Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Contest: Joel Rubin and Uri Caine

Joel Rubin and Uri Caine

"Klezmer's outer limits and inner space": Live at The Music Gallery, Saturday, March 2, 2013

I'm not sure where klezmer is right now on the not-cool/so-uncool-it-must-be-hip spectrum, but I suppose I never think of it as much of an "out" genre. Well, notwithstanding the efforts of John Zorn's Tzadik Records imprint, which has issued discs from his own Masada project alongside many others.

It's no surprise, then, to see that label is behind Azoy Tsu Tsveyt, the new duo album from Joel Rubin and Uri Caine. The former is known as one of the leading clarinetists in the klezmer genre, while keyboardist Caine had dabbled in everything from drum'n'bass to Bach'n'Mahler. On this album, however, he's working the warm tones of his Fender Rhodes, creating a tasty launch pad for Rubin's explorations. You don't have to get too hung up on what's "jazz" and "klezmer" here — just settle in for something groovy.

TICKETS + MORE INFO

Part of The Music Gallery's New World Series and co-presented by the Ashkenaz Foundation, tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door or $15 for MG members.

CONTEST

Thanks to the good folks at the Music Gallery, I have a pair of tickets to give away to this. To enter, shoot me an email to mechanicalforestsound@gmail.com, with "Rubin'n'Caine" in the title and your name in the body. This is a lightning round — I'll randomly draw a winner at noon on Friday, March 1st.

Recording: Veda Hille

Artist: Veda Hille

Songs: Oh My God + Lucklucky

Recorded at The Music Gallery, February 25, 2013.

Veda Hille - Oh My God

Veda Hille - Lucklucky

Full review to follow. On a day off from her highly successful Craigslist Cantata, Vancouver's Veda Hille brought along her best socks for two sets filled with a wide variety of songs, including some from her concept projects involving Buffy Sainte-Marie, Neil Young, Emily Carr and Vancouver's False Creek. And the first one here is from her brand new Peter Panties (available on bandcamp), soundtrack to an idiosyncratic retelling of the Peter Pan story by Niall McNeil and Marcus Youssef that involves CSI and Macbeth. I came to this show not really familiar with Hille's work, but left with a sense of why she's so cherished in certain quarters.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Preview/Contest: New Creations Festival

New Creations Festival

Arcadiac, Saturday March 2, 2013; Sparkler, Thursday, March 7, 2013; A Toronto Symphony, Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra's New Creations Festival is the city's largest New Music spectacle — a chance to see some innovative musical ideas tackled by a full-sized ensemble in the grand canvas that is Roy Thomson Hall. More than celebrating a particular compositional school, this year's edition is a full-on embrace of technology.

That's largely because this year's special guest and featured composer is Tod Machover, Professor of Music and Media at MIT, whose work encompasses both traditional composition and technological innovation. He's spent decades thinking about performance and interactivity — his "hyperinstruments" paved the way for the Guitar Hero video games.

The first two concerts in the festival will feature some of his shorter works, but the most-anticipated is undoubtedly the première (on March 9th) of his newly-commissioned A Toronto Symphony, subtitled as a "Concerto for Composer and City". Part of the anticipation comes from the fact that no one's sure how this is going to hash out, given Machover's rather unique crowdsourcing methods, where "collaboration took place by blog and e-mail, via Skype and smartphone, using audio and video recording and streaming."

(In fact, I'll note tangentially, we can only hope that the contribution by Maylee Todd, recorded at last summer's ALL CAPS festival, made the cut in some manner. I can attest that it was sent to the right people!)

Listen! Maylee Todd - Hit Me 53 Times

Meanwhile, the first concert also heralds the return of Mason Bates, whose electronica-tinged compositions graced new Creations a couple years ago, but the most exciting selection comes from Nicole Lizée, whose "Arcadiac" provides the night's title. Lizée has arranged for and played with The Besnard Lakes, and her own work includes some material that you might file on the same shelf as your Sea and Cake records — she can also sometimes be found playing the turntable parts in performances of her own compositions. Here, however, the TSO will be playing her piece written for "orchestra and 1970s/1980s arcade games" — the outcome truly warms my 8-bit heart. (Check it out here).

Sparkler, the festival's second concert on Thursday, March 7, contains less technological wonderment — and is probably going the most-anticipated for most of this blog's readers, as it features the première of Owen Pallett's Violin Concerto. Well-known for his solo work — as Final Fantasy as well as under his own name — with his classical training Pallett has long been a go-to guy for indie rockers looking for string arrangements, and it will surely be a thrill to see him painting with an orchestra-sized canvas. Although the violin will be handled here by Pekka Kuusisto, I have no doubt that the author's voice will shine through — the fact that Pallett has indicated that the piece is inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space" implies it should fit right into the rest of his oeuvre.

Also on the bill that night is Kryštof Mařatka's Vábení. Mařatka doesn't seem to have much of a social media presence, and most of the material about him seems to be in Czech, but given this piece attempts to synthesize "sonorities of the musical instruments of the Paleolithic age [and] the birth of human language and of the earliest vocal expressions", I guess that's a bit beside the point. That this requires two separate choirs implies that this is going to be something of a spectacle.

TICKETS + MORE INFO

The New Creations website has all you need to know about the festival, including program notes on all the pieces. The TSO remains committed to making these events more affordable than the typical night at the symphony, so you can grab $20 tickets for all of the shows here. (promo code = "NEW") — or those 35 or under can get an even sweeter 2-for-1 deal (2 tickets for $14) until tomorrow afternoon (March 27th at 5 p.m.) through the tsoundcheck program.

CONTEST

Or... you could go for free! Thanks to the good people at the TSO, I am giving away a pair of tickets to Sparkler, featuring Owen Pallett's Violin Concerto. [Roy Thomson Hall, Thursday, March 7 at 8:00PM ]

To enter, shoot me an email to mechanicalforestsound@gmail.com, with "new creations" in the title and your name in the body. I'll randomly draw a winner on Tuesday, March 5th.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Recording: Lina Allemano Four

Artist: Lina Allemano Four

Song: Spin

Recorded at The Tranzac – Main Hall ("Somewhere There Festival"), February 24, 2013.

Lina Allemano Four - Spin

Full review to follow. Somewhere There is no longer a place. The cozy sanctuary for all sorts of creative music recently shut its doors due to "noise complaints and other unpleasantness". Fortunately, this already-planned festival was relocated to The Tranzac, making it less a celebration of a venue than its animating spirit. But it's still an opportunity to gather together a wide variety of musicians who have developed their music there, reflect on the past, and wonder about what's next.

Playing just one room over from where the group recorded their fab new Live at the Tranzac album, the quartet closed out the festival with some warm and emotionally-resonant jazz from a collection of some of the city's best players, Allemano's trumpet is supported by MFS fave Brodie West on sax plus Andrew Downing and Nick Fraser keeping up the rhythms. There was some fine bow work on Downing's double bass in this one.

Recording: Not the Wind, Not the Flag

Artist: Not the Wind, Not the Flag

Song: [excerpt from an improvization]

Recorded at The Tranzac – Main Hall ("Somewhere There Festival"), February 24, 2013.

Not the Wind, Not the Flag - [excerpt from an improvization]

Full review to follow. Somewhere There is no longer a place. The cozy sanctuary for all sorts of creative music recently shut its doors due to "noise complaints and other unpleasantness". Fortunately, this already-planned festival was relocated to The Tranzac, making it less a celebration of a venue than its animating spirit. But it's still an opportunity to gather together a wide variety of musicians who have developed their music there, reflect on the past, and wonder about what's next.

Sunday afternoon's session began with a wonderful talk from Casey Sokol entitled "Can Improvisation be Taught?" that ultimately veered to the opposite question — can improvization be learned? That was a framework for consideration both on music and pedagogy, with breaks along the way for a few exercises, starting with some active listening and clapping the audience and moving on to musicians recognizing endings and more. Professor Sokol gave the impression of being the sort of teacher you'd be eager to take a class with, and the room was filled with a lot of current and past students.

After that, Not The Wind, Not The Flag, put some of those ideas into practice, with Colin Fisher and Brandon Valdivia playing an extra-long set. That gave them time to work through a range of instruments (mouth harp and flutes got a workout here) as they gave, as always, a seminar on listening and playing in the moment.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Recording: Martin Arnold & Friends

Artist: Martin Arnold & Friends

Song: The Cuckoo Bird [traditional]

Recorded at The Tranzac – Main Hall ("Somewhere There Music Festival"), February 23, 2013.

Martin Arnold & Friends - The Cuckoo Bird

Full review to follow. Somewhere There is no longer a place. The cozy sanctuary for all sorts of creative music recently shut its doors due to "noise complaints and other unpleasantness". Fortunately, this already-planned festival has been relocated to The Tranzac, making it less a celebration of a venue than its animating spirit. But it's still an opportunity to gather together a wide variety of musicians who have developed their music there, reflect on the past, and wonder about what's next.

Martin Arnold began the evening's programme with a stimulating talk entitled "Wondering About an Experimental Folk Music" — and then attempted to put that into effect with a large ensemble playing some old-fashioned folk songs. The extended rendition of this ballad feels like it's meditating on the ghosts of coocoo birds, but Ryan Driver's yearning vocals serve to blow off the dust of the distant past.

Recording: CCMC

Artist: CCMC

Song: [Somewhere There Fest – improvization #2]

Recorded at The Tranzac – Main Hall ("Somewhere There Music Festival"), February 23, 2013.

CCMC - [Somewhere There Fest – improvization #2]

Full review to follow. Somewhere There is no longer a place. The cozy sanctuary for all sorts of creative music recently shut its doors due to "noise complaints and other unpleasantness". Fortunately, this already-planned festival has been relocated to The Tranzac, making it less a celebration of a venue than its animating spirit. But it's still an opportunity to gather together a wide variety of musicians who have developed their music there, reflect on the past, and wonder about what's next.

Free improvising since the '70's, CCMC are not so much a link to the past but a vivid spirit here and now — a best case scenario for a still-flourishing long-term experiment.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Recording: Dusted

Artist: Dusted

Song: Property Lines

Recorded at The Garrison ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 4"), February 17, 2013.

Dusted - Property Lines

My quick notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: The Magic

Artist: The Magic

Song: Door to Door

Recorded at The Garrison ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 4"), February 17, 2013.

The Magic - Door to Door

My quick notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Evening Hymns

Artist: Evening Hymns

Song: Cabin in the Burn

Recorded at The Great Hall ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 3"), February 16, 2013.

Evening Hymns - Cabin in the Burn

My quick notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Sarah Neufeld

Artist: Sarah Neufeld

Song: unknown*

Recorded at The Great Hall ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 3"), February 16, 2013.

Sarah Neufeld - unknown

My quick notes for this set can be found here.

* Does anyone know the title to this one? Please leave a comment!

Currente calamo: Wavelength THIRTEEN Festival (Part II)

THIRTEEN: The Wavelength 13th Anniversary Festival (Part II)

While it's all fresh in my mind, a few notes from this year's WL Fest. Notes from the first two nights of the festival can be found here. Longer, more comprehensive reviews will follow down the road a piece.

With four night of fairly diverse sounds on offer, it's good that Wavelength offers some integrating factors to pull the whole thing together. First and foremost of those is Doc Pickles, the series' long-running MC, who hosted all four nights. Although he would modestly claim, in his introductions, to be "setting the bar low" for the bands to follow him, there's a craft and a method to his discourse. Daring to fling associational logic into a cookie-cutter world, there's always a wry humour at play — and, more importantly, a sense of a shared existential awkwardness to be confronted and overcome. Step forward: you are part of this.

Another fundamental WL experience tying things together are the swirling General Chaos visuals, provided by Steve Lindsey. Hand-crafted and carefully selected to enhance the mood of each band, there's a warm analog feeling to the visuals — and if you watch Lindsey's customized projectors spin (and occasionally fail) you can get a sense of what an elaborate juggling act it is. When you come in and see that living painting twisting behind the stage, you know where you are.

Night 3 — Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Great Hall — feat. Bernice/ Doom Squad / Sarah Neufeld / Evening Hymns/ Do Make Say Think)

The Venue: Although it's increasingly becoming a go-to spot for midsize shows, The Great Hall is somewhat divisive among concert-goers. The large, open ceiling imparts a sense of space that you don't get at similarly-sized venues, but it does also affect the sonics. Which is to say, there's probably more variability here than in most venues — move a few steps away from a spot where everything sounds great and you can suddenly be in a murky dead zone. That said, the Great Hall is unfairly maligned in a few quarters — compared to a couple years ago, there's been a fair amount of effort put in to making bands sound good. It also has a rep for somewhat erratic rules — drink prices change from night to night (and from one bar to another!) and sometimes you're allowed to go lounge on the balcony and sometimes not — and when the place gets really packed, the floor can be uncomfortably jammed. Also: the bathrooms are inadequate (and frequently rather dodgy by night's end), one feature that really needs to be updated in this heritage landmark.

Wavelength's night at the Great Hall corresponded with a sudden (and somewhat surprising) snowfall, making surface travel almost impossible. (I ended up walking down from Ossington Station.) That meant the room was a little slow to fill, and for the first part of the evening, there were the powerfully-appealing smells from the pop-up dumpling stand wafting through the room. Balloon creatures — making an encore appearance from last summer's ALL CAPS show — bobbed and floated overhead.

The show: I was sad to have missed the start of Bernice — for me, this was one of the more-anticipated sets at the festival. A vehicle for Robin Dann's songwriting talents, shows were fairly thin on the ground as Dann decamped to England shortly after the 2011 release of what was that. It's an enchanting album, but to a neutral observer the most vivid element might be Thom Gill's smooth production — making it tempting to conclude that he's the man behind the curtain.

Now back on this side of the Atlantic, seeing Dann on stage put her personality front and centre and firmly established that she's the animating force here. Just like her songs, Dann presented a somewhat shy but playful presence — as well as a wonderful voice. She was supported in that department by Felicity Williams, local MVP trophy winner in the backing vocals category, and generally a guarantee that the band on stage is one you should pay attention to.1 They were flanked by Colin Fisher (on mellow wah-wah guitar) and Thom Gill (on keybs and electronics). Gill was actually running a bit of interference here, adding some textured blips and gurgles that lifted the sound from retro softrock to something more subtly contemporary.

But it was the songs and voices that made this a winner. A lot of the set was new material, and it sounded like good stuff. That bodes well for the future of this project, and I'm definitely still eager to hear more from this unit.

Listen to a song from this set here.

When I caught Doom Squad in a church a few months ago, it felt like a somewhat disjunctive spot for the band, given their pagan vibes. The band's music comes with a sense of ritual — the very old rituals of sex and death, where you can enjoy the dancing if you don't peek too closely at what's happening on the altar. It didn't feel like they were totally connecting with the crowd here, although I get the impression that anything less than deep in a forest on a moonlit night is a second-best way to see the band. Their own set of joy-dirges was supplemented by a reinvention of The Doors' "Riders on The Storm" that fit right into their aesthetic while revealing new affinities. It's quite possible that this is the band at the festival that will become most bragged about in a I-saw-them-when sort of way by the very people who were mostly busy ignoring them.

Listen to a song from this set here.

That semi-interested crowd would be a bit of a factor throughout the night. Any time a WL show is headlined by a band with its own non-overlapping fanbase, there's going to be a contingent who come out to treat it as a show by "their" band, with a bunch of other bands they have to suffer through. However, this is as much a feature as a bug on nights like this. Although Wavelength is a celebration of an established community, it's also a proselytizing front to ameliorate people's taste. Which is to say: when a horde of Rock Guys come to see their band, some small number are going to be illuminated about some kind of music they hadn't really cared about before — and they're maybe the most important people at the show.

The downside is a lot of them are going to be less-than-rapt for the music they know nothing about — a slightly awkward context for a solo violin set. That Sarah Neufeld held the crowd as much as she did is a testament to her on-stage presence. Her name value might help as well — "member of Arcade Fire" is a good way to get people to pay attention.2 I'd not checked out her solo material, but I'd heard some mention of loop-based violin composition, so I had shades of, say, Final Fantasy in my mind going in. The first part of the set, however, turned out to be straight-up violin, with no technological props. With Neufeld stomping along on stage, there was a lot of energy in the songs, the music ranging from Celtic-y reels to hints of Bach-style elegance.

The most intriguing material, though, came at the close, when she was joined by unannounced special guests Colin Stetson (on bass sax) and The Magic's Geordie Gordon on keybs. Stetson's contribution here was reminiscent of his own solo work: basically a low droning soundfield to add gravity below Neufeld's ascendant figures. Gordon's synth basically fulfilled the same function — at times the two merged into one another — and that gave a thick fog as Neufeld also added some wordless vocalisations. This was definitely intriguing stuff.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Those same chatterers were mostly content to continue their conversations as Evening Hymns took the stage — problematic as at the start it was just Jonas Bonnetta and Sylvie Smith leading off with a hushed "Arrows". Behind them was a circular screen with an image that I took to be a full moon — though as the music began, there was slow movement on the screen and I realized it was a shot of trees. Jared Raab's projections would mostly stay in the forest, shifting along with the songs — and soon the duo on stage would expand into a full band.

Evening Hymns is always Bonnetta, usually Smith, and otherwise whichever friends are at hand. Here we had some members of The Wooden Sky as well as Shaun Brodie and Mika Posen. Bonnetta commented that they'd be "playing all the classics", and standing on the big stage with the arch rising over his head — and Gavin Gardiner tearing out guitar solos — this felt more like the Opera House in '09 than last summer's album release spectacular. By the end, as the group closed with "Mtn. Song", the visuals were rapidly spinning behind them.

That's all to say this was a retrospective moment for a band now at the cusp of transition and renewal. With Bonnetta publicly retiring some of his more emotionally weighty songs from last year's Spectral Dusk, there's going to be space in the setlist to fill. I'm actually hoping he follows through with hints of a step sideways into "ambient drone material" — that sort of stuff would be perfect at an intimate, sit-down Wavelength night.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Although it was getting late — it was now past one a.m. — there was still a full house waiting for Do Make Say Think. Coming back from a mini-hiatus, this band was also in the mood for a journey through their back catalogue. Just as when I had last seen 'em, the band were in their "original five" configuration, playing without the horns and strings and guests that expand their songs from widescreen to Imax. And though there were a few spots where I could hear the horn section in my head punching the songs into the stratosphere, this was still plenty big, even in this alignment.

With double drummers at the back and multi-tasking musicians up front, there was a lot going on. Ohad Benchetrit, Justin Small and Charles Spearin would each juggle guitars and bass with horns and keyboards, often with the latter at the beginnings of songs before cracking things up for the guitar-rockin' conclusions. Small (who, as always, was the main speaking voice of the band between songs) talked about the importance of the "rock'n'roll nap" before such a late set. He also apologized that none of the band's new material was ready to be played yet, but they made up for that with some deep cuts, including & Yet & Yet closer "Anything for Now" — which they had never done live before — and going all the way back to their debut for "If I Only…". Playing for nearly and hour and a half, I wasn't expecting a set nearly that long, but it was most welcome, even if it meant a late end to the night.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Night 4 — Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Garrison — feat. Cell Memory & Castle If / Legato Vipers / Henri Fabergé & the Adorables / The Magic / Cookie Duster / Dusted

The Venue: Back at the site of the final phase of Wavelength's weekly incarnation, The Garrison feels like home. All the more so, given how ever since its opening, it's been evolving and getting that "lived-in" vibe. Now as much a taco-totin' local hang-out as a place to see a show, the incremental changes to the room — the wall of seats, the new bar at the back — have re-shaped it into a more comfortable space.

The Show: With six bands on the bill, things got started only minutes after the doors opened, with Cell Memory & Castle If taking the stage as early-arrivers were showing up. Though remaining cloaked in mystery, I knew a bit about the band from when I saw them playing in December. Here, though, the duo that I had encountered there were rounded out by a drummer, and that definitely gave more propulsion to the music. Although that shouldn't be mistaken for an undue concern with forward drive — the mode here was sheer motorik drone, and the songs built tension from holding still as much as possible while racing along nowhere Faust. Insistent synth patterns burbled underneath floating clouds of guitar (there was some e-bow action here) — this is the sort of stuff I dig a lot. Jess Forrest's vocals were buried underneath it all, half-comprehensible phrases rendered more mysterious for being delivered in German. That was a propos for this highly expressionist music — I almost expected to see Mabuse lurking back in the shadows somewhere.

In twenty minutes, the band only tackled two long songs. I would have gladly heard more, as this was maybe my favourite set of the festival. Although the band doesn't seem to be eager to share too information about themselves, they are present online, so keep an eye out for future shows.

Listen to a song from this set here.

There was a full one-eighty after that, with the night switching over to full-on party mode. You might not know the members of Legato Vipers by name, but this is a crew of some of the best players in the Guelph/Toronto axis. You might recognize 'em if you've seen, say, Del Bel, Bry Webb, Skeletones Four or Biblical lately. Or, in this case, you might not have noticed them at all, as for this set they were accompanied by The Harlettes, who performed live burlesque routines to the band's surf-rock originals. Using the power of a smile (as well as leaving something to the imagination) the performers each brought their winning personalities (and, um, spinning pasty tassels) for an empowered, sexy spin on the old-fashioned sleaze. This was enormously fun. Oh, right: there was music, too. It was pretty good.

Listen to a song from this set here.

No band could ever contain Henry Fletcher (or, shall we say, his alter ego Henri Fabergé). Even when The Adorables were in full force, there was never really a sense that was going to proceed in the usual manner. There was an album, but after the collective burst that that emerged from dissipated, there were only murmurs. A lot of the players on that went to to renown in their own projects, while Henri Fabergé would emerge in multimedia spectacles dedicated to profiling the details of his fake autobiography.

And here he was, putting the band back together. For most of those assembled on stage, this looked like a gleeful opportunity to have a fun time — in particular, it looked like Laura Barrett and Maylee Todd were having their own private sock hop — but it was a more world-weary Fabergé that came out in his leiderhosen, Mardi Gras chain around his neck and trumpet and canteen near at hand. He sang his songs of unrequited love (and suggested onanistic solutions to same) as the group sing-along spectacle exploded behind him. Eventually, of course, he'd rip off his shirt and dive into the crowd as the band called out, "fuck you, Henri!" — this is just how these things go.

The crazy-quilt of contributors was not a purist representation of the 2006 Adorables line-up (if such a thing could exist anyway). Besides older hands like Dana Snell and Andy Scott I spotted Robin Hatch on keybs and The Wuar Wuars (who are often seen dancing at Maloo shows). The music was a similar hodgepodge, with songs from the Adorables album mixed with more recent pageant pieces. But the sum total was quite exhilarating and rather a success. Word is that there's a new transmedia spectacle in process, so keep an eye out.

Listen to a song from this set here.

That's exactly the sort of spontaneous party that one would expect to break out when The Magic play — but this time out, they couldn't quite match that level of anarchic glee. Although this is a band that can generate a get-your-dance-on spectacle when they want to (such as this summer's album release party that arrived as a full-on Midnight Special tribute) there are signs that the band may be taking tentative steps towards "maturing". There's certainly a deeper appreciation of songcraft from frontman Geordie Gordon, and hints that he wants to produce something a bit more resonant than disco-fied anthems. The band itself has also been in flux — co-vocalist Sylvie Smith, for one, though back in the fold for this show has been busy touring with Evening Hymns and away from the band for awhile. Hitting on both those themes, Andrew Collins (of Skeletones Four) was playing keybs, and injecting some darker tones.

That's not to say that the band is suddenly dour or anything — Geordie Gordon emerged in a cape, after all, over his western shirt. And the songs still have an ebullient spirit. So even if this wasn't the band at their ragged-gold-standard best, it was a fun time, and they remain a band I'd go see pretty much any time.3

Listen to a song from this set here.

The night's star power would come from Cookie Duster's headlining set. Though billed as their live debut, my understanding is that the new/old project from Brendan Canning did actually play a handful of gigs in its original incarnation, before his attention was sidetracked by the success of Broken Social Scene. Rebooting itself with last summer's When Flying Was Easy, they were a six-piece here, with supplemental star power in the form of Change of Heart's Rob Higgins on bass and Matt Murphy on guitar.

Perhaps befitting that old/new dynamic, the band did feel a little out-of-time, as if they were drawing from a set of influences completely out of step with anything else out there right now. There were some hints of early 90's funk rock in there — not, like, at Bootsauce levels or anything — though Big Audio Dynamite came to mind a bit. That was leavened with a spiky power-pop sensibility, and some of the songs wouldn't have sounded completely out-of-place on his Something for All of Us... solo-via-BSS effort. Cutting against that, the best curveballs came with Jeen O'Brien's vocal contributions.

Given that everyone at hand is an old pro, this went pretty smoothly for a first gig. My sensibility, mind you, lies a bit in the other direction — so I wouldn't mind at all if, once this has gelled as a live thing, the band set to scuffing up these songs a little bit more. In any case, one gets the impression that having these musicians bouncing ideas off each other could push this from feeling old/new into something new/new.

Listen to a song from this set here.

The night closed out with a set from "secret guests" Dusted, who had (in a bit of almost-perfect symmetry) played at the pre-festival in-store show a few nights before. Although the band is based on a solid idea — gussying up some of Brian Borcherdt's solo songs into something more sonically adventurous than the regular singer-songwriter fare — I must confess that I didn't particularly "get" the project the first time I saw it live. Backed by Leon Taheny on drums and keybs, Borcherdt's laments (and guitar tone) are swathed in layers of reverb — and if that's pushed too far it can consign everything to pool of sonic mush.

Subsequent samplings — including this set — have kept the ratios correct, and now I see why a lot of folks got excited last year for their Total Dust album. With a fragile smile (but looking like he could be knocked over with a feather), Borcherdt evinces the same weary vulnerability that he essays in his songs, while Taheny adds more subtle textures than could be expected from someone playing two instruments at once. Even after ducking into the backstage area to find a replacement guitar, this was a fine sounding set, its echoing weariness a proper sort of nightcap for the festival.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Overall, a really great festival — you should start planning your next Family Day around FOURTEEN. And Wavelength isn't just a once-a-year thing — besides the upcoming ALL CAPS excursion, the next few WL nights (March 21, March 29, April 16) are already listed.


1 Williams can be seen on stage with Hobson's Choice, THOMAS and Bahamas, and probably umpteen more bands.

2 Though for my money, it's far more interesting to think of her as a member of Bell Orchestre and, more recently, The Luyas.

3 I'll certainly be there when they'll be appearing beside Hooded Fang at The Bicycles' album release party, coming up on April 4, 2013 at Lula Lounge.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Recording: Blue Hawaii

Artist: Blue Hawaii

Song: In Two*

Recorded at The Great Hall: BLK BOX ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 2"), February 15, 2013.

Blue Hawaii - In Two

My quick notes for this set can be found here.

* Thanks to everyone who passed the title along.

Recording: THIGHS

Artist: THIGHS

Song: Tunnelr

Recorded at The Great Hall: BLK BOX ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 2"), February 15, 2013.

THIGHS - Tunnelr

My quick notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Fresh Snow

Artist: Fresh Snow

Song: Nautical Smoke*

Recorded at The Shop under Parts & Labour ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 1"), February 14, 2013.

Fresh Snow - Nautical Smoke

My quick notes for this set can be found here.

* Thanks to Brad and Tim for passing along the title to this one.

Recording: This Mess

Artist: This Mess

Song: Stuck in the Cracks

Recorded at The Shop under Parts & Labour ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 1"), February 14, 2013.

This Mess - Stuck in the Cracks

My quick notes for this set can be found here.

Currente calamo: Wavelength THIRTEEN Festival (Part I)

THIRTEEN: The Wavelength 13th Anniversary Festival

While it's all fresh in my mind, a few notes from this year's WL Fest. Longer, more comprehensive reviews will follow down the road a piece.

So — what is Wavelength at thirteen? Easy cracks about the venerable concert series entering its awkward teenage years notwithstanding, the main theme that was evident from this year's anniversary celebrations was of an organization with a mature self-confidence. In its post-weekly-series incarnation, the collective has definitely found certainty in a new organizational principle that is based around the tentpoles of the February festival and summer ALL CAPS excursion. With the assurance that they know the ins and outs of running a multi-night festival, there was a general feeling that everything was running smoothly, meaning that instead of behind-the-scenes drama and worry, the element of chance and risk was left to the artists on stage.

Another thing that really sets the festival apart is its ability to not only showcase bands that are still new and unheralded, but reach back to some of the previously-unheralded success stories that played WL in their formative years and are willing to keep coming back. That meant that veteran bands (like, say, Do Make Say Think, who recently played The Opera House) could serve as a drawing card to get a new audience in front of the emerging groups — and both could radiate a palpable sense of joy at being part of the WL experience. Given how this was a success in terms of programming, execution, affordability and accessibility, this WL festival was also a challenge for other music presenters in the city to raise their game.

Night 1 — Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Shop under Parts + Labour — feat. Slow-Pitch / This Mess / Fresh Snow / Ell V Gore / Lullabye Arkestra

The Venue: Parkdale's Parts + Labour is about the furthest afield that many regular show-goers can be cajoled to get out to — and some avoid it for reasons beyond its location at the western fringes of coolness. The low-ceilinged basement space can set off feelings of claustrophobia, especially when it gets packed. It also has a rep for less-than-high-fidelity sound, and indeed, it's at its best when playing host to rough-and-ready DIY'ers with a naturally scrappy sort of sound. Last fall's renovations to the room (flipping the bar to the opposite long wall) have actually done a lot to improve the flow of the space, but you'll never mistake being there with the feeling of, say, wandering through an open meadow. But sometimes you want to experience the opposite of wandering through an open meadow.

The show: Festival regulars (or astute observers) will notice that the WL formula isn't quite that "there is no formula", as once again a punk-ish night at the basement bomb-shelter of Parts + Labour began with a stylistic curveball. Slow-Pitch is a new nom de guerre for Cheldon Paterson, known for his work with production unit iNSiDEaMiND. He is also known as Professor Fingers, but the separate musical identity is a clear signal to expect something different on stage than the hammed-up fun ProF brought to the Wavelength festival three years ago. Here, the vibe was noir-ish, almost austere, and the sounds were all live and improvised. That meant for a set of atmospheric, ambient-leaning tracks, with as many surface crackles as beats being looped as Paterson flipped records on and off the turntable.

The sounds were generally compelling, but as with many kinds of music being built up in front of your eyes, there were a few static stretches where I was ready for the next layer to propel things forward. That itch was scratched with a couple turns near set's end from local improv sax master Colin Fisher (of Not the Wind, Not the Flag, Elfin Choirs, etc, etc, etc) who used the beatscapes' structures to launch a couple inquiries of his own. As with any improvisation, there were a couple spots where the two sonic modes didn't quite jibe, but there were more parts (a slowly roiling fog here, a skittering scuff to match the needle's scratch there) that intrigued. And, as something that many in the crowd weren't expecting, a nice way to lead off the festival.

Listen to a song from this set here.

SST-inspired hardcore-ish trio This Mess were a bit closer to what one might hear coming down the stairs to P+L on any given night. Celebrating the release of their first full-length States (available on tape or for download), the trio jumped right into their quickly-growing catalogue of songs — usually coming in hundred-second bursts. That works best when the band can careen right from one song to the next, but here the band had some trouble attaining escape velocity — guitarist Matt N-L regretting his decision to change his strings right before the show as he stopped to tune a couple times. Once Matt and John swapped off on guitar and bass, things began to settle in and they charged through the remainder of the set with their usual momentum. By the end, drummer Adham Ghanem was leaning forward over his kit like a sprinter approaching the finish line — before he hopped off at the conclusion to switch back into his role as WL's production manager, keeping things running admirably on time in a whole other capacity.

Listen to a song from this set here.

The pre-festival word from Fresh Snow hinted that a broken-handed bass player would necessitate some sonic shuffling. The promised "synth apocalypse" manifested in the form of a V of keyboards at the front of the stage area, but the players would be visually upstaged by an old-fashioned tube TV1 at their apex which was playing an analogue-fuzzy live visualization, rippling away in time to the music. The stage was otherwise pitch black as the band set into a slow-building piece based around a sampled autohypnosis recording for use in lucid dreaming. The fantastic track, which dominated the set, certainly contained some oscillating, mind-altering properties.

There would only be one other offering in the shortened set before the lights went back up and the band offered the TV to anyone in the crowd willing to drag it home with them. This was a more minimalist presentation than their previous forays into band-obscuring projections and the like, but it was intriguing to see them go with something different. Musically, this was potent stuff, so I imagine that the band at full-strength would be even more of a force.

Listen to a track from this set here.

In contrast to Fresh Snow's blackout, Ell V Gore frontman Elliott Jones was soon fiddling with the lights above the stage to speed up their cycling colours to near-seizure-inducing velocity, which would make for an appropriate pairing with the band's no-wave speedswamp style. The band's rotating drum chair is now occupied by Jay Anderson, which hasn't lead to any major changes in the rhythmic approach, but does give a firm platform for Jones' aggressive knife-slash guitar work. There's a fierce underpinning to the music, whether Jones is leaning back, legs wide to play, or craning forward to engulf the microphone in his mouth. The strobelit flash in the neocortex lingers afterward more in the subconsciousness than in memory — akin to the experience of waking up on an unfamiliar mattress in an alley, sore in unusual places, and with a creeping suspicion you were up to something wrong.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Lullabye Arkestra, who closed out the first night, have famously played nearly all of Wavelength's anniversaries: The actually met at the first festival in 2001, and their absence from last year's fest was necessitated by their daughter's birth.2 Even if drummer Justin Small would characterize Valentine's Day being to real lovers what St. Patrick's Day is to real drinkers (completely missing the point to those that practice it every day), the timing of this post-parental-leave return to action was still a reminder that Small's romance with bassist/vocalist Kat Taylor-Small is at the heart of their churning rock'n'roll. Showing few signs of rust, the pair knocked out a fairly ferocious set.

Starting with "We Fuck the Night", they'd be joined by Nick Taylor on guitar for a few songs, giving shades of the LAST time the band played the festival. Just as they were storming into "Ass Worship", the power cut out on the PA, but with pounding drums and shout-along spirit, they seemed hardly derailed. Maybe because the very idea of the band is so compelling — oh, and the knock-you-down rock-storm of their live shows — I've come to rather appreciate Lullabye Arkestra, and it was a good feeling to have them back among us.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Night 2 — Friday, February 15, 2013

The Great Hall: BLK BOX — feat. THIGHS / Blonde Elvis / Blue Hawaii / Cadence Weapon / Doldrums

The Venue: Formerly known as the Theatre Centre (which has decamped down the street), the lower level of The Great Hall has been re-branded with an unfortunately abbrviatd name. To the good, however, there has been a bit of work put into the space. Somewhat disorientingly, the layout of the floor (the room is a sort of analogue of the Great Hall above, with a circular balcony running all the way around the room above the main level) had been flipped one-hundred-eighty degrees, with the seating risers removed and a new stage in their place.

That does serve to open up the room and improves the flow with the main stairway (that was formerly behind the stage) now the main access between levels. Sadly, the benefits of that are currently somewhat minimized as the entry doors that go right out to street level on Dovercourt aren't being used — to stay in the neighbours' good graces, I hear — meaning it's a bit of a up-one-stairway-and-down-another winding trip to attain ingress.

But most importantly, there is a brand-new powerful PA in place. The sound crew were just getting used to it at this show (there were a few spots in the room with mushy sound, indicating they haven't figured out all the nuances yet) but there were moments that hinted this could be a worthy space to hear a gig in. My understanding is that the room will be marketed mostly to the DJ/electronic music crowd, so we'll see how many chances there will be to hear bands there.

Most noteworthy at this show were the visuals: a cut-out Toronto skyline animated by pulsating projections supplied by Live Action Fezz. Definitely a visual representation of the living, vibrating city animated in part by Wavelength.

The Show: At the start of the night, I wasn't sure if that new PA was going to get put to the test by THIGHS. When I've seen 'em before, they were noteworthy for their wall of amplifiers which acted as their own sound system. That wall was indeed in place in front of the stage as they got the night started — its an arrangement that's pretty effective at putting the band right up against the crowd. That's especially true for vocalist Mark Colborne (also of Pants + Tie) who will generally range as far as his mic cord will allow.

The floor was loosely filled this early in the night, and looking down from the balcony above, there was no clear demarcation between the band and the crowd — as if it just happened that these four guys had wandered up first and grabbed the instruments. Such casualness would be belied by their locked-in focus, and if the spectacle of what the band does is reduced a bit after seeing them a couple times, it's made up for the by the force of the blow the music lands with.3

Listen to a song from this set here.

Things moved up to the stage proper after that for Blonde Elvis. Fronted by Jesse James Laderoute (in a dapper turtleneck/gold chain/white pants combo), the band serves as the let's-have-a-good-time id to the consider-the-consequences superego of his main project Young Mother. Having only played a handful of gigs, this is a band that's still finding its sound — there was more tasty guitar work than when I'd seen them previously, for example — but the underlying message is generally along the lines of "it's Saturday night, let's have a drink!" Even if they come off as a group that you might find passing around a flask in a stylish back alley, that doesn't conceal that they're building up a repertoire of well-crafted pop songs.

Listen to a song from this set here.

After that, it felt all at once like there was suddenly a whole different crowd in place in the suddenly-packed room. In terms of anticipation and the level of excitement in the room, Blue Hawaii were the night's de facto headliners. Raphalle Preston-Standell is known for her work in Braids, and surely some of that band's buzz was rubbing off on this project. Here, providing vox and manipulations, she's in a duo with Alexander Cowan, who was manning a big table of electronics. The songs were beat-driven but not particularly pop-structured, and sounding positively great in the room — this was definitely a proof-of-concept for what that new PA system could do.

That said, I must confess it wasn't doing much for me, and by the end I was mostly reduced to an indifferent shrug. The impression that the live set gave was that Preston-Standell was drawing from the least-interesting elements in Braids' music, delivering repurposed Björk-isms over generic beatscapes. But I shouldn't quite let that be my last word on this act, and would offer two caveats: first, this was proclaimed by almost everyone I talked with to be one of the highlights of the festival; and second, I have heard that the pair's recorded output relies more on textured nuances that might win me over a little more. We shall see.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Just as Rollie Pemberton (who records as Cadence Weapon) is now oft-mentioned as being from "Montréal-via-Calgary", his music has always thrived on keeping his feet in different camps — a rapper who travels in indie rock circles. It means that he has a wider range of pop culture references to draw on (I have no data, but I can't imagine a lot of other rappers can be so blasé as they slip in a Richard Hell reference) and a wider range of scene politics that he can riff on. But most importantly, in a live setting he can bring it as an MC, relying on stage presence and verbal dexterity to keep a show moving without getting caught up in the indulgences that weigh down a lot of hip-hop music. The set drew from last year's Hope in Dirt City but wasn't limited to profiling it, reaching back for a few older cuts ("Real Estate" was sounding pretty good) as well as debuting a new one. Pemberton took care to talk about his links to Wavelength, sending a shout-out to Spiral Beach while recalling playing to eight (or so) people at his first time through T.O. — this is how WL brings things full circle.

Listen to a song from this set here.

The real legacy of Spiral Beach is only now starting to be felt, with all of its members currently involved in noteworthy bands. I've been seeing Airick Woodhead developing as Doldrums for almost three years now, so it's been interesting to see the project continually metastasizing and mutating to the point of congealing into the brand-new Lesser Evil album. Playing with a rotating cast of musicians (though his brother Daniel "Moon King" Woodhead and Steven Foster — both on stage here — are often in the mix), in a live setting his music has always sailed on the choppy waters of indeterminacy, the performance buoyed by the fact that things could get weird or go wrong at any moment.

So, a few technical hiccups here (with one song being stopped and patchcords being puzzled over before it got a do-over) seemed downright professional from an artist who, as a relatively-unknown bottom-of-the-bill performer at the WL festival two years ago pressed play on a Madonna track and jumped off the stage to go grab a mid-set beer. In any case, given how Woodhead's amorphous pop sensibility had been slowly sublimated into actual songs — and damn good ones — it was amusing to see that ol' randomness intruding back on them once again.

Listen to a song from this set here.


1 Do you have ANY IDEA how old it makes me feel to have to distinguish what I always thought of as a "regular TV" in that way? Sigh.

2 Sometime while Burning Love were playing, by Justin Small's calculation.

3 THIGHS will be celebrating the vinyl reissue of last year's cassette (alongside DAS RAD, also celebrating a new album) at The White House on Friday, March 1, 2013.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Recording: Cookie Duster

Artist: Cookie Duster

Song: Daddy's Got The Medicine

Recorded at The Garrison ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 4"), February 17, 2013.

Cookie Duster - Daddy's Got The Medicine

My quick notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Henri Fabergé & the Adorables

Artist: Henri Fabergé & the Adorables

Song: Ventriloquist Love

Recorded at The Garrison ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 4"), February 17, 2013.

Henri Fabergé & the Adorables - Ventriloquist Love

My quick notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Legato Vipers

Artist: Legato Vipers

Songs: Brian Wilson's Beard + unknown*

Recorded at The Garrison ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 4"), February 17, 2013.

Legato Vipers - Brian Wilson's Beard + unknown

My quick notes for this set can be found here.

* Does anyone know the title to this one? Please leave a comment!

Recording: Cell Memory & Castle If

Artist: Cell Memory & Castle If

Song: Neuwellen*

Recorded at The Garrison ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 4"), February 17, 2013.

Cell Memory & Castle If - Neuwellen

My quick notes for this set can be found here.

* Thanks to Tiana for passing the title to this one along.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Recording: Do Make Say Think

Artist: Do Make Say Think

Song: Anything for Now

Recorded at The Great Hall ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 3"), February 16, 2013.

Do Make Say Think - Anything for Now

My quick notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Doom Squad

Artist: Doom Squad

Song: Riders On The Storm [The Doors cover]

Recorded at The Great Hall ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 3"), February 16, 2013.

Doom Squad - Riders On The Storm

My quick notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Bernice

Artist: Bernice

Song: Elbow Room*

Recorded at The Great Hall ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 3"), February 16, 2013.

Bernice - Elbow Room

My quick notes for this set can be found here.

* Thanks to Robin for passing the title to this one along. Keep an eye out for further details of the band's upcoming Spring Equinox show.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Recording: Doldrums

Artist: Doldrums

Song: Jump Up

Recorded at The Great Hall: BLK BOX ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 2"), February 15, 2013.

Doldrums - Jump Up

My quick notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Cadence Weapon

Artist: Cadence Weapon

Song: Come See Me

Recorded at The Great Hall: BLK BOX ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 2"), February 15, 2013.

Cadence Weapon - Come See Me

My quick notes for this set can be found here.

Recording: Blonde Elvis

Artist: A Year of Silence

Song: A Year of Silence

Recorded at The Great Hall: BLK BOX ("Wavelength THIRTEEN – Night 2"), February 15, 2013.

Blonde Elvis - A Year of Silence

My quick notes for this set can be found here.