Tag Archive: toronto


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.

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I’ve said it before. A lot of things about Canadian Music Week caught me off guard. Of course, though I complained about the distance thing for the first couple of days, I really did grow accustomed to it once the sky stopped spitting on me every time I set foot outside. (Realistically, a ‘short’ walk in Toronto is really no different from a ‘short’ walk in Chicago or London, just with fewer commemorative plaques to read along the way.) But the main thing I will be taking away from CMW (other than the bomb I’m going to drop on you in my Day Five summary) is the sad fact that, while some of the most exciting music I’ve heard is happening so close by, such a miniscule fraction of it manages to trickle down to us here, south of the border.

And, yes, it’s rather ironic that I would make such a statement at this point in the weeks, as Day Three would turn out to be the most internationally diverse lineup I would experience during the course of the week, but with most of the bands (even the English and Greek ones), I already had some idea of what to expect. However, walking into Revival (a gorgeous venue in its own right), I had no idea what I was getting myself into. What awaited me would prove to be the most exciting show I’ve seen since the Babblers made a surprise stop in Columbus last year.

As we’ve discussed here before, new wave certainly seems to be alive and well all over the world at the moment. And then there’s my torrid love affair with the Stiff Records back catalogue, which has been well-documented over the course of the last six months or so, but I certainly didn’t expect to find all of that embodied by an immaculately attired four-piece from Montreal called GIRL. I’d been handed one of their fliers at a showcase the night before though they were, in fact, one of the first acts to be added to my CMW schedule two weeks earlier. From the opening chord to the final chorus, the pace of the show was relentless. There is something amazing that happens when a band is firing on all cylinders. In this case, frenetic energy and raucous singalong refrains. It wasn’t long before I felt a tap on the shoulder from another audience member eager to know who they were. Make sure to download their free EP from Bandcamp (or from the player I embedded below). The more I listen to it (and I’ve listened dozens of times since I returned home), the more I get the feeling that it could well be the most promising thing I’ve heard so far in 2011. Of course, there’s still the matter of the name. Though, if long-winded San Francisco stoners—Girls—had any sense of decency, they’d hand over the moniker to the boys from Montreal.

Following GIRL* was—well—an actual girl. That is, Gabby Young and Other Animals. In this case, the Other Animals were local music students as the usual Animals had been left back in Britain. With a sound that walks some sort of line between Kate Bush and Regina Spektor, Gabby Young puts on a show that is impossible to ignore. And that’s not just a credit to the bright red hair or elaborate stage attire. It’s a testament to a performance both riotously fun and beautiful executed with poise and personality. Some of you may have had a chance to catch one of her showcases at SXSW last week. If not, hopefully, at least, we can expect to be seeing a little more of her around these parts. Just a few hours before her Revival set, a North American release of her album We’re All In This Together on Four Quarters Entertainment in April. And it’s a good thing, too. Given the state of things, I reckon we could all use a little more circus swing in our lives.

Going into CMW, there was one artist I kept hearing about more than any other. Most everyone I heard from appeared far more interested in the fact that I was going to see Maylee Todd than the other marquee names on the CMW schedule (e.g. Janelle Monae, Janet Jackson, Sammy Hagar: none of whom are of particular interest to me anyway—well, maybe Janelle Monae). It’s no secret that word of mouth publicity like that can backfire, raising expectations so high that no artist could ever realistically hope to fulfill. But when they do—that’s something else entirely.

And Maylee Todd is everything they said she’d be. From the aethereal crooning of her beautiful solo harp numbers to the powerful soul of full band explosions reminiscent of 70s Motown, Maylee’s shows are unforgettable. I’m starting to see what all the fuss is about, but just think: this was only the warmup set for a full scale spectacle later that evening. The second show, unfortunately, conflicted with another gig I’d be attending down the road. But still, I understand now why so many people kept insisting how incredibly lucky I was to be there, even for a 30-minute set. I don’t if Maylee has played many (if any) shows here in the States, but I sincerely hope Canada will share her with us soon, because there’s nothing I can say that could even begin to do her justice.

*Apparently, there were some major label A&R guys among the audience at Revival Friday night, as well—not particularly interesting or relevant information in this case, but a good setup for the snarky comment I am about to make. (At one point, I—along with everyone else—was encouraged to give them a round of applause though I have yet to figure out what they’d done to earn it. Is spiky hair now grounds for a standing ovation?)

Day two of Canadian Music Week and I’ve been glittered within an inch of my life by the Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party who, I am told by a man who caught a glimpse of my media wristband at another showcase earlier today, are Canada’s next top band. The folks at Rancho Relaxo likewise seem to share his enthusiasm. It’s the most energetic crowd I’ve seen all night despite the fact that it is 2:30 A.M. and Toronto has been awash with rain and freezing temperatures since I arrived 36 hours ago. In the end, I too was powerless to resist their wonky sex pop and fought my way to the front to experience my first Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party close up and personal with the rest of the glitterati.

[Download: Top Less Gay Love Tekno Party – ‘My Five’ mp3]

TLGLTP were a brilliant way to close my first full day at CMW, so much fun, in fact, that I left the show so full of energy that I opted to forgo a cab and walk 20 minutes back to my room through the steady winter rain. Day two began with the first of three days of Live Near Bellwoods living room sessions at the Toronto Institute for the Enjoyment of Music: a series of performances that proved to be so incredible, I’ll wait and dedicate a full week to them soon.

So, instead, fast forward a few hours and a few blocks to El Mocambo where a nice lady found my passport before I even realized I’d lost it and Familia (Maple Ridge, BC)—who bring so much soul to their hook-laden indie rock, it really ought to come with a warning label—played a blistering set with the tightest rhythms and powerful vocals I heard all night. It’s difficult to photograph a band like Familia, if I’m honest: far too easy to lose sight of things like focus and shutter speed with all that uncontrollable dancing and hip-shaking going on. So if my photos from this particular gig are a little blurry, I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself. You’re just going to have to entice them down here to the States and out to Britain for a bit of a tour. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

And, if you can, get them to bring Some Community (São Paulo, Brazil) along with them. As I learned Thursday night, the combination of Familia’s soul pop and Some Community’s art pop makes for one undeniably sexy lineup. I’ve talked about Some Community here before, but suffice it to say that they are even more fun live than I had hoped they’d be leaving a small but enthusiastic audience completely shattered by the end of their high-octane set. I don’t know why someone hasn’t signed them yet. All this band really need is a little exposure north of the Equator (an iPad advert, perhaps) and this band could do quite well for themselves here. And I’ll be honest with you, I’ve definitely got a crush on guitarist/bassist/occasional melodica-ist Gabriela Gonzalez.

[Download: Some Community – ‘Random Words’ mp3]

From El Mocambo, it was on to Rancho Relaxo to meet up with members of Yunioshi and Spaceships Are Cool for a bit of Icelandic sex on a Kaoss Pad in the form of Bloodgroup (Reykjavik, Iceland). Now, I don’t know if you can recall the last time you saw two nonironic keytars on the same stage, but I reckon it was sometime around 1987 (and I can’t even promise I was privy to it then as I was only 3 years old). But it’s a phenomenon I’ve witnessed firsthand and I can tell you, Bloodgroup play those keytars like the electro-rockstars they are and everyone within earshot lapped it up excitedly. And by the time the band had worked their way up to their Facebook hit ‘My Arms’ (from Dry Land) it was clear the capacity crowd was ready and willing to take it in all night long. But seriously, when the beats and nerdgasms flow in torrents from the stage like that, can you really blame them? I mean, I’ve never really given much thought to becoming a groupie, but for Bloodgroup, I might reconsider. Anyone feel like joining me in Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves in October?

You already know how the rest of the evening went. (Hint: it’s up there at the beginning. See that neat time-displacement thing that I did?) At the end of a day like this, the only question really left to ask is, how is it even possible that anything could match this? The answer is ‘Friday’.

Christine OwmanSo, Day 1. I’d built myself a pretty hefty coming in to CMW, intending to bounce from one venue to another to catch all the most exciting acts (in my opinion anyway) appearing at the festival—a schedule, somewhat surprisingly, heavy on electronic and synth-based acts. Though, when I made that schedule, I had no idea that, in Canada “everything is far from everything”. But after dragging my suitcase over a mile through the snow and rain, I was in no mood to carry on in the same fashion late into the night. In the end, though I was approved to cover nine venues Wednesday evening, I pulled up a seat at the Free Times Cafe from which my body and I, destroyed after traveling all day on a full 20 minutes of sleep and one cup of coffee, refused to move. What I was left with was an evening of singer-songwriters and absolutely no regrets.

The first of them, Christine Owman [SoundCloud], was the one I’d come to see. Intrigued by the videos I’d seen combining electronics and theatrics with decades old film footage, there was no way I was going to miss the live spectacle. Nor was there any way that Ms. Owman, loop station and musical saw in tow, was going to disappoint, filling her set with all the dramatics of an ugly breakup coupled with the sweetness of the reconciliation.

Once I’d made the executive decision to never move again, all that was left for me to do was to sit back and listen to JP Hoe, whoever he was. Who he is, kids, is a singer-songwriter from (I think) Manitoba with beautiful voice and crystal clear tone. But it was on a handful of numbers, accompanied by a couple of friends, where the music shone—gorgeous ringing vocal harmonies sinking into every forgotten corner of the room. One particular highlight for me was the first of these, a song from a holiday EP—something about singing ‘O Holy Night’—was absolutely striking’, with a handful of surprise chord changes thrown in for good measure.

Following JP Hoe, Louise Burns and her band, apparently surprised by the smallness of the stage, mounted an emergency stripped down acoustic set, while I, along with Australia’s Eli Wolfe (not performing that night, but he’ll be wandering the US and Canada this summer) watched from the wings. And though, based on my pre-CMW artist notes, I was suitably enthusiastic about LB’s full band set up, something about the minimalist approach they took at Free Times Cafe Wednesday night highlighted entirely new aspects of the music. Even down to the extra reverb in the mix—excessive reverb, almost, for such a tiny room—gave the music a serendipitous Phil Spector vibe.

In the end, I desperately needed those few hours. To dry off, yes. To warm up, definitely. But most important was the reassurance that my plans could be changed for whatever reason—expediency, practicality, or just plain laziness—and I could still experience memorable and often beautiful performances by bands I hadn’t had time to preview in the preceding weeks. Little did I know that this would become a running theme throughout the festival.

[More photos from Day 1 on Facebook.]

If you missed part one, read it here. Or, if you’re on the homepage, just scroll down.

There are over 800 bands playing at CMF this week. Did you honestly think that I would be able to keep all my recommendations confined to a single post? Of course not. Here are some more. Get these on your schedule. Now.

Maylee Todd & Pegwee Power
Toronto, ON
Performing: Revival, Friday @ 8:45PM
Supermarket, Friday @ 1:00AM

Part of a strong lineup of early sets at Revival Friday night, Maylee Todd and special brand of indie soul promise to deliver one crushing set on Friday night. Just look at that promo photo. How could you ever be disappointed with that. And if you can’t make the early show, she’s playing again in the wee hours.

Vidulgi OoyoO
Seoul, South Korea
Performing: Clinton’s, Thursday @ 12:30AM

Some breathtaking Korean shoegaze that hearkens back to the early days of My Bloody Valentine. Those who find themselves at Clinton’s Thursday night are liable to have their hearts stolen. Just don’t swoon too much. I can’t promise anyone will have the presence of mind to catch you.

YUNIOSHI
Nottingham, UK
Performing: Painted Lady, Friday @ 1:00AM

YUNIOSHI are the whole reason I’ll even be in Toronto this week. It’s not everyday one of Britain’s most exciting robofunk bands plays a North American show. And when they do—if you’re me at least—you make sure you’re in the audience. I wrote about how much I love YUNIOSHI a few weeks ago, so you can go back and read that if you want more details. And if you’re not the reading type, well, just watch the video. It’s pretty self-explanatory.

The Zoobombs
Tokyo, Japan
Performing: Bait Shop, Saturday @ 3:30PM
Comfort Zone, Saturday @ 1:00AM

The Zoobombs have, apparently, been around for ages. Long enough, at least, that I am ashamed to say that this is the first I’ve heard of them. But their psychedelic hyper-rock has got me hooked.

White White Sisters
Nagoya, Aichi, Japan
Performing: Painted Lady, Saturday @ 1:00AM

Another one from Japan. And another one I’ll be sad to miss. Hovering somewhere in between metal and electronica, White White Sisters are high on blistering technique and breakneck speed—something I can only characterise as musical sublimation. I can’t say I know for sure how that would physically present, but the metaphor sounds pretty bang on to me.

Fever Fever
Norwich, UK
Performing: Rivoli, Saturday @2:00 A.M.

Another one of my UK favourites. Art punk monsters from one of my favourite little labels, Cherryade Records, Fever Fever are tearing a path through North America on their way to SXSW leaving a trail of burning stages and broken hearts in their wake. It’s a late show, but I reckon you’ll have forgotten all about that by the time you’ve heard this.

I wish I had friends in Bellwoods

There is one word for the way I have been feeling recently: unmotivated.  Can we just get that out of the way?  Great, thanks.  I apologize.  We’ve had snow days for the past three days (don’t ask how much snow we’ve gotten–it’s really shameful.  Hampton Roads is not capable of handling any amount of snow whatsoever) and so now I have the opportunity to sit down and listen and write and not have all my energy zapped by my day job.  The only problem I have now is that the cat is using me as his monkey bars.

Because my cool high school friend Reid gives me music sometimes, I have been listening to Evening Hymns’ Spirit Guides.  I was going to do a write-up on that first, but now I have discovered Ohbijou and I think because they are sort of Evening Hymns’ roots, I will write about them first.  Ohbijou is from Canada, and something cool is that in 2007, they put together a compilation CD for Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank called Friends in Bellwoods, which is named after a house where 2 of the members live in Toronto, and they just got their friends together and made an album, I guess.  I like those kinds of things, I think they’re pretty cool.

But I’m not going to talk about Friends in Bellwoods because I’m going to talk about their most recent not-Friends-in-Bellwoods (2009) album, Beacons.  It is one of the albums that reminds me that I should never make “best of” lists because I can never listen to enough music to know if I’m really covering the best.  Who knows what’s out there that hasn’t been heard?  I wish I had heard this before I’d made my best of 2009 list.   Beacons was released by Darling You Inc., under exclusive license to Last Gang Records, and it features some of TIH’s favorite instruments, like glock, harpsichord, violin, electric piano, and mandolin.  The atmosphere of the album is perhaps what makes it so special(duh).  Reminiscent of The New Pornographers or Mates of State, bass and/or piano and/or strings often provide a nice driving bassline as a foundation for more layers upon layers, building into eventual catharsis…my favorite.  “New Years” and “Memoriam” are both perfect examples of this.

Something else I should mention: Casey’s voice = beautiful.  I’ve heard some complaints from mostly really annoying people who I don’t like very much in the first place about how “indie girls all sing the same way.”  Well, if you think “indie girls all sing the same way,” you don’t listen to enough good music.  I understand where the sentiment comes from if you have only ever heard Paramore and Flyleaf and A Fine Frenzy, but if you have heard the White Stripes and Stars and Samantha Crain and Belle & Sebastian and God Help the Girl and Fiona Apple and Jenny Lewis and Ohbijou, you would think before you spoke.  Also, I’m sorry, but what is indie in the first place????  I still don’t know and refuse to concern myself with it.  All this to say, Casey’s voice is uniquely lovely and flexible–haunting, strong, and delicate.  So if you are under the impression that “all indie girls sing the same way,” you have 2 choices.  You may stop reading this blog and continue complaining, or you may listen to Ohbijou and sit in awe at the vocals.

And Casey’s haunting voice matches the lyrics.  This is an album for winter, I think, exemplified on “Black Ice” (the winter brings a heaviness/this weight is a hand/over the things i shouldn’t say/there’s black ice, no sign) and “Cannon March” (mother shoot those cannons off/destroy this wicked place/the winter brings peculiar things/to thaw and leave no trace).  The lyrics are poetry, beautiful even apart from the music and fantastically complemented by it.  All in all, I suppose the album is pretty dark, but there are traces of light and hope that make it anything but depressing.  I don’t know.  I enjoy it.

Some of my favorite tracks are “Wildfires,” “Eloise and the Bones,” and “Make It Gold.”  “Wildfires” is great because it drives, and Casey’s voice is especially well-suited to the long phrasing.  I adore the ups and downs of the phrasing, the syncopation of the melodic line juxtaposed with the constant driving percussive downbeats and bassline.  I don’t know what I love about “Eloise and the Bones”–the lyrics aren’t so much lighter, but the sound is, and I think I really appreciate that.  “Make It Gold” has precious music box feel at the beginning which is done really well–I find that bands can easily screw this up and make it feel gimicky, but Ohbijou doesn’t–instead, it’s tender and a bit nostalgic, until again, the layers build and end in catharsis.  My favorite thing.

If you want to listen, check out www.myspace.com/ohbijou.

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