Boxer The Horse: French Residency



Right in step with a whiff of warm weather comes this lively update of shoegazer pop. Not the down tempo drone-y stuff but the edgy, angular spikey pop side of the genre. They’re also young enough to come over like they’re never heard this stuff before and get away with it.

The blessing in that is they feel no pressure to go full bore on each tune, leaving just enough space within each for the sound of a band figuring shit out. So while they get to drop the hammer on "Bridge To The USA", BTH also knows the value of the changeup with such as "Rattle Your Cage".

This is the second album from this PEI quartet and the kids manage the neat trick of keeping the youthful exuberance while shaping a deeper sound. Apart from lead singer Jeremy Gaudet’s penchant for channelling Pavement main man Stephen Malkmus on occasions like "Sentimental Oriental" and "Song For T-Rex", this isn’t really a recycling project. Although it must have been tempting, given axeman Isaac Neily’s dazzling display of tasty riffola and wicked hooks.

Instead, the arrangements indicate a band going after a heavier, though none the less, sunny brand of East Coast pop. Lyrics like: “It’s not impossible to reach nirvana, when you’re sleeping with pirhanas in Brazil.”, from album opener “Community Affair” support the vision nicely.

The band  has described their album of updated jangle rock as “ a fusion of ’80s alternative and ’90s lo-fi groups.”

That works for me. In a real good way.

Lenny Stoute

Floor Stomping Ska, On A Friday Night


Stomp Records 17th Anniversary Show in Toronto April 13th 2012
Concert promoted by Collective Concerts

Review: Ian Robertson
Photos: Michell Foran

As I was walking up to the Opera House, around 10:05 p.m.,  I knew I was unfortunately too late to see the first 2 opening acts Ghetto Blaster (Toronto Punk/Ska) and The Beatdown (Montreal Soul/Ska). I was hoping I wasn't too late to see Big D & The Kids Table. This would be my third time seeing them live so I knew they would be putting on an amazing show as well with the headliners, The Planet Smashers. I was dealing with the tedious task of getting past the door security when I  heard the music beginning to play, which made me anxious to get in and get to see the band.

As soon as I walked in close enough to see the stage, I heard David McWane (lead singer of Big D & The Kids Table) say, "as you may have already guessed, we are Big D & The Kids Table from Boston", then the band went directly into "Myself" (off their second Album Goodluck) which made myself as well as everybody else that loves Big D, excited because most bands (that have made eight albums)  don't usually play their older songs. Dave later explained they were doing their set in chronological order.

A Tribe Called Red



This album, now available as a free download, gets the sound of this gifted trio down just right. While the communal energy of their live gigs cannot be trapped, the recorded format allows for an appreciation of just how diverse a motherlode A Tribe Called Red is mining.

These three Ottawa area First Nations DJs: DJ NDN, DJ Bear Witness and DJ Shug, have been staging their conceptual Electric Pow Wows on a monthly basis for some time. They act as a showcase for Aboriginal DJ talent and what A Tribe Called Red dubs ‘contemporary urban Native culture’.

As laid out on the album, this refers to a sound inclusive of hip hop, Jamaican dance hall, electronica of many hues, new soul and First Nations traditions. That it all hangs together has to do with the drum, the universal sound of heartbeat, as set up in the opener,  "Electric Pow Wow Drum", which opens with the familiar "heartbeat" of the Big Drum.

Big respect to this crew for not just sampling the original music piecemeal. Instead it’s presented as is and it’s up to the technology to make the merge happen.

Which happens more often than and not and which makes this, among many other noteworthy things, one helluva great dance party album.

ZEUS: Busting visions


Arts & Crafts

Ok, so retro-rock’s the current thang, nobody rocks harder than The Sheepdogs or gets down deeper than Alabama Shakes. Still, gotta like what this T.Dot foursome’s doing with their take on it. First off, they have the chops and have been road dogs long enough that the squirrel-ass tightness is a given.

The debut ‘Say Us’ had all that zingy big-hair guitars sound and all the tons ‘o’ drums you could want but it didn’t sound properly gelled. Like it was just a phase they were going through.

With Busting Visions, no question this is where they live, and all the Beatlesque boo birds be darned. Nothing wrong with fooling with the formula if you can come up with such as  “Hello Tender Love” and  “Messenger’s Way”.  So while there’s nothing new here, there’s much that’s strangely familiar and comes wrapped in positive roock’n’roll associations. Even the classic heartbreak rock of  “Let It Go, Don’t Let It Go” ends up hurting so good and everywhere, catchy hooks and sweet pop harmonies are scattered like Easter eggs.

Baseline, Rob Drake, Mike O’Brien, Neil Quinn, and Carlin Nicholson have delivered a solid classic-derived album from a band confident enough in their strengths to sidestep cheap irony and get on with the rock’n’roll.

Lenny Stoute

John K. Samson : Provincial



On which John K. Samson cements his rep as a major narrative songwriter and underlines his importance to The Weakerthans. Not that there’s anything here that’ll startle a Weakerthan's fan but there’s enough so’s you know this is not another Weakerthans workout. Known for being sharply observational without going judgemental, the boy sure can split a hair. Check the way he deals with his love/hate relationship with hometown Winnipeg in "One Great City."

Elsewhere it’s all about the dichotomy of leaving in and leaving out as laid out by a guy with a longstanding rep as a lyrical powerhouse in the indie/folk community.

"Provincial" is Samson at his relatable best on the topics of wanderlust, isolation, spiritual elation and the chance of getting back to where you’ve never been. At one time or another everyone's felt excluded like the teacher in "The Last And", angry like the student in "Master's Thesis" or jammed up like the character in "Heart of The Continent".

Great Lake Swimmers: New Wild Everywhere



Here’s the fifth album from Great Lake Swimmers and as per usual, ringmaster Tony Dekker has shuffled the deck. This time the team’s a quintet and for the first time, the songs were recorded in a traditional studio. Just as the group’s changed with each album, so did the recording locations. These have included an abandoned grain silo and on an archipelago of islands straddling the U.S.-Canadian border and the results have always been suffused with their environment. Maybe that’s why their first outing in a ‘real’ studio sounds stiff and mannered.

The material is lively enough; introducing flourishes of country and bluegrass into Dekker's roots/ folk and uptempo arrangements abound. Were it not for slow burners like "Cornflower Blue" and "The Knife" you could call this GLS’s ‘party album’.

The title track, driven by blasts of electric guitar and classic Dekker lines like "Rocks jump and jitter”/"The weather breaks, the spirit shakes, and something switches on." is a highlight and  "Think That You Might Be Wrong" and  "The Great Exhale" likewise get it right. But elsewhere, not so much; on "Fields of Progeny" and "Ballad of a Fisherman's Wife", it feels like they’re holding back and unsure of the material.

Just read a review where this same vibe is described as responsible for making this one Great Lakes Swimmers’ most mature and polished album yet.

So spin this one and make your call.

James Lizzard

The Sheepdogs: Learn & Burn



Slavish copying or inspired recreation?  That’s the question this album from Saskatoon’s shaggiest quartet inevitably raises. The thing’s a complete throwback to the glory days of Seventies classic rock, delivered straight up, no chaser and no apologies.

So yeah, it’s great for playing Spot The Reference; among the easier ones to spot are Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Band, Allman Brothers, here a Beatles, there a Pink Floyd, ‘most everywhere a whiff of The Guess Who.

This band conjures up the soul of period rock’n’roll not only in intent but in their flawless exzecuition and attention to detail. They aren’t trying to reinvent or resurrect anything; they’ve thrashed the barriers between old and new.

This is what separates them from contemporaries like Kings of Leon and The Black Keys and what will carry them far. It’s already taken them from Saskatoon to boat cruising with Kid Rock to three Juno nominations (Best Single, Best Album, Best New Group) on Sunday’s show.

No point in getting into highlights here, as if you’re into this kind of thing, there’s not a false note to be found. Myself, I liked the cheekiness of “Catfish 2 Boogaloo” and the Zeppelinesque strut of “ I Don’t Know”.

Just like The Band revived American Southern Gothic for the American market, The Sheepdogs have to know this stuff’s gonna to go over large in the U.S. even without that Rolling Stone cover.

This way to the bank y’all.

James Lizzard

Dizzy G: Wild Women



This un’s all about da blooze, playing 'em, living 'em, loving ‘em, served up with affection and humour by a seasoned road warrior.

The dude known as Dizzy G has done his time in the bar wars, regularly heading out from his Moncton base to spread the love. While the Dizzy G band is currently a quartet, Da D-Man turned to a handful of special guests to flesh out the more high-spirited of the album’s 13 tracks.

Of high spirits there is no lack, likewise with that good ol’ Canadian homeboy humour.

F’r instance there’s the title track, a shakeass blues rock boogie for all the wild women we’ve lusted after, been awed by and sometimes thrashed by. Made funnier by the 58-second follow-up, ‘The Hangover’, a snippet of the wild women’s morning after during which someone threatens to kill a dog.

Overall, this is part beer drinking party and part slow blues for the ladies. If there’s a theme here it’s observations on the bar life from a working musician’s perspective.

Makes sense then that it opens with the bar band’s workhorse, 8-bar blues. “G Spot” comes out in shufle time with sparkling guitars riding atop and a squaking harmonica keeping it rootsy.

Dizzy’s guitar skills are more advanced than the vocal chops but that’s only occasionally problematic and only delete-worthy on “Endless Life”.

Big props to the dude for introducing us to vocalist Charnelle Armstrong who gets it all perfect on “ I Can’t Remember”, working smoothly with the squalling, strident guitars.

Yukon Blonde: Tiger Talk


Dine Alone Records

It’s been four years since Yukon Blonde released their first EP, Everything in Everyway, to critical attention. That was followed by the full-length self titled debut which stayed prertty much in the same room as Everything…In that time,the Kelowna, B.C’s . shaggy rockers have taken their sound all the way to Australia and Japan, with good results.

Which show up large on Tiger Talk; namely the band sounds more familiar with the ways of anthemic rock and the overall sound is more ‘live’. Guitars are louder and more gritty, the bass is heavier, the drums more precise and muscular. Vocals and harmonies remain as commercially appealing as ever; the Blondes are savvy enough not to stray too far from what works.

So you like their choruses? The ones on “My Girl” and “Stairway” veer close to drunken last call singalong, sure to please fratboys everywhere. Same vibe but out of the bar and into the stadium with the swerve driving guitar riffage on “Radio” and  the harder-edged “Sweet Dee”. All wrapped in the brilliant silks of the band’s Seventies rock sensibility. As Yukon Blonde become better known, the sword’s double edges loom sharper.

Go for the harder side, stack up that fan base and make it on their own or stay in the commercial mainstream with a shot at becoming the next Nickleback. But in a better  way. Especially when it comes to a road trip album.

James Lizzard

The Shins: Port of Morrow


Sony Music Canada

The sacking of two long-standing members doesn’t  appear to have made much of a diff in The Shins sound on this their first for major label bosses Sony Music Canada.

Except for the quirky soul of the title track, this is clever-smart artrock, marrying lead Shin James Mercer’s startling non sequiters to melodic altrock. Not the most original splice but it does conjure resonances of some of the best of 80s UK indie rock. On that front, the best are the anthemic "40 Mark Strasse" and the dark jingle-jangle of "Simple Song" But there’s more to this collection than that and it has a lot to do with the absence of keyboard player Marty Crandall and drummer Jesse Sandoval, fired by Mercer after the band's 2007 tour and bassist Dave Hernandez who was turfed at some point during the recording of the album. Those bridges it seemed, need to be burnt in order for Mercre to take The Shins from the spiky altrock of Oh, Inverted World to the hook savvy, mainstreamy sound on this ‘un.

Gone too are the teen and twentysomething angst and misapprehensions which kept The Shins in four albums so it makes sense Mercer is more interested in grown up songwriting and matching subject matter. Full credit, he manages the transition with style and a sense of entitlement, dropping lyrics like  "Every single story is a story about love”/"both the overflowing cup and the painful lack thereof" on 40 Mark Strasse, and a top class chorus you won’t soon forget in “For A Fool”.

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