It’s a cold, hard fact that there is some truly amazing music coming out of the East Coast.  The boys of Pretty Archie, a band from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, certainly measure up to their notable Maritime contemporaries. Last year I had the privilege of meeting the band and seeing them play at NXNE. At the time they were revving up to record their sophomore album, a follow up to 2013’s Steel City (which was nominated for Music Nova Scotia’s bluegrass/country album of the year). They were great then, but with this new album, North End Sky, they have matured a surprising amount for such little time. The album is fun and energetic like their live shows, but it is also wrapped in warmth and yields a depth that is often reserved for more seasoned acts.

Pretty Archie

North End Sky shows a development from Steel City’s mainly folk and bluegrass shades to include other colours that lean in the direction of alt-country. The colours come from their use of banjo, harmonica and mandolin; as well as the usual acoustic guitar, bass and drums; but also from the electric guitar parts that beef up many of the songs on the album. The vocal prowess of lead singer Brian Cathcart is emboldened by the layered harmonies provided by the other band members. Jamie Foulds, audio engineer extraordinaire from Soundpark Studios, did a fine job of making the album sound polished. Yes; there is a lot of really beautiful stuff going on.North End Sky Cover

Many of the tracks are jolly-good foot-stompers, but they are complimented by the few more relaxed tunes like “The Flood,” a vocally intense song that’s somehow haunting and powerful at the same time. Another tune that stands out is “Devil Take Me Down,” which features some of musically the most interesting works as well as one of the strongest vocal deliveries on the album. After a moderately-paced beginning, it morphs into a driving, mighty middle section before pulling back at the tail end again. It’s very effective.

Pretty Archie have taken strides forward with this collection of songs that range from good old-fashioned drinkin’ tunes to their more sentimental numbers. Here is a video from “Hardwood Floor,” one of the slower tunes on the album.

Their music can be purchased on iTunes (link on their website).

This weekend on Sunday, I attended Igloofest for the first time. The weather had uncharacteristically warmed up – above zero degrees! – and I knew that the universe was telling me to make merry and go rave to Flosstradamus.

Flosstradamus is a DJ duo made up of J2K (Josh Young) and Autobot (Curt Cameruci) from Chicago, who has worked with big DJ names like Diplo and A-trak, and also rap stars like Kid Sister, Juicy J, and Waka Flocka Flame. They produce music that is a perfect blend of EDM and trap, bridging the two genres together in an intense way that will get you “Too Turnt Up” or TTU for short.

They performed on the Sapporo stage with flashing graphics of purple and green weed leaves. Two fans were waving huge American flags at the front of the stage and it was a mix of wonderful and random things that felt like a hallucinogenic cartoon.

While I was raving along on top of the Jagermeister truck, it was snowing lightly – the kind of snow that is fluffy and unintimidating that made everything look like it was covered in shimmering glitter. I knew it was meant to be. There were ice sculptures everywhere – tall beautiful symbols of shining capitalism that spelled out brand names like Jagermeister and Sapporo. Other than the Igloosnacks and Igloodrinks you could get in heated trucks, there were ice slides and a hockey rink. What a true Canadian gem!

With all the looming dilated eyes, Igloofest was truly a molly winter-wonderland. The soft snow made the whole experience feel magical, while the raving EDM music coming from the Sapporo stage took you to a different world of colourful bodies, dressed up in silly costumes like the Power Rangers and animal onesies. It was a hypercolour free-for-all that everyone was vibing to.

The crowd began chanting “ROLL UP!” on Flosstradamus’ command, everyone lighting their joints in solidarity and excitement. A layer of smoke rose above the crowd, the familiar dankness hitting me at the top of the bouncing Jagermeister truck. There was so much smoke coming from the crowd, that it looked like the bouncing bobbles on the colourful Igloofest hats were on fire. At one point, you couldn’t tell the difference between the smoke coming from the half-lit Js and people just breathing. Flosstradamus flattered the crowd by stating that Montreal had the best weed in Canada, and the crowd screamed back with joy.

This is what Josh Young and Curt Cameruci do. They are charismatic, talented hypemen who curate their set to such precision that they can get the crowd jumping, smoking, chanting, and dancing at their will. At one point, Flosstradamus transitioned from the kind of chaotic, high-energy trap rage that is “Waka Flocka Flame,” to a tribute song for their fallen homie ASAP Yams, who passed away recently. Flosstradamus has a diverse set of talents, from creating fiery bangers you’ll want to destroy the town to, to producing sweet electronic melodies like “Rebound” and “God’s Whisper.” Their style is fun and intense – a lot of their tracks feature minimalistic, yet heavy trap beats with rap verses that build up to an explosive bass drop that is heavier and dirtier than most EDM tracks care to explore.

The point is, Flosstradamus will get you moving.

For the last half of their set, they started playing “Rebound,” and it was beautiful and cathartic. After going hard for an hour and getting their crowd pumped up, it felt like the performance came full circle by ending on such a sweet melodious note.

Igloofest is still going on every weekend until February 8. If you’re in town, this is one show that you will definitely not want to miss out on. It is like nothing you have ever experienced before (unless you’ve already raved to colourful bouncing Canadians dancing to the beat and to the snow) and it is a memorable night for any Montrealer. Come for the ice sculptures, come for the music, come for the silly costumes. Either way, you won’t regret it – Igloofest is a surreal and wonderful music event that is more of a PLUR-fuelled circus.

Igloofest CorrectedIgloofest Corrected

Click on the photo above to open the gallery. All photography by Isabel Lee.

Osheaga 2014 Gogol Bordello © Bianca Lecompte

2015 has been off to quite a busy start, but before we get too involved, let’s take one final look back at 2014.

Every year we ask our contributors to vote on the favourite two posts they wrote and the two posts they liked most from all the other contributors on the site. Then, in a not-too-scientific manner, we turn that into this list.

In no particular order, these are the top posts of 2014 on FTB:

Standing in solidarity with Ferguson by Cem Ertekin, photos Gerry Lauzon

After the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri erupted. In Montreal, the Black Students’ Network of McGill organized a vigil. Cem Ertekin was there to report and record audio and Gerry Lauzon took pictures (read the post).

Burlesque: A Naked Revolution You Can Do Too! by Cat McCarthy
Cat McCarthy on what burlesque has done for her and can do for you, too. For her, it’s a revolution of sexual liberation. (read the post).

Our first and (probably) last post about Jian Ghomeshi by Johnny Scott

We only published one post about Jian Ghomeshi this year: Johnny Scott’s satirical response to the overbearing presence of Ghomeshi images in his Facebook feed. The story is important, but do we really need to keep looking at his face? (read the post)

Electric Winter: an interview with Igloofest’s Nicolas Cournoyer by Bianca David

Did you know that Igloofest started out as a joke? Well, it did, and now it’s anything but. Find out about the fest’s origins and its future in Bianca David’s interview with founder Nicolas Cournoyer. (read the post)

Black Lives Matter - In Solidarity with Ferguson Montreal vigil (5)
From the solidarity vigil for Ferguson held in Montreal on November 25, 2014. Photo by Gerry Lauzon.

 

Solidarity with the enemy: When the oppressor wants to fight oppression by Jason C. McLean

When municipal workers took up the fight against austerity, Jason C. McLean wondered if it was possible to show solidarity with those who didn’t reciprocate. Also, would that even be a good thing? (read the post)

Channeling Energy with Brody Stevens @ OFF-JFL by Jerry Gabriel

This year, we covered Just for Laughs, OFF-JFL and Zoofest. One of the more, um, interesting performances we saw was by Brody Stevens (he had a cameo in The Hangover). Find out why it piqued our interest in this report by Jerry Gabriel. (read the post)

Ferguson – The Grand Hypocrisy: Legitimate violence, ideology and the American Dream by Niall Clapham Ricardo

How legitimate is a legal system that serves more to oppress than to protect? Niall Clapham Ricardo takes a look at the aftermath of the Ferguson Grand Jury. (read the post)

The rise of EDM at Osheaga by Jesse Anger

This year, we returned to Osheaga and Jesse Anger discovered that it was more electronic than ever. Find out why. (read the post)

 

DSC_0906
From November 29, 2014 Refusons l’Austerité march in Montreal. Photo by Cem Ertekin.

 

Say no to victim blaming by Bree Rockbrand

When the Montreal taxi rape story broke, Bree Rockbrand searched for stories of similar cabbie assaults. What she found lead to this post about why we need to stop victim blaming. (read the post)

Cuddles and catpuccinos: How Montréal is setting the course for cat cafés in North America by Josh Davidson

CAAAAAATS! But seriously, there are cats, plenty of them, at Montreal’s two cat cafes, the first such places in North America. Josh Davidson reports. (read the post)

Snowpiercer is a Welcome Addition to the Current Dystopia Craze by Thomas O’Connor

With the dystopia genre going the way of vampires, Thomas O’Connor takes a look at Snowpiercer. Is this a film that can buck the trend? (read the post)

SPVM officers issue a ticket for a situation they created (AUDIO) by Jason C. McLean

Lindsay Rockbrand just wanted to lay down for a few minutes on a park bench, but the SPVM wouldn’t let that happen. Even though it was before 11pm, they managed to give her a ticket for being in a park after hours (read the post and listen to the interview)

Tinder, Tinder, On The Wall… by Jules

Jules decides to try out Tinder. Wonder what will make her swipe left? Find out. (read the post)

Igloofest 2014 7 © Bianca Lecompte
Igloofest 2014. Photo by Bianca Lecompte.

 

2014 in Review: Why Feminism Still Matters by Stephanie Laughlin

It’s not usual for a year-in-review piece to make it to the list of favourite posts, but Stephanie Laughlin’s look at the events of 2014 as a reason feminism is still needed bucks that trend. Find out why. (read the post)

Some Nasty Advice: The Nasty Show @ JFL by Hannah Besseau

We didn’t like everything at this year’s JFL. While Hannah Besseau enjoyed the Nasty Show overall, she does have some advice for next year. Will those planning it listen? (read the post)

Quebec election postponed until August: Marois by Jason C. McLean

Our April Fools posts usually catch a few people (usually those just waking up) off-guard, but in 2014 we really seemed to have hit a nerve. Maybe it’s because the scenario we jokingly proposed wasn’t all that inconceivable, given the climate. (read the post)

P6 is police collaboration and I refuse to participate in it by Katie Nelson

Katie Nelson argues why, under no circumstances, people organizing a protest should comply with municipal bylaw P6. It is collaboration, pure and simple. (read the post)

Osheaga Day 3: The Green stage rules them all [PHOTOS] by Bianca Lecompte

More Osheaga! This time, it’s the Green Stage and quite a few photos by Bianca Lecompte. (read the post, check out the pics)

Petrocultures 2014: Oil Energy or Canada’s Future by Sarah Ring, photos by Jay Manafest

This year, McGill held a conference on oil and Canada’s energy future. It welcomed people with sustainable solutions to our dependence on fossil fuel and Ezra Levant. FTB’s Sarah Ring and Jay Manafest were in attendance. (read the post)

#FantasiaFest Interview with Director Leigh Janiak of Honeymoon by Pamela Fillion

No, this isn’t just in here because it mentions Ygritte from Game of Thrones, but that helps. It’s actually a pretty cool interview by Pamela Filion with Leigh Janiak, Rose Leslie’s director in Honeymoon. (read the post)

Our collective struggle: Austerity and Spring 2015 by Cem Ertekin

This piece by Cem Ertekin is a prediction of what’s to come in the Quebec student movement (SPOILER ALERT: We’re in for another Maple Spring). It’s also a great primer for anyone wanting a rundown on just what austerity is and Quebec politics for the last few years. (read the post)

They say that a single photo is worth a thousand words, and 2014 has been a year of many photos!

To celebrate the new year, here’s a review of the old one through the lenses of FTB’s photographers.

Enjoy this beautiful gallery that will show to you 2014 in photos!

2014 in Photos2014 in Photos

Click on the photo above to open the gallery. Big thanks to Bianca Lecompte, Jesse Anger, Gerry Lauzon, Chris Zacchia, Melanie Renaud, and Bree Rockbrand for these brilliant photos. 

Here’s to hoping that we’ll have even greater photos in the brand new year of 2015!

A solid line-up thrilled a full house of rockers and metal heads at the Metropolis on October 29. Norwegians Kvelertak and French band Gojira both opened for Mastodon on their only Canadian tour date in support of their most recent album, Once More ‘Round The Sun.

By the time Kvelertak took to the stage, the venue was already crawling with masses. Singer Erlend Hjelvik donned the band’s mascot, an owl, on his head through the first song, engaging the crowd as he pounced around. The band seemed to be having a blast, breezing through their half hour set the only way a six-piece triple-guitar threat could: with power. To those who had never seen the band perform or even heard of them before, Kvelertak proved they are way more than just a warm-up band.

Packed to the gills by the end of their set, fans at Metropolis cheered for Gojira while they waited for the French band to appear. A set-up of stacked amps made each member stand out, with their drummer sitting atop it and punctuating each riff with flailing arms. Though I don’t generally go out of my way to listen to them, Gojira’s live show made me reconsider this. They were beyond impressive. Their percussive sound, their light show and their presence command attention. It felt like I was being crushed, in a good way. Singer Joe Duplantier spoke in his native French to thank the crowd for making the tour such a triumph in each city, and announced that they’ll be working on new material and touring again soon.

Though Mastodon are seasoned musicians who’ve been touring and playing together for ages, they always deliver a more than satisfying show, never simply riding on their success to keep fans happy. The technical prowess of guitarists Bill Keliher and Brent Hinds are enough to make any novice cower. Watching them expertly layer their complex riffs live is jaw dropping. What stood out the most for me was how slick and tight the band sounded.

Bassist and vocalist Troy Davies’ growl was authoritative, and drummer Brann Dailor always baffles with his ability to project his voice from beyond his kit. In keeping with their tradition of not dipping into their old material too much, Mastodon’s lengthy set largely consisted of songs off their latest effort, peppered with a handful of tunes from their previous albums, including “Blasteroid” off The Hunter and Leviathan opener “Blood and Thunder,” but to my dismay, no “March of the Fire Ants” (from Remission). Dailor emerged and offered a hearty thanks to the bands on the bill and the crowd for making them feel so welcome every time they visit, and offered “Pendulous Skin” over the loudspeakers in lieu of an encore in homage to the band’s late friend Ikey Owens, who was a keyboardist for Jack White. The show felt like an intimate one, even personal, even with a couple thousand fans in attendance.

Click on the photo to launch the slideshow. Photos by Adam Reider. 
Mastodon2Mastodon2

Jesse StoneWith his new album Break of Day set to be released this month, expatriate Jesse Stone has been very busy working on new musical projects from his Brooklyn apartment.

Best known for his sweet raspy voice, a mix of blues rock singer and alt-country star, his music was forged here, in the fires of Montreal. And although he has left to work in Brooklyn his heart hasn’t really left Montreal, his home.

In an age of polished, soulless music, Jesse Stone’s songs are a reminder of the age of the great poetic singer-songwriters of days past: Cohen, Dylan and Springsteen.  Just like them, Stone sings about the age old battle of modernism, relationships and the desire to find your place and soul in all this madness.

Hosting the open mic jam at The Bull pub made Jesse Stone a name for himself among the performers that showed up every week.

A few years ago Jesse Stone also got recognition of also being a great promoter, hosting and performing on the Bandstand fundraiser with his company Hot Soupe. Together with Josh Trager (drummer), Chad Tuppert (electric guitar) he started recording songs that would be on the new album.

Now, after a year and a half of a tenacious effort Break of Day is finally scheduled for release later this month.

Many of the songs on Break of Day are as uptempo and upbeat as a summer’s day like “Promises” and “Fisherman.” But there are a few darker tracks on the album like “Vampires,” “Don’t Come Around” and “Life is a Lonely Road,” which give the album a full spectrum of emotions as they travel through the heart of the poet, singer-songwriter. Brilliantly arranged, many of the rock songs that will make you want to dance, and maybe twist and shout, while a few of the darker tracks may make you drink, reflexively.

If you are already familiar with his music then you’ve probably heard of how he gets inside your head and tinkers, leaving behind some catchy tunes and memorable riffs. Here’s the track “Don’t Change” that will stay in your head:

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/172044516″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”50″ iframe=”true” /]

The soothing acoustic take on “Vampires,” one of the darker songs that might take you on a nostalgic trip. You might need a shot of whiskey afterwards:

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/172795175″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”100″ iframe=”true” /]

The album was finished a year ago and although the sound is produced and polished yet still holds a looseness of a live musical performance. Break of Day is also very well paced giving the listener time to reflect, and enjoy the mood it generates, without coming on strong.

It’s an homage to the singer-songwriters of days past; if anything Stone has shown us these day aren’t over.

[soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/172038617″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”100″ iframe=”true” /]

Break of Day will be available this month on iTunes

You can also give a listen to Jesse Stone’s SoundCloud.

Check out his Facebook page for his latest music and videos.

Once upon a time, you had to venture north of Rosemont to get a proper pupusa in Montreal.

Before that, it was even harder. I was all the way in Santa Barbara, California, when I first tasted the addictively comforting El Salvadorian treat. That was ten years ago, and since then, we’ve been lucky to have a few Montréal instances, like La Carreta on St Zotique, or  El Chalateco on Beaubien.

These places are renowned for their flavours and charm, and not for their trendy or boozy vibes.

pupusas
Pupusas at Los Planes – perfectly pillowy and comforting.

Los Planes is aiming to modify the pupusa’s image. The city’s third pupusa contender has recently moved southward in a bid to test their El Salvadorian and Mexican fare in the Plateau. It’s not exactly next door to where I live, yet it’s nice to see more great pupusas near me.

It’s a risky bid. After all, the block to which they have migrated (St-Denis near Rachel) is part of that long-imploding mile between Sherbrooke and Mont-Royal.

Once the city’s de facto tourist shop/lunch strip, the mile, in the past five years, has become known more for its landmark closings, which leave in their wake, changing doors of upstart culinary establishments replacing one another — endless à louer signs replacing even the places with high quality and good intentions.

After trying Los Planes’ pupusas, I can only hope, that the resto does not find itself among the ranks of the restos that come and go too occasionally.

So slick was this resto’s exterior, that my feet almost made me walk past it. Out for an evening stroll, I initially judged Los Planes’ new incarnation as just another Mesa 14-inspired (i.e., overpriced and under-seasoned) “Tex-Mex” trap.

Then I spotted the p-word.

An entire section of an upscale menu devoted to pupusas? Could it be? Were upscale pupusas suddenly a thing?

The good news is, they’re not!

pupusa-condiments
Essential sides to the pupusa include a lightly-fermented slaw, a tomato sauce and, occasionally, hot sauce.

Los Planes’ versions are as homey and heartwarming as any of the El Salvadorian pouches I have tried, and the slight bump in the price is entirely forgivable. The clean and spacious terrace, ample people-watching opportunities, and solid beer and wine list make it worth the splurge, at $3.50 per pouch.

Though the resto offers a full menu of Mexican specialties and various brunch offerings, I’m afraid I can’t give you much information about those: I was here for one thing and one thing only.

The dough of a good pupusa, made from alkalized cornmeal, is akin to a pillow. It’s soft yet firm, inviting yet restrictive, and supports you as you melt away into a wonderful state of pleasure.

Los Planes nails the nurturing quality of the pupusa to near perfection.

I’ll push the analogy further: just as a perfect pillow makes fancy sheets seem inconsequential, so too does a wonderful pupusa pocket cast its fillings as mere enhancements, rather than central features.

The Revuelta, a classic filling mostly based around refried beans, goes down just right on a chilly fall night: oozy, warm, and seasoned to simple perfection. Most importantly, perhaps: it’s not overly greasy at all. Less traditional offerings, such as various cheeses, zucchini, garlic, are hit and miss. Again, the structure is so solid, that it hardly matters. I’d suggest about four: two Revueltas and two “mixed-bags”. You get to choose from about ten options.

Traditional condiments include a mild tomato sauce and a lighly-fermented slaw. Both should be piled high for the full experience and to cut the richness. I personally loved Los Planes’ version of hot sauce, which is rather forceful, and perfect for any cheese-based pupusa filling, which can quickly become cloying.

The terrace makes for a nice, clean, relatively quiet place to grab a pint and to snack. Though it was empty when I arrived, the restaurant and the patio soon filled up with curious passersby.

Despite the cartoonishly-tall and awkward to handle pint glasses it is served in, draft beer is affordable for the neighborhood (considering other restos), with a pint of Boreale at $6.50. In addition, the wine offerings are diverse enough to make the place worth going for a short soiree.

beer-water-glass
This is the tallest pint glass in existence.

Then there was this seemingly minor detail: a nice wide ledge on the terrace, like a personal bar to lean on, while sitting at your table, makes for a welcome respite for your elbow or phone, and contributes to a feeling of splendor in what is at its heart an authentic pupuseria.

I think Los Planes has added just enough “bling” to their formula to become good, unpretentious Plateau regulars. Let’s just hope the neighbourhood agrees.

Los Planes is at 4115 rue St-Denis.

CJLO recently launched a compilation album for their artist outreach program – which helps support local artists by recording and promoting their tracks. The launch party was a musical sweat fest. Highlights of the evening were The This Many Boyfriends Club and Blood, two local bands with decidedly different sounds, whose alchemic notes caught our attention. Below is a review of their latest releases along with the debut album of local artist Ari Swan.

Blood – Kasey/Organism and CJLO Compilation 2013

Blood is David Kleiser, Fraser Roodbol (formerly of Annette’s Beach Party), Ben Griffiths, and Andrew Bates. My ears first perked up to their sound during the CJLO launch party when Blood sang “It takes a lot of cum to find the right one”, a lyrically crass image that merges with the psychedelic smoothness of the band’s sound to create a clever insightful image reflecting on the visceral experiences of searching for connection. Their sound is decidedly retro but blends more modern elements towards a sound that’s been absent on the indie scene for quite some time. There’s often a danger when it comes to making music that refers to the rock days of old, but Blood isn’t offering a caricature, they are translating it. Of the four tracks available by Blood, “Teen Jesus” and “Kasey” are the standouts. Overall, this sound’s pretty dope and I look forward to seeing what a full length from these guys will sound like.

See Them:  At CFC on October 31st, they’ll be the dudes dressed up as Neutral Blood Hotel and promise to play two songs from Avery Island and two songs from Aeroplane.

Hear them: http://bloodsongs.bandcamp.com/

http://cjlo1690am.bandcamp.com/music

a0025657284_10This Many Boyfriends Club – Die or Get Rich Trying / A Pumpkin Like You

This Many Boyfriends Club has been pretty darn prolific in the last year coming out with two more EPs. Tracks for “Die or Get Rich Trying”, mixed and mastered by Marshall Vaillancourt  (Archery Guidld), were recorded as part of the CJLO Artist Outreach Program. The Boyfriends thoroughly nailed it when playing the tunes live – giving them an even more ragged edge that I actually prefer to the recorded tracks. That being said, since their Ep Anything Is Popsicle, the Boyfriends have added quite a bit of punk rock to their dandypunk twee pop cake mix. Danger-Winslow Danger’s grittier vocals are a pleasant surprise. Top tracks on Die or Get Rich Trying are “Sylvie” and “Alright/Already”. Available as a B Side on a limited cassette tape edition of Die or Get Rich Trying is a bonus EP A Pumpkin Like You, which feels like a musical step between Anything is Popsicle and Die or Get Rich Trying. A Pumpkin Like You, stronger as a coherent hole than Die or Get Rich Trying, boasts some fun frolicky tracks that are closer to the band’s twee beginnings. Our favourites are “a little fucking candor” and “polly anne marie.”

Hear Them: http://thismanyboyfriendsclub.bandcamp.com/album/die-or-get-rich-trying

See Them: Nov. 2nd at CFC with Smokes and White Like Fire.

a1221310642_2Ari Swan – Symphony Plastique

“I’ll build you a symphony, if only you’d ask” says Ari Swan’s page. Well, we’re definitely gonna be asking (politely of course) now that we’ve heard Swan’s debut album.

I first heard of Ari Swan when she played with Gabrielle Papillion, one of my favourite Canadian folk artists. Upon further research, it’s pretty clear to me that Swan has got quite a bit of experience under her belt including Folly and the Hunter, Little Scream, Heirloom, Lakes of Canada, and Chimneys. Recently, Ari Swan has released Symphony Plastique, an EP of her solo project and it’s pretty darn rad. Violin driven pop is a hard thing to pull off, I’ll admit it’s something I often find overbearing, but Ari Swan does it masterfully and with charm. Recorded by Jamie Thompson (Unicorns), Symphony Plastique seems to have been a two person album with Ari Swan on violin and vocals and Thompson on percussion and effects. A two person art pop symphony that weaves loops and experiments with all the things a violin and a voice can do. Impressive, very impressive. “I’ve Come with Nothing” and “Words that Follow” are our favourites.

Hear Her:http://ariswan.bandcamp.com/album/symphony-plastique

Less than five minutes into the pilot of the new Showcase drama Masters of Sex and we’re already observing a couple going at it doggy style from the closet of a seedy-looking brothel. Based on the influential biography by Thomas Maier Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love, the new hit show follows the ob-gyn and his protégé who became pioneering researchers into the study of human sexuality in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Before the scientific study of sex was a socially acceptable practice, Dr. Masters, played with a calm and collected confidence by Michael Sheen, had to find his research subjects wherever he could. Without official permission from his university, he resorts to paying prostitutes not for their services but for their secrets. In an early scene from the pilot, Masters’ scientific curiosity seems clouded by his astonishing naivety, likely a product of the period of his upbringing. He questions why a woman would fake an orgasm and whether it’s a common practice of prostitutes, to which his subject replies in a blasé manner that “it’s common practice amongst anyone with a twat.”

When Masters realizes he’ll truly need a female perspective to crack the code of understand human sexuality, he teams up with the sexually liberated Virginia Johnson, played exuberantly by Lizzy Caplan. The twice-married (and twice-divorced) single mother isn’t afraid to speak candidly or frankly about sex, a very unusual quality for a woman in 1958. She stands out from other female characters on the show, notably Masters’ wife who creepily refers to him as “daddy”, as if that would somehow aid in their feeble attempt to conceive.

Masters_of_Sex_59494 “I love the idea of using the notion of trying to understand sex in a scientific way as a way to understanding love and intimacy and relationships, which is really what our show is all about,” said showrunner Michelle Ashford in New York Magazine. “It was a trip to explore how much changed since the late fifties and to explore how much has not changed since the late fifties.”

This highly stylized drama draws an immediate Mad Men comparison for its time period setting, but that’s about where the similarities end. For one thing, it’s definitely quite a bit steamier, and many people admittedly will be watching for the sex, which is done with the usual funny flair of other Showtime hits like Weeds.

The writers decided not to romanticize the deed, opting instead to depict the awkward, funny and harrowing qualities of laboratory voyeur sex, both for those taking part and those just watching. If they continue to deliver such intriguing dramatization on historical attitudes towards sex that make for an interesting commentary on how far we’ve come since the landmark study, viewers will definitely be salivating for more.

 

Toronto band The Real recently played a show at Tranzac as part of Montreal band Alligator Baby’s album launch tour.  Lead singer Justin Idems commented that the name The Real was chosen because if they were going to get up and play, they wanted to keep it real, to be the real deal and deliver.  And deliver they do!  The five piece band features guitar, keyboards, bass and drums; a strong support system for Justin’s killer vocals.  Quiet and calm in “real life,” Justin’s whole persona shifts onstage and he becomes an animated character who moves around the stage and belts out intense and powerful vocal melodies.

The-RealThe whole band is made up of excellent musicians.  Bass player CK Armstrong particularly stood out, commanding a seven string bass and making it look easy (it’s not).   The keyboards add a nice dimension to the sound, at times adding a synth layer that is also prevalent on their album Another First Step.  The Real sound a little like Incubus in terms of the instrumentation and the way Justin sings.  In addition to their repertoire of original tunes, they played some awesome covers including a polished version of “Superstition” and “All Along the Watchtower.”  It was groovy.

The band is tight.  The songs are interesting and powerful.  Their stage presence rocked.  The Real play regularly in the Toronto area so check them out if you can!   the-real.ca

Songs off Another First Step are loaded on their You Tube channel.  Check out “Caught Up”

Christian Bridges is a young songwriter and performer in Toronto who played a show at the legendary Horseshoe Tavern on July 20th.  Included on a bill with many talented groups, Bridges and his band played an energetic set of songs mainly off his recently released debut EP album From Within.  His song “Caribbean Girl” was recently selected as CBC’s song of the week.  Bridges’s music is uplifting and socially aware.  It’s also fun to watch him play live; he’s a strong performer and very emotive.  His band is made up of great players as well, many of whom were students of Humber College’s illustrious music program.

In addition to playing under his own name, Bridges is part of Toronto band Down By Riverside.  The band has connected with charities, women’s shelters and the Occupy Toronto movement because of their vibrant songs about rising above challenges and being strong.

Bridges also co-wrote a song with Justin Nozuka, titled “Heartless,” which won them a Number 1 SOCAN award and was a chart-topping hit in France.

Bridges’s album From Within was produced live off the floor, a rare occurrence these days, by Thomas McKay (of Joydrop).  Watch “Caribbean Girl” performed live at the Supermarket in Toronto here, with special guest performers in tow to enhance the Caribbean flavour and check out the steel drum dude’s hat (wouldn’t want to mess with those dreads)!

 

“I think when you realize you have something really special, a connection with people, you kind of do whatever it takes to keep that together.” Austin Tufts said as he explained how Braids made the move from Calgary to Montreal five years ago.

When their debut album Native Speaker hit the airwaves in 2011 with its intriguing and enthralling sound, it firmly established Braids on the radar as one of Canada’s most pertinent noisemakers. In light of the recent release of their sophomore album, Flourish//Perish, I had the pleasure of having a candid chat with Austin Tufts, whom along with Taylor Smith and Raphaelle Standell-Preston make up the influential trio.

“Starting the group was really fun. It was during a period in Calgary where things were really exciting,” Tufts recounted, diving into the journey that has led Braids to Flourish//Perish. Two bands, Azeda Booth and Women, were ripping up the local scene. Azeda Booth took people under their wings, becoming sort of “dads” on the local scene, and they along with Women and gave Braids guidance and encouragement to keep doing what they were doing. Eventually, Braids and these local groups became quite close. Around the same time, a bunch of workshops and seminars led by someone from CJSW, the local college radio, addressed topics like how to expose one’s music to a Canadian audience, booking tours across the country, and how to get radio DJs to finally listen to your music. These workshops attracted a whole group of people excited about launching their careers and boosted Braids determination and strong DIY work ethic.

ABT035_Digital_rough

Their second year playing Calgary festival Sled Island, where local talent is featured alongside international acts, Braids were invited to open for Deerhunter. The experience was beyond expectations, Tufts described, “We got a standing ovation led by Bradford Cox. It was the biggest surprise of our lives.” Cox offered to put them in touch with Animal Collective, a band that Braids really liked and whose influence is tangible on Native Speaker. Although they were asked to tour with Deerhunter, their university acceptances beckoned and they declined. They did however, play two more shows with Deerhunter one in Montreal and one in Toronto.

“At that point, seeing somebody that we looked up to care so much about what we were doing was a huge affirmation,” Tufts recalled.

It was during their Montreal show that The Neighbourhood Council announced that they were re-naming themselves ‘Braids’. Like many bands, the question of a band name had been on the agenda for some time: “Braids came from the way that we write music is very collective, woven, and intertwined. We are very good friends and a very tightly woven community of four people and now three people. There’s something very special about the connection that we have.”

For those unfamiliar with Braids, they evoke a melange of Radio Head, Her Space Holiday, Bjork, Psapp, Lampshade, Animal Collective, Panda Bear, and Lali Puna. Flourish//Perish boasts a markedly different sound than its predecessor. The lyrics penned by Standell-Preston speak to more difficult and ambiguous emotions. Indeed, her singing and words have become altogether more poetic in this record. Braids has moved towards the synaptic using loops expertly and leaving behind the youthful exuberance of Native Speaker. Standout tracks include ‘Victoria’, ‘Girl’, and ‘December’.

Whereas Native Speaker was recorded by the group itself in Taylor’s parents garage in Calgary and in their back room in Montreal. Flourish//Perish was recorded by the band themselves again in a studio set up in their garage and at the new PHI center. Most of the songwriting for Flourish//Perish was done using a computer:

“There were parts of it that were really tough and parts of it that were really beautiful. Having the ability to just listen, being as much a producer as a player. It exercised different sides of my musicality,” Tufts spoke to this new process.

33548129

“One of the key transitions on this new record, is being more comfortable with ourselves as musicians […] Because we are a lot more comfortable on our instruments, we were able to do two things: capture most of the takes within the first five takes that also enabled us to preserve the raw emotion,” Tufts elaborated, “We’ve grown a lot since Native Speaker and embraced the more emotional side of things rather than trying to be super technically proficient.”

In terms of musical inspiration for Flourish//Perish, Tufts named Radiohead’s Kid A and The King of Limbs, Portishead’s Third, Massive Attack’s Tear Drops, James Blake, Max Cooper, Burial, and Pantha Du Prince.

As Braids is already preparing for their third album, Tufts said he’s been listening to more played music (versus simulated) like Little Dragon’s Ritual Union, Disclosure, a lot more R’n’B and soulful music, The Portico Quartet, Bonobo’s KEXP session and back to Radiohead.

“Something I’ve been thinking about for a long time is how Flourish//Perish is very cerebral. Next time, I want to write something that’s a bit more raw again. We’ve been experimenting a lot with new songs already which we’ll be playing on this next tour,” Tufts explained.

Recently, Braids signed with Arbutus Records, a local record company, for the State-wide release of Flourish//Perish. Despite having received different offers for their sophomore album, Braids decided to choose working with friends:  “We are very young, and very early in our career still, we are not the kind of band that’s just going to write one record, get famous, and cruise,” Tufts explained, “We want to be working with our friends, in conjunction with people whose careers we believe in, we want to help grow the label and we really believe strongly in the community that it stands for.”

Catch Braids on November 2, 2013 at the SAT (Société des Arts Technologiques) in Montreal. 

Check out braidsmusic.com for their new album Flourish//Perish.

 

Based on the book Fifty Shades of Grey, Spank! takes a whimsical look at bondage and S&M and comes up with the crazy realization that human sexuality, when you think about it, is ridiculous.

Starring Amanda Barker, accompanied by Alice Moran and Patrick Whalen, this enjoyable parody of Fifty Shades of Grey lit up the Centaur theatre on its opening night at Just For Laughs. The book set middle-aged women on fire all over the country last summer. This summer the book is twisted just enough to explain why whips and chains excite some, while romance excites others.

spank!-1Amanda Barker plays E.B. Janet, the dirty minded author who likes to drink white wine in the afternoon while writing steamy erotic novels while her husband is at work. She creates a young virgin character played by Alice, who, like in the book, will be our guide through sexual escapades with her new found “love” Hugh. Unfortunately for her, Hugh is more interested in bondage then love.

Janet invites us into her novel-writing process…which involves either creating hot subliminal message-filled encounters in hardware stores or an invitation to Hugh’s secret “red room” that make for some amusing pun heavy conversations that will make you smirk, and perhaps, shutter in your seat.

E.B. Janet often breaks the fourth wall with the audience as she looks for help in writing this “masterpiece” of erotic fiction, which makes the play a little more interactive than the other shows at this years Just For Laughs. Even if you’ve never read the book you can still get by with the performances given in this comedy driven play.

Spank-2Before departing for the show I screened an arsenal of videos on YouTube of the show from Chicago and I would have to say the Montreal cast I watched was far better. While the show didn’t get a great review from Pat Donnelly of the Gazette, I quite enjoyed it. While at times a little sophomoric, the show is very aware that the humour lies in its erotic content.

On a separate note Spank! changed my previous opinion that the Centaur is a stuffy old English theatre filled with old people, that really doesn’t take risks anymore with their productions. Downstairs there was a booth with a table displaying vibrating lipstick, whips and cuffs! I hoped no one in attendance recognized me or saw me buying anything. I might just give this whole domination thing a chance.

Spank! will be playing three more shows:

Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Centaur. Tickets are available here.

Alligator Baby are an unabashedly brazen foursome whose debut album The Cool Side of the Pillow has several notable traits that combine to make an interesting collage of sounds and ideas. In some ways it harkens back to retro days while also offering a refreshingly modern flare.

The album features sparse musical textures reminiscent of Led Zeppelin or the Who back in the 70s, yet the vocal melodies have a modern power-pop quality to them that gives the songs great energy.The group often sticks to the basic band set-up: vocals, guitars, bass and drums, but some tracks like Invitation to Treat feature auxiliary instruments like the glockenspiel and triangle which add a lovely flare to the album as a whole.

Singer/songwriter Olivia is a master of enunciation, which seems like a simple thing but I’ve heard very few singers who pronounce their words as clearly as Olivia. This is really important in storytelling songs like Jon & the Mysterious Cloud where there are a lot of words in a little time. You’ve never left guessing what she’s saying, and that’s nice.

My personal favourite is Sweet n Sour Slant which breaks into a jumpin’ ska section in the middle of the song which features a great saxophone part (is this the sour in the sweet n sour?  For me it’s the sweet!).  What’s your favourite track?

Alligator Baby is made up of Olivia Balanga-Santos (vocals, guitar), Joe Lamantia (guitar), Gary Sifoni (bass) and Marc Vachon (drums).

Alligator Baby will be performing in Toronto Thursday July 11th at The Cameron House (408 Queen Street) at 6pm and Friday at The Tranzac Bar (292 Brunswick Ave) at 8pm and as part of the Hamilton Jamboree on Saturday July 13th at 8pm (for more info). 

You can stream the Thursday and Saturday shows live @ numubu.com/live

It would be pretty easy to cynically view Joss Whedon’s new modern dress Much Ado about Nothing movie, with its black and white, soft focus, Shakespearean dialogue and mostly unknown actors, as part of the second phase in a scheme to prove he’s actually some kind of super-humanly versatile director and that he can waltz effortlessly from big, loud summer blockbusters to quirky indie comedies. In other words, that Whedon is showing off.

I like to tout myself as the most cynical bastard on the planet because being snarky and anti-social is easier than talking to people, and normally I’d be jumping in that cynicism pie like a gaming television host whose career didn’t turn out the way she wanted, but it would be a tad harder to call Joss Whedon a showoff if Much Ado wasn’t fucking delightful.

much-ado-about-nothing-movie-posterFor those of you who aren’t familiar with Shakespeare, the story takes place at the home of the Duke of Messina, who receives his friend Don Pedro and two of his officers, Benedick and Claudio, for a weekend of what rich white people do, so basically faffing about, being passive-aggressive and drinking a lot. After Claudio professes his love for Hero, the Duke’s daughter, The Duke, Don Pedro and a few other members of the supporting cast hatch a plot to get Benedick and The Duke’s neice Beatrice, whose relationship is roughly analogous to Sony and Microsoft at E3 this year and who both think the whole marriage thing can suck a lemon, to fall in love and get married. They didn’t have HBO in Messina, this is just how they spent their time. Meanwhile, Don Jon, brother of Don Pedro, hatches a plot to basically fuck with everyone’s day and ensure as many people hate each other by the end of the play/movie because well…if you weren’t matchmaking you were just being a douchecanoe. They really didn’t have much to keep them occupied.

What will probably divide most audiences is the dialogue, which as far as I noticed hasn’t been changed at all from the original text, meaning there’s a lot of “Troth” and “Hither to” and you really really need to be paying attention, or have studied Shakespeare at some point, to follow along. Some people can handle this, some can’t, and in fact I saw at least four or so people walk out in the first ten minutes, probably for this reason.

But if you’re willing to just pay attention and think on what you’re hearing, it’s actually fairly easy to pick up on everything that’s happening, even if you are missing the usual cavalcade of puns and innuendo the Shakespeare’s plays were known for (Consider this, in Shakespeare’s day “Nothing” was actually slang for vagina. Gives the title a new meaning don’t it?).

However, the problem with Shakespearean dialogue is that if it’s really hard to understand, it’s even harder to act. Where do you put the emphasis? What intonation do you use? How do you make it sound like something a human being would actually say? Basically it’s like wrestling an angry crocodile for three acts, and while no one ends up losing any limbs, it’s obvious some of the players have a better grip of it than others. Alexis Denisov, playing Benedick, probably has the hardest time of it, given that he has the most dialogue, or near enough. He does pretty well, but occasionally veers off a little bit and starts to sound a little over done and theatrical.

Now of course there IS the argument that Shakespeare is supposed to sound theatrical and even a tad over done, but if that’s the case why are Clark Gregg (Coulson Lives!) as The Duke, Nathan Fillion (Browncoats forever!) as bumbling constable Dogberry and Reed Diamond Homicide: Life on the Street was a really good show!) as Don Pedro all take turns bending that crocodile over their knees and spanking the teeth off it? Reed Diamond especially seems to master the art of making Shakespearean dialogue seem natural, and adding the right intonation and body language cues that even if you don’t understand the words, you can almost always tell exactly what he’s saying.

muchado_03-joss-whedon

Special mention should probably go to Cabin in the Woods’ Fran Kanz as Claudio, Amy Acker in the female lead as Beatrice, and youtube sketch comedians Brian McElhaney and Nick Kocher, who basically OWN their scant 5 minutes of screen time.

And hell, if you still can’t tell what the hell’s going on, you can still appreciate the technical merits on display. The movie was shot over 12 days at Whedon’s own home using minimal equipment and on a budget that probably isn’t more than what they paid for all of Channing Tatum’s sweaty tank tops in White House Down, and yet visually it stands up with anything else out right now, if only for how amazingly spartan it is. Lots of natural light, low-key sets and costumes. It’s practically a Dogma 95 movie for how much it does with so little. And yes, I know what Dogma 95 is, just cause my normal wheelhouse is low-brow genre fare doesn’t mean I ain’t got culture.

If you’re part of Whedon’s loyal-to-the-point-of-cultism fanbase, odds are you’ve already seen this, your limited edition Puppet Angel plush cradled in your arms the whole time. However, if you’re outside that particular gaggle and aren’t quite sure what to make of this thing, give it a try. Yeah, the dialogue can be confusing as a Klingon word puzzle and maybe at times it feels a bit high on its own quirkiness, especially during that scene from the poster that seems to be going for a kind of Wes Anderson awkward charm. But if you give it a chance you’ll probably get a few laughs, leave the theater with a pleased smile and the knowledge that you’ve watched something with a bit of class to counterbalance the Larry Cohen movie you watched last night. Or maybe that last one’s just me.

Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan. Two directors I have more than a couple problems with, coming together on a single film, one Directing, the other Producing and co-writing. And not just any ole movie, a Superman movie. Could work, I guess. Maybe the things that work for one director could work for another. Maybe as a unit they could overcome their respective flaws and become something better than the sum of their parts and finally, FINALLY make the Superman movie we’ve always wanted.

Wouldn’t THAT have been nice.

Man of Steel hit the screens last week, opening with a stellar weekend and mostly good press. Mostly good, because that’s really what it is. Mostly good. And that’s being generous. As good as Man of Steel is, it’s also weighed down by enough problems that it’s constantly threatening to crash to the ground, much like Superman himself after being exposed to that kryptonite we’re apparently not allowed to have anymore.

 man-of-steel-poster-2The first thing viewers will probably notice is that the movie is paced terribly. We start with this overly long prologue on Krypton to set up the villain and this weird, vestigial feeling genetics subplot. On this new version of Krypton, babies are born in pods (all stored in an unguarded pool that you can just swim around in if the mood strikes you), except for Kal-El, who was born the old fashioned way because Jor-El is now the Kryptonian equivalent of a hippie. He also flies around on a four winged dragon thingy, which I guess is like driving a VW Bus or something. In the span of twenty odd minutes we get Superman’s birth, Jor-El pleading to the council of people in extravagant head wear to evacuate Krypton and being told to chill out, Zod trying and failing to overthrow the council and replace it with a council of sensible head wear, Jor-El stealing the all-important plot macguffin, having a fight with Zod in which he gets stabbed and killed, and the would-be usurpers getting exiled to the Phantom Zone and the whole planet blowing up after Superman’s spaceship gets away. And if it sounds like a lot to fit into twenty minutes or so, then congrats on being perceptive.

While things calm down a bit in the second act, the whole movie still has this very, VERY Christopher Nolan vibe of trying to accomplish too much in too little time. Entire bucketfuls of exposition get dumped in our faces and what should be important, quiet moments seem glazed over and rushed, especially when it comes to characterization.

With the exceptions of Superman himself, and the main baddie General Zod, almost no one in this movie has any real character to speak of. Amy Adams, who really seemed like she would be a damn good Lois Lane, sleepwalks through the movie, stepping between the female lead tropes of tough action chick, damsel in distress, and love interest with all the grace and connectivity of Rayman doing ballet. It gets to the point that when her relationship with Superman suddenly becomes romantic at the 11th hour, it just feels weird and forced. Doesn’t help that Henry Cavill and Amy Adams have all the romantic chemistry of a pair of drugged otters.

From an aesthetics point of view, the movie is also fucking ugly at times. Krypton is officially the brownest alien planet I’ve ever seen, with characters waltzing around in over-designed, Geiger-esque power armor through hallways that look suspiciously like an alien’s fallopian tubes. When things finally get to Earth, it’s mostly a cavalcade of dull grays and blues and no really memorable visuals, with everything very faded and washed out looking.

ManofSteelAmyAdams

 

Now. This is the part where I take off my film critic hat and put on my comic geek hat, because as much as I’d like to wear them both, they are each six feed wide and covered in gemstones, so I have to pick one or the other.

As a Superman fan, there are things in the movie that just bug me. For example, and I admit I didn’t even notice this until a friend pointed it out, you never really see him just being Superman. After he puts the costume on for the first time and flies around, he doesn’t do anything else with it until Zod pulls up next to the planet and starts making threats through white noise broadcasts. Couldn’t we have seen him like, save a crashing plane or foil a robbery, or any of that classic Superman stuff we’ve all come to expect? The only time he really saves someone is early in the film after he joins the cast of Deadliest Catch and saves some guys on a burning oil rig while shirtless and rocking a beard.

Which brings me to another thing. As you may have heard, the levels of collateral damage in this movie are fucking INSANE. During the last fightjor-el-man-of-steel scene, Metropolis gets subjected to more widespread destruction that Neo-Tokyo at the end of Akira. Hundreds of thousands of people doubtlessly die and enough property damage is done that any real world city probably wouldn’t come back from it. And Superman almost doesn’t seem to care. He never makes any attempt to move the battle away from the city or limit collateral damage, and I mean he’s Superman for crap’s sake! His whole deal is that he puts others above him, and does literally everything within his power to ensure the safety of those around him. Whenever he gets in a fight like this, he spends half his time making sure the people caught in the crossfire are safe, and seeing him basically ignore them just feels unsettling.

There’s more I could say about Man of Steel, both from a film geek point of view and a comic geek point of view. Little things that don’t make sense, the slightly overblown ending, the fact that the only time someone says “Superman” in the movie is in this really awkward scene that I’m pretty sure was shoehorned in at the last minute when someone called bullshit on the very real concern that no one otherwise actually says the word “Superman” in the whole damn movie.

But what it all boils down to is that the film has a fair share of problems, enough to bog down the things that are legit good about it, like the action scenes, some of the characterization, and a few new twists on old relationships. If there was one less thing that bugged me about, even just one, I probably would have liked this movie WAY more than I did. But in the end, there’s enough to complain about that I can’t see the good stuff any more. It’s like how they say you can’t see the forest through the trees, but in this case it’s more like can’t see the decent film through the superfluous four-winged dragon thing. Seriously, what was the deal with that?