Rock/Pop

Mt. Hammer, "Dionysus"

Reviewed by Cheryl Thompson

Mt. Hammer are described as a psychedelic metal blues duo, and well, that’s exactly what they deliver. On their first EP Dionysus, you’ll hear a melange of sounds that range from what sounds like a mix between ‘70s rock, southern soul, and gut-retching blues. There are five tracks on the EP and it’s just enough to wet your palate to all that Mt. Hammer has to offer. “John The Revalator” or “JTR” is a big song with several accompaniment changes, and it stands as the perfect introduction to this quintessential indie album. “Icarus” is another track that showcases the fact that this duo also has a great sense of humor. Not sure if it was intended to put a smirk on your face but the stop and go beat at the beginning, coupled with lyrics that are at times inaudible screeches, are kind of crazy but when the vocals actually kick in proper, you’ll appreciate that helter skelter beginning. Mt. Hammer has just completed a demo for “Asleep Beneath the Stars,” that is an 11-minute psychedelic metal blues opus, as they call it, and it definitely can’t be put into a musical box. All in all, Dionysus is a decent beginning; it is difficult to put the EP into a box which isn't a negative thing, and you get the sense that its exactly what Mr. Hammer are going for. 3.5/5


 

Spartacus, "Spartacus"

Reviewed by Cheryl Thompson

Spartacus is the self-titled debut full-length album from the three-piece band Spartacus (Kris Simeon on vocals, guitar; Sean Simeon on drums, and Phillip Federis on bass). Without a doubt, this is the kind of band that you would kill to see live but the album is a decent substitute. On “Please Don’t Let it Get to Your Head” and “People Listen” you are exposed to indie rock at its finest, but then on “11” Spartacus mixes it up with a reggae-inspired accompaniment and forlorn lyrics that are honest and reveal a vulnerability that works. For all you music enthusiasts out there, Spartacus is the kind of album/band that will remind you of someone else but after a few listens you’ll realize that what these guys are doing is actually special. Sure, some tracks on the album are less inspiring than others, but at 9-tracks, you barely have time to dwell on it. For example, “Lonesome Holiday” and “I Won’t Be Alone” toward the album’s end might have been placed at different ends of the album as the former, with its driving backbeat and melodic chorus seems a bit ajar with the latter track, with its heavy guitar riff intro and ska-like beat. But these minor missteps don’t detract from the earnestness of the album. Spartacus is definitely worth a listen, or two, or three. 3/5


 

Brooklyn Soul Stew, “Abandoned Tracks”
Plugged

Reviewed by Cheryl Thompson

Brooklyn Soul Stew is representing Brooklyn, but not the NYC borough you might be thinking of. In this case, Brooklyn is a nickname for Brynäs, a district of Gävle where several of the members grew up or lived later in life and where the band also had its first rehearsal studio. This nine-piece band is from Sweden, but their sound is very reminiscent of the early seventies rock era. On “International Playboy” for instance, you might hear a little hint of Tom Jones, with its catchy hooks and sultry vocals, it might also conjure up visions of Austin Powers International Man of Mystery a la Mike Myers. Even though this is a debut album, Brooklyn Soul Stew are seasoned and poised musicians. On “A Man Size Job” and “Barefootin’” you get a good taste for what this band has to offer. They’re not just singing songs, but telling stories. The album truly is a throwback in terms of accompaniment and lyrics. “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” could very easily have been plucked out of a late-60s playlist, with its falsetto vocals backed by a pronounced baseline, the track is old school but oh so good. The only problem with the album is that there is no standout track that could perhaps serve as a lead in to get people interested in what Brooklyn Soul Stew has to offer. That said, this is the kind of band that would be killer live but until then, Abandoned Tracks will do just fine. 4/5


Dany Laj and The Looks, "Telepathic Voices"
Independent

Reviewed by Cheryl Thompson

Dany Laj and The Looks aren't just another indie band from Montreal. Sure, they're an indie band currently making waves in Montreal but they are they are doing their own thing. I first came across this band when I checked out their video "Chamberlain Sessions" on youtube, and well, don't take our word for it, get a sense for yourself what's so fresh about this band and their four-track EP Telepathic Voices. On "Mr. Rebound" you get a good taste of Dany Laj's vocals but what also stands out is the simplicity of the track. It's the kind of track that would serve as the perfect backdrop to a teenage angst film. "Take It Away" and "799 Queen St West" are quintessential Canadian rock songs with hard guitar riffs, defined back beat, and cheeky lyrics. And finally, "What's Wrong with You" is an indie rock song through and through. With its forlorn lyrics and background vocals, if you don't like this tune, it begs the exact same question, what's wrong with you?4/5


Morning Fame, “Back and Forth”
Independent

Reviewed by Cheryl T

You gotta love a band in 2012 that has no qualms about calling itself an “alternative rock band” and well, their music is definitely not what’s currently considered “mainstream.” Toronto-based Morning Fame just keeps it simple. With Joe Liranzo on guitar, Vik Kapur on vocals, Al Dennis on drums, and Rob Gilberti on bass, nothing on Back and Forth is overdone. The album is a follow-up compilation to their 2011 EP, A Lasting Place. Off the top, “The Colour of Sound” and “Turn to Stone” with their classic rock back beats and heartfelt lyrics remind you of REM or Gin Blossoms from the ‘90s. In fact, you might also confuse “The Colour of Sound” for an REM track because the sound is so similar. But then on “Jokers Game” the album gets rougher and edgier in a sort of Coldplay-like way. By the time you get to “Blinded,” “Something on My Mind,” and “Time” you know exactly what Morning Fame is all about – heavy rock riffs, subtle baselines, pounding back beats, and tender yet earnest vocals. Finally, the album’s end track, “Long Time Waiting” is sullen and mysterious but it seems fitting after the journey you’ve been through with the album. Overall, Morning Fame just needs to keep doing what they’re doing because “alternative” ain’t going anywhere anytime soon. 4/5


The Autumn Portrait, “Tired Love”
Independent

Reviewed by Cheryl T

Tired Love is the new album from Freddie Mojallal aka The Autumn Portrait. It’s definitely a mood album as most of the tracks are sullen, sad, and, for some, depressing. But while that may sound like negatives, there is music for happy times and music for sad or introspective times and Tired Love definitely fits the latter. In addition to Mojallal’s vocals, the accompaniment on the album is simple – acoustic guitar, violin, and drums. On the heels of his debut full-length, The Design is Over, this 9-track disc just feels like Autumn – the start of something new, but the end of something great. On the title track, you feel the earnestness of Mojallal’s singing and if you really listen to the lyrics it is just a sweet ode to a love gone by. You don’t often see male singers show their vulnerable side in music today and it is refreshing. The only problem with the disc is that it begins to sound rather repetitive. On “You Help Me See the Light” and “This Air Don’t Fill My Lungs” you almost feel like you’re hearing versions of the same song. Ultimately, Tired Love is a theme album and if you’re in the mood for it, it’ll likely be just what the music doctor ordered. 3.5/5

iTunes


Mak, "Self-Titled"

Reviewed by Vee Manzerolle

Montreal's Mak emanates a kind of warmth that's not commonly found in today's music. Mak fuses an array of genres, including classic rock, jazz and hip-hop – this fusion comes together in a breathtaking way that will leave you wanting more. Mak's self-titled debut full-length delivers nine electrifying tracks that will move you, in addition to Jesse MacCormack's endearing vocals. The album opens with “She's Got a Habit,” a song that is reminiscent of Air's melodies on The Virgin Suicides' soundtrack. The song is soothing and gives you a sense of not having a care in the world. You can lose yourself in its music and soulful vocals. “She's Got a Habit” is neatly tied to its successor, “Cause to Effect” but there's a sequential value to both songs. “Cause to Effect” fuses many elements together while having a Radiohead-esque vibe to it. The instrumentation is simply beautiful, and this song is the perfect example of why this album will appeal to an array of people. Other songs on the album find their bearing in a delirious haze like “Reverse” or they will fill you with an awareness of melancholy like “Young Lads,” a song that transforms with its electro beats. Mak also dabbles in numerous genres. For example, “Stab Me” has an industrial start with a futuristic tone while “Bulletproof Love” is on the folk tip with a rock twist. Just as the song “She's Got a Habit” says, “push me to the edge, and I'll be at your knees,” this album will have you on your knees begging for more. 4.5/5


Me and Cassity, "Appearances"
Tapete Records

Reviewed by Vee Manzerolle

Hamburg's Dirk Darmstaedter is a man of many creative endeavors. His latest music effort is Appearances under the moniker, Me and Cassity. Appearances marks Darmstaedter's 16th album release – an album that he insisted on recording live in the studio right onto analog tape. Support on the album comes from a line-up featuring drummer Lars Plogschties, bassist Ben Schadow, and keyboardist Nikko Weidemann. Additional touches were made with the help of vocalists Therese Johannson and Kristofer Aström, Anne de Wolff (Neko Case and Calexico) adding strings, and Martin Wenk (Wilco, Arcade Fire and Nada Surf) on horn duty. Appearances draws on classic American folk music – it has that homegrown feel to it. Classic guitar combined with simple, yet appropriate, vocals that reflect the everyday life of a regular Joe. The album opens with “Time To Put The Hammer Down,” a song that combines the former elements plus harmonica breakdowns and a horn section. You can hear the reminiscence of Bob Dylan in Dirk Darmstaedter's vocals, especially pre-chorus in “This Side of Tomorrow” and “One Step Ahead of Me.” The token upbeat track “The Last Troubadour” has a keyboard breakdown, and “Fred Astaire” showcases great chemistry and harmony with an uplifting vibe. Noteworthy tracks include “Lovers of Solitude” and the album's self-titled track. Every element on Appearances carries itself effortlessly; it is well orchestrated to say the least. 4/5


Rick Reid, “Reid Sings Loree”
Clamour Records

Reviewed by Cheryl Thompson

Recorded between January and March, 2012 in Montreal, Reid Sings Loree is an EP with a LP flare. The 4-song disc (or download) is an interpretative collection of songs by western Canadian bands, Greyhound Tragedy and Jr. Gone Wild, specifically those of the songwriter/producer Steve Loree, hence the EP name. “Cold Fusion” is best described as ambient folk-rock. It is a melancholy track that is heartfelt and would set the perfect backdrop to an introspective day. This is followed by “Money Tree” an electro-grunge tune that might not be everyone’s cup of tea but it is definitely in line with the EP’s gritty audio aesthetic. “Akit’s Hill” is led by an acoustic guitar which is paired nicely to Reid’s earnest vocals. You can’t help but visualize the lyrics of this track, as it is beautifully sung and delivered. And finally, the EP closes with “Space Cadet,” an electro-rock track that is infused with a melange of sounds and cosmic high tones. Overall, Reid Sings Loree is not a pick me up recording in the least bit but it doesn’t pretend to be anything than what it is – depressingly awesome Prairie rock! 3.5/5


Breaching Vista, “Vera City”
Bright Side Records

Reviewed by Cheryl Thompson

Though based out of Kitchener, Ontario, Breaching Vista's talent is much bigger than their geographic location. Their music is unmistakably rock but it’s punchy with a lot of edge. Tracks like “Nervous,” “Sleep” and “Give Me a Reason” are heavy guitar driven high energy songs that would work perfectly on any film soundtrack. This band’s sound is epic, there’s just no other way to describe it. They go big on everything and while that can sometimes overpower the listener, you’ll find Vera City reaches some level of balance. It probably helps that the songs run short so you don’t have enough time to get bored. They do slow it down a few times; on “Reverie” and “Letters” so it’s not all heavy. “Little Thoughts,” the album’s closing track is so high energy you can’t help but love these guys. Admittedly, they are not reinventing the wheel on Vera City, but what they are doing is sticking true to a genre that most people screw up. For those who pick up the CD, the insert is beautifully done and tries to tell the story of Vera City, it also includes the lyrics to the album’s songs. 3.5/5


Duncan McEntyre, “Simple Music For A Complicated Life”
Independent

Reviewed by Vee Manzerolle

An album like Simple Music For A Complicated Life finds its beauty in the voice of Duncan McEntyre and his music. Singer songwriter Duncan McEntyre brings the listener in with an instrumental driven intro track entitled, “For My Friends.” The hallow sound to it is daunting. It can at best be described as hauntingly beautiful. You first hear McEntyre’s voice in the album’s second track “Lonely Hearts (Parts 1 & 2)”; it is layered with echo undertones. Sometimes it even gets lost in the music but that’s forgivable simply because of how good the music is. There is a crisp guitar sound that gives you a clear audible sense of the strumming on the guitar. At approximately three minutes and five seconds into the song there’s an airy transcendence into rhythms that are musically driven and peaceful. Parts 1 & 2 could easily be divided into two separate tracks. Why they are kept together in this union is something I would love to ask McEntyre himself. His lyrics are swayed by sentiments and you can hear the vulnerability in his voice; this is especially true of the tracks “The Stone Trilogy” and “Lightning”. Although Simple Music is generally acoustic driven, McEntyre allows the electric guitar to take a very brief lead with acoustics used in the background midway through “Call Me Out” (2:51); it also makes for an alluring reappearance later on. The album closes with the bonus track “Brothers & Sisters.” It’s the first song on the album to incorporate a harmonica into the mix. It’s a good thing it's the last track or this review might have been won over right from the get go; you just can't go wrong with the inclusion of a harmonica or an accordion. 3.5/5


Breaking Laces, "When You Find Out"
Tenacity Records/Breaking Laces LLC

Reviewed by Vee Manzerolle

Released on May 17th, When You Find Out is the third full-length album from Breaking Laces, a Brooklyn-based trio. This album follows 2005’s Lemonade, the 2006 EP, Astronomy Is My Life, But I Love You, and 2009's Live at Seaside Studios. The album opens strong with its first track, “What We Need.” With its repetitive acoustics and solid transition into the chorus, this song screams radio single and could be easily a chart topper. Lead singer Willem Hartog’s voice feels almost familiar, yet at the same time refreshing and endearing. The band recorded When You Find Out in New York and Nashville alongside producer Ed Tuton whose resume includes artists such as, Mary J. Blige, Eagle Eye Cherry, and even Aerosmith. What you’ll like about the album is that the majority of tracks follow a similar pattern as the lead track. They are all overwhelmingly heartfelt with lyrics that appear to be directed towards a potential significant other. In the album’s title track “When You Find Out” Hartog is confessing his love while acknowledging the anxiety that accompanies that sort of confession with lyrics like, “will you break my heart…or feel the same.” Many of the songs on When You Find Out depend on an acoustic introduction that builds with intensity to form a robust sound. There are, however, two songs that stand out as being odd on the album – “God in Training” and “Angeline”. The former gives the listener a clap worthy anthem with funky underwritten bass lines while the latter begins with a dark bass vibe followed by a grungier rock sound. Both come across as forced and far from the trio’s forte. But in the end, it could be a matter of Breaking Laces finding their voice in love ballads that are accompanied by acoustics, funky bass lines, and gratifying drum beats. 3.5/5


Shortwave, “The Skyline Verses”
El Camino Productions

Reviewed by Cheryl Thompson

This album has aptly been described as new-wave indie rock, and well if you’re a fan of both, you’ll be in heaven. The lead track, “Esther” has a driving rock backbeat, but the vocals sound totally ‘80s with a modern edge. For the most part this band is from Toronto and well you definitely can tell they’ve honed their skills singing in one of the city’s many indie bars. On “The Sublime”, with an up tempo beat and heartfelt guitar riffs, Shortwave really show you who they are and how they merge a little of the old with something new. As a debut release, The Skyline Verses has a great tone and each track seems to build on the next, like “Your Face is a Mirror,” “It’s Time” and “Motown”. Towards the album’s end, “Maybe Science” is a heavy drum-led tune with sexy lyrics and well-timed background vocals. If you didn’t get a good sense for what these guys can do, this track brings it all together. The only drawback to the album is that all the tracks, for the most part, are up tempo with heavy guitar and rock rhythms. Some might like this but others might not. With the exception of a few tracks at the end, there are not enough soft tunes on the disc, which would demonstrate that there’s some variety behind all the loudness. Perhaps the top heavy song selection has something to do with that, but otherwise, this is a solid debut. 4/5


Carmen Townsend, “Waitin’ and Seein’”
Company House/EMI

Reviewed by Cheryl Thompson

Born and raised in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Carmen Townsend has a rich and layered tone in her voice and on Waitin’ and Seein’ you can tell this woman has been singing for years. The album is part rock, part folk but all heart. On “Nothing Last Forever” Townsend is vulnerable but sexy at same time with her slightly raspy and full vocal paired to a prominent acoustic guitar (which she is undoubtedly playing), but this is followed up with “Hands and Mouths,” a darker track with heavy guitar riffs and an almost harrowing vocal. It might, for some, be too much of a contrast from the prior track’s sweetness. And then “Sweet Little Bird” swings the pendulum in the opposite direction yet again. The biggest problem with this album is its flow not the talent. Townsend is a brilliant vocalist and the accompaniment on each track is stellar but this album simply lacks flow. By the time you get to the down tempo, chilled out vibe of the title track, you’re a bit exhausted from the back and forth tempos. That said, towards the album’s end, “All That Was Left” just kind of gets you; it’s a beautiful track. I can imagine that Townsend puts on a stellar live performance given her undeniable talent but that gets a little lost on this release. 3/5


The Autumn Portrait, “The Design is Over”
Company House/EMI

Reviewed by Cheryl Thompson

Coming straight out of Vancouver, The Autumn Portrait is Canadian indie rock personified. Lead singer and songwriter Freddie Mojallal has a commanding yet vulnerable voice and the accompaniment (Dyllon Mitchell on bass and Sean Lavoy on drums) ain’t so bad either. Standing at only nine tracks, The Design is Over does feel a little short but what this band lacks in quantity they make up for in quality. From “Jealous” to “Welcome to the Night” to “Awake,” you feel like you’re being taken on a musical adventure through the eyes of three young talented men whose voices are fettered by the harshness of the world. And then you get to “Have I Waited?” and you feel the earnest sincerity of The Autumn Portrait; its a tune with a driving backbeat paired nicely to layered vocals, definitely a standout track. The only drawback to this album is that after a while it all kind of starts to sound the same, a little more variety in terms of rhythms and guitar riffs would add to the complexity of this talented group and also differentiate them from the plethora of Canadian indie rock bands out there. 3.5/5


Scott Lanaway, "Mergers & Acquisitions"
SOCAN

Reviewed by Vee Manzerolle

With many things in life, in this case an album, a person’s appeal or attraction to something is often an acquired taste. This is unquestionably one of those circumstances. Music buffs will either dig Scott Lanaway’s latest album Mergers & Acquisitions or will absolutely have an aversion to it. Lanaway’s voice follows a singsong pattern for the greater part of his album. Translation: his singing technique holds a chronic and monotonous rising and falling intonation, in other words, the pitch of voice is victim to a repetitive disposition that lacks versatility. The previous comment may seem a bit cruel but people often forget that the majority of successful and popular artists/bands lack versatility within their own “creative” realm, this supposed negative attribute may very well work in his favour. Now onto the musical side of things, regrettably the music follows suit with the vocals. The beats tend to be repetitive and also lack the versatility that some of us crave, you’ll find that this statement is true when listening to almost every song on Mergers & Acquisitions not including track number six, "Juliet of the Spirits". Towards the end Scott Lanaway strays away from his exhausting singsong technique and tries a successful new approach. Instantaneously the listener will experience a more “natural” vocal performance, you begin to hear and sense emotion in his voice, it’s refreshing to say the least. Other noteworthy tracks include "It’s a Long Way Home" and "The Ice Storm". 2/5


The City Streets, “The Jazz Age”
Clamour Records

Reviewed by Vee Manzerolle

Growing up in Edmonton, Alberta and strategically positioning themselves in musically endowed Montreal, Quebec, The City Streets are making their presence known to fellow Canadians and independent music lovers. With the release of their latest album The Jazz Age and an all-embracing North American tour these boys are endeavouring to gain musical support first and foremost on a local basis and now on a national scale. The City Streets are no strangers to the world of musical festivals, making appearances at NXNE, SXSW, CMW, Pop Montreal, and Halifax Pop Explosion. Why all the mileage? The City Streets are on the road to promote The Jazz Age. Their new album opens with the titled track "Midnight Sun," a song that gives the active listener a music-based introduction over a minute long. As Rick Reid’s voice unites with his guitar playing, Matt Leddy’s bass, and Mark Chmilar’s drums there’s a likeness in sound with Welland, Ontario natives Attack in Black (at least that comment applies to their album Marriage). Reid’s voice is far more mature than the vocals coming out of Attack in Black, at least in terms of his rough-edge sound. The album offers versatility through its various songs but to achieve its full impact it must be listened to with headphones, external speakers just doesn’t do their album any kind of justice. The Jazz Age opens up hard and softens up as it progresses. Be prepared for a prolong ending with "Slothrop’s Ghost". 3/5


Marsmobil, “(Why Don’t You Take) The Other Side?”
Compost Records

Reviewed by Vee Manzerolle

What do you get when you have a song with dominant vocals, that’s heavily keyboard concentrated, and favours harmonization? Patience, the first track off Marsmobil’s new album (Why Don’t You Take) The Other Side? Roberto Di Gioia, the man behind Marsmobil, has a fresh light-hearted voice that is packed with an airy seductive sound, but seductive in a platonic kind of way. After listening to this album you’ll find yourself sitting there pondering who he vocally reminds you of. There’s something so familiar about his voice. Di Gioia not only lends his voice to the Marsmobil project but also is responsible for almost every single instrument on the album, including organs, drums, electric guitars, sitar, percussion, cello, and let’s not forget the blues harp. The disc's second track, "Crazy Colored Lights," a song doused in a sound that can only be attributed to the musical vibe of the sixties (minus The Illusionists who is actually featured). On the whole, the songs on (Why Don’t You Take) The Other Side? tend to have a psychedelic sound to them, some are a bit rushed lyrically ("Insane"), some are a tad tacky ("Moon of Dust"), and some have a strange indescribable appeal ("Spirit of the Dark"). The standout tracks on Marsmobil’s latest album include "Gonna Be My Day" and "Revolution Girl". This is the kind of album that could find a home on a soundtrack or before bedtime in the comfort of your own home. 3.5/5


Andrew Collberg, “On The Wreath”
Le Pop Musik

Reviewed by Vee Manzerolle

Andrew Collberg has what some folks like to call an “indie” sound, and who can disagree? He’s kind of like the cheerful version of Death Cab for Cutie, but a tad bit more upbeat and feel-good. His voice emphasizes echo-based vocals, like on "Clementine." Mr. Collberg is guilty of repeating lyrics in his song "To The Road" to the point where it’s a bit too much for the average listener, but you have to give him this much, you’ll never for a split second forget the title of the third track. The only other criticism is more of an observation. It's the oh-so-apparent nasal sound of his voice on "Wait Inside." The song shows versatility and the slower tempo and softer side of Collberg is stimulating. Two standout tracks are "Plastic Bows" and the "The Tide Below." "Plastic Bows" has an upbeat, sweet appeal to it. The inclusion of brass instruments followed by the lyrics “little one it’s all O.K” can be credited for that appeal. "The Tide Below" is amazing for two reasons. First, the song has a banjo incorporated into it (score). Second, it has some pretty solid lyrics going on for it. For example, the line “I’ve grown down and you’ve grown up”. It also highlights his vocals and his use of harmonization. Lastly, but certainly not least, the last track on the album, "Make It Right" leaves Collberg’s voice lingering in the back of your mind. 4/5


Jon & Roy, “Homes”
Independent

Reviewed by Vee Manzerrolle

Jon & Roy’s latest album Homes opens with the track "Any Day," a wise choice that lets the listener know the overall vibe of what is to come in the following tracks. "Any Day" draws you in with its rhythmic guitar accompanied by soft bongos. The sound of bongos and the vigour to grab a hold of a listener’s attention is immediately apparent; you cannot help but bob your head to the instrument's rhythmic powers. The vocals have a soothing appeal to them with reggae influences and they make "Any Day" a song well suited for summer. A lot of the tracks on Homes follow a similar formula, musically simple and content. "Get Myself A Gun" is no different. It exemplifies a simple formula with the inclusion of harmonic sounds and calming vocals, and this formula is far from a bad thing. The sounds of Homes do not strictly abide by one sound. "Boom ‘Elm" gives off an east-coast vibe with a dominant fiddle but let’s just say, if you’re looking for some country twang in your life, look no further then "947". If country twang isn’t really your style maybe a song with faster rhythms will entice you, like "Cuban B." Overall, the first half of Homes is significantly stronger than the second half. Let it be said, a day out in the sun will be a day well spent with Jon & Roy. 3.5/5


The Dudes, “Blood Guts Bruises Cuts”
Load Music

Reviewed by Vee Manzerolle

Following their 2006 release of Brain Heart and Guitar the new album Blood Guts Bruises Cuts by The Dudes proves that not only does a fine wine get better with age, a bands music also gets better the longer they’ve been making music together. The album opens with “Honest Mistake,” a strong start to a strong album. The music and the vocals compliment each other perfectly. With the spoken words of “not my fault” followed by a musical breakdown it’s hard not to like “Honest Mistake”. The Dudes are often described as having a rock and roll soul sound to them, if you ask The Dudes they’ll tell you straight up that they’re a rock band. The confusion of being considered a soul band can be attributed to vocalist Danny Vacon having an actual singing voice not strictly limited to the typical rock sound. Usually I condemn clapping in a song especially during a live performance but I will not and cannot condemn the dudes for using light clapping in the background of “Ever been to Taiwan?” If you’re a sucker for a sing-a-long tune be sure to check out their track “Terrified” and you’ll be harmonizing with the song in no time. Overall, the album has a consistent good flow to it from start to finish. The Dudes also include a bonus DVD by the title of Breakfast at Rock Central full of goodies and a little bonus at the end of their album. Warning: View the DVD only after eating a mean breakfast and prepare yourself to be teleported back to 1996. 4/5


Little Foot Long Foot, “Harsh Words”
Independent

Reviewed by Vee Manzerolle

Opening with a track entitled, “King Hipster” should be your first indication that what you’re about to witness is an album packed with witty, sarcastic, and catchy lyrics accompanied by naturally catchy beats and rhythms. This formula continues to swarm all the following tracks. Little Foot Long Foot mocks not only the hipster phenomenon but follows suit on the idea of marriage and fake cowboys. They may even be the first rock band to make an anthem for strippers everywhere, although I highly doubt that. Harsh Words is a rock album that is saturated with a blues and country underlining that may cause an influx of country/blues album sales for those who have yet to dabble in such genres. It's a perfect example that the two-piece band is slowly taking over the infamous four-five-piece ensemble. Joan Smith packs a powerful voice. She would be the perfect candidate to challenge the rock stereotype that female singers cannot rock because she undoubtedly does. The strongest tracks on this album are “June Bug”, “No Holiday”, and “Thank You”. “June Bug” starts off with a catchy guitar riff that’s soon followed by a solid drumbeat courtesy of Isaac Klein. The vocals exhibit a strong emotional tie with the music, one that only gets stronger during the chorus. “No Holiday” juxtaposes “June Bug” by starting with softer vocals from Joan Smith and light guitar followed by an increasing drumbeat beat that speeds up as the song progresses. Each time you give the album a listen you’re guaranteed to find another track that’s your favourite. Little Foot Long Foot has created an ideal album for the anticipated coming summer. 4/5


Spookey Ruben, “Mechanical Royalty”
Hi-Hat Recordings

Reviewed by Vee Manzerolle

Spookey Ruben is a self-proclaimed master of all that comes out of his new album Mechanical Royalty. Not only does he write and produce the album but he also credits himself with musical instruments, sound effects, and vocals. This makes for a very impressive resume that only pushes the average artist harder to be the sole genius of your album's outcome in the music industry. The album’s title is also a “track” on the album, I say track in quotation marks because it’s more of a tale than a song. In the CD’s sleeve it lists chapters during the above-mentioned track. It’s also an astonishingly long at 15 minutes and 18 seconds in length. It opens with fast-paced guitar riffs and drumming that hold a certain mental flavor. It progresses with hints of keyboard with a slower pace, and that only accounts for the first three chapters of Mechanical Royalty. There are a total of seven chapters within that single track. The rest of the album varies from extremely short songs like, “Cat and Mouse” (1:52) to the standard three-to-four minute songs. Several Spookey Ruben songs on Mechanical Royalty can be characterized by their synthesized sound, including the vocals. Probably the most unique song, aside from “Mechanical Royalty”, would be “American Processed Cheese”. With its electronic sound accompanied by single worded lyrics, a demonic voice chants ‘cheese’ meanwhile a childlike voice repeats the word ‘smile’. This track is like a videogame; something you would most likely find on the original Nintendo system. The strongest tracks on Mechanical Royalty are “Rachel” and “Just Another Way”. Overall the album has a formula with a distinctive sound and it sticks to it. Warning: songs will get stuck in your head. 3/5


Jessi Hamilton, “Rebirth”
Independent

Reviewed by Cheryl Thompson

In the tradition of Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, and Chantal Kreviazuk, Jessi Hamilton is a singer/songwriter with a masterful command of the piano and a beautiful voice to match. Rebirth, her sophomore release, is part folk/rock part Christian, but a whole lot of heart and intimacy. With each song, Hamilton brings you into her world and creates a picture in your head for the story being told. Tracks like “Land of Illusion,” "Afraid to be Alive,” and “Feed the Fire” are emotional yet inspirational and deep. Hamilton has a wonderful ability to not let her voice overpower the subtleness of her piano accompaniment and even if this is not your genre, you can’t help but be drawn into each track. Comprised of 12 self-produced, recorded and performed songs, Hamilton is the complete package. It is also worth noting that she’s sung backup for rock group Foreigner’s lead singer, Lou Gramm and has been featured on numerous songs. The album runs a tad short but otherwise, Hamilton is a name you should expect to see for many years to come. 4/5

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Arkells, “Jackson Square”
Dine Alone Records

Reviewed by Cheryl Thompson

This five-piece rock band from Hamilton, Canada, is definitely an example of Canada’s stellar independent rock scene. In the same vein as Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band, Arkells are a band that rocks hard with earnest lyrics. Jackson Square, as their first full-length release makes you feel excited about rock music. Songs like “Deadlines,” “Pullin’ Punches,” “Oh, the Boss is Coming,” and “Tragic Flaw” are full of upbeat rhythms and edgy guitar riffs that excite without being too over the top. But what makes this group even more appealing is the catchiness of their hooks and sheer excitement in their vocals. This is Canadian rock music at its best. But what Arkells also does well is balance the hard rock tunes with slow ballads, like “No Champagne Socialist,” “Abigail” and “I’m Not the Sun.” While there’s nothing on this album that you can call groundbreaking, it is a solid contribution to the world of rock. 4/5


Mystéfy, “Spark Within”
Compost/Inertia

Reviewed by Cheryl Thompson

Mystéfy is an Ottawa, Canada-based artist whose music harkens back to yesteryear, like the 1950s when women sang love songs with innocence, with only a slight hint of sexiness. On the title track for instance, her vocals are earnest and simple. The only problem with this album is that there is not enough of that “it’ factor to separate it from say the last 30 years of jazz/folk music. Mystéfy gives it a valiant effort on “Eye Candy”, with a Minnie Riperton like scatting sequence, then on “Beware” her vocal styling is reminiscent of Doris Day, and “I Dream of You” sounds like a song Sarah Vaughan might have covered during her prime. Mystéfy is a talented vocalist with a style that leaves an impression, however, this album would have benefited from more originality in its production and perhaps a bigger contemporary vibe. 2/5


Sleepercar, "West Texas"
Doghouse Records

Reviewed by Martin John

West Texas is as American as apple pie. This dry, arid piece of land was sometimes home to a young George W. Bush, its largest city, El Paso. This is the area that Jim Ward of 'Sparta' and the late 'At the Drive-In' has named his Sleepercar album after. With the help of Chris Heinrich, who also plays ukulele on Jim's solo album, Jim's father Jeff and various others, Jim has crafted an album of what he calls "American roots rock-n-roll." Opening track "Death of a Broken Promise" is the album's catchiest tune, a survival song about moving past a period with soul intact, steel pedal guitar working seamlessly with the crunchy guitars and clean vocals before digressing into radio-friendly rock. The ballad "Wednesday Nights" has the smokiest, grittiest, country-iest vocals with pedal steel guitar haunting the song like a ghostly steed. "All Will End Well" with Maura Davis singing in the background is short, sweet and sincere with Jim singing "I'd give up the world to make you feel okay ..." over a quiet piano piece. Thematically the album seems like a catharsis of sorts; plans that weren't fulfilled and finding the strength and courage to push through it, whatever it takes. Musically, the album lacks originality, but that is often sacrificed for commercial appeal. In a market that seems to be opening up to alt-country, Sleepercar's album seems arid like West Texas, with the odd spring to bring you back to the living. 2/5


Kae Sun, “Ghost Town Prophecy”
Last Press Label

Reviewed by Cheryl Thompson

SoulMatters checked out Kae Sun’s live show in Toronto this February and to call this guy original is putting it lightly. Not only is his flow incredibly tight, so too is his band. Ghost Town Prophecy can best be described as part folk, part rock, part hip-hop but 100% heart. Sun has produced a conscious EP that’s about life, and the trials and tribulations of our times through his eyes. On “Kidnapped,” heavy guitar riffs are paired to earnest lyrics; then he slows it right down with “Stay Up,” a tune that reminds you of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” in terms of the universality of its humanitarian message. Undoubtedly, “Living in the City” is the album’s standout track. With its funky beat, and catchy lyrics like “living in the city/ain’t what it used to be,” these are words that anyone living in a city can relate to. While Ghost Town Prophecy is just an EP, it’s a great introduction to an artist whose name we’re sure to hear for years to come. 5/5


Lima Charlie, “It’s So Easy To Be Creepy”

Reviewed by Cheryl Thompson


Lima Charlie is a band keeping the independent spirit alive. Since 2004, they’ve been mostly playing live clubs in the northeast US, while releasing an album along the way – 2005’s More Medication, Please. Having not heard their debut disc, I take It’s So Easy To Be Creepy as it is, and it’s the kind of disc that you’d probably really enjoy hearing live (this probably explains their touring success). With song titles that range from “Banana Boat” to “Menopause Graudate” to “Average Caucasian Blues,” you can tell this is a band with a sense of humour. Comprised of Pete Van Leeuwen, Jim O’Mahony, Dave Morrison, and Tom Ash, this group’s sound can best be described as a wide-ranging blend of rock, folk and a subtle edge that’s controlled enough to keep even the non-rock/folk person interested. 3/5


Jackson Analogue, “And Then Nothing”
Groove Attack

Reviewed by Dan Verbin

Whether Jackson Analogue were purposely trying to be ironic or not, naming their debut, And Then Nothing is certainly something of an odd choice. Perhaps, it’s possible they were just taking a page from their more famous ‘60s-influenced brethren Supergrass, who once titled one of their albums In It For The Money, or maybe they thought the title made them seem clever in a self-deprecating Warren Zevon kind of way. Whatever the band’s reasoning, they could not have picked a worse name for their album had they called it Smell the Glove. It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with And Then Nothing. It’s just that there’s nothing particularly right with it either. It’s as if Jackson Analogue is stuck in some bizarre time warp limbo, not sure whether they want to be Jethro Tull or the next Nickelback. At times, largely because of this absurd duality, it’s hard to decide whether to appreciate the band’s attempt to stay true to their classic rock roots or to be disdainful of all the cringe-inducing moments where you could swear the vocals morph into Chad Kroeger territory. The album starts off pleasingly enough with the one-two-three punch of the potent garage rock of “Day Is Done,” the Jet-like “Stop,” and the CD’s only real standout, the aptly titled anthemic “Come On”. Then things start to go downhill. Even the soothing mid-album ballad, "Concrete Hands" can’t slow the album’s descent into the epitome of banal classic rock muzak. There’s no denying And Then Nothing contains occasional flashes of utter brilliance – check out the extended coda on prog rockish closer “Moody Man Left.” However, Jackson Analogue still sound like they haven’t abandoned their pubescent dream of being Led Zeppelin. The only way to genuinely mature as a band is to either realize that it’s not going to happen or to ask Jimmy Page for the Devil’s phone number. If Jackson Analogue were smart, for their next album, they should take a page from fellow Isle of Wight retro-enthusiasts, The Bees, and dispense with all the tried and true clichés by realizing their potential by coming up with an album that’s about something. Instead, this album is about nothing. 1.5/5


Rayna, “Empty Room”
RaynaMusic

Reviewed by Dan V

If you like your singer-songwriters to be one third Jann Arden, one third Chantal Kreviazuk and one third Holly McNarland with a pinch of Amy Lee’s gothic heartache thrown into the mix, then Rayna just might be your new saviour. But catch her in a few years. Rayna’s self-released debut, Empty Room, shows promise in buckets. However, apart from “Standing In The Doorway,” an epic atmospheric song full of mournful loss straight out of a coming of age movie, and the last track, “Unarmed Angel,” a dreamy, melodic folksy ballad perfect for listening to while laying outside on your back, staring at the night sky, Rayna’s songwriting doesn’t display the lyrical maturity or pop sensibility needed to break away from the pack. Most of the songs on Empty Room could be rightfully called middle of the road. Simple melodies flow over simple progressions, which flow into simple but capable choruses. Not that there’s anything wrong with middle of the road, but to be fair to Rayna, from the musical and emotional complexity she displays on the last two songs, she is obviously capable of much, much more as a songwriter. After all, the former Toronto backup singer has only been writing songs for three years. Hopefully her next release will do her distinct vocal and lyrical musings justice. 3/5


Maniacal Plan, “Casualty of Sound”
Dirty Smile Records

Although just an EP, Maniacal’s Casualty of Sound is the kind of debut that sets the stage for bigger things to come. Based out of NYC, this indie rock group is all about music you can feel. It’s not soft rock for your grandma, nor is it pop rock for an over-hyped watered down radio station; on the contrary, this group is about heavy guitar driven rock music with hard pounding drums, and earnest vocals. On “Anathema,” lead vocalist Dan O’Berry draws you into Maniacal’s world of mystery and intrigue. It’s easy to tell that he’s the centre of this group. While some might categorize this album as being too much of a throw back to the ’90s grunge era, others will definitely find tracks like “NUMB” and “Filter” a refreshing rememberance to a time when power ballads reigned supreme. Overall, this is a solid introduction to a band that has the potential to shatter a few eardrums, as they will the critics. 4/5


JP Jones, "Magical Thinking"
Vision Company Records

While there are some who think that folk music is a dead genre, artists like JP Jones are living proof that it's a live and well. While Magical Thinking is Jones' 12th independent release, there's a fresh flare to his acoustic guitar, and subtle vulnerability in his lyrical prose. From the album's lead song, "A Man Stands Up" to "Us and Them" and "That's All Right," each spans the folk/blues/rock gamut. Admittedly, Magical Thinking is not a disc that is going to appeal to everyone since its sound is reminiscent of an era gone by, yet, like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, when you sing from your heart and are uncompromising in your music, people will always listen. Thus, this disc is definitely worth a listen or two. 4/5