Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Sampha — Lahai

The South London artist Sampha is back after six years, with his stunning new album Lahai.

Released on Oct. 20, Lahai is not only Sampha Lahai Sisay’s newest album but also his grandfather’s name, his own middle name and his next musical chapter. Following his debut album Process which won the 2017 Mercury Prize, this new album communicates themes rooted in his life in adulthood. When sharing the news about Lahai with the world through an Instagram post, the musician displayed various keywords from the album’s message as hints: “Fever Dreams. Continuums. Dancing. Generations. Syncopation. Bridges. Grief. Motherlands. Love. Spirit. Fear. Flesh. Flight.” Indeed, the 41-minute runtime covers each of these feelings, thoughts and life positions with intention. 

Lahai follows Sampha’s glimpses of self-awareness, snapshots of memories and realizations he’s been experiencing being a father, brother, friend and son. Throughout the 14 featured tracks, the singer reestablishes himself and beautifully expresses his personal stance in the world. A strong sense of communication and connection leads this album, whether a song tackles the past, present, future, or all of the above. 

The very first track, “Stereo Colour Cloud (Shaman’s Dream),” introduces piano on its own, almost like trickling water in a playful way. The creatively produced track programmed acoustic instruments via MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) and notably contains lyrics about missing someone while time flies. “Spirit 2.0” is up next, influenced by West African folk music called Wassoulou. Sampha repeats how waves, light, love, spirit, faith, friends and time will “catch you,” chanting a reminder we are never truly alone. The third song, “Dancing Circles,” explores conversing with someone he hadn’t seen in a long time and is layered over this addicting metronomic style piano and experimental rhythm. “Suspended” comes up next with gratefulness at its core, especially with the earnest line “I’ve been lifted by her love.” 

With “Satellite Business”, Sampha looks back on all of “the love and the care and the words [he] was given” and thinks to himself that there are “maybe no beginnings, maybe no bridges” when going through life events. This short introspective track is followed by “Jonathan L. Seagull,” lyrics about the dynamic between the people he’s met along the way and dealing “with loss and grief in separate ways.” This recognition is notably expressed with a passage of the song that repeats how seasons come, cry, grow and die. 

This cycle of maturation smoothly transitions into the narrative of “Inclination Compass (Tenderness).” The minimalistic piano, whistles, synths and background vocals accompany Sampha singing about the importance of implementing empathy, tenderness and fondness in times of hardship. “Only” is a more energetic follow-up with a message recognizing that you can be the one to help yourself, not necessarily other people. The previous short but sweet interlude “Time Piece” goes into “Can’t Go Back,” all about using time efficiently. It’s also one of my favourite moments of the album because of its gorgeous piano ending. 

“Evidence” and “What if You Hypnotise Me?” are the last moments of the album. They sonically compliment each other with charming and vulnerable lyrics, especially with the delightful string transition “Wave Therapy” between them. The album ends on “Rose Tint,” rounding up Sampha’s need for grounding by indicating “I needed nature, I needed scope.” 

Sampha’s tone conveys such softness and warmth while playing with different rhythms within his voice calibre. The production merges different sounds that are consistently crisp and minimalistic, which I really appreciate. Piano is definitely a prominent element throughout Lahai, also engaging with R&B, funk, jungle, grime and minimal classical music. They all seamlessly blend together and let Sampha’s lyrics breathe for our focus simultaneously. Lahai’s collection full of growth and distance is beyond refreshing to the ear and the heart. Sampha reminds us to look within ourselves and take the time to reminisce in a constructive way this fall. 

Score: 9.5/10

Trial Track: Jonathan L. Seagull


Sounds from the shadows: Sasan’s story

Iranian Master’s student finds serenity in electronic and experimental music, regardless of what his home has to say

“They think Iran is just a desert with no culture, no music. They think it’s just politics, but it’s not,” said DSM.

As DSM – a 25-year old Master’s student in Building Engineering – explored Concordia’s SGW campus this past winter, shortly after arriving in Montreal from his home country of Iran, he stumbled across a copy of The Concordian on a stand in the school. After flipping through to the paper’s music section, he decided to reach out to its editor in an attempt to share his story.

“I thought, let’s try, send an email and see what happens,” said DSM. “I was also afraid because I thought you might not answer, or that you wouldn’t care to speak to me.”

Now we’re here.

See, education in Iran is often regarded as the ideal route, with other activities seen as extracurricular, and only that. “When I was in Iran I told myself that I was nothing,” said DSM. “I didn’t have good marks, and they think people who make music are just losers.”

For creators of electronic music, that principle reigns true, with an even deeper sentiment of taboo. “Many people believe that [western music] brings you to hell, and others think it encourages you to do bad things,” he said. “So we have legal music and illegal music.”

DSM, an avid techno-listener and experimental producer, began creating music in his house in Iran. He was inspired by a video clip he saw of superstar DJ/producer Tiesto commanding a crowd at a major festival, demonstrating music’s deep ability to bring all kinds of people together.

“It was so amazing for me to see that,” said DSM.

He first began dabbling in music by creating mash-ups, or “mixes,” for him and his friends on their long bus ride home from school. Though he later shifted towards producing his own songs, using the software Ableton Live. It’s now been four years since DSM has been seriously working on his craft, and the hard work is paying off.

DSM has been featured in Visions of Darkness, a compilation album of contemporary music by Iranian musicians, and is set to release multiple tracks through Montreal-based record label and creative agency, Husa Sounds. He also released an EP last December, titled Abstracted.

While his passion has continued to blossom, DSM chooses to keep his musical identity a subtle part of his life.  His parents are aware of it and are supportive of his musical endeavours so long as he stays in school and completes his Master’s.

“I usually play music at parties and gatherings, but also sometimes in my father’s car with my family,” he said. “We would listen to popular music in Iran, or old music that my father or mother love. I tried playing some mellow, deep house for them, not the hard stuff, and they liked it too. Sometimes I’d try to sneak in my own songs and if they didn’t say ‘next song’ I would tell them it was mine.”

For DSM, music is more than just a hobby or even a passion – it’s a form of therapy.

“I just wanted to release my feelings – it’s my way to calm down,” he said. “If I have too many things on my mind, music is the way to release my stress, to forget any bad things in my life. It’s like my Advil. If the music is so good you can get high on that, you don’t need weed or alcohol.”

Back in Iran, DSM was not able to peacefully enjoy electronic music as a result of the government’s strict rules and regulations surrounding public musical performances.

Musical performers are required to obtain a government license in order to perform publicly, whether it be at an art gallery or musical event. This leaves room for subjective decisions, which thereby controls the music scene in the country. However, a police officer’s bad day could very well turn into deeper troubles for a performing artist, despite whether or not they hold a license.

As a result of this musical censorship, many Iranians travel to remote locations throughout the nation, often deserts, where they can enjoy electronic music at any volume, dancing and partying through the night up to the morning. This added risk actually has its benefits, according to DSM. “If you want to have fun there you have to stress about the police. Even alcohol is illegal,” said DSM. “But if it’s harder, sometimes it really feels better.”

With one and a half years remaining for his Master’s, DSM hopes to maintain his 4.0 CGPA – though he continues to raise the bar when it comes to his music as well.

“I really hope that big DJs will play my songs at clubs or shows,” said DSM. “I hope that people are dancing and feeling my music. I really want people to feel it, that’s my goal.

Music Quickspins

Call Super – Apro

Call Super – Apro (Houndstooth, 2017)

Electronic artist Call Super has come out with a stellar sophomore album, Apro, which mixes ambient electronic textures and creative beats. The album exudes love and joy, making it a relaxing listen. Tracks are layered with dense sounds, from bells to white noise. “Music Stand” sounds uniquely upbeat, combining several disparate sounds to compose a surprisingly cohesive track. “Trockel” features a driving beat while echoed synths wail in the background, creating emotionally resonant sounds. At certain points, some of the sounds reminiscent of Aphex Twin and composer Nobukazu Takemura. Nonetheless, Call Super retains a unique sound throughout. This album is definitely a worthwhile listen for electronic music fans.

Sample track: “Music Stand”

Rating: 7.7/10


ODESZA’s audible odyssey continues

ODESZA’s new album, In Return, is music that suits any scene in your life.

Picture yourself frolicking on a beach in slow motion, the sun refracting through cotton candy clouds and bouncing off the water, polaroid-style light-leaks filling up the sky; that’s how ODESZA’s music feels.

It’s hard to find a decent electronic song that you can listen to on the bus to school, in the shower, and while having a drink or three on a Friday night. It’s even harder to find an entire album of those songs. But that is exactly what In Return, ODESZA’S new album, is.

Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, the duo who make up ODESZA, met through a mutual friend in their senior year at Western Washington University in Seattle. They clicked instantly, fitting together like audible puzzle pieces.

“We were the only people who were making electronic music at our college, really,” said Mills. “We just kind of sat down one day and jammed, and it went so well that we decided to make a project out of it. That actually became our first album.”

With electronic music ever on the rise, it can be hard to establish a distinct sound without alienating your audience or creating a niche. But ODESZA manages to do just that – they stand apart well enough to earn them a dedicated fan base, yet their sound is sufficiently familiar to appeal to everyone. Since their debut album, Summer’s Gone, though, the seeds of their sound have sprouted. With In Return, fans can expect a better-defined, more mature version of that recognizable sound.

“I think each album and EP we’ve done has been us trying something new in one way or another,” said Mills. “This one was definitely us trying to see if we could make a more song-based album. We actually have verses and choruses, and we worked with people to actually do vocals instead of just sampling songs.”

While song-making can be a lengthy process, Mills and Knight do it with speed reflective of their rise to popularity.

“What takes a while is finding the right singer and kind of going back and forth with them,” said Mills. “In general, we usually come up with ideas in the first day we’re jamming together, but all the detail work seems to take a bit longer.”

Some of their best-known songs aren’t originals, though, but remixes. And their mixing process is a different one altogether.

“It helps to not listen to the original song and actually listen to the individual stems by themselves – so, like, vocal, percussion, guitar, whatever – because we don’t want it to sound like what it originally was,” said Mills. “We want to really make an entirely new song out of the base that they’ve given us. And I think that’s what makes a good remix, too: if it’s recognizable but also completely different. Something we strive for in the remixes is to make it feel like a really unique song in itself.”

This focused, defined way of doing things has made ODESZA a name that gets more recognition with each new release. They played both Osheaga and Shambhala this year, to name just a couple festivals, and they’re just getting started.

Since their formation in 2012, they’ve released two studio albums and an EP – one album for each year of their existence. And coming out with so much music so quickly has paid off: just this month, they reached number one on Billboard’s dance/electronic album chart. But similar to that dream-like, ethereal beach scene, fame doesn’t quite seem real yet to Mills and Knight.

“I don’t think we’ve had any time to really soak it in, ‘cause we’ve been busy for the last two years straight,” said Mills. “We were working on the album the whole time we were touring, so there was never a moment to rest. Now that the album’s out, everything’s picked up and doubled back, so we’ve kind of just been constantly on the move – we’re either working on a remix, working on an original song, or on tour. But it’s a good thing, because we like to stay focused, keep working as hard as we can, and utilize the opportunity that we’ve been given.”

Part of that opportunity includes the chance to collaborate with impressive names in the music scene.

“Everyone we tour with has influenced us in a positive way. When you get to meet and talk to people that have inspired your music, you realize how much of a normal human they are,” Mills laughed. “Hearing their workflow and getting to pick their brains is really just an honour. Definitely one that stands out to me is Bonobo – seeing how humble he is and how talented he is was really inspiring. He’s like a god to me. A musician god.”

While their ascent to fame has been rapid, it wasn’t always that way. Their advice to any aspiring musicians?

“Play to the one person dancing. We really needed that when we first started out – we would focus on the 20 kids in the front who were only there for the headliner, when we were the 7 p.m. opening act. And to the audience: “It doesn’t really matter how stupid you look if you’re dancing and enjoying yourself. Those people have way more… what’s the word? Way more balls than anyone standing at the back and head bopping.”

 Catch ODESZA at Le Belmont on Oct. 5.


UZ runs the ‘Trap’ at Foufounes

To really understand what began the rise of “Trap music,” the genre combining deep-south gangster-rap beats with the wobbles and synths of Electronic dance music, the first step is to take a good look at UZ. Born from SoundCloud fame, he quickly gained critical acclaim after Diplo announced his signing to Mad Decent with the release of his EP, Trap Shit 6/9.

The EP brought cult status to not only UZ, but to Trap as well, paving the way for many other electronic artists. Even more talked-about are the many mysteries surrounding him; he’s never revealed his face, refuses to comment on his identity (other than claiming to be a computer) and responds to messages and comments on social media with a simple wingding of a rifle. The biggest mystery of all though was simply: Why has he never played a show?

Now, that’s all changed. The management behind UZ soon announced that his first tour would be throughout Canada. Montreal was booked as only the fourth city to experience a live UZ show.

Once he made his way onto the stage of Foufounes on the evening of Sept. 17 (about 20 minutes late), his appearance brought cheers from the crowd. To say he’s an intimidating-looking figure is an understatement. Donning two black bandanas covering his face, a gold masquerade mask over his eyes and a hat imprinted with “FUCK” in old english lettering, it was obvious he wouldn’t be revealing his identity anytime soon. He shied away from photos throughout his performance-even pictures taken by the official photographers were taken down a day later.

But never mind his late arrival or the fact that this person looked like some kind of burglar.Not many DJs can beat juggle, loop, scratch and possess the song selection he does, especially with such a new and experimental genre of music. He played at least one of his unreleased tracks, his remix of “Cowboy” by the Toronto dubstep duo Zed’s Dead. He also played one of his more commercially popular tracks, “Trap Shit V11,” which was featured on Diplo’s radio show on BBC Radio 1 Xtra.

Soon he’ll make his way to Britain to tour with Foreign Beggars and True Tiger, before making his first stateside appearance at the Day Of The Dead in Los Angeles.

For now, the man behind UZ remains a mystery. But if you were lucky enough to be there, you’ll be happy to claim that you’re one of the few that have run the trap with UZ.


If practice makes perfect, The Weeknd could use a little work

The Weeknd is a newcomer in the R&B music industry; his debut mixtape House of Balloons recently celebrated its one-year anniversary. Hype surrounding the Toronto artist is almost unbelievable considering his lack of stage experience and radio play. Regardless, Montreal was pumped up and ready for his sold out show Friday night at Metropolis.
Abel Tesfaye is the real name of the man behind the mysterious digital albums, which are available for free on his website. He’s received praise from Pitchfork and Rolling Stone, and House of Balloons was nominated for a 2011 Polaris Music Prize. The Weeknd is known for his crooning soprano voice, which hits falsetto notes effortlessly. The real question was whether his live performance could live up to his studio material.
Approximately 2,000 people filled the venue. The doors opened at 6 p.m., but unfortunately for those standing, an average DJ mixed tracks until 9 p.m. The audience was sedated with boredom, yet still anticipated the show.
Once the DJ left the stage, the energy immediately picked up. The lights dimmed, excited shrieks vibrated throughout the room, and cell phones flew into the air, preparing to document the 22-year-old’s first steps on the stage.
Opening with “High For This,” one of his better-known songs, was a wise choice. Backed by a three-piece band, The Weeknd swayed and jumped around the stage in an attempt to win over the crowd. For an artist who has performed live very little, his effort to engage the audience was valiant, but lacked practice.
Another song that stood out in his performance was “The Zone.” His fans sang along passionately, watching black and white images of nearly naked women projected on a screen behind him.
For the song titled “Montreal,” The Weeknd aimed the mic at the audience, encouraging them to keep singing along.
His set list featured songs from all three of his mixtapes. His voice proved to be genuine, and not enhanced with studio effects. But too often, he sang incomplete sentences or avoided the lyrics altogether. However, his effort at Michael Jackson-like dancing across the stage compensated for his vocals many times.
When the beat for “The Morning” started, the crowd went insane. He also sang “The Fall,” “House Of Balloons/Glass Table Girls,” and “Loft Music.” After his performance, which didn’t seem to last as long as a typical concert, he came back out for an encore: an acoustic performance of “Wicked Games.”
The Weeknd will be back in Montreal for Osheaga in August, after a European tour and performing at Coachella. Hopefully the young artist will develop a better stage presence between now and this summer and will return to Montreal with even more hysteria than before.


A gothic birthday party, UNzipped

Photo : Andrew McNeill

With the band’s biggest festival appearance yet just days away, UN’s Kara Keith was fretting over footwear before set lists.
“It’s all about the outfits, right?” reasoned Keith.
UN, a gothic rock/electro-pop duo featuring Concordia grad Jen Reimer on drums with Keith on vocals and piano, is jetting off to Austin, Texas to play POP Montreal’s showcase at the SXSW Music Festival.
Over 2,000 acts from all over the world flock to SXSW every year to mingle with music industry professionals, debut new material and wrestle for exposure. Buzzing reviews at this festival can change an artist’s life overnight. Just one year after her SXSW debut, former McGill student and electronic musician Grimes has gone from virtually unknown to posing for Vogue.
“I haven’t gone to SXSW before, but I’ve done a lot of crazy shit in my life,” said Keith. “It’s just another five-day-long party where I don’t have a home to go to at night.”
Keith and Reimer have been playing together in bands for over five years, but they first collaborated as UN in 2010 and have just released their debut album, Nu. Keith’s confidence on stage is magnetic, her voice deep, dark and borderline satanic. Backed by snappy synth, piano and Reimer’s fierce animalistic drumming, this is something you must dance to, entranced in your own world.
UN’s sound and stage presence has the ability to whisk the crowd away to a subterranean gothic birthday party, providing an escape from the mundane.
“It’s cathartic for me,” explained Keith. “That’s why it ends up being cathartic for other people.
All the melodies, lyrics and ideas are from my singular experience. I walk about with those songs all the time.”
Reimer and Keith left their families behind in Alberta before becoming Mile End inhabitants. They attended separate classical music conservatories in Edmonton and Calgary, but met at an artist residency program at the Banff Centre in 2007.
“We started jamming together in these little huts in the woods, spending night upon night playing music,” revealed Keith. “We instantly connected.”
At the time, Keith studied piano, while Reimer was perfecting the French horn. Reimer picked up the drums as recently as two years ago for UN’s first performance in New York City, though she had only been practising for three weeks.
“[Reimer] already had so much skill in her body from being a very accomplished classical musician,” explained Keith.
Keith found Alberta hostile to artists, as rent was skyrocketing and it was difficult to find space to practise or play.
“It wasn’t a very nurturing community, and we felt like outsiders,” said Keith. “There were no other women doing anything [like us].”
The pair clicked with producer Howard Bilerman, known for his work on Arcade Fire’s Funeral (2004), while at The Banff Centre. Keith wrote a record while in Alberta, but flew to Montreal in 2008 to record with Reimer, Bilerman and a band of 10 other people.
“That was our foray into Montreal. We were just going to come for two weeks and make a record,” said Keith, “but that record took six months.
“We quickly evolved, realized it was an amazing city, and now we are very happy here.”
Though the songstress was unhappy in Alberta, the record she wrote while living there is curiously upbeat, and became quite popular. Keith’s indie-pop single, “Kick this City,” caught fire in 2008 and was picked up by CBC for radio play.
Since moving to Montreal and forming UN, Keith’s songwriting has turned to gloom.
“What’s funny is that as I’ve gotten my life more organized, been happier, got really good friends, moved to a great new city, and started taking care of myself, I started writing really dark music,” said Keith.
Despite the drastic change in her musical tone, Keith insisted that it’s completely unintentional. She challenged herself to depart from her more complicated classical roots and produce music that was simple, strong and straight from the gut.
“I’m not trying to do anything, I don’t listen to music, and I don’t know what our ‘sound’ is,” said Keith. “Neither does Jen.”

UN debuts at SXSW on March 16 at Hotel Vegas in Austin, Texas.

To download their new album visit their bandcamp:

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