Sweet Stardust of a Thriller, Boy (The Weeknd, Starboy review)

The synthesizer seems to be back in full force ladies and gentlemen. That desire for quality samples, lossless file compression and physical models seems to be something that most if not all top shelf pop music trend setters are using right now.

But for why?

The Weeknd – Starboy
released November 25, 2016
******* 7/10


Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, known professionally as The Weeknd, is a Canadian singer, songwriter, and record producer. The Weeknd got his start by anonymously uploading several songs to YouTube under the pseudonym “The Weeknd,” of all things. At that time he had released three nine-track mixtapes throughout 2011: House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence. Which surprisingly enough to many critics at the time, were received quite well. In 2012 he decided to release a compilation album known as Trilogy, effectively the remastered mixtapes he had released before but with three additional tracks and totally thirty songs alotogether. It was released under Republic Records and his own label XO.

In 2013 he released his first studio-length album Kiss Land, which featured the singles Kiss Land and Live For. But it was his second album, Beauty Behind the Madness that really charted his success. This is where Earned It, The Hills, and Can’t Feel My Face factor in. Fun fact, these songs made him the first artist to simultaneously hold the top three spots of the Billboard Hot R&B Songs chart. The Weeknd has also won two Grammy’s and been nominated for an Academy Award.

Oh, and did I mention that he’s Canadian? Yeah Canadian content!

But what about Starboy? Well, look what you’ve done… I’m a motherfuckin’ starboy.

This record starts off quite strong, Starboy, Party Monster, and False Alarm in particular hold your attention with their commitment to the beats The Weeknd and his team of production engineers are famous for. After all, we know he isn’t doing this all on his lonesome. Which reminds me, I think that Stargirl might be the most fascinating interlude/intermission I’ve heard in years. Lana Del Rey is excellent as the female foil to The Weeknd, and she manages enough tension to keep the pace of the record, at least for a little while.

Now let’s consider the album as a whole for a moment. I have this rather wild theory that The Weeknd might not have had as much time with this project as he would have liked. He’s known for his ability to construct strong narrative levelled projects, I’m looking at you Trilogy.

And while Starboy (the album, not the song) is mostly about The Weeknd’s relationship with a woman, that message doesn’t easily come through. The collaboration with Kendrick Lamar on Sidewalks for instance, is kinda cool, but feels out of place, if I’m being really honest. Also am I crazy for hearing Michael Jackson AND David Bowie when I listen to his voice long enough?

Probably not, because The Weeknd is more than capable of floating between pop, rap, R&B, disco and electronica. Hell, he can even do 1980s pop justice. Maybe that’s where the deceased pop stars come in…

And while The Weeknd has en endearingly dark and uniquely hedonistic voice in the realm of music, it can be a bit much to stomach his lyrics against those typical pop structures. That, and as I mentioned already, the narrative doesn’t feel as tight on this album. Abel Makkonen Tesfaye is more than capable of being a motherfuckin’ starboy and he knows it, but this album isn’t him at his best.




I have this theory that analog synthesizers went out and digital synthesizers came in because they were cheaper, but nowadays that isn’t really a motivating factor for musicians.

However, the variety of sounds that digital synth offers feels unrivalled in many cases. And when an artist is capable of spreading their music talent across several genres, employing synthesizers to craft that sounds seems like a natural fit. The Weeknd gets this, and when he spends his time on both production and telling a strong story, it makes all the difference. Starboy might not be the greatest, but The Weeknd sure is a star boy.



Well Done, High Five (Dragonette, Royal Blues review)

It’s pretty damn glorious when a band can remain consistent without ever getting stale, but the real challenge comes in when you know they just might be phoning it in. When do you host and intervention? The kind that generates hugs and high fives afterwards?

Dragonette – Royal Blues
released November 11, 2016
****** 6/10


Dragonette is a Canadian electronic music band that got their start way way back in 2005. The band is a three piece, which consists of singer-songwriter Martina Sorbara, bassist and producer Dan Kurtz, and drummer Joel Stouffer.

Reminiscent of acts like Tegan and Sara, Scissor Sisters, Paramore, Metric and Peaches, I personally first learned of the group way back in 2007. Which was also the time that I Get Around was getting around the internet and what I think eventually landed them a Juno nomination for New Group of the Year a year later.

But you didn’t come here for me to go over my experiences with Dragonette when I was but a young hipster. No you want the goods, the stuff, the real deal.

Well I will say this.

Dragonette is still making enjoyable synthpop. And apparently I’ma sucker for good pop music, or even mediocre synthpop for that matter. Doesn’t seem to make much sense if you really think about it. I’ve listened to some great albums this year, and hell, I’m still thinking about Grimes Angel Art almost a year later, but Sorbara just has an amazing voice that is well automated for our Canadian sensibilities. Now, it’s not groundbreaking by any means, but I can definitely hear Sweet Poison and Darth Vader being run in some indie clubs around town.

You remember how Disney sing-alongs were a big thing in the 1990s for kids? Well if you’re younger than 25 I’m betting no, but my point is this. Dragonette is part of a strong lineage of EDM infused music that makes you want to scream and shout or even rock your body casually with the occasional hair flip and exasperated sigh. Whatever your jam, these guys and gal get it.

And that’s the point I’m really wanting to make about this record. It is overwhelming pop, but its quite broad in it’s tactics. For instance, the single Body 2 Body has dreampop elements which remind me of Purity Ring, sort of all encompassing synesthesia that vibrates right through you, while the preceding Let The Night Fall is comforting much like a cool summer ride with friends after a day at the beach, the mall, or headed to the middle of a crowded downtown on a Friday night. It builds upon itself slowly, asking you to slowly raise your arms in anthemic fanfare.

It’s a challenge for sure, but I’m willing to bet this trio is making their way out of the weird and niche culture of trying to be interesting, moving into the realm of eclectic and fun, and to be clear, it suits them well. I think they need to let their hair down just a bit more and Dragonette will get to where they should be headed.




Don’t get me wrong. I still think Dragonette are relevant and much needed in our ever-changing Canadian landscape of music and culture. They bring a good vibe in what sometimes feels like dark times. Put this record on and feel good about stuff friends, after all there is nothing wrong with a good set of lyrics and a clean melody. It’ll sooth a soul. But that’s just a theory.



Sweet Release (July Talk, Touch review)

Ever wanted to dial back the clock, dear readers?

Once we learn that time is the most precious commodity we’ll ever have, it becomes something that a lot of people beg and plead over. When really they should just appreciate the time they have and make the most of it. And sometimes when we are good little boys and girls, we get rewarded with things like July in the month of September.




July Talk – Touch
released September 9, 2016
********** 9/10


July Talk is a Canadian alt rock band, and one of the hardest working acts in town. Well not necessarily in my town, but across Canada, the United States, Europe, and even Australia, they’ve been touring almost relentlessly since they first got traction with their debut self-titled album in late 2012.

Then in 2013 they released a deluxe version of the album with four additional tracks, and I bought that album. A couple years after that point, July Talk were gaining the attention of the US market so they released another version of their album with another three additional tracks.

But they just kept touring and touring. And it’s probably why they were able to keep releasing singles from that first album, and to help us Canucks fall in love with them.

Then July Talk decided to release their follow up album this month, it’s called Touch, and quite frankly, I can’t get enough. Previously Dreimanis and Fay would play their voices off of each other, but they are starting to grow into their sound all the more, and exploring more collaboration and synchronicity between them. If the first album was about trying things and experimenting with who the leader should be, Touch is a recognition of the old adage that playing together is more fun than alone.

And that’s what this album is even stronger than the first one. There is a unity to it’s overall message, what happens when we lose connection with one another? Opener Picturing love has a wonderful piano lead-in and gets our minds out of the old July Talk mechanisms right-quick. The following track Beck + Call confirms that this is not a one man or one woman show, or even a him VS her kinda album – Fay does her part to guide us in, and Dreimanis keeps us boxed in with his howls.

The energy between the two lead singers is tight throughout, and I personally think best demonstrated in Push + Pull, whether that is obvious and cliche can be your call.

There are of course some softer songs like Strange Habit, Jesus Said So, and the title track (which is also the end track). My second favourite track is Lola + Joseph, which fits snuggly between their new material and what we know of their past, and the pacing falls somewhere in the middle too. This is disco-blues after all folks, so we are going to get a wide range of emotions and sounds, but those waves of building sounds are represented well here.

I fully expect July Talk to continue to grow as a band, and if I’m being honest with myself, they’ll probably round out my top 20 bands within the next year or two.




I was almost at the point of emotional overload when I found out that July Talk was releasing a new album in September friends. I might have mentioned this already, but they were my first ever Melodic Monday entry almost exactly a year ago (October 5, 2015). And while I think they deserved that 8 I gave their deluxe album, this one is a 9 all on it’s own, without the benefit of time and rereleases.

If you want to travel back a couple of months, you should probably listen to to July Talk. But that’s just a theory.



Flower Powers (Brendan Canning, Home Wrecking Years review)

Have you ever jumped into a pile of leaves dear readers? Fallen into a snow drift? Tumbled into a pool? Slipped in the mud?

Yeah I have too. Nature has a surprising amount of built in padding for both kids and adults alike. And yet we never seem to take advantage of it – Especially in summer. Consider this idea for a second… What if you were to dive into a bed of flowers?

I bet it would feel a lot like this album.




Brendan Canning – Home Wrecking Years
released August 12, 2016
******** 8/10


Brendan Canning has been making indie music for a long time – 24 years to be exact. I know this because the year that he became active is the same year that my baby brother was born. Which in music years, means he is old as fuck. Just kidding Brendan! Anyway, Canning is a co-founder of Arts & Crafts sweeties Broken Social Scene, yay for Canadian content! Canning has also been a part of such acts as Blurtonia, By Divine Right, hHead, Len, and Vally of the Giants.

Yeah that Len, the Len that performed Steal My Sunshine.

But this isn’t a group record, it’s a one man show. Speaking of which, Canning has now made three solo albums, the most recent being Home Wrecking Years.

It is immediately accessible and feels like an album you should listen to on vinyl with some incense, hummus, and your most breezy shirt. You shouldn’t expect anything less than a comfortable and heartwarming experience with this record. That is, if you’re familiar with Broken Social Scene’s experimental, shoegazing, and noise infused sounds. Because most of the guest spots feature regular BSS members Sam Goldberg and Justin Peroff

It’s not quite as epic in scale of course; But that combination of guitars, horns, woodwinds, and string instruments is definitely there for you get a good feeling about.

Now, I could spend time picking apart each individual track and tell you the strengths and weaknesses found on the songs contained within this album, but to be perfectly honest, that’s not the way that I ultimately took this album in. I listened to it in my car throughout the week, on the way to work, on the way home, going to see friends, onto a date, taking my brother to the medi-centre, basically just out living life. I tried to set it down and pay really close attention to it, I swear, but it never felt right to do so.

As I mentioned already, this is music you put on to feel good about yourself and your unfolding story.

It’s a weird thing, as much experimentation as Canning puts us through in his shoegazing efforts, that’s okay. It’s allowed. We have music so many kinds of music out there on the market, it’s nice when an artist pulls back some of his cords and unplugs. And that’s what Home Wrecking Years is a raw and simple record, which is experimental for this artist. Ever heard the expression, hiding in plain sight? Yeah, pretty much that’s what this is. A great album, hiding in plain sight.




People get so concerned about stopping to smell the flowers, that they never think to dive right in. But I bet you that if you did take that chance, you’d find Brendan Canning just hanging out in your neighbours flowerbed, hiding in plain sight. A notion of summer well remembered.

I’m out of musical theories for now my friends, but you should check back tomorrow, when I share a movie review about another natural occurrence.


An Unexpected Journey (Plants and Animals, Waltzed in from the Rumbling review)

What a strange sight to see – When fantasy meets reality and dreams became something more tangible.

We all have dreams. And while sometimes it can be quite therapeutic to take a break from the hard work of the world and think upon what could be.

But what if you were living your dreams right now? That’s what this week’s album review is all about.




Plants and Animals – Waltzed in From the Rumbling
released April 29, 2016
***** 6/10


Plants and Animals are a Canadian indie rock band from Montreal. A three piece act that began playing together as children and whom have now released four studio-length albums decades later.

It’s almost the perfect story isn’t it? We all had those sort of dreams as children. Each of us were asked that age-old question of what do you want to be when you grow up? It turns out that Warren Spicer, Matthew Woodley, and Nicolas Basque all got their wish.

And how fitting given that their fourth album heavily features tracks that were given form via a process akin to a playdate. Each member of the trio  meeting up in their studio to play whatever they felt like at each session. This is the effort of P&A stepping back from the limelight after five years of touring and two albums made during that period; this is Plants and Animals setting out to record something real and wrought with emotion.

And it’s incredibly beautiful album to listen to.

All the mistakes, quirks, and cleverness of epiphany all rest inside of each track rather softly, a simple request that you take them in and ponder them over.

The results of childhood friends taking advantage of their shorthand to recognize when something isn’t working and then to push a song in ways unexpected is quite a wondrous thing to hear.

But the problem is that it isn’t entirely accessible at first playthrough or even during a second playthrough. Yes the music is fun and heartfelt and beautiful, but it moves at a variety of paces throughout and it’s shoegazing format is not something that is going to appeal to the majority of the crowd. P&A can’t quite figure out the tone to set on this one and it hurts the album for it.

But I’m willing to bet Plants and Animals aren’t concerned about what the majority thinks. Which is why they are willing feature summer tracks like We Were One, the horns infused Je Voulais te Dire, and the rather ironic Flowers.

Stands out tracks include No Worries Gonna Find Us and We Were One. And if you want to listen to a few of the tracks yourself they’ve already released a couple of singles – 1 2

As other indie bands explore heavy pop mixtures, opportunities to use synthesizers and older sounds, Plants and Animals are on a different journey and one that keeps them ever youthful.




Plants and Animals are fortunate to have the opportunity to live their dreams, and the talent to share with us what dreams can sound like when realized. That is why an album like Waltzed in from the Rumbling is so beautiful to hear. Yes, the melodies are quite lovely, but that conviction and success are sweet as well.

But should you buy this album? I think if you want to try something a little different, than absolutely yes… what dreams may come.