Looking for an alternative to Sasquatch, Bonnaroo, or the so-last-week (and the week before) Coachella? Maybe something a little smaller, cheaper, more obscure, or just further away? Here are a few recommendations from this year’s crop of Canadian summer music festivals.
The Gist: Named after an old European settlers’ word for Montreal, Osheaga celebrates its seventh year in Parc Jean-Drapeau on the Île Sainte-Hélène in Montreal. Osheaga consistently attracts big-name headliners, and this year is no exception.
Sigur Ros, The Black Keys, Metric, The Weeknd, Plants and Animals, Dan Mangan, Wintersleep, Keys N Krates
The Gist: Not an actual island, but more of a conceptual one created in downtown Calgary every summer, Sled Island aims to bring people to the streets to experience both music they know they love and boundary-pushing artists they might not encounter in their day to day lives.
The Bands: Feist, Cannon Bros, Rococode, The Antlers, Bonjay, The Hold Steady, Duchess Says
The Gist: Canada’s second annual MoSo (Mobile and Social Media) conference has added to its appeal this year with the first MoSoFest. With the partial lineup already looking quite promising, this thirty-nine (!!) dollar festival might be the best bargain of the summer.
The Bands: Damien Jurado, Bry Webb, Shotgun Jimmie, Jessica Jalbert
Things Dan Mangan and I have in common: a Will and Kate coffee mug, righteous mustaches, having written bad songs in high school. Luckily for us all, I stopped, and he got better. In this ten-minute mini-documentary Mangan discusses the past, present, and future of his music while journeying by car and ferry through some of British Columbia’s loveliest scenery. “If I can send any message with Oh Fortune, it’s that even though, you know, things are difficult, existing is weird, but you have to feel the undercurrent of joy.”
Bonus material: “Post-War Blues” official music video.
Remember when we said we’d share our list of 25 other unmissable records the first week of January? Whoops. Thing is, the first month of this new year, we were still listening to and falling in (and out) of love with records from 2011. Discovering albums we should’ve shared months ago and finding out what sounded good in summer, didn’t survive snowmageddon. We added and whittled and debated and listened and when it comes down to these 24 albums, all released in 2011 by bands from the Pacific Northwest, we loved.
Here’s what you won’t find on here: records we wrote about in 2010 (The Head and The Heart, Beat Connection, Joseph Giant, Baltic Cousins), just okay releases from bands we’ve loved before, collections of 7’’s made into best of EPs, EPs in general and plenty of records that you loved with your whole heart and we just, didn’t. But, after hundreds and hundreds of hours of listening and seeing these bands live, slightly fewer spent talking about the albums amongst ourselves, we’re confident these are 24 records you’d be remiss to miss from 2011.
Here’s what you will find on here: bands from Seattle, Portland, Vancouver and Boise. Psychedelic symphonies. Menacing metal. Four-Eyed Soul. Modern R&B. Party Punk. Folk confessionals. Hip shaking hip hop. These albums are self-released, funded by fans and put out by labels big and small. They are debuts and albums that defied sophomore slumps and career defining work. Albums that have been loudly lauded and others who’ve been mostly ignored. Its a sample of what makes being a music lover in the Pacific Northwest right now so exciting, there’s a little something for everyone and we hope you find something you love too.
AgesandAges – All Right You Restless (Knitting Factory)
Agesandages fills up a room. With no fewer than seven people adding harmony to the airtight, country-funk rock that spins off Alright You Restless, the debut record enthralled me with the desperate joy that permeates its entirety. Playing with the bog of loneliness and defeat, and inviting the world into that dark fold to find comfort in each other, it’s music that offers salve in stomps and hope in runaway choruses. (Kathleen)
“I’m sick and tired of soul music looking so clean and proper! Cause my soul… my soul… my soul is just a little big greasy!” This is how Allen Stone introduces himself to the crowd from the stage. Obviously steeped in tradition but not married to its dictates, Stone’s four-eyed soul is unrepentant in both its influences and its willingness to disregard them entirely. Repping the Northwest he’s more than likely on stage in a flannel or Sonics jersey instead of any Detroit mandated button-up uniform like most of his current peers. This un-buttoned attitude extends to the dynamic mixture of straight R&B ballads and kinetic pop and funk on display in this record. If nothing else, just like the live show, Allen Stone represents Stone being unapologetically himself. (Excerpted from Josh’s full October review.)
Case Studies – The World Is Just a Void to Fill the Space (Sacred Bones Records)
It’s plausible to say that every music fan in Seattle cried a tiny tear when Jessie Lortz and Kimberly Morrison decided to end their tenure as The Dutchess and The Duke a few years back. Yet, if any and all knew that Lortz would take the new found freedom and put an album as poetic and gorgeous as Case Studies’ The World Is Just a Void to Fill the Space, I wonder, how sad would we all of been?
I discovered Case Studies during a two week period where I was living out of a hotel room in Dubuque, Iowa. My girlfriend was in the midst of a two-week intensive dog-training course and I’d signed out to drive out there and then “focus on my writing” for two weeks in a thrifty Day’s Inn a few blocks from the Mississippi River. To say the least, the smell of old cigarettes and scratchy linens inspired nothing in me and I found myself grabbing my keys and drifting through the Midwest in a chrome-green Honda Element. The Midwest is a strange, lonely place for a city dweller, and with no destination in mind I’d pick a spot on the map an aimlessly cruise towards it. It was on one of these roads with the green blur of farmlands speeding by in the background, the thin snake of the Mississippi my only landmark, that I not only discovered Case Studies but fell wildly in love with it.
It starts with “You Folded Up My Blanket Like We Were Already Lovers,” a deceptively upbeat story about love in a car, on the stairs, in a garden. The road will numb you, and my musical selections weren’t cracking the shell, but “You Folded Up My Blanket…” with it’s beautifully simple lyrics slipped in and I played it on repeat, memorizing every word like a smitten teenager. From there “My Silver Hand” squeezed in to the gap, Lortz’s deep, whiskey-soaked voice rising above the simple violin and guitar, the words full of heartbreak and the need for redemption just peppering my emotional core. Somewhere between Dubuque and Hazel Green, Wisconsin, I fell wholeheartedly in love with the album as a whole. I pulled over the car and sat and stared out in to an endless stretch of green and felt lonely and a bit sad and completely won over by everything Lortz was crooning, every simple beat that stretched out from the door behind me. (Noah)
I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on why or how, but every moment on No Witch seems suffused with joy. Maybe it’s the way Derek Fudesco’s guitar notes dance like afternoon sunlight on the living room wall, or maybe it’s the honest, folksy feel of the foot-stomping energy. Whatever the case, No Witch has become my go-to cheerup album, my foolproof impetus for dancing around the kitchen with gleeful abandon. It’s not that there’s no darkness – “My mind wakes me up every night sir, see devils in my backyard,” Quirk sings on “Black Leaf,” but the bleak and the bright are bundled up together in little boxes of hope. Weather moves in dark patterns, but as Quirk espouses in “All Land Crabs and Divinity Ghosts,” “It’s too big of a world to give up now.” (Brittney)
When Macklemore said “My city’s filthy,” this wasn’t quite what he meant, but as its cover art indicates, True Romance listeners are in for a low-down dirty ride. This album is a tribute to sybarite pleasures of all kinds, from the warm burn of whiskey in your stomach to the red memory of teeth marks on skin, from the hip-thrust of the drums to the thrust of, well, other things. Conveniently, it’s also the perfect soundtrack for the unbridled enjoyment of these recreations. (Brittney)
I recently turned thirty. Not long after, I found myself looking back on the 20s version of me and thinking, “What an ass.” 28-year-old Mangan (who, incidentally, is incredibly polite and charming) seems to be going through a similar process a couple of years early, and has done us all the favor of turning it into a delightful album. With endearing honesty and trademark wit, Mangan crafts carefully textured odes and confessionals that reward with every listen. (Brittney)
See the rest of our 24 unmissable records from 2011 after the jump (more…)
In a year filled with stories of oppression and uprising in the Near East and the simply near, this album inspired by the political situation in East Asia began to feel very close to home. The lyrics articulate the creeping fears of the disenfranchised, while the angsty beats help dance those cares away.
In a year of growing-up albums, this one stands a growth spurt head and shoulders above the rest. The introspections of Oh Fortune are as unflinching, apt, and often hilarious as the societal observations Mangan’s previous release, Nice, Nice, Very Nice, while Mangan’s growing musical confidence offers him more varied and nuanced ways to express emotion.
The erstwhile Constantines frontman finds his inside voice on this quiet, heartfelt collection of songs about marriage, parenthood, and other things that happen when you stop going on tour and start making (long term) plans. The delicacy is a surprising contrast to the bruised and bruising loudness of his work with the Cons, but also a remarkable success.
The Rural Alberta Advantage bring an adult’s wisdom and weariness to their sophomore release, examining the past with a mix of relief and affection and bringing sophistication to both their narration and sound. The raw dance-folk that made 2008′s Hometowns such a striking debut is tempered with quiet moments and bursts of delicate orchestration. But though the medium is slightly changed, the message remains the same: who we are is where we come from, and no matter where we go, we can never really leave those old haunts behind.
For the rest of Brittney’s Top 10 Canadian Albums of 2011 (more…)
Having fallen deep down a used-vinyl sized hole this year, I managed to completely miss most of the national blog buzz bands and mp3s making the press release copy&paste rounds of 2011, those things that so often fill end of the year lists. But considering the immense output from our little corner of the country, I don’t feel I suffered or starved for new songs to keep me company. These are the forty songs from 2011 that were my soundtrack and that I played on repeat. I’m not bold enough to say they are the best songs of 2011, but they are my favorites.
While this list is not enumerated, my very favorite song of the year, Kelli Schaefer’s heart-aching-to-the-point-of-breaking “Gone in Love,” is at the top with some other absolute favorites. “Gone in Love” is a song that has not lost its emotional wallop despite hundreds of listens and many live performances over the last 12 months. And every time I see Kelli sing it, I can’t stop my chin from quivering. “Gone in Love” isn’t just one of my favorite songs of 2011, it is one of my favorite songs.
That’s hardly true for every song on this list. Every year has its one-hit wonder and I have no shame in saying I played the hell out of 2011′s. Whether its a song that stays with you for decades or a song you only blast until the end of the year, I hope you might discover a new favorite of your own by taking a listen to some of mine.
Nothing has enchanted me more in October than this video of Noah Gundersen and his siblings covering CSNY’s “Helplessly Hoping,” one of my favorite songs of all time. This frills free cover takes full advantage of the reverb of the room and the Gundersen’s familial honeyed harmonies accentuates everything I loved most about the original, while showing me something new to love about the song. If that’s not the definition of a great cover, I don’t know what is.
But it wasn’t the only thing I listened to all month.
The leech scene from Stand By Me has been making me physically uncomfortable for twenty-five years. Every time Gordie says “Hey Vern, there’s something on your neck,” and the camera pans to the giant, gray, slug-like creature adhered to Vern’s flesh, I vocalize involuntarily and give a little shiver. I don’t know what the experience of having a leech stuck to you is actually like, but my brain has formed a pretty good guess, and having to rip a slimy, thumb-sized swamp creature off of my own tender skin has been one of my greatest fears since age six or so.
Of course, the movie isn’t really about leeches. At six, I was mostly missing the point. It’s not until you’re older that you understand what the characters are only beginning to: the creeping dread of adult life, which at twelve is just starting to wave a greeting from the edges of your consciousness.
“Rows Of Houses,” the lead single from Dan Mangan’s new album Oh Fortune, is about the film Stand By Me, and therefore is also about creeping adult dread. “The sight of Brower / The taste of something / The thought of houses / In rows of houses.” This coming-of-age song, buried at track nine, serves as both prologue and emotional centerpiece for Oh Fortune, an album far more grown up than Mangan’s previous work.
On 2009′s Nice, Nice, Very Nice Mangan was wry, observant, and sly, shining a merrily satirical light on the world around him. Now Mangan has turned his shrewd gaze inward, picking apart character flaws and personal foibles. He wastes no time: though the opening track “About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All” disguises itself musically as a jaunty waltz, the lyrics are an unflinching accusation of self-destructiveness, ego, and martyrdom. “I lit up like a match ’cause I bled gasoline / Made a torch of myself ’til the moon was mine / Stars made of me.” It segues seamlessly into “How Darwinian”: “Like a dog at your feet / I will see the world the way that it seems easy to see.”
Fortunately, Mangan’s concerns extend beyond trying not to be an asshole. Oh Fortune‘s real strengths lie in its explorations of the fears that all adults share, those the boys of Stand By Me first heard knocking: loneliness, worthlessness, death. “Oh fortune, bring fortune to spare.” Two songs – “Post-War Blues” and “Stars With Them, Ends With Us” – seem to touch on life during wartime, and two tracks reference death right in their titles.
Fittingly, the instrumentation on Oh Fortune is more sophisticated and complex than one might expect from Mangan, suddenly layered and noisy, more nuanced but also more assertively present than on Nice. Drums rumble like nervous stomachs and vocals echo like the voices in the back of your head. Songs flow into one another in eddies of fuzz. There are washes of anxiety and touches of sorrow, and elegant flourishes of beauty everywhere.
And I guess that’s as good a description of adulthood as anything.
Oh Fortune is out now.
Dan Mangan plays the Orpheum Theatre in Vancouver on November 9, and Alix Goolden hall in Victoria November 10.
As for the first two tunes, my niece is due any day now, in fact she was due on Tuesday and in the weeks leading to her arrival, I’ve listened to these songs so many times BMI is going to start charging me. Tom Petty was right, the waiting IS the hardest part.
Tom Petty – “The Waiting”
Justin Townes Earle – “Can’t Hardly Wait”
Kelli Schaefer’s Doe Bay SessionBeen Here All My Days
Girls – Father, Son, Holy Ghost
Gem Club – Breakers
Dan Mangan – “Leaves, Tree, Forest”
Canon Bros – “Out of Here”
Robin Bacior – Rest Our Wings
Numero Group Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label
Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
Quiet Life – San Luis Opisbo
Damien Jurado – “The Loneliest Place I’ve Ever Been is In Your Arms”
Champagne Champagne’s Doe Bay Session
Richard Swift – “Lady Luck”
S – I’m Not As Good As You
Avians Alight – s/t
Apricot & the Beginners
Sera Cahoone’s Doe Bay Session
Dan Mangan‘s Oh Fortune, out today on Arts & Crafts is easily one of the 2011 releases I’ve been most eagerly anticipating. Mangan’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice, a delicate, catchy, chuckle-inducing, heart-clutching record remains one of my most played albums and despite a hundred full listens, Mangan’s cleverness, wit and penchant for pop hooks in his picking, still has me impressed by something new on listen 101. Mangan, in all his congenial Canadian-ness, is a damn fine songwriter, something the US is just catching on to.
Oh Fortune is a more ambitious album than Nice, Nice, Very Nice, but no less catchy. A concept album that steps outside the pleasant folk boundaries to experiment with new instruments: horns, woodwinds and plenty of pedals, Oh Fortune finds Mangan focusing his sharp wit on the problems he sees outside his bedroom window, instead of problems inside it. His lens has turned from romance and interpersonal relationships, to a broader view of societal ills: the many costs of war, economic depression, apathy and the slightly less heavy topic, his favorite childhood movie, Stand By Me. Its a risk that could easily result in a heavy-handed record or “moral of the story” songs, but Mangan’s message never gets in the way of the music, nor do his stories get lost in the instrumentation. Its a risk that paid off.
I’ll leave a full album review to our resident Mangan expert, North of Northwest’s Brittney Bush Bollay, but I didn’t want one of my favorite records of the year thus far to go without mention on its release day or to pass up another chance to share this video of Mangan and his band playing my two favorite tracks off Oh Fortune, “Trees, Leaves Forest” and “Rows of Houses” in the middle of some Canadian river.