Sunday September 8, 2019

Deep Prismatic Wave

Last week, after a half-decade of accomplished short-form material, Vancouver bedroom pop act Gal Gracen finally graced the world with a proper full-length. The Fantasy Gardens LP is a collection of atmospheric tracks that effortlessly float from krautrock to meditative surf vibes to shimmering AM radio pop across ten tracks. It's the first full-length from the Patrick Geraghty-lead project, following 2013's Blue Hearts in Exile EP and the 2016 singles collection The Hard Part Begins.

Geraghty recorded this material with Jo Hirabayashi (Jo Passed) over three years in Vancouver and Victoria, with some aspects tracked abroad (in both Ho Chi Minh City, and, curiously, on Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu). David Parry (of Loving) mixed the album. JAZ Records is handling the vinyl release.

The press release briefly touches on the defunct Richmond, BC amusement park that serves as the album's namesake:

"Named for the scandalous theme park and flower garden that brought down British Columbia's government in the early 1990s, Fantasy Gardens ruminates on the limits of truth and beauty, and the concept of a pure fantasy divorced from vanity... Gal Gracen has explored cinematic sounds and melancholic moods across a number of eps and singles that have varied in style, but that all share a common fascination with the psychic dreamlands that individuals create and inhabit."

You may also know Gracen as the mastermind behind Role Mach, a proggy, horn-driven Vancouver rock outfit that was active in the earlier part of the decade (they had a split 7" with Apollo Ghosts back in 2010).

Listen: Gal Gracen - Fantasy Gardens @ Bandcamp

Last week the eclectic grunge/sludge/folk collective WHOOP-Szo announced that they've signed with Daniel Romano and Steven Lambke's You've Changed Records for the release of their next full-length. There are few details available at this time, but the label did release a cryptic teaser video featuring a few new sounds along with the title: Warrior Down.

Based in Guelph and London, Ontario, the experimental five-piece is following a number of short-form releases over the past few years, including the 2016 EP Citizen's Ban(ne)d Radio, a 2017 split with Halifax psych group Walrus, and last year's 7" single The Dive. WHOOP-Szo's current lineup features guitarist/vocalist Adam Sturgeon, Kirsten Kurvink Palm on guitar, synth, and vocals, bassist/keyboardist Joe Thorner, Andrew Lennox on 12-string guitar and synth, and percussionist Eric Lourenco.

WHOOP-Szo blew me away this year at SappyFest, and stood out among even that diverse lineup as perhaps the heaviest act to grace the main stage. There's something urgent, harrowing, and worldly about WHOOP-Szo, a constant sense of metamorphosis that makes them both hard to peg but hard to ignore. Seeing them paired with a label I've followed religiously for years is, for lack of a more elegant turn of phrase, really fucking cool. This one's top of mind, as far this newsletter's concerned.

Listen: WHOOP-Szo - Warrior Down Teaser @ YouTube

The Montreal-based Fountain returned out of nowhere last week with another full-length of post-punk weirdo-funk, following up last summer's Acid Bath from the Jaded Jungle with Laughing Through Traffic. The band recorded once again with Ian Kurtis Crist, this time at The Bug in Montreal. He was behind the boards on Acid Bath as well. You can snag the scrappy 10-song set at Bandcamp.

You'll also note that the cover art seems to have the band billed as Fountain Extreme this time out. I wasn't certain if this was a new name or just a loud, awkwardly placed superlative (as that would fit the band's M.O.), but the group's upcoming show in Montreal is at least billed as such.

With roots in Vancouver Island, Fountain (Extreme or otherwise) features guitarist/vocalists Evan Jeffery, guitarist Robert Coslett, and drummer Laura Jeffery.

Listen: Fountain Extreme - Laughing Through Traffic @ Bandcamp

British Columbia's grungy power-pop act Dead Soft has a massive new single online. You can check out the soaring "I Believe You," below.

Following New Emotion, their recent Arts & Crafts EP, this new track finds Dead Soft playing as a three-piece, with vocalist/guitarist Nathaniel Epp and bassist/vocalist Keeley Rochon backed by drummer Alex Smith. The song's destined for a full-length titled Big Blue, which is due for an October 18 release on Arts & Crafts.

Speaking to Stereogum for the premiere, Epp commented on the track:

"This song is about trusting that you will get to where you're going. It was written at a time when I knew I needed to make a change in my life. I didn't know what that change would look like but I could feel it coming and braced myself with the fact that truth and love will prevail in the end."

That change may very well allude to the band's base of operations. The press release explains that the group fled the financial strains of the city of Vancouver, hopping across the Strait of Georgia to set up shop on Gabriola Island. One of the Gulf Islands, Gabriola falls about five kilometres east of Nanaimo and hosts a population of just a little over 4,000 (of which there's a high population of working artists).

Listen: Dead Soft - "I Believe You" @ YouTube

Prolific Toronto songwriter Ben Cook recently previewed the first song from GUV II, the second chapter in a series of power-pop records planned for this year under his Young Guv moniker. The first, GUV I, arrived in August from Run For Cover Records. That label will also handle this chapter, which clocks in with nine songs. You can preview it now with the single "Try Not to Hang On So Hard," a track that Cook admits was written on "a bit of acid."

"I was house-sitting for my mom and looking at all the photos and all the very British trinkets she keeps around and on her walls that make her happy. It had a pretty profound emotional effect on me, probably due to the LSD, so I wrote a song about how it's ok to feel a little lost or lonely and to keep things around you that make you feel comforted."

Cook wrote the material for both of these records in May of 2018 while living in Brooklyn (he was in town to produce the new album from LA hardcore mainstays Terror). Look for GUV II on October 25.

Ben Cook's, of course, well known for his contributions to the heavy music world, both as the frontman of the Toronto hardcore unit No Warning and as a member of Fucked Up. These new Young Guv albums follow 2018's 2 Sad 2 Funk.

Listen: Young Guv - "Try Not To Hang On So Hard" @ Bandcamp

You can now hear the second new track from Quasar U.K., the cosmic-dub side-project featuring Jon Schouten and Chris Swimmings Toronto wry-punks Teenanger and Dave Nardi (of Daniel Romano 's The Outfit and Ancient Shapes). The track, "Colour Jamming," appears as the b-side to "Kepler 69," the debut single that the confusingly-named band shared to Bandcamp last month.

Pop back to the mid-August edition of the newsletter if you want the skinny on "Kepler 69." Teenanger and Ancient Shapes are slated to hit the road together this October for a week of shows. Look for them in Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Sudbury, St. Catharines, and London.

Listen: Quasar U.K. - "Colour Jamming" @ Bandcamp

Vancouver-bred indie-pop supergroup The New Pornographers have a video online featuring their single "Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile." The choreography in the Mitchell deQuilettes-directed clip's a lot of fun. The song serves as the lead single for In The Morse Code Of Brake Lights, the band's upcoming 11-song LP. It's their eighth overall and the follow-up to 2017's Whiteout Conditions.

The new record arrives on September 27 from Collected Works and Concord.

That said, it's sponsor time! Among their upcoming US tour dates, The New Pornographers will be headlining the Friday-night main stage of Beau's Oktoberfest. That festival/fundraiser runs September 20 and 21 in the craft brewery's rural hometown of Vankleek Hill, Ontario. Toronto rapper Shad will headline that same stage on Saturday evening. Every year Oktoberfest also features the punk-and-skate oriented Black Forest stage, with Lost Love, The Flying Hellfish, Pale Lips, and Mobina Galore this year's performers. Tickets for the event are more than half sold out, so you might want to get on that.

Watch: The New Pornographers - "Falling Down The Stairs of Your Smile" @ YouTube

Speaking of Black Forest bands, there's a new single online from Burlington power-pop/melodic-punk trio The Penske File. "Copper Sky" is the first new song from the group since their polished 2018 Stomp full-length Salvation, and whether it's a one-off or destined for the follow-up is anyone's guess.

The Penske File features guitarist/vocalist Travis Miles, drummer Alex Standen, and bassist James Hall. On Oktoberfest weekend the band will play the Black Forest Stage on Saturday evening. The group has further fall festival appearances slated for Brantford, Ontario's Blackout Fest on October 18, as well as the Fest in Gainesville, Florida on November 2.

Listen: The Penske File - "Copper Sky" @ Bandcamp

Toronto's eclectic electronic/post-punk project Commuted has a new single and video titled "Life's a Zoo." This is one of those clips that gets aggressively weirder as it progresses, and I'd be remiss to spoil any of it with for you. There may be some fun choreography in that New Pornographers clip I mentioned earlier, but it's not going to haunt your dreams like this one. Just look into the eyes of that eagle. The "Life's a Zoo" video was created by Ryan Hage of Thank You So Much.

"Life's a Zoo" is due for a 10-track full-length titled In a Waiting Room, set to arrive on October 31. Commuted brainchild David Eatock commented on the record at Bandcamp:

"...this album is very personal to me, more personal than the last one. I still like the last one, but I actually learned a lot about myself through making this one. I've been going through some weird times, probably one of the more severe mental dips in my life so far, and this whole thing has been therapeutic... I've also been listening to a lot of bossa nova and film scores and pop music! I think all of that and more found it's way into this album and I'm excited to share it with everyone. "

Watch: Commuted - "Life's a Zoo" @ YouTube

Toronto dream-pop quartet Tallies have a kaleidoscopic new video online featuring the song "Midnight" from their self-titled 2019 full-length. Directed by Christopher Mills, the clip arrived just as the band embarked for their European tour. You can check it out below.

Tallies' debut LP was released by Hand Drawn Dracula back in January. It features singer and rhythm guitarist Sarah Cogan, lead guitarist Dylan Frankland, drummer Cian O'Neill, and bassist Stephen Pitman. Frankland and Josh Korody produced the album.

Watch: Tallies - "Midnight" @ YouTube

Winnipeg noise-punk trio Tunic has a new single out in the wold titled "Nylon." The song's been a part of their set for some time but didn't appear on their recent debut full-length Complexion. You can stream it over at Spotify now, and elsewhere soon enough.

Tunic's Complexion arrived back in February through Texan label Self Sabotage Records. It featured 11 songs recorded with Jace Lasek of The Besnard Lakes producing. There's no word yet onto which future release "Nylon" may land.

Listen: Tunic - "Nylon" @ Spotify

Here's something weird and wonderful about which I have very little information ("that's most things" I hear you shout into your email client). There's a gleefully snarky demo floating around from a Montreal band dubbed The World Health Organization, featuring such nihilistic future-classics as "1-800-MEAT-DAD" and "Keep on Vapin' (in the free world)." It's a sound not unlike Toronto's WLMRT, so perhaps that's why I'm into this.

Apparently, the WHO features members from several Ottawa, Hamilton, and Montreal punk and hardcore concerns, with Born Wrong, No Blues, Liquid Assets, Torpor, Cell, and The Hundred Steeples all listed on that collective resume. They have no web-presence yet to back this up one way or the other, so take any inaccuracies or omissions with a grain of salt.

Far be it for me to accidentally become the sole source of (mis)information on a new band just because I happened to grill the right people on a random Facebook chat at the right time, but here we are...

Listen: The World Health Organization - Demo @ YouTube

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