaic…but anyway, the album carries a pervasive feeling of freedom and community. With so many band members, does that surprise you? At any given point in the album, an entire chorus seems to be making some kind of noise, whether singing or banging percussive instruments or adding a layer of countermelody. Unrefined vocals have become something beautiful and captivating through Alex and Jade, and their love song “Home” is the most passionate, honest, and freeing anthem for love that I’ve ever heard. Another of my favorites, “Jade,” precedes it perfectly.

Alex’s mysterious, unrefined voice–complete with vibrato, tonation bends, and tons of character–fascinate me. I hear so many influences in both his voice and his music that I can hardly begin to piece them all together. Perhaps vocally, he is what a David Bowie-Rufus Wainwright-Freddie Mercury lovechild would be; musically, I’m reminded of classic rock along the lines of the Doobie Brothers or the Who. The mariachi feel on “Jade” channels a Beatles-esque lightness. Even the lyrics on “Come In Please” make me think of Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues,” which I do admit is a bit more of a stretch. I hope none of you are turned off by this, partly because I adore classic rock, but mostly because the likenesses are subtle and ES & the MZ’s have created an undeniably unique sound.

I am excited to see these guys in Richmond in a few weeks because I’ve heard so many wonderful things about their live shows. If their album is this great, I have no doubts about their live show. There is something liberating and wild in their music that I love, and I can’t wait to see it manifest!

P.S. If you are looking for a flute player, I’ll be in your band. kthanksedwardsharpe&themagneticzerosbye.

Here is my pathetic attempt to embed:

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros “Home” from Edward Sharpe on Vimeo.

I’ve got some bad news and some good news

Some sad news from Los Campesinos! It was announced today that Aleks will be leaving the band at the end of the summer. They will be releasing one last album with her as a member and playing several shows in the States before she returns to her studies full time. But, no worries, Los Campesinos! have every intention of carrying on as a band. And we wish them both all the best. You can read the band’s announcement here and Aleks’s own here.

Good news, now. As Kristin mentioned in her last post, I did indeed go to a show last night and I did arrive a couple of hours early so I could talk to someone for a bit before the show. (If you’ve been keeping up with us on Facebook, you already know what I am getting at.) That’s because the Decemberists were in Columbus last night. No, I did not spend the evening hanging out with Colin Meloy. Even better. I spent about an hour talking with Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond. Once I’ve had a chance to transcribe it, maybe I’ll let you read a bit.

On to the show. Blind Pilot is opening on this tour, and it pains me to say this because I like their music, but it was one of the more profoundly boring performances I have ever seen (this is includes a number of my own performances, which I would prefer to pretend never happened, thank you so much for bringing it up…). But let’s not dwell on the negative. The show that followed more than made up for a lackluster opening (as well as about half a dozen others).

I am now of the mind that the Decemberists may well be the most polished band I have ever seen. The first of their two sets was material from Hazards of Love, more specifically all of it. For their first hour on stage, the band played their new album in its entirety, complete with guest appearances (including Shara Worden). The staging was imposing, the transitions were seamless, and their performance engaging. But I was reminded of something last night, namely what an electrifying performer Shara Worden is. As part of an evening that featured one of the most impressive performances I have seen recently, the special guest blew the main attraction clean out of the water. It will be difficult waiting for my next opportunity to see My Brightest Diamond (still the best show I have ever, ever witnessed). It has been far too long.

Until then, here is a video of Shara in performance with the Decemberists. The sound quality is crap, I know, and it can be difficult to hear over all of those screaming indie kids, but you will have to make due. Watch some MBD videos to see Shara at her best.

We Should Be Reading Steinbeck

On Saturday night, I saw Thao with The Get Down Stay Down at the Boot in Norfolk, and it was way cool.  I have to be honest and tell you I did zero pre-show research so I had no idea who was opening for them.  Openers are such an interesting thing, there is so much hope and so much room for disappointment.

Thankfully, Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers (and Sister Suvi, but I’ll get to them later on) did not disappoint.  I would dub them as the up-and-coming artist to watch, as Hampton Roads hasn’t really caught on to the indie music scene, but Paste and Rolling Stone have already done that, and so I think we can all agree that the rich, dark folk rock band is already here.  Actually, this is another instance where I am beating myself up for not having listened to them earlier, and I’ll beat you up too if you don’t listen now.

The band’s twangy guitar and touch of tambourine and harmonica give their music a definite country roots feel (read Steinbeck as you listen!), but the depth of form and sound deny association with the country genre as we know it.  For instance, is that muted trumpet on “Bananafish Revolution”?  Despite the moodiness, which is actually quite therapeutic (for me at least, but maybe many things are therapeutic for me), it isn’t so dark–the catchy “Rising Sun” has been stuck in my head all day, and “Get the Fever Out” may be better described as playfully dark.  Samantha’s voice, I believe, is what makes this moodiness both therapeutic and contagious, with its strength undiminished by its tremors and lovely sighs.  I must say that at the show, one of my favorite things ever was watching that tiny girl dance around and play  harmonica and sing her guts out.  My new goal is to become best friends with her, stat!

Also, if you know anything about me, you know how much I appreciate lyrical genius.  If you don’t know this, read more of my reviews and you will soon find out!  Samantha Crain and the Midnight Shivers are brilliant songwriters; their lyrics truly are poetry.  “Traipsing Through The Aisles” contain some of my favorite of the bands’ lyrics– “even shadows sleep tonight/but a bit of orphaned light will/make its home on beds of nails and nightmares/when dust clouds o’er the sun/a web of confusion is by spiders crawling faster towards redemption.”  Also, not to be a lyric whore or anything, “Beloved We Have Expired”–  “accidents happen but you never did/i’m the forgotten change in your pocket/of the old winter coat/the newspapers stackin’, neat fold/oh, to be held again/to be spent or read/put aside again/That would be the greatest thing…”

Gahh it’s so beautiful!!!  Go listen. Buy the album.  Read the wonderful things Paste and Rolling Stone have to say.  Read Steinbeck.  Weep.  Oh also, here’s a video of “Traipsing Through The Aisles” for you.