Culture & Conversation

Listen Up! Pt. 1

Listen up, indeed. The following represents the very first of what we anticipate will be many regular reviews of a broad spectrum of album releases, a detailed and critical synopsis of the sounds around, Rover-style. We hope you enjoy!

One last thing: We welcome music submissions of all stripes for review. Please address all gifts, enticements and inquiries to Without further ado…

Jane’s Addiction
The Great Escape Artist
Words escape… There’s nothing that could have prepared long-suffering – and long-disappointed – fans of pioneering L.A., alt-rock (does that even mean anything anymore?) institution Jane’s Addiction for this, only their fourth studio album since their shockingly landmark 1988 debut, Nothing’s Shocking. It is, in a word, brilliant. On and mostly off again since their 1984 beginnings (funny to think that these early modern primitives are a bona fide ’80s band), there are a minute few who might have imagined that the nearly complete original lineup would come up with a vibrant, urgent, dirty and devastating dismissal of a diminished legacy that has been gathering dust since 1990’s Ritual de lo Habitual (2003’s Stray, their most recent release, doesn’t count for, well, pretty much anyone). Manning the guns are originals Perry Farrell (vox/extra dimensions), Dave Navarro (guitar/cheesy tattoos) and Stephen Perkins (drums/good sense), as well as TV On The Radio’s (!) Dave Sitek (guitars/production/credibility) and alt-metal everyman Chris Chaney (bass/good fortune). The lineup speaks for itself. And so does the album. This is by far and away the band’s best writing since those first two albums – Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual –and could sit quite comfortably beside either of them with no thought of ever having to relinquish its seat. Twenty years late to the party, but hell, what an entrance. (Jamie O’Meara)

Bruce Peninsula
Open Flames
(Hand Drawn Dracula)
After the success of their 2009 debut, A Mountain Is a Mouth, Bruce Peninsula have released their much-anticipated second full-length album, Open Flames. The 10-track album is extravagant and thunderous in its entirety. Neil Haverty’s voice is undeniably similar to that of Dave Matthews, giving off a sound that both stirs and comforts. Still, the songs on Open Flames are representative of Bruce Peninsula, offering a masterful mélange of intense arrangements, choir-like choruses and explosive undertones of heavy rock. The lead vocals are more-or-less equally split between Neil Haverty’s husky rasp and Misha Bower’s deep-seeded soulful cry.  If you listened to tracks like As Long As I Live and Warden individually, you would never guess that they exist on the same album. But the distinct sounds blend with each other, offering a fluid and distinguished album. Also on your playlist: Dave Matthews, Florence and the Machine. (Rima Hammoudi)

Danger Mouse & Daniele Luppi
Rome, a musical project that was five years in the making, exists as a movie-less soundtrack, inspired by the orchestrated compositions of Italo-Westerns. Written and produced by Danger Mouse (a.k.a. Brian Burton of Gnarls Barkley and Broken Bells) and composer Daniele Luppi, Rome runs for a succinct 35 minutes from start to finish. More than half of the 15 tracks are instrumentals, while six songs feature the incredible vocals of Jack White and Nora Jones. The first 20 seconds of Black lead us to believe we’re listening to a cinematic interpretation of Hotel California, but the second Norah Jones jumps in we realize there’s something completely different on the table. True to the Ennio Morricone tradition, the album also includes the enchanting soprano of Edda Dell’Orso, who can be heard in many of the composer’s film scores. The arrangements on this album are intricate and beautiful, fused with Italian cinema influences and upheld by the stunning sound of Cantori Moderni di Alessandro Alessandroni.  Also on your playlist: Cinematic Orchestra, Gotan Project. (Rima Hammoudi)

No one’s ever going to accuse Little Rock big rockers Evanescence of rushing things: this self-titled third album is the first in five years (enough time to write an album, but not enough apparently to think of a proper title) and only the band’s third in nearly 16 years of existence. On the other hand, it’s clearly a formula that works for the goth-inclined, alt-metal five-piece, having sold some 17 million copies of the 2003 debut Fallen, and another six mil of sophomore album, The Open Door (2006). And while much of their mopey, formerly teen fan base has to be in their – ha! – thirties by now, this may be just the thing to get them to put the kids to bed and pile on the eyeliner for a late-night, black light listening party. Singer/pianist Amy Lee is again formidable in the role of frontwoman, belting out mountainous anthem after anthem as though each and every one was her last on an album that indicates the band made the absolute most of the last five years of writing. You don’t have to be an Evanescence fan to recognize the conviction built into every one of these 12 tall tunes about, primarily and as always, the fight for the survival of spirit in face of that which life piles in front of us. It’s hard to argue with that, and Evanescence fans both old and new won’t have any argument with this. (Jamie O’Meara)

Dog Day
With the immediate praise that greeted their debut album, Night Group, Dog Day’s fame took a hit when listeners were left disappointed with their second release, Concentration. But their newest offering, Deformer, may just bring them back up to the top of the indie charts. Skimming the headcount down to two, Dog Day is now comprised of husband and wife Seth Smith and Nancy Urich. For Deformer, the duo decided to take a no-frills approach, leaving us with sounds that are simple but raw, less technical but intense. When you tie in the fundamental rock sounds of guitar, bass and drums, with the sometimes catchy but other times dismal vocals, you’re left with an album that will be a permanent addition to your collection. Recorded on the band’s new indie-label, Fundog Records, Deformer is 12 tracks that poke at our hidden desires to start our own garage band. Also on your playlist: Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket. (Rima Hammoudi)

Library Voices
Summer of Lust
(Nevado Records)
With the release of three albums in a span of three years, Library Voices are standing firm as they continue to make their mark on the Canadian pop scene. Their latest, Summer of Lust, is meant to blare from the speakers and push you to reacquaint yourself with your dusty dance moves. The band is the epitome of pop rock, made up of a seven-piece ensemble equipped with strings, horns, keys, percussion and synthesizers. The 10-track album is upbeat the entire way through, and is embedded with lyrics that are so witty that you’ll find yourself Googling at least some of the countless cultural references. The band’s obvious love for literary greats – such as Joyce, Neruda, Carver and Hemingway – never comes off as pretentious, and instead adds a sincere depth to their party-like vibe. From start to finish, the album is an upper, and goes best with summer road trips and pool parties. Also on your playlist: Vampire Weekend, Phoenix. (Rima Hammoudi)

Mylo Xyloto
Perhaps to no one’s surprise, Coldplay turn the clock halfway back to 2005, to the hook-laden X&Y and what might be considered a more natural sound for the much-loved (and -hated), multi-platinum Brit-rockers. Their most recent, the Brian Eno–produced Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends (2008), saw the band shaking up the test tubes, taking an experimental head-first leap into the weird science of Dr. Eno, and it worked – they created a monster that sold millions. Mylo Xyloto, for its part, finds a happy middle ground between X&Y and Viva la Vida, balancing Eno’s atmospheric wall o’ Eno-ness (he still has a hand in the mix here) with that big signature U2, er, Coldplay sound. But more to the point: Is it good? If you’re anything like this writer and can only stomach so much Coldplay before getting the sickly listening equivalent of having eaten too much sugar, the band lends a hand by placing all the tasty jellybeans ­– Hurts Like Heaven, Paradise and Charlie Brown – at the front of the album, while pushing all the nasty black ones to the back. In other words, a very mixed bag. (Jamie O’Meara)

Joshua Hyslop
Cold Wind
Joshua Hyslop is breaking into the Canadian music scene with his very first EP, Cold Wind. Like most debuts, Hyslop’s six-track EP isn’t too risky or groundbreaking. Faithful to the Canadian singer-songwriter tradition, Hyslop offers harmonious songs about faith, exploration and heartache. What sets Hyslop apart from the rest are his lyrics, which stand as a testament to his poetic heart. He sings his songs as stories, spiritual pleas and confessions to a lover, and his young but defined voice makes it easy to be captured by whatever memory he wishes to relive.  There is nothing complicated about the music on Cold Wind, and by that I mean it’s a soft album to listen to, to have playing in the background or to keep on reserve for times when you’re jonesing for some acoustic folk-type sounds. Hyslop can credit himself with a solid debut, and from the sounds of it, he’ll be out with something new before we know it. Also on your playlist: Joel Plaskett, Elliott Brood. (Rima Hammoudi)

Megalithic Symphony
(Red Bull Records/RED Distribution)
If you’ve ever wondered what the auditory love-child of metal, rock, rap and pop would sound like, pick up Awolnation’s latest album, Megalithic Symphony. More than a year after the release of their/his debut EP, Awolnation (a.k.a. Aaron Bruno) has finally appeased fans with a full-length album. Lovers compare him to Trent Reznor, while the haters link him to James Blunt. Frankly, they’re both wrong. While it’s true that almost every song on Megalithic Symphony is laced with death screams and dirty guitar riffs, the album doesn’t come close to being as deliciously dangerous or aggressive as anything Reznor or Nine Inch Nails are known for. And although the majority of Awolnation’s songs are catchy, and maybe a tad too pop-ish, they’re still rough enough around the edges to not be heard on Virgin or Hits FM anytime soon. Also on your playlist: Linkin Park, Sage Francis. (Rima Hammoudi)

Samantha Savage Smith
Tough Cookie
(Western Famine Records)
With a tormented twang and the lyrical repertoire of a love-struck storyteller, the extraordinary depth of Samantha Savage Smith’s new album is not a clear indication of its debut status. The profundity in songs like Nobody Loves Me but My Own Kind and Good of Goodbyes is both remarkable and heartbreaking, leaving you to assume that the Calgary-based musician has been recording for decades. Occasionally tracks like The Hats and The Score switch the knob from sombre to jubilant, allowing for a slight retreat from the overall heavy tone of the album. But ultimately, Tough Cookie plays as an ode to lovers had and lost. Her lyrical expertise and riveting guitar riffs will surely secure Savage Smith as one of Canada’s most celebrated talents. Also on your playlist: Cat Power, Mazzy Star. (Rima Hammoudi)

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