Sunday January 7, 2018

You Know Who

Doldrums. That's the word we used to refer to the few weeks straddling New Years, back in the early days of Punknews.org. It always seemed that the incoming stream of music news narrowed to a trickle during this time, with few bands making any announcement of note. The release calendar was a wasteland. The big summer tours and festivals were still months out from confirmation. This was the season of collective reminiscence, rankings, and retrospectives. It was hibernation for a daily news site.

The one area of activity during this time was list writing, with which I've never been entirely comfortable. t's a strange, masturbatory exercise that forces one to quantify art and do it in a way that makes you look good. You measure the records you engaged with against each other, which implies that your appreciation of those albums all comes from a similar place. It assumes there's a common denominator. It suggests an academic, rather than an emotional connection to music, and I just don't have that. I'm pretty simple. The feedback I get from readers, though, never bares out these anxieties. People find lists useful, particularly people with lives outside our bubble.

As such, here are my favourite records from 2017. My list even includes an American band, which I felt was a very progressive choice.

Now reality has a way of calling me on my bullshit. It turns out that my number one and two picks released entirely new albums over Some Party's holiday break. That's a break I took on faith that the doldrums would hold. So much for that.

We were aware that Halifax punk band the Booji Boys were planning to release their second LP on Christmas. That's precisely what happened. UK label Drunken Sailor Records released the five-member band's Weekend Rocker LP as expected. The 12 song set was recorded by Luke Mumford over the summer, and finds the Booji Boys continuing the sound they established earlier in the year. This is a group made up of hardcore vets performing hooky, low-fi power-pop at breakneck speed. What more could you want?

Listen: Booji Boys - Weekend Rocker @ Bandcamp

Then there's Welland, Ontario's Daniel Romano. Danny had already announced an ingenious winter tour: he'd head out west to Vancouver with his band the Jazz Police while performing music from his solo catalogue, then change guises in BC and head back to Toronto playing as the punk group Ancient Shapes. Ancient Shapes even released a charity EP in mid-December to get back on everyone's radar.

That wasn't enough though. Not one to be outdone when it comes to aggressively counter-programming the norms of the music industry, Daniel Romano released two (2) new albums this past week. NERVELESS and HUMAN TOUCH feature 10 new songs apiece. That they sound sparser than the lushly arranged Modern Pressure suggests these were home recordings, but they're hardly throwaways. Dan's commented that he's not planning on releasing either record in a physical medium, and futhermore he's planning to pull both offline at the conclusion of his West Coast tour.

Listen: Daniel Romano: NERVELESS @ Bandcamp

Listen: Daniel Romano: HUMAN TOUCH @ Bandcamp

The release schedules both acts have adopted here are abnormal, and there are mostly rational business reasons why that is. Labels don't release records on Christmas day when the audience is distracted. Bands avoid releasing material too close to the end of the year-end recap cycle because they want consideration. Barely anyone releases two full-lengths in a calendar year, and never two records at once, for a whole host of marketing reasons. Let's not even address the ticking time-bomb shelf life. As a fan, though, this is all quite exciting, and dare I say pretty punk. The industry works in predictable cycles, but as an artist, you need not bend to conventional wisdom. I'm just glad it's not my job to try and promote these things.

Presenting Weaves in Niagara

Toronto's Weaves have announced a March mini-tour in support of their fantastic recent Buzz Records full-length Wide Open. From the 2nd through the 5th the band will play the Guelph Concert Centre, Ottawa's House of Targ, Montreal's Bar Le Ritz, and then the Warehouse in St, Catharines. That last show's an important one, and not just because it's local to me. The March 5th Weaves show at the Warehouse Concert Hall will be a co-presentation of IndoorShoes and Some Party. I don't quite know what that means yet, but I'm stoked nonetheless. We should be announcing some special guests to provide support soon. In the meantime, you can grab tickets at TicketFly and follow for more details on Facebook.

Watch: Weaves - "Walkaway" @ YouTube

Of Note

Over the holidays a four band split appeared featuring Toronto's irreverent punk act WLMRT, Ottawa-via-Peterborough noise-duo Deathsticks, Montreal garage-punk act Nüshu, and the gothy Halifax-based Nightbummerz. The bands have pressed the collection as a 7" which should be available at upcoming shows. It's an excellent sampler of some of the young acts playing in this aggressive, noisy, gender-balanced facet of the Canadian underground.

Listen: WLMRT / Deathsticks / Nüshu / Nightbummerz split @ Bandcamp

Ottawa's Caylie Runciman, better known as the indie-pop act Boyhood, released a handful of recordings in December. These include the songs "Drivin'" and "He Don't," both of which should appear in 2018 on an upcoming record titled Bad Mantras. It'll be following up 2012's Bruised Tongue-released When I'm Hungry LP. A cover of "Wivenhoe Bells II," originally by English low-fi pop group Cleaners from Venus, was posted at Bandcamp for the holidays as well.

Listen: Boyhood - "Drivin'" @ Bandcamp

A video for "He Don't" has been released as well. Montreal-based photographer Monika Kraska, who's also Runciman's sister-in-law, directed, shot, and edited the clip. You can check it out below. Boyhood was one of the many acts confirmed over the holidays for the Megaphonomusic showcase festival in Ottawa.

Watch: Boyhood - "He Don't" @ YouTube

The Heat Death is a collaboration between José Miguel Contreras of Toronto indie vets By Divine Right and Shotgun Jimmie. The duo's been heralding their debut for a year now, and with the release finally pending we're starting to hear a lot more from it. The band's self-titled record will feature eleven songs, four of which you can currently preview at Bandcamp. Jimmie also revealed a video which previews the songs "Blue Beard," "You Know Who," and "Master of Emotion" at YouTube. Check it out below. The Heat Death oscillates between midtempo pop-rock (Jimmie's leads) and a lush slow-burn where Contreras takes charge, both vocalists maintaining their distinctive traits. It's all washed in a spacey reverb that gives this project its own character. The Heat Death's self-titled full length arrives on February 14.

Watch: The Heat Death - Three Singles @ YouTube

Chiller has emerged as the successor to the Moncton's punk group Feral Trash. The renamed and revamped band features the Feral Trash husband and wife team of Ilisha and Eric, joined by Erin Ewing from Ottawa high-fantasy metal trio Black Tower and Tim Ostler of the capital's garage rock mainstays Mother's Children. In this configuration Ilisha's out from behind the kit, playing lead guitar and joining Eric as a songwriter. The band's debut is due on February 2 on Portland's Dirt Cult Records and Rockstar in Europe. The first single from the project is titled "Heretic." IT premiered recently at 50THIRDAND3RD and should feel familiar if you were a Feral Trash fan, as it continues in that vein of dark, melodic punk rock.

Listen: Chiller - "Heretic" @ SoundCloud

In December a pair of Hamilton bands that share a few members played a double cassette release show. No Blues are a new four-piece power-pop group with members from the recently defunct hardcore act Born Wrong. The band's sound calls to mind Radioactivity, the Marked Men, and Ottawa's Steve Adamyk Band. If that's your thing (and come on, it is) you'll find a lot to love on the band's demo for Australia's Blow Blood Records. No Blues shares members with the decidedly dourer Black Baron. That band released a single for the song "Seek Your Pleasure," backed with "Another Day Above Ground." The A-side's authentically goth, with the tempo picking up and showing a punk backbeat on the flip side.

Listen: No Blues - "Demo" CS @ Bandcamp

Listen: Black Baron - "Seek Your Pleasure" @ Bandcamp

The new year came with a handful of new music from the Vancouver scene. Chris-a-riffic, the quirky solo project of Chris Alscher (They Shoot Horses Don't They?, Collapsing Opposites, Bible Belts, CiTR's Parts Unknown), is back with a new full length on March 20 titled Post-Season. The 14 song set features a few Vancouver personalities you may know, including Shawn Mrazek on drums and Jay Arner playing guitar and bass (and behind the boards), with contributions from Jarrett Samson of Tough Age and Adrian Teacher of the Subs and Apollo Ghosts. You can preview three songs over at Bandcamp now.

Listen: Chris-a-riffic - "Memorial Cup" @ Bandcamp

While you're on the west coast, take a peek at the newly posted self-titled release from Material. The seven-song set is currently unmastered, so look for it to shared again once the final product is in, but even without that polish it shows a ton of promise and comes packing a heavy Replacements influence. Outside of a single upcoming show, I know next to nothing about Material, so I'll follow up on this in the future. The band's playing a benefit for Indigenous land defenders on January 12 with Alien Boys, Chainsaw Lawnmower, and Deep End.

Listen: Material @ Bandcamp

Ottawa party-punk quartet New Swears released a charity single over the holidays. The songs "Illuminati Knights" and "Happy Birthday" find the band sounding a little more raw than their recent And The Magic Of Horses record found them. The band will donate all proceeds from the downloads to Girls + Skate 613 and For Pivots Sake, organisations that provide mentoring and safe spaces for Ottawa youth to pick up skateboarding. You can grab the songs at Bandcamp.

Listen: New Swears - "Illuminati Knights" @ Bandcamp

Watch: New Swears - "Illuminati Knights" @ YouTube

Saskatoon three-piece indie rock act The Avulsions have signed with Flemish Eye to release their 7-song debut album Expanding Program. The band recorded in their home studio over the past year, with the resulting tracks mastered by Montreal’s Harris Newman (Wolf Parade, Ought, Godspeed You! Black Emperor). The record, labelled as "gothic post-punk" in the press release, comes out on March 16. You can preview the song "The End" online now.

Listen: The Avulsions - "The End" @ SoundCloud

Last year it seemed unusual if a band I mentioned in this newsletter didn't play SappyFest, and I'm not expecting that to change. The Sackville, New Brunswick music festival has set their 2018 dates in stone, so pencil in August 3 to 5. The fest has opened their call for submissions. Artists and musicians looking to be considered for this year can send bios and media links to [email protected]. Last year Steven Lambke of the Constantines and You've Changed Records stepped up as the event's curator. There's been no word yet if that's changing this year.

On February 10 indie rock act Casper Skulls are throwing a release show at Toronto's Super Wonder Gallery for their recent Buzz Records full-length Mercy Works. The event will double as an exhibition for Melanie Gail St-Pierre's album art. The show will feature support from fellow TO group Vallens and Cincinnati noise-pop group Smut. Word is that this one's selling out fast, if you were thinking of going.

Dominionated, which is arguably Canada's best music blog, kicked off 2018 right by launching a podcast. The first episode features co-founder Mac Cameron and contributor Geoff Parent discussing the publication's Favourite Fifty of 2017. You can stream the first episode online or subscribe to the show at iTunes. Go and show them some love early on, as the getting traction with something new is a slog, and you often wonder if you're reaching anyone at all. At least that's what I'm told.

Awkwardly Late Holiday Content

It's always strange consuming holiday material when the season is over and done with. If my daughter's binge-watching some cartoon on Netflix and stumbles upon a Christmas special at any other time of year, it's absolutely grating. I hate few things more.

That said, if you haven't seen The Strombo Show's Very Strombo Holiday Special you'll find more than a few familiar faces taking part. Video of the whole affair, which is nearly two hours long, is over at YouTube and the video description features time hops to each artist's segment. If you ever wanted to see Twist cover Wham! this is where it's at. The show also includes performances from Lido Pimienta, Partner, and a dozen others. If you watched a lot of MuchMusic in the 90s, seeing George hang out with Master T, Sook-Yin Lee, and Ed The Sock again will bring you back.

Watch: A Very Strombo Holiday Special @ YouTube

On a similar note, Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs cranked out a cover of Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" for Toronto rock station 102.1 The Edge over the holidays. They took a few creative liberties and added more denim and chest hair to the mix than Love surely intended, but it works.

Watch: Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs - "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"

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