May 21, 2017 — “This Time” by Land of Talk

Elizabeth Powell (Land of Talk)

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “This Time” by Land of Talk (2017, from the album Life After Youth).
Land of Talk is an indie rock band from Toronto. The only real member of the band is Elizabeth Powell, who started the band in 2006. Other members have come and gone, but this band is all about Liz Powell. Her 2008 debut Some Are Lakes was produced by Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon, and it was longlisted for the 2009 Polaris Music Prize. After that record, she developed some polyps on her vocal chords, and she considered hanging up her skates. After meeting with and receiving advice from Jace Lasek out of Besnard Lakes, she changed her style a little and released her 2010 sophomore album Cloak and Cipher, which was produced by Lasek. That album was longlisted for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize. Powell was very near the top of the mountain, and she was going on some pretty impressive tours, although they were mostly as the support act for much bigger Canadian indie bands.

I loved the first two records so much, and for a while, I simply wouldn’t shut up about Land of Talk.

After Cloak and Cipher, Powell again considered hanging up her skates, but she pressed on and wrote some new stuff. Unfortunately, she lost everything in a laptop crash. Then she decided to take a bit of a break. Then her father fell ill, and she spent a lot of time helping him recover. Then she sort of lost her passion for making music.

Several years after the release of the sophomore album, Powell came out of hibernation to play some shows last year. Then she surprised fans with a third record —Life After Youth— which came out on Friday via Saddle Creek Records.

Like the previous record, this one was recorded and produced by Jace Lasek, who also plays some guitar on the record. On tonight’s song, Lasek’s wife and Besnard Lakes bandmate Olga Goreas plays bass. In addition, there’s some backing vocals by Sharon Van Etten. On a different song, Steve Shelley out of Sonic Youth plays drums.

I haven’t listened to the album in its entirety yet, but I really love this song, and I know I’m going to love the rest of the record.

“This Time” by Land of Talk

On the first record, Powell had some rasp to her voice, which was brought on by some improper singing techniques and compounded by smoking cigarettes. Since then, she stopped smoking and learned to sing properly without straining her vocal chords. The result is a much cleaner, prettier tone without giving up too much of her signature style. In case you’re scoring along at home, this is the same thing that Bob Mould went through years ago. After years of smoking and years of scream-singing as the frontman of Hüsker Dü and doing the same in Sugar, he had to change those things before pushing on with the second round of his solo career. And he’s still doing it well into his 50s. While I could go on for pages about Bob Mould, I won’t.

On this song, I really love the bright shimmering tones in Lasek’s second guitar. Sharon Van Etten’s vocals in the chorus are fantastic. There’s also something about Powell’s lead guitar that reminds me quite a bit of early Throwing Muses. In short: there’s a lot for me to like about this song, and I know I’ll also love the rest of the album.

In June, Land of Talk will go on a limited engagement tour of North America.

You can buy Life After Youth via Bandcamp here.

Slowdive at Cat’s Cradle

Rachel Goswell of Slowdive

As everybody around here knows, I’ve been a huge fan of Slowdive for 25 years. I really liked their 1991 debut album Just for a Day, but their 1993 sophomore album Souvlaki totally blew me away. That was way before the days of Amazon and before the days of being able to order things directly at the click of a button. I got very lucky, and I was able to pick up an import copy of the CD, which came out several months before the US release. It also featured a bonus disc of the Blue Day EP. As it turns out, there were only 1000 of those made, but I didn’t know that at the time. I assumed that they, like every other band of their ilk, would tour the US and hit the Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill and/or the old 1313 Club in Charlotte. They didn’t. In the summer of 93, they played Atlanta and DC, but I held out, assuming that they would be around some other time. The next summer, they didn’t come any closer than DC during a very short North American tour which ended with a now famous show in Toronto. Nobody knew it at the time, but that Toronto show would be their last for 20 years.

The band’s third album Pygmalion came out in 1995, and fans were somewhat confused. It wasn’t shoegaze. It wasn’t dream pop. It was a spacey, experimental piece that sounded very little like the Slowdive that I loved. That record has a lot of negative space and a lot of really really slow-burning stuff. I never really cottoned to that record, but I thought that it might just be a weird bump in their road. Again, nobody knew it at the time, but they were pretty much done at that point. They didn’t tour with that record, and it was soon announced that the band had been dropped by Creation Records. Britpop was king, and while some bands would adapt with the changing landscape, they didn’t. It would also later come out that Rachel had suffered some significant hearing loss and couldn’t really play loud music anymore.

The folky Mojave 3 rose from the ashes of Slowdive, and that band featured Rachel Goswell, Neil Halstead, and Ian McCutcheon all out of Slowdive. I liked that band a lot, and I did get to see them twice, but I always lamented the fact that I never saw Slowdive.

A couple of years ago, the band announced that they were reforming for some festival shows. And then the huge news came out that they would put out a new album and go on a proper tour. When the first batch of US dates was announced, the closest gig was in DC. Later, to my complete delight, they announced a Cat’s Cradle show, which would be their first time playing in North Carolina as Slowdive.

The new eponymous album came out last Friday, and I finally got to see them last night. It was everything I was hoping for and then some.

Neil Halstead of Slowdive

They played a good mix of new songs and stuff from the other three albums. To be honest, I was expecting a set heavy with new songs and Souvlaki stuff. As it turns out, they only played three of the new songs. I was really anticipating my favorite songs from Souvlaki, though: “Alison”, “When the Sun Hits”, “Souvlaki Space Station”. I was pleased with all of those, although I thought “When the Sun Hits” sounded a bit muddy. They also played “40 Days” as the last song of the encore. After there were some difficulties with the PA system, they decided to play on, and pretty much did it through their monitors.

They also played a Slowdive show mainstay in their cover of the Syd Barrett song “Golden Hair” as the last song of the main set. I’ve seen videos of them performing that song, and I had high expectations. They were certainly met last night.

Nick Chaplin of Slowdive

All of that was great, but the highlight of the night was something that came as a complete surprise to me. Early in the set, they launched into very gently nudged off into “Crazy for You”, which I always thought was a perfect badge for what I didn’t love about Pygmalion. On the album, it’s very spacey, very sparse, very minimal. Almost too much. It’s got loads of delay and a cool piano bit, but it doesn’t do a ton for me. When performed live, however, it’s a completely different animal. The drums were heavy and fierce. The guitars were fiery and vibrant. It was in complete contrast to the album version, and I absolutely loved it. Later, they would do a similar thing with “Blue Skied an’ Clear”, giving it lots of life that I never knew it had.

There were, admittedly, a few hiccups during the show, and there was a problem with the PA going in and out towards the end of the show, but I thought it was a brilliant night.

I also must admit that I did not enjoy the opening set by The Casket Girls. Their 2014 album True Love Kills the Fairy Tale was my favourite album of that year. Number one. I’ve really liked all of their albums, but I had heard many times that they aren’t as good live as they are on record. That turned out to be true. There was a lot of disharmony in their voices and some of their choreography was goofy. They also played about two songs too many.

For other parts of this US tour, Slowdive had Japanese Breakfast as their special guest, and I would have loved to have seen them. But the reality is that we were all there for one reason and one reason only: Slowdive.

I loved the show, and I’m really glad that I finally got to check them off my list.

May 3, 2017 — “Open the Door” by DIV I DED


If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Open the Door” by DIV I DED (2017, from the album Transformation).

DIV I DED is an indie pop/dream pop/shoegaze quartet from Frýdek Místek, Czech Republic. They formed in 2013 and released their debut album Born to Sleep in the autumn of 2014. They followed with their sophomore record Transformation, which came out last month. That’s pretty much all I know about them. I learned about them this morning when I was researching other things and trying to get inspired to start writing more regularly. I heard a bit of a different song, then found this song, which I like even more.

Incidentally, there’s something that I always do when I hear about a band from a small town I’ve never heard of in either Czech, Sweden, or Finland. Just for the sake of learning some trivia, I checked to see if any well-known hockey players are from Frýdek Místek. The only one I could find is Tampa Bay Lightning winger Ondřej Palát, who was selected by the Bolts in the seventh round of the 2011 NHL draft. It’s rare for a player selected in the last round to make it to the NHL at all, and he’s done more than that. He has been an every day player who consistently scores close to 20 goals per season. He also serves as Tampa’s alternate captain, which is another thing you never see from a player who was taken that late. Enough about hockey, though.

I’ve listened to most, but not all of the new record, and there are some bits that remind me of 1960s girl groups. There are some bits that remind me of early 2000s lo-fi pop. There are other bits that remind me of mid 1990s dream pop/shoegaze stuff. Other stuff, too. I guess there’s not really one tidy cubby hole to put them in.

Anyway, I really like this song and everything else I’ve heard:
“Open the Door” by DIV I DED

There’s a lot of vocal effects, which may be disguising something, but I like the end result. I’m always a sucker for the soft, gentle voice layered on itself and treated with bits of delay.

Another thing that I really like about this song is sort of a subtle thing. At the end of the first chorus, there’s an almost unnoticeable bit of clean, jangly acoustic guitar. It’s also there at the end of the second chorus, but it’s buried under a bit of heavy, gazey fuzz which carries us through the middle eight section. Still, under all of that fuzz, you can just hear that jangly guitar bit. But if you’re not paying attention and specifically listening for it, it’s easy to miss.

You can download a copy of Transformation via Bandcamp here. By today’s exchange rate, 100 CZK is equal to about $4.08 USD.

April 18, 2017 — “Rote Learning” by Agent Blå

Agent Blå

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Rote Learning” by Agent Blå (2017, from the forthcoming album Agent Blå).
Agent Blå is an indie pop/post-punk/”death pop” quintet from Gothenburg, Sweden. Blå translates to “blue”, and the band’s name might or might not be a reference to the chemical agent used by the US military in the Vietnam War. Agent Blue was used specifically to kill rice paddies by drying out the plants and leaving the fields unsuitable for replanting. But that’s not why we’re here tonight.

The members of the young band are all between the ages of 17 and 20. They met when Felix Skorvald (guitars), Lucas Gustavsson (guitars) and Emilie Alatalo (vocals) were in one band while Josefine Tack (bass/vocals) and Arvid Christensen (drums) were in another band competing against each other at open mic night. Eventually, they bonded over a mutual love of Joy Division and Slowdive, and they combined forces. They released a 7″ single in 2015, and they’re about to release their debut long player on June 9 via Kanine Records (US/Canada) and Luxury Records (Sweden/EU).

I just learned about the band while I was nosing around the Kanine Records website doing research on something else, and I was quite pleased with the serendipitous discovery. As it turns out, although they were under my radar, they’ve been getting high praise over here in advance of the debut album. In the band’s short iteration, they were already generating a bunch of buzz in Sweden since day one of their existence. Along the way, they got the backing of Gustav Data out of Makthaverskan, who produced the debut record.

I’ve only heard two songs from the record, and I like them both. There’s a lot that’s reminiscent of some of the terrific indie-gaze bands from the east coast of the US in the 1990s, and also some of the newer bands who have been reviving and cultivating that sound. On tonight’s song I’m specifically reminded of a less bouncy Gilded Stars and Zealous Hearts-era Velocity Girl, and also of the more contemporary Alvvays.

This is that song:
“Rote Learning” by Agent Blå

I kind of like the muffled sound, despite the fact that it cloaks Alatalo’s voice. I also really appreciate the phaser/flanger/whatever effect on the guitars layered on top of the other effects. That muffled sound is part of why I’m reminded of the great Velocity Girl. Also, Emilie Alatalo does sound a bit like Sarah Shannon. While I can’t quite make out the lyrics, I like the repeated chorus “Tell me what the fuck we’re doing…”, which is sure to be the bit that audiences sing along with.

I’ll be looking forward to the full album and I can’t wait to see what else the band has in store.

You can pre-order Agent Blå via Bandcamp here. Please note that the US LP will be titled Agent Blue, and that the Swedish/EU LP is limited to 250 copies.

April 11, 2017 — “Blurred” by Voices from Deep Below

Voices from Deep Below

If you only listen to one song today, make it “Blurred” by Voices from Deep Below (2017, from the album I Want to Stand Where the Sun Himself Shakes with Fear).

Voices From Deep below is a shoegaze/dreampop/post-rock recording project of Dale Humphries. He’s a Londoner who relocated to NYC several years ago and has been recording as Voices from Deep Below since. I wrote about this project once before a couple of years ago here, and since He’s just released the fifth album, here we are again.

On the other records, Humphries did most, if not all, of the work. On this one, there’s a full band credited, but I think we still talk about Humphries and the band interchangeably.

Although I haven’t been writing much lately, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth and I am trying to pay attention to the mailbag. This one came from the mailbag, which is bulging with unread messages and audio files. I’ll get to that some day.

From what I’ve heard, the previous stuff has some ambient edges and I was reminded just a bit of lovesliescrushing and things of that ilk. On this new one, there’s much more noise. Less pillows. More bricks. Also, the other records have songs of “standard” running times. Most are in the five-minute neighbourhood. The new record has just five songs, and they’re all “long”. Today’s song clocks in at 8:48, and it’s the shortest of the lot.

There’s plenty of the aforementioned “noise” and “bricks”, but there’s also some intermittent softness and serenity. It’s not completely devoid of pillows. Although I’m listening on headphones, I’m sure this is fantastic when played loudly through real speakers.

“Blurred” by Voices from Deep Below

I like the vocals, which are provided by Gioia Lea Gerber, and I like some of the Slowdive-esque guitar bits, but I really like the bits that get really loud. All the different layers upon layers of fuzz and heavily affected guitars at 7:01. That’s my favourite part.

As is the case with the other Voices from Deep Below releases, you can download I Want to Stand Where the Sun Himself Shakes with Fear completely free of charge via Bandcamp here.

April 5, 2017 — “Bath Bomb” by Diet Cig

Diet Cig

If you only listen to one song tonight, make it “Bath Bomb” by Diet Cig (2017, from the forthcoming album Swear I’m Good at This).

Diet Cig is a pop-punk/indie-pop/cuddlepunk duo from New Paltz, New York. They are Alex Luciano (guitar/vocals) and Noah Bowman (drums), and they’re one of my most favourite special new bands. You may remember that I’ve raved about them before here, in 2015, and here again last year. I also had a lot to say about their scorching and exuberant set at Hopscotch 2016. It was, by far, my favourite set of the festival. Beach House was great. Beach Slang was awesome. Car Seat Headrest was a lot of fun. Wye Oak was brilliant. I saw Kid Millions about five times, and he was amazing. All of those and everything else paled in comparison to the Diet Cig set. They were the thing that I was most looking forward to at that festival, and they exceeded my expectations by miles.

A few months ago, I was delighted to see their debut album on the list of new releases for 2017. The album — Swear I’m Good at This— comes out on Friday via the magnificent Father/Daughter Records. That label, if you’re scoring along at home, is home to many of the bands that have made my year-end lists over the past couple of years. I know I didn’t actually publish a list for 2016, but there’s a few Father/Daughter albums this year that have already secured spots in my 2017 year-end list. This is one of them.

I’ve managed to get my ears on Swear I’m Good at This a couple of days early, and I absolutely love it. It’s got everything that I loved about the Over Easy EP, but it’s even better.

I’ve listened to most of the album already and I love all of it. But when I got to “Bath Bomb”, I couldn’t go any further. I had to keep playing the song again and again. And again. It’s got the quiet/loud/quiet/louder thing going on. It’s got all the bounciness and sheer joy that I’ve come to expect from Diet Cig. And it’s about lying in the bath for a long time until your fingers prune.

Because the album isn’t out yet, there isn’t a sharable audio of the song, but there’s a video of them playing live in some studio. It’s slightly cleaner and brighter than the DIY sound of the album’s version, but don’t hold that against it. It’s brilliant. This is that song:

“Bath Bomb” by Diet Cig

I love that it starts quietly with just a tiny bit of fuzz in Alex’s gently played guitar while Noah plays the kit with mallets. It builds to a low roar before getting quiet again. After she yells “I’m sorry”, the hammer drops and all sonic hell gloriously breaks loose. Noah switches to regular sticks and Alex goes into full “loud” mode. In the album version of the song, she yells “I’m sorry” off mic. It’s muffled, almost as if she’s in a different room. During the quieter bits of the album version, you can hear a little bit of buzz from some piece of equipment, which gives it a bit of a bedroom recording quality. Compare those things to the lush, bright quality of this version. As cool as this version is, I really prefer the rusticity of the album version.

The band is on tour of the US this spring, and you should absolutely see them if you have a chance.

You can pre-order Swear I’m Good at This on vinyl, CD, cassette or digital download via Bandcamp here.

March 16, 2017 — “Welcoming The Flowers” by Spectres


If you only listen to one song today, make it “Welcoming The Flowers” by Spectres (2017, from the album Condition).

Spectres is a shoegaze/noise pop quartet from Bristol. It’s often said that Spectres sounds very much like a mix of Psychocandy-era JAMC and the early 90s-era Sonic Youth, with a little A Place to Bury Strangers mixed in. They should not be confused with the Vancouver post-punk five piece of the same name.

Their 2015 debut long player Dying was a massive success for them. The album was very eagerly anticipated by the UK noise/gaze community, and multiple pressings of that record in both vinyl and CD format sold out as fast as they came off the production line. The new album, which came out on March 10 via Sonic Cathedral, was also eagerly anticipated by fans. So far, the press has given the album warm reviews, but these guys care more about what the fans think than what the press thinks.

I haven’t given the entire album a thorough listen, but what I have heard is exactly what I was expecting. Unrelenting noise with occasional bursts of discernible melodies. It’s heavy, sweaty, smokey, and dark. It’s meant to be played very loudly.

There are bits on this new album that swing very close to the Sonic Youth side of their equation, but today’s song is closer to APTBS. This is that song:
“Welcoming The Flowers” by Spectres

Right out of the gate, it’s unapologetic about how loud it is. It’s jarring, and the intro sounds almost like some Japanese black metal band. It shifts gears a little at around 0:12, and there’s a lot more feedback and squelch and other “noise” added. Then when the vocals come in, there’s another tiny gear shift. It maintains its insane noise level by using a lot more drone-y fuzz.

I really like this, but because of the noise factor, it’s one of those things that’s not conducive to consecutive plays and replays. You’ll definitely need a break after listening to this album. That said, you should get the album, and you can do so by visiting these Sonic Cathedral links:
Condition on vinyl
on CD
digital download

%d bloggers like this: