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The Belle Comedians have been working at their live set since well before cementing their current line-up about a year ago. This collection is a reward for fans of the band’s folk-tinged, vocal-hinged rock.
Production was handled by all members so the mix is very even and natural, like a well-done live performance. The production really shines when the instruments blend in to each other, lush walls of sound, as with the disarming, delicate transition between “Modern Touch” and “Stop to Rust”.
These songs have been the Belles’ live blue-print for a while now, so if you’ve seen them you’ll know what to expect. They crackle with the same excitement of their live show. Though the new tracks (e.g. titular “Without a Sound”) find the band fitting in to new, more natural roles, it’s some of the re-recordings that are most  exciting.
Older songs like “The Big Empty” really shine from studio treatment. This time clearly bettered at the hand of Scott Mallory, whose guitar tone is one of the finer pleasure of the recording. He also rips a pretty good solo on “Loaded Bones”.
Vocalist Ben Ross really finds his swagger on songs like “Modern Touch”, which comes off like the Black Keys featuring on an Arcade Fire track.
The only real misstep is opener “Lost in the Straws,” a middle-of-the-road pop song, with exuberant keys which make it not unlike a the Hold Steady b-side. There is just no moment of clarity – no instance where the band takes their influences and moves them a step forward.
The Without a Sound EP is a spot on palette cleanser for the Belle Comedians. It puts the group in a promising position to move on to work on their first full-length.

Aquinian Mix

Mix-Tapes, Not Mistakes

Last week I talked about my personal mix-tape rules and regulations – now that the casual reader is up to speed: I made a mix to illustrate those points. I wanted to challenge myself too, so I did something I’ve never done before. I made a chronological mix of my taste in music.

1. Sam Cooke – Chain Gang (from Live at the Harlem Square Ball, 1963)
Speaking of swagger! Well, I haven’t, but I definitely mentioned it when I wrote about rap. Sam Cooke was the father of soul, but I also look at him as the all-time king of swagger. Such a profoundly touching voice, and the classiest band behind him.

2. The Zombies – This Will Be Our Year (from Odessey and Oracle, 1968)

As far as 60’s sunshine pop, the Zombies are my band. No diss to Pet Sounds, but Odessey and Oracle is my summer day jam. Fantastic production and harmonies, this is just a pleasant record.

3. Elvis Presley – Only the Strong Survive (from From Elvis in Memphis, 1969)

After growing tired of his film career and cyclical release path, Elvis went back to his roots and recorded in Memphis for the first time in 13 years. The result, From Elvis in Memphis, is one of Elvis’ most complete records – accentuated by gorgeous harmonies and his fantastic ad-lib banter.

4. David Bowie – Oh! You Pretty Things (from Hunky Dory, 1971)

I’m not sure if it makes sense, but early 70’s pop music (specifically this, Velvet Underground’s Loaded and Harry Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up“) is my favorite music to wake up to. This song has a perfect chorus.

5. Bruce Springsteen – Spirit in the Night (from Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. 1973)

Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. is Springsteen’s hyper-literate, Dylanesque debut. Where Born to Run typifies the gang’s struggle to escape the shadow of their home-town, Greetings revels in the simultaneous seediness and glory of high-school parties. “Spirit in the Night” is the best example of this, and also the best song on the record.

(From Live at the Hammersmith Odeon, 1975. Best Springsteen show)

6. Lou Reed – Caroline Says II (from Berlin, 1975)

As I said last week: mixes can’t be all rise, and this is the first downer here. In the print version I also allude to how the Velvet Underground are inexplicably missing. Lou Reed deserves his dues, and I have a very personal relationship to this song (first name basis).

7. Bob Dylan – Idiot Wind (from Blood on the Tracks, 1975)

This is my break-up song.

8. Iggy Pop – Sixteen (from Lust for Life, 1977)

Iggy and Bowie’s working relationship in the 70’s is probably in the top 10 things rock fans should be grateful for. This record has fantastic guitar work.

9. Richard Hell & the Voidoids – Blank Generation (from Blank Generation, 1977)

This song is going to have to cover Television’s “Marquee Moon” and Johnny Thunders’ out-put as well. As punk broke in the mid/late 70’s, those groups made it okay to keep liking guitar-based rock n’ roll.

10. Joy Division – Day of the Lords (from Unknown Pleasures, 1979)

Ian Curtis is the proto-goth, and also the patron saint of kids who love Interpol too much. And yet, he’s still cool. I don’t get it either. This is one of my favorite guitar parts – slowly plucked, but still so manic.

(Audio only, but awesome version)

11. The Feelies – Moscow Nights (from Crazy Rhythms, 1980)

Crazy Rhythms, the Feelies’ debut record is a guitar-driven jangle-pop album. Somehow they predicted indie’s pre-occupation with mixing over-serious solos and noise parts with goofy lyrics and disposition.

12. The Replacements – More Cigarettes (from Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash, 1981)

Every good mix has a standard song about drinking or cigarettes. This is one of my rules, anyway. The Replacements also stand for my (new-ish) pre-occupation with mid-80’s punk, as provoked by Michael Azerrad’s “Our Band Could Be Your Life”.

13. Minutemen – History Lesson, Part 2 (from Double Nickels on the Dime, 1984)

This song succeeds at making me feel nostalgic for something I was no part of. Maybe it’s tragic because of D. Boon’s untimely death two years later, but he spits these lyrics like each one is an exclamatory – like he’s pleading for your attention.

14. The Jesus & Mary Chain – Just Like Honey (from Psychocandy, 1985)

The Mary Chain took the Velvets’ oft-cited influence and ripped it apart on their debut, Psychocandy. Rife with distorted guitars and fringe-culture lyrics, the Mary Chain brought noise-rock to the mainstream.

15. The Wedding Present – This Boy Can Wait (A Bit Longer!) (from C86, 1986)

C86 (a SPIN magazine compilation) was once called “the most indie thing ever,” and that sounds stupid today, but in ’86 the term actually had bits and scraps of meaning left. The Wedding Present satiate my jangle-pop and twee fixation.

16.  Beastie Boys – High Plains Drifter (from Paul’s Boutique, 1989)

Originally a punk band, the Beasties somehow flipped rap upside down when Rick Rubin turned them in to the seminal speak/shout crew they became. This song exemplifies their gangster attitude, while maintaining their incredibly detailed and literate lyricism.

17. Uncle Tupelo – Whiskey Bottle (from No Depression, 1990)

Whether or not they were the fathers of alt-country, Uncle Tupelo’s debut is the perfect combination of country-tinged rock. Their songs were sparse, but their instruments were always atmospheric and affecting.

18. Pavement – Gold Soundz (from Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, 1994)

Upon release, “Gold Soundz” was simply a testament to the past – a bright star of nostalgia. However, the further we move from Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’s release, the more it transcends that nostalgia, and exemplifies it. How “meta”!

19. GZA – 4th Chamber (from Liquid Swords, 1995)

Wu-Tang never really seemed comfortable going over beats that weren’t ice cold. On Liquid Swords, GZA teams Wu-Tang’s rigid reproach with his articulate and word-jammed verses. Lauded as one of the Clan’s best solo albums.

20. Bonnie “Prince” Billy – Madeleine Mary (from I See A Darkness, 1999)

Will Oldham’s music is dark and melodramatic, but somehow his warbly voice is more endearing than off-putting. From Palace Music to his split-LP’s he’s remained one of the most remarkably consistent figures in music.

~*~*~ALTERNATE ENDING!!!~*~*~

There’s no good videos for “The Bad Arts” by Destroyer, so instead I’m going to post my favorite White Stripes video, cause it’s fucking word. L8r.

On the Saturday of the Halifax Pop Explosion small groups of sharply dressed kids in their late teens and early twenties pile in to Taz Records. The sound of fingers sorting through stacks upon stacks of new and used vinyl is slowly ingrained in the patrons’ ears.
The Pop Explosion is Halifax’s most popular festival. The festival has run annually since 1993. It includes over 100 acts, small panels with music industry experts, and a related film festival called the Halifax Film Explosion.
This afternoon, Foodclothingshelter Music, a Fredericton based musical collective, have organized an in-store performance at Taz. The showcase features three up-and-coming acoustic artists on their roster: David R. Elliott, Owen Steel, and Babette Hayward.
Luke Macdonald, founder of Foodclothingshelter, works as the group’s manager, promoter and booking agent. He started the collective as a means of getting involved with music from behind the scenes.
“We’re essentially a group of friends who all have a great passion for music – and art in general,” he says. He thought the Pop Explosion would be an ideal time to expose Foodclothingshelter to Halifax.
“During the Pop Explosion there’s so many people in town interested in new music, so if we can get our name out there now that’d be great.”
Owen Steel has been involved with Foodclothingshelter since it was simply a dream thrown around by childhood friends. He organized the Taz showcase.
Steel describes his music as “a folk-roots sound.” Though he usually plays with a percussion player, today he’s backed up by Doug MacNearny on banjo. As a musician Steel is resourceful – able to adopt any number of instruments in his songs, so long as they compliment his understated approach to song-writing, rather than spoil it.
Usually Steel is fairly confident, but today he’s feeling anxious.
“I find smaller shows nerve-wracking,” he says. “It’s so intimate and the littlest mistakes really show up. In a way it’s good, because it keeps you on your game.”
Steel’s live sets have a feel-good pomp to them. Accentuated by his grisly voice, he taps his toes through a number of songs about nature, and the thrill of the open road.
“[When it comes to writing lyrics] I have a hard time being serious. I like writing about animals,” he says. “I find my best lyrical moments are when you sit down and don’t think but they just come out – it’s simple yet profound.”
Still, Steel feels like Foodclothingshelter is a great way for artists to interact and challenge each other to improve.
“I’d like to start focusing more on lyrics,” he says. “Watching David R., his lyrics are amazing and I’d really like to focus on the song-writing elements.”
David R. Elliott grew up in Saint John, New Brunswick, and the Taz showcase is his first show since moving to Halifax in May. He’s excited about playing for a new crowd.
“This is why I moved here,” he says. “There’s actually an audience that I expect to be somewhat receptive to what I’m trying to do.”
Lyrically, Elliott tries to channel the same working-class spirit mastered by mid-80’s Bruce Springsteen.
“I mostly just feel comfortable around working-class people,” he says. “Everyone wants to be thought of as somewhat intellectual and that often seems pretentious to me. I just want to tell stories about people I work with.”
Elliott describes his sound as “90’s countrypolitan and Springsteen.” He strums his guitar heavily, and sings with a surly, gravelly voice. Dressed in work boots and ripped jeans, he looks like he’s here on a coffee break from a nine-to-five at a construction site.
Though Steel and Elliott both have a certain romanticism to their songs, their rough voices don’t convey that tender sincerity like Babette Hayward.
Hayward is a nineteen year-old Saint John native, who is currently trying out life in Halifax. Though she picked up a guitar a few years ago, she only started playing shows last January.
She started working with Foodclothingshelter this summer, though she books shows through Jeff Liberty, her Saint John-based booking agent.
“Jeff’s been great for getting me on bigger bills like Evolve,” she says. “But Foodclothingshelter is more of an artistic community where I can interact with other artists.”
Unlike the two previous acts, Hayward’s lyrics are less obvious.
“I don’t like writing about things so blatantly,” she says. “I prefer to be somewhat metaphorical and leave interpretation up to the listener.”
Hayward’s voice has a shy and genuine quality that leaves audience members noticeably impressed. She moves comfortably between a soft whisper and soaring crescendo. Her stage demeanour is notably modest, and it makes her set more impressionable.
After the show, customers go back to browsing the racks. The shop gradually empties, and the din of records being shifted through returns.
James Donnelly, a newly hired manager, helped stage the benefit.
“Owen called me and I said ‘come on down’,” he says. “We do this whenever possible – if any local artists want to do an in-store we’re always accommodating.”
The open atmosphere is beneficial to Halifax’s scene. By promoting a venue where artists can come in and do intimate showcases Taz offers something different.
“Lots is going on at bars this weekend,” Donnelly says. “But little in the way of quiet, close-knit acoustic shows.”
The performers thought the show went well, and they were happy to see some unfamiliar faces in the crowd. It’s just the next logical step for Foodclothingshelter.
“We’re potentially looking to make it a record label,” Macdonald says. “But it’s just a support system of friends working together.”
While they receive mounting attention and praise, Foodclothingshelter is keeping a level head.
“We’re just a collective of friends who share the same ideals and beliefs when it comes to expressing art or our passions,” Macdonald says. “We’re less focused on monetary gain, and more concerned with creating genuine and real art.”
From the artist’s perspective, Elliott has reasonable hopes for his career.
“I want to have a sustainable career in music. I want to live modestly off the music I make,” he says. “I want music to be the job I get up and go to work for.”
For Elliott, and the other members of Foodclothingshelter, artistic creation is the ultimate goal.
“I’d like one day to own a little house, and a family, and afford that based on the work I’ve done in music.”

Beck, with the help of some friends, has undertaken the task of covering every song off the Velvet Underground’s ridiculously revered debut, the Velvet Underground & Nico. He calls it his Record Club project, and he posted the first track, “Sunday Morning” a couple weeks ago, and added “I Am Waiting for the Man” last weekend.

<object width=”400″ height=”300″><param name=”allowfullscreen” value=”true” /><param name=”allowscriptaccess” value=”always” /><param name=”movie” value=”http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=5330930&amp;server=vimeo.com&amp;show_title=0&amp;show_byline=0&amp;show_portrait=0&amp;color=ffffff&amp;fullscreen=1” /><embed src=”http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=5330930&amp;server=vimeo.com&amp;show_title=0&amp;show_byline=0&amp;show_portrait=0&amp;color=ffffff&amp;fullscreen=1” type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowfullscreen=”true” allowscriptaccess=”always” width=”400″ height=”300″></embed></object><p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/5330930″>Record Club: Velvet Underground & Nico ‘Waiting for My Man'</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/videotheque”>Beck Hansen</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>

So I’d guess “Femme Fatale” will be posted later this week.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Neko Case’s latest Middle Cyclone this week. I know it came out months ago, but even though I was fairly interested in Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, her previous effort, I didn’t feel terribly compelled to delve too deeply. I ran through the single, “People Got A Lot of Nerve” a few times, in part I’m sure to the somewhat misleading chorus “I’m a man man man, man man man eater / so why are you surprise-prise-prised when I eat ya?”

It might have been the videos of Case with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog at Bonnarroo, or it could have just been how bad-ass that song title is, but the other day I decided to re-try “This Tornado Loves You,” the opening track. It’s hard to explain the feeling you get when first hearing a song without relying on cliched and vague expressions like “blown away” or “instantly fell in love”, but Case had me from the first lyric on this listen.

my love, i am the speed of sound
i left them motherless, fatherless
their souls dangling inside-out from their mouths
but it’s never enough

“This Tornado Loves You” is literally written from the perspective of a tornado, which, granted, seems pretty gimmicky and lame, but you can’t really front when the lyricism is this good. Middle Cyclone‘s lyrics are actually based almost entirely on themes of nature and animals. Growing up, Case’s favorite place was outside, where she felt a much stronger connection to animals than other kids. Songs like “I’m An Animal,” “Magpie to the Morning” and “Polar Nettles” are similarly based on Case’s experience and reaction to the outdoors.

Case has been haunted by remarks she made in interviews after Fox Confessor where she said she didn’t like writing love songs. In subsequent interviews she admits that she has certainly written songs about love, but not traditional love songs. This seems kind of naive to me. While it’s admirable of Case to write only about her passions, it’s foolish to think you can write a love song about a tornado without people (every person, probably, who doesn’t regularly read interviews with Neko Case) taking the lyrics for metaphor. And while the listener’s failure to properly interpret the lyrics doesn’t really lessen Middle Cyclone‘s worth, even some of the strongest songs end up missing the mark lyrically.

The most important part of any Case album, of course, is her voice. There’s nothing unfamiliar on Cyclone in this reguard. She is still singing strongly, with a sultry twang, and while most of my favorite female voices (Regina Spektor, Julie Doiron, St. Vincent) would fall under the umbrella of ‘cute’, Case’s voice is something more forceful than that – it’s beautiful. She sings with ferocity, but a country ferocity, not Karen O ferocity. By which I mean she kind of asserts her voice on the track, overtaking it. An intro could do anything on this record, but the song never starts until Case’s arresting voice does.

This, of course, is my roundabout way of saying that this album is great. I’ve listened to it probably ten times in the last couple days, simply because it’s been so conjoined with my head. This is absolutely the best Case material I’ve heard, and makes me wish I had considered checking her tour schedule before I made all my summer concert arrangements.

Check “This Tornado Loves You” out here:
This Tornado Loves You

And the video for “People Got A Lotta Nerve”:

Well, I’m having trouble staying focused on this blog lately. It’s one part my two full-time jobs, and one part sudden inspiration for my creative writing efforts. So, to keep things interesting for me I’m going to start posting regularly about bands playing Sappyfest.

The lineup was announced last week, and can be found here.

The first band I’m going to talk about is TIMBER TIMBRE from Toronto. TIMBER TIMBRE is actually just the pseudonym for folky blues singer Taylor Kirk. His minimalistic, rootsy approach to folk music gives his songs a very haunting presence. Full of soulful harmonies, and slow-marching rhythm, I was particularly struck when I came across the video posted below, performing by campfire at 2007’s Track and Field festival. Honestly, if you are at all feeling reservations about ‘another folk singer’, take a look at the performance below, and you’ll see what kind of intimate presence Kirk is capable of.

MYSPACE

So rumor has it that Destroyer is booked in Sackville on August 2nd, the last day of Sappyfest. This would probably be the show of the summer in New Brunswick. It’s already been posted on Pitchfork, here, (click “More) and while the rest of the lineup is unannounced, I’ve heard other rumors.

The most prominent is Ladyhawk. Julie Doiron seems like a safe bet, and I’m also told Eric’s Trip might be back again, which, let’s face it, would be incredible. The Sappyfest lineup will be posted here when it’s announced, but until then I’ll be in anguish, wondering why nothing’s been announced with only two months to go!