Album Review: The Elwins – Play For Keeps (2015, Hidden Pony Records)

Posted on by Celeste in Albums | 1 Comment

The Elwins - Play For Keeps ART

A week ago I gave The Elwins’ upcoming album Play for Keeps a listen, and right off the bat I liked it, but I felt too lazy to write a review. Today, a week later, I was browsing through my music library and saw that I had played the album through in its entirety … 22 times. I’ve listened to this album 3 times per day for the past week. Time to put pen to paper.

On the surface everything about the Elwins’ second studio album is whimsical, light, and fizzy, from the colorful building blocks on the album cover (which read all the way through says “The Elwins Play For Keeps” – Baller) to the first bouncing beats of “Bubble.” The fivesome from Ontario produce indie pop that brings to mind Pop Rocks and Coke: crunchy, sweet, sizzling with good humor and fun, and crackling wickedly with energy.

But like any semi-explosive concoction, there’s an element of complex and dark inner workings to the tracks. While the Elwins produce a form of breezy, infectious pop with ease, it’s layered over an underlying current of darker questions and revelations, and it’s this pairing of light and dark that makes the music stick with you.

The album kicks off with “Bubble,” an effervescent tribute to love, but love that takes you too high too fast, Icarus style: “You fill me up, I fly away/you get me high, I feel the rays/I know I’ll pop, I know I’ll fall/but in this flash, I’ve got it all.” With its deceptively summery beat and addictive rolling gait, the song sends you headlong into the album with abandon.

And abandon is a necessary component if you’re listening to the album – this is not background music. As much as the tracks may have a darker side to them, it never obscures the fun of the music – in fact it enhances it. Spilling over with vibrant and hooky guitar, the tracks are nothing if not catchy. Every time I listen to track 5 of this album “Bringing Out The Shoulders” no matter where I am, in public or private, I have to give a back and forth hair whip at 0:34 to the beat drop that comes along with the question “how much longer/will I have to wander?”. Track 4 “So Down Low” also plays into the breezy but dark theme, with the band explaining that it’s about trying to do the right thing, but ultimately failing and knowing that you’re failing.

Much like the shining star in the last track, or the bubble floating into the sun on the first track, at under 40 minutes Play for Keeps is a short but brightly burning thing of beauty. The album drops February 24th on Hidden Pony Records. Give it a listen. Or 22.

Standout tracks: “Bubble”, “So Down Low”, “It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over”, “Bringing Out The Shoulders”, “Is there Something?”

Album Review: Robyn Hitchcock – The Man Upstairs (2014, Yep Roc)

Posted on by Paul in Albums | Leave a comment


Just call it Old Man Week here at the Panic Manual. This week has seen live reviews of Tom Petty and April Wine along with Ricky’s reminscences of mail order music clubs and ’90s Canrock footnote Zuckerbaby, so in keeping with that vague theme (it’s like Shark Week, but with grey hair and guitars), let’s take a look at the latest release from another veteran performer, Robyn Hitchcock.

For The Man Upstairs, Hitchcock partnered up with famed producer Joe Boyd, known for his work with Fairport Convention, The Incredible String Band, and Nick Drake among many others and in some ways it shares the spirit and the sound of those records. As they began working together, Boyd suggested a “Judy Collins” album, referring to the folk singer’s tendency to feature a mix of originals and covers of both well known and lesser known songs on her 60s and 70s records.  Instead of an album full of Dylan, Lightfoot and Phil Ochs songs, however, Hitchcock tries his hand at songs from the like of Grant Lee Phillips, Roxy Music and The Doors. Of the covers, opening track “The Ghost In You” is the highlight with Hitchcock wringing some real pathos out of the Psychedelic Furs’ 1984 hit and transforming it into a beautiful ballad. He follows that up with “San Francisco Patrol,” the strongest song of the entire collection with it’s memorable refrain of “I can’t take my eyes off you.”

Sure, I may joke about the fact that we’ve covered mostly music by “old men” this week, but The Man Upstairs, the product of a musician who’s been playing and recording since the ’70s and a producer with an even longer tenure, is evidence of a still vital and compelling artist.

Album Review: Prism – Prism (1977, GRT Records)

Posted on by Paul in Albums, Classic Albums | Leave a comment


When I found out that Ricky would be doing a full track by track review of Prism, I got a little excited – finally, Panic Manual is writing about some real music and giving 70s/80s Canadian rockers Prism their due.  Way to go, you spaceship superstars!

Then I realized that the Prism album that the internet’s been all aflutter about was in fact the new Katy Perry album.  WTF?  People are still talking about Katy Perry?  I mean, I liked “Hot And Cold” just fine, but let’s move on people.  And of course by move on, I mean take an in depth look at a 36 year old album.  Let’s break it down:

Spaceship Superstar 

The album opens with the synth bleeps and bloops of what would come to be the band’s signature track. It’s a pretty groovin’ little number, a synth enhanced rocker with great lyrical gems such as “Every night is a different flight to a different galaxy/Do a sold-out show, then I hit the road in my starship limousine” and lines about “a solar-powered laser beam guitar.” Come to think of it, those lyrics wouldn’t necesarily be out of place in a Katy Perry song. If you don’t just want to take my word for it about this song though, take the word of those who know: the Youtube commenters. Yes, Youtube comments, where the truest music criticism lives:

“There’s just something that seperates Canadian rock from American rock… IMO old Canadian bands are much more relaxing to listen to, sitting outside on a hot day smoking some herb listening to April Wine, the Guess Who, etc, etc.. is the best” – spidersilva420

“im 13 and i love this song and older artists” – GoBro or GoHome

“Nobody gives a fuck” – Nathan Hines (in reply to GoBro or GoHome)

Open Soul Surgery

This song sounds like Axl Rose fronting Foghat.  Which is awesome, obviously.

It’s Over

A soaring soft rock power ballad. You can never get enough of those. I’m sure this one must have killed at those ’70s high school dances.

And Prism’s past life as a jazz rock band rears it’s head as the horns come in here.  Though if I had to choose between songs called “Freewill” written by Canadian bands, I’m sorry, Prism, but Rush takes it.

Take Me To The Kaptin
Every rock band worth it’s salt has to have at least one song with a purposely misspelled word in the title if not an album title or the bands name itself.  Like “Cum On Feel The Noize” or Thank You (Fallettinme Be Mice Elf Again).”  Or The Beatles.  We will not speak of Korn though.  We will never speak of Korn, no.

The band gets all deep and poetic and historical with a song about Russia.

More lyrical brilliance as they rhyme “Amelia” with “I can feel ya.”  You may think I’m joking here but I’m not.  Well, not entirely anyways.

You’d think the band might want to separate the songs with girl’s names as titles so they’re not all lumped together, but whatever.

I Ain’t Lookin’ Anymore
The opening riff of this is dangerously close to the opening of BTO’s “Let It Ride.”  More sweet horn parts in this one.  I ain’t writin’ anymore.

Overall, this is a pretty sweet, perhaps underappreciated gem in the Canrock cannon.  Worth a listen if you can find it in a dollar bin somewhere.  Or, y’know, if you have the internet.  Stay tuned for the inevitable reviews of Ian Thomas, Chilliwack, and Michel Pagliaro.


Album Review: Katy Perry – Prism [2013]

Posted on by Ricky in Albums | Leave a comment


I don’t know why, but I like Katy Perry. This is her third album and it’s called Prism. So many NSA jokes. Most indie blogs would laugh at the concept of listening to a pop album, but we have no shame. It’s an interesting time for Katy Perry. Does anyone ever refer to her by her first name? Her contemporaries have really gone off the edge recently in terms of well, being Rhianna/Lady Gaga and now she’s gotta fend off Miley. While both those artist seem interested in pushing the boundaries further and further, Katy has stayed within her comfort zone and produced another completely non controversial album. Who will win? who knows. Who cares actually.

Here are my thoughts as I listened to Prism for the first and maybe last time.

Everyone’s heard this song about 100 times already. It’s probably about Russell Brand, and probably one of those rah rah songs that girls have at their chocolate ice cream Ben & Jerry parties whenever one of their friends has a breakup. This song is incredibly catchy and primed for some stadium sing alongs.

Legendary Lovers
First off, anything with the word Legendary in it has to be delivered Barney Stinson style. This track has some bad pseudo rapping that I thought only Robbie Williams was capable of. Is that a sitar in the background? This sounds like song that Pink rejected for some reason. The high notes that Katy attempts in this song sound awkward and painful. There’s some sort of tribal interlude in this song that makes me think the music video will feature Katy Perry on some sort of Native plains dressed as pocahontas or something. That’s not too bad, now that I think about it.

Katy dials it back to the 80’s with this song. This song is most definitely going to be played at a lot of teenager’s birthday parties this year. It’s a really good strategy to write songs around things that you know will happen yearly. I mean, let’s look at 50 Cent’s “In Da Club”, everyone still does the “go shorty, it’s your birthday”. If you told me this song was from 1987 and was on the Facts of Life show, I would totally have accept it to be true. “It’s time to bring out the big balloons” I wonder what that is referring to.

Walking on Air
Enter the club track. Shoulda hired Calvin Harris. He might be expensive but he delivers. The buildup/breakdown is just not there. This sounds more like a track you hear on Chris Sheppard’s pirate radio. This could actually be a Love Inc. cover.

Very awkward chorus as Katy tries to make “Unconditionally” work. Stop trying to make “Unconditionally” work, Katy. It’s an awkward word. Run of the mill slow ballad that is made worse by the odd usage of “unconditionally”. Worse track so far on this otherwise decent record.

Dark horse
Who the fuck is Juicy J? Why is he introducing this song. When Rihanna has a rapper introduce her, it’s Jay Z. Katy’s gotta up the guest spot budget. This sounds like an exploratory voyage in to hip hop pop. With slightly darker beats and random hip hop elements. “She eat your heart out/like Jeffrey Dahmer” Way to divert attention to serial killer cannibals! Let’s glorify violence some more!

This is How We Do
This song should be “This is How We Do it” and it should of been a Montell Jordan cover. Sadly, it is not and Katy hired the guy who sang “it’s our party we can do what we want” part in We Can’t Stop to sing “this is how we do” part. “Grab a taco/checking out hotties” and “Getting our nails all did Japanesy” does not sound like lyrics written by a 30 year old women, unless it’s one with a severe case of arrested development.

International Smile
This song reminds me of Teenage Dream, only not as good. She’s kind of bragging about flying worldwide, which I don’t think many people can relate to. But then again, how many people can relate to Katy Perry.

Love Me
Forgettable track but also sounds pretty good. Something you can have in the background and be completely a-ok with it. Kind of like the whole album. Maybe that is the key, not to be great that you can to focus on the music, but not awful so you have to turn it off. Then somehow the music gets absorbed subliminally and the next thing you know, you know all the lyrics to this track. Check with me next week.

This Moment
Just the title sounds like it’s epic and sure enough the chorus sounds primed for a stadium anthem. Katy tackles the whole “what is life about” theme with this track, doesn’t really break new ground, but no one’s expecting her to give a TED talk about life any time soon. Of all the songs on this album, this one is most primed to be remixed by house DJ’s just for the build up potential of the line “All we have is this moment/tomorrow is unspoken” line. I can already see lasers.

Double Rainbow
Does anyone even remember Double Rainbow guy? Why write a song titled after a meme? Is Grumpy Cat or Sad Keanu going to be on the next track? Is the Double Rainbow guy guest singing on this song? Nope

By the Grace of God
Clearly the solo portion of any concert, with her in a blazing evening gown and a singular grand piano. Bring out the lighters.

Overall, a reasonable effort but seemingly devoid of a mind numbing catchy hit like Teenage Dream or Hot-N-Cold. It’ll sell a bazillion copies regardless.