Sunday March 4, 2018

I Have Yet To See

This past weekend Toronto's Art of the Uncarved Block label celebrated the release of their Winter 2018 compilation, a 10-song set featuring (mostly but not exclusively) young artists from the city's independent rock scene. The collection includes scrappy low-fi indie rock from Triples, dissonant post-hardcore from Humanities, some authentic pre-revival screamo from Stresser, twangy slowcore from Chris (former members of Animal Faces and La Luna), and some contemplative post-hardcore from label-owners Low Sun. The whole set's available digitally at Bandcamp as a pay-what-you-want download. A cassette release was made available at a Dupe Shop show on Saturday.

Art of the Uncarved Block is run by brothers Peter and Rob Johnson, who before Low Sun had a run as Shahman. They laid out their rationale for this compilation series (and their label) in a few statements I shared at Punknews last week:

The compilation is part of a new seasonal series (summer/winter) that the label will offer in order to both promote and celebrate releases from the past six months or so. Peter and I grew up discovering bands through our favourite labels compilations. We fondly recall discovering our new favourite bands and becoming obsessed with entire discographies simply by stumbling upon a single song. It felt like winning some sort of sonic lottery. Hopefully we can do the same for other potential listeners while also promoting the excitement and mysticism found in physical releases; a format that is arguably less celebrated in today’s digitally focused world.

The main goals of the label are too archive, curate, and organize. We come from a DIY scene that is both rich in diversity and immense talent. We wanted to create a home for the scene to rally behind, to gain strength and visibility through numbers. The label is very much a passion project for Peter and I, we are admirers of once small DIY labels such as Merge and Dischord records, drawing endless inspiration from their stories and histories. These are labels that put art and music before everything else and their ethics and passion to archive their scenes is extremely influential. Overall, we believe music to be a sacred form of expression and the physical format an important part of the experience and ritual. Running a label in this age requires both creativity and the understanding that a balance between these ideals and new forms of experiencing music are important in order to flourish. What can we say? We’re doing the best we can...

Listen: Art of the Uncarved Block - Winter Compilation 2018 @ Bandcamp

One of the bands from outside Toronto on the comp is Winnipeg's 1971, a group who saw their career cut short last year with the unexpected death of their founding bassist Cameron Glen Cranston. Last fall the surviving members of the band collected their discography on an Art of the Uncarved Block release titled No Matter Where You Go, There You Are.

1971 members Garrett Iverson and Jory Strachan recently launched their new project, a band called R U S T O W L. Following a brief stint as a two-piece, the new group's solidified with Iverson on guitar and Strachan drumming, along with bassist Robert Reimer, and Jensen Fridfinnson playing the electric organ and the fiddle. All four members share vocal credits. R U S T O W L not only flagrantly ignores my moratorium on stylized band names, but they also manage to find a cool middle ground between 1971's post-punk vibe and some Americana influences.

This week the band premiered the song "Hibernation" at The Manitoban. It's one of four to appear on the band's upcoming self-titled debut EP, due on Transistor 66 with a limited cassette run from Birthday Tapes. The band recorded it at Collector Studio with J Riley Hill. R U S T O W L will celebrate the new EP with a show on March 23 at Winnipeg's X-Cues Cafe, a joint release show with local indie pop act Housepanther.

Listen: R U S T O W L - "Hibernation" @ Bandcamp

Also speaking of Triples, that band got a nice bump of attention this week with a profile from Toronto Star pop-music critic Ben Rayner. Triples is a low-fi grunge-pop duo that features guitarist Eva Link and drummer Madeline Link, the daughters of Pete Link of the late-90s Calgary garage rock group the Shinolas. Eva also plays bass in the wonderful Buzz Records pop-punk group PONY.

If you've not yet come across it, the band released an excellent EP last summer titled Play It Again. Check out their video for the aptly-titled "Summer Song" from that release below.

Watch: Triples - "Summer Song" @ YouTube

Greys' Shehzaad Jiwani unveiled a solo project last week under the name Golden Drag. In his song premiere at Stereogum, Jiwani comments that the project was rooted in an exercise to write "short, economical tunes and deconstruct them in the studio." This particular track, a cool electronic number titled "Aphex Jim," resulted from an attempt to compose without guitar or live drums.

Greys last released Warm Shadow in 2016, a companion piece to their Outer Heaven record from earlier that year. Warm Shadow found the band in a wildly creative phase, repurposing studio audio from their proper full-length and crafting a loose, playful set of outtakes and oddities that blew the horizons of the band wide open. Grey's could get super weird from here on out. Between Golden Drag and bassist C.R. Gillespie's recent ambient release Séance Works, the collective members of the group are covering a lot of sonic ground outside the punk realm.

In their downtime since the tours supporting Outer Heaven, Shehzaad's been working on a film documentary and working in the studio with other bands (like the aforementioned PONY). Check out "Aphex Jim" below. There's no word yet on what we'll hear next from Golden Drag or if some collection is in the works.

Listen: Golden Drag - "Aphex Jim" @ YouTube

Never Betters are a London, Ontario pop-punk group with members from Grievances, Foam, Strange Ways, and Wasted Potential. On March 16 the band will be releasing a split LP with Grievances titled Guns + Roses' Roses. Their first single from that record is the track "Pictures." The band recently unveiled a video for the song, which they say is "destined to be the theme song for some high school drama TV show." Justis Krar (Single Mothers, Ancient Shapes, SIDEMAN) directed.

Guns + Roses’ Roses was recorded by Simon Larochette at The Sugar Shack in London. It'll see a release through Grooves Records. The bands will celebrate with a release show on March 15 at Call The Office.

Watch: Never Betters - "Pictures" @ YouTube

Chris Alscher's quirky solo project Chris-a-riffic has a new video for the song "Fresh Bruise," a track from his recent full-length Post-Season. You can check it out below. Riley McMaster and Owen Wong put the clip together. The song features Jay Arner on guitar and bass with Shawn Mrazek drumming.

Alscher's stacked resume includes stints with They Shoot Horses Don't They?, Collapsing Opposites, and Bible Belts, as well as a radio hosting gig on CiTR's Parts Unknown.

Watch: Chris-a-Riffic - "Fresh Bruise" @ YouTube

We're a week out from the release of I'm Bad Now, Nap Eyes' highly anticipated new full-length for You've Changed, Paradise of Bachelors, and Jagjaguwar. The wait's essentially over, as you can now stream the 10 song record in its entirety over at NPR.

The Halifax indie-rock group's also promoting the new work with a slick new medieval-styled video for the track "I'm Bad." Halifax-based director Seth A Smith and his producing partner Nancy Urich are behind the production. They're part of the team that created the recent horror film The Crescent.

I'm Bad Now is the follow-up to Nap Eyes' 2016 sophomore LP Through Rock Fish Scale. This record was recorded and mixed by Howard Bilerman with Mike Wright at Montreal's Hotel2Tango.

Watch: Nap Eyes - "I'm Bad" @ YouTube

Prolific Hamilton-based "existential disco" weirdo Man Made Hill released his latest cassette Fingertip on Friday via Pleasence. The label recently revealed a video for the song "Midnight Nap," created by MC NTSC. You can check it out below.

Fingertip is Man Made Hill's 20th release. Pleasence calls it a "sensual, hypnagogic pop art pastiche," which is a description I'll never be able to top so I'm just going to run with it.

Watch: Man Made Hill - "Midnight Nap" @ YouTube

I've shared a few wild, theatric songs in recent months form Toronto's The Holy Gasp, and we now have details where they'll end up. The Love Songs of Oedipus Rex is an album which will see release on May 18.

The CBC recently unveiled a documentary short directed by Luke Sargent which follows vocalist Benjamin Hackman and guitarist Sebastian Shinwell on their quest to create the record. Their plan for the album included 26 parts for 18 musicians, all of which was recorded in just 11 days. CBC describes it thusly:

The Love Songs of Oedipus Rex is the story of a man in emotional free fall. Benjamin’s father passed away. His therapist died suddenly. He and his wife are in the middle of a divorce. Heartbroken and grieving, Benjamin sets out to compose and record a massive concept album with his band The Holy Gasp.

Watch: The Love Songs of Oedipus Rex is the story of a man in emotional free fall @ YouTube

Hull, Quebec power-pop band Holy Christopher has released the first single from their new EP Land vs Sea. Check out the catchy-as-hell "Hate Me/Hate You" below. The four-piece will release the set, which was recorded, mixed, and produced by Cody Parnell, on March 30. I get a bit of an Evaporators vibe from this one.

The band will celebrate the release on the 30th with a show at Ottawa's LIVE on Elgin, featuring Motherland, Nightshades, and Dangereens.

Listen: Holy Christopher - "Hate Me/Hate You" @ Bandcamp

The hits keep comings from Windsor, or at least from the bands that Matthew Menard plays in. In earlier letters I've shared songs from his solo project No Fix and the killer psyche/punk group Psychic Void, and here's another slice of aggression in the form of Brain Itch. The band recorded their new set, titled Leave the Fold, with Nick Kinnish at Serafina Studios. It should be available on cassette in April.

Listen: Brain Itch - "Leave the Fold" @ Bandcamp

St Catharines power-pop group Strange Shakes (former members of Elk and Consumer Alert) has released a two-song cassette single titled Worn Feet. It features the title track backed by the song "Float." They'll bring the new material to Toronto this Friday when they open for Jiants at the Smiling Buddha.

Listen: Strange Shakes - "Worn Feet" @ Bandcamp

Vancouver's four-piece indie-rock group Jo Passed is taking a significant leap forward, singing to Sub Pop and Royal Mountain Records for the release of their debut full-length, Their Prime. The band was once the solo project of Joseph Hirabayashi, formerly of the band Sprïng. Hirabayashi and drummer Mac Lawrie operated as a duo out of Montreal for a period before returning to BC. The full band now features multi-instrumentalist Bella Bébé and bassist Megan-Magdalena Bourne.

You can check out a video for the song "MDM," directed by Eleanor Petry. Jo Passed will release Their Prime on May 25.

Watch: Jo Passed - "MDM" @ YouTube

Finally, we've had the first word on this year's Ottawa Explosion Weekend. The festival, which is entering its 8th year, will take place from June 13 to 17. The first three bands to be confirmed are LA "sunshine punk" Peach Kelli Pop (the new Mint Records signee), the UK pop punk group Martha, and capital hometown heroes The White Wires. The event will unveil their 2018 branding, ticketing information, and more lineup confirmations in the coming weeks.

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