Well,2016 has been quite the year, with the array of genius musicians passing away, Brexit and Trump it seems as though there is little to celebrate. The world has changed, for better or worse if you are like me you probably believe it is leaning towards the latter. However, music always has this charming way of remaining strong (perhaps even more so) during times when the world seems to be crumbling right before our eyes.This is particularly apparent with the generous amount of impressive hip hop albums released this year as marginalized people in America are not being empowered by their government to a point of revolt. That said, I am always impressed by those who continue to fight the good fight and not only make art but great art in the throes of this madness. The following is a list of albums released this year that are especially bold, brilliant and even revolutionary from various genres and geography.
Car Seat Headrest- Teens Of Denial
Car Seat Headrest are based out of Seattle and driven by 24-year-old front man Will Toledo. Toledo is originally from Virginia and way too young to be so talented. Toledo started recording at 17 out of his family’s car for a sense of solitude and guaranteed soundproofing. He wrote a generous catalog of contentious, intelligent and genuinely lo-fi songs well paired with the oblivion of youth. In 2014, Toledo assembled a lineup with bassist Ethan Ives and drummer Andrew Katz. Their music is filled with astutely critical observations of our current society, wax-poetic ramblings and complex walls of reverb. Teens of Denial emphasizes second generation theology, depression, lack of direction and the complex relationship with alcohol one has in their early 20’s (or potentially evermore). They are signed with Matador Records, a label that seems to be a barometer of new and vivid talent. Their music is a refreshing ethnography of the new generation, reminding us music still matters, art is still thriving and new ideas are being created. Car Seat Headrest revisit the sound of The Strokes and Pavement which is part of what makes them notable yet they are something completely unprecedented all together.
Blonde is a 17 song strong grandiose exhibition of musical experimentation, poetic exploration and innovative song writing. Every song on the album could easily be the hit single, it’s consistently powerful and doesn’t take any shortcuts. Additionally, Ocean’s voice is smooth like good scotch yet haunted like the hangover that follows. Unlike, his previous and groundbreaking album- Channel Orange, Blond is quite tortured. The record is reflective on heartache, the misery of millennials and the general apathy floating through contemporary America. However, the material also manages to be soulful R&B dance music, it really depends on what angle you wish to perceive it.
Part of what makes Blonde so strong and complex is the rather unbelievable list of collaborators on it. This list includes Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood who provides some heavy and gritty guitar riffs that elevate the music to a level we seldom hear. James Blake, Beyonce and Pharrell are also present in this eclectic marvel. Additionally, the legendary Bob Ludwig (Rolling Stones, Nirvana, The Beatles) helped produce the record. Obviously some money was involved in the creation of the Blonde, however it’s really the songwriting that stands out.Ocean recently shared that “If you’re a writer you can write anything..prose, songs, raps, novels, plays, films, laws..take the governor off your gift.”
Ocean is a diverse and unique artist; he is one of the controversial rappers in Odd Future, makes tender R&B lullabies, is the first main stream male rapper to come out as bi-sexual and avoids media attention. Blonde is a sophomore album that contains decades of wisdom, remarkable musical bravado and almost every emotion imaginable. This is one of those get the hard copy, listen to it several times alone as the activity for the weekend kind of album.
It would be irresponsible and rather absurd not to include this album which is a more like a pop culture phenomenon. Beyonce, who is enigmatically human is truly talented and easily this generation’s Michael Jackson. Her success is beyond comprehension and she is adorned by diverse demographics which is a form of cultural solidarity. All of that stated, I have always respected Beyonce yet have never committed myself to any of her albums until this one. Lemonade is not only her best work yet but an art piece that reflects our time. This was made more powerful with the surprise release of the record and the stunning visual version of the album. It is easily a feminist album, not because of it’s possible media attention demanding stance of infidelity potentially committed by another wildly famous individual. It is a feminist album as it is an empowered soundtrack for an entire society of oppressed people becoming empowered. It is a celebration of not only femininity but black femininity which could not be more needed during these times. Additionally, the music is more complex than she has ever experimented with previously. Diverse elements of jazz, afro-beat, reggae and country surround her voice which has evolved tremendously over time. She even delivers a tribute to the iconic Fela Kuti quite distinctly in the visual album but arguably throughout the entire album itself. Every song is a single but the track and video for “Hold Up” is an anthem for the masses and musically revolutionary. Lemonade affects everyone a little differently but the result is commonly liberated. It is a easily timeless album and very possibly the album of 2016.
Leonard Cohen- You Want It Darker
The tragic loss of one of the greatest musicians of all time made a classy exit, as usual. You Want It Darker was written whilst dying, a rare and poetic combination that seems suitable to the ever creative Cohen. You Want It Darker is easily one of his best albums of all time, like the wine he loved he got better with age. His voice thickened and delivered the exquisite and sombre lyrics more powerfully. Said lyrics are as beautiful as ever and the album is filled with memorable lines such as ” I struggled with some demons, they were middle class and tame”. Even the title of the album is mysteriously symbolic, Cohen was always his idiosyncratic and expressive self. There is certainly a tone of recognition that this is his last record, making it even more haunting and heartbreaking. The album is a testament to his rare talent and unique ability to generously release unforgettable music.
Micah Erenberg-Poor Mic’s Toe
Micah Erenberg is the brilliantly unconventional singer-songwriter from Winnipeg, MB. Erenberg’s debut album “Poor Mic’s Toe” is a cleverly crafted collection of honest, hilarious and whimsical songs. Erenberg’s blunt poetry is charmingly juxtaposed with Tex-Mex and lo-fi sloppiness. The album is fun yet wise and ubiquitously aware of itself. Every song on the album is truly different from the last but they all manage to be excellent.
The opening song “I Just Wanna Go To Sleep Forever” portrays the band’s ability to express the tragic humour of life. The dichotomy of tragedy and humour is often felt but rarely expressed clearly but when it is, an emotional phenomena occurs. The album makes listeners feel uniquely understood, that this young gun from Winnipeg somehow just get’s you. His lyrics are wise beyond his years yet the sound is forever young. The album is is a refreshing cleanse of lyrical clarity and genuine catharsis. The sound is completely void of pretending to be interesting, it just is. This is the kind of music and attitude that can’t be faked which is profoundly important amongst of sea of millennial plastic.
Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds-Skeleton Tree
The one and only Nick Cave often dances with the subject of death in his music, this album addresses it. Cave uses the figurative morality as a muse which is most notable in his legendary “murder ballads”. This past year, Cave’s son Arthur Cave passed away at age 15 by falling off a cliff. It is inexplicably sad to lose a child and this very real subject matter is apparent throughout this entire heart wrenching album. Cave has this omnipresent ability to make listener’s explore the topography of human suffering, but the Skeleton Tree goes beyond the realms of poetically ominous. It is genuinely tragic and doesn’t take any short cuts to avoid being overwhelming visceral. You need to allow yourself to fall into the complexity of this album, it doesn’t serve as a background soundtrack for anything. On the brilliant song “I Need You” Cave is audibly crying whilst singing and only a frozen heart couldn’t be affected by it. This is Nick Cave and The Bad Seed’s 16th album together, their sound is truly refined and could be identified amongst millions of others.
Malibu is Anderson. Paak’s (the period is intentional) fourth album and arguably his magnum opus. This is the hip hop you have been looking for, with evolved jazz infusions and real music provided by his band the Free Nationals that he plays drums in. Paak collaborated amply with Dr. Dre on Compton last year, which got him the recognition he deserves. His previous work, such as the album Venice released in 2014, is great but Malibu is exceptional; it is profound, personal and unapologetic. Other talented artists such as Schoolboy Q, Talbi Kweli and The Game are featured on the album which adds to it’s complexity. Malibu discusses the difficulty he has endured with lyrics such as “ya moms in prison, ya father need a new kidney, ya family’s splittin’, rivalries between sibling, if cash ain’t king, it’s damn sure the incentive” from track: The Season/Carry Me. His voice is pure molasses, he raps with unparalleled dominion and the beats are a combination of New Orleans and Chicago based blues and jazz. There are moments in Malibu that pay notable homage to James Brown followed by innovative lyrics rapped with precision. Much like Guru’s Jazzmatazz or the Abstract and The Dragon’s Mix-Tape, Paak takes time to thank everyone who assisted him on the creation of the album. This is part of what makes Malibu an inclusive and inviting body of work. On the final track : The Dreamer (which features Talib Kweli and the Timan family choir) Paak shares “ This one’s for all the little dreamers, I’m a product of the tube and free lunch. Who cares if your daddy couldn’t be here”.
Malibu emphasizes the importance that you can do amazing work in this world despite the struggles you have endured. It is an record for everyone and even if the lyrics aren’t your thing the musicality of it will hypnotize you. If you haven’t heard it yet I envy you for what you are about to experience.
Illvis Freshly are the Victoria, BC based hip-hop, rock and roll and funk infused sonic experience. Their style is the epitome of what we love about the west coast- it’s laid back, intuitive, fresh, and fun as hell. I.F’s sophomore album “Illennials” is a landscape of well executed modern reflections and societal insight. The foundation of the band is fundamentally hip-hop featuring the talented MC’s Dan Howse and Jesus Estevez. I.F also features the immersive DJing by Justin Doyle and the richly funky guitarist Phil Lyons.
The layers of musical stylings combined with slyly subversive lyrics make I.F. a new voice for a misunderstood generation. Estevez describes their music as “chicken soup for the disenfranchised millennial soul”. The band members eloquently admit they feel we live in a dystopian society but it’s all going to be OK. They are the well attended metaphorical party that never ends. Additionally, the band never ceases to put on amazing shows that gets the whole room moving. They are vivacious, lively and ubiquitously present on stage-it’s apparent this is where they are meant to be.
Illennials is a twelve song sound track for the positive and ripe aspects of west coast Canadian contemporary social culture. The tone is contentious but all inclusive which is a direct reflection of the those in the band. The songs are musical and lyrically dynamic and the sound is consistently entertaining. Illvis Freshly is the Victoria party band, which could not be more well deserved and appropriate to the city of dreams
You can check out the video for “Till it’s Gone” here and listen to the whole album here.
This recent Halloween was particularly spooky to me due to the upcoming American election, casual racism and a shocking sea of apathy and ignorance towards cultural appropriation. I thought this year would somehow be better than last, but no there is some serious resistance towards privileged people not having the privilege to dress however they like. As the haunted day was looming I participated in discussions and debates towards the subject, it was made clear to me that objectifying marginalized cultures is alive and well.
Cultural appropriation by definition means: “The adoption of one culture by members of another culture”. This phenomena sounds relatively innocuous, however it requires a deeper understanding which is where many get lost. Cultural appropriation often involves stealing mere aesthetic aspects from another culture for something as temporary as a costume with little to no understanding towards what it represents. It also involves a power dynamic between a dominant culture and a systematically oppressed culture. This is exactly why cultural appropriation is not the same as a cultural exchange or assimilation. For those that argue that non-western people do the same in dying their hair blond or wearing brand names etc…The difference here is that marginalized people are often not given the option to decide between representing their culture daily or wearing costumes that represent other cultures just for one night.
Halloween in North America is essentially the epitome of gluttony and hedonism. It involves an array of costume options, candy, alcohol, fireworks, parades and endless parties. In addition there is a virtually infinite amount of costume options to choose from, many creative and wonderful ones at that. The idea of not having a couple options on this insatiable holiday is incomprehensible to some. Here are some examples of Halloween costumes for sale this year.
Just like other elements of racism, people simply never thought about the offensive nature of these costumes. Racism often stems from ignorance and this is often the case with the lack of understanding towards cultural appropriation. If you have dressed up as such in the past and now understand that’s offensive, then that’s great as we are learning and progressing as a culture. For those who argue that the debate over cultural appropriation is a fad and people get too easily offended these days then you’re simply proving we still need to discuss this. The people that argue this side are often white and unaware of affects of cultural genocide. To those that say people get “but hurt” (a term that showcases intelligence levels quite accurately) over archaic racism and systematic prejudice just know you are a large part of the problem and we won’t until you do. There is an astonishing amount of options we have in North America, we can give up just couple to help protect other cultures, can’t we? It is probably the absolute least we can do, so please just stop wearing racist costumes.
Every so often a musician appears out of the woodwork and shatters our jaded notion that real music is dead. Andy Shauf is the most recent example of this phenomenon.
On Saturday night, he was calm figure singing on stage, but he undeniably held the venue enthralled. This was Shauf’s second night in a row performing in front of a hypnotized and sold out room. This event took place at the impossibly well suited Fox Cabaret, the former porn theatre and now music hub smack dab in the core of Main St, Vancouver.I have seen Shauf perform twice this past summer,at sweaty music festivals in the middle of the day when poetic nuances get lost in the clumsy frenzy of it all. The Fox provided the intimacy and romance his music deserves. The red velvet plush walls, intuitive acoustics and heritage balcony was the perfect setting for this volcano of sound. While outside, the tail end of Super Typhoon Songda soaked the city, we were warm and safe and small under the vast, imposing prairie sky. Andy Shauf’s music is unequivocally Saskatchewan, it’s woven into every note and he took us back home with him.
His style is indie pop that wears a folk parka sometimes. Songwriting that isolates small, everyday moments and coaxes them out into fields so vast and open you can see the horizon bend. Contrasted between the land and the sky, the only thing moving for an endless distance, you have no choice but to focus on those small moments made subtly enormous.
It’s his instrumentation and arrangement however, that rounds out the feeling of isolation.This is made particularly powerful with his band that involves Canada’s cream of the crop. The complex instrumentation provides a balance to the haunted lyrics that still feels ultimately hopeful and light. Simple guitar melodies, lush strings to transition between verses, breaks, and choruses; all the while keeping the tempo inviting, and not overly serious. Yes, you’re the only voice inside your head forever, and you will never truly know what another human being is actually feeling. But hey, we’re all in the same boat, so it’s not that big a deal. The prairies breed humble, hopeful folk.
His music is certainly getting the attention he deserves which restores hope in both humans and the music industry. Shauf, signed by Arts and Crafts in 2015, dropped his first single Jenny Come Home and broke through to chart on CBC Radio 2 and 3. He was short listed for the 2016 SOCAN songwriting prize, and his most recent effort ‘The Party’ was nominated for a Polaris Prize. He opened for the Lumineers across Europe earlier this year; Regina represent.The Party is Shauf’s third record and even stronger than his previous marvels Darker Days (2009) and the Bearer of Bad News (2012).He has grown into his music,he encompasses the unapologetic tone his sonic syrup deserves.He has even let his hair grow wild which is a good look for the young songbird who doesn’t appear to be a day over 25 yet sings with a wisdom that sounds older than time.He played tunes sporadicly from his discography yet it all blended together seamlessly, creating a warm blanket of beautiful melancholy.
A notable part of the evening was even after playing two nights in a row in the same place he provided a heartfelt encore which I something I seldom ache for, but there I was…aching. Shauf stepped back onto the stage illuminated by warm red light. His band followed him. He sat down, adjusted the mic stand, picked up his guitar, and laughed. “That was some fantastic syncopated clapping” he stated with the same tone I hear his music in.
I’m grateful to Andy Shauf, for bringing his experience growing up with glacial winters, boundless plains, in the solitude of this human existence and expressing that generously in a well-crafted performance.Solitude is something we all try to shutter ourselves away from. Crippled by the fear of imagined slights, we’re a timid species doing our best to not to offend each other. We just want to belong, and the terror of being excluded is our own horror movie monster; forever in the shadows, always in pursuit. It takes a brave man to make a muse from his monster. Crafting soft, accessible realms to explore our inherited neuroses. Surviving a youth chilled by Regina winters and finding inspiration from it. To create music that is authentically and unabashedly gentle. From the sung stories to honest observations about how we silly humans fumble about our lives. It’s liberating to acknowledge our meekness, and therein find the freedom to just be. To just exist in a venue in Vancouver, while a storm rampages outside, with a beer in your hand, listening to good music born from Canada’s heartland.
Thanks for this judgmental, sexist and hypocritical sketch, person that draws for a living.
The term hipster was coined in the 1940’s to describe enthusiasts of jazz music. This word vastly transformed meanings and became a large part of the North American majority’s vocabulary in the early 2000’s. The term is used to insult a large group of people who encompass certain ideas, political views, diet, style, musical taste, preference of literature and essentially anything else that is part of the infrastructure of what makes a human interesting. It is a ruthlessly unproductive word that paints giant hypocritical brushstrokes against an entire civilization. It has become a tremendously judgmental, lazy and unclear representation of contemporary culture. Examples of this notion are…
-Those feeling the need to call men wearing a ponytail a “man bun” which just further perpetuates the archaic sexism we are working hard towards decreasing.
-Assuming local cafes that practice strong ethics, environmental concerns and homemade food are pretentious.
-The notion that people sincerely appreciating art, literature, old cameras, and typewriters is somehow corrosive to humanity.
The people who are often described as hipsters are millennials and they were born into a fairly artless society that is washed over by technology. We long to have attachment with the world before us, so shopping at thrift stores and collecting antiques can be quite fulfilling. Before this term was overused to oblivion we had no criticisms towards those appreciating film photography, terrariums, records, floppy hats or whatever the hell it is now we are told not to like now. There is a stifling amount of issues we would benefit from concentrating on in this world. Making boring jokes and insults towards completely harmless people who happen to appreciate inoffensive things is not one of them. That stated-I love records (because they sound great), support local business (because no sweatshops are involved) and write about music (because I love music) so I understand I may be the demographic who is unable to fully understand the need to practice this useless term. However, I think it’s deeply important we recognize that nobody is benefiting from this anymore. If you are trying to point out that people are cultural sheep then consider why you feel the need to use this term, there is some blatant hypocrisy there. If you think it’s not cool to be cool and therefore you need to make people feel uncool by trying to be cool then you need to deeply consider getting a life. Can we please just put the word hipster to rest? Let people be people and use the leftover energy for something even remotely useful.
Photo by Jon Pernul
The Victoria, BC based Dustan Townsend is the musical virtuoso behind Fish in a Bird Cage. Townsend is a remarkably talented singer-songwriter, cellist and guitarist. His music is complex interwoven musical tapestry rich in concept and skill. He is strikingly connected to the cello, as if the instrument is an extension of his body. His skill and control of the cello is refreshing and transcending, he has discovered the endless possibilities with the often-misunderstood instrument. His lyrics are sharp, tender, earnest and authentic. He takes the right amount of poetic license and never sacrifices depth.
Townsend’s second album- Through The Tides was recently released and is packed with inventive aptitude that shatters the state of modern music. It is wise beyond it’s years in musical ability yet young at heart with it’s playful and heartwarming lyrics. Each song takes you to a new place then chivalrously walks you back home. Townsend’s voice is haunting and wide in range; it’s the perfect foundation to his music. The moving nature of the cello is particularly powerful on the album; Townsend brings each string to life every time he caresses it with the carbon fiber on his well-versed bow. A well-selected arrangement of other artists are featured on the album such as the mesmerizing violinist Hannah Epperson, the heart wrenchingly strong singer Calista Switzer and musical mastermind-fiddle prodigy Mack Shields (Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra,OQO).
Every song on Through The Tides is strong, gracefully weaving the violin with cello, providing a landscape of songwriting prowess and evoking a range of profound emotion. The second track “Angel Tango” showcases Townsend’s unique command of the cello and ability to distinguish a detailed theme with his songwriting that in this particular song is sinister and charming. The track “Roots” pays homage to early Postal Service and features the strong production that derives from Vancouver based Monarch Studios. The intensely lingering “My Dream My Addiction” sounds as if you are right beside Dustan in his studio as he is singing this heart aching ballad straight from the basement of his soul. The album breaks any stereotypes of the classical cello sound and takes the instrument to unknown territory yet does to seamlessly. This phenomenon is similar to Joanna Newsom’s relationship with the harp. The music is purely inviting, it’s easy to get lost in the album and find something new to love about it every single time. This is one of those unusual albums that somehow provide the complete soundtrack for life’s beautiful, miserable and content events. The album is a flawlessly assembled exhibition of this young man’s true and rare talent, he is definitely one to watch.
Help Dustan create his third album HERE
Check out Dustan Townsend website with his previous work available HERE
Bumbershoot is a three day explosion of everything music, theatre, comedy, ideas and food. It delivers everything from grandiose performances by chart topping musicians to emerging comedians in intimate theatres. The festival takes place smack dab in the epicentre of downtown. The festival grounds, ample venues and space needle backdrop make for a eclectic experience of everything Seattle and beyond.Festival goers are offered a wide array of selection, every venue is vastly different along with those that inhabit it. Young boisterous types are often found lining up to the EDM concerts at the Key Theatre while silver haired intellectuals are next-door digesting a live podcast. The following are my personal highlights from this three day excursion.
Father John Misty
Father John Misty is the unique and invigorating singer-songwriter that derived from many bands including the harmonious Fleet Foxes. He commits entirely to each and every handwritten song he has brewed directly out of his zany and brilliant mind. His concerts are exhibitions of his true talent which is classy, clever yet unusual. He was clad in a tailored suit while he sang his heart out at the Memorial Stage at sunset hour in Seattle. It was a perfect transition from day to night- relaxing but vibrant. Everyone watching appeared transfixed, hanging onto every word of his poetic and abstract lyrics that are packed with aptitude.
The Improvised Shakespeare Company
The Chicago based Improvised Shakespeare Company had their crowd roaring with laughter at the Bard themed intricate plots of romance, double meanings, love triangles and British domination all on the fly. On Friday they wove together a tale inspired by an audience member suggestion of a Black Beard pirate themed surprise party. They worked off each others creation of theatrical monologue, duelling clever taunts, dance, song and sexual innuendo to continue the storyline. They skillfully produced a complicated story that had the large crowd enthralled with the clever Shakespearian tradition interpreted with modern wit.
Reign Supreme Breaking and Street Dance Competition
Over the three days Reign Supreme Breaking and Street Dance Competition provided a variety of dance exhibitions involving teams and individuals from all over the world. There is an international shared language of B boy that is peaceful and collaborative. It was a competition, yet it didn’t feel competitive. Contestants were consistently empowering and supportive to one another. The multi- cultural performers gave introductory backgrounds that highlighted issues of social justice and providing space for marginalized youth. The DJ’s played the finest hip-hop that was notably intuitive to each performance.The audience sat on the floor of the basement in a large warehouse, immediately addicted to this refreshing art form.
Anderson. Paak and The Free Nationals
Anderson. Paak has had a wildly successful year after the release of his groundbreaking album “Malibu”. Malibu is Paak’s fourth album that has received a remarkably strong critical response. Paak’s music is jazz and funk infused ruthless hip-hop that bursts with passion and power. His voice is dynamic, rich and the man can rap a mile a minute. His performance was nothing short of amazing; his bravado and unapologetic attitude is contagious and palpable. He mesmerized the audience; it was impossible not to dance along. The sound was notably crisp as the Free Nationals are fine tuned musicians. Paak alternated between playing drums while singing quite impressively to taking the centre stage and captivating thousands with his presence.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
Seattle born Macklemore and Ryan Lewis provided a grand two hour home- crowd worthy extravaganza at the Memorial Stadium that echoed across the Seattle skyline. Macklemore provided homage to Seattle with guest appearances including Seattle Mariner quarterback Russell Wilson. The cavernous Memorial Stadium shrunk into an intimate music experience with Macklemore’s powerful vocals. Even the police in the crowds had tears in their eyes, specifically for the emotional ballad “Same Love”. He invited a group of young inner-city hip hop artists he has worked with to the stage who executed their craft beautifully. The Seattle symphony was also a part of this larger than life exhibition. It was more than I expected and I expected a lot.
Saxophonist extraordinaire Kamasi Washington has quickly become one of the most impressive musicians on the contemporary jazz map. His 2015 triple album “The Epic” is a three hour celebration of jazz music that shattered the music industry. Washington has also collaborated with Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus and Thundercat. He has a solo project consisting of a wall of remarkable musicians, in this particular performance he invited his father Rickey to play clarinet on stage which was quite riveting. Rickey is also a renowned musician from jazz group the Raw Soul Express, he inspired Kamasi to play the saxophone. This particular concert was truly memorable and virtually flawless. It took place on the closing Sunday evening at a small and intimate outdoor stage. Everyone watching was completely engrossed in his tide of talent. His music is a graceful blend of classic and modern jazz that is easy to get completely lost in. This feeling is multiplied several times over in his live performances, the experience swallows you whole.
Seven member Colorado Band The Motet provided the only possible follow up performance to Kamasi Washington. They kept the jazz fumed theme going and peppered in just the right amount of funk. This band delivered a get up and dance set with ample horns provided by Matt Pitt on saxophone and Gabe Nervine on trumpet. Lead vocalist Jas Ingber delivers the ballads with classic Motown flare. I witnessed front man Ingber at every other concert I attended and wondered who this incredible dancing machine was. The Motet offered a perfect last night performance that left everyone wanting more.
- Bumbershoot offered an array of amazing local food booths that featured one dish from a Seattle adorned restaurant.
- In the far southern corner of Ex Hall music poster vendors demonstrated a wide variety of concert posters and musician inspired impressions. These strongly talented artists deserved a better location.
- The KEXP stage provided a cozy place to listen to music and a chance for people to see the interior of the renowned building. They sold great coffee and baked goods that paired perfectly with their well chosen performers during the festival. The coffee ranked up there with some of Seattle’s finest and that is saying a lot in the American mecca of good coffee.
- Bumbershoot is unlike any other festival, every venue has something completely different to offer along with wide variety of talented performers.
The intoxicatingly talented, poetic and bold Frank Ocean releases his first album in four years titled Blond. The story behind the release of this album has been confusing due to title changing, an audio release differing from a visual album release and dates changing towards when we get our hands on this juicy material. That stated, none of the previously stated will even matter in about a week when the album will be wildly available along with a series of stunning music videos compiled in the visual album version of the record. Given that information it is clear this album didn’t seamlessly happen. Ocean just publicly stated “Thank you all, especially those of you who never let me forget I had to finish. Which is basically every one of ya’ll.” With those words it is clear there is already a theme of vulnerability of complexity associated with the making of the album.
Blond is a 17 song strong grandiose exhibition of musical experimentation, poetic exploration and innovative song writing. Every song on the album could easily be the hit single, it’s consistently powerful and doesn’t take any shortcuts. Additionally, Ocean’s voice is smooth like good scotch yet haunted like the hangover that follows. Unlike, his previous and groundbreaking album- Channel Orange, Blond is quite tortured. The record is reflective on heartache, the misery of millennials and the general apathy floating through contemporary America. However, the material also manages to be soulful R&B dance music, it really depends on what angle you wish to perceive it.
Part of what makes Blond so strong and complex is the rather unbelievable list of collaborators on it. This list includes Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood who provides some heavy and gritty guitar riffs that elevate the music to a level we seldom hear. James Blake, Beyonce and Pharrell are also present in this eclectic marvel. Additionally, the legendary Bob Ludwig (Rolling Stones, Nirvana, The Beatles) helped produce the record. Obviously some money was involved in the creation of the Blond, however it’s really the songwriting that stands out.Ocean recently shared that “If you’re a writer you can write anything..prose, songs, raps, novels, plays, films, laws..take the governor off your gift.”
Ocean is a diverse and unique artist; he is one of the controversial rappers in Odd Future, makes tender R&B lullabies, is the first main stream male rapper to come out as bi-sexual and avoids media attention. Blond is a sophomore album that contains decades of wisdom, remarkable musical bravado and almost every emotion imaginable. This is one of those get the hard copy, listen to it several times alone as the activity for the weekend kind of album. Blond is getting some flak for changing it’s release date and taking longer than anticipated. My response to that is that substance takes time, nobody criticizes you on how long it took you to get over your ex so leave the guy alone.
Micah Erenberg is a uniquely talented singer-songwriter from Winnipeg, MB. Micah has been playing music for years, refining his distinctive and original sound. His music is honest,playful and innovative. His presence is notable throughout the rich Winnipeg music scene. He is now outfitted with a powerhouse of a band and together they are Micah Erenberg Music.
The band’s debut album “Poor Mic’s Toe” is a cleverly crafted collection of wonderfully whimsical songs. Erenberg’s blunt poetry is charmingly juxtaposed with Tex-Mex and lo-fi sloppiness. His lyrical frankness allows one to dive into the music with no unnecessary quasi-intellectual wordplay, which is extremely refreshing.
Every song on the album offers a different tone, perspective and sound yet they are all consistently strong.The opening song “I Just Wanna Go To Sleep Forever” portrays the band’s ability to express the tragic humour of life. The song “Jesus in LA” sounds like the sonic lovechild of David Lindley’s El Rayo-X (1981) and Mac DeMarco’s 2 (2012). The track “Root Beer” is wildly addictive and offers both wisdom and sarcasm. The video for the song truly encapsulates the completely non-pretentious and genuine spirit of the band.
Erenberg’s music certainly pays homage to early Beach Boys and Pavement yet it’s something fresh all together.His lyrics are wise beyond his years yet his sound is youthful and unapologetic. His music is a refreshing cleanse of lyrical clarity and genuine expression. The sound is completely void of pretending to be interesting, it just is.
The album Poor Mic’s Toe is now widely available- Micaherenberg.com
The Hairy Prairies-Photo by Jenny Ramone
The Winnipeg Folk Festival is unlike any other music festival on this side of the globe. There is something about the combination of the balmy weather, the endless prairie evenings, the generous and diverse array of talent and the generally benevolent attitudes of those that attend that just feels right. I have been going to this festival for over a decade as it gives me a chance to revisit my hometown and spend four days in musical paradise. Every year I discover new talent and enjoy the sounds of returning artists. This is the real music lovers kind of event, the performers intermingle with audience members seamlessly, it is void of the us and them divide. This year was notably folkier and involved more new band’s than previous years known for hosting musical legends and box office bands. I personally enjoy this kind of lineup more and believe it is where the magic begins. The following is a collection of interviews and concert highlights from this year’s festival.
Rayland Baxter is a profoundly talented, wildly sharp and a truly authentic individual from Nashville. As the son of musician Bucky Baxter, he has deep music roots,however he does his own thing and does it well. We spoke in between sets on the particularly sweaty Friday afternoon. Baxter is a musician’s musician; he is refreshingly transparent, uniquely gifted and consistently witty. His music is certainly a reflection of his hilarious and unapologetic personality. He crafts real songs woven from his very real life that he seems to love. He explained his aversion towards confrontation, which is made difficult due to his natural yet unwarranted leadership role in his band. He shared that Nashville is still bursting with eclectic talent and not just a collection of cliché cowboy bars. He is draped in picturesque tattoos; he refers to his arms as a tour scrapbook. His smile is infectious, he doesn’t take life too seriously, but he does take it seriously enough. His set at the main stage was completely paralyzing and hypnotizing. The audience seemingly avoided blinking, as they didn’t want to miss even a mere moment. His voice is complex just like his lyrics and his band commits to the heartache and poetry that his music is made of.
Jim Bryson has an impossibly dense resume; he lives and breathes everything music. Bryson was the founding member of the late and great band Punchbuggy. He also played with Winnipeg’s own The Weakerthans, has a strong solo career and produces other musician’s material like no other. He is a Canadian music marvel who is constantly evolving and trying new things. What makes this all even better is that Bryson is incredibly emotionally generous, uniquely hilarious and notably easy to talk to; really talk to. We started our interview right under the wrath of the Winnipeg afternoon sunlight. We discussed anxiety and depression which we agree is an under discussed and important topic in the music industry.
Bryson has two young daughters that he talked about in a charmingly matter of fact, yet nurturing way. Everything about Bryson is genuine, from his approach to music to his sincere curiosity about those around him. Our discussion varied from existential to playful while remaining consistently interesting. Bryson loves the Winnipeg Folk Festival and speaks highly of his hometown Ottawa; reminding me that it is in fact cool and we need to give up Canadian city rivalry. He loves to tour and approaches it quite realistically. He admits he never got into music for the babes back stage and found it funny that I thought that was a possibility. He is deeply humble; the only people that put him on a pedestal are his fans. This makes sense when you see Bryson perform as his music and performance quality isn’t normal. Although the man is very human, his music is surreal. It’s not necessarily experimental or even close to performance art; it’s just really really really strong music.
He shared with me his difficulty with seeing people reading or napping while he is performing in the revealing nature of daytime outdoor shows. It blows me away that anybody can avoid being completely transfixed when Bryson performs. He understands the way instruments work beyond most, like how astronomers understand space. The best part is that he is completely unaware of his commanding power. He would probably just blush at this notion and pump out another extremely astute album.
The Hairy Prairies
The Hairy Prairies are made up of some of the most compelling, hilarious, sweet and talented people who are crucial to the Winnipeg music scene. The five-piece bluegrass ensemble just debuted at the Winnipeg Folk Fest as travelling minstrels, which was a common theme this year. That stated, their performances took place liberally throughout various pockets of the festival, making the entire event better. They were like a one band travelling folk carnival. They are a stampede of talent, painting wherever they visit with joy and wonder. Every individual in the band has a larger than life personality yet plays their difficult instrument with tremendous sophistication and grace.
The connection to each other goes back to the early stages of a childhood that was musical for all of them. The one exception to this is their sharply talented upright bass player Lindsay Woolgar, who moved to Winnipeg from Edmonton for music school three years ago. Little did she know at the time she was going to get kidnapped by these boisterous and talented machines. Their lead guitar player and singer Cary Bilcowski decided to recruit them all for a jam one fateful night that also featured the added bonus of a barbecue. They admit to loving barbecued food almost as much as music. The band educated me on the clearly undervalued instrument; the shuitar which is a guitar that is treated like a percussion instrument. The shuitar is played by the electric Morgan Fiks in this project. The Woods Brothers, who are a great inspiration to the Hairy Prairies also feature the shuitar played by the amazing Jano Rix. The Prairies show off their talent in their cover of the The Woods Brothers’ song Honey Jar. Along with the gifted Lindsay, Cary and Morgan is the lovely Donovan Locken on mandolin and Derek Micholson on harmonica, they all own their craft with individual distinction and skill.
The Hairy Prairies love music in a way so true and rare that you can tell their fingers and minds would run completely restless without the opportunity to play and perform. It is remarkable that they are so exquisitely humble yet wildly talented and hardworking. They joked about their fan club the “fairy prairies” made up of now three people. The numbers went up 300% during the duration of our interview. They are great people making really great music and I can’t wait for you to see them in the packed venues they deserve to perform at.
The Brothers Comatose
The Brothers Comatose are a five-piece San Francisco based avalanche of sonic brilliance. I sat down with front man Ben Morrison in the middle of the conclusive Sunday afternoon wrap up, the ultimate musical comedown day. Any melancholic feelings I was experiencing towards the festival ending were instantly dissolved the second I started speaking with Morrison. The man emanates everything we love about the modern music maker; he encapsulates the old spirit of country and the contemporary soul of rock and roll. His personality is an accurate vehicle towards the music he and his band create. Their sound likely gets reduced to just folk music, yet we all know that doesn’t quite cut it. Ben plays lead guitar and sings while his brother Alex plays the guitar, banjo and sings as well. They are both fine tuned musicians that grew up with parents who played music frequently in their hometown of Petaluma,their musical roots show.
The band was previously on tour with the impeccably well-suited Devil Makes Three and is currently on an extensive tour that will take them to Alaska and Australia. They also quickly jet from the Winnipeg Folk Festival to the Calgary Stampede to meet and play for one of Ben’s greatest inspiration’s Mr. Huey Lewis who they cover in their wide bank of excellent songs. All of the band members love making and playing music and do so with distinction and charisma. This clearly takes them to all the right places. It is evident that Morrison is doing exactly what he should be, it’s as if his cells are music notes and even his spoken voice sounds like he swallowed an amplifier.
He shared with me that the career he feels he would be the least suitable for is stand-up comedy. This is interesting because he is naturally hilarious and magnetic. What he doesn’t do is put on a shtick, which does happen all too often with the genres of music the band plays. This sincerity is true amongst all of his band mates as well. Their music is a fusion of country, folk, bluegrass and even punk with gracefully threaded classic songwriting and modern storytelling. What is possibly the most prominent feature of the band is their flawless harmonies that sound as though they could lift ancient brick towers. Their music is a storm of vitality and takes listeners on a vacation from reality. Their performances visibly possess people with energy and havoc. With three albums under their belt that were recorded in various parts of the world; this is a band beyond a band-it’s a celebration of sound. A sound that crosses genres, melts minds and infuses people with the magic their music is made of.