Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hey Predator!, The Bronzed Chorus, Antarctic, Please Don't Put Charles on the Money – Monday, October 27

Hey Predator!
Every time I see Montreal's finest veritable guitarsenal, I feel like I get closer to hearing the songs as they hear them. This time, the sound at Divan Orange did justice to their swirling, midtempo nerd punk with bigger bass, sharper guitars, and more excitable drums courtesy of ex-Danger Danger Mammoth Hunter guitarist (and lone francophone) Matt. Gone are the tinny MySpace recordings of yesteryear, the time for howled poetry over 22 interwoven strings is now.

The Bronzed Chorus
Hailing from Greensboro, North Carolina, this how-are-they-just-a-two-piece carves out groove-heavy, hard-hitting instrumental escapes that create a common space for post-rock fans sick of waiting for the climax and hardcore admirers who forgot how to dance. Drummer Brennan O'Brien pulls a Def Leppard on half the tracks when he doubles up on keys, though you wouldn't notice by the recordings. And with the help of two amps and (just) a half-dozen pedals, guitarist Adam Joyce calmly explores the nooks and crannies of the duo's stereophonic limits.

These Floridians' specialize in mathy, full-throttle novellas that attack as much as they persuade the listener into admiration. When they really let loose in all their two-hand-sprint-tapping sincerity, they take the jaded music lover in me by surprise. What's truly bewildering is how otherwise acutely intricate sections sound tame in the presence of these extremities. Within the context of their sound, it sometimes feel like they're holding back when, compared to most 'aggressive' bands, they would already reached the zenith of musicianship.
And if you don't care about all that, keep in mind that their songs are also damn fun.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

POP Montreal – October 1

Hey Ocean
Given the too-early 8 p.m. time slot in a too-big room that adheres strictly to the first part of its name, Vancouver pop mélangers Hey Ocean! did what they could at the sterile Club Soda. Though they dealt mostly within the range of safe, coastal dance-pop, the group was at its best with a Feist-y jazz number about finding a better bicycle, and when singer Ashleigh Ball busted out her flute like the "As It Happens" theme ain't no thang. Also of note: following his family-friendly drum solo, the band's could've-been-a-male-model stickman went topless.

Joel Plaskett & The Emergency
After seeing Joel Plaskett twice, once solo and another half-solo and half-family band, I had high expectations for his first Pop show. The trio's rendition of "Work Out Fine" at Sala Rosa a few months ago in support of Three stands out as a particularly stellar concert moment, and from then on I was yearning for a full set of The Emergency.

Despite Plaskett's trademark jittery energy and tight guitar playing -- not to mention his tendency to meandre off into nearly-nonsensical-but-oh-so-smart spoken word before the attention shifts back to the band's solid rock 'n roll -- something was off at the Club Soda show. Maybe it was the empty balconies, the chairs and tables faux-filling up the floor, or the people talking throughout the show -- the only exception of which came when during new song "Old Friends." People shut up, and Plaskett's exquisitely arranged chords overlayed with familiar words that play off clichés in the most endearing way reminded everyone part of the reason why they came.

Nevertheless, the high point of the set again came with "Work Out Fine," after which the band trotted along satisfactorily, playing essentially the same set as their last Sala Rosa show. And I'm surprised to say that I didn't need to see it twice. At the risk of becoming formulaic in his middle age, Plaskett really should consider broadening his live tracklist.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

POP Montreal – September 30

Leif Vollebekk
Adorning the Wednesday night volunteer wristband, I entered a somewhat emtpy-feeling O Patro Vys to see Leif Vollebekk for the first time. Evoking many of the same musical qualities as fellow Montreal folk-pop phenom (and collaborator) Charlotte Cornfield, Leif is also reknowned for his truly kickass name, and was accompanied by the ever-smiling Hans Bernhard on upright bass and "feelin'-it" Phil Melanson on percussion.

Throughout the set, pulled mostly from his album Inland, Leif grew more confident both with his brand of earnest bluesy folk, and his banter. As the room filled up, he uttered, "Oh look at all you, thanks for multiplying," and the ever-expanding crowd seemed grateful to hear it. Many of Leif's songs were on the importance of place – "Quebec," "Don't go to Klaksvil," "Cairo Blues," the list goes on – and Hans's plugging bass only added to the feeling of motion, whether it be via a river, road, or delectably looped electric guitar and violin on Leif's next-to-closing track. Looking forward to more Vollebekk around the corner.

Oxen Talk
The soundperson just had to play Grizzly Bear before Oxen Talk took the stage, didn't they? For a difficult-to-classify band, identifying them with a currently popular and mildly similar multi-vocal-and-instrumentalist indie chamber pop outfit would just be too easy. That's not to say Oxen Talk are without Bear-esque undertones – they are – but without the same atmospherics, the comparison lacks depth.

The two are similar in the sense that the combination of McGillans Bob, Luke, Adrian, Riley and Mallory makes for one dextromentalist (to borrow a friend's terminology) and highly talented group, though their focus is more on intricate wordplay set upon a more bare bones yet complex musical backdrop with shift-on-a-dime tempos. Oxen Talk's sense of humour was also on display, for instance with a grossly awkward but enjoyable finale to one number: as the lights faded, their wry smiles intensified, waiting for the last possible moment to release control over the keys...and we laughed. Heh.

The Youjsh
Cycling up St Laurent to Il Motore, I was pleased to catch a significant portion of The Youjsh's torrent of tight, mathy hyper-Klezmer. Think Battles, but replace the guitars and robot rock with mostly one-handed keys, trumpet, and woodwinds bent into entirely new contortions.

Though band leader and Steve Day admirer Malcolm Sailor told me after the show that while he too resorts to describing it as Klezmer, he said the band's sound draws heavily from Eastern European music in general – the most familiar of which being accordion-based Bar Mitzvah jams. "I'd rather refrain from categorizing my music, and let it speak for itself," Sailor said. And I recommend you listen.

Bruce Peninsula
Up next came Bruce Peninsula's mix of weighty growls and soothing choiristas; throbbing, bass-heavy romps bookended by softening a cappella. The band's neo-traditional sing-a-alongs best transcended through an extended version of "Satisfied" and a rollicking "Jack Can I Ride?", the final track on their eponymous 7-inch.

After the show, band co-founder, guitarist and vocalist Matt Cully explained that much of the inspiration for the band's unique approach to hard-hitting folk rock came from the archives of Alan Lomax, a musicologist whose field recordings preserved the music of artists like Lead Belly and Muddy Waters just as industrialization threatened to wipe out folk culture completely. I'm grateful we have this Toronto lot breathing new life into old hymns.