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Thursday, April 29, 2010

New...life


Wow...so much for my New Year's Resolution about posting more often, eh?

But, I have a really, really, really, REALLY great excuse for not posting sooner.

Her name is Eva, and she was born last week.

Caring for a newborn and helping my wife out around the house has been one of the most taxing, exhausting, frightening, stressful and difficult jobs I've ever had. And I've never known anything more rewarding, gratifying or enjoyable.

So I've not done much by way of writing lately; I'm not sorry about that. It's picking up again; The Aeon's War is insisting upon some attention while Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind is content to stew and wait it's turn (Coming soon!).

Little teaser: Through Darkness and Stars begins 18 months after the Ship leaves Earth, at the end of The Unearthing. The balance of Aeon's War happens some 1500 years after the events of Darkness, and involves time travel - though not used in any way, shape or form you've probably seen before. At least, I like to think it's an original take...

Anyway, getting back onto the topic of Nevermind, I've been promising the "Music At Work" for that one to you for a while, now. That'll be the next post, I promise!

In the meantime, please enjoy a backlog of music reviews written for CONFRONT Magazine!


MGMT: Congratulations

Back in 2008 I stumbled upon MGMT’s ‘Oracular Spectacular’ just in time to review it. I was blown away by the album, and later that summer I got to interview Andrew and Ben at the Osheaga music festival, here in Montreal. (You can read that interview in full by clicking here: http://www.confrontmagazine.com/web/2008/12/10/mgmt-2/)

Back then, Andrew and Ben confided in me that he was astounded by the almost overnight success the band had with their debut: “…it’s all bizarre to us, and we are always wondering how it happened.” Andrew said, “We’re still a bit confused,” Ben added, “We’re really happy that people like our music but we’ve always thought of ourselves as being very strange people, so to be accepted on a mainstream level like this is music to us.”

That culture shock and confusion became the overriding themes that inspired their work on ‘Congratulations’, their second album, just out this week. As they struggled to come to terms with their newfound fame they used the crafting of the songs that became ‘Congratulations’ as a means of coping.

The result is an album far less carefree than ‘Oracular Spectacular’; there’s a noticeable ennui, a weight on this album’s shoulders, which MGMT attempts to work through across its 9 phenomenal tracks. We sort of saw the beginnings of this gravitas on “Handshake” off of ‘Oracular Spectacular’.

Fortunately, the acid-rock vibe of the last album’s latter tracks is preserved here, tempered with a strong dose of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd influences. The Acid Rock vibe works well here as counterpunch to the lyrical content, and the album falls somewhere between ‘Wish You Were Here’ and ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ in terms of thematic execution.

High points of this album include “Congratulations”, which closes the album and gives an intimate expression of MGMT’s fish-out-of-water malaise with it all; “Brian Eno”, a tribute by MGMT to the Ambient Music icon and his influence on their sound; and “Siberian Breaks”, a 12 minute opus that sums up Ben and Andrew’s feelings through cryptic lyrical allegory.

As a work the sound here has evolved significantly from ‘Oracular Spectacular’, and yet the definitive MGMT sound is reinforced, despite sounding unlike their previous effort. Well worth it for anyone who’s a fan of music that doesn’t conform to the homogenous megalith of commercial music.

MGMT: Congratulations
Columbia
Steve’s Rating: 10/10



Circa Survive: Blue Sky Noise

Circa Survive’s another band that we’ve been eagerly following since the inception of CONFRONT Magazine. The experimental Rock act fronted by Anthony Green of Saosin has matured significantly from ‘On Letting Go’, their 2007 sophomore release, incorporating more sonic effects into the tinny, Treble-charged, mournful music.

The 12 tracks on the basic edition of the album are full of sincere intensity and brilliant lyrical imagery backed by richer, more complex music. Green’s Geddy-Lee sounding vocals add the right note of Emo angst to the albums, particularly on the impassioned “Imaginary Enemy”, as well as on my favourite tracks, “I Felt Free”, “Fever Dreams” and “The Longest Mile”.

There’s nearly a full hour of music on this disc, which in this day and age of 2 minute songs and albums with 39 minute running times is considerable value for your money, especially if you’re into the bittersweet melodies that have made Circa Survive famous.

Of course, another reason I might like this album so much is because I was listening to it when I learned my wife was going into labor, and the album officially dropped on April 20, the day our daughter was born.

Circa Survive: Blue Sky Noise
Atlantic
Steve’s Rating: 10/10



Scott Lanaway: Mergers and Acquisitions

The latest from Toronto-area Electro Folk artist Scott Lanaway is an ethereal delight. I’m reminded of Sting’s solo work with regards to the vocal and lyrical content, with falsetto vocals and an interesting mix of traditional and electronic instrumentation, Lanaway crafts a sophisticated and sensual sound. The music here has a certain bleak beauty to it, a mournful, lonesome romanticism.

The jazzy world-beat sounds, African rhythms and soulful lyrics on songs like “What We Already Knew”, “Gabapentin” and the haunting “Wild Eyes” are gems on an album full of wonderful, musical treasure. This is my first introduction to Scott Lanaway’s music, but it certainly won’t be my last.

If you like folksy, Indie Rock, mellow sounds and poetic lyrics, you really should be listening to ‘Mergers and Acquisitions’.

Scott Lanaway: Mergers and Acquisitions
Aeon
Steve’s Rating: 9/10



Jon And Roy: Homes

So last year I got to listen to ‘Another Noon’, Jon And Roy’s last album, as prep work for an interview with the duo as they came through Montreal. The interview fell through, as these things sometimes do, but I was so enamored of their music I couldn’t help but review it.

So, when I heard through the grapevine that Jon And Roy were coming out with another CD, I jumped on the chance to review it. Jon And Roy are masters of simplicity, crafting eloquent, agreeably cheerful music accompanied simple guitar, bass, drums and occasional harmonica.

From the first notes of “Any Day Now” on, Jon And Roy weave a tapestry of easy elegance. The lyrics of the songs on ‘Homes’ are more sophisticated than their counterparts from ‘Another Noon’. The music is richer, but retains the innocent romanticism and upbeat feel of its predecessor.

Favourites on this Indie Folk Rock compendium include (but are not limited to) “Boon Elm”; “Giddy Up”; the down-tempo instrumental, “Narwhal”; the jazzy “Brooker’s Song” and “Homemade Shirts”.

If you’re a fan of Indie Rock or Folk Rock, you’ll enjoy Jon And Roy’s entire catalogue, but ‘Homes’, their latest, is easily also their best.

Jon And Roy: Homes
Pacific Music
Steve’s Rating: 10/10

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Nevermind the Aeon's War and Slash Music

So for the past few weeks I've been compelled to work on Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind. The story's been pulling me in, in a big way. The story's not connected to The Omniverse in any way, shape or form; in fact, it's a one-off, and the only non-genre story I've ever written.

Of course the drawback to working on Nevermind is that it pulls me away - as the title of this post suggests - from working on The Aeon's War, the third installment in The Omniverse series. And as much as I wish I could flit between the two projects, the truth is that doing so hurts the writing. So while at any given time I have at least a couple of works going at the same time, I can only ever focus on one at a time. And much like children in need of attention, it is the stories themselves that dictate which gets worked on.

I've talked a lot about this story over the years, but I don't think I've ever really gone into great detail. Well, as I'm planning on launching it in the coming months, perhaps it's best that I do so. So starting this week and off and on leading up to its launch, I'll be using this space to talk about Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind a little more.

I first started work on Nevermind in 2002, though I'd had the idea kicking around for a couple of years already, by that point. I wanted to tell a story set in and around college life in the early 1990s, and my goal really was to see if I could write something outside of the fantasy/science fiction genre.

My focus shifted back to The Omniverse when I landed the original publishing deal for The Unearthing, and Nevermind sort of languished as I concentrated on writing Through Darkness and Stars and reviewing the outline for the subsequent volumes of the story, including the aforementioned Aeon's War, which, I promise I will work on again soon!

For Nevermind, I came up with six characters, all of whom began to "speak" to me in the first person. This led to the concept that each chapter should be told from a different character's point of view, relating their own experiences and opinions as the story progressed. In one form or another I've been writing and rewriting it ever since; chapters from the earliest version of the novel appeared online at PHYTE.ca, where they were quite popular. Though the site seems unavailable now, those chapters are likely still out there, somewhere, if you can find them.

What started as a writing exercise and thought experiment (Nevermind was written without a traditional story arc or plotline, creating a more fluid, character-driven piece) became a story I obsessed over, feeling the characters' lives as if they were the lives of friends and loved ones.

I think that, despite its setting in the early 1990s, that the story, situation and characters have a universal appeal, and if not, there's plenty of frank depictions of sex and drug use to drive up marketability. In any case, Nevermind remains one of my favorite stories to have worked on.

Next time, I'll talk about the enormous musical playlist that, for me, is associated with the story.

Now, onto our regular weekly music review feature:


Slash-7845

Two years ago we were treated to the trainwreck of Axl Rose’s hubris, when he released ‘Chinese Democracy’ under the band-name of Guns N’ Roses. Ironic that, at that time, Axl Rose was the only original member left of GNR. What ‘Chinese Democracy’ was, besides horrible, was essentially the washed-up has-been Axl Rose without Guns N’ Roses.

Well, after that godawful album it was kind of interesting to hear that Slash was putting out an album of his own, collaborating with Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler. Essentially, this is Guns N’ Roses without Axl Rose. Slash’s self-titled debut, ‘Slash’

I’ll give you three guesses as to which of the albums is better, and the first two don’t count.

Slash pulls a bit of a Carlos Santana on this one, collaborating with a slew of big-talent Rock and Metal vocal talents to put this one together, including Ozzy Osbourne on “Crucify the Dead”, Wolfmother’s Andrew Stockdale on “By The Sword” Kid Rock on “I Hold On” and Adam Levine of Maroon 5 on “Gotten”. Of course, the song that everyone is talking about is the cover of GNR classic “Paradise City”, featuring Fergie and Cypress Hill. It is worth hunting down and paying extra for any version (there are a few) of the album that features this song, a bloody brilliant rendition of the quintessential Guns N’ Roses tune. The song also serves as a last “Fuck You” jab at Axl Rose, a last, derisive laugh at the expense of the failed GNR Frontman.

‘Slash’ feels more like a compilation than an album, simply because Slash changes styles as often as he changes vocalists here, tailoring each song for the voice singing it and displaying an incredible versatility. This one is nevertheless a fantastic listen, and the rightful heir to the Guns N’ Roses name.

Slash: Slash
EMI
Steve’s Rating: 10/10

Monday, April 05, 2010

Just the review, then: Envy on the Coast

Quiet week this week; did a little work on Aeons War but that was about it. I'll have an update soon about Oh Well, Whatever, Nevermind, though, I promise!









Envy On The Coast: Lowcountry

We at CONFRONT Magazine first encountered the awesome that is Envy On The Coast when they opened for 30 Seconds To Mars during 30STM’s 2006 tour in support of ‘A Beautiful Lie’. At the time, Envy had a self-titled EP out and a killer hit song, “Temper, Temper”. We were all blown away by their set, and I quite enthusiastically reviewed their first album, ‘Lucy Gray’ when it was released in August of 2007.

My main criticism with that album was that its driving intensity was a tad overwhelming; it wasn’t tempered with the kind of carefree exuberance we’d seen at the live show or heard on their EP. Well I’m very glad to say that on ‘Lowcountry’, Envy On The Coast have maintained that intensity previously heard on ‘Lucy Gray’ and honed it with a good deal more of that rockin-good-time feel.

There are a couple of versions of the album out there; a regular release and a deluxe edition. I unfortunately didn’t get to hear the deluxe album, which has an additional 4 tracks. If those 4 are anything like the 13 I did listen to, I recommend you go out and get the deluxe version, if you can.

Envy On The Coast are masters of lyrical imagery and musical punctuation. They put both to great use on the tracks on ‘Lowcountry’, with some of the best being delivered on the tracks “The Devil’s Tongue”, “The Great American T-Shirt Racket”, “Southern Comfort”, “Made of Stone” and, hidden at the end of Track 12, “Just South of Heaven”.

Most of what I’ve been listening to has been brilliant. The only track I don’t like is a strange interstitial which consists of a few voicemail recordings. Titled “*” I cannot for the life of me understand its purpose. That one track aside, this is a fantastic album and an incredible follow-up to ‘Lucy Gray’.

Envy On The Coast: Lowcountry
Photo Finish Recordings
Steve’s Rating: 9/10