Ukelele Anthems For Two (Vance Joy, Nation of Two review)

Not every album needs to be a chest bumper or a call to arms. Sometimes it’s nice for music to be nice, and reflective. A thread between two hearts, for starters.


Vance Joy – Nation of Two

released February 23, 2018
******* 7/10

Vance Gabriel Keogh, better known by his stage name, Vance Joy, is an Australian singer and songwriter. He signed a five-album deal with Atlantic records back in 2013, and shortly thereafter, released his instant success, Dream Your Life Away, hopping on the back of The 1989 World Tour that Taylor Swift planned that year. Everyone and their mother knows Riptide at this point, and somehow Joy managed to ride the waves of that album for four years without anyone really noticing. Pun intended.

Lucky for us though, because his sophomore effort, Nation of Two, was worth the wait. It’s not an amazing album, but there’s something to it. Featuring the singles, Lay It on Me, Like Gold, We’re Going Home and more, Joy has managed to do even better the second time around. Garnering fans and swooning hearts all the same.

What I love most about this album, as I’ve said in previous reviews, is that it’s a concept record – Nation of Two tells the story of a couple who’s world is centred around their bedroom, their car, and other memories they share collectively. Even though it’s similar in tone to his debut album, and doesn’t push strongly in one direction or the other, I actually think it makes it a stronger record, and gives this one a pass. Love isn’t always about ups and downs, fights and makeup sex, it’s a consistent feeling of companionship and connection. Flowing from one situation to the next is real life, and this album has it too.

It’s full of romance, rainy day music, good for reflection, and even post-breakup meltdowns or whatever emotive tone you’re feeling. I’m looking at you in particular Alone with Me and I’m With You. So much heat there.

And that’s not to say there isn’t some fun in there. Saturday Sun is a great upbeat track and has good accompaniment with One of These Days showing up later. These are simple love songs, rooted in the tradition of artists like John Mayer, Jack Johnson and Ed Sheeran, and while they aren’t perfect, there is a cohesive quality that works, especially with the theme.

Pros: A solid theme, some great singles that stick to Joy’s strengths, and solid transitions between tracks, help this album feel like a complete story.

Cons: Sometimes the naivety can be a bit much, and this is where Crashing Into You would be considered a weak point. Some of the worst lyrics I’ve heard so far this year.

Runtime: 45 minutes

Points of Interest: Joy has been known to work with multiple writers, and in this case the running theme is evident throughout. The song Little Boy, is a true story about the time Joy fell off his bike as a little boy.

A welcome change from the never-ending mire of romantic crooners singing about falling in love, passionate sex, and breakups, this is an album for the long-time lovers. It’s never particularly cheesy, but it always feels sincere.

theories Summarized

I don’t expect that this will be an album for everyone, and as much as I wish that were the case (because the theme is strong), Vance Joy still has some growing to do as a musician, and so it bleeds together in the end. Give it a listen, be aware of the narrative, and have some forgiveness on hand, and I have a theory that you’ll enjoy yourself.

And if that don’t tickle your fancy, Brendon and I have a rock review from a brilliant Canadian duo known as Death from Above (formerly Death from Above 1979). The Physical World is also their sophomore album, and it kicks up everything fans of the band love. If you haven’t gotten into their sound yet, here is your opportunity to give them a much deserved listen.

Thanks for taking the time to read the review, watch the video review and hopefully you’ve left a comment or two. If you liked what you saw, click on the like button, and even better, subscribe to the channel! Come back tomorrow for a film review about Thor: Ragnarok. There’ll be more theories!


Popular Science (MGMT, Little Dark Age review)

We all have a little darkness inside of us, some of us embrace it, some of us run from it, and other find a way to little it simmer just under the surface. Adding some texture to life.


MGMT – Little Dark Age

released February 9, 2018
********* 9/10

MGMT is an American rock duo comprised of Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser. They’ve been playing together since 2002, well before you would’ve expected from a band that hit the big time back in 2007, I remember because it was at the apex of indie electronic music. The singles Kids, Electric Feel, and Time to Pretend were everywhere that year, in movies, on the radio, and at most of the clubs I attended.

Yeah, this was back when I went to clubs, looking for loves.

And TBH, that music perfectly fit with the beautiful nihilism of the day, but I didn’t want to be part of it, so I ignored them, even though Ornacular Spectacular was clearly an amazing album. Then they followed it up with Congratulations in 2010, and it was even more experimental, but I had moved on and wasn’t really into that kind of music anymore. Around the time that the self-titled MGMT landed, the duo weren’t even on my radar, as in, I just discovered that Little Dark Age is their fourth studio album, and not their third one.

And thus, the history lesson concludes, because the boys appear to have some full circle. Older and wiser, fortunately for us, because Little Dark Age is their best album to-date and the sythn-pop was always their strong suit anyway, that and a subtle darkness, which is not unappreciated in the album title.

She Works Out Too Much is a perfect opener, capturing the challenges of dating in a smartphone app era, and later accented by TSLAMP. Then comes the big kahuna, the title track (Little Dark Age) which has been on everyone’s mind since it dropped as a single back in October of 2017. If you listen hard enough, you’ll hear Gary Numan, The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, and a host of other emo progenitors. Geez, now that I think of it, I can even hear the Police in there – and that’s an incredible thing.

Me and Michael is perfect in it’s subject, a quant song about friendship. That pairs well with Days That Got Away and When You’re Small.

It’s the kind of album that I know will get better with repeated listens, and I can almost guarantee will find a place on my shelf in years to come. Dare I say it, this album might even have me aching for possession of their back catalogue.

And if you’re worried that the album slows down too much as you sink into it, One Thing Left to Try is just as upbeat as the opening songs.

I’m glad that we were able to get back on track with MGMT, and even though their third album should have been the point where they came back stronger and wiser, not every flower blooms at the same time, and we can’t fault a band which debuted on a high note, without understanding the intricacies of their relationship with music and popular culture.

Pros: Obviously the return to pop music is a welcome change. And inserting notes of psychedelic rock into the mix has proven to be a recipe for success.

Cons: I know that Ariel Pink had a hand in When You Die, but I find it difficult to separate his production from MGMT’s natural sound, and all it does is make me want to listen to his music instead.

Runtime: 44 minutes

Points of Interest: The record was conceived partly out of the election of Donald Trump as president of the US, and partly because of a desire to return back to their roots.

I guess all it took was some time for these two college friends to embrace their identity and make music which suits them. I’m personally thankful for the opportunity to revisit their music, and I truly do believe that they’ve matured into their sound finally.

theories Summarized

Do I think that you should give this album a listen? Absolutely. I didn’t really expect to like this record, as I had avoided MGMT for years, but as I sit in my office on a warm March evening, I can see fairly easily how this will become one of my favourite albums this year. Yes, I’m calling it a quarter of the way through.

And speaking of bands that got better with age. Brendon and I wanted to remind you of one of the greatest punk rock albums of the 1990s, The Offsprings SMASH. This is seriously one of my favourite albums ever, and if you’ve never heard it before, you are in for a treat. But if you have listened to it before, and you needed a reminder, give it solid listen, and appreciate their skillful guitar playing, choice lyrics, and exciting melodies.

Thanks for taking the time to read the review, watch the video review and hopefully you’ve left a comment or two. If you liked what you saw, click on the like button, and even better, subscribe to the channel! Come back tomorrow for a film review about Darkest Hour. There’ll be more theories!


Red Cross, Blue Cross (First Aid Kit, Ruins review)

What is the difference between a red cross and a blue cross, dear readers? One is a humanitarian organization, which receives all resources through donation, and the other is an insurance company that specializes exclusive in the health sector. It’s the little things that make a difference, after all.

Which is why this album is immediately better then their last.



First Aid Kit – Ruins

released January 19, 2018
******** 8/10

First Aid Kit is a Swedish folk, indie, americana and country based sister duo of Klara and Johanna Söderberg. They’ve been officially making music since 2007, and now have four albums under their belt. Their first studio-length album may have been 2010’s The Big Black and the Blue, but their international attention came from a cover they performed of Fleet Foxe’s Tiger Mountain Peasant Song which blew up on the internet.

In addition to their studio albums, First Aid Kit (FAK) have also made a couple of EPs, and some other singles over the past few years. Their early exposure to artists like Judy Garland, Billie Holiday, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the Louvin Brothers, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris all played a big part in forming their musical sound, but the soundtrack for O Brother, Where Are Thou? was especially inspiring and a major catalyst for Johanna.

Their newest album, Ruins, was recorded in the early part of 2017 and they slowly released the singles It’s a Shame, Postcard, and Fireworks over the back half of the year. Thank God for that, as these singles are momentous and a welcome addition to the canon.

Track opener Rebel Heat sets the tone, a deep sadness and finality, telling us not to mess around with First Aid Kit or their hearts. Sure it might seem a bit on the nose, at first, but there is a deep pain hidden within these lyrics.

This is even more smartly said when we do get to the finish line. There is a tired sincerity to Nothing Has to Be True, and in the end nothing really matters, except for the moments and these two women who’ve shared them with us.

Pros: These singles are amazing on their own, but when paired together, they really shine and showcase the range of First Aid Kit. Postcard, Fireworks or It’s A Shame, take your pick, excellent songs to move to.

Cons: The second half of the record isn’t quite as strong as the first, and as a result it feels somewhat tacked on, despite the beautiful vocals and intelligent instrumentation.

Runtime: 36 minutes

Points of InterestDid you know that the name First Aid Kit came from the duo thumbing randomly through a phone directory?

Their strength has always rested in their shared songwriting and harmonious sound. Ruins continues in that strong tradition of enriching tradition and emphasizing the romance of country music. To Live a Life is an excellent example is an excellent worship song of the art of solitude and exactly the kind of thing their heroes would have done.

Taking the road less travelled and sticking to the truth has always been the name of the game, and Ruins doesn’t deviate from that vein of glorious history being rewritten on their lips.

theories Summarized

This is gorgeous music and whether or not it completely devastates with earnest lyrics or not, theSöderberg sisters know how to make dark clouds seem warm and inviting. I hope it wins some new fans to the First Aid Kit brand, and diehards will enjoy it too, but let’s hope that red cross doesn’t turn blue.


Mister Sinister (alt-J, Relaxer review)

A short poem.

Lifeless he crept upon her,
Daytime was not his friend,

Melancholy was her only friend,
What if the taste lingered for a time,

It is eerie outside at this time,
Too many sounds, too many noises,
It’s all rather eccentric.

We all need to own our weirdness, and alt-J could go in a million different directions at any given time, and they’ve proven that on their previous two albums, but what do I think of their third release? Let’s find out!


alt-J – After Laughter

released Jun 2, 2017
****** 6/10

alt-J are an English indie rock group featuring the talents of vocalist and guitar player Joe Newman, Cameron Knight on lead guitar and bass, Gus Unger-Hamilton on keyboards and backing vocals, and Thom Sonny Green on drums. Formed a decade ago, back in 2007, alt-J have now released three studio-length albums, An Awesome Wave, This Is All Yours, and today’s special, Relaxer.

alt-J are the kind of music for Millenials like what pop punk and 90’s r&b were for Generation Y. The voice of a generation – oft confused by physical albums and the thought of saving for a rainy day, but still a voice. Wicked generalization timotheories. Dick.

The thing is, alt-J have been compared to Radiohead a lot, and that is such a tired comparison to make, especially given that while their albums don’t come out with as much regularity anymore, Radiohead are still relevant. This is interesting music, for sure, but it’s not as courageous as those first two albums that alt-J put out.

I could spend a lot of time dissecting this album and pointing out all the places to you where it sounds amazing (read: In Cold Blood, Dead Crush, and Last Year), like the band that created Breeze Blocks and Left Hand Free, but someway and somehow we’ve been treated to a snoozefest for the most part and so many people are singing it’s praising without any reservation. It doesn’t make much sense to me, with a spectacularly weird and awful track in Hit Me Like That Snare. What a flaming pile of garbage that song feels like every time I listen to it.

And as much as I hate that song. This is actually a good thing.

Because it means that alt-J aren’t settling into a pattern of record making. They are willing to explore, to try new things and take some risks when it comes to their sound. Building a unique identity is difficult after all, and all of the comparisons to greats like Arcade Fire, Bastille and Arctic Monkeys would start to get on my nerves too.

This isn’t your mom and dad’s album, and it’s not mine either. But damn it if it doesn’t have the makings of something wonderful for alt-J to grow into in their middle age. They are working on making the content more meaningful, where they already set the standard in pared down simplicity.

Pros: As far as audio engineering and labour goes, nobody has alt-J beat. These gentlemen are more than capable of making arrangements interesting, and using ambience to tell narratives.

Cons: When they add in nuanced lyrics or play with formats, they struggle. It doesn’t always sound good, and Hit Me Like That Snare feels completely out of place with the rest of this record. I wish the experimentation didn’t feature throughout the entire album.

Runtime: 39 minutes

Points of InterestIn case you didn’t already know this, the band’s symbol is the capital letter delta (∆), a triangle. This can be accessed on an Apple Mac computer with the shortcut of alt+J. The first single is 3WW, the second is In Cold Blood, which features lyrics that state 00110011 01110111 01110111, which in binary translates to 3WW.

Adding poetry to covers of songs like House of the Rising Sun is a little bit odd, and a bit too clever, but it’s that sinister sound behind that curtain that has us coming back for seconds. Or should I say 01110011 01100101 01100011 01101111 01101110 01100100 01110011?

theories Summarized

We need to give artists like alt-J the space and time to grow, because we got two really excellent debut and sophomore efforts from them. That doesn’t mean that this album automatically gets a pass, but it does have some high points, and some points you can relax to.


Your Stoicism Entryway (The Shins, Heartworms review)


Start each day knowing that the world is full of indifference, ill-will, selfishness, and a ton of other vices. Next, accept that each of us is affected by our environment, and not effected by it.

How we perceive the thing is much more powerful then the thing itself. The world will always be this way, which is why a certain kind of music could be popular ten years ago, and yet feel less interesting now.




The Shins – Heartworms
released March 10, 2017
******* 7/10


The Shins are an American indie rock band that have been playing together for just over 20 years. I own the bands first two records Oh, Inverted World (2001) and Chutes Too Narrow (2003) which I promptly picked up after listening to New Slang during it’s brief moment of spotlight in the film Garden State.

A few years later the dudes put together their third album Wincing the Night Away, which was a huge commercial success, and even earned them a Grammy nod.

I missed them when their fourth album came out, but I didn’t think to call or write, so I don’t have any strong feelings about it either way, but I can say most assuredly that The Shins fifth offering, Heartworms, is just as good as I was hoping it would be. And maybe a bit too comfortable for convention.

Does anyone remember when indie rock was the next big thing?

Death Cab For Cutie, Stars, Feist, Arcade Fire, The Strokes, Modest Mouse, Vampire Weekend, The Killers, et. al.

These were our champions in the 2000s, and The Shins were right at the centre of it all. Belle and Sebastian, The Black Keys, and Weezer too. Actually, I could probably list another twenty bands pretty quickly, but my point is this, when we look back in another ten years, people will be emulating the looks of these bands, and karaoking hard to their sweet tunes.

Sure indie rock has been around since the 1980s, (read: The Smiths), but The Shins are a picture perfect example of the sound captured at the height of it’s popularity. And Heartworms is no exception.

Which is probably why James Mercer dumped all of his bandmates in favour of something new on the last album. And then owned it fully for this outing. Name for You starts things off right with a higher note then we’re used to, but he doesn’t discard that tempo and brings it back a short one song later in Painting a Hole. We get excited listening to the lyrics while the instrumentation keeps things on track.

Cherry Hearts feels like it could be a late addition to the Sixteen Candles soundtrack or inside a more current addition in the movie Sing Street.

Fantasy Island is just good fun. And frankly I could make little anecdotes about each song along the way, which is how I feel that Mercer tackled this album from the outset. And that’s where it’s not quite punchy enough, it feels like each song was both captured in a moment and painstakingly crafted to sound that way. But thematically it can be a challenge to accept this as another other than a solo project finally realized in full. The Shins are James Mercer, and James Mercer is The Shins, good or bad.




Indie rock changed the game. Not in the sense that it forced anything political or social to happen, but that we collectively agreed that it was good music for a time, and now we are experiencing a shift away from thoughtful and whispy lyrics, saturated by striped down instrumentation, and heading back towards the glitz and glamour of the pop music. And that’s okay.

While that doesn’t mean that The Shins are less interesting, only that the larger public feel differently, I do agree that Mercer has run the course on some of his ideas, exploring things more fully is good, but where is the broader message at the centre of it all? Where is the stoicism?

That’s the theory I want to hear.