Concert Review: Active Child, School of Seven Bells, September 15, Mod Club

Posted on by Allison in Concerts, Everything, Music | 2 Comments

Let me first qualify this review by explaining I just underwent major dental surgery. Half my face is frozen, I just cut my pinky finger opening a can of soup, and I’m about to pop two Tylenol 3’s once my local anesthetic wears off. In short

Now that we have that out of the way…

One of the greatest things about writing for the PM is that you often get to see potential realized. There is nothing that pleases me more than seeing a band’s potential; and there is nothing quite as satisfying as seeing them get the recognition they deserve, especially if it’s a slower burn.  Almost two years ago now, Brooklyn outfit School of Seven Bells opened for M83 on their North American tour. In fact that show was my very first review.

The sultry sisters returned last night, preceded by Bishop Morocco and another brownstone town band, the electronic-driven Active Child. I walked in as Active Child was playing their last song in their set, When Your Love is Safe, and was surprised at how polished they sounded live. I’d see these guys again, given the chance, and am sorry I missed most of their set. I just hope that next time, they won’t be playing to an eerily quiet crowd (not that I’m not always guilty of this myself).

School of Seven Bells were having some technical difficulties setting up their MacBook, but they played such a killer set I would’ve forgiven far more. All I can say is that their maturation has really surprised me…a lot of Alpinisms was great, but played a lot off of the electronic thing. If this show is any indication of where they might be heading in the future (or where Disconnect from Desire goes, I still haven’t listened to it), then we are in for a guitar-driven ride. It’s hard to believe that the band claims they are driven by lyrics first and music later, because Curtis’s guitar playing is really the centerpiece of their live show.

This guy can really shred it. And if you’re going to stand anywhere close to the stage, you had better come armed with earplugs (I didn’t)…

In fact, a lot of their set reminded me of the classic Simple Minds album, New Gold Dream. The ended with My Cabal and came back for an encore that I wish I could write about, but I’m starting to (simultaneously) drool involuntarily and prevent my head from hitting my keyboard at the same time.

Concert Review: Mystery Jets, September 13, Horseshoe Tavern

Posted on by Ricky in Concerts, Music | Leave a comment

Toronto – Monday night saw English band Mystery Jets start the first and potentially last stop of their North American tour in order to promote their new album Serotonin. Apparently, the band had not acquired a work visa as of last night. Despite the potential financial implications of a one off tour to North America, the band was still in good spirits as they took the stage for their show at around 22:45.

Starting with a one-two punch of new song Show Me The Light and recent hit single Half in Love With Elizabeth, it was quickly established that this show was going to feature a heavy dose of tracks off their new album Serotonin sprinkled with the popular tunes off their sophomore effort, Twenty One. I had previously written that the bands new album, Serotonin, is basically a pop album and the live renditions of these songs – The Girl is Gone, Too Late to Talk, Dreaming of Another World cements the idea that the Mystery Jets is more or less a good pop band capable of writing very radio friendly singles – infectious beats, catchy melodies and singalongable choruses (is that a word?). In other words, they are ready to rule the world. The band was quite good live – Blaine Harrison (he of the rag doll hair) has a strong voice, their harmonics were fun and catchy, the banter was witty and they appeared to have a good time.

As the 70 minute show wore on, I came to sad realization that their eclectic but good debut record, Making Dens, was going to get very little to no representation. This meant tracks like You Can’t Fool Me Dennis, The Boy Who Ran Away and Alas Agnes did not make appearances. This did not seem to bother the rest of the crowd, that despite being only 1/3 full, was having a good time. No one could have went to this Mystery Jets show without mentioning the insane group of mangrinders up in the front. As much as I admire their enthusiasm, I just wonder what it is about UK bands and the ‘lads’ loving it up with each other. Maybe it’s a phenomenon.

Despite the lack of any first album materials, it was a solid Monday night concert featuring one of the better up and coming bands from overseas. Lets just hope they don’t have to fly back today because of visa issues.

Mystery Jets – Dreaming of Another World by to9_lmao

Classic Album Review: Steve McQueen – Prefab Sprout [1985, Kitchenware]

Posted on by Allison in Article Series, Classic Albums | Leave a comment

With Prefab Sprout‘s Steve McQueen, we have another stellar example of how sophisticated the 80’s U.K. charts really were (as mentioned a couple of reviews ago, Lloyd Cole and the Commotions’ Rattlesnakes is another modest chart success anomaly). Most North Americans would probably think Prefab Sprout is the latest frozen vegetable medley from Arctic Gardens and that Paddy McAloon is an Irish beer.

One of the reasons I’m so motivated to keep this article series going is because I can finally share the rationale behind why something is great. It’s partly a self-revelatory exercise; partly flogging who I perceive to be the under appreciated; partly indulgent nostalgia; partly an opportunity to sit down and listen to something in-depth from start to finish. As I have previously mentioned, so much of the beauty behind older albums has more to do with my amazement at the pulse of popular music, sans internet, particularly in the U.K.. Pop music has changed a lot since then, and so has the path to fame and recognition. Not saying this is good or bad (who among us can argue against the internet’s role in properly exposing great talent), it’s just very very different. More flashes in the pan (which I think is a positive thing for artistic freedom’s sake), more saturation, but I feel too, less emotional intensity. Maybe the word I’m looking for here is soul.

A shorter journey has a lot of implications.

I’m not going to get derailed by the “paying your dues” argument, anyway. What I will say is that Steve McQueen packs more emotional punch in two songs than most albums are remotely capable of, easily containing the most beautiful love songs ever recorded in the history of modern music. How to describe the specific style they pack that punch is a far greater challenge. Let me just start off by saying Prefab Sprout is definitely not for everyone. Nothing good ever is, and originality / genre crossing only detracts from the ratio of folks that I think will like them versus those who will not maybe vaguely reminiscent to the same way people might feel about the Housemartins. If forced, I’d say PS is sophisticated adult contemporary with flashes of western, lounge, and most importantly, show tunes. Lyrically, they’re just weird. Example from Movin’ the River: “But I’m turkey hungry. I’m chicken free! And I can’t break dance on your knee!” Vocally, they’re impassioned and beautiful.

The best showcase of the album’s soulfulness stems from the two love songs I was talking about earlier. The first is Bonny, a poetic lament about losing someone. The lament part is double-underlined here, and one of the most poignant feelings that I think McAloon best communicates is the fact that he feels losing someone cost him something. I sometimes feel like no one wants to admit that we sometimes give up what we want, but we all do. Everything about this song goes down like a sophisticated drink–probably a sidecar. From its memorable muted lead-in to the cascading chorus, Bonny always brings me to my knees.

When Love Breaks Down is the second. It’s a lot more delicate than Bonny, but even more powerful due to its derivation from Paddy’s own life. Everything about it is supposed to scream melodramatic, “The lies we tell / They only serve to fool ourselves / When love breaks down / The things you do / To stop the truth from hurtin’ you” but the sincerity saves it from deteriorating into dripiness.

“It is a very personal song. It’s not that far removed from personal experience. I’ve worked so hard, it’s been to the detriment of other things. Relationships have suffered, I don’t mind saying that. But I know if I don’t work hard I won’t get that golden moment. I know I can go even further but to do that I have to narrow down my interests.” – Paddy McAloon, Melody Maker, June 1, 1985

There are a host of other surprises that make Steve McQueen a timeless album. Toe-tappin’ soul in Goodbye Lucille #1, the bizarre show tuney Movin’ the River (above all, this is just a damn fine vocal showcase), the country and westernish Faron Young (ANTIQUES!), the mambo (yes, MAMBO) in Horsin’ Around, seamlessly transitioning to more bitter heartbreak and kiss off in Desire As. It is all topped off with When the Angels, another one reminiscent of an 80’s musical score.

Oddly enough though, Steve McQueen doesn’t really feel like an “80’s” album at all. Maybe because it falls under such a wide swash of pop, or maybe because it’s just a damn fine album.

Concert Reviews: Marina and the Diamonds, September 8, Opera House

Posted on by Ricky in Concerts | 1 Comment

Toronto – It would be unfair to compare the two Marina and the Diamonds shows I have seen this year. One was at SXSW and was in on the second floor of a bbq restaurant, a space smaller then my living room while the other was in the large and cavernous space known as the Opera House. I’ll just get it right out there, obviously the first one was better, since it was way more intimate and the crowd had more of a buzz. Still, Wednesday night’s offering of Marina Lambrini Diamandis was a good representation of her vast talents.

Playing songs off both her debut album The Family Jewels and various EPs, Marina pleased the crowd early with hit single I Am Not A Robot(which inspired a sing-along) and her summer single Oh No. Dressed up in a tight football jersey and a hip hugging tights, Marina definitely charmed the crowd with her posh British accent, good looks and general playfulness on stage. The stripped down piano versions of Guilty and Obsessions allowed Marina to exercise her vocal chords and impress the naysayers with her powerful voice.

I thought there was a bit of a lull in the middle part of the set, as she was getting through some of the filler songs on her albums/eps. The set picked up again when Marina disappeared off stage for a few minutes, came back dressed up with a college jacket, dollar sign sunglasses, two hamburgers and started singing her smash hit Hollywood. For me, it seemed only then did the crowd really take off. Current single Shampain followed but the somewhat stiff Toronto crowded fail to participate to her call and response act, which might have been a downer, but that didn’t stop Marina from pulling it in for the rest of the set. The encore featured an perhaps ill advised cover of 3Oh!3’s Starstrukk. Someone should tell her people that no one likes 3Oh!3. The hour long show wrapped up nicely with Mowgli’s Road.

Overall, the 3/4 full crowd at the Opera House had a great time and everyone was in good spirits leaving the show. I was obviously slightly less enthusiastic given the other time I saw her (or maybe because I was sick), but still, one can’t help but think that Marina and the Diamonds will be heading for bigger things soon with her powerful voice, catchy pop music and made for tv looks. We should be glad that we get to see her in a smallish setting in the meantime.

Shampain by Marina and The Diamonds

Check out the video for her new single, Shampain, as well.