Albums

Album Review: Wendy Versus – Crayon Wars [2012, Self released/totally indie]

Posted on by Celeste in Albums | 1 Comment

wendy versus

Wendy Versus. What a great name. It encompasses all the necessary aspects: attention-grabbing, memorable, and most importantly, intriguing. Wendy versus what? The world? An amorphous, spotted, toothy, aquamarine, crayon-styled monster? Judging by the cover art on this album I’d guess the latter, which is good because any piece of artwork that brings to mind “Harold and the Purple Crayon” has already won major points from me.

Wendy Versus is a Toronto-based trio with a textured and unique sound. On their website, the band explains that lead singer, Wendy Leung, is a classically trained pianist with a “dark melancholic heart” and a love for electro-pop. I read this description after listening to the album and it made perfect sense. “Crayon Wars” (another great name – this band should hire out their services to other groups in need of solid titles) is full of ballad-style songs dominated by the rich, melodious voice of Leung. Her lovely vocal instrument is backed by the dream-pop haze created by Dean Marino on guitar and Owen Norquay on synth.

This debut album is distinctive for its flexibility. Far from one song merging into another with little distinction between poppy synth sounds mixed with soulful lyrics, Wendy Versus delivers a wide variety of sounds and stories on Crayon Wars. “White Noise” is a spare but upbeat tune, “Juliana” a darker, more complex story, “Open My Eyes” gives a brooding, almost angsty tone to the compilation. With 10 tracks on this disc, the band has really offered its listeners a substantial work they’re sure to enjoy.

Album Review: Minor Characters – Self Titled [2012]

Posted on by Celeste in Albums | Leave a comment

Confession of the day: The Panic Manual’s album reviews by 12 year olds have made me self-conscious of writing my own as they are often

1) more comprehensible and
2) more carefully researched than mine.

So, rather than upping my game, I instead roped my friend Scott over at Impassable Nights into doing a side-by-side review of Minor Characters’ new album with me. Hopefully the knowledge accumulated from our combined 48 years can begin to compete with middle schoolers (because yes, everything is a competition and you can win everything – often by adopting the strategy of quantity over quality). Readers can also feel free to think of this as the equivalent of 4 album reviews by 12 year olds.

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I first discovered Chicago Foursome Minor Characters when they opened for Portugal. The Man at the Vic a couple of weeks ago, and I was immediately a fan. They’re the kind of band you love to love: up and coming, great sound, with no pretensions and a “just happy to be here” attitude. Turns out they dropped their first EP in November of last year so of course I had to check it out. The self-titled, five track album has a gratifyingly eclectic mix of sounds ranging from a retro-pop feel on “Burden” to a 90’s punk vibe on “If I were you” all overlaid with an indie sensibility and interwoven with some excellent falsetto from lead singer Andrew Pelletier. Upon listening to it in its entirety, what struck me most was the ebb and flow of the album – one moment sweetly melodic and the next gripping you with catchy guitar riffs and engaging lyrics. You can check out the entire album on their website and if you’re feeling this band, and you decide that you can forgo that McChicken sandwich this week, the album’s on-sale for $1.

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This search for the next big act can be incredibly daunting. Take a snapshot of the music industry today and it’s nothing like it was 10 years ago. The Internet has transformed the music landscape; nowadays, anybody can make it big, so long as they come up with something novel, different, or at least stylish. When I first listened to this EP, my ear drew comparisons to Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief with a touch of The Shins. But that’s not for what bands want to be known. At the heart of the independent music scene, one key desire stands alone: the drive to be unique (let’s not dive into the paradox of non-conformity as conformity). I can’t quite put my finger on it, but the album really ends with a taste of its own – something authentic. Give the album a listen, and let me know if you can figure out from where this long-lost flavor came. It’s certainly not tied to your McDonald’s dollar menu.

EP Review: Town Hall – Sticky Notes and Paper Scraps [2012, Mason Jar Music]

Posted on by halley in Albums | Leave a comment

The first thing I must say about Town Hall is: thank god for a band that ‘gets’ website design. Maybe I’m just not artistic/musically minded to appreciate the thought and nuance that goes into some bands’ sites, but every time I have to ‘click to enter’ nine times before finding the actual content I’m looking for or come upon a long-outdated ‘next shows’ section I cringe. No wonder some indie bands stay small.

Thankfully, Town Hall has a wonderful site: no clicking to enter, music is up front and center, contact info readily available. Check it out here .

On to the music. The Brooklyn-based band just released its first full-band EP, Sticky Notes and Paper Scraps. For those of you looking for energetic indie, be aware: the first word that comes to mind when listening to the tracks is mellow. Soothing is not far behind. Listen to it while you’re getting ready for bed, not prepping for a night out. The band’s tags include freak and folk, but I would put a far heavier emphasis on the ‘folk’ aspect of the sound. That being said, it’s a 100% enjoyable soothing/mellow/folskie sound. The band reminds me a bit of Nickel Creek with the plucky-string sound and the female-male duets. My favorite track is Mary A. Longdon with its line: “all the women want to know is how she keeps her skin so smooth/what pills does she take, what creams does she use.” For some reason it’s a bit haunting – definitely sticks with you. Don’t believe me? Try it out.

Album Review: The Sunparlour Players – Us Little Devils [2011, Outside Music]

Posted on by Brian in Albums, Music | 1 Comment

Toronto – I find myself in something of a music rut lately. You know what I mean: it’s the sort of rut that sees you making lacklustre mix CD’s for the car filled with tunes you played to death five years ago and filling your mp3 player with old Nas and Four Tet albums for something a little different, that kind of thing. I could be getting old and nostalgic, ready to make the permanent switch to oldies and “light favourites” stations. Or possibly ten weeks of diaper changes and spit-up has been a little distracting for me. One or the other.

The solution to these doldrums? Quite possibly a new Sunparlour Players album.

Not to beat a dead horse or anything, as I’ve gone on emphatically about the Sunparlour Players many times before. One of the best, most intense live acts I’ve seen, Us Little Devils is the band’s third studio album after 2007’s Hymns for the Happy and 2009’s Wave North.

As good as the band is in a live setting, it’s probably fair to say that their studio efforts have been a little hit or miss as far as capturing some of that live energy. So does the new album overcome the limitations of their past recordings and deliver a consistently good album from start to finish? Well…no, not really. It’s only got a couple of the sort of “storytelling” tracks that are one of the band’s big songwriting strengths, like the sample track below, “Green Thumb”. I can appreciate the band is trying a few new things, as they clearly went for a bit more of a mainstream pop/rock kind of feel on a lot of tracks, but this doesn’t always mesh well with their folksy, roots base. By my count, only three tracks out of twelve are really outstanding, with the rest ranging from “decent” to “ok.”

Of course, a Sunparlour Players album is really just something to listen to so you can learn the choruses to the new songs and sing along with them during the live shows. When I listen to this album I find myself mostly looking forward to hearing the live renditions and finding out how the band can pull off some of the harmonies and rich sounds with only the three of them on stage, where they’ll occasionally play five or six instruments at once between them during any given song. In the end, the new album is just ok, and probably not enough to shake me from my music malaise, but a new Sunparlour Players tour with new material to check out is something to look forward to. Check them out if you get the chance on their upcoming Ontario tour and the cross-Canada tour that’s likely to follow, you definitely won’t regret it.

Sunparlour Players Ontario Fall Tour Dates:

11/25 Ottawa, ON – NAC Fourth Stage
11/29 St.Catherines, ON – The Mansion House
12/1 Kingston, ON – Zappa’s Lounge *
12/2 Peterborough, ON – The Red Dog*
12/3 London, ON – Call The Office*
12/4 Guelph, ON – Van Gogh’s *
12/8  Windsor, ON – The Capital Theatre *
12/9 Hamilton, ON – The Casbah *
12/10 Toronto, ON – The Great Hall

*With the Sadies

Sunparlour Players – Green Thumb by Outside-Music

If you’re so inclined, you can listen to the entire album streaming at www.outside-music.com/backstage/sunparlourplayers