Fall Favourite Music Video

The edge of Blue Mountain, Collingwood

Despite the fact that one of the greatest parts of Toronto is the unexpected abundance of green space throughout its downtown (truly some of the most spectacular parks I’ve seen within a city), when September rolls around – it only feels right to escape to the countryside for just a quick minute. Although trendy trench coats, knit scarves and ankle booties have already indicated we’re well on our way into autumn, there’s nothing that embodies these months like the layers of coloured treetops on a drive outside the concrete jungle.

I was lucky to have spent a large portion of the last five days in a car. I never thought I would say that, but I suppose at this time of year it’s hard to be overly opposed to the idea of back-to-back road trips when the great outdoors are at their best. Last weekend, the nuts ventured off for a little ladies retreat to Howe Island – a tiny escape in between my native Kingston and Gananoque – which involved three or so hours of car time in between Toronto and our destination. The leaves were semi-golden and not yet fully turned, but the air was a September kind of crisp, causing the water to curl in the breeze. Lovely.

As soon as I got back from Howe Island, I hopped back in the passenger seat to head to Collingwood for work – a part of Ontario that, much to many people’s dismay I’m sure, wasn’t conducive to flying or rail travel. This, again, I was surprisingly fine with. I’d never been to Collingwood, specifically Blue Mountain – the man-made mini-Tremblant-like resort village that’s surrounded by leafy hills and Georgian Bay waters. And let me tell you, somehow, half a day of traveling later – the leaves had begun their transition, and it was scenic.

Needless to say, being back in the office seems kind of tragic. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised that during my assembling a typical little YouTube playlist to get me through the rest of the week, I stumbled upon a favourite (by no means new) cover of mine that I never realized had such a pretty fall-themed music video to accompany it.

Elton John’s “Your Song” is indisputably one of my favourite songs, seeing as I spent my childhood belting out his likeable anthems alongside my Dad – squealing with laughter whenever he’d goofily mimic John’s falsetto mid-“Bennie and the Jets.” Not only does the “Your Song” timeless melody hit a chord, but the lyrics – those lyrics – go down in history as some of the most memorable. When British indie-pop artist Ellie Goulding covered it a few years ago, I wasn’t sure if her pixie-like yodel would do it proper justice, but I immediately adopted it as one of the better covers of John’s tunes. When I saw the cover’s video, featuring an obviously adorable Goulding but, more importantly, picturesque shots of my favourite season, I grew even fonder of the old classic.

So, as we edge towards Thanksgiving – the prettiest weekend of the year – I thought I’d share this little clip to get you through your week. Happy Fall.

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The Sheepdogs: Rocking A New Release

The deep American South.

Origin of some of the greatest classic rock of the century; everything ranging from Marshall Tucker Band to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels – all twangy strum-savvy legends whose bluesy tales finally decorated the airwaves after being carried in their empty, lovelorn and tattered back pockets.

Saskatoon.

Not exactly the origin of too much musical genius. But, something relative about the endless plains and valleys managed to accomplish breeding the contemporary Canadian version of such righteous rock ‘n roll entertainment, better known as The Sheepdogs.

Similar to the old adage that an owner slowly begins to mimic their dog after years together – or maybe it’s the other way around – this scruffy foursome certainly look the part. The part being both country canine and free-spirited revivalist rockers.

Over a year and a half after the Canuck clan won Rolling Stone Magazine’s Cover Challenge – a contest auctioning off a spot on the coveted front page, record deal with Atlantic  and subsequent airwave acclaim in return for voter’s approval of submitted tunes – the band is full leaps and bounds outside of Saskatchewan small gig territory. Their nearly immediate release Learn and Burn spread like prairie wildfire – with the olden-rock anthem “I Don’t Know” and it’s velvety, Ewan Currie-led harmonies winning hearts north and south of the border at first radio spin.

And last week, after a year of festival hopping, opening for some of their genre’s biggest acts and pressing songs in between, the ‘Dogs were let out last week – in the form of their scorching full-length major label debut.

And it really is stage-melting rock. Some people will argue that rock music has gone by the wayside, and it’s my opinion those people lack the open-mindedness to embrace new and more eclectic variations of the genre. But, oof – if you’re looking for that drive down the dusty road, cold cracked Budweiser, head to toe denim, pressed up against your sweaty love interest at the front of the stage straight-up kind of rock reincarnation, then you’ve got our home-grown boys, and producer Patrick Carney of the Black Keys, to thank for this one.

Similar to early embodiments of what so many of us view as “real rock” – the kind “they don’t make anymore” (again, a moot point – they do) – The Sheepdogs have achieved that gooey kind of 70s feel-good intimacy on this album. The kind that’s captured through an unmistakably perfect male vibrato, growling and shaking alongside the amp-baking electric guitar solos and swirling psychedelic keyboard. The kind that’s equal parts croons and riffs speaking to love lost, love gained, the ride and all of the bulls**t in between. The real rock stuff of real rock artists.

On “Never Gonna Get My Love,” a sliding George Harrison guitar wails away alongside marching band percussion while Electric Light Orchestra choral harmonies chirp from the background. Golden time-machine highlights that preach carelessness and idle, ramblin’ freedom come in the form of Allman Brothers-esque anthems “Alright OK” and a trippy sitar-laden “In My Mind”; pacified ditties that highlight Currie’s bellowing and milky Morrison-meets-Fogerty vocals. Possibly most single-ready is “Feeling Good” – a buzzing boogie so obviously influenced by Carney’s production team with a rhythmic addictiveness that will easily coax concert goers onto shoulders and women out of their shirts, whether by way of the breezy lyrics or plodding clap beat. And all of the above, plus extras and a fall tour line-up, will remind any listener that rock ‘n roll is alive, very well and proud to be Canadian.

 

 

 

I’ll be seeing The Sheepdogs this weekend at Echo Beach in Toronto, ON – tickets can be found here!

 

Album Review: Cat Power is back with ‘Sun’

When contemporary rock queen Cat Power, born Chan Marshall, emerged from the depths of her spiralling stage anxiety and substance abuse in 2008 with Jukebox, her last release of cover songs, the industry applauded her triumphant transformation and confident spin on two handfuls of old folk and bluesy classics. Cat was back, and the world had waited with bated breath to see how she was going to do it.

Jukebox was an incredibly poised materialization of the indie goddess’ trampled insecurities and newfound healthy defiance – but what would come next would be the real deal, the ultimate signifier of her revival, the comeback of the musical mastermind we came to worship when she first leaned weakly over a microphone in a dingy New York bar.

And with Tuesday’s release of Sun – the musician’s first full-length, self-written, self-produced album in over six years – now we can say that Cat is truly back. And with a pretty kind of vengeance.

Sun, this long anticipated five-years-in-the-making kind of album finally transpired – but not without its major roadblocks. Initial hesitation about Marshall’s ability to produce her own album and play all of her own instruments garnered a middle finger from the shy artist. A mid-recording break-up after four years with Hollywood actor Giovanni Ribisi led to Marshall chopping her long locks back off and dedicating a blissful ballad to his teenage daughter whom she grew to love. Popular new instruments intimidated her yesteryear soulful repertoire – yet she plugged in the synth, making it one of the most heavily heard noises on the album.

Like I said, Cat has been reborn.

And the result is the most confident, dazzling album you could have ever expected from the introverted indie sensation; one whose popularity was founded on eight classic albums such as 1998’s Moon Pix – a haunting (yet critically-acclaimed) peak into the then-struggling artist’s timid existence, featuring subdued nuggets of grungy genius like the original version of “Metal Heart” and the breathtaking “Colours and the Kids.” Albums like this and 2006’s The Greatest – a collection of duelling mournful and funky Southern-inspired jams that still erected her tattered demons at points – were near-masterpieces of their time, but on a very different level from Marshall’s 2012 uprising.

Like some sort of bright revelation, Sun is a swooning sort of beautiful from start to finish; a sigh of relief to fans who remember her as a curious recluse that hated the sound of her voice, apologized constantly, asked if people were mad at her and possessed a sad disbelief in her own talent. On the title track, the album commences with growling undertones and atmospheric keyboard effects amidst Power chanting “We’re free with me, we can finally run” – setting a bold tone off the bat. The waltzy rhythm and perfectly auto-tuned harmonies of “3,6,9” make it an immediate highlight – fit for a sassy single or impromptu ladies-only line-dance. Maintaining heroic storytelling themes throughout the middle of the album, the final songs skyrocket the LP into brilliance. “Manhattan,” a twinkling two-chord piano ode to the city that nursed her early career, is exactly as bright as the skyline – bubbling more by the second with layered heartbeat percussion and multiple Cat’s crooning.

On “Nothin’ But Time,” what I believe to be one of the artist’s most magical songs to date, Power preaches to Ribisi’s daughter during the 11-minute piano anthem which momentarily features Iggy Pop’s wobbly vocals and coats her own gorgeous, pleading harmonies over top of each other. Telling the teenager, “Your world is just beginning/ And I know this life seems never-ending/ But you got nothing but time/ And it ain’t got nothing on you,” Power reassures the teenager – and us, and maybe herself, as well. Whoever she’s speaking to, it’s never been more believable.

 

 

The whole album is on shelves and available for stream here on NPR.

September New Music Preview

Did anyone else look at their calendar this week, puzzled? It doesn’t seem quite right that August is half over, the days are slowly going to get shorter and the ease of wandering out the front door with no sleeves or pant legs are things we should start cherishing before they’re no more. The upside of August being half over? Getting closer to wearing the prematurely purchased fall jackets hanging stiff and unworn in your closet, the crisp smell of the fall season (a given)…and new music releases. There’s something about those long drives down the golden tree-lined roads near the end of September that’s made so much better with a gaggle of new CDs fresh off the shelves. Then again, I might be the only person who still buys CDs. EIther way, without further adieu – here are a few notes, bands and beats to look forward to in September of 2012:

1. The Sheepdogs – The Sheepdogs: Canada’s breakout brood of scruffy rockers are back with their third self-titled release on September 4th, featuring the first single “The Way It Is.” This soulful revival-rock track follows suit with the rest of the Rolling Stone Cover Contest band’s winning yesteryear sound – only this time they vocally move away from Fogerty and into Morrison territory with lead singer Ewan Currie’s psychedelic baritone howl. “You look good when you’re shaking my way, let me think of something awful to say,” he bellows; fulfilling the cool, sexualized classic rock genre expectations and leaving us curious what else they have up their chambray sleeves.

2. The XX – Coexist: In 2009, it seemed as if the world halted to listen to – and heavily praise – the first ethereal indie-rock release from this boy-girl fronted Brit band. Amidst waves of critical acclaim, a spot on every “best of” list that year and a consequently heightened anticipation of future releases, the foursome took a hiatus as quiet as their mellow sounds for nearly three years. Now, with “Angels” and “Chained” leaked – two sleepy indie-pop jams as enticing, and pretty, as those on their debut –  it’s simple to see that XX has marked the spot again.

3. A$AP Rocky – LongLiveA$AP:Got rich off a mixtape,” said Drizzy. “Which b**ch you know made a million off a mixtape?”said Nicki.  Rocky’s hip-hop pals have said it, and he’s lived it – after being welcomed with open arms and critical acclaim to the rap game last year when he released his debut mixtape LiveLoveA$AP. On September 11th, the famed soft-spoken rhymesmith (who’s the same age as us five nuts) is trying out the full-length gig beginning with his slow-mo “Purple Kisses” – an explicit, thick-bassed release that samples piano acid jazz underneath his quick verses and a snail-slow hype man chorus. Check it out, but maybe don’t listen with a parent nearby.

4. Dave Matthews – Away From the World: Well, this September 11th release will be perfection. I have so much timeless love for roots-rock guru Dave Matthews and his versatile, instrument-laden Southern collective. The thing about Dave is despite his longstanding spot in the rock world – his prolific melodies, song poetry and live persona never diminish. Sure, he’s reached that place in his personal life and career where he chooses to push aside the complications and soul-searching that decorate a young musician’s pages and instead point out the silver lining – writing about the bliss of aging and just choosing to get along. Maybe it isn’t deep enough for those seeking knotty questions or youthful angst, but I can’t think of anything as intriguing as a rock prophet who has more perspective than most others out there. You’ll hear this on his latest, “Mercy.” Having a bad week? Listen from 3 minutes onward.

5. Mumford & Sons – Babel: Despite the wild hip-hop kick I’ve been on as of late, the first single “I Will Wait” has played an integral role in my late summer playlists. Exactly what you would expect, exactly how it should sound, and exactly what every woman hopes to have sung to her. Something about Mumford & Sons’ romance folk-rock remains so incredibly believable; it never seems like a crock of musical fluff – it feels genuine, it feels like a big breath of fresh air. Even if we’ve heard variations of it before. Maybe it’s the harmonic excellence, charming accents or jostling banjos that never fail to send chills up my spine – or maybe it’s the real truth in Marcus’ lovelorn pleas. This has been worth the wait.

 

Other artists releasing albums in September: Lupe Fiasco, Two Door Cinema Club, Bob Dylan TI, Animal Collective, The Avett Brothers, Ne-Yo, Nelly Furtado, The Killers, Aimee Mann, Ben Folds Five, No Doubt

YOLO at OVO 2012: Drake Comes Home

Riding up the CN tower, ferrying to Toronto island, strolling through the Distillery District, lounging in the Beaches, dinner and drinks on King West. These are all highly necessary tourist activities that I would consider “must-dos” on any Torontonian’s lists.

Seeing Drake with 16,000 of your closest Toronto friends and fellow rap lovers in the very city that raised our own hip-hop megastar? Well, that tops just about any of them.

OVO Fest, standing for “October’s Very Own” (a shout-out to the rapper’s birthday month), is now always something of a spectacle in the city, long before the date even nears. As the one concert that brings Drizzy back to his stomping grounds to wow his Canadian peers each year, OVO manages to cast a buzzing hype over the 416; an excitement that comes not only from Toronto’s obsession with the hometown legend, but also the precedent-setting surprise guest line-up of the world’s most spectacular urban acts who are apparently just chomping at the bit to accompany the young gun back to the Big Smoke. Every year it’s different – Jay-Z, Eminem and Stevie Wonder are a few of the golden guests who’ve touched down at Pearson with him – and every year it gets a little more shocking.

As the third installment of OVO approached – following an astonishing year for the nine-time Grammy nominated rapper after the release of his sophomore album Take Care – I was ready to slap the next person who asked me if I was attending. No, I was not. I had the pleasure of seeing Florence and the Machine, The Walkmen, M83, Austra and Justice this week – all right here in Toronto – and just didn’t feel it was likely that I would be tacking on another concert to my hyper-musical week. With rumours swirling about which big names would be joining Drizzy at Molson Ampitheatre, as well as knowledge that A$AP Rocky and The Weeknd were concrete members of the Sunday night line-up, I was secretly crying inside for days. Sure, I had an incredible concert week – but I am a gigantic rap fan, and seeing the hip-hop face of Toronto (and Canada) bring the show home once a year is the stuff of history books.

On Sunday afternoon, as my fear-of-missing-out symptoms were at a sickening level and I was pathetically reading the OVO rumour mill via Twitter – I happened to eyeball a reasonably priced lawn ticket (where my friend was going to be) before immediately contacting the person for the stub. In the wise words of the Young Money crew as well as those spattered in glitter on the many homemade t-shirts I cringed at on the concert grounds…YOLO, right? YOLO.

Drake at OVO 2012 – image c/o Sarjoun Faour

After securing a prime spot on the lawn, watching the masses flood in and grooving to The Weeknd’s impressive slow jams, a nervous hush fell over the crowd as we waited for the underground king to step out in front of the shadowing skyline. Anyone who didn’t have a fresh beer or empty bladder immediately regretted their life choices, because we all knew the drill – there wouldn’t be a dull moment in the next two hours, nor one that you would  be comfortable missing. And with that, aboard an elevated platform beneath the flashing lights – the head-to-toe white clad knight appeared.

Looking beefy and proud, the rap ambassador hammered his fist towards the ground to the huge opening beat of “Lord Knows,” amidst a deafening roar from his hometown fans. With every rhyme spit, as well as any interjecting commentary, he ignited a match beneath the thousands of people, sending them leaping into the air and screaming for their lives. “Every year, I feel like this is my mother-f**king birthday,” he hollered with conviction. That one really did the trick.

With a wide smile, Drizzy shouted out to his birthplace (St.Michael’s Hospital) and the musical success of so many of “Toronto’s finest,” bringing camera-shy The Weeknd back on stage for “Crew Love” before pulling up his sleeveless top to reveal a fine-looking ribcage and the new home to huge “416” ink. Needless to say, you could cut the Toronto pride with a knife – especially when he made Canuck-boosting statements like, “If you go to Dubai and you hear my sh**, that’s Toronto. If you go to Africa and you hear my sh**, that’s Toronto.” International crew love.

As if the women in the audience needed more cause to faint, at one point the rapper paused to address the haters before playing a few lady-praising tracks. “People say I make too much music for women. You’re f**king right I make too much music for women. I don’t make music for b**ches, I don’t make music for little girls – I make music for women,” he shouted over top a shrill eruption. From there, he went on to play every single one of his pumped-up tracks – ranging from “The Motto” and “Forever” to a gorgeous pyro-caked “Take Care” and “HYFR” (dedicated to his label head Lil’ Wayne, who couldn’t make it).

Of course, there came a point when the surprise guest anticipation was unbearable. How on earth was he going to top himself? Naturally, you bring out Rick Ross and then the Doggfather. As the extra lanky Snoop Dogg Lion sauntered out (he played for a Toronto crowd of 700 a few short days before), drugs and drink in hand and jams like “Beautiful” and “Drop it Like It’s Hot” in tow, the crowd hopped left and right – touching a mediocre volume that would be topped within minutes when a blonde-wigged, busty Nicki Minaj strolled onto stage to see her “hubby, Drizzy.” With the duet “Make Me Proud” as well as her own “Beez in the Trap” effortlessly delivered, Minaj wrapped herself around Drake at center stage while he admitted she was “the most beautiful thing in the world” and took the stage back for himself.  At the end of the night, although Snoopy Dogg-Lion-whatever and Nicki are impressive MCs, it was obvious that this year Drake wouldn’t be exhibiting any hip-hop royalty bigger than the 25 year-old superstar himself – and refreshingly, he certainly doesn’t need to anymore. He’s more than enough.

Dedicating the show to the victims of Scarborough’s recent shooting and dropping news that next year’s OVO will take place at the 50,000 capacity Roger’s Centre – Drake showed as much humanly possible love to his city, visibly demonstrating that the colossal rap event is as momentous to him as it is to all of us. “Toronto, we need to take a moment as a city,” he uttered with a bowed head. And what a moment that was.

 Warning: Explicit Language

*inanutshell doesn’t own any rights to the above video

Summer Loving These

Happy Hump Day! In order to get us over the mound and into weekend bliss – two days that may or may not be filled with shopping, reading, listening and more – I thought I would highlight a few of the items I’ve been loving lately. Similar to Kaylee’s midday musings or Meghan’s must-have cosmetics, here is a glimpse into six things that I’ve pondered greatly, and happily indulged in, throughout the blazing heat wave:

JOE FRESH’s NEW LINE: Shockingly, most of the line isn’t for sale online yet – but if you head to the freshest Joe Fresh near you, you’re bound to get a glimpse of the delicious work/play clothing combinations stacked on the affordable yet trendy racks. Unfortunately (but not really), good ol’ Mr. Fresh is my corner store (sigh) along with an LCBO parked next to it (sigh) and one of the city’s largest Loblaws below – making it incredibly difficult to pick up a bag of grapefruits…without grabbing a bottle of Cab-Sauvignon…without pitching for a flirty new work skirt. It’s a problem, but I’ve come to terms with it. Right now at Joe Fresh, this August’s silky blouses, skinny and vibrant Audrey Hepburn slacks and imitation leather bits spattered throughout the collection have made it increasingly impossible to walk out empty-handed.

Joe Fresh Fall 2012 runway show

GLUTEN-FREE VEGAN ALMOND THUMBPRINT COOKIES: I’ve been a gluten-free and soy-free (as well as many other uncategorized “frees”) vegan for the past three months in light of some testing, and although I likely won’t be that combination for much longer, I’ve learned to love cooking more than I already did. The common (and exhausting) question is, of course, what can I eat? My answer – just about anything I want. For instance, this past week I had “mac” (brown rice pasta) and “cheese” (cashew cream sauce), lasagna (using zucchini, squash, homemade marinara sauce and almond milk/nutritional yeast “cheese”), countless savoury stir fries and tasty desserts – all mimicking the real deal and leaving me oh-so-satisfied. As for these comfort cookies, Kaylee can attest to the very best part of the recipe being the finger-licking homemade jam. You can find the jist of the recipe here (I played around a bit with my own ingredients).

THE LUMINEERS: If you’ve yet to hop on this friendly folk-rock collective‘s ramblin’ train, do so immediately. This summer has been an eclectic one, since both the indie, hip-hop and electro genres have been heating up with tastes of new releases – however, their romantic front-porch Americana takes the (gluten-free) cake as one of the most played albums of the month. Nights parked on breezy balconies with these stomping folk stories are just about as lovely as it gets. Two other fun facts: the threesome is currently touring with another favourite band of mine, The Civil Wars, overseas – and someone I know will be playing the below (favourite) tune of mine during their wedding first dance with her new husband. Precious.

The Lumineers get a lot of play out here.

2012 POLARIS MUSIC PRIZE SHORT LIST:  I’m pretty pleased with the ten artists who made the coveted Polaris Prize short list this year, and like every other year, even more excited to hear which act takes the cake for best full-length Canadian album of the year. Featuring Canuck music veterans like Drake, Feist and Kathleen Edwards, the list also includes a few stand-up rookies, including Cold Specks, Grimes and Japanroids. I can’t wait to be there on September 24th when the notable jurors decide this year’s lucky winner. Who do you want to see take it?

Arcade Fire accepting last year’s 2011 Polaris Prize

NIKE SPORTBAND When I purchased the new Nike Sportband, the salesperson fulfilled his duty in thoroughly explaining the limitless funky features of the running gadget. But what I remember most in the blur of information overload was what he called out to me as I exited the store. “You’re going to have so much fun,” he exclaimed. I figured I might, of course, or else I wouldn’t have bought it. But, wow – I had no idea what I was in for. This multifaceted little bracelet connects to a chip I slide into my Nike shoe, tracking my distance, pace, calories, time and more throughout the jog. When I come home, I unhinge the face of the watch, plug it in the USB port in my computer and read all about my mileage, splits, and progress from other dashes – before gathering suggestions for routes in my area, competitions with other runners and goals I might want to set. I’m addicted to both the online and offline experience already, and highly recommend it for anyone looking to measure themselves accurately or have a more social running experience. It knows me better than I know myself at this point.

My favourite toys.

THIS NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE (Elissa Gootman’s “Maternity Leave? It’s more like a pause“): I thought this was an incredibly interesting piece inspired by Marissa Mayer, a lady who’s the talk of the town these days for a number of reasons. Firstly, the blonde 37 year-old powerhouse was named CEO of Yahoo last week, which came before her promptly announcing she would be giving birth in October and only taking a few weeks of “working” maternity leave. “I like to stay in the rhythm of things,” she told Fortune. This NYT article is in response to dueling internet reactions of scorn and praise for the young executive – referencing the recently written Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” and arguing whether short or “working” maternity leaves are empowering or frowned-upon in our hyper-connected, overworked society. Although this is no reflection of what my own approach would be, I, personally, think Mayer is fabulous – and who are we to judge how good of a Mother she’ll be? Strong women are worked to the bone everyday to juggle overwhelming commitments – whether you’re a single mother working in retail with no option of maternity “leave” or the CEO of a multinational internet company who is prepared to stick her nose to the grind. What do you think?

Yahoo’s Newest Queen of the Crop

What would be on your summer favourites list? Leave us a comment below or tweet it at @inanutshellca!

Summer 2012 Albums: Five Must Hear Releases

As listeners, we were spoiled with the plethora of shiny new albums that hit the shelves this past winter – and we’re bound to get another dose this upcoming fall, when some of the musical greats have announced they will shell out even more long-awaited singles and LPs. So what about the summer albums of 2012? Is anyone (other than Pitbull and Katy Perry) making new music for us to soak in along with the July and August rays, or are we going to be stuck hitting repeat on last summer’s breakout releases?

Whether released in late spring or this week – this is hardly the case, because the new tunes are a plenty. You just (like all good things) have to do a little digging and listening. Luckily I don’t mind “the music hunt” (everyone loves the chase, right?), so I’ve put together a list of some very repeat-worthy must hear albums in music stores this summer that will add even more sunshine to your muggy days.

1.   WINTERSLEEP – Hello Hum: This is the most worthwhile rock album of the summer. I strongly believe that Wintersleep is one of the most underrated, ever-blossoming Canadian bands that will stand the long test of time because of their diverse and often unparalleled songwriting abilities. Hello Hum is a collection of cohesive and striking rock songs decorated with beautiful lyrics and an obviously mature understanding of their own potential. Now seasoned and fairly worldly after years of touring their anthemic and triumphant sounding rock, slow motion ballads like “Saving Song”, the impossibly addictive and luminous “Resuscitate” and the Interpol-reminiscent chugging rock on “Rapture” are enough to keep them coasting (in the least ho-hum way possible) for decades to come. Must Hear: Resuscitate, Saving Song, Nothing Is Anything (Without You)

2. EDWARD SHARPE AND THE MAGNETIC ZEROS – Here:  And this if the most worthwhile psychedelic indie-folk album of the summer. The first time around, this 12-piece hippie collective had never looked rattier, smelled funkier (presumably) or sounded better. So, following up to 2009’s debut Up From Below would understandably be no easy feat – but the cult of caravan-crashing free spirits did it service without a glitch. Soft, sunsetting horns over slapped guitar bodies and folky doo-wop harmonies make this the bonfire album of the summer season – (literally) perfect for that sundown canoe into the abyss. No less scruffy, probably no less pungent, but just as endearing with every new twinkling melody that seeps from their hearts into ours. Must Hear: One Love to Another, Child, Man On Fire, Mayla, All Wash Out (my favourite song of the entire summer – easily)

3.  REGINA SPEKTOR – What We Saw From The Cheap Seats: Recently called “her generation’s Joni Mitchell” by Rolling Stone Magazine, one of the most respected songwriters in the biz did it again – securing herself as completely worthy of that comparison, as well as one of my all-time favourite women. With her eccentric piano-driven insights – complete with fidgety melodies, softly worded sentiments, build-ups and screeches – Spektor has the wild ability to make almost anyone just shut up and listen to her. Strange stories like poetry and piano loops that can incite both tears and laughter – she’s a born genius on this album. Must Hear: Small Town Moon, How, Jessica (bias…)

4. NAS – Life is Good:  As one of my favourites in the game, Nas has released eight consecutive platinum and multi-platinum albums since 1994. Should I stop there? Pushy rhymes, relentless beats and a kind of middle-aged rap wisdom make up Nas’ Life is Good – the tenth studio LP which promises to remind the industry of some of the hip-hop essentials that somehow got lost these past few years. Boasting an assertive but enlightened outlook in his pursuit of breaking the chip off his shoulder post-divorce from Kelis (the green dress on the album cover is the only item his famous ex-wife left behind), Nas adds soulful loops and classic kickdrum thumps under his heated commentary. Other highlights of Nas’ tenth? His heavyweight producer team, sampling of the late Amy Winehouse and the gangster low-down on being a single parent to a teenage daughter – a song that wipes the mush away from John Mayer’s “Daughters” with lines like “When he date/ He straight, a chip off his own papa/ When she date, we wait behind the door with the sawed off.” Must Hear: The Don, Nasty, Daughters

5. FIONA APPLE – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do: Say that ten times fast. Or, save yourself the time and just listen to this highly-anticipated and critically praised release from one of everyone’s favourite female 90s misfits. Apple’s unpredictable, scattered rambling can make you dizzy with confusion halfway through some of the kooky critiques of her own existence – often following little to no musical pattern – but like so many legendary jazz and art-pop artists before us, her between-the-lines storytelling and otherworldly instrumental combinations make for some beautiful kind of mastermind. I always appreciate anyone who’s honest with themselves and Apple is exactly that. Must Hear:  Every Single Night, Werewolf

 

Honourable mentions (still very worthy buys): Metric Synthetica, John Mayer Born and Raised, Yukon Blonde Tiger Talk

 

image via

Canada Day Playlist: Old and New Kids on The Block

Photo courtesy of CBC.ca

 

Oh Canada, how we love you.To better equip you for your Canada Day festivities and shenanigans, for the second year in a row I thought I’d pay homage to both the red and white decked tunes that have rocked the world for decades, as well as those that will keep us shakin’ for decades to come. Music is an integral part of any of the nuts Ottawa and Toronto celebrations, so stay tuned this weekend to hear what we’re up to and who we’re listening to. Stay safe, have a blast and keep those proud speakers cranked up on this momentous long weekend!

 

THE OLD KIDS

Bobcaygeon – The Tragically Hip: All of the nuts love this song, two of us are going to see the old hand rockers play this weekend, and there are no words to describe how much Kaylee and I’s hearts skip a beat when Downie’s voice rises to howl “That night in Toronto…”

Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World – Neil Young: I’m always shocked at those who don’t like Neil Young. I mean, do you not like smiling or happiness either?  Lyrically, this song is a perfect representation of our wonderful country and all of its freedoms – and instrumentally, it’s just a damn good time with one of Canada’s greatest legends.

These Eyes – The Guess Who: Ooh, baby – now this is music. Pour a cool drink, take a moment on the balcony or deck and groove to that classic sultry riff with Burton Cummings.

Hasn’t Hit Me Yet – Blue Rodeo: I would be shamed from the music journalism sphere if I left out the boys and this song. Wherever they’re playing this on Sunday, a resounding national singalong will unite the country like the national anthem itself.

We’re Here for a Good Time – Trooper: Whether from your speakers or acoustic guitar, this campfire ditty only leads to good things like spoons to the knee or clinking glasses.

 

 THE NEW KIDS

Headlines – Drake: Ah, Drizzy – how could we forget your steamy self, the rhymes you spit and this proud Canadian music vid. Whether or not our homeland hip-hop hero is your cup of tea, there’s no denying his superstardom and the kind of excitedness the flashy beat will to bring to your Canada Day bash. HYFR.

Let It Go – Dragonette: Last year in my Canada Day music ABC’s, I listed this band as one of the coolest musical transformations of the past few years – and clearly their wild ride hasn’t stopped there. Bubbly Sorbara and her crew of electro-pop boys continue to amaze me with their Juno-winning discography and cute danceable singles like this one.

Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) – Arcade Fire: As one of jolliest jams to hit the indie airwaves in probably the last five years, these now international superstars provide the perfect 80s-caked backing to any living room dance party.

The Bad in Each Other – Feist: Not an old song, but a veteran indie sweetheart crooning it and all of its thumping glory. As undoubtedly one of the best tracks of 2011, this will make for a good arm-over-shoulders evening sway. I highly encourage you all bring out a little bad (behaviour) in each other during Sunday’s festivities.

Never Gonna Let You Go – Esthero: Jenny-Bea Englishman, the jazzy Ontario pop artist who’s made quite a name for herself in the past decade (collaborations with Timbaland, Kanye and spots on both the Grey’s Anatomy and Sex and the City movie soundtracks), has returned with her first single in nearly seven years – and a catchy comeback like this one has won a place high on our party playlists.

Make A Run For It

 

Toronto looking south from Queen’s Park

By this weekend, it will officially be summer. Although I don’t think we needed June 21st to alert us of the transition – packed patios, summer softball, thick humidity and consequently inexplicable hair have been doing a fine job of that – it’s significant to note that the temperamental spring weather might be behind us and we can safely unstick our noses from the rain drenched windows and get outside.

As far as I’m concerned, one of the best and most adult ways to play outside is to say goodbye to the months of monotonous pedalling on the treadmill or elliptical and hit the city pavement for a much-needed change of scenery. Although the convenience of having a gym at work or in your building might appear to trump any kind of fitness that involves steering away from home – I think most people would agree that by taking your workouts elsewhere, you’ll actually find them more diverse, stimulating and painless than operating within the four walls of a crowded gym.

Although some will always argue that music has no effect on physical training, that’s all fine and well – but I beg to differ that those people just haven’t been listening to the right music. In fact, the rest of the population (and I) would go as far as to say that a scientific selection of music enhances the entire fitness experience by feeding the physical appetite and motivation of anyone pumping iron. The rhythm and structure of the music, combined with our flying feet and the cadence of our rising heartbeat works wonders on our effectiveness and endurance during exercise – allowing us to (literally) stay on track and maintain stamina when our mind is telling us to quit. I mean, have you ever turned down the gym because you forgot your headphones? Guilty.

 Another added benefit of taking your tunes and tours to the city streets? For myself, I’m only three months into my Toronto inhabitancy and although I’ve become very well-versed in my surroundings – even a longstanding Toronto resident can never know everything the city, or even their own neighbourhood, has to offer. So to be able to lace up, breathe in fresh air, get my heart rate soaring and find a stretch of green grass to call my own at the end – sounds like a little slice of heaven.

While I’m taking my continued discovery of Toronto on the road – jaunting through the whacky side streets of Kensington Market, breezing through the Queen’s Park paths or exploring the foliage-filled Rosedale neighbourhood – these are the songs that are going to keep me going, going and going. For longer.

Happy summer!

1. I Love You So – Jay-Z (sampling Cassius)

2. Mondo ’77 – Looper

3. Set It Off – Diplo

4. You’ll Find A Way – Santigold (Switch remix)

5. Strange Times – The Black Keys

6. Play Your Part Pt.1 – Girl Talk

7. Roman Reloaded – Nicki Minaj feat. Lil’ Wayne

8. Gifted – N.A.S.A. feat. Kanye West, Lykke Li and Santigold (Aston Shuffle remix)

9. How You Like Me Now? – The Heavy

10. I Love It – Icona Pop

 

*Image via

Who to see at NXNE?

What’s… en-ex-en-ee?”

Don’t feel bad, we’ve all asked that at some point. If you’ve spent an hour in Toronto this past month, you’ve inevitably wondered about these letters – NXNE – that are splattered all over subway stations, cafe bulletins and street posts. Maybe you’ve even mouthed them aloud to yourself quietly in confusion. And if you’ve spent an extra hour in Toronto this past month, you’ve most definitely heard someone rave about North By Northeast, the elongated form of the heavily marketed four letters – and the music festival that’s engulfed the whole city.

Whether or not you have a $50 week-long wristband or plan to wander into one of the free shows, there’s a large likelihood you’ll inadvertently be a part of the last weekend of this citywide music gathering at some point – mainly because it has lasted 7 days and is comprised of 780 bands and 40 films. It’s everywhere.

Beginning in 1994 as a parallel to Texas’ popular South by Southeast festival, NXNE plays out in over 50 Toronto venues that host a handful of bands each night from Canada, US and around the world. Yonge and Dundas Square, or “Canada’s Times Square” situated outside the Eaton Centre, becomes so much more than the flashy and crammed tourist piazza; it becomes the swaying, lighter-lit festival grounds offering free live music during a select few nights this week – right in the heart of downtown.

One thing I’ve noticed from speaking with a number of people is how overwhelmed, and lacking commitment (despite desire), most are when it comes to seeking out any one NXNE event. Unlike Ottawa’s Bluesfest (which I’ve attended religiously for a number of years) where you wander the grounds to find your favourite artists all within strolling distance – NXNE is dispersed across the popular venues of our lively Toronto metropolis. Now, after nearly four months in Toronto, I’ve come to the realization like so many Torontonians have before me – that nothing in this beautiful, mammoth city is really that far or hard to get to. You just have to have to commit. And despite not wanting to do that in many other areas of our young lives, I feel as if music line-ups like these are worth the commitment. So, get off your behind and check out some of the amazing (and affordable) live music brought to you by NXNE. Here’s (only a fraction of) the artists who are worth the wander this weekend:

FRIDAY, JUNE 15th

PLANTS AND ANIMALS (free concert) Yonge-Dundas Square – 8:30-9:20pm: I love this band; they always surprise me with their up-tempo blend of progressive rock that’s both hard-edged and romantic.  Trust that they know how to rock a big stage – they’ve been invited to open for Gnarls Barkley, Broken Bells and The National in the past.

MATTHEW GOOD – (free concert) Yonge-Dundas Square – 9:30-11:00pm: Everyone’s favourite a**hole. Even if you don’t like him or wish he were nicer, you obviously get a little emotional at “Apparitions”. Grown men will weep in the Dundas Square lights – I can feel it.

ZULU WINTER – Lee’s Palace – 2:00am: Grab your late night snack and a seat at Lee’s for this up-and-coming UK band’s dreamy alt-rock show. You’ll most definitely save a few calories by ditching the late night diner snacks for BBC’s favourite new tunes at last call; they’re danceable, experimental and surprisingly caked in emotion.

SATURDAY, JUNE 16th

THE FLAMING LIPS – (free concert) Yonge-Dundas Square – 9:00pm-11:00pm: Please go see one of the weirdest shows that contemporary psychedelic rock has to offer. You may get knocked with a gigantic inflatable ball or be blinded by confetti, but you’ll get to see “Do You Realize??” live – which makes most things of that nature worth it.

THE LUMINEERS – The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern – 11:00pm: I’ve been raving about this band to anyone who will listen, so I’m happy to have another forum to do it. They are incredible. This Colorado crew of revivalist Americana folksters have that lovelorn voyageur’s songwriting knack that’s launched genre companions like Mumford and Sons and the Head and the Heart – and I can only hope that their debut album adventure will soon bring them back to Ontario with more stories and even more sets in tow.

MATT MAYS – Lee’s Palace – 11:30pm: All the way back to his days as lead singer of the east coast country ruffians The , right up until he was radio rocker Matt Mays and El Torpedo – this raspy Canadian staple has never failed to put on a good show. Check out the bad boy’s live set to hear that mainstay growl and some sweltering Canadian alt-rock classics.

 YOUNG EMPIRES – The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern – 12:00am: This indie dance-rock band caught my attention about six months ago, and I’ve been following their likeable harmonies and bright keyboards since, feeling like they were on the cusp of mainstream national acclaim. Hearing their Friendly Fires and Cut Copy-reminiscent beats, watching the blogosphere fork them in and learning they’ve nabbed a midnight spot at The Horseshow during Saturday of NXNE? I’d say they’re on their way.

Now go listen! For more information and the full line-up, visit http://nxne.com.

*Images via 1,2