Nilüfer Yanya: Heavyweight Champion of the Year

Nilüfer Yanya

August 12, 2019

2019 has already been a banner year for Nilüfer Yanya. Not only has the 23-year-old English songstress already released her debut album, Miss Universe, to critical acclaim following several buzzed-about EPs, she’s also been booked at festivals like Glastonbury, Latitude and Primavera Sound, toured with Sharon Van Etten earlier in the year, and made her U.S. late night television debut on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in July — with even more shows planned for the rest of the year. Here’s our chat with Nilüfer soon after she’d completed her set at the 2019 Osheaga Music and Arts Festival in Montreal earlier this month.

Northern Transmissions: You just played at Osheaga. How’s your experience at the festival and in Montreal been for you so far?

Nilüfer Yanya: Well, I’ve only been in both for five hours, so I haven’t really experienced anything except for the golf carts!

NT: But you had a good time playing, though?

NY: Yeah, I think it was a good show! But I’m quite tired, so I’m probably a bit shaky. But the crowd was really nice.

NT: You played Glastonbury back in June, right?

NY: That was really good, yeah.

NT: What were your biggest takeaways from that whole experience?

NY: It’s too big of a festival, and it’s very badly managed! (laughs) But it was nice. We played on a Sunday, like today. It was chill.

NT: What’s been your most memorable festival experience to date?

NY: Maybe Primavera [Sound, in] Barcelona. That was really cool. There weren’t a lot of people at the start, and then literally as we were playing, there were swarms and swarms of people arriving. I couldn’t really hear anything in my in-ears — we had a really bad connection. But it was fun. I was like, “I don’t know what this sounds like,” but the crowd was really nice.

NT: You’ve said that it’s more interesting to just write a song and see what happens than go into it with some sort of plan beforehand for what it should sound like. With that, what’s an example of a song that came together in the most serendipitous way for you?

NY: “Heavyweight Champion of the Year”. I started it, and I was like, “Err, this isn’t very good.” But I kept going. Even when I finished it, I was like, “I don’t know if I like it.” Then, I kept rearranging it, and I just figured it out.

NT: Your album Miss Universe is your debut, though you’d released three EPs beforehand. Considering this was your first full-length, what mindset did you go into the process with when it started, and how did you end up feeling when it was ready to go?

NY: To be honest, I didn’t feel very present when I was making it. It was kind of the first year I was doing a lot of shows and touring, so I was trying to balance the two. It was really hard, and I don’t really recommend it. It didn’t feel like I was able to give my best to either. That’s why I feel glad that I’d already released music — I’d set my own mini-foundation of what my music sounds like, in a way. I guess with the album, I was trying to not worry about that so much, and just try and write my songs.

NT: Your album features interludes where you voice a Siri-type character for a company called “WWAY Health”, which sort of serves as a focus for the album itself. How did that concept come about?

NY: I had the title, “Worry About Your Health”. I had that slogan in my head when I was making the record. I wanted to call my album that, but… it’s a bit too complex, I think! (laughs) It might confuse people, I don’t know. I decided not to go with it, but I still wanted to include it somehow.

NT: Your album jumps between styles, from alt-rock to jazz to soul and other places in between. What were some of this album’s biggest reference points, whether musical or non-musical?

NY: I had this whole ‘90s vibe in my head for a lot of the songs. I don’t know exactly what it is… but I had that ‘90s pop/alt-rock [influence] in there, and maybe something a bit more current. I don’t really know exactly. Some of the songs were a bit older: one of them I wrote when I was 15, and a couple of them I’d started writing a year or two before.

NT: You’ve said that you’re not a “natural performer.” How do you feel like this has shaped the way you create music and perform live?

NY: I don’t know. I think the two feed into each other… but I don’t really know how. I don’t really like thinking about it too much, so I try not to think about it. I find that when I’m performing, it definitely helps when I have quite a rhythmical part [to play], and I think a lot of the main riffs of the songs are based upon something quite rhythmical and strong. I think I need something like that to make it feel like the song’s moving. When I’m writing in my head, I’m imagining the band already there, or something already there, behind it.

NT: How do you feel your comfort with performing has grown over time, especially with your debut out now and you being booked at major festivals?

NY: It’s a weird thing. It really depends on my mood. Today, I didn’t feel too worried, because I was just really tired, and you almost don’t care. You’re just like, “I’ve done this so many times.” When I was onstage, I could feel my body was very nervous — I wasn’t really comfortable. It’s a mixed feeling. Sometimes I really enjoy it, sometimes I’m like, “this is horrible, and I don’t want to perform ever again!” (laughs)

NT: You worked on this album with Dave Okumu, who was also your former guitar teacher. What was the dynamic like working with him in the context of creating music rather than learning from him?

NY: We did one song together, and it came out really well. But the dynamic didn’t really change that much. When he was teaching me at school, he was only there for a year or two. I didn’t really know who he was, but… he was such a wise guy, and he was so cool. Whenever he was talking about something, I’d be like, “Okay, focus. Try and pay attention.” But I couldn’t really, so I don’t know how much I learned! But it’s just so nice to be around people who are really good at what they do. They have that down, and they’re not worrying about if what they’re doing is good. They’re just doing it.

NT: You recently played on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. What was the experience like of playing late night American TV for the first time?

NY: It was actually pretty chill! My tour manager needed to get there at 8 a.m., or something ridiculous, to load in the stuff. We got there, we had to line check and record it, and that was it. Luckily, we didn’t have to do it for a live show. It was a lot more chill. I think if there was an audience there, we could only do it once. We got to do it three times.

NT: What’s on the agenda for you for the rest of 2019?

NY: I’m going to Miami tomorrow to play a show, and doing a festival afterwards on a cruise in Barcelona. We’ve got festivals in the summer still. I’m doing a west coast tour — we did east coast and midwest, and now we’re doing west coast in September and October. I have to go on a European tour in November — we’ve got a London headline show, which will be pretty scary. Then, I might go to Australia.

NT: Australia?

NY: Yeah, maybe. Southeast Asia, maybe.

NT: Do you know where in Southeast Asia?

NY: I don’t know. I’m hoping Japan. None of this is confirmed, but I’m telling you anyway. (laughs)

Words by Dave MacIntyre


Festival Review: Osheaga Day 3 Highlights

August 6, 2019

Mac DeMarco | Photo: P Beaudry

Sunday, August 4, 2019
Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montreal, QC

Osheaga saved the best for last. While the Chemical Brothers put up one of the festival’s best headliner sets in the festival’s recent history, it was poised for an even grander finish in the form of Childish Gambino. With other acts like Kaytranada, Boy Pablo and Tierra Whack rounding out the impressive roster of talent on the final day, Osheaga’s final bow of 2019 closed things out with a confident roar.

NILÜFER YANYA | Photo: P Beaudry


Between her recent appearance on Colbert and her critically-acclaimed debut, Miss Universe, it’s a shame that Nilüfer Yanya was relegated to an early afternoon set on the main stages while people were still flowing into the park.

Yanya’s skill at jumping between jazz, soul, grunge and indie rock without it feeling jarring was on display on Sunday afternoon. Although Franklin Electric’s soundcheck on the adjacent River Stage threatened to drown her out, she played a solid, well-rounded set for those fortunate enough to make into the park early.

Sigrid| Photo: P Beaudry


This Norwegian pop songstress has been riding high off her debut LP, Sucker Punch, released earlier this year, and a visibly excited crowd showed up to watch her mid-afternoon set. Blending trademark Scandinavian pop music, Sigrid isn’t your typical pop star, but her songs are catchy and easy to sing along to. Jumping from 80s inspired cuts like “Mine Right Now” and “Never Mine,” to eerily Adele-ish piano ballads like “Dynamite” and synth-pop slappers like “Strangers,” the 22-year-old brought dance moves, confidence and a bubbly attitude to an already warm and sunny afternoon.

Mac DeMarco | Photo: P Beaudry


Mac DeMarco recorded his 2012 breakthrough album, 2, while living in Montreal and he’s still treated as a local hero of sorts. His local fan base was swelling in the large, packed-like-sardines crowd. Immediately following Normani (of Fifth Harmony fame)’s absolutely nuts set on the Mountain Stage, DeMarco re-staked his claim as indie rock’s resident class clown in front of a fresh-faced audience with multiple mosh pits breaking out in the crowd. With an old school EarthBound video game playing as his backdrop, DeMarco and his bandmates ran through unique arrangements of songs from throughout his career, giving him a chance to showcase his consistent songwriting capabilities alongside his infamous gap-toothed grin.

Tame Impala | Photo: P Beaudry


Sunday was the day most people bought one-day passes to Osheaga this year, and it’s in large part because of Tame Impala. Despite giving fans no new music aside from previously-released singles “Patience” and “Borderline,” the Austrailian psychedelic pop masterminds put on a colourful, kaleidoscopic show full of fan favourites that spanned most phases of their career.

The general area around the stage was packed from top to bottom, but no matter where you were standing the group put on a great show, reminding the crowd of band leader Kevin Parker’s already brilliant songbook, providing optimism for whatever is next.

Childish Gambino archive photo | Photo: Greg Noire


An epic showman and performer, Donald Glover is one of the most multi talented people in pop culture, and his Childish Gambino set closed the festival in incredibly satisfying fashion.

Glover took the tens of thousands in attendance to church and doubled down on his desire for a communal experience by asking everyone to put their phones away — even though he did wind up taking selfies with a couple fans regardless.

Opening with newer songs, “Atavista” and “Algorythm,” Gambino and his incredibly contagious charisma carried the set on its back, while continuing with songs from Because the Internet and 2016’s psychedelic funk-driven Awaken, My Love! before launching into an emotional performance of “Feels Like Summer” and later making the crowd go batshit insane with “This is America.”

Glover had fireworks, Marvin Gaye wails and pure spectacle on his side, making his show well worth the hour-long wait it would take many festivalgoers to get back to the metro at the end of the evening.


This article originally appeared in BeatRoute.

Festival Review: Osheaga Day 2 Highlights

August 4, 2019

Osheaga crowd during Young Thug| Photo: Tim Snow

Saturday, August 3, 2019
Parc Jean-Drapeau, Montreal, QC

Montreal’s Osheaga Music and Arts Festival is Canada’s answer to Lollapalooza. Both festivals happen on the same weekend and book many of the same artists. It’s a fantastic three-day experience full of great music, atmosphere, amenities — and Torontonians. You literally couldn’t go anywhere without seeing at least five Toronto Raptors jerseys.

Now that the capacity has been expanded to hold 65,000 people per day — the festival was held on a temporary site for two years prior — it’s not only a more wide open atmosphere, but the event itself is as exciting as it’s ever been, and that’s all thanks to the music.

MorMor | Photo: Pierre-Bourgault


Toronto artist MorMor attracted Internet recognition with his song “Heaven’s Only Wishful” after being discovered by an associate of fellow Toronto export Daniel Caesar, and he showed off his impressive musical chops early Saturday. His moody, somewhat psychedelic style of indie rock and R&B was a nice touch to the afternoon, and a big crowd turned out to hear him play. Although he jumps back and forth between styles, channelling Prince on “Whatever Comes to Mind” and even a little bit of Arcade Fire on “Outside,” his style is versatile and blends together nicely.

Young Thug | Photo: Tim Snow


Young Thug is as out there as popular hip-hop stars get, but he’s also one of the genre’s most confident and charismatic performers. Combining extreme swagger with solid stage presence and his trademark chaotic flow, Thugger drew a huge crowd out for his mid-afternoon set, playing a wide range of tracks from his prolific musical output, from “On the Run” to “Digits” to “The London,” as well as features like his excellent verse on 2018 headliner Travis Scott’s “Pick Up the Phone.” This is one set fans are surely glad didn’t get saved to the end during the Chemical Brothers — more on them later.

Janelle Monáe | Photo: P Beaudry


Janelle Monáe was the best pure performer, so far, and might prove to be the best throughout the entire weekend. The R&B chanteuse is multifaceted, confident and musically gifted in equal measure, with a live band, backup dancers, multiple costume changes, and even a throne to go with it. Performing a variety of fresh, vibrant tunes from her decade-spanning career, wearing outfits seemingly inspired by toy soldiers, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation era, and even vagina-shaped pants during “Pynk,” Monáe staked a solid claim for why she should eventually headline the festival herself. One of this year’s best sets.

RÜFÜS DU SOL | Photo: Tim Snow


This Aussie alternative dance trio was back at the Green Stage, their multidimensional, pristine spin on deep house music translates effortlessly to a live setting — and without a need for DJ decks. Between frontman Tyrone Lindqvist’s smoky, arresting voice and the group’s heavy use of hi-hats and synths, they played a strong, mesmerizing set for several thousand attendees who made it over and bounced up and down throughout, along with an equally captivating use of lighting. This especially came through on songs like “You Were Right”, “Underwater,” “Treat You Better,” and set closer “No Place.” Electronic acts should try full live setups more often.

The Chemical Brothers | Photo: Pat Beaudry


This booking may have seemed like a gamble considering Osheaga’s largely millennial demographic, but it turned out to be a home run. The electronica/big beat legends came through for their first Montreal show since 2003, and it was utterly perfect for a festival setting. Combining exquisitely-mixed tracks from throughout their extensive career (including “Star Guitar,” “Hey Boy Hey Girl” and closing with “Block Rockin’ Beats”) with colourful and eerie backdrops, along with heavy use of white light, the entire set was entrancing, euphoric, freaky, and incredibly fun — sometimes all at once. It even tops any of Travis Scott, Arctic Monkeys or Florence + the Machine’s headlining sets from last year’s edition. Donald Glover, you’re gonna need luck topping this one.


This article originally appeared in BeatRoute.

“ANIMA” – Thom Yorke

June 28, 2019

Thom Yorke is one of music’s most meticulously-crafted fine wines. Regardless of project he’s attached to – RadioheadAtoms for Peace, solo or otherwise – Yorke is an ever-present figure in modern music, and his ability to create and test his own musical limits seems to only get better and deeper with time. With his previous two proper solo albums, 2006’s The Eraser and 2014’s Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes, Yorke proved he could step out on his own from one of the world’s biggest bands and carve a distinct identity as a solo artist without simultaneously risking alienating listeners. On his third solo album ANIMA, he underlines once again how much of a knack he still has for making mysterious, experimental-sounding music memorable and groovy without really compromising, and it’s a big component to why he’s maintained his longevity as impressively as he has.

Written after a bout Yorke had with anxiety and writer’s block, ANIMA is a sonic journey with multiple twists and turns, though without ever truly losing its focus. Things begin with “Traffic”, an immediate standout that starts rather modestly and eerily before synths and other effects enter the mix. Though Yorke and producer Nigel Godrich both create a paranoid vibe to much of his material (and Yorke’s come a long way in that regard since “I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo, what the hell am I doing here?”), it’s often pleasant-sounding nonetheless, and “Traffic” is no exception. “Last I Heard (…He Was Circling the Drain)” continues very much on that wavelength, though it’s a much more ambient tune in comparison to “Traffic”’s more house and UK garage-inspired feel. It’s an ambitious project in some ways – Paul Thomas Anderson even developed a short film for the album to be seen on Netflix and in certain IMAX theatres. It’s by no means overly extravagant, however: the album’s only nine songs and just under 48 minutes in length, and with a fairly focused musical narrative, as tracks frequently bleed into one another.

The heavy emphasis on loops and ever-changing introductions of parts isn’t a surprising one – the album was inspired in part by Yorke seeing Flying Lotus live and observing how he’d improvise during his set. Traces of FlyLo’s idiosyncratic production style can be heard throughout various points in the album, as can Brian Eno, Four Tet, and Boards of Canada – in fact, the latter’s style in particular can easily be heard during the analogue synth intro of “Dawn Chorus”; a hypnotic number with monotone vocals, warm synth effects, and lyrical themes of regret over a failed romance. The track concludes Anderson’s Netflix film, and acts as the album’s ballad of sorts.

Despite the album’s cohesive feel, Yorke’s never quite satisfied to rest on his laurels stylistically: “I am a Very Rude Person” is a very bare-bones track sonically with little more than a bass line and a drum loop guiding things along before shifting its focus to vocal harmonies, while “Not the News” evoking an eerie feel both through its vocal purring and its themes of paranoia (case in point: it literally opens with him singing, “Who are these people?”). On “The Axe”, Yorke waxes lyrical about his frustration with technology (“Goddamn machinery, why won’t you speak to me?/One day I am gonna take an axe to it”) while skittering drums and nonstop, one-note synth patterns form the song’s bedrock. “Impossible Knots” sees Radiohead drummer Phil Selway link up with his bandmate by contributing sped-up drumming to the track, and fittingly enough, it’s probably the song that feels most like a Radiohead outtake. However, it’s the largely instrumental closing number “Runwayaway” that feels like the most appropriate note for the project to end on, with somewhat muted guitar licks driving much of the song while also being defined by effects clearly indebted to those of past collaborator, Four Tet. The almost computerized-sounding delivery of the line, “This is when you know who your real friends are,” is as appropriate a moment as they come in an album defined by themes of anxiety, dystopia, and being in a frazzled, chaotic state of mind.

By letting the project flow nicely and with a dreamlike tone to it (Yorke has a fascination with dreams, after all) while also providing enough intrigue musically and lyrically to keep the listener engaged, Yorke’s third album is an intriguing next step in his glittering music career, and one with fantastic end results given the album’s infancy as being largely unfinished tracks by Yorke that were then chopped up and spliced together by Godrich to have new vocal parts from Yorke sung over them. With ANIMA, Yorke takes his already well-built solo repertoire and adds a dash of colour, detail and mystery.

Rating: 8.5/10

Words by Dave MacIntyre

This article originally appeared on Northern Transmissions.

Why music journalism still matters in 2019

June 7, 2019

“They’ll buy you drinks, you’ll meet girls, they’ll try to fly you places for free, offer you drugs… I know. It sounds great. But they are not your friends.”



You may remember these as words of advice given by Lester Bangs to young, aspiring rock critic William Miller in Almost Famous as caution not to get too close to rock stars, and it stands in 2019 as a very literal (perhaps excessively so) description of the modern dynamic between music journalists and artists – especially in our social media-driven landscape, where the gap between the two is much closer than in decades past.

The list of artists firing back at critics online is an extensive one within this decade alone – Ariana GrandeNicki Minaj, of Montreal’s Kevin BarnesCHVRCHESIce-T, and the Naked and Famous are but a few examples. In particular, Barnes wrote a hilariously scathing annotated rebuttal on his former Tumblr account to Pitchfork’s review of of Montreal’s 2010 album False Priest, even though its score was a decent 6.7/10.

However, a since-deleted tweet in late April from fast-rising rapper/singer Lizzo set off a whole new debate as to the very purpose of music criticism.

Lizzo’s tweet in question was in response to Pitchfork’s review of her major label debut album, Cuz I Love You, in which writer Rawiya Kameir described the album as being “burdened with overwrought production, awkward turns of phrase, and ham-handed rapping,” and that the music “can feel like a means to a greater end.”

Though it’s fairly easy to see why Lizzo would be upset by parts of the review – comparisons made by the writer between her and Meghan Trainor, Natasha Bedingfield and the Black Eyed Peas are reductive for an artist of her talent level, regardless of context – the review’s score was ultimately a 6.5/10; a slightly underwhelming critique in a sea of otherwise extremely positive ones for her LP.

A rapper, singer, and flautist, Lizzo is an undeniable talent that has already played Coachella, performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and worked with the late Prince in 2014, and it’s entirely possible she was disappointed the review came from a publication known for helping some newer artists’ steadily burgeoning careers sink or swim based partially on their review scores – or perhaps she mainly took issue with the tone of the review itself. However, to suggest that music journalists should be slumming it out in the streets on the sheer basis of them analyzing music in written words without creating or making music themselves is a narrow-minded – and at best, outdated – argument. That said, it also begs the question: “What is the role of the music journalist in 2019?”

Toronto Star music critic Ben Rayner admits he’s experienced his share of direct responses from both artists (Cher, Eddie Van Halen, Backstreet Boys’ Kevin Richardson) and fans (Guns ’N’ Roses, Yanni, Neil Young) over reviews he’s written. Though he tries to “put [himself] in the head” of music fans as well as through being someone who plays music and understands music theory, he doesn’t care about the music critic vs. actual musician argument.

“I would’ve loved to be a musician for a living, but my love of music led in me in this direction. I still like playing music, but it was never going to be a career,” he says. “I have friends who have never touched a drum kit or a guitar in their lives, but they’re just so deep into [it] – it’s a whole other level of nerdy. People who don’t even want to go to shows, right? They just want to stay [home] with their records. Everybody’s got their own approach to it. As long as you’re honest about it, it doesn’t really matter.”

Rock publications, or at least the ones many of us grew up with, are gradually dying out: once-iconic magazines like NME and SPIN have ceased publishing their print editions and pivoted mainly to online content, while Pitchfork’s own print edition, The Pitchfork Review, folded in 2016. In particular, NME’s average weekly circulation during the second half of 2014 was only about 14,000 before being made into a free magazine the following year. While Rolling Stone remains by far the most heavily circulated music magazine in the United States as of 2017 (at just under 1.5 million), the next-highest music publication on the list is Music Alive! – an educational music magazine for schoolchildren – with a circulation of only 500,000, while longtime emo/pop punk magazine Alternative Press ranks third with just under 300,000.

Even for well-known critics who do happen to be practitioners of the very art forms they’re critiquing, they don’t necessarily find much success in their moonlighting. Though Roger Ebert dabbled in screenwriting, Lester Bangs himself was an occasional musician, and popular modern-day YouTube music critic Anthony Fantano – known for his YouTube channel theneedledrop – plays bass and produces instrumental hip hop as his moustachioed alter ego Cal Chuchesta, all three remain far more known for analyzing their respective art forms as opposed to actively making art themselves.

Not only are the critics who also happen to dabble in their chosen art form better known for critiquing the art than contributing to it, being a musician arguably isn’t a prerequisite the way having a critical and analytical mindset when it comes to music is. Take, for example, Montreal-based freelance music journalist Erik Leijon, who admits he “can’t carry a tune,” and got much of his music education from listening to music around the house growing up, as well as watching MuchMusic and its recently-deceased French-language sister station MusiquePlus – crediting the latter’s show “Le cimetière des CD” as being where he learned a lot about review writing. As far as artists responding to critics is concerned, he welcomes the dialogue resulting from music reviews, and invites criticism for his own work.

“I’m not somebody who holds the position of ‘critic’ as some sanctified, deified thing,” says the Montreal Gazette and Cult MTL writer. “If you’re going to criticize an artist, you’ve got to be willing to take it back. I think the worst thing either side could do is invalidate the other’s opinion, or say ‘You can’t say this,’ or ‘You can’t say that.’”

While writing about music may not often be a particularly lucrative endeavour, some music critics have found success doing album reviews, video essays, and other music-related video content on YouTube – channels like ARTVDead End Hip HopPolyphonic and Middle 8 being among the more prominent examples. However, the most famous one is arguably Fantano, who has close to 2 million subscribers on theneedledrop, and with viewers having spent an impressive average of four minutes per video with his content as of 2016. Though there are exceptions to the rule, blogs and websites don’t seem to command the same sort of attention from music fans they used to, at least not compared to audiovisual formats. In other words, it’s entirely possible music critics and publications may have to increasingly shift their focus toward video content to publish their reviews.

Vancouver-based musician Jody Glenham has been on both sides of the coin: not only does she have a career as a musician in addition to working three jobs, she has contributed album reviews to Western Canadian monthly publication BeatRoute. In her view, while being able to create music is an asset for review-writing, it’s not a requirement compared to “good taste and a valid opinion.” However, Glenham also isn’t sure there are many who still enjoy discovering artists through publications and word-of-mouth.

“People are busy in their everyday lives,” she says. “For example, Pitchfork in its heyday was how everyone found out about their new music. Now, there’s Spotify and Apple Music curating playlists – it’s kind of like there have been more gatekeepers of how people are finding out about new bands and new artists. [But] I think music journalism is still an important aspect of it.”

Furthermore, with Spotify and Apple Music seemingly dominating modern music consumption from the consumer’s perspective (100 million and 50 million paid subscribers worldwide, respectively), there is no longer much of a desire to essentially be force fed new music via radio or MTV (or MuchMusic, for all you Canucks out there). A whole, wide open world of music is available at our fingertips, and music journalists can provide well thought-out essays on music to help make sifting through the literal and figurative noise easier for readers – though the listener’s opinion of the music itself is ultimately up to them, as music is a highly subjective and visceral art form.

Though there’s been some great online music journalism published in recent years, it nonetheless appears to have lost some of its influence since the aughts – the aforementioned Pitchfork has been credited for helping to break artists like Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Broken Social Scene and Sufjan Stevens, while blogs like Brooklyn VeganThe Hype Machine, and Gorilla vs. Bear were also acting as popular sources for music discovery during that decade. However, YouTube and streaming services – particularly Spotify playlists – continue to dominate the landscape for music consumption and discovery – and in Leijon’s opinion, it takes away from the music writer’s work being seen by potential readers.

“If you trust a writer, you’re not even going to the website anymore. You’re just following them on social media, and they’re giving it all away for free. You’re not even clicking on the website anymore, which is that writer’s meal ticket,” he says. “I don’t blame anybody for doing that – there’s so much out there. It’s so easy to go on your Twitter, or Facebook feed, and watch all the opinions roll in. That’s all our brains have time to absorb, so that’s a perfect place to do it. Music websites and blogs are competing with that.”

Despite the gloomy-looking present and future of online music journalism, there’s reason to believe it still has its place in today’s musical climate, even if the way we engage with it has evolved just as the technological landscape has. In Rayner’s case, he began life at the Star while there were critics onboard for books, dance, jazz music and classical music, whereas nowadays there remains only him and a movie critic at the newspaper. Regardless, he still sees value in music journalism itself.

“Back in the day, you had a regular voice, the same person you could engage with every day, and there were only so many,” he says. “It’s someone you could use as a pivot for your own opinions. Like ‘This guy never likes horror movies, I like horror movies. I know I’m gonna like the new Pet Sematary.’ That’s the value in the multiplicity of voices.”

Words by Dave MacIntyre

Local Natives: Someday is Now

May 22, 2019

After nearly 15 years, four albums and a long-sealed reputation as indie darlings, most bands might not necessarily feel the need to challenge themselves, but Local Natives aren’t most bands.

The L.A. five-piece’s fourth album Violet Street is a cohesive and jaunty addition to their catalogue, making for a sound Pitchfork described as being “more personal and timeless” than its predecessor, 2016’s comparatively modern-sounding Sunlit Youth. The LP explores themes of anxiety with regards to life and love (vocalist/guitarist Taylor Rice got married a year ago), and has been rolled out with lead single “When Am I Gonna Lose You?”, which features a music video starring actress Kate Mara.

Even for a career that has seen them consistently release solid albums for the past decade, the band remain keen to push personal boundaries both musically and in terms of their creative approach, working entirely with renowned producer Shawn Everett (Alabama Shakes, Vampire Weekend, Weezer, the War on Drugs) on the new album, whom they’d previously only spent a couple weeks working with while making their previous LP. Hot on the heels of their North American tour in promotion of the record, Rice spoke to Northern Transmissions on the phone ahead of the band’s first of two nights in Seattle, and discussed the making of the album, working with Everett, and several of the late night adventures they had in the process.

Northern Transmissions: What do you make of how people are receiving the new album so far in general, not just based on the first show of the tour last night in Vancouver?

Taylor Rice: I think it is still unfolding. I think this is an album that I’ve just been totally excited to share with our fans and with people. We really had the best time making it with Shawn Everett, who’s the producer. I think there’s so much in this album – [it’s] the first time that we have a shorter album. We worked really hard to edit ourselves and cut things down, and I think it is the first time we’ve been able to do that, and have this really cohesive thing. I’ve just been so excited for people to hear it. It is too early even for me to be able to know [how people are receiving it], but you start to see people say “Oh, I love ‘Someday Now,’” in the middle of the record. It’s kind of chill and it’s got this Marvin Gaye vibe. A lot of people are talking about that one. “Shy” is one of my favourite songs. It has this super insane freakout in the song, and I’m so excited to play that live. People are also talking about that song. It’s just fun. I know these songs
so well, and you get to watch as people discover them, which is fun to watch.

NT: What’s the biggest way in which you guys challenged yourselves while making this record, in comparison to your 2016 album Sunlit Youth?

TR: The biggest way we challenged ourselves was to really trust in each other and being a band in the studio. What I mean by that is that every previous Local Natives album has been very meticulously crafted. It’s something that we would do over the course of a year. We would really meticulously craft the songs, and then go into the studio and make them. With this album, we wanted to try something different, and it was to say, “This is our fourth record as a band. We’ve been playing together for over 10 years – some of us for 16 years – and we know each other so well. Let’s capture the spirit of what it’s like for us to play off of each other live, in that very genuine, band-in-a-room, five-musicians-feeling-each-other way.” That was really scary. Normally you go into a studio, and for us, we want to know what we’re doing. This was a bit of a leap for us to do that, and it was just the most amazing experience. I really have to give credit to our producer Shawn Everett, who made every single day this insane rollercoaster of an adventure of “Okay, we have an idea for a song – how are we going to get there?” It would take so many twists and turns that we didn’t see. We had to have a lot of faith in that process to make this record.

NT: You worked with Shawn Everett for a couple weeks for your previous album. This time, he was behind the production, mixing and engineering of this album. What was the dynamic like now that you had a lot more time to spend working with him?

TR: We just went all in. We just pushed all our chips in on Shawn. I’m so glad we did, it was really amazing. I really feel like he’s a genius. The dynamic was just so great. Shawn has a way of approaching music, of the whole production. There are no problems in the studio, there are only a thousand answers. A lot of times when you’re working on a song, it does feel like a puzzle. “What do we do with this? How do we finish it? What’s the arc of this song? What’s the identity of it?” The process was really cool. We would use things like a painting. It would be like, “Here’s this photograph of this abandoned mall that has vines and trees growing in it – that’s the touchpoint for this song.” Or there would be a [Federico] Fellini film on silent in the background. Just using really different things to help guide the process that would just open you up and be really outside the box. I could talk forever about all the things we did with Shawn… Maybe I’ll just mention one, which, to me, embodied the most what it was like to work with him. He has this microphone that’s shaped like a human head, that’s ultra high-fidelity. It has these two microphones in its ears. It’s so that you can record whatever noise you want, and then you hear it as if you were actually hearing it in a room. He puts this microphone up in the room, and we were all just making this swirling noise until we all were like, “Okay, we’re going to run around it, and scream and bang on drums to make this crazy cacophony sound.” It was 1 a.m., we’re delirious, and we kind of got carried away. We were just going crazy, and then ended up all laughing hysterically in this pile on the floor. We went in and turned that noise into the first background chord that’s on “Vogue,” the first song on the album. It’s the most beautiful sound on the record – this floating, really pretty chord. It was so unexpected. We turned the most cacophonous moment in the studio together into this very gorgeous, beautiful opening for the album. We kept having that type of experience, where unexpected things like that would happen and flip a song on its head.

NT: You’ve said that you’ve “never had so much fun” making a record as you did with Shawn, and that some days were a “wild, unexpected adventure” until 3 am. Was that one of those adventures?

TR: Totally, yes. He’s also a bit of a madman. He really works so much – [his] schedule is pretty crazy. We would go until 3 a.m. all the time, and that was one [story.] There are all kinds of experiments: there’s his tape machine, and we were looping this tape through the middle of the room. We were performing the song on this mixing board – all these things that are kind of impossible to explain. We would barely know how it was working, and then it would all click. It would be like, “Oh, this is how [Talking Heads] made ‘Once in a Lifetime.’” We’re using this production technique, but then doing this very modern thing on top of it. It was so fun. It was hard, too, but it really was such a creative, really fun space. It reminded me of our first record, Gorilla Manor; this time where we all were living in this house together, and we were writing together, making music, and everybody was on top of each other. It was a really effusive, created, bottled energy. It felt like that, in a way.

NT: What’s an example of other 3 a.m. adventures you had with him?

TR: He has this huge warehouse, and we were all set up in the room. We could just play off each other and improvise. We had this song, and we were like, “Okay, we’re just going to jam it.” There’s this app called Radiooooo; this app has a map of the world, and you choose a decade. You click on a country and a decade, so you can go, “Brazil, 1970s,” and it’ll play music that was on the radio in the ‘70s in Brazil. It could be Czech Republic or Russia in the ‘80s – literally any country, any decade – and it [shows you] all this really dope music. We had our song and we chose with Shawn five decades and countries at random. We would listen to whatever song it was for 30 seconds, and then play our song in that style. It would be like, “‘80s, Turkey,” and it would be some weird vibe, like “Okay, cool, everybody play our song in that vibe.” We would jam on that for five minutes and then we’d keep repeating. We’d be like, “Okay, Sweden, 1960s,” and then “Okay, whoa, let’s jam in this vibe.” We had all of this jamming on this song, but in these really crazy styles. We just went in and helped create this song out of it. That was definitely an idea I’d never thought of before, of a way to put a song together.

NT: You’ve said that you guys found inspiration in movies and visual art (ie. paintings) to inform the record’s sound, and you even edited a song to match a film. What films/filmmakers or paintings/painters in particular acted as influences for the album?

TR: There really were a lot – I should probably just write a comprehensive list. We were in there for months and months. I mentioned the photograph of this dead mall, and that was for “Tap Dancer”. That was really a beacon for that song. We kept turning back to this one photograph that we had as the touchstone for it. But often, we’d just be working on a song and we’d choose a movie for that day. Sometimes it wasn’t like, “This song has to be Citizen Kane.” It was like, “Okay, today Citizen Kane is on. Maybe it seeps in subconsciously, or if we hit a point in the day where we’re stuck a little bit, we just let Citizen Kane tell us where to go.” Shawn also had this IFC [Films service where] you could also pick a country and decade for films. It was so cool – all these films and epic filmmakers from the ‘60s and ‘70s. We’d watch weird shit like El Topo or Citizen Kane or There Will Be Blood… There were a couple that made their way into the landscape of the album.

NT: You made the record at an L.A. warehouse, and the big city vibe of Los Angeles is another thing that seems to be a major influence on this record – you even named the song “Megaton Mile” about an L.A. car wash. What is it about L.A. that breeds inspiration for you, versus if you made an album somewhere in the boonies?

TR: For Sunlit Youth, we made that record all over the world. We went to Thailand, Nicaragua – we’d do all these trips outside of the city. It felt really important to be in L.A. properly to make this record. I think it was important in a lot of ways. This dark, ‘70s Fleetwood Mac vibe, that was something we kept thinking about, and wanted to be a guiding light for the record. For us, this city has been home for so long, and it’s a creative hub. The music that we were making, and where we wanted to come from, felt correct to be in Los Angeles. We didn’t want to go into the wilderness or get away, we wanted to be in the city itself. I think throughout all the songs, and even the lyrics, L.A. is definitely a character that informs the album.

NT: You’ve described this album as being the most exciting record you’ve ever made, and that it reminds you of what it was like to make music when you guys first got together. What is it about the album’s sound – or any other aspect of it – that reminds you the most of the beginning of Local Natives?

TR: I would say that has more to do with the creative energy, and the feeling that anything was possible in playing off of each other. I think it was the level of trust that we had together to dive in to something and rely on each other, and lean on each other. We’ve been playing music together a really long time. Especially with Shawn as the producer for this record, and just allowing any idea that we had. He had so many incredible ideas of things I never could have thought of. But if I have an idea, he’s so capable at so quickly making it happen. He was so fun to work with as an engineer. We’d just be like, “Okay, we want to set up two drum kits, and we want the rest of us to be jamming to them in this particular manner.” It felt really free in terms of
how we were collaborating with each other.

Words by Dave MacIntyre

“Heard It in a Past Life” – Maggie Rogers

January 12, 2019

‘Heard It in a Past Life’ by Maggie Rogers

They say first impressions are important – you only get to make one. Although this rule doesn’t quite apply to Maggie Rogers, who independently released her first two albums The Echo and Blood Ballet in 2012 and 2014 respectively, her hotly-anticipated major label debut Heard It in a Past Life is poised to not only be the first full body of work many hear from her, but also her commercial breakthrough (though her November performance on SNL has certainly helped speed up the process). On it, the 24-year-old Maryland native wastes little time establishing herself as an artist to watch in 2019; not only giving listeners an LP dabbling confidently in pop and R&B while staying rooted in the folk music she grew up with, but also one full of moments that are infectious, inviting, poignant and self-asserting – sometimes all at once.

Having initially broken through with her 2016 single “Alaska” – one Rogers wrote in 15 minutes and went viral after playing it in front of a gobsmacked Pharrell Williams at a master class he was hosting at her alma mater, NYU – the track, as well as fellow standalone single “On + Off”, both appear on the album in slightly reworked forms, though their inclusion feels somewhat pointless given the time of their release. They hardly disrupt the rest of the LP’s flow, however: peppy album opener “Give a Little” is reminiscent of Rogers’ former tourmates Haim in melody, structure and use of harmonies, though with a noticeably more modern pop sheen. Ensuing tracks “Overnight” and “The Knife” swing and sway with a hip-hop backbone to them; the latter’s use of wind chimes, looped samples and bass slaps particularly showcasing Rogers’ adeptness at style-hopping.

Lyrically, the album largely focuses on themes of love (“If you’re giving up, would you tell me?/I’m gonna keep this love if you let me,” from “Burning”), relationship issues, togetherness, vulnerability (“Oh I could feel the darkness wrapping all its arms in mine/Oh I could feel the world was turning all inside my mind”, from “Past Life”), and the hardships of adjusting to life in the public eye (“Crying in the bathroom, had to figure it out/With everyone around me saying ‘you must be so happy now,’” from “Light On”). Rogers writes and expresses herself honestly, unreservedly, and fully aware of not only where she’s at emotionally and professionally, but where she still has to go – and the motions she goes through along the way.

Single “Light On”, which has begun 2019 at the top of Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs chart, is warm, intoxicating and jubilant-sounding despite its lyrics detailing feelings of overwhelming anxiety – not to mention fitting like a glove for pop, alternative and adult contemporary radio formats. “Fallingwater” – her collaboration with ex-Vampire Weekend man Rostam Batmanglij – not only emphasizes Rogers’ higher register in ways you’d expect to hear from Florence Welch, but acts as a thoughtful meditation on dealing with significant life changes (a particularly resonant topic given her rapid rise to fame), and the rollercoaster of emotions inevitably following it. “Past Life” is the album’s sombre midway point, with the piano ballad acting in stark contrast to the rest of the project musically, but also serving as an emotionally arresting – and much-needed – palette cleanser. The sonically vibrant “Retrograde” is another standout, with a shimmering guitar riff and an emphatic chorus making the track burst with colour, right before closing the album with the jubilant “Burning” and anthemic ‘80s-inspired ballad “Back in My Body”. Channelling bits and pieces of Fleetwood Mac, Scandinavian electro-pop (Robyn, Sigrid), R&B (Jessie Ware, Charlotte Day Wilson, Jorja Smith – particularly on “Say It” and “The Knife”), folk and indie pop, Rogers makes a convincing argument for mainstream success with an album that could spawn any number of bankable singles, while also not feeling like a jumbled and disorganized collection of them.

If criticisms are to be levelled here, they’re that the song structures here don’t waver much from that of your standard pop song, and the project generally doesn’t cover a great deal of ground experimentally (though that’s probably best saved for future releases). Regardless, Rogers is a genuine talent with a delicate yet dynamic voice, and a knack for emotionally resonant songwriting, and the potential she’s shown since “Alaska” surfaced in 2016 manifests itself nicely onto this LP. While themes of self-discovery, anxiety and insecurity permeate the album, Heard It in a Past Life nonetheless stands as a powerful mission statement, marrying influences from the dance music she embraced while in Europe during a gap year and the folk music of her upbringing with finesse and conviction. Festival darling status beckons.

Words by Dave MacIntyre

This article originally appeared on Northern Transmissions.

M for Montreal 2018 Wrap-Up

November 19, 2018

As it does every year, M for Montreal’s 13th edition brought an array of local and international talent to one of North America’s most colourful music cities, with shows and industry keynotes going down over a span of four days. While snow and cold weather gave the festival an unfortunate early winter feel compared to previous years, it hardly slowed things down, as delegates from across the world – and local music fans, of course – converged onto the city’s numerous club venues and concert halls to celebrate once again just how much of a treasure Montreal’s music and arts scene is to this country’s cultural identity. Here’s a recap of the artists Northern Transmissions checked out this past week.

Partner at M For Montreal

Partner at M For Montreal photo by Dave Macintyre

Partner: While this Windsor-via-New Brunswick duo have the slacker vibe down pat both in their lyrical content and aesthetic, Partner make simplistic but fun garage rock-driven tunes with an occasional power pop sheen to them – numbers like “Personal Weekend” and “Everybody Knows” are prime examples. Cracking jokes and playing tongue-in-cheek covers of “Crazy Train” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” midway through their opening night set at Sala Rossa on Wednesday, the duo of Josée Caron (vocals/lead guitar) and Lucy Niles (vocals/rhythm guitar) not only have a solid arsenal of short but sweet songs, but they clearly know how to let loose and have fun. M for Montreal did well to get the self-proclaimed “Lesbian Green Day” as a tone-setter for the festivities to come.

Hubert Lenoir at M For Montreal 2019

Hubert Lenoir at M For Montreal 2019 Photo by Dave Macintyre

Hubert Lenoir: Despite being an absolute nightmare to take photos of due to his extremely dark lighting (the above picture is the best take this writer could get), this fast-rising 24-year-old glam rocker took Sala Rossa by storm Wednesday; jumping, boogying, and shimmying his way across the stage to classic rock and jazz-tinged tunes, with the crowd screaming and bouncing in kind. His arrival on Quebec’s musical landscape has been nothing short of astonishing – his three awards at the Gala de L’ADISQ and shortlist nomination for this year’s Polaris Music Prize only accentuate that – and the crowd sang his songs loudly and enthusiastically from the word go. As far as things you’d want in a rowdy festival-opening show, this one had everything: from wild antics (eg. him running through the crowd to dance on top of the bar); to entertaining stage banter (if you understand Quebec French, that is); to crowd surfing; to a screamed acapella cover of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream”, followed by an instrumental one of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. In other words, completely bonkers. Not only did Lenoir set the bar high as far as charisma and showmanship at the festival, his set showcased the arrival of a unique, vibrant talent.

Zach Zoya at M For Montreal 2018

Zach Zoya at M For Montreal 2018 photo by Macintyre

Thursday’s hip hop showcase at Club Soda: As M have done in recent years, concurrent showcases across the street from one another at Club Soda and Café Cléopâtre (yes, the strip club) went down once again for the 2018 edition of the festival – and just like last year, Club Soda’s event was focused squarely on local hip hop. The results here, however, were mixed. Franco emcee Rowjayperformed to a receptive crowd with a solid cadence (albeit a French-language twist on the Migos triplet flow) and frequent audience interaction, but primarily over repetitive, run-of-the-mill trap songs. Zach Zoya followed him with mostly English tunes and a simultaneously rap and R&B-focused style, all the while significantly cranking up the energy level of the proceedings. With a fast delivery, bilingual banter and mosh pits being opened up, the 20-year-old native of Rouyn-Noranda puts a confident and charismatic spin on music that’s otherwise very of-the-moment. Fouki, meanwhile, brought things more or less back to what Rowjay started the night off with; jumping between a fast, aggressive flow and a somewhat Post Malone-esque one, delivering a modern trap sound en français with a decent amount of flair and conviction.

Zephyr Bones at M For Montreal 2018

Zephyr Bones at M For Montreal 2018 photo by Dave Macintyre

Thursday’s shows at Café Cléopâtre: On the other side of the coin was Café Cléopâtre, whose upstairs floor hosted an array of indie bands, including the Zephyr Bones; a Spanish-Chilean quartet with shades of post-punk and surf rock to their tunes – think Broncho and other such bands – and an emphasis on bass lines, ‘60s vibes and neat, pristine instrumentation. Saskatchewan’s Beach Body followed them around 11:45 p.m. with a decidedly sleepier and hazier feel to their equally surf-influenced music – and despite a dancing couple at the front getting invited to dance onstage with them, their set was sadly a sparsely-attended one.

Helena Deland at M For Montreal 2018

Helena Deland at M For Montreal 2018 photo by Dave Macintyre

Helena Deland: One of this city’s local talents garnering attention from outside the Montreal echo chamber is Helena Deland, the singer-songwriter who took to a packed Fairmount Theatre on Friday surrounded by tiny fake IKEA candles and a darkly lit, cozy atmosphere – a perfect recipe for her luminous, intricate musical output. Commanding the stage and her material extremely well both by herself and with her backing band, Deland’s poetic songwriting and Hope Sandoval/Cat Power-esque voice were a comfortable fit for the stage setup and the venue itself. Fellow local singer-songwriter Tess Roby also impressed earlier on with her ethereal and cerebral brand of art-pop and a smoky voice, in a set that also gave the crowd a much-needed kick in the ass as she was interrupted mid-song by an organizer who admonished those chit-chatting amongst themselves during her performance. “Thank you for listening, it makes a big difference,” she said after restarting and finishing the song. A little respect goes a long way.

Bodywash at M For Montreal 2018

Bodywash at M For Montreal 2018 photo by Dave Macintyre

Bodywash and Winona Forever: Those who stayed up super late on Friday were treated to an intimate show at L’Esco, first at 1 a.m. with local quintet Bodywash, whose heavy use of synths, guitars, ride cymbals and misty sonic textures fit nicely with both the bill and their time slot. The McGill alumni’s moody yet groove-driven dream pop/shoegaze style – creampop, as they call it – resonated nicely with the largely monochromatic red lighting of the venue and the homey feel of the basement bar venue. Around 2 a.m. came Vancouver-Montreal transplants Winona Forever, whose mildly jazzy and R&B-influenced material – not to mention several time signature changes and general left turns during songs – brought a distinct change of pace to the proceedings. While their music might get slapped with the “slacker rock” tag by some, it’s very groove-driven, and did well to keep the audience engaged by the time their set ended – at 2:40 a.m., no less.

Tanukichan at M For Montreal

Tanukichan at M For Montreal photo by Dave Macintyre

Tanukichan: San Francisco’s Hannah van Loon, best known as Tanukichan, may have seemed like a somewhat unexpected opener for Kero Kero Bonito at Sala Rossa during this year’s festival’s closing night, but unlikely pairings can make surprisingly good bedfellows. Flanked by four bandmates and possessing a soft-sounding coo of a voice, her dreamy, shoegazey style (a bit of a theme at this year’s festival) hopped between drum machine-heavy bedroom pop and noisier, guitar-focused tunes – a somewhat more rock-imbued Sleigh Bells, if you will. Her bandmates may have unfortunately drowned her out most of the time, but van Loon’s set acted as a nice calm before KKB’s storm.

Kero Kero Bonito at M For Montreal 2018

Kero Kero Bonito at M For Montreal 2018 photo by Dave Macintyre

Kero Kero Bonito: When a band jumps into a punk rock intro as members are arriving onstage, chances are you’re in for an exciting show – and this one was that and then some. One of the most enigmatic and intriguing bands to arrive in the last few years, Kero Kero Bonito helped close out this year’s M for Montreal by bringing the Sala Rossa faithful a dose of unbridled joy, quirky and cute songs, and a couple death growls from frontwoman Sarah Midori Perry – not to mention some plush flamingos and alligators to boot. The Japanese-influenced band jump from electropop to rock to noise pop and many places in between, with many songs from throughout their young career – “Flamingo” in particular – commanding huge singalongs from the sold-out crowd. Bringing the members of Tanukichan back onstage during the encore to dance as KKB powered through “Trampoline”, the energy onstage and in the audience was on par with, if not better than, the benchmark Hubert Lenoir set on night one. With a musically and aesthetically diverse identity, as well as a rousing and straight-up fun live show, a bigger venue than Sala Rossa beckons next time they roll through town.


Words by Dave MacIntyre

This article originally appeared on Northern Transmissions.

“Lover Chanting” Little Dragon

November 7, 2018

Lover Chanting
Little Dragon
Label: Ninja Tune

Whether it’s through their own material or someone else’s, Little Dragon have established themselves as one of the most alluring and eclectic acts of this decade. From collaborations with GorillazSBTRKT, Big Boi, DJ Shadow and Kaytranada among others, to critically acclaimed full-lengths running the musical gamut from trip hop to soul to synth-pop and multiple places in between, the Swedish electronic group take influence mainly from the clubs with new EP Lover Chanting – released this time via Ninja Tune; home to Bonobo, Amon Tobin and Machinedrum. Following their somewhat downbeat 2017 effort Season High, they pull a 180 by taking things in a dancier, more exuberant direction this time around, even if the sample size is small.

The EP’s title track and lead single is a bouncy, infectious number with a disco/soul feel, with Yukimi Nagano’s uniquely exquisite voice on the verses – with some Prince-esque harmonies sprinkled in the mix as well – while drummer Erik Bodin takes centre stage on its equally sprightly hook (“Do you wanna be my girl? I wanna be, be your man”). It’s a spirited and extremely groovy single with a distinct, ‘70s/‘80s nightclub vibe, and some cleverly-written lines about dedication to your significant other (“No hurricanes nor the best cocaine will steal my love.”)

Second track “In My House” is an exercise in loungier and more experimental deep house, very in line with the Ninja Tune sound – so much so that it wouldn’t sound out of place in a Bonobo DJ set. While it doesn’t pack the title song’s melodic punch, it still serves its purpose as a wispy, percussion-driven midway point, complete with the sound of rolling waves as the track comes to a close. Things get back to a groovier feel with the third and final new track “Timothy”, with a whistle intro; a memorable hook (“Timothy play your song, ooh, to the break of dawn”); and easygoing, R&B-meets-synth-pop instrumentation serving as its backbone.

While it only consists of three new songs plus a radio edit of the title track tacked onto the end, Lover Chanting still acts as an intriguing taste of Little Dragon’s ability to focus squarely on getting listeners ready to dance rather than jump from one mood and style to the next – a direction they’d do well to expand on with a proper LP, whenever that arrives.

Words by Dave MacIntyre

This article originally appeared on Northern Transmissions.

POP Montreal 2018 Live Review

September 29, 2018

Another year of POP Montreal is halfway through, with plenty of great sets – and annoying scheduling conflicts – already having left their mark on this year’s edition of the festival. One of the biggest things about POP is not only in its ability to turn your attention toward acts you may only have a passing familiarity with (as was the case for me this year), but that it covers all end of the musical spectrum – experimental, lo-fi, hip hop, jazz, reggae, etc – and traces of all of those genres and more can be found in the first few days of the influential Montreal festival’s 17th year. Here are some highlights from the first half of POP Montreal 2018.

Oneohtrix Point Never: Playing a headline show also acting as part of this year’s Red Bull Music Festival, Daniel Lopatin and two other musicians took to the stage in front of a packed crowd at the Monument-National, with his meticulous yet highly experimental and ambient soundscapes illuminating the elegant concert hall. The combination of his music, use of samples, and glitchy sound effects with eye-popping 3D visuals – sometimes state of the art, other times deliberately cheesy and outdated – made for an extremely immersive concert experience. Between flashing lights, piercing synths, orchestral arrangements, and Lopatin’s haunting, vocoder-heavy vocals (when he wasn’t performing instrumental tracks, that is), the concert became a meditative and sweeping audiovisual experience that not only fit its environment like a glove, but also blurred the lines nicely between an electronic act and a beautifully-crafted art showcase that ended with a standing ovation – not bad for the last show of their most recent tour.

Clairmont the Second: This feisty Toronto rapper came through the Late Night at the Piccolo Rialto for his final show of 2018, spending most of it spitting his rhymes with a punchy style of delivery over solidly produced beats… and complaining about the crowd’s lack of enthusiasm in spite of it. While the crowd was indeed relatively sparse – he was on around midnight on a Wednesday night – he made the best of it even if people were likely tuckered out and needing to wake up for work the next morning. His bemoaning of the lack of crowd activity took away from the experience a bit, but a fun set nonetheless.

Venus Furs: Despite what their name may imply, this local trio don’t have a strong Velvet Underground feel to their sound. Instead, the band took to the stage at the tiny, intimate L’Esco on Thursday night surrounded by red lighting and what the band themselves describe as “the alternative to psychedelic surf punk.” Frontman/guitarist Paul Kasner’s soft-spoken voice meshed quite well with their energetic, bass line-driven tunes with a slight ‘90s alternative rock edge to it, and was well-received by the crowd in spite of the band’s relatively early 9 p.m. start time.

Caveboy: Having had the opportunity to record music in Ireland, win the Juno Master Class, and have their music featured on Orange is the New Black – as highlighted in our recent interview with their lead vocalist/guitarist Michelle Bensimon – Caveboy are a band who seem poised to keep growing in stature despite not having released a proper debut LP yet. The West Island natives perform with finesse, confidence, and a catalogue of fun, old and new-school inspired indie pop music, with a heavy influence from ‘80s new wave and pop (closing with a cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”). They aren’t afraid to let loose on stage, either; with Bensimon and bassist/keyboardist Isabelle Banos banging sticks on drummer Lana Cooney’s kit at one point in their set Thursday at O Patro Vys. With a crowd dancing and bouncing around throughout their show, Caveboy are one of Montreal’s more charismatic live bands, and proved it once again with their fairly brief 30-minute set time breezing by as a result.

Sydanie and JPEGMAFIA: Late on Thursday came one of this year’s festival’s marquee rap shows, headlined at Le Belmont by critically-acclaimed Baltimore noise rapper JPEGMAFIA. Performing just before him was Toronto emcee Sydanie, whose vivacious personality shone through both in her hilarious stage banter and the songs themselves – one of which saw her rhyme forcefully over Flying Lotus’ “Camel”. Even if the crowd was mostly waiting for JPEG to come onstage, Sydanie did her best to whet their appetites with tracks running the gamut from trap to house and electronica.

And then… “PEGGY! PEGGY! PEGGY!” The rambunctious and explosive rapper was a perfect fit for Le Belmont’s dark and somewhat gritty atmosphere, with the crowd going absolutely bonkers for him and his loud and aggressive delivery. His screaming may have overpowered the already frantic and bass-heavy beats themselves, but it worked nicely in his favour, amping fans up with freestyles, compliments toward Canada’s quality of marijuana, and even a brief singalong of Clipse’s “Keys Open Doors” when he found someone’s lost keys onstage. The emcee born Barrington Hendricks wasn’t afraid to throw shade, either, with Kanye West, Donald Trump, and notably Morrissey all drawing his ire – underlined with a rapturous performance of the aptly titled “I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies”. If his live shows – and the response he gets from them – are anything to go by, JPEGMAFIA’s stock is sure to only continue to rise.

Badge Époque Ensemble and Bill CallahanThis side-by-side pairing was a tale of two extremes during this sold-out night at the Rialto Theatre. Prior to veteran singer-songwriter Bill Callahan taking the stage, experimental avant-rockers the Badge Époque Ensemble entertained with a percussionist, drummer, guitarist, bassist and flutist performing jazz-tinted instrumental numbers in front of a quiet yet receptive crowd. Their jammy rhythms and progressive song structures would stand in huge contrast to Callahan’s considerably more stripped-down affair that was to come, but it emphasizes how eclectic and wide-ranging POP’s roster of artists can be.

As for Callahan, his set would consist of little more than him and an acoustic guitar while another musician noodles on his, though his penchant for frank story-telling and folky alt-country tunes coupled with his low-pitched, somewhat grumbly voice worked extremely well with the intimate yet expansive Rialto. What I saw of his set was a mature, earnest display of a talented and underrated artist 14 albums deep into his career, with his accompanying guitarist adding a great sense of depth and duality to the performance. With that, however, I had to deal with one of the festival’s harsh realities: scheduling conflicts. Therefore, I ran over to the Fairmount Theatre to catch another major veteran act on this year’s bill. Speaking of which…

The Charlatans UK: Arriving at Fairmount midway through this legendary ‘90s band’s set, The Charlatans – erm, The Charlatans UK, that is – put on a hugely entertaining and groovy show in front of a receptive crowd who shimmied and shook throughout. Rocking a pair of overalls and one hell of a blonde bowl cut, their hypnotically-voiced frontman Tim Burgess sung and swayed his way through old and new material, though the entire set was emblematic of the Britpop and Madchester sounds they’d been known for during their heyday. With major hits back home like “The Only One I Know” and “Then” played alongside more recent cuts like “Come Home Baby” and “Plastic Machinery”, the West Midlands band put on one of this year’s festival’s most sprightly and flat-out fun sets to date.


Words by Dave MacIntyre


This article originally appeared on Northern Transmissions.