CD Review: Pale Eyes – Sweatshop


By: Sean Carsley August 20th, 2013

Down on a cement floor with crossed legs and a weapon of choice. Wood panel walls or cheap, cracking brick makes the small room seem smaller. That cold sensation which seeps up your spine from that floor stained in water and black circles of god-knows-what. Sweatshop, a mix-tape by Toronto duo Pale Eyes (Ben McCarthy and Lisa J. Smith) is the kind of album to listen to in a room like that. 
Beginning with “Waves & Radiation”, it’s the perfect segue. A taste of what is to be the entire album. Raw. Chaotic. Layered pieces of beauty.  
Then you slide into “kltr kma”, a Reznor-esque piece of ska, but rich. “Empathy Exhaustion” borders on Alternative but stays in that vein of Industrial with its raw sound and effects. 
Sweatshop is brilliant and full of hooks, “Philosophka” should be radio-bound, except for the censor nightmare of the repeated “Don’t fuck me over” line. Which is a shame because I would defy anyone not to dig on this tune.  
Listen to Sweatshop, preferably on a cement floor. You must catch its chaos and beauty.
Pale Eyes – Sweatshop 
Be sure to follow Toronto Music Scene on Twitter @TorontoMusic and Sean Carsley @carsley92

CD Review: AML – You Used To Be Me


By: Hilary Johnston August, 6th 2013


Recorded on the West Coast with Nigel Asselin (Half Moon Run, Faded Vanity), Air Marshal Landing’s full-length debut has arrived with poise, and candidly, one I’ve been waiting to hear for quite some time. 

Matt Simmonds, Graham Drummond and Cory Adrian have written an uncommonly balanced record that is instinctually thoughtful , full to the brim with notable melodies, groovy bass lines and perky hooks. Precise and polished, each tune logically leads the ear to the next, with the lyrics providing a sense of cohesion that you not only hear when they are sung, but actually discern. Furthermore, a contemplative tone and common theme of reflecting on one’s own identity makes each song feel like part of a whole, not singulair pieces.


Although the album traverses a sunny and glossy streak, it does so without sacrificing the edgy side of the group’s songwriting. Take for instance the jaunty pop of “Me and My Friends”  – a painfully catchy melody and whistling solo that is paired with tense guitar riffs – resulting in a song that straddles classic and current simultaneously. Truth be told, I listened to it four times before I finally allowed myself to move on. 


In addition to being multi-instrumentalists, the trio of Air Marshal Landing have solid voices too, allowing some seriously rich harmonies to seep through. “Death by Calypso” is a winning example, complimenting the punchy rhythms and bright guitar tone. The song stands out as a potential summer dance party staple, exuding enough quirky spice to captivate any Vampire Weekend fan.
Listen to this one. It’s an ideal summer album – fresh, fun and relevant.
Air Marshal Landing – Death by Calypso

Be sure to follow Toronto Music Scene on Twitter @TorontoMusic and Hilary Johnston @hilary_johnston

CD Review: Austra – Olympia


By: Hilary Johnston July 15th, 2013


Austra’s sophomore release, Olympia, takes the already ominous synth-wave style of Feel It Break (2011) and blends in more caliginous timbres and danceable beats. Keep in mind, these changes come as no surprise considering the former three-piece has doubled in size. Now a six member sect, the lyrics are grander and more personal, even political at times. Comparisons to Lykke Li are apt, in particular the similar refrain of “Forgive Me”, which bears a striking auditory likeness to “I Follow Rivers” in its use of melody and pensive vocals.  At its most inspired, the LP revels in its use of rhythm, driving the record forward, guiding the listener to the end of the album instead allowing them to drop off at track six or eight.


The songs on Olympia have a consistent contour. Starting with a single riff, layers of percussion and euphony are gradually weaved in until  a musical climax is reached, with Katie Stelmanis’ wail reduced to a distant whimper. 


To fresh ears, it’s beautiful the first few times. However, after 12 tracks of the same shape, it gets a bit wearisome and indistinguishable. That’s not to say there isn’t musical craft involved. If you go looking for it, you will find some subtle variation between tracks. For example, “We Become” has the flavour of a reggae dance party while ‘Hurt Me Now’, the album’s finale, slows it down with a smidgeon of melodrama. 


Generally a pleasant listen, the indifference of its lasting appeal is a point of concern. I can objectively discern that the LP is of quality, but I know that something similar is also waiting right around the corner. Sure Olympia is good, but it won’t make any ‘Best of 2013’ lists. 

Austra – Hurt Me Now
Be sure to follow Toronto Music Scene on Twitter @TorontoMusic and Hilary Johnston @hilary_johnston

CD Review: Skydiggers – No.1 Northern


By: Sean Carsley July 11th, 2013


It’s not surprising to find out that the Skydiggers formed around the same time as the Cowboy Junkies and Blue Rodeo, creating a signature acoustic sound which emulates the same stark, crisp mood.   


For their 25th anniversary album, No.1 Northern, the tone is eclectic to say the least. Comprised from a grab bag of covers, the track list slides from a legendary Canadian rock artist to the world of country and folk.   


The song selection is interesting. Choosing Neil Young’s “Don’t Cry No Tears” shows their loyalty to fine tablature work. An understandable choice considering Neil’s mindset during the release of this song in 1975.  


On their cover of Linda McRae’s “Burning Bridges”,  the initial foundation of original  sounds like a Neil homage with it’s dirty electric grunge, so in turn, the Skydiggers take it to their own acoustic level. A neat collision.


Reworking Gene MacLellan’s “Snowbird” — a monster hit for Anne Murray, to whom it will forver be identified with — the band instead remain true to MacLellan’s more subdued, original vision, a style in which  their own sound resonates. They do supreme justice to “Red Deer to Margaree” (a nice nod to Andrew Cash, brother of former Skydigger bandmate Peter Cash) and Gordon Lightfoot’s “Spin Spin”. 


There is no flash, but there’s substance to No. 1 Northern. Where the Skydiggers fall short is the ability to enhance one or maybe two of the originals. Perhaps Ron Sexsmith’s “Just My Heart Talkin'” could have been ramped up. Then again, it’s not possible to fault this band that wished to remain true. You can listen to this album and get that sense of ‘sitting around a fire’ melancholy. The more it gets listened to, the more you’ll find reason to go back to it.



Skydiggers – Bitter Beauty (Jason Collett cover)





Be sure to follow Toronto Music Scene on Twitter @TorontoMusic and Sean Carsley @carsley92

CD Review: Matt Epp – Learning to Lose Control


By: Hilary Johnston June 25th, 2013


Not to be confused with that guy who wrote the Tim Horton’s song (name barely important), Matt Epp is another folky dripping with commercial potential. His latest album, Learning to Lose Control, is full of radio-friendly tunes that would surely appeal to an onslaught of wholesome teens. 


Epp’s warm vocals come through thanks to Jamie Candiloro’s (Ryan Adams, REM, Willie Nelson) clean production. Regrettably, high quality audio production can’t make up for mundane songwriting that will ultimately leave the listener nodding off. It’s an unfortunate crux considering Epp’s evident skills when it comes to compositional variety. “Use Your Head” is seasoned with a little Flamenco flavour while “Take You Away” features some good ol’ country twang. Heck, there is even a duet with the always-lovely Serena Ryder. The opening track “Sleepwalking” is probably the edgiest offering. The chords show a little grit, which weaves well with the soulful vocals, hinting at a smidgen of excitment to an otherwise listless track-list. 


Epp has some playing chops; I’ll grant him that. However, the fatal flaw to the album’s design is that nobody cares about technical abilities when your lyrics are as shoddy as “You can hold me / but you can’t hold me down” or “He’s just a main / a grain of sand / so take his hand” – I could go on. It isn’t merely intolerable, it’s embarrassing. 


Learning to Lose Control is a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll and 100% drab.




Be sure to follow Toronto Music Scene on Twitter @TorontoMusic and Hilary Johnston @hilary_johnston

CD Review: Ell V Gore – Sex Static


By: Hilary Johnston June 18th, 2013


It has been a big month for local band, Ell V Gore. They recently wrapped a handful of NXNE shows and just launched their debut EP, Sex Static, onto a scene of eager hipsters. The quartet teamed up with Toronto boutique label, Bad Actors Inc., for this release. It seems that fish tacos are not the only thing trending in this city; collaborations with members of Fucked Up (Ben Cook in this case) are all the rage.

This four-track EP brings together the late ‘70s gothic post-punk aesthetic of Bauhaus and Joy Division with a more electro-industrial, almost Krautrock tinge. The result is edgy guitar riffs over booming bass with dark, yet melodic vocal lines. If spooky is your thing, this band may just be for you.

The most note-worthy track on the EP is “Lobotomy”, the video for which recently received the Pitchfork stamp of approval. The track, perhaps slightly more palatable to the non-punk than the somewhat monotonous “Her Vicious”, showcases the group’s effective use of nuance to create a musical atmosphere. It evokes imagery of an after-hours party in some sticky crevice of the city too cool for most of us to know about, where clothing is black and foreheads are sweaty.

The final track, “Death Strings (Loss Angeles)” comes as a refreshing change of pace after three tracks of the musical embodiment of the weird kid at the back of the your high school art class. The build-up occurs more gradually, the timbres are more diverse and somewhere in the blend of doom exists a chant-like drone. Rather than being the musical equivalent of that aforementioned art dweeb, this track is probably on his iTunes beside a bunch of other too-cool-for-you-to-know about bands. Much better.


Ell V Gore – Lobotomy



Be sure to follow Toronto Music Scene on Twitter @TorontoMusic and Hilary Johnston @hilary_johnston

CD Review: Grimes – Visions


Grimes-VisionsDance Pop In a Trance
By: Laura Phillips
April 1, 2012

She’s said of herself to believe in aliens, and as Grimes continues her venture through the music wheel, it’s possible such views could be received as a kind of strategy for self-promotion. There’s something otherworldly about Grimes that taps beyond soundscapes and Mariah-high croons– she’s dance, she’s pop, she’s conceptual and in a trance. In her latest LP, Visions, the Montreal-based artist takes her homespun, ethereal aesthetic to a level of accessibility that parallels with popular music’s ideals.

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CD Review: Trust – TRST


TRSTTrust survives buzz to delivery sexy techno goth album
By: Sheena Lyonnais
February 29, 2012

Every once in a while you need to escape. You want to start running – through back alleys, quiet streets, Chinatown, it doesn’t matter. You want to feel like there is an intensity chasing you, like you’re running from and yet towards something – and when you get there, you want everybody to motha fuckin dance.

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CD Review: The Wooden Sky – Every Child A Daughter, Every Moon A Sun


thewoodenskyBy: Sheena Lyonnais
February 28, 2012

Every once in a while a perfect album is born. It’s parents: poetic lovers, stripped of beating hearts and broken down to nothing more or less than flesh and bones, so exposed. When I reviewed the Wooden Sky’s teaser City Of Light EP, I said the songs were destined for wine and tear-soaked nights alone in the city. It felt a painful level of sad, which it was, but when songs are pulled and compiled into the full collection that is Every Child A Daughter, Every Moon A Sun suddenly the true picture unfolds.

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