QUICKSPINS: Snoh Aalegra – ugh, those feels again

The title to Snoh Aalegra’s new album is a dead giveaway on what to expect from the Iranian-Swedish singer. Ugh, those feels again is a masterclass of retro-sounding soul music in which the recurring themes of loneliness and heartaches hit the listener like a tidal wave in hurricane season. “I Want You Around,” “Toronto”, and “Nothing to Me” put Aalegra’s elegant voice at the forefront while her instrumentals are smooth, soulful, and perfect for listening with headphones on under the stars. It’s a one-of-a-kind project that should rank high among many year-end lists.


Trial Track: “I Want You Around”

Star Bar:

“You and me go back and forth, that’s nothing new

I said I’m better on my own, there’s nothing you can do

What’s  at home if I’m alone? Baby, that’s it (Baby, that means nothing to me)

You’re  the type that can’t commit to nothing (That ain’t it)”


Jungle: Bringing back the soul

London funk outfit brings 70s funk into 2019 at MTelus

Jungle, a band from London signed to XL Recordings, is currently on tour promoting their 2018 album, For Ever. On March 17, the 70s funk band stopped in Montreal to perform at MTelus. The show opened with alternative rock band Houses; Heavy guitar and drum beats filled the air at the antique-style venue and perfectly set the scene for the show. Jungle will be followed by Houses on their tour throughout the U.S.

Jungle arrived on stage around 9 p.m. after much anticipation from the crowd. A large sign hung high, displaying their logo in bright lights. Just below, a stage filled with smoke slowly cleared and revealed the seven band members in formation, with “J” and “T,” the founders of the band, leading in the front row. Josh Lloyd-Watson and Tom McFarland have been friends since childhood—and formed the group in 2013.

They jumped right into their first single, “Smile,” and the crowd sung along. The most captivating thing about Jungle is how accurate their live renditions of their music are. They sound spectacular; it’s almost hard to believe. They didn’t miss a single beat, and their harmonies were synchronized perfectly. They performed “Heavy California” next, and their energy was contagious.

Nearing the end of their performance, the band walked off the stage without a word. Fans instantly began to call for them and sing the Habs-appropriated bullfighting anthem, “olé olé olé olé, olé olé.” They walked back onto the stage, and without hesitation, played one of their number one hits, “Casio.” It was exhilarating to see everyone singing along and appreciating the music. They closed the show with “Busy Earnin’,” from their first studio album, Jungle. This song originally reached the U.K. top 50 Independent Singles in 2014, catapulting their career.

Many people went to the back of the venue to wait by the tour bus and catch a glimpse of some of the band members. Others wrote the band members’ names on the tour bus as a final ode to an amazing show that truly enamored all who attended.

Touring the world, Jungle’s next show will be in Liverpool on March 31.

Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Planet Giza – Added Sugar

The debut album from Montreal trio Planet Giza is a sunny 30-minute break on a dark winter day. Composed of three members, Tony Stone, DoomX, and Rami.B(izzle), the group has outstanding chemistry on Added Sugar. The buttery-smooth production lives up to the name of the album and complements Stone’s lush, melodic flows. The only outside help comes from Mick Jenkins on single “Brk Frm Nrml” and a co-production from Kaytranada on “Timeless//3 Stacks.” Added Sugar is not only a great time, but an excellent indication of the group’s potential.


Hip-hop culture with Milla Thyme

After releasing his EP, Eternally the Student, the rapper returned to study jazz at Concordia

For Milla Thyme, rapping is about bringing light to important social matters. “You have to talk about things that are unjust and speak about them,” he said. Milla Thyme fuses a mix of soul, hip hop, and jazz into his music. Milla Thyme is the MC name of Concordia student Max Miller. It’s a name he developed in his early teens. “Milla Thyme is 100 per cent me. It’s when I’m playing bass and rapping and I’m writing all the music myself,” he said.

The MC can be spotted at Le Cypher, a popular hip-hop jam session party at Le Bleury-Bar à Vinyle, which takes place almost every Thursday night. It’s one of his favourite Montreal hotspots. In fact, the rapper said it’s like his second home. “We get 150 people average per week so it’s a good platform for people to see you perform regularly,” he said.

People from all walks of life can get a chance to come up on stage during Le Cypher and try out rapping—even if they’ve never done it before. “It’s a safe space for people to communicate,” Miller said. “You get people of all different genders, ages, sexual orientation. We don’t care. We’re all the same, right?” Miller has been rapping and playing bass with the band Urban Science at Le Cypher almost every Thursday night. The band is comprised of about 20 to 25 artists, some of whom played on his recent EP, Eternally the Student. “It was my friend Thomas Lafrance, a.k.a T-Cup, on the drums,” Miller said. “And then on keys we had one of the baddest under-25 keyboard players in the city, named Nicolas Dupuis, who goes by the name Anomalie. I’m just so grateful that he had the time to play with us.”

Come see Milla Thyme perform live on Thursday evenings at Le Bleury-Bar à Vinyle. Photo by Emily Vidal

Urban Science has also played at many popular venues in Montreal, including the Jazz Festival two years in a row, which Miller said he’s grateful to have been a part of. “That group has taken me to amazing places,” he said. For the rapper, there is no better feeling than freestyling on stage during Le Cypher nights. “It’s like having an amazing orgasm, a sweet release. It’s one of the best feelings, a natural high,” he said.

When he’s not busy performing as Milla Thyme, Miller is focused on his jazz studies program at Concordia. He said it’s important for him to keep up his studies, to never stop learning or growing, both as a person and as a musician. The artist is also the president of Concordia’s Hip Hop Community, a student club that holds rap battles for social justice. Each week, a different social issue is addressed at the rap battles, such as police brutality and gender inequality. The club also holds workshops that allow people to work on different elements and aspects of hip hop, and allow them to share their music with others on stage.

“It’s a good way for Concordia students and members of the community who don’t have much experience but want to be involved with hip hop and social consciousness,” Miller said. A rap battle on police brutality will be held on Feb. 15 at the Le Belmont nightclub on St-Laurent. The proceeds for this event will be going to Montreal Noir, which Milla Thyme said is a socially-conscious group advocating equality. Miller feels very lucky to have always been pushed to chase his dreams by his parents, who are artists themselves. “Michael Miller, my dad, is actually the most produced black playwright in Canada. And my mom was a TA at Juilliard in her 20s,” he said. “My parents are both established in their careers. They told me, if I’m going to pursue arts, that I have to [give it] my 100 per cent.”

Concordia’s Hip Hop Community president, Max Miller, also known as Milla Thyme. Photo by Ana Hernandez

This support really helped Miller overcome the struggles involved with creating his music. I think the biggest challenge we all face is ourselves,” he said. “That’s always the biggest challenge because it’s an internal conflict, just questioning [yourself], like we all do, in some way. That’s something, as an artist, you deal with a lot.” Miller said artists like Kendrick Lamar and J-Cole allowed him to forget about the hardships of the music industry. Through their meaningful lyrics, they inspired him to focus on being real in his music as well. “They gave me a renewed sense of purpose,” he said.

Miller’s EP, Eternally a Student, which was released in October, touches on deep subjects that truly matter both in his own life and in society. The songs, he said, are a true representation of what was going on in his life as well as what he saw going on around him. For the artist, that’s the ultimate goal: to express himself in a way that can be relatable to someone else. “I hope my music can help people in their day-to-day, and if someone’s going through something, that it helps them get through that,” he said.

If there’s anything Miller wants artists to take from his story, it’s that the most important thing is to believe in yourself, and in your own music. “Just keep pushing,” he said. “Don’t give up, and just know that no one can tell your music better than you can.”

Music Quickspins

MNDSGN- Body Wash

MNDSGN- Body Wash (Stones Throw Records, 2016)

Body Wash is Mndsgn’s second full length album for Stones Throw, and to be quite frank, it is mind-blowing. Their music is a blend of 80s boogie/funk/soul/jazz/fusion wave and—get this—90s R&B. Yet they make the seemingly impossible fusion of music between two eras not only work, but make sense together. The way they mix their psychedelic beats make you feel as though you are being magically transported into the future instead of going back to the past. Their song, Cosmic Masterpiece, is the perfect example of this. It has a funky, yet futuristic beat, and transports you to a whole other place and time. This masterpiece of psychedelic, yet nostalgic music is worth—not only listening—but experiencing at least once in your life. So what are you waiting for?

Trial track: “Use ya Mind (Twentyfourseven)”



Not yet The End of That for Plants and Animals

Plants and Animals play and sound like a band that has lived through decades together. But there is a good reason why a band with only three full-length albums, the first of which was released as recently as 2008, sounds so mature.
Bandmates Warren Spicer and Matthew ‘Woody’ Woodley first met as 12-year-olds in Halifax, N.S., but they found their missing piece, Quebec native Nic Basque, over 10 years ago in the depths of Concordia’s music department.
Combined, they bring a tight, red-hot gospel/soul sound that escaped rock somewhere between the ‘80s and today.
Woodley’s skittering, feet-flicking drum beat and Basque’s classic-rock-country trilling guitar provides the canvas for Spicer’s gargling, soulful voice and easy-to-relate-to tales of ecstasy, disappointment and growing older.
Since their debut album Parc Avenue got shortlisted for the 2008 Polaris Prize, Plants and Animals have toured Europe and North America extensively, played the summer music festival circuit, and opened for Grizzly Bear, Gnarls Barkley and The National—to name a few.
Despite hobnobbing with industry elites and dealing with the distractions of rock ‘n’ roll life on the road, Woodley claims that his bond with Spicer and Basque has only strengthened.
“The one thing that’s changed the most is we’re more comfortable being open with each other,” revealed Woodley. “We’re not afraid to say what we think to each other, not too shy and don’t take things too personally.”
Fresh off the shelves, The End of That has already garnered significant commercial attention. The album was featured as CBC Music’s Album of the Week, its first single, “Lightshow,” was Amazon MP3’s Song of the Day on Feb. 29, and the band stole the cover of several Montreal publications in February alone.
While Parc Avenue was Plants and Animals’ love letter to Mile End, and La La Land (2010) revealed the gritty truth of touring around Los Angeles, The End of That is a therapeutic return home.
Vocalist Spicer dealt with some life issues through the lyrics. In “Crisis!” he returns home to find “everyone is getting married or breaking up / And the stroller situation on the sidewalk / is way out of control,” while on “The End of That” he reflects on his foray into cocaine.
“I don’t think that we wanted to be happy-go-lucky,” said Woodley, “but we wanted to put something out that hit people in the heart a little more quickly, not such a slow burn.”
Woodley and Basque often have their music charted out before Spicer brings the lyrics into the studio, which Woodley admits completely changes the way it plays out.
“It’s kind of an obtuse feeling when a song hits, and when you put words on top, they can really change the message of the music,” explained Woodley. “Sometimes I find it’s an adjustment, playing it, coming to grips with it.”
The band recorded the album at La Frette, a manor just outside Paris where they ate, slept and played while touring in France.
“We got there after playing a show at two in the morning, turned on the lights, and realized, ‘Oh man, we have to work here again, we’ve got to settle down and do it here,’” recounted Woodley.
“It isn’t the fact that it’s in France, the city close by, or even the river down the street. It’s the space itself and what it felt like that made it so special.”
With roots in improvisation, Plants and Animals are known for seducing crowds to the dance floor with their loud, jam-rocking live shows. They take their albums’ work to the stage on an entirely different level.
“There’s nothing like [playing] live,” professed Woodley. “It’s in the moment, it’s about the people.”
This time around, the Mile Enders wanted to produce an album that already reflected as much of their live material as possible.
“I think you might find the live show as close to the album as we have ever gotten,” said Woodley. “It’s still louder, and still rockier, but it’s closer in character.”

Plants and Animals play Le Cabaret du Mile End (5240 Parc Ave.) on March 10. Tickets are $17 in advance or $20 at the door.

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