Kyross – EP

If you haven’t heard of Kyross, it’s for two understandable reasons: First, he’s 16, and second, this is his first EP. Still in high school, he’s been honing his production skills remixing. You can hear all that on Soundcloud.

With the help of Midwest Collective, Maple Ridge-based Kyross released this 3-track EP that combines R&B grooves with gritty electronica and floating ambiences.

I might also mention that he’s a student at the school I teach at, so I’m proud of him pursuing what he’s passionate about. Listen here, pay what you will at Bandcamp.

I Am Mountain, Literalism & the Christian Complex

I am Mountain

Obviously nobody likes to create art like this and immediately have to explain or defend it in the first 48 hours. – Chris McGrath

‘Liturgical post-rock collective’ Gungor released their third album, I Am Mountain, earlier this week. Received with intense praise, in its musical quality, I Am Mountain continues Gungor’s journey of innovation, trumping Beautiful Things and Ghosts Upon The Earth.

The album has received equally intense criticism, with some of the more common criticisms being: “It’s not ‘Christian’ enough”. “There’s too much mythological language”. “Where is the hope?”

As Michael Gungor writes on his own blog, “explaining poetry with prose can sometimes be counterproductive”. It’s not wrong of people to want answers. We all do. But I say this: not every art piece produced by Christians needs to be a comprehensive picture of the gospel of Jesus. Christian Contemporary Music has attempted that and runs the risk of being inauthentic: what, you’ve got it all figured out? Attempting to answer our own hard questions is overwhelming. Michael speaks more about that in his book The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse.

My dancer friend Kim Stevenson is quoted in WeMakeStuff Volume 01, saying: “We do not give God enough credit for how much He can work through our art without it being a literal story about winning souls. God is so real to me while creating that I know He is integrated throughout my work. We need to dive into work that is relevant, pushing boundaries and moving ahead. We need to maintain high standards in our craft, and God will do the rest”.

Even Jesus did not summarize the kingdom of God in one artistic composition. Further, he was famous for speaking metaphorically, not literally. He compared the kingdom of God to this and that, allowing the meanings to rise and connect from the deep places of his listeners’ subconscious.

My friend Steffen, a marketer, tells me that 95% of our decisions are made subconsciously rather than consciously. Art forms carry power in their ability to bypass the rational-logical conscious filters and speak to the “heart”.

The final song is a perfect example of art speaking to the heart: this track, which is an exquisite wordless symphony, could speak – without using words – the messages these critics are desirous to hear in this album. Unexpected. Ironic. The message is potentially left unreceived by people looking for literalism. Yet… “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

It’s upsetting that some self-professed “long-time fans” are upset with Gungor, as if they’ve let them down. Let me ask you, on what grounds do you support an artist? As long as they give you the right warm fuzzies? It’s okay for Gungor to put out an album that focuses on questions and even heavier material. Michael Gungor himself doesn’t see it as a heavy album (see video below), but if that’s what the band is experiencing, their art is how they process it. Shunning their material and criticizing them publicly for it is like ostracizing your friend because they are asking hard questions in their personal life. These criticisms reek of an inability to empathize. They stink of objectification and narrow-mindedness.

When we shut ourselves off the the artist’s process, and just expect them to deliver a product that we can consume, we’ve lost sight of the purpose of art. Art’s purpose is to ask the right questions, not deliver all the right answers.

Here’s a video about what Gungor say about it:

Kye Kye – Fantasize [Advance Review]

In June, I received a kind thank-you e-mail from Kye Kye. What I didn’t expect was a link to the new album! All of a sudden, I was the elated recipient of a sneak preview of Kye Kye’s new LP Fantasize — months prior to the release. Because Kye Kye have recently been navigating some tough choices in how to release this album and whether to do it independently or on a certain label, the release date has been postponed to January.

For a music journalist and strong appreciator of Kye Kye’s work, it was a great birthday present (Okay, so their manager didn’t know it was the week of my birthday, but it sure seemed like he had done his research.)

If you don’t know Kye Kye, you might like to read my interview from early 2011. Originating from Eastern Europe, their family moved to Camas, WA, where the three siblings (Olga, Tim, and Alex) began producing music. Olga’s fiance Tommy (now her husband) joined the band to play drums. Kye Kye produce an interesting mix of electronica-infused pop, doing it with both live instruments and programming. They’ve has put out one album, Young Love, and the three siblings put one out prior to that, under the name Paper Rings.

photo by Vanessa Weber
photo by Vanessa Weber

I’ve given Fantasize multiple listens, and it’s clear Kye Kye have worked tirelessly on this new full-length. The band have been quoted calling it a “labour of love”; that’s more than clear – it’s meticulously produced.

I must give you one spoiler alert: it’s pretty different from Young Love. Don’t go into this album expecting more of the same.

The opening chord of Fantasize takes me back to the first time I saw Kye Kye live. These first notes had the same effect on me as in that concert. I stopped breathing. The timbres swirled around me for a moment and then everything became normal again. Pretty mystifying.

This new album Fantasize is something special. And it’s fun.

This album is not only an important step in the evolution of Kye Kye, but I believe it stands out in its genre. The original creativity in this album is astonishing, and I’m sure Kye Kye have drawn influences from atypical sources for the electro-pop genre.

Every instrument on this album has been treated. I noticed the drums first, washed in reverb, while not being at all overbearing or heavy-handed. Olga’s voice, too, has a very glossy, floating feel to it, while remaining front and centre in the mix. A prime example of this is in the middle of “Softly”.

photo from www.kyekyemusic.com
photo from http://www.kyekyemusic.com

What makes this album so different from Kye Kye’s previous work? There’s been an evolution in at least three regards: first, the drums are central to this record. Both real instruments and electronic drum kits have been used. Brilliant stick work and drum programming have created some very tight grooves that enhance the rest of the instrumentation. While Young Love had a great texture to it, Fantasize feels more solid – and that’s a good thing. Second, this album relies less on loops and is driven by bass and beats. It features more instruments in general: synths, horns, percussion, electric guitar, bass, and a multitude of virtual instruments and loops. The guitar, which does not feature strongly on previous album Young Love, are exceptional. Third, Olga’s melodies reveal an increased confidence in exploration. Throughout the album, especially on tracks like “Dreams (2am)” and “Fantasize”, her creative use of timing and intervals brings a freshness and melodic leadership to the music. “Seasons” — and its interlude afterwards — would have been entirely out of place on Young Love, but is a fitting inclusion on Fantasize, and transitions masterfully into “Softly”.

Kye Kye have picked from multiple decades in regards to their influences on this album. “People” and “Softly” throw back to the 80’s. I can’t help but imagine, half-jokingly, that Kye Kye took some production cues from bands like Toto. After all, “Africa” enjoyed a momentary resurgence of stardom last summer.

True to her form, Olga is not afraid to be soul-baringly reflective in her lyrics. “I never knew that I was so harsh with things I thought I wasn’t afraid of. I never knew that I was so scared to change because of honest affection”, she sings on “Honest Affection”. She possesses a real strength of narrating through lyrics, though her tendency to under-enunciate, combined with the effects of reverb, can make it a challenge to pick out exactly what she is saying at times. Nonetheless, the production on her voice is magnificent.

Meticulously produced, this is a very strong release from Kye Kye. It’s exceptionally powerful musically and sets the bar for original creativity very high.

Brocken Spectre – Grand Kids EP

http://brockenspectretunes.bandcamp.com/
http://brockenspectretunes.bandcamp.com/

Followers of the Vancouver music scene will need to give this album its due this summer, because Brocken Spectre just levelled up. The release of Grand Kids EP is exactly what fans would want: right-on-target studio takes of songs they’ve heard live. The band calls its own offerings avant-pop; It’s Neapolitan in flavour: hopefully it’s the sort of freshness that will save us from the deeply adulterated indie-as-a-genre phase. Stripped down, it’s drum kit, guitar and bass, occasional robotic synths, and a stirring voice.

Either they arranged with Mario and Luigi for a shipment of golden mushrooms this year, or it could have something to do with more live performance experience; gains in confidence for the band reveal themselves in brave explorations of their musical territory. Colin Ablitt traverses the upper and lower (rock bottom) limits of his range, while Colin Campbell (drummer) teaches floor toms the greatness they were destined for.

Exploration is a word that could describe this album. The second EP produced by the band, it is mostly the translation of live songs into studio ones, and that’s pretty satisfying. Sonically it contains strong pieces; some parts are catchy as a fishhook.

All parts played by this four-piece from Burnaby/Coquitlam fuse together to produce the slightly dark oft-performed “Marionette King”, with Ablitt’s strong melody lines and Nic Campbell’s crisp guitar work that make the song stand out.

Opening song “Frost”, a fan favourite at shows, translates nicely into studio with the sense of the drums not being lost, the harmonies of the song resolving as usual from minor-keyed trisyllabics into a full-hearted rouser. “Steam Hands” jungle-drum opening glides unexpectedly into blissful alternative rock a la The Decembrists and reveals some strengths of the band.

Repulsed by redundancy, it’s an album of surprises. Sometimes the vocals have a folksy colour to them and sometimes they’re alt-pop. Spectre is good at locking into a groove and equally skilled at recreating it. Andrew Cleasby’s bass keeps the tracks anchored while Colin Campbell drums interesting and cleverly-placed rhythms.

It’s this final, somewhat-Fleet-Foxes-inspired “Corlioghost” that is most striking. Opening with its three-part harmonies and plodding synths, the track develops awestruck lyrics like: “I’ve been fascinating on you for some time now…lion, come and catch me”. It packs a punch in its diversity, changing and fading only after a drum, bass and guitar interlude that is a concert staple for the band.

“Anteros & I” is unexpected. This grungy piece explores the gravel floor of Ablitt’s vocals and drags a little, but the song upshifts gears and becomes incredibly enjoyable after he takes a turn for his more familiar upper reaches. Tight stick work from Campbell drives it forward; indeed, it contains some of the most memorable harmonies and rhythms on the whole album.

With the release of this EP, new material is to be expected from the band, and as mentioned in my last interview with them, a possible entry into Vancouver’s prestigious Peak Performance Project. In the meantime, enjoy the places Brocken Spectre has explored on this EP.

DSC_1343

 

Holobody – Riverhood

Holobody - Riverhood - cover

 

If only I knew sooner that simply typing “Canada” into Bandcamp’s search bar would bring incredible music like this to my ears, I wouldn’t have waited so excruciatingly long.

Riverhood is one of the most creative albums I have ever heard, and I do not say this lightly. It’s the work of Montreal’s highly talented Luke Loseth (aka Felix Green), Charlotte Loseth (aka Sea Oleena) and others listed on their Bandcamp page.

The production is incredible. At any given moment, the sound is a flawlessly layered cake; an auditory delight: vocals reverberating, bass marching, synths spiralling up and down, and an incredible array of ambient sounds – claps, old European radio broadcasts, pianos, glass bottles, and the like.

Genre? “No” is the band’s apt reply. “Sonic exploration”.

Pick this album up. You’ll love what you discover.

Get Riverhood directly from the artist for $8 here: holobody.bandcamp.com

12 Notable Albums from 2012

2012 saw the rise to fame of new artists like the ubiquitous Carly Rae Jepsen and the baffling PSY through contagious singles, but the album charts saw material from a lot of veteran musicians returning to post their sixth albums (No Doubt), ninth (Cat Power), twelfth (Leonard Cohen) or even seventeenth albums (Bruce Springsteen). Artists both new and old have put out innumerable incredible pieces; here’s a sampling the year’s more successful, creative and/or influential albums:

jpndrds-celebrationrock
Celebration Rock
Japandroids
The Vancouver rockers mince no words with the title to this short, rousing anthemic record.
Grizzly-Bear-Shields
Grizzly Bear has concocted something exquisite with the disparate sounds of Shields.
thexxalbumcover
Coexist – The xx
Purposefully leaked by the British outfit to a single fan days before the official release, Coexist went viral and has enjoyed comfortable popularity since. The album is characterized by pulled-back dream-pop and R&B instrumentation with subdued anti-duets, evoking both tenderness and conflict.
bloom beach house
Bloom – Beach House
Suspicions about Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally’s ability to provide a follow-up to Teen Dream are put to rest with the hypnotizing Bloom: worth a two-year wait.
ARTS_Battle-born-killers
Battle Born – The Killers
The Killers play with past and present with epic Battle-Born. The synth-infused, reverberating guitar sound possesses all the arena-rock feel of U2 and Tom Petty, without tritely imitating them.
creation liturgy gungor
A Creation Liturgy
Gungor
For whatever “Christian music” is in its broadest sense right now in North America, Gungor may be the most important independent band. Producing liturgical post-rock that is equally technical, artful and enjoyable, their rise to popularity and their message disregard church walls. In October, lead singer Michael published a book on creativity titled The Crowd, The Critic, and The Muse.
provincial john samson
Provincial
John K. Samson
Weakerthans frontman John Samson decided that for his first solo album, he’d write an apostrophic love letter to Canada. This album makes it onto this list partly for that fact, and partly because Samson does such an incredible job with his lyrics, examining topics from grad school to winter in Manitoba.
music_mumford_sons_babel_album_cover
The London folk-pop quartet returns with a listenable yet stylistically similar follow-up to Sigh No More, pleasing fans, repulsing others, and nonetheless attracting considerable Internet buzz. The dulcent sound of “banjolin” has secured its comeback.
lecraegravity
Gravity – Lecrae
Appearing prolific and full of potential with two albums out this year, Lecrae’s Gravity peaked at #1 on Gospel charts and #1 on Rap charts while his free mixape Church Clothes rose to #5 on the charts, featuring contributions from notable up-and-comers like Beautiful Eulogy.
satellitekite
Satellite Kite
Beautiful Eulogy
Derived from a theological analogy of a kite tethered healthily in a way that enables the kite to fulfill its true purpose, Satellite Kite brings fresh textures and fresh insights to the rap scene, intended, as stated in a lyric from the album, to “make you logically stop and think doxologically cause honestly a little bit of music and theology never really hurt anybody.”
Ten Stories
mewithoutYou
Three years after their last release, post-hardcore band mewithoutYou re-converged to begin writing again. Vocalist Aaron Weiss found inspiration in William James’ tale of a tiger that because of habit dared not leave its cage when opened by a circus train crash. Weiss finds stupendous symbolism in the story and uses his unique lyrical gift to paint allegories in tracing the stories of various animals with his characteristic spoken-word and sung vocals.