Thundercat- Drunk | Exclaim! | February 2017

Thundercat

Drunk

ThundercatDrunk
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In the four years since Stephen Bruner (aka Thundercat), released his last long-player, Apocalypse, he’s become an in-demand session bass player, guesting on over a dozen albums including already-classics such as Flying Lotus’s You’re Dead!, Kamasi Washington’s The Epic and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. On his latest album, Drunk, Bruner has expertly used these hustling years to grow his ever-advancing craft, allowing freewheeling collaborations with Kendrick Lamar, Wiz Khalifa, Pharrell, Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins to come off impeccably and seamlessly woven from the same sonic cloth.

Although his past few releases have parenthetically employed guest musicians, Drunk finds Bruner bringing many of these collaborations front and centre, as he seemingly absorbs their unique personalities, giving the listener some of the most varied, inventive and enjoyable Thundercat material to date. Despite the fact that the L.A. multi-instrumentalist prefers to keep his creations short and compact (cramming in 23 tracks in 50 minutes), Bruner manages to maintain a constant groove while cycling through novel ideas, never leaning too hard on his trademark bass noodling.

Much of the album — including the IDM-jazzers “Uh Uh” and “Blackkk,” the soft rock-tinted “Lava Lamp” and “Show You the Way” and the loose lyrics of “Tokyo” and “Drunk” — sounds extremely focused and pensive. No matter how many musicians he showcases, no matter how many sonic avenues he takes, no matter how many tracks he squeezes in, Thundercat sounds undeniably and defiantly like no other on Drunk. (Brainfeeder)

Bill Hicks- Sane Man | Exclaim! | October, 2016

Bill HicksSane Man

Bill HicksSane Man
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Since his untimely death in 1994, Bill Hicks has been recognized as one of the most celebrated and iconic comedians off all time. And although there’s been some great unearthed material released since (including seven posthumous comedy LPs), Hicks was always at his sharpest, smartest and most vitriolic when the cameras were running.

Despite the fact that his first recorded special — released on VHS in 1989 and filmed in his home state of Texas — suffers from poor sound and editing, it’s riveting and gratifying to watch Hicks in the midst of his transition from hackneyed joke-slinger to political pariah.

Opening with a voice-over speech — on top of footage of Hicks traveling from city to city on his Flying Saucer Tour — about how he would hijack a plane just to get his destination on time, gives the viewer a glimpse into just how subversive and fearless Hicks comedy was, even from the beginning. Although he starts off with a bit of obvious humour on how he once saw someone selling dirt in Tennessee, he incorporates it into a larger narrative about his perceived notion that American Southerners are almost exclusively hillbillies, giving a hilarious impression of a waitress asking him “What are you reading for?”

But once he launches into his now famous pro-smoking and pro-drinking-and-driving run (with the former later adopted by Dennis Leary), he demands complete control of the audience as the crowd squeals in laughter and shock. Although throughout the 60-minute set, Hicks never ventures too deeply into the coiled and politically-charged psyche he’ll later been known for, only briefly touching on Bush Sr.’s “war on drugs” and a few of his own drug stories, Hicks still manages to come off hilariously sardonic and opportune.

For all of its surface flaws, his debut special shows how — even in his comedic infancy — Hicks was a one-of-a-kind comedian: clearly brave, clearly relevant and pretty clearly not a sane man.

The Sklar Brothers- What Are We Talking About? | Exclaim! | October, 2016

The Sklar Brothers

What Are We Talking About?

The Sklar BrothersWhat Are We Talking About?
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Randy and Jason Sklar have managed to occupy a unique space in the comedy landscape. Aside from the fact that they perform as a twin brother team, the St. Louis-raised duo have incorporated their love and knowledge of sports into their act.

Following their mid-2000s ESPN program, Cheap Seats, the Sklar Brothers have created a sizable following thanks to their fill-in hosting spots on Jim Rome’s syndicated radio show, along with their popular Earwolf podcast Sklarbro Country.

Over the last dozen years, Randy and Jason have also managed to release four standup specials; their latest is 2014’s Netflix exclusive, What Are We Talking About? Recorded at the  snug 600-seat Majestic Theatre in Madison, Wisconsin, the Sklars deliver 50 minutes of standup (including clever, if not overly funny, pre- and post-game shows) that finds the brothers wholesomely and cheerfully covering sports jokes, sports metaphors and spots stories… and a bunch of other things not necessarily sports related.

If you’re a fan of these topics, the Sklar Brothers’ humour comes off laser sharp and focused, as they point out ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith’s breathless arguing style and “the ball” that Lance Armstrong must have for acting so smug after being stripped of his records.

The brothers’ dual delivery style remains captivating and original, as Randy and Jason play off each other magnificently, finishing one another’s jokes and adding to the other’s punch lines, creating a situation akin to listening in to the world’s most agreeable, synced-in sports radio show.

But when the Sklars aren’t making jokes about Allen Iverson and Richard Simmons, they come off painfully middle-of-the-road, flopping on anecdotes about how the pure existence of an Old Navy outlet store is redundant or who should be in the “Mullet Hall of Fame.” What Are We Talking About? manages to demonstrate a simple truth about the Sklar Brothers; they’re funny sports fans more than they are sporty funnymen.

Blonde Redhead- Masculin Féminin | Exclaim! | September, 2016

Blonde Redhead

Masculin Féminin

Blonde RedheadMasculin Féminin
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Over the past few years, Numero Group has unearthed out-of-print discographies from ’80s and ’90s gems like the Scientists, Bedhead and Codeine, bringing these nearly forgotten groups a whole new audience, and most importantly, a new home on vinyl. But much like the Chicago label’s terrific White Zombie collection, released in June, Masculin Féminin focuses exclusively on the early years from NYC indie noise combo Blonde Redhead.

This sprawling 37-track collection focuses on the band’s first two albums, Blonde Redhead and La Mia Vita Violenta — both released in 1995 and both released through Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley’s Smells Like record label. The Blonde Redhead of today are a lush, cinematic outfit defined by guitarist/vocalists Kazu Makino and Amedeo Pace’s corporeal musical chemistry, backed by with Simone Pace’s ultra-fluid drumming, but the Blonde Redhead of yore were still finding their sound, and much of their material either came off like Guy Picciotto-led Fugazi (who would co-produce two of their later LPs) or Kim Gordon-led Sonic Youth (Shelly would produce their self-titled LP). And yet, their dedication to sound experimentation can’t be denied.

On their early singles, B-sides, demos and sessions, Blonde Redhead came off much looser and original, and thankfully, Masculin Féminin is loaded with them, as the collection features a whopping 19 non-album tracks, many of them featured on vinyl for the first time. Topped off with exhaustive liner notes with essays and photos, Masculin Féminin is specifically designed for completists, providing superfans a satisfying wealth of unreleased material. (Numero Group)

Trentemøller- Fixion | Exclaim! | September, 2016

Trentemøller

TrentemøllerFixion
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Since the release of his guest-heavy third album in 2013, Lost, Anders Trentemøller’s stock has risen considerably. The Danish producer supported Depeche Mode throughout their last European stadium tour, then provided the theme music to AMC series Halt and Catch Fire. It should thus come as no surprise that Fixion, Trentemøller’s fourth album in ten years, comes off much more confident and cinematic, using his experiences over the past few years to help shape these 12 tracks.

Most notably, Trentemøller brings back frequent collaborator Marie Fisker to provide vocals for four tracks, as he plays off of her dreamy, breathy vocals with layers of shimmering synth, echoed guitars and processed drums that closely resemble ’80s new wave and synth pop. Former Giana Factory vocalist Lisbet Fritze, with whom he’s worked over the past few years — he produced her band’s 2014 LP Lemon Moon and recruited her to play guitar during his last tour —  provides vocals here, but overall, she feels a bit misused; Trentemøller fails to draw anything from her performances that he doesn’t receive from Fisker.

“River in Me,” his collaboration with Savages’ Jehnny Beth, helps break the album away from its early monotony, as he trades floating rhythms for sharp phrasings and pulsating beats. Although instrumentals like “November” and “Spinning” mimic dark ’80s soundtrack works that have been popular as of late, much of Fixion, while enjoyable, finds Trentemøller stuck on the same weary note, reaching for what’s comfortable and familiar rather than pushing his craft forward. (In My Room)

Sloan @ Festival Village | Exclaim! | August 20, 2016

Sloan

Festival Village, Ottawa ON, August 19

SloanFestival Village, Ottawa ON, August 19
Photo: Kamara Morozuk
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In a summer saturated with festivals, Arboretum may be Ottawa’s hippest. Moving locations across the city since its inception in 2012, the five-day arts showcase has now set up headquarters on the grounds of City Hall, bringing in a lineup of taste-making artists like Mykki Blanco, Junglepussy, Doomsquad, Dilly Dally and Tim Hecker. So, it seemed like a curious — but ultimately rewarding — move to bring in Gen X indie heroes Sloan for a Friday night appearance.

In the midst of their One Chord to Another 20th anniversary tour, Sloan was called upon to serve double duty, stepping up to play two full sets after a last minute pull-out from headliners METZ.  Joined onstage by longtime keyboardist Gregory Macdonald, Sloan launched into One Chord to Another opener “The Good in Everyone.”

Playing their iconic 1996 album in full, the quartet breezed through “Autobiography,” “Junior Panthers” and “G Turns to D” before hitting a brief rough patch during “A Side Wins”, which found drummer Andrew Scott moving to the front of the stage to raggedly sneer out the vocals.

But when the band played singles “Everything You’ve Done Wrong” and “The Lines You Amend” (with the latter featuring two local horn players) the energy escalated, and bassist Chris Murphy won onlookers over with his sappy stage demeanour.

These good vibes immediately transferred to the band’s second set, which found them focusing on their most beloved material — including “Losing California,” “Penpals,” “Coax Me” and “I Hate My Generation.”

After an announcement that Scott had to sit out the second set due to a foot injury, the Golden Dogs’ drummer Taylor Knox filled in, tearing it up behind the skins. Following the undisputed crowd favourite, “Money City Maniacs,” Scott returned to the stage to sing “People of the Sky” and “Sensory Deprivation,” but fell behind a bit on the songs’ melodies. Coupled with Murphy’s unbridled, fill-filled drumming style, both tracks came off as noisy, loose and teetering-on-disastrous.

But ultimately conquering those lows seemed to inject even more vigour into their set, giving newer singles like “Unkind” and “Who Taught You to Live Like That” as much of a rapturous response as classics like “The Other Man” and Underwhelmed.”

Despite the double set verging on two hours, Sloan proved themselves seasoned vets and delivered a thoroughly entertaining performance in spite of any stumbles. No other band in Canada could have handled it with such grace, humour and straight-up experience.

of Montreal- Innocence Reaches | Exclaim! | August 2016

Of Montreal

Innocence Reaches

Of MontrealInnocence Reaches
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of Montreal have been undergoing a slight identity crisis this past decade. After 2010’s False Priest shot for muddy R&B and 2012’sParalytic Stalks ventured into dark experimental music, the Athens, Georgia quintet reached back to sunnier times for their last two albums, recreating their kaleidoscopic ’90s-era sound for 2013’s Lousy With Sylvianbriarand their sunny ’00 days for 2015’s Aureate Gloom. It’s thus understandable that one might approach Innocence Reaches, the band’s 14th LP, with a level of scepticism.

Influenced, according to songwriter and vocalist Kevin Barnes, by the EDM, IDM and indie pop sounds of artists like Jack Ü, Arca and Chairlift, Innocence Reachesfinds of Montreal piling on layers of dense beats, left-field rhythms and low-end synth to their eternally groovy sound. But aside from the album’s few electro-saturated tracks (which make up most of the album’s standout material) — “Let’s Relate,” “It’s Different for Girls” and “Trashed Exes” — Innocence Reachesstill bears the positive traits that characterize most of Montreal albums released in the past decade: Barnes’ lyrics still come off heartbreakingly confessional (“Ambassador Bridge”), his melodies are sometimes still too crowded (“Def Pacts”) and there are old-fashioned guitar leads in “Gratuitous Abysses” and “Les Chants de Maldoror.”

Throughout the album’s 12 tracks, of Montreal manage to come off inspired, inventive, re-energized and wide-eyed on Innocence Reaches, utilizing new sounds rather than rehashing old ideas. (Polyvinyl)