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Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Leonard Cohen – Thanks for the Dance

Three years after Cohen’s passing, his son Adam salvages the remains of the You Want it Darker sessions and delivers a worthwhile addition to the Cohen canon

Three years ago, 19 days prior to his passing, Leonard Cohen said goodbye to the world on what would be his final album, You Want It Darker. He was battling cancer when recording the LP and knew his time was limited. The album served as a dark, haunting and beautiful farewell from the prolific Montreal poet.

On Thanks for the Dance, Cohen’s son Adam has lovingly assembled the remains of the Darker sessions and crafted a worthwhile follow-up to his father’s final album. It might not be as focused or cohesive as its predecessor, but every song on this album feels complete and fully fleshed out. It’s clear that this isn’t some greedy estate or label looking to capitalize on Cohen’s passing – this is a son lovingly assembling the remnants of his father’s work to create one last album.

There are many standout moments on this album. Songs like “It’s Torn” and “The Goal” are Cohen’s gorgeous, ominous reflections on mortality. “The Night of Santiago” strongly displays his penchant for poetic storytelling, over lush, layered instrumentation. It’s moments like these that make this album feel like such a gift.

Thanks for the Dance is an excellently assembled posthumous release. You can sense the love and care that Adam put into gathering and completing his father’s final recordings for this project. While it lacks in some areas compared to Cohen’s previous release, it still houses some phenomenal moments and is a wonderful and worthwhile addition to the Cohen canon.

8/10

Trial Track: “The Night of Santiago”

Star Bar:
“Come gather the pieces
All scattered and lost
The lie in what’s holy
The light in what’s not”
(Cohen on “It’s Torn”)

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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

The best albums of 2016

An influential year in music with the release of many great records

With many hit albums released in 2016, here is my list of the must-listen-to records from this year.

David Bowie – Blackstar

The year started with the loss of music legend, David Bowie. Blackstar  is a deeply personal look at death and only becomes more powerful with the passing of the singer himself. Bowie brings us right to the edge and forces us to peer into the abyss with this album. It is his most beautifully morose work to date. The blend of experimental jazz alongside his classic elastic voice and pop sensibility reminds us why he is one of the most iconic pop stars of all time. His knack for ballads isn’t lost either, with “Dollar Days” providing a beautifully nihilist view on life. Every song latches onto the soul, as the lingering strings and horns glide through the album. David Bowie transcends death, and Blackstar is the most haunting album of the year.

 

 

Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker

The Canadian poet sadly passed away earlier this month, but like Bowie, he left us with a reminder of his greatness. His 14th full-length LP may be his most somber project yet. A deep, church choral background accompanies him on the title track. The unmistakable sound of Cohen’s grisly voice sends shivers down spines whenever he sings. Much like Blackstar, You Want It Darker marks the end of a legend’s journey. The rich and tight production serve as the perfect backdrop for Cohen and his uncanny ability to tell beautiful, concise stories. With each song, Cohen accepts his fate and inherently resigns himself to death. The description of the album on iTunes says it best: “At 35, he sounded like an old man—at 82, he sounds eternal.”

 

The Darcys – Centerfold

Retro 80s pop and funk mixed with a sense of cool swagger is rarely heard, not only from Canadian groups, but from any group. This project is such a dramatic departure from The Darcys’ usual heavy, tone-focused albums. It features suave instrumentals from Jason Couse and Wes Marskell, combined with old-school funk guitar and electronic-oriented production. These melodies bring us straight to the beaches of Miami at spring break. At the end of the day, there’s nothing better than an album that’s just plain old fun. The groovy, retro guitar licks, laid back drum lines and Couse’s silky voice provides us with a neon-laced dance pop record that holds nothing back.

 

 

Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

Kanye out-dueling Kendrick Lamar on “No More Parties In L.A.” is reason enough for The Life of Pablo to appear on this list. However, there are many other reasons to love this project. Kanye’s classic egotistical and insecure persona shines, but is also accompanied by a new sense of accomplishment. On his previous records, Kanye seemed troubled and burdened by fame. On The Life of Pablo, he seems to have finally begun to enjoy himself a little, and as a result, we get the best production and beats to ever grace a Kanye West album. His lyricism hasn’t taken a hit either. “No More Parties In L.A.” and “30 Hours” showcase his rhyming prowess. Multiple listens to The Life of Pablo only make it better, with new details emerging every time.

 

Florida Georgia Line – Dig Your Roots

I’m from Calgary, so I had to put at least one country album on this list. Florida Georgia Line has been at the forefront of the “bro country” movement. With Dig Your Roots, they tone down that frat boy mentality and deliver their most intimate material yet— all of this while still putting out some fun, light and classic tunes like “Life Is A Honeymoon” and “Summerland.” Musically, this album is not terribly original—it doesn’t need to be. Its familiarity is part of the charm, kind of like visiting your old favourite hangout spots. This is the kind of sunny country music that makes you want to kick back, shotgun some beers and tailgate with friends. No country album this year made me want to get up and dance more than Dig Your Roots.

 

Gord Downie – Secret Path

For those who don’t know, Gord Downie is the lead singer of one of the most respected rock bands of all time, The Tragically Hip. Secret Path is an obvious passion project for the terminally ill songwriter. Downie tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a First Nations boy who died while escaping from a residential school 50 years ago. “This is Canada’s story,” Downie has told us in multiple interviews as well as on his website and in the foreword of the graphic novel that accompanies it. It is a dark corner of our past we rarely acknowledge, but is essential to our identities. The singer brings it all to life with haunting acoustic guitar riffs and ghostly vocals overlapped with subtle piano riffs. It brings Wenjack’s suffering out from the basement of Canadian history and into the spotlight. Pounding, unrelenting drums propel each song forward into the next, making the album a journey. The top-notch production is something to be expected at this point from Downie. With Downie, however, it is never just about the chords and beats. The story is what makes the album one of Canada’s most quintessential albums in years.

Categories
Arts

A spellbinding tribute to Leonard Cohen

Photo by Per Victor

Cohenites rejoice! Another year, and another tribute to Montreal’s legendary singer, poet, and novelist Leonard Cohen, is upon us. The Centaur Theatre Company will be hosting the North American debut of Dance Me To The End On/Off Love, bringing this artistic creation, which is originally from Denmark, to Montreal. The show is a synthesis of theatrical disciplines: it intertwines them to create an amalgam that is part dance, part concert and part performance art. This inspired production is as highly captivating as it is unusual.

Palle Granhøj, the professional dancer and internationally acclaimed Danish director responsible for the drama, is known for having developed a form of dance called “the obstruction technique.” Essentially, when putting together his choreography, he would ask the dancers to perform a certain move but then disrupt it with a restriction. By doing this, a struggle would be created, and a yearning for completion would be manifested in the dancer’s expressions.

This craving for liberation is brought to stage as a reflection of a myriad of Cohen’s characteristically melancholic songs. The result is a highly emotional depiction of desire and isolation, in its most sensual form, on stage.

Beloved songs such as “Suzanne,” “Hallelujah” and the title song, “Dance Me to the End of Love,” all make an appearance throughout the show, in a unique arrangement of dialogue-free renditions of some of Cohen’s most famous songs. Demonstrating emotion through motion, themes of sexuality, rejection and the examination of relationships are also evoked as the hypnotizing musical-dance interpretations play out on stage.

The dimly-lit stage, designed by visual director Per Victor, was minimally but artfully styled with a uniform array of black cloths, cubes, tables, and boards. Even the performers are dressed head to toe in black when it comes to attire, with their suits, jump suits and dresses. And, as if that is not austere enough, no fewer than 20 bald mannequin head props serve to illustrate the gravity of feelings of the performers‘ sketches, inviting the audience to examine the beautiful as well as the grotesque.

Thankfully, there are sufficient moments of comic relief interspersed throughout the show to alleviate the audience from the austerity. Other Cohen songs such as “Sisters of Mercy,” “Famous Blue Rain Coat” and “I’m Your Man” make the crowd roar with laughter, as the performers take liberties reinterpreting the lyrics to suit their characters.

Continually changing pace, from tragedy to hilarity, all 13 performers act, dance, sing and play instruments in some capacity on stage. Guitars, a double bass, cymbals and even a ukelele are used to bring Cohen’s words to life, as they are played and sung live on stage. The particular vocal talents of Palle Klok and Dorte Petersen are hauntingly memorable, as they capture both the elements of sadness and playfulness Cohen’s lyrics usually embody.

Better described as a dance-concert, this groundbreaking theatrical production successfully translates Cohen’s evocative words onto the human body through dance, video and written word. Though imaginative and albeit eccentric, the performance transports viewers to an otherworldly place, a realm of contrasts, where joy and sorrow coexist and they can sway to “dancing violins.”

Dance Me To The End On/Off Love plays at the Centaur Theatre until April 14.

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