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

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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.

Tim!

 

You Wanna Be Startin’ Something (Michael Jackson, Thriller review)

It’s difficult to find an album that feels timeless, because most of the time, we are in that time and have no frame of reference, but when you start cycling through the back catalogue of musical history it can become pretty obvious when something is brilliant.

And if you’re okay with it, dear readers, I’d like to call it a thriller.

Michael Jackson – Thriller
released November 30, 1982
********** 10/10

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Michael Jackson was an American singer, songwriter, dancer, actor, producer and philanthropist. Known by countless fans as the King of Pop, he truly was a global figure in pop culture for just over four decades.

It’s incredibly hard not to talk about pop music and think of Michael Jackson, well for me anyway. I grew up on MTV, Much Music, and Much More Music videos. I must’ve seen the music video for Thriller more than a hundred times in my youth. And it was one of the only “cool” albums in my parents record collection that wasn’t influenced by country or christmas music, so writing about this album is of special significance for moi.

You know, I don’t think I’ve made this very clear yet. When I was a kid we listened to a lot of country music. A lot.

The radio in the kitchen was always tuned to country music, and whenever we went on the road, it was the same challenge. My dad was a heavy influencer of what was played in the house and it wasn’t until my early teenage years that I really started to spread my wings musically and try other stuff out.

I can partially thank Michael Jackson for that.

Thriller was Michael Jacksons’ most successful album and it remains to this day as the best-selling album of all time, with more than 65 million units sold worldwide. It helped transform the musical landscape of the day by bolstering the success of MTV and bringing more attention to music videos as a medium. The title track, Thriller has a music video which is almost fourteen minutes in length, more than double that of the song. Which should say something about Jackson’s creative vision and ability to correctly champion innovative ideas.

Unfortunately he died in 2009, just over seven years ago, but he left an incredible legacy which I largely attribute to the efforts of this album. What I mean is that Thriller is also a gargantuan effort in breaking down many challenges of race and segregation in the musical arts.  Well in general too, but this is a blog about the arts, so yeah.

Seven of the album’s nine songs became singles over a two year period – The Girl Is Mine, Billie Jean, Beat it, Wanna Be Startin’ Something, Human Nature, P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing), Thriller.

Which should tell you that it was influential. And both Baby Be Mine and The Lady in My Life are excellent songs in their own right.

I choose to review this album, because for me Halloween will always be tied in with Thriller. The song was released as a single about a year before I was born, so it was always around. Not to mention the fact that it features zombies and Vincent Price – Who was also synonymous with horror. Thriller is a a certifiable piece of music history and dammit if it isn’t a fun listen. I must’ve spun it more than a dozen times this week in preparation for my review, and I still want to listen to it. For those of you living under a rock, do yourself a favour and listen to Thriller… it’s over 30 years old now and still relevant.

 

 

 

Happy Halloween my friends. It comes around but once a year, and though I hope you’ll get why I choose a classic record this time around instead of keeping up with the rhythm of releases, consider this. Sometimes providing a quality review is more important than a contemporary one. Which might be the case for tomorrows theatrical entry. But you’ll just have to see for yourselves.

Tim!

 

Sweet ‘n Sour (Beyoncé, Lemonade review)

At first I was afraid, I was petrified. Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side. But then I spent so many nights thinking about how you did me wrong, and I grew strong, and I learned how to get along.

I Will Survive is a fantastic song, and while I have no real proof that it inspired the song Survivor, Gloria Gaynor did sing a mashup of the two songs this past January, which I think is proof enough.

Even before this week’s Melodic Monday artist broke out on her own, I knew she was a survivor.

Beyoncé – Lemonade
released April 23, 2016
********* 9/10

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Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter, better known by her stage name Beyoncé, is an American singer, songwriter, producer and sometimes actress. She rose to fame in the late 1990s as lead singer of Destiny’s Child, which was managed by her father, Mathew Knowles.

Destiny’s Child eventually took a break though, which saw the release of Beyoncé’s debut album, Dangerously in Love in 2003, and firmly established her as a solo artist and Grammy award winner. That was five solo albums ago though, and now Beyoncé has had Golden Globe nominated film appearances, married rapper Jay Z, came up with an alternate persona in Sasha Fierce, won 24 VMAs and 20 Grammy awards.

Let’s talk about bae, no not Jay Z. I mean Bey, Queen B, Mothe Bee, Sasha Fierce, JuJu.

Despite what the tabloids and internet have been telling you, this album was not about Jay Z, he features in it, whether he wants to or not. This is an incredibly raw and wriggly portrait into the soul of a pop music entity which acts like Adele, Taylor Swift, and Ellie Goulding might get to see some day. Bey says it best herself “who the fuck do you think I is?” somehow making Jack White more venerable and snarly then we’ve seen from him in years.

But there are three other songs that cover the gamut of her feelings on being forced to deal with a broken heart – from middle-fingers-up, feeling crazy, to praying over and over. And we get these tracks right out of the gate via Pray You Catch Me, Hold Up, Don’t Hurt Yourself, and Sorry. As someone who was in a LT relationship at one point (and which ended badly), I can very easily identify with her mourning over wasted love.

However, as the album moves along at a breakneck pace, we get to explore civil rights issues as they exist today, for black woman, in Freedom, which is my favourite track by far. AND there is a country track called Daddy Lessons that has more twang than anything I can think of on the local radio station dedicated to those sounds. But there’s also Formation which is also rather political and important to consider in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Other songs talk about a relationship on the mend in Sandcastles, Forward, and All Night, though I would agree with others in saying that Sandcastles is the weakest link in the chain.

At first I thought the album name was stupid, but upon reviewing it months later, and especially at the recommendation of some much respected cultural gurus, I can see how she was able to to make lemonade out of pretty substantial jar full of lemonades.

 

 

 

Beyoncé probably says it best herself though when she exclaims “I’mma keep running because a winner don’t quit on themselves.” She figured out a way to stay strong and move on even if her album does have a happy ending. I suspect this has a lot to do with her ability to run with whatever life throws her way, just adding another chapter to the book of B.

Tim!

 

I Have Been Over The Rainbow (The Avalanches, Wildflower review)

We’ve witnessed lots of absenteeism in music over the years, but my all-time favourite probably came from Guns ‘n Roses and their lack of interest in seeing Chinese Democracy arrive in a timely manner, at all.

So I skipped out on it, I mean fuck’em right? Well not so, well, not entirely. Chinese Democracy didn’t have the hitmaking power of Appetite for Destruction, nor the sweeping epic of Use Your Illusion I & Use Your Illision II, but it’s a pretty solid album on it’s own. Just thirteen years later.

Well today, we look at an album sixteen years in the making.

 

 

 

The Avalanches – Wildflower
released July 8, 2016
******** 8/10

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The Avalanches are an Australian group that started spinning records back when I was still in junior high school. Or to put it another way, way, way back in 1997. They were making plunderphonics back before I even knew that that was a cool way to make music.

I don’t want to dwell too much on what plunderphonics is, but if you are familiar with pretty much any other existing audio recording ever, than you’ll understand that combining existing samples and/or altering them allows for a track to enter into the mix. Pun intended.

The Avalanches current lineup consists of Robbi Chater, Tony Di Blasi, and James Dela Cruz, but they’ve gone through a huge rotation with five other band members coming and going. Incidentally this has something to do with the fact that the group released their debut album Since I Left You in 2000, but haven’t put any studio albums out since that first one.

The reason for this is because of many personal issues the band faced, between Chater being ill for three years, and issues of too many songs to choose from, the band was faced with the problem of genius and perfectionism. And so here we are sixteen years later. But you know what, Wildflower is still a delight to listen to. It reminds me of The Go! Team, Beastie Boys, Gorillaz, Jackson 5, and Canadian favourite Caribou all mashed together into one giant happy, fuzzy, sleepover with rainbow pillows and unicorn blankets.

Remember when I mentioned a while back that jazz music has been making a resurgence via successful acts like Leon Bridges and Kendrick Lamar? Well, The Avalanches are hopping on this bandwagon of rather raw music and the results are coming up nicely. It never feels like a strong narrative, but it doesn’t produce nostalgia.

For instance, those tweeting birds on Zap! takes me right back to the soundtrack of that Sleeping Beauty movie from the 1950s.

I would be remiss to break down this review into particular tracks and emotions, because I think that you’ll get more out of it just diving right in and considering the source material. Seriously.

Now it is a little sad that founding member Darren Seltmann opted out before the album finished, but it is comforting to know that co-founders Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi are still there for us. And for such a nostalgia trips, this feels very present in our time space. It is both jazz and pop infused, and good music fans know that those genres are very “lit” right now.

 

 

 

I would argue that The Avalanches have produced a much cooler vehicle than Guns ‘n Roses, but it does help that they sampled the Mega Man 2 death sounds and featured cereal eating alongside their hip hop.

It’s not a perfect record, but it is very accessible if you are a fan of generation sweeping music. I hope you listen and I bet you’ll find some great samples that make your own heart all weepy.

See ya tomorrow with another nostalgia trip, this time a movie about the 1980s.

Tim!

Every Little Thing She Does is Magic (Magic!, Primary Colours review)

I don’t like the police, but I do like The Police. A British new wave reggae rock band that were fairly active between the mid 70s to mid 80s. I blame it on the way that our traffic laws are set up in Canada.

Actually I have no reason to hate the police. I just wanted to make a reference that transitioned well in to today’s album review.

 

 

 

Magic! – Primary Colours
released July 1, 2016
****** 6/10

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Magic! are a Canadian reggae fusion band out of Toronto. Yeah for Canadian content! Headed by Nasri Atweh (vocals and guitar), Mark Pellizzer (guitar), Ben Spivak (bass), and Alex Tanas (drums), Magic! have been active since 2012, and released their debut studio effort Don’t Kill The Magic in 2014. Primary Colours is their second series in the music scene.

Known for their single Rude, which went to number one in numerous countries (read: seven), Magic! takes inspiration from The Police and Bob Marley. In case you have no idea what Rude sounds like, I’ll drop some lyrics down for you –

I’m gonna marry that girl, marry her anyway. Marry that girl, yeah, no matter what you say.

Or better yet, I’ll link you to the song itself.

Now, when it comes to Primary Colours, I think it’s pretty obvious that Magic! know how to please the masses. They are setting up singles and knocking them across the park like nobody’s business. Precision, bangin’ drums, catchy hooks, and the occasional appropriate cameo makes this a summer album worth at least a few spins in your music player.

This all hinges on the idea that Magic! are experts when it comes to good times and smooth tunes. Its hard to single out one song in particular that encapsulates this, but Red Dress does oddly mimic Rude and how! The number of trumpets, saxophones, and general horniness is enough to make you skank across the dance floor. And maybe to the toilet bowl.

On the positive side Atweh has a clean and likeable voice and his range carries us through several highs and lows of the album. I would say for sure that the title track, Primary Colours, Gloria, and Lay You Down Easy are some of my favourite songs on this record.

But no matter your taste for reggae fusion, you’ll have a good time listening to the whole thing and you’ll definitely enjoy the production value, because as I hinted at previously, the band is made up of professional songwriters who have all written singles for other famous acts. This now reminds me of my R.City review. But I don’t want to get derailed, so let’s sum up.

This fab four are always writing, and are a production house in terms of material. What that means for us is that the tone of Primary Colours is consistent and enjoyable no matter if they are singing about cuckolds, God or anthems. I’d give these a foundational grade for a sophmore effort.

 

 

 

I also am not a fan of Bob Marley, but I blame that particularly on the over-commercialization of his image in colleges and smokeshops. That and an association with cannabis as integral to his Rastafari faith. It became less about the music and more about a message.

Now, Magic! do have a message, but because they are still forging their path, it’s a non-issue, enchanting even.

Tim!