Maddy Cristall

Leif Vollebekk at the Biltmore


Leif Vollebekk is a remarkable Montreal based singer-songwriter and multi- instrumentalist. He is in the midst of an extensive tour in celebration of his third album Twin Solitude. Vollebekk has been touring with the brilliant Gregory Alan Isakov and has previously toured with Canadian gems Daniel Lanois and Patrick Watson.

Vollebekk’s concert at the Biltmore was notably packed especially in comparison to the last concert of his I attended in 2015 at the intimate and tiny Media Club. It is clear Twin Solitude has put him on the music map he deserves to be on. It’s a beautiful album, as are Inland (2010) and North Americana (2013). His music is highly emotive and rarely visceral. His compassionate lyrical delivery is mesmerizing, it’s as if his lyrics hurt to sing yet he must release the words. He appears almost possessed by his own complexity. It’s clear Vollebekk can’t not make music, his entire body is ubiquitously immersed in the art of doing so. Although his music is emotional it never feels sorry for itself. He writes whimsical songs about falling in and out of love and the vast beauty of Canadian cities. He sings about friends, wine, perfume, book stores, evolving, devolving and the road to Venus. His unusual and striking voice that generously belt his expressive lyrics are reminiscent of Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake.

This performance was cripplingly captivating, everyone was frozen by the wrath of his lullabies. He sang a diverse set of well selected songs from his bank of material. His knack for covers is impressive which is apparent in his rendition of The Killer’s Ready my Mind. He finalized this concert with Joni Mitchell’s A Case of You which not only shattered me into a fervent mosaic but also proves the profound talent of this young man. His music is a wonderfully unusual landmark in Canadian folk that grips to your ribs.




Kendrick Lamar-Damn


Kendrick Lamar is easily one of the most important rappers of our generation. His music is a unique dichotomy of highly emotive reflections of our broken society and bona fide club bangers. His lyrical composition and verbal agility is unparalleled. You can just as easily weep to the intense yet wildly real subject matter in his material as you could dance to the fervent musical landscape that surrounds. His 2015 release To Pimp a Butterfly not only revolutionized hip hop but music itself. It featured a wall of heavy musicians such as Kamasi Washington alongside ground breaking lyrics. The album became an anthem for the Black Lives Matters movement and is timelessly important. His fourth album Damn is the first follow to the iconic record so it naturally held some great anticipation and pressure. Damn is nothing short of brilliant, his music doesn’t plateau it perpetuates. He has found his distinct voice and he is unapologetically himself. Damn is fun, sensual but serious which is an unusual balance that Lamar has perfected.There is something so rare and enjoyable about music that moves your heart and your hips simultaneously.

Fame hasn’t removed any of the authenticity that pumps ferociously through his music. Damn even features samples of criticism that he has received towards some of his lyrics on To Pimp a Butterfly said by Fox News Commentator Kimberly Guilfoyle. Lamar seems to welcome controversy and criticism, perhaps he even uses it as inspiration. He directly criticizes Geraldo Rivera, a hip hop critic who stated “This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to African Americans than racism in recent years”. Lamar also slams President Trump and doesn’t bother with making it subtle. Some of the lyrics featured on Damn are easily Lamar’s best yet.The song Humble  features the lyrics “I am so sick of the photoshop, show me something natural like afro on Richard Pryor, show me something natural like ass with some stretch marks”.The track XXX. which interestingly features Bono, Lamar states some willdy astute lyrics such as “It’s nasty when you set us up, then roll the dice to bet us up, overnight the rifles, then tell Fox to be scared of us” which is followed  up with “ain’t no black power when your baby killed by a coward” as a reflection of his friend losing his son. The album points out the many flaws of humanity while reeling themes of forgiveness and redemption. He intersperses some biblical verses throughout the record, most notably on the track Fear. Damn concludes with a story about Lamar’s Father and the his producer Top Dawg about an incriminating encounter they had at KFC in the 80’s. There are many facets to this behemoth emotional avalanche of a record but it’s unusual accessibly let’s you choose what you want to take from it.

Why? at Venue in Vancouver March 25

why-moh-leahnPhoto by Eugenie Johnson

Why? is an introspective and distinctive band from Berkley, California. Their music is a rare execution of indie-rock, emotionally driven hip-hop and poly-rhythmic folk. They have released five brilliant albums, including their latest Moh Lhean (Anticton), which came out earlier this month. Their concert at Venue smack dab in the core of downtown Vancouver on Saturday night celebrated this new release and well selected previous work. The intimate show was notably juxtaposed by being at Venue, which typically caters to a top 40-club crowd. The audience was a polite group of sincere fans that were prepared for an emotional avalanche of a performance. The band’s configuration at this rather regal venue was an art piece in and of itself. Each member’s unique set up of electronic and acoustic instruments was draped with vintage light bulbs in a charmingly DIY manor. This impressive stage arrangement created an atmosphere astutely suited to their sound- comforting, powerful and rare. Lead singer Jonathan “Yoni” Wolf is an extraordinary songwriter, poet and singer and he commands a crowd effortlessly. Every person there was completely transfixed by the music as they sang along to their contentious lyrics and wiped tears from their cheeks. Why? concerts are not social dance parties. They are beautifully introspective experiences shared publicly. Their performance was an excellent balance of old and new songs gently shattering hearts, and then gracefully sewing them back together. They dynamic between band members, including brothers Yoni and Josiah is notably compassionate. Yoni’s witty banter on stage was a helpful break from the severely touching music echoing almost every member of the audience. Their lyrics explain abstract and uncomfortable feelings that one seldom can achieve describing, yet somehow, Why? manages to create catchy songs true to their emotional weight. To end the evening, Why?’s encore consisted of the band cuddling around a single microphone, armed with only their voices and a few acoustic instruments. They did quaint renditions of some of their more well know material to which the audience was held completely silent and frozen. What refreshingly frank music for a Granville St. Saturday night.

Why you don’t enjoy questionable music ironically


Enjoying music ironically is certainly a unique cultural product of the 21st century. The phenomena of liking “bad music” in a funny way with a group of people who have also subscribed to this particular notion is so hot right now. This is evident in the countless clubs that host 90’s nights, 80’s nights, karaoke, pop music nights, guilty pleasure music nights etc…. What occurs at said events is covers or recordings of music that wasn’t particularly cutting edge at the time it was released and is now remarkably well received.

Currently, the most popular form of ironic music nights is music from the 90’s. Not the arguably timeless music like The Pixies, Sonic Youth or Nirvana but more like Smash Mouth, Third Eyed Blind and Sugar Ray -all of whom were featured on Big Shiny Tunes. The “irony” here is that most people who visit these events are fonder of the former list of examples than the latter. Other events that celebrate musical irony may feature more bubblegum throwbacks such as The Spice Girls or 80’s hair metal such as Bon Jovi. There seems to be a general yet silent understanding that this music is inherently “uncool” but enjoyable in the proper context. Ironic music is also a significant foundation to the art of karaoke. Songs by Journey or Trooper have presumably been performed thousands of times more than songs by Bob Dylan or The Beatles (which is probably for the better)

Enjoying music ironically brings up some unique questions and difficulties…

The first is that this is not at all the definition of irony. A true example of musical irony would be that you spent your whole life disliking country music but then discovered Johnny Cash is your favourite songwriter of all time. The second is that you may not be enjoying this music in a funny and satirical matter whatsoever. If that is the case, participating in one of these ironic music events gets very emotionally and psychologically confusing for yourself and those around you. What if you sincerely do enjoy the entire discography of the Now compilations? There is nothing inherently wrong with that although it seems to only be accepted if it’s a joke that everyone is in on.  We openly love campy movies like The Room or Reefer Madness, the same rules should apply to The Venga Boys.It is quite possible we are trying to hide behind the veil of satire in order to appreciate music that isn’t necessarily innovative or hip.This paradigm displays a blatant source of pretentiousness and removes a great deal of fun.I was recently at one of these events and everybody was having a genuinely enjoyable time listening to songs from their respected youth. Everyone knew the words, sang them together and sincerely connected. However, they were hard pressed to admit they actually liked the music. That stated, I would argue this phenomenon isn’t musical irony, it’s nostalgia.

Hearing the chart toppers from our youth is incredibly comforting. Even if we listened to obscure music during our adolescents, hearing popular (albeit kind of shitty) music from a peculiar, hormonal and somehow simpler time is quite refreshing. We manage to know all the words and so do our peers. We manage to remember the equally questionable clothing that went alongside dancing to this banger in your room while singing into the TV remote. Embracing your enjoyment instead of judging it is quite empowering, just go with it. 

Skye Wallace-Something Wicked


There is nobody quite like the courageous yet gentle Skye Wallace. She makes soft music loud with her audacious spirit and ferocious grapple on the guitar.Wallace is a well-trained singer, but lets her voice run free. The inspiration of Joni Mitchell and Patti Smith are garnished, not marinated over her authentic pipes.

She grew up in various corners of small town Ontario, lived in Vancouver for ten years and now resides in the ever-musically inspiring Toronto. Something Wicked is Wallace’s second full-length album, it completely differs from her previous record titled Living Parts released in 2014. Something Wicked is a refreshing cleanse of sonic liberation, rock and roll lullabies and lyrical tapestry. It embodies the astute subtly of folk music and the intrepid attitude of punk rock.

Wallace was going through some significant and rather difficult changes after a long tour prior to this recording. She capitalized on the crooked creativity that is typically repressed during a time like this by making a remarkable album. She joined forces with musician/ producer extraordinaire Jim Bryson, (Punchbuggy, The Weakerthans) Oliver Fairfield (Timbre Timbre) and Philippe Charbonneau (Andy Shauf) in studio for no more than a few days. The album is lo-fi yet refined, emotionally generous yet mysterious and confident but not arrogant. The lyrics and instrumentation are relentlessly emotional and frank. Wallace’s instrumental approach is similar to that of St Vincent (Annie Clark); she elegantly wails on her beast of a guitar. This in turn creates an internal visceral storm that is both beautiful and challenging. Something Wicked achieves the rare combination of difficult and exciting, it emanates with the philosophy behind Immanuel Kant’s “the terrifying sublime”. This is not an album that takes shortcuts to preserve your precious heart; it’s magnificently honest. Something Wicked is a rare contemporary Canadian marvel that sticks to every inch of you.

Kieran West and his Buffalo Band

12746552_473166069536998_126276703_n                    Photo by Chris P. Bakon

The extraordinarily idiosyncratic Kieran West certainly has a way with words. He is sincerely kind, refreshingly sardonic and unapologetically himself. West, not unlike many Winnipeg based musicians, is a multi-instrumentalist in various bands while maintaining an impressive band alongside a solo project. West is what I like to call a “music man”, a specimen who lives and breaths music seemingly exclusively. However, West doesn’t exclusively play music he is also a deeply passionate Educational Assistant for student’s that require extra support. He admits the limbo between the two lifestyles is difficult, especially as he is so fervent towards them. He completely immerses himself to both of these stimulating callings though, quite well at that.

Kieran West and his Buffalo Band feature a generous multitude of local talent (including Micah Erenberg, whom West plays for in Erenberg’s band). They released an EP in 2014 titled Riverwood Avenue, which is a series of notably well written complex alternative country blues songs with a punk rock attitude. The material is highly self-reflective, familial, wise, funny and dark. Some songs are palpably despondent but the music never feels sorry itself-a quality that is becoming increasingly rare. West deliver’s these homemade lyrics in a comically deadpan yet gently intuitive manor. This unique style seems to reflect the man himself who loves writing songs. He explains the process of doing so cathartic and ever changing, some songs take years and some take minutes. He often writes about his family that features generations of musicians. His mother plays piano and also works in a school, teaching potentially the best class of all-band. West is recording an EP with the Buffalo band along with a solo one followed by a tour in the near future. He speaks affectionately about the diverse material that comes from various corners of his resounding imagination. West’s music is ethnography of devastating Manitoban talent, contemporary country and fantastically relatable lyrical exploration. His music invites you inside and asks you to stay a while; it’s impossible to refuse this kind offer.

Best Albums 0f 2016

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.

Frank Ocean-Blonde

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.

Beyonce- Lemonade 

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.

Anderson. Paak-Malibu

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-Illennials, The New School

illvis-freshly-crew-black-and-whiteIllvis 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.


Dear Fellow White People, This Has To Stop


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.

Andy Shauf At The Fox Cabaret


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.