Album Review: Amanda Mair – Self Titled [2012, Labrador]

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So remember the Lilith Fair? A monumental, epic, crunchy-granola, feel-good testament to all that is feminine? Good news if you do remember: You have great taste in female artists. Good news if you don’t remember: Amanda Mair can provide a cheat-sheet to all the Lilith Fair awesomeness you have been deprived of.

Amanda Mair, first of all, is a baby (aka born 1994 – don’t think about it – it’ll only hurt your soul). The Swedish singer has a beautiful, clear, natural voice that neither grates nor wears on listeners. I could literally listen to her all day. More good news: her debut, self-titled album will be available June 5, 2012.

Most of her music on the album is laid-back – easy listening but distinctive enough not to become boring. There are some poppy undertones (try “Doubt”) – as well as some richer (almost soulful?) sounds on tracks like “Sense.” My personal favorite is “Skinnarviksberget” which makes me think of every prince-and-princess-falling-in-love moment from all our favorite Disney movie classics.

So: Feminists, Scandinavian-philes, Disney-lovers, children of the 90s, unite (if you don’t fall into one of those categories, you need to seriously reassess your interests)! Spread the word of Amanda Mair. She’s definitely worth a listen.

Album Review: Rufus Wainwright – Out of the Game [Decca/Polydor, 2012]

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Singers with distinctive voices: Bob Dylan, Colin Meloy, Aretha Franklin, John McCrea – Rufus Wainwright. In my mind, it’s true of Wainwright more than any other artist, that I could recognize his voice anytime, anywhere. I’ve tried, many times, to pinpoint exactly the adjective to describe Wainwright’s voice. Nasal? No. Plaintive? Not exactly. Sweet? Doesn’t quite get at the depth of it. The closest I can come is to say that Rufus Wainwright has a voice that produces ‘sweetly tortured music that makes your soul ache.’

Which is why I thought it was funny that Wainwright’s new Mark Ronson produced album “Out of the Game” was being hailed as a dance-pop record. It seemed incongruous. Having listened to it now though, I see it. Although most dance-pop albums don’t contain the lyrics “choking on my bitter tears/my bitter tears” this is dance-pop in the style of Rufus Wainwright. In other words, Rufus Wainwright doesn’t change for dance-pop, dance-pop changes for Rufus Wainwright. While the distinctive voice and the sweet melancholy remain in true Wainwright form, the backdrop for this work consists of upbeat drums, powerful bass and peppy horns as opposed to the minimalist keyboard or the slow orchestral march of his previous albums.

‘Jericho’, the second song on the album and probably my favorite, has Wainwright showing off his exquisite vocal range, reminiscing about a doomed past relationship, made majestic by the horn and string movement backing him. In between is the choral and trumpet heavy “Welcome to the Ball”, the poppy keyboard infused “Bitter Tears”, and the synth-driven “Song of You”, each a strong point in the album and each recounting its own masterfully woven saga (as with all of
Wainwright’s tracks). The album ends with the epic, seven minute long “Candles.” With any other artist I would say that closing your album with two minutes of bagpipes is self indulgent, but for Wainwright it works.

I don’t know that listening to this album would have me out of my chair and dancing, but I do know that by the end of it I have a silly smile on my face and, contradictory as it may be, the same sense of satisfaction that comes from finishing a good book, albeit a somber one. All in all not a bad state of being.

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

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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]

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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.


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.


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.