St. Vincent

st vincent

ST. VINCENT

LOMA VISTA

4.5/5

From the silvery Bride of Frankenstein hairdo she’s currently sporting to her idiosyncratic songwriting, Annie Clark has never been one to shoot for mainstream acceptance. She’s always trusted her musical instincts and if people care to listen, that’s cool. While her fourth album includes many of the familiar St. Vincent touches –– the awesomely wigged-out guitar lines, for one –– it’s also her most accessible. The beats are stronger, the mood’s lighter and the songs aren’t as jam-packed with instrumentation as on previous records. Sure, the lyrics are cryptic as ever, but Annie makes you feel the emotion even when you don’t fully grasp the meaning. The new music exudes confidence and the visuals reflect that. On the album cover, St. Vincent poses atop a pink throne, ready to be our high priestess of rocking the fuck out.

Kylie Minogue – Kiss Me Once

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KYLIE MINOGUE

KISS ME ONCE

PARLOPHONE

3.5/5

In case you’re unclear about the theme of Kylie Minogue’s new album, she spells it out in three song titles: “Sexy Love”, “Sexercize” and “Les Sex”. Hey, more power to the 45-year-old pop star for throwing down and showing the young ’uns how to titillate an audience. After all, this Aussie icon was burning up TV screens in the “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” video back when Miley Cyrus was carrying a lunch box.

So –– how is album number 12? As you can imagine, many bigwig songwriters were recruited and they (mostly) deliver some trendy, fun tunes. On the dubstep influenced “Sexercise”, Kylie commands her suitor to “beat all your best times” and warns that he’ll “be sore tomorrow”. With its wuub-wuub bass line and workout metaphors, think of it as a hornier update of Olivia Newton John’s “Let’s Get Physical”. With “Les Sex”, Kylie gives us an ode to hookups (“we can call it fleeting”) over gurgling synths and punchy beats. The best Kylie music is like drinking a mojito: it’s light, fizzy and goes down easy.

Shockingly, the lamest track on the album is “I Was Gonna Cancel”, helmed by superstar producer Pharrell Williams. This is clearly not his A-list material, but rather a half-baked idea he threw together. The Stevie Wonder-esque Clavinet noodling feels random and out of place. The stark vocal production does our gal no favours either, drawing attention to the thin quality of her pipes. Then there’s the schmaltzy ballad “Beautiful” featuring Enrique Iglesias (what is this, 1999?), which is thankfully buried near the end of the record.

There are some skip-able moments here, but as always, Kylie comes through with a handful of club bangers to crank up.

Buy This Now: Warpaint

The cover of Warpaint's eponymous new album

The cover of Warpaint’s eponymous new album

If you’ve been following my blog recently, you’ll notice I’ve been writing a lot of middling reviews. It bugs me because I want to be more enthusiastic (or scathing) about new music, but the reality is this: a lot of what I’m hearing is blandly competent. When the album in question is neither a shit show nor a masterpiece, it’s a slog to pen a 150 word review where one word – “meh” – would be more than sufficient.

So whenever there’s a chance to alert you to a band that’s crazy good, I really relish it. One album that’s been playing nonstop around my house is the new self-titled record by Warpaint. The L.A. quartet excels at writing songs that are dreamy, spooky and evocative. It’s the perfect soundtrack for walking around the city on a chilly winter afternoon and letting the mind wander.

Useless, but interesting factoid: the trippy photo on the front cover of the album is the work of Chris Cunningham, best known for directing those stunningly weird and awesome Aphex Twin videos back in the day. The British filmmaker also happens to be married to Warpaint bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg.

Favourite tracks: Keep It Healthy, Biggy, Disco/Very

Watch the band perform the song “Disco/Very” on the French TV show, Album de la Semaine:

Review – Angel Olsen

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Angel Olsen

Burn Your Fire For No Witness

Jagjaguwar

3.5/5

Although she’s a contemporary artist, Angel Olsen’s sophomore album reminds me of what I liked best about indie music back in the ’90s: the emotional directness, the lack of glossy production and the sense of humor embedded in the sad-sack moments. On “Hi-Five”, an overdriven guitar backs the Missouri-bred singer as she throws a li’l country twang on lines like “Are you lonely too?/High-five/So am I”. Critics are rightly comparing Olsen’s vocal style to Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, but I can also hear snippets of Patti Smith and Dee Dee from the Dum Dum Girls in there. As a writer, she’s most effective when the songs are compact, like “Forgiven/Forgotten”, a perfect two-minute blast of sludgy riffing leavened by Olsen’s agile croon winding through it. I lost interest in the longer, meandering moments, but an intriguing record overall.

Best Albums of 2013

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Queens of the Stone Age front man Josh Homme: Demonstrating that smoking is indeed cool

Now that it’s already February 2014, a list of my favourite albums of 2013 seems a tad unnecessary. But back in December, I did spend a good hour agonizing over my picks, so I might as well share them with you:

1) Queens of the Stone Age, Like Clockwork.

Key Track: “I Sat By the Ocean” – With his falsetto croon and swaggering riffs, QOTSA frontman Josh Homme lures us into his relationship woes and makes us enjoy the moping. Few hard rock dudes can make darkness sound this seductive.

2) Blood Orange, Cupid Deluxe

Key Track: “You’re Not Good Enough” – British-born singer/songwriter Dev Hynes finds some inspiration in 80’s R&B.

3) Savages, Silence Yourself

Key Track: “She Will” –  The band I would have wanted to be in during my Joy Division/Gang of Four/Echo and the Bunnymen phase. Singer Jenny Beth even looks a little like Ian Curtis, though that dude never rocked the Pitchfork Festival in a pair of high heels.

4) Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob

Key Track: “Shock To Your System” – The twin sisters go for huge pop hooks on album #7. The grandeur, melodrama and catchiness of these tunes take me back to the days when Cyndi Lauper ruled the radio.

5) Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe

Key Track – Lies” –  A pretty fab debut from a Scottish synth-pop band. “Lies” is one of the standout tracks, with its unusual chord progression, electronic squalls and Lauren Mayberry’s clear-as-a-bell soprano connecting everything together.

6) Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, the More I Love You.

Key Track “Night Still Comes” – This far into her career, you wouldn’t expect Neko Case to keep reeling off amazing album after amazing album yet she does just that. I don’t see any Rolling Stones-esque cash grab records in her future.

7) Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels

Key Track: “Sea Legs” – Last year, I caught Killer Mike and El-P’s show at The Biltmore in Vancouver and was impressed with their lyrical dexterity, energy and sense of humour. If you’re tired of listening to Kanye’s angst, give these guys a try.

8) Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks

Key Track “Copy of A” – See my full review back in September.

9) The National, Trouble Will Find Me

Key Track – “Sea of Love” – The National never stray too far from their formula, but why mess with a good thing?

10) Kacey Musgraves, Same Trailer Different Park

Key Track “Merry Go Round”  – I don’t listen to a lot of country music, but Kacey is a refreshing antidote to the same-old beer and pickup truck anthems. In “Merry Go Round”, she talks about the oppressiveness of small-town life – the pressures to conform and the boredom that results from upholding the status quo. Musgraves has an outlaw spirit that I admire.

 

He Came Back Haunted

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NINE INCH NAILS

HESITATION MARKS

POLYDOR

4/5

Trent Reznor, the dark prince of industrial rock, has gone through huge changes in the past decade. Sobriety. Marriage. Fatherhood. Hollywood plaudits. (He won an Academy Award for co-composing the score for The Social Network.) Fear not, Nine Inch Nails fans: el Rez’s biceps may have gotten bigger but the anxious guy we know and love is still in there. He’s just working through his neuroses with an expanded musical palette.

The new album comes across as both futuristic and self-referential –– a tricky thing to pull off. Overall, there’s less screaming in the choruses and fewer distorted guitars. Musically, it’s cleaner and less cluttered, so you can focus on the individual sounds he’s generating.

 

Imagine the tense minimalism of his soundtrack work paired with Pretty Hate Machine-esque vocal hooks and beats. The only what-the-hell moment is “Everything”, a jaunty track that feels like Trent is auditioning to be in Metric.

I’m excited as hell for the NIN concert in Vancouver this coming November and I stumbled across this video which details the painstaking process of creating the live show. Skip ahead to the 10 minute mark to see Trent getting a little bitchy with his crew in the lead up to their Fuji Rock Festival performance. I feel you buddy. I’d be a jumble of nerves too if I was attempting something that ambitious.

Neko Case Won’t Back Down

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Neko Case

The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, The More I Love You.

Anti-

4/5 Stars

With any Neko Case album, you can always count on that voice, a gale-force sound that grows more powerful with every held note until it seems strong enough to level a house.

On her sixth album, Case uses that voice to go inward, reckon with the past and take the biggest artistic risks of her career. In a recent interview with the Guardian, the 42-year-old singer/songwriter speaks candidly about the depression that struck her in the wake of her mother, father and grandmother’s deaths. The losses dealt Case more than a little pain, leaving her unable to connect with people or enjoy music.

On “Where Did I Leave That Fire”, she feels numb and fears her life force –– her fire –– may never return. “Will a stranger find it on a curb idling?” she sings. “Cold call from a time zone just short of outer space.” Sonar sounds add to the sense of dislocation, making it one of the most unconventional songs Case has ever written.

“Nearly Midnight, Honolulu” is similarly unusual and vulnerable. Performing a cappella, Case recalls a moment she witnessed between a young girl and her mother that’s dysfunctional and heartbreaking. Don’t put this one on at a party unless you’re comfortable bawling like a baby in front of your friends.

There are also familiar touches to please longtime fans. “Night Still Comes” is the type of slow burn country/soul ballad that Case nails with ease, while album opener “Wildest Creatures” has the haunting beauty and smart chord changes that call to mind 2006’s Fox Confessor Brings The Flood or 2009’s Middle Cyclone.

While the new album doesn’t always go down as easy as her previous records, it’s much more audacious. At a stage where most musicians run out of things to say, it’s inspiring to see Case putting herself out there and turning her hardships into great art.