Friday, November 30, 2012

Shit Camera Exposé: Evening Hymns (The Mansion House)

Taking into consideration my awareness of a quality Evening Hymns show, plus the way Spirit Guides floored me in late 2009 – skyrocketing to the #4 spot on SCQ’s TopTwenty Albums list – I was unusually indifferent about catching the Toronto-based folk troupe on their way across Canada. By no coincidence, I wore the same soft wince on my face when I opted to pass on reviewing Evening Hymns’ third full-length this past summer. While a worthy successor to Spirit Guides in virtually every way, Spectral Dusk was so fundamentally knotted in the death of songwriter Jonas Bonnetta’s father that critical input seemed unwelcome. Hell, I’d had enough trouble finding opportune times to even play such a painstakingly personal account, let alone analyze it.

So I had no misapprehensions that tonight’s show would be a summoning of ghosts, which after a long day at work isn’t exactly how I like to kick back. On the way into The Mansion House, I envisioned Bonnetta telling teary-eyed anecdotes while his bandmates looked at their shoes, solemn as in a funeral. And while all of that pretty much came to be, the assumed tipping point where an emotional deluge would trigger discomfort among audience members never materialized. Quite the opposite, Bonnetta – with his soft wit and disarmingly natural stage presence – put a spell over the crowd, alternating between devastation, catharsis and, ultimately, celebration.

Before Bonnetta had even promised a “massive bummer”, the first several rows of people abruptly settled on The Mansion House’s wooden floorboards in a touching show of respect. And the Evening Hymns four-piece, rounded out by rich vocal harmonies and careful embellishments (including accordion and trumpet!), returned the favor with a slow but life affirming set. “Arrows” ditched its percussive element for methodical strumming while “You and Jake” surrendered the subtle bombast ascribed to on disc for a gentler meditation. If these takes lacked some of the teeth of the recorded versions, Bonnetta’s investment in the material supplied adequate doses of intensity, his eyes possessed beneath tosses of hair. Even when addressing his father’s presence as an inspiration behind each song, he spoke lightly, eliciting laughs despite his voice choking up, and considerably deepened Spectral Dusk’s narrative.

On the heels of an encouraging crowd and the band’s relaxed banter (which, at one point turned the testing of an incessantly buzzing guitar into a series of lightsaber jokes), Evening Hymns’ set gathered some serious momentum in its final songs. A cutting performance of “Cabin In the Burn” and their famously propulsive live version of “Mountain Song” provided adrenaline before the stillness of “Spectral Dusk”, which Bonnetta performed alone. As a highlight of the show, this closing number is obviously something I’d like to attempt describing. But much like the tragic nature of Evening Hymns’ latest album, Bonnetta’s live approach to “Spectral Dusk” is too pure and impassioned for my words to blemish. As Bonnetta himself admitted, now is a strange time to be Evening Hymns, each night wrestling such overwhelmingly personal and potentially destructive subject matter. That makes now a strange time to see Evening Hymns as well, but an unforgettable time indeed. Don’t miss it.

Megrez - Nite Lite


Nite Lite
Desire Path Recordings.

SCQ Rating: 73%

First impressions are completely disposable when it comes to found-sound records, and Megrez is no exception. Given some dedication, what initially plays like a slapdash assortment of whirls, bird-chirps and chimes will unfurl spaciously into a sweltering landscape, alien but peaceful. In the case of many good found-sound experiments, their isolated fragments mimic the working gears of songcraft until they’re virtually indistinguishable – like pop music assembled via instruments that nobody has heard before. But Nite Lite aren’t looking for inscrutable hooks; the duo of Philip and Myste French has instead taken upon nature as the forefront of organic textures, not unlike Brian Eno did for On Land

All manner of birds and animals can be heard on Megrez, merely suggesting a place that Nite Lite calls into focus with cerebral interplays of rhythm and texture. The results envelop listeners into a world fraught with eerie familiarity (the warming kettle and livestock calling “The Axis Of Tao”) and serene disorder (the frogs and rain-drop percussion that marks “Fire Walkers”). This is music for turning off, for remedying daily routines with an exotic alternate universe. And in that respect, Megrez works wonders as ambience that spills from your 'alternate' open window – your stereo speakers.

Monday, November 12, 2012

In Miserum Stercus - Kyle Bobby Dunn

In Miserum Stercus

Kyle Bobby Dunn
Komino Records.

SCQ Rating: 78%

In light of his signature minimalist sound (something I attempted to describe earlier this year in SCQ's review of Bring Me the Head of…), it comes as little surprise that critical discourse tends to focus squarely on Kyle Bobby Dunn’s spaciousness. And while it’s true that at least two of the Canadian composer’s albums have breached the one hundred minute mark, Dunn has also been generous in unveiling records of less imposing run-times. The latest, In Miserum Stercus, runs a lean 35 minutes – which is all well and good – but best of luck assessing these soundscapes on the merits of size.

For one thing, In Miserum Stercus doesn’t feel 35 minutes long, bleeding out pure yet emotionally varied tones over a standstill that could easily be mistimed by twice as many minutes. So while yes it can score a reasonable morning commute with room to spare, its scope promises to go on and on. Dunn’s range, one endlessly rolling horizon, wasn’t always this smooth – 2011’s Ways Of Meaning presented textural shifts abrupt by comparison – but In Miserum Stercus proves a sterling companion to Dunn’s aforementioned 2012 double-album because both present yearning loops that could unspool into eons of real-time attachment.

At the risk of encouraging a ‘less is more’ attitude with regards to a catalog I personally enjoy sprawling and impenetrable, Dunn’s work irresistibly shines on an intimate, 35-minute platter. The nostalgic high watermark “Meadowfuck” and pensive slow-burner “Lake Wapta Rise” orient the record’s space economically or, in other words, allows the listener to navigate In Miserum Stercus’ flow at a quicker pace. And digestibility is an especially important attribute when the record in question collects some of Dunn’s most airy offerings to date. “Buncington Revisited”, in some ways classic Kyle Bobby Dunn, transforms unnoticed from mournful gloom into something entirely different and unsettling, while “The Milksop” wastes no time soaring on a wash of overlapping classical smears. Yet another worthy addition to a seriously underrated discography, In Miserum Stercus quixotically showcases Dunn at his most linear and esoteric.

Total Entertainment - Tusks

Total Entertainment

Static Clang Records.

SCQ Rating: 75%

Hold your horses, Total Entertainment; the smeared distortion and lethargic rhythm locked between bass and drums on “Little Pirouettes” don’t carry any of the flash-bang satisfaction promised in such a title. Instead, Tusks’ opening track teases a crescendo that never arrives; its steady build of backing vocals and drum-fills tapering back into ether. Once listeners look closely at the cover-art’s vacant and weathered venue, however, they’ll recognize Tusks are going about building a name for themselves the old-fashioned way: employing original songwriting ideas and deft musicianship over ear-turning trendiness.

Perhaps this quartet’s willingness to skirt the limelight in favour of an appreciative audience explains how Total Entertainment recollects some of rock’s most enduring talents: Wilco, Steely Dan, The Eagles and unmistakably something uniquely their own. Samir Khan’s velvety vocals compliment the band’s expert playing, fitting seamlessly into compositions that typically breathe with two or three fully formed objectives. “New To Old Money” provides a prime example of how idyllically Khan’s multi-tracked harmonies magnify Tusks’ knack for melody, whereas meatier tracks like organ-punctuated “Wake Them Up” and the angular “Syllables” emphasize electric doses of bar-band aplomb.

Even when wielding bombast, Tusks don’t aim for the jugular. These compositions prefer to oscillate a mood and it’s their instrumentation – how it patiently evolves and morphs – that opens Total Entertainment to multiple requisite listens. There’s a lot of delicacy to these arrangements and, when focused upon for closing track “To See It Through”, it leaves a subtle but thrilling pause in its wake. A very promising full-length debut.

Until the Quiet Comes - Flying Lotus

Until the Quiet Comes

Flying Lotus
Warp Records.

SCQ Rating: 77%

I can’t be the only person out there who wishes Flying Lotus would make up his mind sometimes. For all of Steven Ellison’s game-changing contributions to the realms of hip hop and modern rhythm-and-blues, his technique feels paralyzed by a refusal to stick with any idea beyond a two-minute margin. If I could commit to calling it a problem, I’d swear he’s only getting worse. But little about Flying Lotus comes easily – especially steadfast criticism – as Until the Quiet Comes continues following the same fragmented rabbit-hole that Cosmogramma busted open in 2010.

Ultimately the best way to approach Flying Lotus’ severe ADHD is passively, allowing his sketch-like tracks to cluster into abstract suites that stimulate the brain and its kinetic impulses. “All In”, “Getting There” and “Until the Colours Come” form the first grouping and it’s a sumptuous movement of consolidated cosmic happenings. The same cannot be said for Until the Quiet Comes’ middle ground, which is populated by experimental hip-hop tracks (“Sultan’s Request”, “Putty Boy Strut”) that awkwardly un-focuses, for a time, a hard-earned jazz/rhythm-and-blues/hip-hop amalgamation. But by remaining passive and accepting whatever whims Ellison indulges, listeners will avoid trying to filter Until the Quiet Comes’ various levels into the ideal genre-mix they’re occasionally greeted by. It sounds like a chemistry experiment because it virtually is one; an array of calculations drawn up to determine what happens when two clashing sounds collide. This grade concludes that Flying Lotus commits to an agreeable fusion 77% of the time.