Tag Archives: NMC

NMC Review: Born Ruffians – ‘Birthmarks’

FTWL: The Dudes, Wolf Parade, Hidden Cameras, Fleet Foxes, Peter, Bjorn and John, Paul Simon

I was on a bus heading to Montreal from Ottawa. My train had been cancelled because of a rogue tree branch and it was nothing but grey skies and a mid-April snow to look at for the next three hours while we trundled down the highway. I was bummed. I slipped on headphones, and pressed play on Born Ruffians‘ Birthmarks while sliding into my seat – ready to fall asleep not looking forward to reaching my destination. Then, this Toronto foursome threw a little love in my direction.

Maximizing catchy, poppy hooks that roll around pleasantly and sunny synths that give off so much mellow, Birthmarks is Born Ruffians third album and this one has had fans on the hook for a good while. In a style that Born Ruffians is making very much their own, this record is all about slinky pop rhythms that encourage lazy, long drives and slow sways. Rife with indecision and forbidden loves, tracks like “Cold Pop” and “6-5000” are reminiscent of school dances – or at the very least, reminiscent of the school dances teenagers lived vicariously through while watching Degrassi Junior High alone on Saturday nights.

Since releasing their first EP on Warp Records in 2005, Born Ruffians have had no shortage of positive expectations. Embraced into the Canadian family of small record labels and just-scraping-by label mates, these four Toronto gents have moved their way into the Canadian indie pop scene with shimmery sounds, muted beats and the backdrop to day dreaming.

Birthmarks recalls a bit of the mid-2000s when new indie pop reigned supreme and each new act challenged what could constitute a catchy hook, or a danceable beat. “Rage Flows” and “With Her Shadow”borrow from influences like Paul Simon and Hidden Cameras. Like all good pop albums,Birthmarks isn’t without darkness and the lyrics of improbable love and sadness mellow on top of the blended instrumentation. It moves slowly and casually from one track to the next, without rush or care. A pretty perfect companion to walking home at 4:00 a.m. in the coolness of early summer mornings, or on a solo drive to somewhere or something promising – sometimes an album doesn’t need to stop you in its tracks to leave a mark on you. Born Ruffians achieve that slow release with Birthmarks. It catches you, and reminds you of gentler times but above all it provides that perfect moment when you can close your eyes and just let life wash over you.

With the album out today on Paper Bag Records, Born Ruffians are hitting the road for their pre-festival album release tour, and while there are no Canadian dates there are plenty of cities close enough to the border to make the drive. Luckily, this Saturday is Record Store Day so if you can wait a few more days you can purchase this new release AND support your local, independent record store. Everyone wins!

(Originally published April 16th, 2013 on the National Music Centre weekly feature, “New Release Tuesday”)

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NMC review: A Tribe Called Red

“After what happened in the last hundred years, the simple fact that we are here today is a political statement.

As First Nations People, everything we do is political.”

Nation II Nation – the personal is political.

My first experience with pow wow music was in a traditional setting – coming through the radio dial when tuned to Blood Tribe Radio on the Kainai reserve in southern Alberta and at ceremonies and drum circles. Pounding drums and incredible vocal prowess that called to a power much greater than you or I. Traditional drumming and signing is meant to make a body move, to evoke emotion and spiritual change – A Tribe Called Red’s latest release captures that spirit.

The trio of DJ NDN, Bear Witness and DJ Shub started crafting their unique brand of danceable mash-ups at their Electric Pow-Wows in 2008 – still going strong at Ottawa’s Babylon and have moved into recording and playing as A Tribe Called Red.

Nation II Nation is a powerful album and a complex but seamless mash up of electronic beats, house, dub-step, hip hop and pop wow drumming and vocals. Nation II Nation flows from one track to the next. It begs a body to move, to dance, and to really feel the surrounding environment.

The Canadian political landscape faces deep and vocal unrest with the state’s unwillingness to uphold “the duty to consult” and this releases title Nation II Nation more than hints at that. As quoted in the above – the liner notes for the album makes it clear that this album is as political as any other action A Tribe Called Red makes. The release features the track they recorded for the Idle No More movement, “The Road” – this is a group of artists unwilling to shy away from taking a stance. Down to the photo shown on their Soundcloud stream – a photo taken at an early Idle No More Rally in Kainai, Alberta; a powerful image that conveys the strength and the determination of the Idle No More movement.

Since their first self-titled release, A Tribe Called Red has only gained in popularity and an increasing number of dance music fans are tuning into their eclectic mixes. “Sisters”, featuring Northern Voices is a slower jam – beat build ups and vocals tinged with soul and nineties-esque R & B. “Red Riddim” featuring Eastern Eagle is chock full of little pops and sound art breaks, loops and timing changes. No track is alike and each guest artists brings a lot of their own brand into the sound.

I happen to agree with A Tribe Called Red, the personal is political. Three First Nation DJs mixing traditional pow wow with contemporary dub-step, dance hall and electronic dance into incredible catchy and moveable beats is political. Its very nature and statement is political. Nation II Nation is the kind of politics where ownership is reclaimed, and where true nature refuses to be masked. It celebrates culture, and art; mixing old and new to reflect a world where people are political and action is necessary. All that, and it can make a body move!

A Tribe Called Red will be touring with their new album throughout most of Canada and the US all summer. You can get Nation II Nation right now by visiting their website.

(Originally published on the National Music Centre weekly feature, “New Release Tuesday”)

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Review of Efterklang’s ‘Piramida’

For Those Who Like: Bon Iver, Radiohead, Fleet Foxes, Jens Lekman, Sufjan Stevens

There are certain times that a music lover will stumble onto something – something that is inconceivable to how it wasn’t found before. For those discovering Efterklang now on the arrival of their fourth album, Piramida, it is an experience not unlike having a word on the tip of your tongue for so long and finally knowing what it is. There is something thrilling here – accessible with enough finesse and modesty to keep each song playing all the way through.

The three Danes, now residing in Berlin, don’t usually perform alone and listening to Piramida there is a full sound only imaginable through a symphony of players, each sending a unique appreciation of their role. Efterklang continue with a dark sensibility on this album, taking their inspiration from nine days recording field sounds in an abandoned Russian mining town – the album now a namesake of the mining settlement.

The second track, “Apples”, carries away with heavy synths matched by electronic horns and string section all coming together in an incredible full song. The full use of percussion in a few of the tracks, as well as disarming Gregorian-like melodies, such as in “Told to be Fine” and “Black Summer” pulls together the sometimes ambiguous lyrics into a genuinely interesting and captivating experience.

Although Piramida may be reminiscent of the leisurely paced ethereal folk/pop/electro music that captured artists throughout 2011, Efterklang’s conceptual creation defines itself with a sincerity that is unmistakable. They do clearly fit in with their 4AD label counterparts, but there is a richness and genuine quality that brings about similar feelings only because there is a true craft being represented here.

The merging of digital and classical instrumentation reflects Mads Brauer, Casper Clausen and Rasmus Stolberg’s approach to art in general. Using not only Efterklang as a venue for musical expression, they also create short films, and the live debut of Piramida came with a performance in partnership with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

This post was originally published on the New Music Canada blog for New Release Tuesday, September 24th 2012.

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