Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS : Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There

Ants from Up There is far from a sophomore slump

Black Country, New Road’s sophomore effort is one of the most visceral listening experiences I have ever had. Ants From Up There comes almost exactly one year after the bands debut For the first time. The band broke into the indie and alternative rock scene to massive critical acclaim. Despite the buzz that their first album generated, I wasn’t taken by it the way I was with Ants From Up There. 

The album is both triumphant and tragic, expertly harnessing all members of the band, which includes a dedicated violin and saxophone player in addition to the more typical bass, guitar, keyboards and drums. Some moments had me feeling like I was flying just like the Concorde jet that frontman Isaac Wood references several times throughout the album, and others made me feel like I needed to lay down on my floor, curl into a ball and hide from the world. 

The band clearly wears a lot of their influences on their sleeve, and fans of bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor may find many of the guitar refrains and slow builds to be extremely familiar. But Isaac Wood’s intensely authentic, honest and vulnerable performance throughout the entire album is something wholly unique. The band’s instrumentals combine so many different sounds together in such a balanced way, mixing jazz, alternative rock and other genres into something unlike any other band working today (at least that I know of). 

After a short intro, BCNR launches into “Chaos Space Marine,” a song that could be described as an extremely energetic rock odyssey. This was one of the band’s more triumphant moments that had me jumping up and down in my room and sprinting off into some grand unknown future. Many of BCNR’s songs like this piece utilize less typical time signatures and build slowly into grand explosions of sound that feel exciting and unexpected. 

A slow build into an explosion of sounds could accurately describe many of the songs on AFUT as well as the feeling of the entire album. While songs like “Chaos Space Marine” and “Good Will Hunting” build to triumphant conclusions, tracks like “Bread Song” and “Snow Globes” feel much more tragic. As I listened to “Snow Globes” gradually crescendo to Wood shouting “Snow globes don’t shake on their own” over and over again over a symphony of guitars, saxophone and violin creates this sense of  falling into this sense of oblivion along with wood. 

Since I first heard it, I feel like I forgot other music existed. While it is a challenging listen, with long songs and instrumental and vocal performances that some might think are harsh and abrasive, it is also beautiful, honest and made me feel the most excited I’ve been hearing an album in a long time.

Tragically, Isaac Wood, whose lyricism and guitar performances are the core of the band, announced he would step away from the group just days before AFUT was released. The split seemed to be amicable, with Wood leaving to focus on his own mental health. The band has said they will continue to make music together after Wood’s departure. These real life circumstances make Ants From Up There feel like a tragic goodbye at what was only just the beginning. 


Score: 9.5/10

Trial track: “Chaos Space Marine” 


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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon: The End of Day

Re-visiting Kid Cudi’s genre-defying, generation-defining major label debut

In an era when hip-hop was in dire need of innovation, Kid Cudi’s major label debut arrived right on time. Presenting a unique soundscape, blending elements of hip-hop, indie rock, psychedelia, and electronica, Cudi released an album that was both genre and generation-defining.

In the late 2000s, hip hop was fully commercialized. Major labels were chasing high-charting hits that doubled as top-selling ringtones. Many of the genre’s active legends were either chasing a radio-friendly sound or failing to evolve at all. Man on the Moon challenged that, containing hit singles like “Day n’ Nite” and “Pursuit of Happiness” that were massively successful without sacrificing Cudi’s signature sound or watering down his content.

While those singles went platinum, the album’s biggest strength is its cohesiveness from intro to outro. The album’s opener, “In My Dreams (Cudder Anthem)” is a hazy, mellow introduction that plays like the opening scene to a movie – complete with narration from legendary Chicago MC Common. This narration continues throughout the project, breaking up its five acts and guiding us through the cinematic story of the Man on the Moon.

The story is one of Scott Mescudi, an outcast dealing with suicidal thoughts, drug abuse, relationships, and an overwhelming feeling of loneliness. Throughout the entirety of the album’s runtime, Cudi displays a refreshing honesty and vulnerability that was uncommon in a genre that was well-known for its bravado. It was a breath of fresh air, and its impact is still being felt to this day.


Trial Track: Soundtrack 2 My Life

Star Bar: “Ignorance to cope, man, ignorance is bliss / Ignorance is love and I need that sh*t” (Cudi on “Soundtrack 2 My Life”)



Get a hold of The Holds

The Montreal indie-rock band is soon to release an LP album

Montreal band The Holds may have only been together for a year and half, but their unique sound cannot be missed. Their swampy, soulful, indie-rock vibe has garnered a lot of reaction from people across both Quebec and Ontario following a two-week tour for their self-titled EP last year. The EP was released in January 2016, and the band is now excited to have new music on the horizon. The lead singer of the band, Ryan Setton, said their soon-to-be released full-length album is very different from anything they’ve done before.

“[Our sound] has changed a lot actually,” Setton said. “Obviously the instrumentation is somewhat the same, but there’s definitely more keys on the new stuff, and the songs are more dynamic, in that there’s more of a story in the music. There are things that are constantly changing and shifting throughout the tracks, whereas before, our songs were a bit more cut and dry.” Setton first started performing cover songs at bars around Montreal with Justin Wiley, the drummer of The Holds, five years ago. After years of covering other bands’ material, they both wanted to start creating their own original music. That’s when bassist Andre Galamba, keyboard player Alex Lebel and guitarist Eric Hein came in. These three musicians had the talent, personality and chemistry Setton and Wiley were looking for.

Setton said their album is currently in pre-production, but the goal is to release it by this summer. The band also hopes to tour Canada for the upcoming album. Their new release signifies something much more profound for Setton. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about something, out of all the things I’ve done, than this record that’s coming out now. Sometimes when I listen to it, I can’t even believe that it’s happening,” he said.

Setton is not new to the music industry—he has been performing on stage for over 14 years. He has been playing piano and guitar for most of his life, and began singing in his 20s. “Music’s always been like air to breathe, you know what I mean? Like a higher consciousness or something,” he said. “It makes you feel good, motivates you, connects you to something, to other people.” But having a career in music has come with its challenges over the years, including criticism. “For a long time, I was not sure of myself,” he said. “At one point I almost threw in the towel.”

Portrait shot of Montreal band, The Holds. Photo courtesy of The Holds.

While creating music over the past year for the new album, something just clicked for Setton. “After playing shows for so long and being in many situations where I was frustrated, I think I got to the breaking point where I let go, and I really don’t care what anyone [says],” he said. “I’m not going to put myself down for any reason. I’m just going to do what I do, and to the best of my ability.” Setton said the songs he’s created over the past year are more in tune with who he is, both as a person and artist, than ever before. “[The new album] is so in line with [what] I’ve always wanted to do, but I guess I’ve never been able to achieve,” he said. “Just the sound that we have and the songs that we have right now on this upcoming record, it just makes so much sense to me when I hear them.”

The members of The Holds also inspire Setton to tap into his full musical potential. “With the right group of people and the right circumstances, now there’s all this creative energy flowing,” he said. “Alex Lebel—he’s definitely, in my personal, biased opinion, one of the best key players in Montreal,” Setton said. “It’s just such a natural, raw talent that he has. He just adds such a spark and a finesse to everything he plays.” According to Setton, Galamba, who is originally from Brazil, is an intelligent and intuitive player who adds an air of confidence to the music. “[He] is very well-versed in world music. He plays jazz, he plays Latin music, all kinds of different styles,” Setton said. Hein has a lot in common with Setton in terms of musical interests. “Eric and I, we both grew up playing blues and rock and roll, playing by ear. He plays most of the lead guitar in the band, so that gives it it’s bluesy, kind of juke joint, classic 60s vibe,” he said.

Setton said Wiley motivates him in many ways. “Justin is a very disciplined drummer and person in general. He’s very motivated, and his energy in music, in the jam room and outside in life is very positive and energetic. It’s just an amazing thing to have someone like that in a band, who constantly keeps everyone on their toes, but is also a great drummer, and adds a lot of unique style.” Setton said he strives to bring romance back to rock and roll. “Even though a lot of our songs are pretty rocking, I’m heavily influenced by classic soul and R&B.”

Setton said they try to make their music relatable to everyone. “We’re definitely influenced by the blues, and talking a lot about travelling, feeling good, feeling bad. Very simple, everyday things that everyone feels.” he said. “We’re talking about human relationships, we’re talking about love, loss and things like that. Which in itself is profound, I think.”

Whether the band’s music is heard at a bar in downtown Montreal, or on their albums, the band’s goal is to inspire others to be genuine. “Remember to be yourself, because that’s when the true art comes out,” Setton said. “That is the most important thing to say: in anything that you do, just uncompromisingly be yourself.”

Music Quickspins

Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life

Japandroids – Near to the Wild Heart of Life (ANTI-, 2017)

This Canadian alternative rock band will get you all fired up with their opening tack, “Near to the Wild Heart of Life.” Their high-energy guitar riffs and vocals will lighten the mood as they sing, “So I left my home and all I have, I use to be good but now I’m bad.” Their sound is reminiscent of the nostalgic, smooth rock songs that used to play on the radio in the late 90s. Their West Coast flavour can be heard in their track “North East South West,” as they sing about Western Canada being their home. You might have heard similar alternative songs, but Japandroids prove classic alternative rock never gets old. Their track “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding you Sooner)” combines upbeat ballads with an emotional tone of vocals singing: “I’ve been looking for you my whole life.” The song has a beautiful intimate side to it, although it still makes you want to blast the volume and dance around. It’s a great album for a long drive, preferably somewhere sunny that will take you on the road Near to the Wild Heart of Life.

Trial Track: “I’m Sorry (For Not Finding you Sooner)”

Score: 7.5/10


Young The Giant – Home of the Strange

Young The Giant – Home of the Strange (Fueled by Ramen, 2016)

Young The Giant’s third studio album Home of the Strange is quite possibly their best and most ambitious record yet. Unlike their first few outputs, Home of the Strange puts a large focus on grand instrumentals that fill the ears with some of the most pleasant sounds you’ll ever hear. The guitars are bright and poppy while the drums are on point. The arrangements on songs like “Something to Believe In” and “Silvertongue” will get you moving, while also giving you an overpowering feeling of nostalgia. The band changes up the mood on songs like “Art Exhibit,” by giving a mix of emotions that helps break up the album. Home of the Strange is indie rock at its finest and offers a sound that’s unique. On this record, Young The Giant is able to distinguish themselves from other indie rock bands with its newfound blend of sounds.

Trial Track: Something To Believe In



No rest for Tokyo Police Club

Keyboardist Graham Wright reminiscences about touring, new fans, and young dreaming

When Canadian indie rock group, Tokyo Police Club, first started touring in the United States, they were booking their own shows. They were paying their own way on tour with money from odd jobs back in their hometown of Newmarket, Ontario. Graham Wright recalled the need to start playing shows outside of Canada.

“We did a little bit of everything you know? We worked retail in the suburbs,” Wright explained. “You took that money that you were ostensibly saving for your college education and spent it on going to stay at a hotel in Cleveland. It was like starting a business and making an investment.”

This means of exposure was obviously a tactic for days past, before crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo could find enough fans to finance a band’s entire tour.

Nearly ten years later, Tokyo Police club has toured all over the world. They are presently playing sold-out shows on their Canadian tour, for their newest album, Forcefield, which was released in March. Forcefield is the band’s third full-length album, which took them nearly four years to perfect. While they were criticized for the lengthy gap of time between albums, Wright suggested that they had one guiding philosophy to live by: “There is no good time to put out a bad record and there’s no bad time to put out a good record.”

Ontario natives Tokyo police club went from paying for their own gigs to touring all over the world.

He heard that quote first from the band’s manager. “I don’t know if this is an original to him or if he stole it from someone else,” he said. If anything, Forcefield sounds even more complex and sonically layered than their older songs, a result of the quality time spent on the material.

Having played shows since 2005, the band has accumulated many fans who have been following their progress for years. They consider being able to keep people engaged and listening over this time span a point of pride. But, as Wright suggested, it’s always nice to see new faces too.

Just recently there was a fan who came to one of their shows and stood directly in front of the stage, singing every word to only the new songs, from Forcefield. Frequently at their shows, lead singer Dave Monks plays an acoustic version of the highly requested song, “Tessellate” from their debut album, Elephant Shell (2008).

Recalling one concert where fans were whistling the piano riffs from the song, Wright laughed. “You can’t whistle in union, it’s not a thing that people do, but I admired their dedication.”

Tokyo Police Club have often included playing shows in smaller cities while on tour. They say that not much thought ever went into specifically picking smaller Canadian cities, but that they have always played them because, as a Canadian band, “it’s just been like a part of [the] business model,” Wright said.

However, nothing is intrinsically Canadian about the band aside from their origins. Their sound is a fusion of indie rock and punk, with distinct and strong vocals, catchy choruses and cool guitar riffs.

When asked about the band as contributors and representatives to and of Canadian music, Wright dismissed the notion of pigeonholing themselves.

“I have no interest in border divides on style … it seems pointless to me to ever shoehorn yourself or try and identify with one particular scene, its just limiting,” he said.

Tokyo Police Club have established themselves in a more global context of indie music culture playing festivals and shows in Europe and Asia. While touring in a band is something Wright said he always dreamed about as a young boy, inspired by watching rock ‘n’ roll documentaries, a well-deserved day off is something he really looks forward to.

After playing show after show, Wright explained, “you feel like you’ve earned the right to indulge yourself a little.” With three successful albums completed and eighteen shows to play over the next four weeks, a day off is surely deserved.


Christopher Owens owns our hearts

The former Girls frontman offers up advice to those hesitating about pursuing their dreams

“I’m a little nervous,” Christopher Owens said while he sat in his San Francisco bedroom about to perform his song, “Oh My Love,” alone with his acoustic guitar back in 2010. Maybe it’s Owens’ soft boyish voice over his delicate guitar playing. Maybe it’s his perfectly crafted lyrics—“You never said you might be leaving, you never let-on with those eyes. You always said it was forever, you always told such pretty lies”—but Owens writes love songs like no other. Even if there’s no one special in your life, his songs hit you in such a way that will have you falling in love with the nearest lamppost for two minutes and 30 seconds.

“The important thing for me is to write honest songs—lyrically. I start from a very simple, honest place and then it seems to go pretty smoothly from there,” Owens explained.

The former Girls frontman just released his second solo album, A New Testament, which strays from the songwriter’s indie-rock sound. A New Testament is a country album—perhaps a nod to Owens’ move to Texas after his tumultuous childhood.

Owens grew up travelling the world with his family, who were members of the Children of God New Religious Movement. They strictly observed the church’s rules: his brother died at the age of four due to the church’s reluctance to use any modern medical assistance. The song “Steven” off the new album is about the loss of his brother. At the age of 16, Owens ran away from the church and followed his sister to Texas. He spent nine years there, working backroom jobs, and eventually was hired by wealthy oil tycoon and artist, Stanley Marsh III, as his personal assistant. Marsh’s guidance and role as a father-figure helped sooth the turmoil of the young musician’s heart and mind. With Owens’ move to San Francisco, the rest is history—his widely popular band Girls, his solo debut Lysandre, and now A New Testament.

Though the ears of our generation are less attuned to gospel and country-sounding music, the songwriter’s honesty spills out of the album between the guitar and bass riffs’ southern drawls. Everything Owens writes is a window into his life—the album isn’t just a group of catchy songs, but an insight into his mind. He becomes, in his solo career, a musical auteur.

Perhaps we’re drawn to his music because he feels so deeply, but also because he possesses the talent for communicating those feelings so beautifully.

Press Photo.

“There’s love that hits you like a ton of bricks, all at once, that can really throw you off or come as a surprise. There’s love that slowly builds and grows on you or comes from somewhere unexpected. I’ve experienced both—I think maybe that’s why I’ve come to respect the feeling of love. I think it’s not just one thing: not only romantic or only dramatic. It’s an intricate part of life…It’s just something that, throughout life, you’ll see in so many different ways—over and over again,” he explained.

In different words, and to reference some Girls lyrics, Owens has a bony body and a mushy soul. He’s been at the bottom: at one point in Texas, he fell into the die-hard punk scene, and got a Bad Brains tattoo. He’s been famously quoted in The Guardian back in 2011 as calling heroin “the drug you can only relate to as the warmest hug you’ve ever received.”

The pop-star, who found his calling in writing songs at the age of 28, speaks candidly to those with a passion or fire burning inside them—especially to those who see the fire dwindling. He speaks to The Concordian while walking down a street in D.C., his words beaming from the phone speaker:

“Without trying to sound too cliché, I would say: ‘don’t give up—hang in there,’ because those things are important. If you are somebody who’s actually going through a crisis with your dreams… I think the bigger disaster would be to just settle for some type of life without a passion or without a purpose. It can be brutal—it can take ages—sometimes an entire lifetime,” he said.

“Just make sure that you’re looking at everything. For a long time I wanted to be a painter and it was very important to me; I never achieved that. I never found a good feeling for painting; I never had any good ideas. But then songwriting came along and I was able to let [painting] go because I realized I had a general need to express myself—it didn’t have to be through painting. Maybe, sometimes, people can get fixated on finding themselves in one way, maybe it doesn’t have to be like that. It comes from somewhere unexpected sometimes,” he said. “So, basically, don’t give up on the greater goal of fulfillment or happiness. It’s hard to talk about these things without sounding cliché. But it’s true; you should not give up.”

The Concordian: Are you in love with love?

Owens: “I do appreciate love and I think love is better than anger or hate. To say someone’s in love with love—I don’t know what they’re saying. I’ll take it but I’ll just have to accept it as a general compliment.”

“It’s hard to talk about love,” Owens says, but he makes love seem effortless to sing about.

Owens plays Petit Campus on Sept. 30.


It Takes Time… to get along

Intensive Care have been creeping around the Montreal music scene for quite some time. After releasing their first studio album Fairytales from the Island in 2009, under the production of Jace Lasek of fellow Montreal band The Besnard Lakes, they have been touring extensively and working on new material for their next album.
The group’s diversity is something of a hook, as its members hail from Lebanon, Canada and the United States. It’s a mélange that has shaped their upcoming EP It Takes Time, which will be released during their next gig at Casa Del Popolo on March 22.
The band says their new material was inspired by “endless debates about the state of contemporary society and the way eastern and western cultures interact,” an issue that each band member has struggled to overcome, both within the band, and through their assimilation into Montreal society.
“With It Takes Time and the LP to follow, we wanted to challenge the way society perceives modernity in a time when life is becoming unnaturally comfortable,” said lead singer, Philippe Manasseh, nervously smiling as he handles his shiny new iPhone.
Each member of Intensive Care brings a certain eclecticism to their craft. Lead guitarist, Nadim Maghzal is currently completing a PhD in cell and molecular biology and drummer Evan Tighe completed a bachelor’s degree at Concordia University in jazz studies.
“We often find each other at a loss for words when it comes to expressing ourselves and resolving conflicts, and often we misinterpret each other,” admits Manasseh.
Such a melting pot could cause tension, but instead, the boys of Intensive Care use it as a strength.
“When we play, all that goes away, and we just switch to a whole other mode of discussion,” he said.
But the band admits that the key to their success is compromise.
“Having to make sacrifices all the time is truly stimulating,” said Manasseh. “We believe strongly in making music that we like as a group and we all just happen to enjoy more complex pop music.”
Musically, their influences converge around indie rock bands like Wolf Parade, Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear, but Manasseh sees the group as independent and distinct.
“I truly think that our influences come mostly from non-musical art forms, such as movies, literature, comics and science,” he said. These outside influences played a crucial role in inspiring the writing process for all of their material, past and present.
“[The band] recorded the album in a manner that was as close to our live sound as possible,” explained Manasseh. “We used our own equipment, sang on a standard live microphone, and tried not to layer the songs to the point that we couldn’t perform them live.”

Check out Intensive Care at Casa Del Popolo on Thursday, March 22 at 8:30 p.m. for the release party of their new EP It Takes Time featuring guests The Golden Isles and Technical Kidman.

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