Thursday, 29 December 2011

10 Best Albums of 2011: #1

1. Kate Bush, 50 Words for Snow

2011 may be remembered by some as the year when notably reclusive English singer-songwriter Kate Bush released not one album, but two: a reworking of previous material (Director’s Cut) and her first album of original material in six years, 50 Words for Snow. The title track draws its inspiration from the common urban legend that there are fifty Inuit words for snow, and the album as a whole exists in this middle ground between fantasy and fact, reality and myth.

A quiet melancholy lies at the center of many of the songs on 50 Words for Snow, a sadness smartly offset by the wondrous “Snowflake” (a duet between Bush and her son Albert) and the slyly humorous cameo by Stephen Fry on the title track. No matter how allegorical songs like “Lake Tahoe” might get, they are anchored by Bush’s jazz-inspired piano, which feels like Vince Guaraldi’s more contemplative cousin while retaining its player’s own idiosyncratic voice. A work rich in both metaphor and sentiment, 50 Words for Snow confirms that no matter how long it takes Kate Bush to record an album, the result is always worth the wait.


Lake Tahoe by Kate Bush on Grooveshark


50 Words For Snow by Kate Bush on Grooveshark

10 Best Albums of 2011: #2

2. Sarah Slean, Land and Sea

Anyone that decides to make a double album these days is ambitious with a capital-A, but few can claim rightful ownership of that title like Sarah Slean does with Land and Sea. Who else could make an album with two wildly divergent genres, knowing full well it could blow up in their face, and so thrillingly succeed? It’s an impressive work on both musical and thematic levels – while each disc can (and does) stand on its own, lyrical motifs from one infuse the other, making for a pleasantly cohesive, and impressively consistent, listening experience.

On Land, organs, trumpets, and a full band lend warmth and immediacy to the soulful, questioning “Amen”, accentuate the biting imagery of “Girls Hating Girls” and, on the undeniable standout “Everybody’s On TV”, provide a winking ‘Alleluia!’ chorus behind Slean’s piercing – yet, crucially, empathetic – critique of just how navel-gazing our society has become.

Sea has a more contemplative tone, with Slean’s piano backed by a 23-piece orchestra, but it is no less potent than its cousin Land – “The Right Words”, a stripped-down version of which appeared on an earlier EP, is even more emotional in its incarnation here, and strings hover ominously around the cautionary tale “Napoleon”. “My Eyes & Your Eyes” proves a fitting closer, not only to Sea but to the journey as a whole; with piano as accompaniment, Slean bids the listener goodnight beneath a sky of stars, and one is left with nothing more than the conviction that Land and Sea is not only one of 2011’s most ambitious records, but stands among its most accomplished as well.


10 Best Albums of 2011: #3

3. Fleet Foxes, Helplessness Blues

What’s most immediately striking about Fleet Foxes’ sound on Helplessness Blues is just how expansive it is, and I mean that in both senses of the word: not only does it draw from a variety of cultures, but it quite literally draws the listener in; from the first few notes of “Montezuma” to the final a capella lines of “Grown Ocean”, it’s difficult at times to become disengaged from the sonic world Helplessness Blues envelops us in. Lead vocalist and songwriter Robin Pecknold’s no slouch in the lyrics department either, with his frequently matter-of-fact lyrics serving as both complement and counterpoint on such songs as “Someone You’d Admire” and “Lorelai”. Taken as individual songs, the listener may find Fleet Foxes’ second record to be petty, even inconsequential, at times; taken as a whole, however, Helplessness Blues is one of the most richly rewarding records you’ll find this year.

10 Best Albums of 2011: #4

4. Feist, Metals

If there were an award given for the most surprising album of 2011, Feist’s Metals would undoubtedly be its recipient, if not at least a serious contender for the honour. What made so many people surprised by the album was not the inherent quality of its music, but how an artist that had given all indication on her previous records of being a dyed-in-the-wool romantic would suddenly put out a record as frequently resigned, and occasionally uncomfortable, as Metals. From the plainspoken, ‘simple’ title standing in sharp contrast to Let It Die and The Reminder to the earth-bound imagery of “Caught a Long Wind” and “The Circle Married the Line”, the album felt unsettling for a lot of listeners finding themselves unsure of what to do with the visceral push-push-push-push! of “A Commotion” or the bitterness expressed in “The Bad in Each Other”.

What they missed, of course, is that Metals is not meant to be a happy record. It is, at its most fundamental level, the same sort of moody, often claws-out chronicle of a relationship that was Tori Amos’ classic 1996 record Boys for Pele. Like Amos before her, Feist is mining unexplored terrain when it comes to Metals’ musicality, unafraid to include Eastern-sounding melodies or choruses of layered voices when the occasion strikes her. Metals is not a vanity project, however; it is a confident, assured step forward for an artist that may have been in danger of being pigeonholed into a poppy sensibility she was never that much of an ideal fit for anyways.

10 Best Albums of 2011: #6

6. Colleen Brown, Dirt

Has there ever been a more perfectly evocative album title? Dirt has Colleen Brown examining relationships from the ground up, with both their trials and tribulations expertly rendered by the Alberta singer-songwriter. Brown’s voice has always been a bit of an acquired taste, but on “Happy Love Song” and “7 Hours & 15 Days” she’s figured out an arrangement that doesn’t make her sound like she’s gasping for air half the time, to the benefit of not only Brown, but to the album in general. Her songs sound fresh and opened-up, and the addition of ghostly synths and brassy horns to Brown's sonic toolbox make Dirt a work that feels like Joni Mitchell’s early oeuvre reinterpreted for the 21st century: not only a meditation on the past, but an affirmation for the future.

10 Best Albums of 2011: #5

5. Hayes Carll, KMAG YOYO & other American Stories

Going on the title alone, one might presume Hayes Carll’s newest record to be a meditative and fairly patriotic collection of vignettes about the life of hardworking, well-meaning, blue-collar Americans – and you’d be partially right. But once you take a look at the album cover, and come to understand that its title track gets its name from a rather cheeky military acronym, it becomes quite clear that the Texas County singer-songwriter has something quite different up his sleeve. What’s most impressive about KMAG YOYO is not that it feels like one of the few records out there actually offering an accurate perception of the world today, but how consistently great – and frequently brilliant – its songs are. Carll has truly come into his own as both writer and performer, slipping between instant classics (“Grand Parade”, “The Letter”) and wry social commentary (“Hard Out Here”, the caustic duet “Another Like You”) with remarkable ease.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

10 Best Albums of 2011: #7

7. Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto

The first genuine breakthrough for the band since 2002’s A Rush of Blood to the Head, Mylo Xyloto shows the youthful earnestness of Coldplay’s earliest work has grown into a more mature, yet still wholly genuine, musical perspective. Whereas previous records’ lyrics felt oblique for obliquity’s sake, here not a word is wasted, with the stunning “Hurts Like Heaven”, “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” and “Us Against the World” most representative of the album’s potent imagery. Whether it’s quoting from the Leonard Cohen classic “Anthem” on “Up With the Birds” or crafting such songs as the devastating “Up in Flames”, Mylo Xyloto is an album that indicates Coldplay, for a band often seen as running out of steam, hasn’t lost its ability to surprise the listener.

10 Best Albums of 2011: #8

8. Dan Mangan, Oh Fortune

Having expanded his audience considerably with 2009’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice, Oh Fortune finds singer-songwriter Dan Mangan in a more contemplative mood, if tracks like “If I Am Dead” are any indication. What could have been just idle introspection in the hands of a less capable musician, however, serves as a springboard for Mangan to expand his lyrical and sonic palette, with remarkable results. “As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All” is a romantic waltz balanced by lyrics dealing with the dangers of becoming too narcissistic, and “Leaves, Trees, Forest” rests on music that feels at times like sonic sunshine. While the realism of Oh Fortune may be initially disheartening, it soon becomes clear that at the base of every song lies a subtle, yet persistent, glimmer of hope – a pragmatic but confident foundation for survival in our often overwhelming world.


10 Best Albums of 2011: #9

9. Nicole Atkins, Mondo Amore

Mondo Amore, Nicole Atkins’ first full release since her acclaimed debut Neptune City in 2007, plays like a series of vignettes in the life of a relationship. From the first few eerie, string-led moments of “Vultures” to its spellbinding conclusion in “The Tower”, Atkins takes the listener on a journey equally suffused with hope and pain. Her breathtaking voice is as commanding as ever on “You Come to Me”, but reveals grittier, even sensual, facets on “War Is Hell” and “My Baby Don’t Lie”, which sounds like something Patsy Cline might record if she walked around with a knife in her boots. If Neptune City was an album that reminded one of times gone by, Mondo Amore is a record that fights to live in the present amid constant propositions by the ghosts of the past, and while perhaps not as immediately compelling as Atkins’ debut, the spell it casts grows stronger with each listen.


10 Best Albums of 2011: #10

10. Tori Amos, Night of Hunters
Night of Hunters finds singer-songwriter/pianist Tori Amos returning to her earliest roots studying the works of Bach and Chopin at Baltimore’s Peabody Conservatory, from which she was famously kicked out at age eleven for her growing interest in rock music. Being approached by legendary classical label Deutsche Grammophon to create a 21st-century song cycle spanning 400 years of classical music would make anyone intimidated, but Amos’ dexterity with a variety of sounds and genres on such classic works as Scarlet’s Walk and Boys for Pele helps bring a notion as daunting as that of Night of Hunters into glorious reality.

The moment “Shattering Sea” hits us with that killer opening lyric (“That is not my blood on the bedroom floor”), we know we’re in the hands of a master as we delve further and further, with Amos as our guide, into the dying embers of an ages-old relationship. “Star Whisperer” and the title track are only two of the many reasons Night of Hunters is not just one more sterling chapter in Amos’ accomplished twenty-year career, but one of the most significant records she’s made yet.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Best Music Videos of 2011: Part 2

Adele – “Rolling in the Deep”
While I’ve made it clear that it never truly clicked with me as an individual song, the actual video for “Rolling in the Deep” is one of the year’s best. The video allows Adele’s voice to really shine, as it no longer takes a backseat to other elements in the song, while also creating visuals that work on both modern-day and archetypal levels. The increasing sense of uneasiness one feels as the video progresses is masterfully conveyed as it rises to a well-timed, and brilliantly-executed, climax. Adele’s situation is all-too-familiar to many of us, even if the world she inhabits is one we’ve never seen before.

Evelyn Evelyn – “Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?”
The very notion of conjoined twins being ‘discovered’ on MySpace and subsequently recording an album may be hard for some to swallow, but regardless of what you think of the concept, the video for “Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?” is a truly astonishing work. While the song itself – a jaunty, cabaret-style tune in which the twins take subtle potshots at each other – is solid, the video takes it to a whole new level, becoming a perfect blend of form and content in the process. One of the most quietly brilliant music videos of 2011.

Sarah Slean – "The Rose"
I'm going to be honest with you: very few music videos, by any artist and in any genre, have ever moved me as much as "The Rose" did. This is what I was talking about when I mentioned the 'intangible marriage of music and visuals' in my introduction to Part 1. Sarah Slean's absolutely gorgeous song and its incredible lyrics meld cohesively with a concept that steadily becomes more brilliant the more you think about it to create something that you can't really describe in words, only in emotions. Emotions that aren't forced or melodramatic, just emotions that exist within us all; our hopes and our fears, our dreams and our desires, and our underlying wonder at the nature of the universe.

Sarah Slean – “Set It Free”
Yes, I am aware two videos by Sarah Slean made the list this year. Both are so inherently different, however, and both so exceptionally crafted that I feel I would be doing a disservice by leaving either of them off. I've already used Sarah Slean’s video for “Set It Free” in one of my Best Songs of 2011 posts, but it’s so accomplished it deserves to be seen twice. Despite being made independent of a major label, it’s amazing how glamorous everything looks – the use of mirrors is particularly inspired – and how the song’s emotions practically burst from the screen, calling out for you to adopt its unabashedly celebratory perspective on life.

St. Vincent – “Cruel”
Annie Clark made some absolutely brilliant videos for 2009’s Actor, works that took the creeping urban paranoia expressed in that album and brought it to life, but the video for “Cruel” is of a different breed. It’s the story of a woman abducted by a family and forced to be their mother – and when she doesn’t live up to their expectations, she gets reprimanded in a variety of ways. If the premise sounds a little weird, the execution is fantastic; darkly humorous sight gags (the bit in the trunk, the part with the gun – and no, that’s not a spoiler!) run alongside moments that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Flannery O’Connor story, moments as thought-provoking as they are well-crafted.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Best Music Videos of 2011: Part 1

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m fairly particular about what makes a good music video. A music video can’t just be ‘a video with music’ or ‘music with a video attached’ – the song and the visuals have to complement, and enhance, each other. The visuals in the music video can’t be too literal or too abstract, either: get too literal, and the song loses most of its impact; get too abstract, and you might as well have any song playing over those visuals, for all we care.

It’s a delicate balance – and one that’s utterly meaningless to a lot of record companies, I’m sure; why bother with ‘enhancing both the music and the visuals’ when you can just throw a bunch of people on a dance floor, add some blatant product placement, and be done in a couple of hours?

It won’t be a surprise, then, that the following music videos are largely by bands and artists that fall under the category of ‘indie musicians’. A few of these videos are from major label artists, though – which I found occasionally surprising, as far as these things go.

It’s harder to shoehorn music videos into a numbered list, considering we’re dealing with the often intangible marriage of music and visuals, so I’ve come up with a compromise of sorts. I’ve decided to arrange these videos in a list (mostly for posterity), but it’s a loosely-structured kind of list. Basically, the good ones are here in Part 1, and you can find the really good ones in Part 2.

Coldplay – “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall”
You could argue that the video for Coldplay’s “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” is at its core quite similar to what the band did in 2009 for “Strawberry Swing”, but what makes the video for “Waterfall” shine is its ability to capture the sheer energy and emotional abandon of the song while taking it in a pleasantly distinct direction. Sure, Chris Martin’s constant gesturing towards his heart gets a bit vexing after a while, but the video pops with colour, and you have to give the director props for letting Will Champion occupy the screen for his drum solo at the end.

Feist – “How Come You Never Go There”
That Feist’s video for “How Come You Never Go There” is so stylistically different from anything she’s done before may be startling for those who got hooked on her music through the “1234” iPod ads. Still, once you get past the initial shock of a music video being in black and white – what outrage! – and that Feist is sporting a hairdo that would put Rubeus Hagrid (and possibly Bjork) to shame, you start to realize how effective “How Come You Never Go There” is at conveying the pensive nature of Feist’s vocals and the song’s overall feeling of isolation.

Jill Barber – “Tell Me”
It was wise of Jill Barber to start her video for “Tell Me” with its ending; it ratchets up the level of anticipation, for one, and it adds a rather sinister undertone to Barber’s vocals that isn’t really present in the song itself. They go a little overboard with the James Bond theme at times, but it’s still an elegant, well-directed video that never sacrifices the smoothness of the song for some sort of high-pitched, ill-considered melodrama – and for that, I’m truly grateful.

Katy Perry – “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)”
I’m as surprised as anyone that Katy Perry made this list, let alone the video for “Last Friday Night”, a song so cheesy you could serve it as a party dip and nobody would notice. And yet the video for “Last Friday Night” took me by surprise, serving not only as a sort of salve for the ‘music videos’ put out this year by a certain Ms. Germanotta, but also for how an attractive woman like Perry elected to transform herself into a decidedly unappealing alter-ego. Both Perry and the video aren’t afraid to poke fun at the throwaway nature of pop music, either – the cameo by Rebecca Black should clue the viewer in to that fact, at least.

The Decemberists – “Calamity Song”
The Decemberists’ video for “Calamity Song” has attracted considerable attention for its recreation of a scene from David Foster Wallace’s epic novel Infinite Jest, but the beauty of the video is that you don’t have to have read a single page of Wallace’s work to get a general appreciation for what’s going on. Naturally, it would help, but Colin Meloy’s lyrics and the way the set is structured make the video a work that stands largely on its own. Who knew kids endlessly pelting each other with tennis balls could be so much fun?

Friday, 16 December 2011

Ten Best Songs of 2011: #5 to #1

5. “Cheerleader” – St. Vincent 
I found Strange Mercy, St. Vincent’s third album, to be a bit of a mixed bag – some of the more experimental stuff didn’t quite work, to be honest, and Annie Clark’s writing generally wasn't up to the same standard as it was on 2009’s brilliant Actor. There were still quite a few standouts, though, and “Cheerleader” is one of the best; it starts out innocuous enough, luring you in with some sweetly-sung vocals, then unleashes an absolutely massive chorus all but commanding you to blare it from the speakers in your car. Clark’s lyrics here are some of the best, and most piercing, of her already-stellar career; if you can’t relate to ‘I don’t wanna be a cheerleader no more’ in some way, shape or form, you’re probably a robot as far as I’m concerned.  

4. “Misty” – Kate Bush
If I had my way, “Misty” would probably be at the top of this list, but I feel like it’s such a tremendous song that I have to give the other ones a chance. There’s not a lot to say about “Misty” that wouldn’t border on the rabidly superlative, but let me tell you that no-one else but Kate Bush could take a thirteen-and-a-half-minute song about falling in love with a snowman and make me feel like it’s the most visceral, heartbreaking thing I’ve ever heard in my life. Bush’s voice is playful, enigmatic, bitter, and seductive all at once and I don’t know how else to describe the song but just tell you to listen to it. Yes, it’s almost fourteen minutes long. But you’ll be glad you did.

Misty by Kate Bush on Grooveshark

3. “Bust Your Knee Caps” – Pomplamoose
Maybe it’s just my natural inclination towards all things off-beat, but I’ve always loved Pomplamoose – Jack Conte and Nataly Dawn have the same sort of indefinable chemistry and solid musical sense I look for in all my favorite indie bands, and their covers LP Tribute to Famous People made my Top 10 list last year. But lately they’ve become known more for their covers than for their excellent original material, which makes me worry that they’ll never be seen as a truly legitimate band.

Well, thank goodness they wrote “Bust Your Knee Caps” – it’s one of the most infectious songs I’ve heard all year, due in no small part to its irresistible blend of dark humour, doo-wop, and ‘60s girl-group harmonies. Dawn’s voice is as compelling as ever, but on “Bust Your Knee Caps” she hits a halfway point between ‘sweetly angelic’ and ‘subtly menacing’ that banishes all notions of her being “passionless” for good. And the song’s narrative is brilliant, with hints of Salome and West Side Story in the mix, not to mention that Dawn singing the titular phrase is one of the most endearing, yet unsettling, things I’ve heard in a long, long time.

2. “Someone Like You” – Adele
While I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one that felt 21, despite selling like hotcakes, didn’t represent Adele’s innate talent as well as it could have, I have the feeling I’m in the minority when it comes to “Rolling in the Deep”. The song never really clicked with me; I got the sense that, while it was definitely inspired by very real emotions, the lyrics and instrumentation weren’t necessarily conveying those emotions as effectively as they could have been. “Someone Like You” is that song’s polar opposite, in a sense: Adele’s lyrics perfectly evoke the emotions she intends, and the piano underscoring her voice both enhances Adele’s singing and provides a compelling narrative of its own. It’s not easy to keep the listener’s attention with just vocals and piano for five minutes, especially with a “pop song”, yet, somehow, Adele has done it.

1. “The Undiscovered First” – Feist
I have a feeling that most critics would rather have, or will have, “Someone Like You” (or even “Rolling in the Deep”) in the place occupied by Feist here. Yet Feist’s album Metals kept on calling me to engage with it on increasingly more personal levels, making me realize just how stunning a record it is, and the song with the loudest voice was “The Undiscovered First”. The chorus of voices near the end hooked me on first listen, but the song itself, on repeat, felt more and more like a perfect summation of its parent year, with an encouragement to seek out new territory anchored by its cautious, even pragmatic, lyrics – words, music, and vocals that revealed more and more the further I delved in.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Ten Best Songs of 2011 - #10 to #6

10. "Good Girls" - Colleen Brown
Is it just me, or did every second song released this year have a lyrical theme lifted directly from Trooper’s “Raise a Little Hell”? It seems logical in a way, given the state of the world, but there comes a point when enough is enough. “Good Girls” never feels like a retread, though; it’s a peppy, playfully seductive song that sounds like it just stepped out of Motown in the ‘60s, changed its dress, put on some new shoes, and walked straight into 2011 without anyone batting an eye.

9. "KMAG YOYO" - Hayes Carll
It was absolute agony picking a song from Hayes Carll’s all-around solid KMAG YOYO & Other American Stories, but in the end I went with the title track, a Dylanesque fever dream in which Carll perfectly sums up the life of a man that finds himself in way, way over his head. Like with any good shaggy-dog story, the fun is in the telling, but I will say that Carll’s eye for details (“Ended up in Abilene/Working in a Dairy Queen”) is as impeccable as always, and that once you finish listening to “KMAG YOYO”, you feel the same sort of happy exhaustion that you might feel after finishing a really good book.

8. "Set It Free" - Sarah Slean
Like KMAG YOYO, Sarah Slean’s double album Land and Sea was an embarrassment of riches when it came to song quality, so picking only one of the record’s eighteen tracks for this list was initially a daunting task. “Set It Free”, however, seemed to be the most appropriate selection, not only for how innovative the song sounds, but also for Slean’s utilization of a considerably worn-out lyrical theme – “just get happy” – in a refreshingly modern way. Not only that, but whenever it comes up on my iPod or the radio, I immediately feel better – and any song that does that is a winner in my opinion.

7. “Edge of the Moon” – Tori Amos
I’ve been listening to classical music since I was a little kid. Recently, though, I’ve started growing apathetic towards it – mostly because, in the course of developing a relationship with this musical tradition, I’ve come to one conclusion: for a piece to stick with me, I have to be engaged. If I don’t feel a visceral connection, forget it. And a lot of classical music out there is what I like to call "pomp without circumstance" - sure, it's technically impressive, but I don't feel any emotion behind it.

That’s part of, but not entirely why, “Edge of the Moon” is so remarkable. From a brilliant opening (“Your heart grabs my hand”) that rises to an exhilarating crest and then settles into a gorgeous, heartfelt ending, it’s a strikingly personal, yet completely relatable, work. Like all of its parent album Night of Hunters, “Edge of the Moon” was carefully adapted by Amos from a classical piece – in this case, Bach’s Flute Sonata – and transforms its source material into something that gives me hope I can rekindle a passion for classical music once again.

Edge Of The Moon by Tori Amos on Grooveshark

6. “Leaves, Trees, Forest” – Dan Mangan
“Leaves, Trees, Forest” is undoubtedly a career highlight for Dan Mangan – and considering he’s already written songs like “Road Regrets” and “Sold”, that’s saying something. It’s one of the few songs I’ve heard this year that could properly be called ‘sumptuous’, reminding one of psych-folk and Smile-era pop yet sounding completely original at the same time. Mangan has always had a knack for inventive, yet wholly relatable, imagery, and when he growls “My heart is a ghost / He drinks and he smokes and he keeps me awake,” it feels like a sucker punch straight to the heart.


Friday, 5 August 2011

Live Review: Pink Martini (June 25th, 2011)

Full disclosure: I began this post with the intention of making it as objective a review as possible. As the night unfolded, however, it soon became clear that anything I wrote would have to be more of a personal reflection, for reasons that will soon become apparent.

I entered the Centennial Concert Hall on June 25th, 2011 expecting nothing more than a good performance and an enjoyable evening. I'd seen Pink Martini when they'd last come to Winnipeg three years ago, then in the more intimate Pantages Playhouse Theatre and with the lovely Meaghan Smith as opening act. This time, however, not only was their opening act local New Wave power-pop duo Ash Koley – New Wave admittedly not being the first thing I think of when listening to Pink Martini's music – but Pink Martini had recently released their fourth record, 2009's Splendor in the Grass – which, while a very good record in its own right, paled in comparison to their exceptional third album, 2007's Hey Eugene!

I was therefore concerned that the band would downplay their back catalogue in favour of their most recent – and, in my opinion, not entirely as noteworthy – release, worries that I tried to keep in the back of my mind as Ash Koley came on stage for their opening set. I'd heard Ash Koley's music on the radio and had come away not entirely impressed by the duo's pop trappings, so it greatly surprised me to see the two arrive on stage armed with nothing but a guitar and what may have been some foot pedals. Were they pursuing an entirely new direction? I wondered.

Well, as the next forty-five minutes transpired, it soon became apparent that maybe what made me so unimpressed wasn't the band itself or even their catalogue. Maybe the songs I'd been hearing on the radio were the problem instead. Songs like "Apple of My Eye" and "Brighter at Night" seemed infinitely superior, even in acoustic form, to cuts like "Don't Let Your Feet Touch Ground" that had, inexplicably, become the group's preferred radio offerings. Eponymous lead singer Ash Koley's voice had a perfect blend of velvet and pathos, with Phil Deschambault's strumming an ideal accompaniment. (The group's bare-bones setup was, in fact, indicative of an acoustic album scheduled for release in the autumn.)

Ash Koley's set surpassed all expectations, particularly on a mid-set medley of favorite songs, during which the duo's stunning take on "Here Comes the Rain Again" by the Eurythmics proved an overall highlight. A slight problem with overamplification (resulting in some concerns about blurred vocals) prevented the set from having its full impact; regardless, Ash Koley left the Concert Hall's stage with at least four thousand more fans than they had had beforehand.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Review: Lady Gaga, "Born This Way"

"Born This Way" has been hyped to no end by Gaga and her crew as a song of great importance, so why does she sound so impatient in it? Instead of taking time to indicate its importance, the song rushes from verse to verse and hook to hook with very little of it making any impact. Only the chorus leaves any sort of lasting impression, and if Gaga was an artist whose revenue relied entirely on 30-second ringtones, that would be enough.

However, Lady Gaga seems to be advocating for the return of pop music's overblown grandeur through her extended-length music videos and increasingly outrageous wardrobe, so instead of just having a nice chorus and being done with it, the song feels like it has to Make A Statement - and doesn't quite succeed in the process.