Instant Friendship (The Sheepdogs, Changing Colours review)

Blues rock has always had a soft spot in my heart. Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The White Stripes, The Black Keys, and so on and so forth. But what happens when you mix in the Canadian wilderness and hit blend – does the era of cool translate for our polite sensibilities?

 

 

The Sheepdogs – Changing Colours

released February 2, 2018
******** 8/10

The Sheepdogs are a Canadian blues rock band originally from Saskatoon and founded in 2006. Lead by singer and guitarist Ewan Currie, backed by his brother Shamus on keyboards, trombone and tambourine, Sam Corbett on drums, bassist Ryan Gullen, and Jimmy Bowskill on lead guitar. They have since recorded six studio-length albums, which is a pretty impressive schedule of one year on, on year off.

I have their third (2010’s Learn & Burn) and fourth (2012’s The Sheepdogs) albums in my own personal collection, but I believe they would benefit from proper and complete catalogue representation on timotheories.com.

Let me clarify.

Changing Colours is a great record, I wish it had shown up in those summer weeks of 2017 when all of my possessions were packed up, and I was living out of a room in my best friends house. That music would have carried me through those two hectic months. Up In Canada would’ve become my anthem, and I would even have petitioned for it to replace our national anthem! It’s that newsworthy. But you see, that’s the thing about Changing Colours, all of this record’s tracks have the capacity to be released as singles.

My personal favourites are I Ain’t Cool, You Got To Be A Man, and Run Baby Run, but there are seventeen well made tracks on this record. And so I wouldn’t be surprised to learn your personal favourites are different then mine. In fact, I would hope that was the case.

Pros: This album is incredibly pleasant to listen to. It’s a summer album, that plays nice with the other seasons. AND they’ve managed to extend their range to incorporate more sonic safe choices then previous efforts.

Cons: A symptom of their musical stylings, they never quite shake the sounds of Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Beach Boys and a host of other sounds I’m sure you’ll recognize along the way. Proceed with caution if you hate drawing from the past.

Runtime: 49 minutes

Points of Interest: Newcomer Jimmy Bowskill officially joins the ranks of The Sheepdogs on this record. A band for the people, their bassist Ryan Gullen regularly polls the fanbase and observes which songs are getting the most streaming airplay, influencing what charts as a single.

These guys are absolutely guilty of making “good-time” music, and by pulling most of their influences from the safety net of 1970s rock and roll, they successfully emulate the sounds of the day, while pulling it into the present. It’s only slightly odd that despite a lack of originality in most places, I can’t help but enjoy what I’m listening to.

theories Summarized

Have you ever heard the theory that we’re drawn to certain types of people because of a natural chemistry and as such, those relationships typically last because of their familiarity? The Sheepdogs have that instant friendship quality, and while it might seem like a pure emulation of the past, I’ll argue instead that it’s a display of their immense talent. That they can match sounds of the past, but still maintain genuinely their own voice.

There is just something incredibly appealing to me about pared down music, it’s heartfelt, timeless and can be played no matter how you choose to spend your listening session(s). That’s why I thought transitioning from The Sheepdogs into a video review on Andrew Bird was an apt choice.

If you haven’t listened to the Echolocations series yet, you are in for a treat creative cuties.

Thanks for taking the time to read the review, watch the video 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 bravery and wildfires.

Tim!

Leave Me Alone (Leaving Thomas, Leaving Thomas review)

Not every album review can be a winner unfortunately, and while there’s nothing wrong with the old adage of you never know unless you try, I kind of wish I hadn’t given this week’s album a second thought.

 

 

Leaving Thomas – Leaving Thomas

released January 19, 2018
***** 5/10

Leaving Thomas are a Canadian country pop duo from Calgary (a neighbouring city in my province of Alberta). Annika Odegard and Bryton Udy have finally dropped their much anticipated self-titled EP, Leaving Thomas. It’s eight tracks in length make for a pretty hefty EP, but there is enough variety in the song choices that you can sit through it without too much issue. And I can see why their are gaining momentum throughout Canada and the United States, but unfortunately it’s kind of an uneven listen for me, with a lot of filler tracks and not enough chances taken.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to see a Canadian country duo getting lots of attention, but if track no. six is any indication, Best Adventure is far from it, and feels a little bit like your average middle of the summer radio jam. Which is probably why it’s one of the the first three singles released.

That said, Blame it On The Neon is where this EP really shines, it a good time for all involved and really showcases Annika’s vocals. You can easily see this song filling a stadium. And If This Is Love is a solid second runner up for best track, with all kinds of emotion, punctuated by the piano, it’s a incredibly deep ballad and something you’d expect from more seasoned performers.

The last of the singles, Waiting Kind of Girl, falls somewhere in the middle, with it’s interesting melodic structure and tempo. But man that chorus is just brutal to listen to. It’s way too on the nose, with rises and falls all over the place. And that percussion just hurts me.

I just wish the album was a bit longer, which would have made it a full-length album, and maybe there would have been some artist driven choices here, rather then the safety net of convention. You can tell this duo has a voice just waiting to break out, but musically they are playing it safe and boring. Unfortunately for us.

Pros: When they are connected, you can tell very clearly that Odegard and Udy are childhood friends that enjoy playing together and to each others strengths, and there is a sweetness to If This Is Love, which absolutely merits it’s inclusion.

Cons: I wish that Udy had a larger role in the vocal work, and that he played off of Odegard more often, because while she is the big sister to his little brother figure, sometimes youth can surprise you with energy and innovation. And I wish that Shame On Me had hit the cutting room floor. Yuck.

Runtime: 28 minutes

Points of Interest: Odegard is two years older then Udy, and they first meet as children during a biblical stage production. They reconnected at the Calgary Stampede 2012 where they were both competitors in a talent search, but it wasn’t until a rained out BBQ that they decided to play 90’s country together and then things clicked.

There is some serious potential with this pop country duo, but it won’t get them into a position of prominence playing it safe. So for now I’ll be leaving Leaving Thomas on the shelf, with hopes that it isn’t nostalgia but success that demands another listen from them.

theories Summarized

I don’t think  you should buy this album or pick up a digital copy, but I do think you should listen to a handful of the tracks and make up your mind to investigate further. Maybe you’ll be more forgiving of the EP that have been, either way Leaving Thomas won’t be leaving the scene anytime soon, and hopefully they take the feedback with a grain of salt.

That said, I am happy to announce another first for timotheories, and an excellent album for you to consider listening to. Grizzly Bear’s Painted Ruins is well worth a spin, and their democratic brand of music is refreshing. Don’t Believe me? Just watch what Brendon Greene and I have to say about the matter.

I hope you enjoyed our first ever Sound Culture video review, but if you did, can you do us a favour and subscribe, comment and like the video? We appreciate your continued support dear readers.

Tim!

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.

Tim!

Half of My Heart Is In Havana (Camila Cabello, Camila review)

When you start the journey of appreciation, looking back to your roots is the first thing to do, after all it’s what you know best, and heart things are never wrong to share. Just ask Camila.

 

 

Camila Cabello – Camila

released January 12, 2018
******* 7/10

Karla Camila Cabello Estrabao, better known by her stage name, Camila Cabello, is a Cuban-American singer and songwriter. She initially got her start as a member of the super popular girl group Fifth Harmony, formed during one of the first seasons of the show The X Factor.

But, she’s no longer part of that group. Duh duh duh.

Working hard behind the scenes, Cabello has had her work cut out for her in separating herself from Fifth Harmony and breaking out as a solo artist, but fortunately for us, she gained some positive attention by collaborating with artists like Machine Gun Kelly, Young Thug, Shawn Mendes, and Pit Bull. Interestingly enough, the singles OMG and Crying in the Club, do not feature on this debut album, even though they were intended for it originally. And I think that says a lot about Cabello’s attention to detail – She considered the public reaction to those songs, and the direction her work was headed in, and chose to keep this pop album within the latin influences that it was building off of, and thankfully it worked.

Havana is now that lead single for Camila, and it just works. Released at the same time as OMG, it was a spontaneous success, and it’s been a huge game changer. Have you seen the music video? It’s a slow burn, which typically doesn’t suit the dance floor, but this is one which I could easily see becoming a song of the year. Those horns are amazing, and if you haven’t heard the *mostly* Spanish remix with Daddy Yankee, please check it out. Yes that Daddy Yankee that featured on Despacito – It’s so good that it hurts, and it might even make you forget that track for a bit.

Can I just say that I think every track is ambitious? There is some honesty

She Loves Control is one of my personal favourites, not only because the unexpected collaboration with Skrillex is quite a good pairing, but it appears to be the point that Cabello finally comes into her own sound. That, and it smartly precedes Havana, which will help it get playback if you’re one of those famous song skippers like my fiancée.

But what about the rest of the album? Real Friends is fairly subdued song, which shares a simalar tone and instrumentation with Never Be The Same and All These Years, but I enjoy it all more because it’s so damn melancholy. As that movie Sing Street so aptly put it, love is the ability to be happy being sad. Happy-sad.

Oh and Something’s Gotta Give just breaks your damn heart to listen to. Who hurt this woman and inspired her to come up with Consqeuences? It’s like someone decided to serve sushi for breakfast, lunch, and dinner eternity.

By the time you get into Into It, I would expect you’d either be into it, or not. And if I were a betting man, I’d wager this will likely be her next single if She Loves Control doesn’t get picked.

Pros: It sounds very different then your average pop album, and it shines especially in the moments where it’s honest and vulnerable.

Cons: Pay close attention, and you can almost hear the points where someone at the record label said, hold my beer, we’re gonna auto-tune the shit out of this, and it’ll be worth it.

Runtime: 36 minutes

Points of InterestSpeaking of her departure from Fifth Harmony, Cabello says “…I am less focused on success and more on doing my best and pursuing my artistic vision to the fullest, wherever that takes me.” That speaks volumes about her, and sounds like a Beyonce or Timberlake move. Fingers crossed.

What likely started as an album about breaking out from a girl group, slowly evolved into something much more nuanced, and while there are the typical elements of love, partying, and heartbreak featured here, the motivations and expressions are a little bit different, which is why Camila Cabello is one to watch.

theories Summarized

I hope you give this album a shot. I myself as sceptical at first, but thankfully it’s been far more impressive then your typical breakout pop artist. And it definitely helps that there is some heart behind this art about Havana; my theory anyway.

Tim!

Suspended Animation (Asking Alexandria, Asking Alexandria review)

It’s evolution baby.

And if you think an old dog can’t perform new tricks, you haven’t seen what a day at home alone and the treat of steak will do as a motivating factor.

If you’re still confused what that means for this weeks Watch Culture review, maybe just ask?

 

 

Asking Alexandria – Asking Alexandria

released December 15, 2017
******* 7/10

Asking Alexandria are an English rock band, comprised of lead vocalist Danny Worsnop (returning after a short one album deparature), guitarists Ben Bruce and Cameron Liddell, drummer James Cassells and bassist Sam Bettley.

Initially formed in 2006 by Ben Bruce, the band evolved into a six piece in 2008 and then adjusted their lineup one more time before their debut album in 2009 – Stand Up and Scream. Asking Alexandria released two more full length albums Reckless & Relentless (2011) and From Death to Destiny (2013), before the departure of Worsnop in January 2015. At that time Denis Stoff and the rest of the band released The Black in 2016. But Stoff didn’t last very long and left the band within the year, with Worsnop returning to lead live performances before his official return. And so we arrive at the fifth album and what a doozy it is. It’s self-titled and a very hard turn away from previous efforts, but it feels oh so fresh.

For starters, the self-titled album is much less metalcore and much more melodic hard rock in sound. When you listen to track no. 2 Into the Fire, you’ll immediately notice how they’ve dialed back on the guitars, and tried to fill that void with more electronics. Yes I ignored the track opener, which I’ll get back to in a second, because Into the Fire is the first single, and a signal that these guys have converted to full on arena rock.

Alone in a Room is a hallmark of high end production, multi layered sonics, and thoughtful lyrics, a typical hype machine to get you started with the tone of the rest of the record. Under Denver follows similar notes at the midpoint, and is a welcome pick me up.

The third and fourth songs are a bit of a wash (Hopelessly Hopeful, Where Did It Go?), with Where Did It Go? being particularly self-congratulatory… but when we get past the ego stroking, the next rack, Rise Up, is a sobering moment and way more naturally motivating to listen to.

 

For all of the effort to move away from their original successes, Worsnop and the rest of Asking Alexandria do make a point to nod to their past. When The Lights Come On features a lyrics form Stand Up, and Room 138‘s chorus is the same melody as the bridge from another song on that first record. On top of that, Room 138 is an excellent unofficial closer with lots of emotions packed into 3 minutes and 44 seconds.

 

Pros: Later tracks seem to fit the bill and redeem this tonal shift. Vultures, When the Lights Come On and Room 138 are all very enjoyable to listen to, and Under Denver will also grow on you if you give it some time.

Cons: Eve should have been a demonstration that Asking Alexandria still ‘had it,’ but the vocal work and backing instrumentals don’t stand up (pun not intended) and comes across weakly. Ironic given that it was the first song recorded. And I love combining rap and rock as much as the next guy, but Empire is hokey at best and offensive at worst.

Runtime: 47 minutes

Points of Interest: This is their first album working with producer Matt Good, a staple in the post-hardcore community. And Taylor Larson mixed the record, which is excellent, because because he played with Good in the band From First to Last for a couple of years.

It’s obvious that these guys enjoy making music together, and their creativity is alive and well, even if not all of the new songs gel well together. This is not the renewal of a sound we’ve heard before, and that’s going to upset some purists. But I really enjoyed the anthemic tone set and the risks they’ve taken to make this record, even if it doesn’t all work together perfectly.

theories Summarized

A great album to celebrate the return of Worsnop and an opportunity for them to explore a direction to take in this next chapter, deciding to self-title the album was a symbolic move and I appreciate the thought. I have a theory that this isn’t the last we’ve heard from Asking Alexandria. But I won’t tell.

Tim!