No Age Are Back to Not Taking Themselves Seriously on ‘Snares Like a Haircut’ | Exclaim! | January 23, 2018

No Age Are Back to Not Taking Themselves Seriously on 'Snares Like a Haircut'
Photo: Aaron Farley

A decade ago, No Age defined everything that was great about late ’00s indie rock; the duo’s first three releases, Weirdo Rippers, Nouns and Everything in Between blended stripped-down experimentation with snooty punk rock, gaining overwhelmingly positive reviews in the process. After putting out the minimalist, challenging and underwhelmed An Object in 2013, drummer/vocalist Dean Spunt and guitarist Randy Randall took a sabbatical before returning with their latest, Snares Like a Haircut. Their first LP in five years finds the band returning to their roots, cutting a dozen tracks that triumphantly rekindle the band’s penchant for anthemic, high-energy crowd-pleasing rock.

“We were very aware that we wanted to write a collection of songs that we could play live,” Randall tells Exclaim! “So when we recorded them, they had this sort of feeling through the artwork and the overall vibe, it was us being kinda loose and not so serious and having fun.”

From the overdriven shoegaze glaze that covers album opener “Cruise Control” to the arena-sized drum sound on single “Soft Collar Fad” to Spunt’s bombastic vocals on “Secret Swamp,” No Age come off as confident and relaxed as they’ve ever sounded.

“We didn’t have that urgency, the feeling that everything and the kitchen sink had to go on this record,” says Randall. “The past three records we made were sort of close to each other, like, ‘Make a record, tour for a year and then record and then write another record right away,’ you don’t have time to really live, to spend time at home with friends and family.”

After a prolonged break in which Spunt and Randall each welcomed a son, the two-piece returned to the road in 2017, testing out new material for hungry audiences. “That had always been something that we’ve talked about, because we noticed, ‘Man, the songs always sound better at the end of the tour,'” Randall says about the writing process. “We also wanted to create that vibe like, ‘Let’s go out for a week and play these new songs every night live and let that kinda help shape the songs and how we play and how the performance is on the record.'”

Although Randall dismisses the notion that nostalgia for the early days of No Age helped shape the new songs, he does admit that they’ve been looking back at their fruitful career through their own droll lens. “We understand that this is just one album, one document, and then we’ll make another one, but I think that the name of the album, Snares Like a Haircut is a comment on time. It was a joke that we came up with that the sound of a snare drum is indicative of when a record was made, the same way a haircut does. We’re not the same serious young artists that we were, so I think that there is this self-reflective kind of humour in a lot of things we do.”

Snares Like a Haircut comes out January 26 on Drag City.


First Aid Kit Enlist R.E.M. and Wilco Members for Heartbroken ‘Ruins’ | Exclaim! | January 15, 2018

First Aid Kit Enlist R.E.M. and Wilco Members for Heartbroken ‘Ruins’

First Aid Kit Enlist R.E.M. and Wilco Members for Heartbroken 'Ruins'

Since they uploaded their cover of Fleet Foxes‘ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” to YouTube in 2008, First Aid Kit have been riding a non-stop wave of good fortune and excellent songwriting that found the Söderberg sisters gaining some high-profile fans, working with Conor OberstJack White and Fever Ray‘s Karin Dreijer throughout their inaugural seven-year run.

After taking a nearly four-year break between 2014’s Stay Gold and their latest, Ruins, the Swedish duo have begun a new chapter in their career, complete with a new cast of collaborators.

“Klara and I were burned out so we took a little break,” vocalist and guitarist Johanna Söderberg tells Exclaim! “We just told ourselves that we didn’t have to write any songs, no pressure, and that the next album would take however long it was going to take. We wanted to work with someone new, just to get out of our comfort zone with [longtime producer] Mike Mogis”

Travelling to L.A, Johanna and Klara penned the majority of the 10-track album and recorded it with Tucker Martine (the DecemberistsMy Morning JacketLaura Veirs). As the veteran producer brought in an impressive backing band — comprising R.E.M.‘s Peter Buck, McKenzie Smith of Midlake and Wilcodrummer Glenn Kotche — Johanna originally felt intimidated by the prospect of working with some of her heroes.

“When you have so much respect for someone, you’re like ‘ugh!’ — you wonder if the songs are good enough, but it worked really well and we kinda instantly knew from the first day of tracking that it was the right decision.”

Their fourth LP found the five musicians laying down a looser and more trodden version of First Aid Kit’s harmony-drenched alt country, something the younger Söderberg sister says perfectly matches the mood presented throughout.

“Our previous records, Stay Gold and Lion’s Roarwere polished and perfect and we wanted to get away from that a little bit, we wanted to get the sadness and the pain across.”

The “sadness and pain” Klara alludes to comes from a serious breakup she went through before recording the new album, an event that would permeate much of the record’s feel, from the soaring melancholy of “It’s a Shame” to the gentle and honest title track.

But it’s the autobiographical nature of the lyrics, paired with the rawness of the arrangements that makes Ruins such a powerful and arresting listen, something Klara surprisingly describes as a bit liberating.

“I think you gain a lot of perspective about things when you write about them. When we’re singing about something that’s hard and you can tell that other people have taken it to heart and relate to it. It becomes something bigger than something that you’re experiencing, it feels beautiful in a way.”

Ruins is out January 19 on Columbia.

First Aid Kit – Ruins | Exclaim! | January 2018

First Aid Kit


First Aid Kit Ruins



It appears that 2018 will mark a sort of rebirth year for First Aid Kit. After scoring glowing reviews for their last two LPs (2012’s The Lion’s Roar and 2014’s Stay Gold) the Swedish duo have moved on from longtime producer Mike Mogis to work with Tucker Martine (the Decemberists, My Morning Jacket, Modest Mouse), giving their brand of shimmering alt-country a more raw and live feel.

Despite the new sonic scope of their latest LP, Ruins stands as the most intimate and introspective album to date for the Söderberg sisters. Largely written about guitarist and co-vocalist Klara Söderberg’s recent breakup, the ten-track LP treats heartache with a rather sunny disposition, wonderfully established by the Bakersfield Sound veneer of “It’s a Shame,” the piano-drenched Muscle Shoals tribute “Postcard” and the gang vocal outro of the potent “Hem of Her Dress.”

Not only do Klara and Johanna adroitly utilize a wealth of instrumentation on the album — “Fireworks” benefits wonderfully from sweeping hits of strings and “Distant Star” features an organ sound that propels the song into harmonic bliss — but they also bring a terrific backing band into the mix (featuring R.E.M’s Peter Buck, Wilco’s Glenn Kotche and Midlake’s McKenzie Smith) helping them experiment with a variety of writing styles and modes, while mixing ambient sounds into Martine’s punchy production sound.

Lyrically and sonically, Ruins helps First Aid Kit gives listeners a mature, realized and often heartbreaking version of this young band’s oeuvre. (Columbia)


Sills & Smith – Maps – Burned or Lost | Exclaim! | January 2018

Sills & Smith

Maps – Burned or Lost

Sills & Smith Maps - Burned or Lost



Six albums in, and Jeremy Sills and Frank Smith still seem to be discovering themselves musically. With their latest LP, Maps – Burned or Lost, the Ottawa duo have tapped the fruits of their patience, crafting a whopping 70 minutes of music that finds each track unfolding and revealing itself at a pleasingly woozy pace.

Bringing in a handful of exceptionally tenured and celebrated local guest musicians, including Jesse Stewart on percussion, Marianne Dumas on keyboards and Petr Cancura on mandolin, Maps – Burned or Lost is instrumentally expansive and sonically adventurous. Producer Phillip Victor Bova gives many of the album’s 14 songs an arrestingly distant and cavernous vocal sound, courtesy of Frank Smith. The vocalist provides listeners with a clear-eyed vision that works off of surprisingly percussive and dusty delivery for an album so polished and well-sequenced, as noted on “Miss Us” and “On the Edge.”

Although Sills & Smith have often been described as prog rock enthusiasts, the band take their sweet time on Maps – Burned or Lost, assuring that a cornucopia of sounds and genres are represented while simultaneously matching the sensibilities of these accomplished musicians impeccably. (Independent)


Diane Motel – Lonesome for the Colour | Exclaim! | December, 2017

Diane Motel

Lonesome for the Colour

Diane Motel Lonesome for the Colour



The music of Diane Motel is so precisely assembled, so patiently delivered and so uncomplicated in its arrangements that there’s almost a purity to it. Lonesome for the Colour, the debut from the Windsor, ON folk quintet, is a sturdy listen built upon collating strings, courtesy of guitarist Josh Fraser and co-vocals Travis Laver, and tightly-wound melodies courtesy of Jo Meloche.

Tracks like opener “Jar Me Awake” and “Saint of the Coast” benefit from refreshingly simple song structures reminiscent of salt-of-the-earth early ’90s acts like the Vulgar Boatmen or Caitlin Cary, giving extra weight to the album’s grittier moments, like the hypnotic electric guitar and whirling piano outro of “Northumberland County” and the yearning harmonies of “Kinsey’s Cabin.”

Meloche takes a solo turn of the Celtic-tinged short-runner “Wishing Wells,” perfectly sequenced in the middle of this 11-track/37-minute album, as the back half of the LP becomes moodier, but also more digestible, highlighted by the sparse and confessional “For Annie Tee” and the beautiful barefoot-tapper “Daffodil.”

On Lonesome for the Colour Diane Motel are completely comfortable and capable of baring their souls, and they want you to hear every note and every moment. (Independent)


Julie Doiron & the Wrong Guys @ 27 Club | Exclaim! | December 15, 2017

Julie Doiron & the Wrong Guys / Mushy Gushy / Saint Clare27 Club, Ottawa ON, December 15

Julie Doiron & the Wrong Guys / Mushy Gushy / Saint Clare 27 Club, Ottawa ON, December 15
Photo: Kamara Morozuk



Perhaps what has kept the music of Julie Doiron feeling so fresh over the decades is her ability to deliver such divergent facets of her musical persona. Teaming up with punk troubadour Eamon McGrath, alongside bassist Jaye Schwarzer and drummer Mike Peters from hardcore band Cancer Bats — aka the Wrong Guys — Doiron has returned to the loud and noisy sounds explored during her time as bassist and co-vocalist of Canadian indie royalty Eric’s Trip, and she brought them to Ottawa’s 27 Club last night (December 15).

Competing with the city’s first weekend cold snap of the season and an outdoor NHL alumni game on nearby Parliament Hill, the venue looked roomy and bare by the time local openers Saint Clare hit the stage. Boasting both a trombonist and synth player, the sextet smeared together a smattering of genres that ranged from early ’00s Midwestern garage to heartland rock and (inevitably) ska, holding things together admirably throughout their 30-minute set.

Mushy Gushy, another Ottawa act, looked even more confident and sanguine as the four-piece delivered a set of classic indie rock, musically referencing everything from the Feelies to Lee Ranaldo-led Sonic Youth to Parquet Courts, giving the slowly growing crowd a taste of their brilliantly constructed and intricately written songs.

Entering the stage with her iconic eye-covering bangs and black jeans, Julie Doiron and her new bandmates opened the set with the high-voltage “Love and Learning” from their self-titled album, which found Doiron straining her voice to shout out the song’s post-chorus, “But I can’t stay, no I can’t stay!” Following up with the half-spoken, half-shouted “You Wanted What I Wanted,” Doiron showed off her best Kim Gordon impression, pogoing in front of her mic.

As the band ran through their debut, the crowd lovingly absorbed the tender and powerfully building “Tracing My Own Lines,” which saw McGrath move over to keyboards and Schwarzer to guitar. They played tracks from her solo career, too, including the fitting “The Wrong Guy” from 2007’s I Woke Myself Up, which benefitted well from Schwarzer’s anchoring chorded-bass playing.

Closing the set off with a stunning rendition of “Farther From You” that saw McGrath take co-lead vocals and the Eric’s Trip sound-alike “Hope Floats,” Doiron looked completely in her element — even though she’s never allowed herself to be defined by any sort of element.


Top 10 Dance & Electronic Albums of 2017 | Daphni – Joli Mai | Exclaim! | December 6, 2017

10. Daphni
Joli Mai

Released earlier in the year, Dan Snaith (aka Caribou, aka Daphni) put out Fabriclive 93, a collection of unreleased edits taken from his deep vault, rounded out with a handful of tracks from like-minded artists. On Joli Mai, Snaith cherry-picks 11 of those 23 tracks, giving the listener wide-eyed full-length versions of these inventive, hypnotic old-school techno bangers.

The sophomore LP under Snaith’s Daphni moniker benefits profoundly from the immediacy with which these cuts were constructed and the intimacy with which they’re presented. Joli Mai is a majestic extended edition of 2017’s best DJ mix.
Daniel Sylvester