Archive for June, 2009

No Fun City documentary tackles Vancouver’s declining music scene

Vancouver is losing it’s culture! While the creativity and talent of new artists and musicians is on a steady increase, the outlets these arts need in order to reach an audience is rapidly decreasing. There has been a sweep of smaller venues closing and a sense that those who run this city are trying to contain any sort of nightlife to “The Entertainment District” – a small patch of the downtown hub, located primarily on Granville Street, that houses a small collection of generic dance clubs and bars. Anything that is committed to the growth of underground talent is quickly falling to the outdated drinking laws and regulations by city hall.

‘No Fun City’, which is set for release in fall 2009, is a new documentary by filmmakers Melissa James and Kate Kroll that explores the decline of cultural development of art and music and it’s eradicated projection to Vancouver’s population. This film talks to musicians, artists, club owners and promoters all feeling the effects and with an agreed understanding we quickly need serious stages of rebuilding.

Another point in question has always been the division between the west end and downtown east side in Vancouver. The east has been looked upon as almost the toilet of this beautiful city, even more so as 2010 quickly approaches. While the Olympic clock at the Vancouver Art Gallery counts down the days, those in the power seats are developing ways to “clean up” the east side of it’s drug and homeless problem. ‘No Fun City’ looks deep into the issues surrounding this, letting it be known that this is an area that has always been devout in the growth of our artistic movement by producing some of the most unknown yet greatest venues to date.

Although we are so fortunate to have all this amazing talent at our doorstep, we will never get to experience most of it. What’s also very sad is the majority of artists trying to make a name for themselves will most likely have to leave this city to ever do so, causing us that care about the artistic aspect of Vancouver with even more to lose.

Check the website for more information.

Trailer: from melissa on Vimeo.

Bat For Lashes – Two Suns Review

Bat For Lashes is the stage name for Britain’s Nastasha Khan. I’m actually quite familiar with Bat For Lashes despite not being the biggest fan. I was a fan of the song and video – What’s A Girl To Do but I didn’t really like the album Fur and Gold (here’s a review in our site’s infancy).

Back then, I was very liberal with scores but I would say that Fur and Gold would get a 3 out of 5 at best from me – with the same mindset I have today. Part of the reason I think, is that Fur and Gold did not really cater to Khan’s skills as a frontwoman. Two Suns however actually accomplishes the correct usage of Khan.

I’ve heard a lot polarizing comments on this album, Pitchfork gave this album a good review, Jim from Quick Before It Melts liked the album (trusting his opinion more of course 😉 as well but there are a bunch of reviews disliking the album or are either very lukewarm to Bat For Lashes.

I can see where both sides are coming from. It’s an easy comparison, she does indeed sound like Cat Power and Feist but with the British sensibility of Kate Bush. The album especially is in a soft toned really allowing Khan to steal to the show so to speak. Yet, in another sense she’s sort of exposed lyrically. She isn’t as good as a writer as her influences no matter how much she sounds just like them. That’s part of the problem in my opinion, she sounds great but I can’t get that much into her. It isn’t as great as St. Vincent’s writing and both singers are comparable in terms of vocal quality.

To me Khan, doesn’t do anything unique or wild that her popularity would suggest. I’m doing more comparing to other artists then saying a lot about her natural ability. Lyrically, she didn’t do well in a faster higher paced setting in Fur and Gold. In Two Suns, she sings really well but lyrically – it’s slowed to a numbing pace. She doesn’t seem to mix the two all that well.

Still, there are upsides to this album. Top to bottom, the album remains consistent and serves a pretty good listen with subtle music in the background (tons of instruments being used). It also doesn’t take away that Khan can fool you into thinking songs are better then they are. Usually the last thing I look at with an album is lyrics so I doubt if you like a song, you’ll be bothered by some of the weaker moments (some of the writing does stick out to a point where I think I should read the liner notes – in a bad way).

Overall, I think this album is average. It could go either way. It isn’t great to any extent in my opinion but Natasha Khan is a solid talent out there and what can I say, deserving of her popularity. The album is in no way bad – just perhaps a little bit on the side of “having to be in the mood for it”.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

Daniel by Bat For Lashes

(Other then Daniel, this album also lacks stand outs. Can’t really choose any favorites.)

Bishop Allen – Grrr… Review

Grrr… is the third studio album from Harvard-grad pop group Bishop Allen. Unlike their grandiose last album, The Broken String, the band simplifies their sound on this disc. The straightforward, cute instrumentation provides a perfect background for Justin Rice’s straightforward, cute vocals.

The album opens with ‘Dimmer’, a quirky, childish tune. Rice’s wavery voice on this track starts out a bit annoying, but as he gets to the chorus, the warbling makes way for a more pleasing melody. Thankfully, this is really the only time throughout the album where Rice’s voice is in the least bit aversive. In tracks such as ‘The Lion & The Teacup’ and ‘Cue The Elephants’ Rice actually uses his voice so successfully that what he is saying becomes irrelevant. Which might be a good thing, considering fun but pointless lines like “The morning belonged to the grapefruit.”

Musically, nothing too complex shows up on this album, which makes the album all the more charming. It’s nothing too overblown; rather, it revels in its own simplicity. The simple guitars, simple keyboards, and simple drums all mesh together wonderfully to create an album full of pop gems.

While none of it is boringly familiar, the band also manages to stay away from being abrasively odd. His voice never quites get as warbly as, say, Alec Ounsworth (from Clap Your Hands Say Yeah). At the same time, he never sounds intentionally poppy enough for us to confuse him with someone like Ben Gibbard. The closest parallel I can come up with is Fishboy, who has the same odd-but-familiar poppiness.

The one problem I have with this album is that it’s quite mood-dependent. As I listened to it more and more, I began to realize that, depending on what mood I’m in, I either love it to pieces or I can’t wait for it to be over. I guess you could say that with all indiepop though. Other than that, this is an outstanding album that I would highly recommend to anyone.

Check out their myspace and their website for more information. While you’re at it, check out this video of them playing ‘Butterfly Nets’ (from The Broken String) in a bathroom.

Bishop Allen – Don\'t Hide Away
Bishop Allen – The Lion & The Tea Cup
Bishop Allen – The Ancient Commonsense Of Things

Wild Light – Adult Nights Reviews

Wild Light is a band out of New Hampshire with some close associations to Win Butler of the Arcade Fire (according to Wikipedia). Anyway, I was interested in the band after hearing a few songs, and actually haven’t seen many bands out of New Hampshire. (Go FisherCats)

To describe Wild Light’s style, perhaps would be to call it schizophrenic pop. Not crazy pop but multiple personalities musically while they have multiple vocalists. Sometimes it goes from baroque pop other times other times using electro synths while being catchy at the same time. It’s pretty good pop to say the least – doesn’t it make sense why I picked it up in the first place?

Adult Nights sounds like a name for a porno movie rather then an album but with my mind in the gutter constantly, I just had to get that off my chest. As adults, they seemingly hate California, with their lyrics of “Fuck San Francisco, Fuck California” on opener California On My Mind. It’s nice they don’t hold back and they are great in that regard.

I think when analyzing each individual song, I’ve got a lot of good things to say. Tons of good songs with good late gems like Lawless River. It’s very good pop music. However, on the flipside the album as a whole gives a sense of mediocrity when shoved together. I don’t really have major favorites other then California On My Mind and New Hampshire. Though if I just flip to a song in the middle, I’d like what I hear.

I guess, what I’m saying is, the album for all intents and purposes seems mediocre. At times it flashes brilliance in the “indie pop” genre but lacks a consistent sound. It doesn’t make the album bad but I am just not feeling the album as much. The band just jumps around from sound to sound without progression and it really gets me lost as a listener. This goes for the style of lyricism: an angry emotional “Fuck California” on the opening track yet we get descriptive writing on New Hampshire. I like both songs but they don’t go very well back to back.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5
The least you could do is enjoy the singles that do come out from this record. Wild Light does have the potential to do very well and it’s at least a decent album even though I don’t like to listen to it in full.

California On My Mind by Wild Light
New Hampshire by Wild Light

Portico – First Neighbours

portico live 02b

A lot can be said about Portico’s second full length album “First Neighbours” but perhaps the most accurate representation from them would be its memorable appeal. The trio from Vancouver has come a long way from 2005’s “Shape to Form”. That’s saying a lot considering how well it was received by the public (myself included). The music is engaging with heavy handed themes and complex syllogisms. Yet, the pop/rock elements of chorus and melody make it very approachable to new listeners as well.

First thing you should know is nobody likes to admit that they have a gap in their knowledge. That’s the main reason why the old sketches from “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” starring Rick Mercer talking to Americans were so successful. People would rather play along than admit otherwise but in this case I’ll be the first to admit that while listening to parts of this album, I recognized familiar names and themes but my memory would draw blanks. After listening to songs like “Battle For Duck Lake” and “Louis Riel leaves College de Montreal” I would find myself consulting old textbooks and Wikipedia entries to re-familiarize myself to the themes of Canadian history to better understand the music. With that said, the first thing that will captivate you throughout the album are the lyrics. They’re deep enough to make you want to know more in order to relate to the music. The melody compliments the lyrics subtlety with wavering guitars and humming bass. Each instrument the trio uses has its own time in the sounds forefront and it’s layered such for listening. Subtlety is another key element throughout the record. First Neighbours never relies on catchy hooks or grandiose displays to make the point, thankfully.

From start to finish First Neighbours is a cascade of Canadiana. Lead singer Lyn Heinemann does a compelling job in emotionally connecting herself to each song’s concept, sketch, or emotion it’s trying to evoke through the first person perspective. In doing so, Portico really achieves that lasting memorable appeal with each consistent track from start to finish.


Portico – The Battle Of Duck Lake

Portico – First Neighbours

Buy at:

Portico Nation Merch / Amazon / iTunes

More info:

Portico Nation / Myspace

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