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Music

Charli XCX enchants Montreal with her futuristic pop

British pop auteur performs a sold-out show at the Corona Theatre

Charlotte Aitchison, known by her stage name Charli XCX, has been experimenting and expanding the borders of pop music since she was 14. She played a sold out show on Oct. 15 at the Corona Theatre during her tour promoting her latest album release, Charli.

The audience was lively and happy, with people of all ages making up the crowd, though the majority were teens and young adults. The northern-England artist’s sound has evolved from witch house to punk, and now borders a dance-pop and electro-pop sound that resonates with youth everywhere.

Charli demonstrates a perfect balance of upbeat futuristic pop, filled with clicks and digital manipulations in both her lively party tracks as well as her slower songs detailing heartbreak, confusion and loneliness. The latter makes up most of her new album, which she performed almost in its entirety that night.

Teeter-tottering the avant-garde while still adhering to mainstream pop, Charli ponders how the future might be with her explosive sound. At Corona, she was just as dynamic as her music, bringing a fun yet reflective vibe to the audience. At times dynamic party pop songs, other times self-examining and introspective, creating this space for crowds alike to reflect.

The show opened with Toronto’s airy yet edgy electro-pop artist Allie X. Later, digital sounds and computer-musings emerged among a large flashing cube before Charli herself came on, wearing a jewel-studded mask covering her mouth and a large shiny coat. She began the show with “Next Level Charli,” the first track off of her new album, then moved on to the more upbeat and cerebral “Click.” Charli’s energy was contagious, going back and forth between slow songs and upbeat bangers. 

4.CharliXCX.10.15.2019.LaurenceB.D

She slowed it down again with “I Don’t Want to Know,” which got people swaying. She brought back the energy with the hedonistic 2016 hit “Vroom Vroom,” and then the introspective “Gone” – both a party track to celebrate with others and solo, having everyone singing “Why do we keep when the water runs?/Why do we love if we’re so mistaken?” During “I Got It,” she yelled to the audience to “get down low!”

Although Charli is known for collaborating with many other artists in the pop world such as Lizzo, Yaeji, Sky Ferreira, Troye Sivan and CupcakKe, she still brought the energy to Corona as a solo performer. Then about midway though, Charli brought in a couple Montreal artists and drag performers, giving them each a chance to perform. According to Charli’s instagram, she is continuing to bring on local dancers and artists to accompany her on stage wherever she stops on tour.

Charli then played the Pop 2 version of “Track 10 / Blame it on Your Love,” not withholding the dreamy, squeaky production of the original version. Though most of the show included tracks from her new album, she came back for the encore with past upbeat hits, starting with the electronic and dreamy “Unlock It” and the Icona Pop cover of “I Love It.” She then finished with the bubble-gum pop “Boys,” and last year’s hit “1999.”

Like in her music, Charli brought both an upbeat party energy to the crowd as well as an introspective and contemplative one, making us delve into letting loose while also considering our own personal reasons for it. Charli loves to party, and she continues to remind us to keep it real with ourselves while doing so.

 

Photos by Laurence B.D.

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Music

Stereolab hypnotize at Corona Theatre

English-French avant-pop legends sound as fresh as ever after their 10-year hiatus

After many of us were drenched in the Tuesday rain, Stereolab revived our spirits by playing a sold-out show that later released more tickets to keen fans online with Evenko. Stereolab haven’t performed since 2009, and have recently released a long list of upcoming new shows across Europe and North America.

The music of Stereolab is an enigma. They have been labeled avant-pop, indie pop, electronic, and were among the first to be considered a post-rock group. Emerging in 1990 in London, England, they incorporated 60s pop, krautrock, and French and English leftist politics into scattered, surrealist songs that didn’t receive much attention at first. They later began to incorporate funk, jazz, bossa nova, and lounge into their music, with a cleaner, more danceable sound.

Over the years, the band began to receive recognition for its experimentalism. Lead by Laetitia Sadier of France and Tim Gane of England, the only two members remaining from the very beginning, they still sound fresh today, and are truly one-of-a-kind.

The crowd at Corona was full of many long-time fans, and even some children and babies were attending up on the balcony seats. Although Stereolab tend to play their live shows with a little more reverb and noise, their organ sounds and beeping synths are still pleasant to the ears of all ages.

Laetitia Sadier addressed the audience freely in French, and confidently lead the rest of the band throughout the night, performing songs from their hit albums Peng!, Emperor Tomato Ketchup and Dots and Loops. Sadier’s airy voice hasn’t aged a bit, and every band member was full of energy and passion, making it a timeless experience. Those who wanted to dance along to their swaying sounds made their way into the crowd and weren’t afraid to let out a few shouts of excitement upon their return.

Stereolab played a setlist that was at times mesmerizing, slow and hypnotic, and other times times frenzied with angular tension. They went back and forth between the more energetic tracks like the jazzy “Ping-Pong” to the more droning, reverb-filled songs like “Crest.” The standout tracks included the cerebral “Metronomic Underground,” the frantic and electric “Percolator” and the playful “Lo Boob Oscillator.”

No matter which direction Stereolab went with their setlist, they never failed in locking the crowd into their magnetic grooves. They came back on with an encore of the long-awaited “Brakhage” – one of their most well-known and defining tracks, that is both experimental and relaxed. They then finished with the 16-minute long “Blue Milk,” and their droning guitars and dreamlike synths put us all in a trance.

It was truly a pleasure to see Stereolab back at it again, as professionals continuing to surprise us with their technical and creative abilities. Stereolab are as seamless live as they are on record, and Montreal was so happy to have them. 

 

Photos by Laurence B.D.

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Music

The soundtrack to my summer

5 songs describing the highs and lows of a student’s summer

Summer’s officially over with the fall semester up and running again. I did a little reminiscing and compiled the five songs I had on repeat for the past four months, to graze over before the real grind begins. Maybe you can listen to them too while you compile photosets of your summer extravaganzas.

“Cattails” – Big Thief

This was the perfect song to lounge around on sunny afternoons in the park. From Big Thief’s new album UFOF, nature is a central theme but this is definitely the warmest track on the album. Maybe it was the lyric “You’ll be riding that train in late June/With the windows wide by side,” or the simple acoustic guitar work and light drumming created a sense of light motion- the way we should all move about in summer.

“Willow’s Song” – Magnet

I find the summer is also the perfect time to binge-watch movies. Around the time of the summer solstice, I decided it was a good time to watch The Wicker Man again, a classic folk-horror film about a policeman who investigates a murder case in a Scottish pagan town during the summer solstice. “Willow’s Song” is a slow lullaby/love-song from the film that perfectly fits the whimsical and carefree nature of summer on the quieter warm nights.

“Tears” – Nilufer Yanya

This song is about embracing your sensitivities with flare. I don’t know about you but I always get a little emotional during the summer months – there’s almost too much time to sit around and think. But this song inspired me to embrace my emotional side. The production is very 80s-synth inspired, with a colourful and bouncy sound. It definitely pumped me up to leave the house on those inevitable low-mood summer days. Nilufar Yanya’s debut album Miss Universe, which came out in March, is full of other tracks that made it to my summer listening list.

“Champagne Coast” – Blood Orange

I listen to this song almost every summer- it just reminds me of a steamy summer romance with the backdrops of a hazy orange and pink sunset. Something to do with Devante Hynes’ dreamy synths and guitar licks make it all the more sensual, opening up the possibilities of a romance only summer could bless you with.

“Dress You Up” – Madonna

I’d listen to this classic dance-pop song on hot summer nights. I think it’s no coincidence that I felt the need to listen to this when Leo season started up – all the glamour in the air and feeling like the center of attention. This drumbeat-driven track has an iconic 80s guitar solo and backing choir that screams Madonna, and you can’t go wrong with Madonna when you want to spend the summer night dancing.

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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Empress Of – Us

Lorely Rodriguez’s second album, Us, celebrates friends, family, new relationships and new beginnings. She dabbles with more R&B and less dream-pop and sings in Spanish on some tracks, reflecting back to her family roots. Her signature raw, honest lyrics are consistent throughout the album and work as her marker. This sophomore album is happier than her debut, and a pop album at its core but does not break any new musical barriers. Rodriguez’s debut, Me, which came out in 2015, was contemplative, bold and experimental, reaching much critical acclaim. Us is a bit bland in comparison, making it much less stimulating. Although this album contains some catchy songs, as a whole, Us sounds like every other pop album that came out this year.

6/10

Trial Track: “Everything To Me”

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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Devon Welsh – Dream Songs

Montreal’s own Devon Welsh, formerly part of the electronic-pop duo Majical Cloudz, released his first album this week as a solo artist.

Dream Songs is contemplative yet abstract, contrasting cynical lyrics with spacious production through simple keyboard work. Welsh is aware of his dreaming-nature but can’t seem to stop getting lost in escapism. It is the backdrop of his life and is reflected through the airy but urgent electric guitar and piano, sometimes soaring and other times swaying. There is less synth than in the music of Majical Cloudz—Welsh uses it as an extra touch to emphasize the larger-than-life sounds, to add sparkle and romanticism to his reveries. Welsh’s simultaneous raw and ambiguous lyricism flows through the whole album, but each song begins to sound too similar to the next. Welsh confidently sings a flat note in one instance, waking us up from the daydream and bringing us back to our flawed and disorderly reality. I see the intent, but this bit was unpleasant. The main takeaway of this album is Welsh’s stark, introspective lyrics bringing the dreamy sonics back down to earth.

8.5/10

Trial Track: “Lucky Strike”

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Music

Top 10 timeless Canadian albums

Records from the great north you can’t pass on

Disclaimer: This list was compiled from the perspective of a Canadian millennial.

  1. Feist – The Reminder (2007)

This album spans across a variety of music genres, including influences from jazz to disco, with both Leslie Feist’s introspective originals and covers made entirely her own. The Reminder is adventurous and bright, and its jangly up-tempo indie pop emulates a multifaceted complexity that still resonates today.

  1. Joni Mitchell – Blue (1971)

This classic folk record took on a more experimental territory in its song structures, which have raised the bar for folk music ever since. Joni Mitchell is strikingly forthright in her lyricism and imagery. Blue is gorgeously confessional and raw, but there is strength in Mitchell’s vulnerability that stands against time, making it a seminal record that will most likely set off waterworks, even for us millennials.

  1. Eric’s Trip – Love, Tara (1993)

A hidden gem, this New Brunswick indie album has a lo-fi quality that makes it feel personal and accessible. While the songs incorporate 90s noise influence, the song structures remain pop-y and melodic in a way that’s nostalgic and easy to listen to even in 2018.

  1. Neil Young – On The Beach (1974)

Mixing dark humour with solitude and affection, Neil Young steers in a softer rock direction rather than folk with this album. Its minimal-but-smooth production makes it stand against time, and marks it as a hidden gem in Canadian discography.

  1. Sloan – One Chord to Another (1996)

This Halifax quartet incorporates the jangly power-pop of the 90s with 1960s pop melodies. With just the right amount of British Invasion and garage adolescent energy, Sloan mirrors the rawness of The Who and The Beatles while still retaining their own sound. There is no other Canadian band quite like them.

  1. Wolf Parade – Apologies To The Queen Mary (2005)

Montreal outfit Wolf Parade’s debut record was produced by Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, creating an album of brittle indie pop with the energy of post-punk. There is a strong David Bowie-driven influence, though the squiggly guitar riffs and video-game synths give it that distinct 2000s sound that still happily floods our ears.

  1. Neil Young – Harvest (1972)

Harvest is a classic that paints a picture of Young’s experience of Americana in the 70s through his own Canadian perspective. An easy listen on the surface, Young contrasts a humbling folk/country rock sound with darker undertones in a way that feels nothing but human in his most accessible album. This is the perfect album to listen to when you need to sonically escape from the city into the barren but endearing country.

  1. Arcade Fire – Funeral (2004)

Arcade Fire describes Canada’s snowy suburban neighborhoods in Funeral, with stories of the tragedies, growing pains and bittersweet family memories that happened there. In the end, the band guides the listener through how these obstacles are overcome and accepted. It’s a cinematic record and a slightly orchestral instrumental lineup that remains rock at its core in the way it screams.

  1. Leonard Cohen – Songs of Leonard Cohen (1967)

Cohen is a master at describing the strong connections between people. The beloved late Montreal native showed us that music could be poetic. He crafts stories of men and women into poems of erotic despair, revealing the pleasures and pain of lust in ways that sound like love. This classic album is vulnerable and mesmerizing, while still emulating the unique grace only Cohen could craft.

  1. Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It in People (2002)

There aren’t many bands like Broken Social Scene, and it makes me proud to know these guys are Canadian. This album has a human energy that’s cathartic like no other pop album. The band stems from the experimental Toronto music scene with 15 members, creating a sprawling bittersweet treasure. It’s both orchestral and noisy, with the perfect balance of slow melodic lullabies and sprawling power ballads. You Forgot It in People is the perfect example of what magic can occur when the right creative minds come together.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

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Music Quickspins

King Krule – The OOZ

King Krule – The OOZ (True Panther, 2017)

Archy Marshall has released his second album under the moniker King Krule, revealing his maturation as a musician and producer. Marshall melds elements of jazz, punk, dark wave and trip hop together into an immersive and isolating soundscape. The OOZ ricochets from murmuring streams of consciousness and jazzy hooks to howling vocals and grimy punk riffs, all of which are most prominent in the dark “Dum Surfer.” King Krule has crafted a more polished and brooding sound with this new project, though the album’s lengthy tracklist of 19 songs is a bit self-indulgent. A few tracks enter into repetitive, sleepy jazz noodling without much variation in between. Marshall seems acquainted with and self-aware of his darkness, and when successful, the lingering soundscapes replicate both the mundaneness and dissociation of isolation. The OOZ is a hypnotic soundscape of an idiosyncratic psyche worth diving into, if patient enough for its track length.

7.5/10
Trial track: “Dum Surfer”

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Music

How Mount Eerie copes with personal grief

Phil Elverum talks latest album and the pitfalls of navigating death

“Death is real” is the first phrase that introduces Phil Elverum’s A Crow Looked at Me. What makes this album different from the rest of his work is the realness and pragmatic candidness in the face of death after having experienced it first-hand.

Elverum is a renowned musician from Anacortes, Wash., who performs under the moniker Mount Eerie. He was previously the frontman and producer for the coveted lo-fi band, The Microphones. The band reached mass acclaim with dreary and introspective music that explores themes of nature and solitude with fuzz-laden guitars and echoey reverb.

Mount Eerie’s most recent album, A Crow Looked At Me, is Elverum’s most raw and personal work yet—and rightfully so. It was released this past March, and recounts memories and feelings of grief after the passing of his wife Geneviève Castrée, a native of Loretteville, Que. Castrée died of pancreatic cancer last July.

What Elverum is best at describing is his literal and emotional environment. This is prominent in previous Mount Eerie and The Microphones work, where he contemplates his place in nature, the world and the universe. But in his new project, Elverum attempted to eliminate artistic symbolism and metaphors to construct an album that is undoubtedly a raw and honest chronicle of the aftermath of his wife’s passing. In it, he explores the grieving process that follows death and the experience of raising a daughter without her mother.

References to space, time and nature are all still prominent throughout the album—noting the passage of time since Castrée’s passing, recounting significant spaces in Elverum’s town and house that stir memories. The most significant is the event that inspired the album’s name: a crow following him and his daughter on a hike.

Elements of symbolism were not intentional. Still, the album contains poetic allusions to crows, and Elverum is aware of this. “I tried hard to eliminate symbolism, but I didn’t succeed 100 per cent,” Elverum said. He said he feels there is a mysterious, poetic beauty to being followed around the forest by a crow, indulging in the romantic and melancholic idea that it could be an embodiment of his dead wife. He wasn’t trying to make a statement—his goal was to present himself accurately as an artist and let people glimpse what death actually looks like. “Poetry, art, metaphor; these things felt stupid and self-indulgent in the context of Geneviève dying,” he said. “They seemed like small potatoes.”

However, Elverum is aware that his older work contemplated existential questions about death and one’s place in the universe. “I maybe was mostly trying to say, ‘Death is real’ to myself,” Elverum said. “[I wanted] to correct all my past years of songs where I am exploring the idea of death without really having a sense of the human experience of it.”

When writing the songs for his latest project, Elverum intended the album to be a personal documentation of experiencing death first-hand rather than art itself.

“When these songs started taking form, I had no intention of releasing them,” Elverum said. “I was just expressing myself in the way I had done for 20 years previously, refining feelings and ideas into song shapes. I was doing it only for me.”

It’s this personal stream-of-consciousness brand of lyricism that has defined Elverum’s new album, with subtler and softer guitar work instead of the fuzz and reverb-heavy noise elements in his previous work with The Microphones. “[A] limited palette of instruments is consistent for the whole album,” Elverum said about the album’s production. “Janky electric guitar, complicated piano chords, weird slow drum machine, loud sparse bass, unobtrusive music that lets the singing communicate.”

Elverum said it felt good to have an outlet to examine this experience of loss. “I was just burrowing into the experience and trying to document it,” he said. “The experience itself was, of course, extremely difficult, like the worst thing ever, but the documentation of it and the songs were not. They were joy.”

Though A Crow Looked At Me is a deeply personal work, it opens up the topic of death in an forthright way, emphasizing the importance of being true to oneself and living life to the fullest. “We’re all going to die and nobody knows when,” he said. “So fear, hesitation and restraint seem like big wastes to me now.”

Mount Eerie is currently touring the United States and Canada. He will be performing during the POP Montreal festival at the Ukrainian Federation Hall on Sept. 17.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

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Music Quickspins

You’ll Never Get to Heaven – Images

You’ll Never Get to Heaven – Images (Mystic Roses, 2017)

Ambient pop duo Alice Hansen and Chuck Blazevic, from London, Ont., are known for creating dreamscapes that immerse listeners in distant worlds of sparkling, shimmering sounds—they do this once again with Images. Their recent album appears thematically and instrumentally brighter compared to the eerie, low, dark synths in their previous work. Blazevic’s familiar, shimmering synths and guitar help paint the atmosphere of the album, while Henson’s airy, pixie-like vocals guide listeners through a dreamworld. Images is an enthralling album, which is what most people expect from You’ll Never Get to Heaven. Their signature crackling audio and a tamed bass in the background can be heard in songs such as “Still” and “Shadow Garden.” “Vapor Frames spins you further into the album’s dreamworld with gentle, echoing synths. Each track is somewhat similar to the next, and a couple could even pass as outtakes from the duo’s earlier albums. However, subtle differences like tempo and instrumental texture with the synths and guitars make the band’s distant and unfamiliar world a little more intimate than their previous albums.

Trial Track: “Beyond the Clouds”

7/10

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