The Unicorns will never die

The Montreal cult band continues to fascinate us nearly 15 years after their one and only album

Once upon a time, during the magical early to mid 2000s, Montreal experienced its very own musical renaissance. To many fans and critics, it was reminiscent of the surge in Seattle grunge music, which ruled the airwaves during the early to mid 1990s. The hometown of Leonard Cohen had become the new mecca of cool, especially among indie rock enthusiasts.

By 2005, Spin Magazine dubbed Montreal “the next big thing” and The New York Times fawned over the city’s “explosive music scene.” Among the most notable bands were The Dears, The Stills, Sam Roberts Band, Stars and, of course, Arcade Fire—the band that would come to rule the indie rock music world and win the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2011.

However, one Montreal-based band may seem like a mere footnote of this wondrous musical awakening, having left the party as quickly as they came. They released their one and only LP in October 2003 and, by December 2004, were no more. They were The Unicorns.

Formed in 2000, the band consisted of Nick “Neil Diamonds” Thorburn (lead vocals, guitar),  Alden “Ginger” Penner (vocals, bass, keys) and Jamie “J’aime Tambeur” Thompson (drums). When describing their debut album, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?, music critics often referred to them as “goofy,” “messy” and “whimsical.” While valid, these descriptions downplayed the band’s remarkable ability to write insanely catchy hooks and melodies that resist the standard verse/chorus/verse structure. The jangly indie-pop trio had an experimental streak, but they still evoked a familiar feeling. Above all, their tracks were truly an extension of their unique, hilarious personalities.

Few songs about dying and the fear of it are as fun as the LP’s opening track, “I Don’t Wanna Die.” The album also includes a few eerily beautiful, synth-heavy 80s songs that would fit seamlessly into a Stranger Things episode, notably “Tuff Ghost” and “Inoculate the Innocuous.”

“Sea Ghost” kicks off with perhaps the greatest recorder solo ever—it’s a standout track that encapsulates the chemistry between Thorburn and Penner. “Jellybones” is an example of the band’s ability to mix and mash different tempos and genres on a single track. “The Clap” stands out as the heaviest song on the album, illustrating how The Unicorns were willing—and able—to be much darker stylistically. “Child Star” is the most melancholy track on the album, a reminder that, despite their cartoonish antics and lyrics, this was a band capable of creating beautifully layered tracks.

“I Was Born (A Unicorn)” begins with a charming guitar riff accompanied by the simple, steady and heavy beating of a snare drum. This leads to a chaotic chorus of instruments and an amusing exchange between Thorburn and Penner, singing “we’re The Unicorns / we’re more than horses.” They literally whine their way to the end of the song.

The album closes out with the anthemic “Ready To Die,” which foreshadowed the band’s eventual breakup a year later, announced by a simple message on their website: “THE UNICORNS ARE DEAD, (R.I.P.).”

With lyrics that hover between morbidly curious and fantastically silly, this group’s manic energy and the sheer undeniable catchiness of their tunes have made The Unicorns a cult band. While many of their indie rock contemporaries have reached dizzying heights or terrifying lows, The Unicorns came and went like a shooting star, without ever disappointing us. Now that’s a unicorn indeed.

The Unicorns Who Will Cut

Our Hair When We’re Gone?

(Alien8 Recordings, 2003)

“I Don’t Wanna Die”

“Tuff Ghost”

“Ghost Mountain”

“Sea Ghost”


“The Clap”

“Child Star”

“Let’s Get Known”

“I Was Born (A Unicorn)”

“Tuff Luff”

“Inoculate the Innocuous”

“Les Os”

“Ready to Die”


Moonlight: A story of friendship, guilt and identity

Directed by Barry Jenkins, the film has racked up eight Oscars nominations

Moonlight, a coming-of-age story of a young African-American growing up in inner-city Miami while coming to terms with his own sexuality, may not exactly seem universal at first. But its themes of identity, friendship, guilt and acceptance certainly are.

Written and directed by Barry Jenkins, the film stars Trevante Rhodes, Ashton Sanders, Mahershala Ali, Alex R. Hibbert, André Holland, Naomie Harris and Janelle Monáe. Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, the film has received universal acclaim and has been nominated for eight Oscars.

“At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you gonna be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you.” This is the proverbial maxim in Jenkins’ modern masterpiece, Moonlight. The film chronicles its protagonist in three chapters of his life: the young “Little” (Hibbert), the adolescent “Chiron” (Sanders), and the adult “Black” (Rhodes).

Those simple words of wisdom are spoken early on in the film by Juan (Ali, in a career-defining role), a kindly, if not modest, local drug dealer who befriends the often bullied and neglected Little. In fact, his enlightening words arguably set into motion the often painful process of self-discovery that our young protagonist undergoes throughout the film.

Any lingering questions regarding the unlikely friendship between an older, genteel drug dealer and a quiet, reserved young boy are quickly made irrelevant in large part because of the instant, tender chemistry between both characters. Juan and his girlfriend Teresa (Monáe) quickly establish themselves as surrogate guardians, filling the emotional void left by Little’s erratic mother Paula (Harris)—a young single parent in the throes of drug addiction. When Juan angrily confronts Paula, asking, “You gonna raise your son?,” she defiantly shoots back, “You gonna keep selling me rocks?” There is a definite power struggle between these two parental figures.

The middle chapter focuses on the emerging bond between adolescents Chiron and Kevin (Jharrel Jerome). While Kevin is reserved, mostly silent and continuously bullied, his friend is much louder, more boastful and much more confident. Their pivotal scene on the beach, under the moonlight, is perhaps Jenkins’ finest-directed one in the entire film—the dialogue is eloquent, the setting is serene and its conclusion is satisfyingly romantic.

By the time we revisit our protagonist as an adult 10 years later, Black (now played by Rhodes) looks to be in stark contrast to his past self. He is physically imposing and intimidating, and stylistically, he is an homage to Juan. However, the facade quickly reveals itself the moment he receives a surprise call from Kevin. The vulnerability is evident in Blacks shifting gaze, as if he is instantly reverted back to his younger, unsure self. In the emotionally-devastating climactic end of the film, Kevin bluntly asks him, “Who is you, man?” and we are reminded of Juan’s words of wisdom. “At some point, you gotta decide for yourself who you gonna be…”

Music Quickspins

The Lumineers – Cleopatra

The Lumineers – Cleopatra (Dualtone, 2016)

Coming off of their massively successful self-titled debut album in 2012, which featured the smash hit “Ho Hey,” The Lumineers surely knew the pressures of delivering with their sophomore album, Cleopatra. If their debut was boisterous, upbeat, and playful, the latter is more subdued, melancholic and contemplative. Since going from relative obscurity to global fame and selling out arenas across the globe, here we find a world-weary band that attempts to reconnect with their audience through intimacy. Fans expecting more of the same foot-stomping indie folk anthems may be slightly let down initially by this sudden restraint. Most importantly, however, Cleopatra also effectively showcases a band that has matured both lyrically and musically.

Trial Track: ”Ophelia”


Music Quickspins

Kurt Cobain — Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings

Kurt Cobain — Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings (Universal Music, 2015)

Listening to Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings is not unlike reading Kurt Cobain’s diary. These home recordings are akin to random scraps of paper from Nirvana’s musical booklet. However, these snippets, consisting of half-written demos, instrumental experiments and spoken word recordings, are nonetheless fascinating. It’s a testament to Cobain himself, who has been discovered, re-discovered, and mythologized by every single generation since his untimely death in 1994. Whether or not Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings is exploitative, there’s no doubt that Kurt Cobain’s music will continue to captivate music fans for a long time to come.

Trial Track: ‘’And I Love Her’’



Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (Interscope/Aftermath/Top Dawg; 2015)

A number of themes are explored throughout this album: the dangerous temptations within modern hip-hop, the never-ending tensions surrounding race relations in America, and the perpetual clash between the Blakean notions of innocence versus experience; all are tied back to Lamar’s rise to the top. Despite the bravado displayed by the 27-year-old rapper, songs such as “u” reveal an insecure side, one that is consumed by feelings of resentment, guilt, and self-doubt. Lamar ties his very soul to his musical artistry. Lamar sings about Lucifer’s temptations (or “Lucy”) that manifest themselves in the form of money, fame, and success, and these are offered in exchange for his artistic freedom. This serves as a reminder to himself and a warning to others. K-Dot sets the musical tone for his latest album with the opener, “Wesley’s Theory,” a jazz/funk-infused track produced by the legendary George Clinton. Halfway through the song however, Dr. Dre offers the prodigal son of Compton a key piece of life advice: “anybody can get it, the hard part is keeping it.”

Trial Track: “The Blacker The Berry”


Kelly Clarkson – Piece by Piece

Kelly Clarkson – Piece by Piece (RCA Records; 2015)

The appropriately-titled album opener and first single, “Heartbeat Song,” is a sweeping pop ballad which instantly gives life to Kelly Clarkson’s latest record, Piece by Piece, her third No. 1 album on Billboard. With a distinctive and powerful voice backed by electro instrumentals and heavy percussion, Clarkson sounds like a less quirky version of Florence + The Machine on more than a few tracks. Among the highlights of this album is “Run, Run, Run,” a beautiful piano duet alongside John Legend. Life has changed drastically for the former American Idol winner since her last record, Stronger (2011), especially having been married and given birth to her first child. Thus, the themes of this album become quite clear early on: fighting through adversity and the subsequent need for optimism, ultimately leading to self-empowerment.

Trial Track: “Heartbeat Song”


The Barr Brothers: A Homecoming

The band’s Metropolis show had the audience fall in love with their heart-wrenching songs all over again

It would be an understatement to simply call The Barr Brothers a folk-rock band. With an eclectic sound that utilizes xylophones, a harp, and an African string instrument known as the ngoni, not to mention the various musical influences fusing everything from blues to bluegrass, the band defies categorization.

The Montreal-based group consists of the brothers Barr (Andrew; guitar/lead vocals, Brad; drums, Sarah Pagé; harp, and Andres Vial;keyboards). Halfway through the show, Andrew Barr surveyed the sold-out crowd at the Metropolis, looking notably surprised but grateful by such a large turnout.

Photo by Steve Gerrard.

Opening the show was Bahamas, a Toronto-based band led by the talented guitar-wielding Afie Jurvanen. While they served a dose of hard rock that in line with the headliner of the night, their hour-long set dragged on nearing the end.

Although the Barr Brothers may be known for their beautiful folk arrangements such as “Beggar in the Morning”, this particular night served as a surprising tribute to their heavier tunes, complete with multiple solos (and yes, that includes a harp solo). Songs such as “Half Crazy”, with a blues riff which screams old school cool, was easily among the crowd favourites. However, as evidenced by “How The Heroine Dies”, sometimes the most intimate songs are the best way to energize the crowd. Huddled around a lone mic, with a single spotlight on Andrew Barr and co., the song encapsulated the band’s ‘heart on its sleeves’ sensibilities.

Speaking of lights, a word of advice to the person in charge of lighting effects at the Metropolis: please don’t try to upstage the wonderfully talented band on stage with your near seizure-inducing flashing lights that forced half the crowd to look away during the entirety of a song. Both the fans and the musicians deserve better.

The Barr Brothers’ latest album, Sleeping Operator (Secret City Records), is available in stores and on iTunes


The Head and the Heart cannot be still

The Seattle-based band discuss their latest album and inspirations

The Concordian had a chance to speak with The Head and the Heart’s vocalist and guitarist, Josiah Johnson, as the band prepared to embark on their North American tour to showcase their most recent album, Let’s Be Still. Based out of Seattle, the band became a true grassroots success story when they self-funded and self-released their self-titled debut album in 2011 before eventually being signed onto the city’s most famous music label, Sub Pop. Johnson discussed the popularity of folk-rock, how a city shapes a band, and the pressures of creating a successful follow-up album.

The Head and the Heart discuss the current popularity of folk-rock and the diversity of their native city, Seattle. Photo by: Curtis Wave Millard.

The Concordian: In the past few years, the popularity of folk-rock has just skyrocketed: Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, and The Head and the Heart have been leading the way. What would you say has led to the popularity of the folk pop genre?

Johnson: I think that’s a reaction to over-produced music. Folk-rock holds a certain nostalgia to it. It’s inspired by a sense of calm. I also think that it’s a bit of a cure for a modern, fast paced world. It allows for self-reflection and quiet space.


C: The most remarkable thing is the fact that you guys all gained that popularity with your debut album. What type of pressure and/or expectations did you put on yourselves when you entered the studio to record your follow-up album?

J: Well there was a lot pressure to write songs about subjects that we connect with now. The first album was appropriate to where we were when we wrote it and there was little pressure.


C: Your first album was self-funded and self-recorded without a label. This time, you’re part of Sub Pop. How would you contrast the two experiences?

J: During the first album, we were already playing the songs live before we ever recorded it. We went in and just did them quickly. But for the new album, we had a lot more time to really arrange the songs and work on certain subtleties and nuances in the studio. We actually spent 10 weeks recording.


C: Tell me about how the city of Seattle has helped shaped your band.

J: I definitely feel like one thing that’s great about Seattle is the fact that music is such a mainstream celebrated part of the city’s culture. Seattle has plenty of great music festivals and the city council is really concerned with fostering a great musical scene. Seattle just breeds a certain personality to be open to music and really supports their local bands.


C: Do you remember a specific moment when you just thought “Wow, I think we’ve made it”?

J: Before we even had a record out and we had no songs recorded, we were used to playing for around 100-150 people in Seattle, but some of these people had come to see so many shows that they knew the lyrics by heart. They were dedicated enough that they knew our songs already. That was one such moment.


C: I believe the lead singer of The Lumineers (Wesley Schultz) mentioned in an interview that performing their hit song “Ho Hey” has become so automatic now, to the point where there is a sense of detachment when they play it. Do you guys ever feel the same with some of your most popular songs?

J: I think there are times when it feels that way but honestly, those are the bad shows. When you have a really great show, you feel connected to all of your songs. The goal is to get yourself in a certain headspace before every performance, to remind yourself of why you wrote your songs. You want to be blown away at the opportunity to play in front of so many people. Performing on stage, while being in that mindset is a way better feeling than almost anything else. It’s simple: connect with your songs and the audience.

The Head and The Heart will perform at the Corona Theatre on March 29. Admission is $32.



My Goodness carries on the Emerald City’s great rock tradition

My Goodness can sure make a lot of noise for a two-man band. This Seattle-based blues/garage rock duo consists of Joel Schneider on guitar and vocals and Andy Lum on drums.

Both Schneider and Lum grew up in the same neighbourhood. They played in rival bands until they reconnected in 2011 at SXSW Festival in Austin, Texas, where Lum joined the band after their previous drummer left. Playing predominantly in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, the band has just embarked on their first major North American tour, even recently performing at the legendary Bowery Ballroom in New York City.

Schneider simply soaks it all in and relishes the experience of being on tour. He emphasizes that “when it comes down to it, it’s about having fun with the people you’re with. We bring it every night.”

As openers for fellow Seattle-based band,  Augustines, Schneider admits that “the majority of people who’ve seen us [on this tour] don’t know who we are, they’ve never heard our music until we hit that first note.”

“When we play at home, they know us. There’s a difference there,” he adds.

When asked about why he loves being onstage, Schneider replied “because it’s exhilarating. When the crowd is responding with energy, feeling it and getting involved, it’s the most rewarding thing. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else.”

Schneider knows a thing or two about the long arduous road to success and acknowledges how far My Goodness and other Seattle natives have come. He looks back fondly and recalls watching Macklemore perform in relative obscurity for years before becoming the chart-topping success that he is today.

With a proud rock tradition including legendary groups such as the fathers of grunge, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains, it comes as no surprise that Seattle’s vibrant musical scene continues to breed successful bands. Schneider also credits the city’s influential public radio station KEXP with some of the band’s initial success.

“They played our record for weeks, just to have that outlet is pretty rare.”

Both Schneider and Lum also consider themselves blessed to have the opportunity to work with esteemed Seattle-based producer, Rick Parashar, who produced Pearl Jam’s groundbreaking debut album, Ten.

Schneider hasn’t forgotten when My Goodness were playing in front of crowds of under 50 people.

“I think it’s really important for bands to know how to play in front of small crowds.”

My Goodness will perform alongside Augustines at Le Belmont on March 9. Admission is $15. Their new album, Shiver and Shake, comes out June 24.


Bill Burr on hockey, Jerry Seinfeld and Montreal

Photo by Koury Angelo

The Concordian had a nice 15-minute chat with Bill Burr over the phone last Friday. Ten minutes of that interview was spent talking about hockey.

When the Massachusetts native (and Boston Bruins fan) isn’t working on FOX’s hit comedy New Girl, or appearing on AMC’s groundbreaking show Breaking Bad, or telling stories on his popular Monday Morning Podcast, or selling out Carnegie Hall and other major venues across the world, he’s watching hockey.

On this day (Friday, Feb. 21), there’s an important game to be played. It’s the Olympic men’s hockey semi-final between Canada and the U.S. Burr tells me he’s hoping to find a bar in Virginia where he can watch Team USA exact their long-awaited revenge against Team Canada. As we now know, he’s about to be sadly disappointed.

For a widely respected comic who’s becoming increasingly famous by the day, a man known for his hilarious rants, Burr isn’t only easy to talk to, he’s evidently friendly and down-to-earth.

Burr’s already looking forward to his show in Montreal next week, a city which he loves for its beautiful parks, its many restaurants and especially its love of comedy. He’s excited to visit during March (he’s only ever been here for the Just For Laughs festival in the summer). I don’t have the heart to warn him of our ‘spring’ weather.

Despite Burr’s widespread popularity, the man remains humble. When I ask him what he took away from watching Bill Cosby perform recently, he laughs and says “I took away  that I suck [in comparison].”

When I inquired about the possibility of an appearance on Jerry Seinfeld’s webseries, Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, he admits that they’ve already discussed it and it’s now a matter of scheduling. He emphatically adds, “Seinfeld is the king.”

During the ‘90s, he reminds me, the old Montreal Forum was once the “house of horrors” for a Bruins fan. It’s safe to say that in March, the Metropolis should be a veritable house of laughs.

Bill Burr will be performing standup comedy on March 5 and 11 at the Metropolis. For more information on Bill Burr’s upcoming show in Montreal, visit:


Reacting against nuclear reactors

On March 11, 2011, an earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, creating a devastating tsunami that swept over cities and farmland in the northern part of the country in Tohoku. Recorded as a 9.0 on the Richter scale, it was the most powerful quake ever to hit the country (in comparison, Montreal’s earthquake last fall registered at 4.5 on the Richter scale). These natural disasters subsequently led to a nuclear emergency, as a result of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station suffering partial meltdowns and releasing radioactive material directly into the atmosphere. Today, the official count of the dead and missing is above 24,000.

Radioactivists screens Monday Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. in room H-110 – 1455 de Maisonneuve W. Director Karol Orzechowski will be in the audience. Press photo

The cleverly-titled Radioactivists, directed by German filmmakers Julia Leser and Clarissa Seidel, follows the anti-nuclear demonstrations held in Koenji, Tokyo immediately following the tragedy. Organized mainly by a group of activists known as Shiroto No Ran (Amateur’s Revolt) and a group of political musicians from the Human Recovery Project, the protests featured people from all walks of life, gathering more than 15,000 people by the third demonstration. Combining music and visual arts, the atmosphere was festive rather than tense. These scenes were surprising to many Japanese citizens given the country’s lack of a protest culture. In fact, these were the first major demonstrations the nation had seen since the 1970s.

The anti-nuclear movement in Japan has taken great leaps since the first protests highlighted in Radioactivists. In fact, since 2011, the number of protests in Tokyo against the use of nuclear power have dramatically increased, culminating in 2012 with the country’s largest anti-nuclear event yet (gathering more than 75,000 people).

Japan’s history with nuclear power is a fascinating one. Despite the nuclear bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, the country’s reliance on the use of nuclear power reactors has grown steadily since the 1960s. Prior to the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Japan generated 30 per cent of its electrical power from nuclear reactors. Thus, when Leser and Seidel turn their cameras towards the endless bright lights in the bustling streets of downtown Tokyo, they implicitly ask: how much longer is Japan capable of maintaining its electric consumption?

Featuring interviews with sociologists, writers, and activists, Radioactivists is thoroughly engaging and intellectually stimulating during its first half. However, the film strays from its narrative focus when the cameras simply follow the protests for long stretches of time. The film’s strengths are showcased most during its aforementioned interviews.

For example, political scientist Chigaya Kinoshita speaks of the initial shock felt by all after the earthquake and tsunami occurred. While the world hailed the Japanese for their so-called stoicism in the face of great adversity, Kinoshita argues that his countrymen simply didn’t know how to react to the situation. It’s safe to say they’re reacting now.

Radioactivists screens Monday Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. in room H-110 – 1455 de Maisonneuve W. Director Karol Orzechowski will be in the audience. The film will be followed by Women of Fukushima. For more information, visit


Animal cruelty in the name of science

“It’s sad that I’m only 23 but animal death doesn’t do anything for me,” says one former research scientist early on in Karol Orzechowski’s Maximum Tolerated Dose. The title itself refers to lab experiments in which animals (or “research models”) are dosed with pharmaceutical products and certain chemicals in order to find a physical threshold. However, while many of these scientists have already proven the efficacy of the product, they repeatedly test high concentrations of certain medicines on lab animals until a fatality or a near fatality occurs.

Maximum Tolerated Dose is a hard-hitting look inside the gruesome practices of laboratory experimentation. Press photo.

There are in fact, several facilities specifically designed and created to breed animals such as rodents, macaque monkeys, and even beagles, all in order to supply experimental research. Thus, many of these animals, including monkeys and dogs, are brought into the world for the sole purpose of being used for scientific experiments.

The film does a convincing job in recreating the horrors of such aforementioned animal breeding facilities. For example, the Isoquiem-Interfauna Breeding Facility in Spain specifically breeds beagles, who remain packed in cages all throughout the day, as their cries for help can be overheard echoing in the background, cries which seem to be desperate and helpless.

In one particular experiment, beagles were used to research radioactive tracers, which were injected into them. Afterwards, the dogs were all put down, placed on the operating table, as their hearts were removed and dissected in order to inspect the effects of the tracers.

Dr. John Pippin, a former research cardiologist admits that, “if you subscribe to the notion that this kind of research is essential to advance human medicine, and your career and your life revolves around advancing human medicine, then you come to see it as a necessary evil.”

The sad irony in Dr. Pippin’s story is his own love of dogs. He admits that he would consider killing anyone who would dare hurt his dogs at home, and yet, he consistently went to work every day as a scientific researcher where killing beagles was part of his job.

Orzechowski, known more for his photography, manages to locate and interview a handful of former lab workers and authors on the subject of animal cruelty. The film is told in five separate chapters, as the director focuses on individual lab animals and individual former workers for each segment.

The pulsating, ominous music heard throughout the film has an almost frightening effect. If there is such a thing as a ‘non-fiction documentary horror,’ that which is unimaginable and revolting, then Maximum Tolerated Dosage is it. In addition, the heavy sense of guilt felt by nearly everyone interviewed in the film is accentuated by years of moral justifications on the part of these workers.

An anonymous worker simply puts it, “To the animals, I feel horrible. I could only say that I’m sorry and I will advocate to change this industry.”

It’s never too late to say you’re sorry.

Maximum Tolerated Dosage screens Monday Nov. 4 at 7 p.m. in room H-110 – 1455 de Maisonneuve W. Director Karol Orzechowski will be in the audience. For more information, visit

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