5 ON THE FLY: Five mini reviews all in one place.


DANIELLE FRICKE – Moon

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Danielle Fricke can be viewed as two musicians in one. On the one hand there is the acoustic guitar based singer-songwriter as best exemplified in “Dizzy”, and then there is the ambient electronic artist. Fricke is so comfortable in the second role that many of the tracks are entirely or mostly instrumental. But to consider this a dichotomy would be a mistake because the elements blend together with ease. Glitchy electronics and swelling synth bass are completely part of the framework of “The Well”, which is essentially a wintery folk tale. Conversely, Fricke’s sweet vocals fade into the musical fabric of “Maisy” just like another instrument.

‘Moon’ can be enjoyed and appreciated as a work of simple beauty, but it also has a complexity that reflects the talents of its creator.





ESMERINE – Lost Voices

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2015 witnessed the return of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, but they did not re-enter the Canadian post-rock scene unopposed. There was stiff competition from likes of Pachyderm, Fresh Snow, and, yes, Esmerine. In Esmerine’s case it should come as no surprise given that most of the its member also play in GYBE. What makes them special, perhaps, is not so much what they have in common with their better known counterparts but what sets them apart.

Godspeed may stir up your emotions with grandiosity but Esmerine soothes your soul with delicate violins. Where GYBE expose the world’s ugly darkness, Esmerine uses beguiling chimes to create shrouds of mystery. The cacophonic noise of Godspeed could raise the demons of hell, whereas Esmerine’s symphony of guitar sound like angels bringing hope.

One is not better than the other. They are like the yin and the yang. It’s nice to have both.




REINDEER – City of Garden

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‘City of Garden’ starts with the sounds of a funfair, serving notice that this is going to be a cornucopia of odd delights. And, boy, is it ever. You have to get past your own preconceptions, though, because every song challenges them. How can hip-hop comfortably co-exist with psych pop? And yet it does (“love, electronic”). You also get children chanting alongside processed male vocals in a high energy electro number (“Ray Gun”), and strummed mandolins anchoring a glam ballad (“fhoning in”). After a while you realize that the music isn’t muddled, it’s just you perceiving it that way. Once you relax and get over yourself you can really kick back and enjoy one of the quirkiest releases this year.




CREATURE SPEAK – Shadow Songs

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There are a number of references to ghosts in the collection known as ‘Shadow Songs’ and the music does tend to be haunting. At the same time it is achingly beautiful, thanks both to Brittany Brooks’ emotive voice and her lovingly crafted arrangements. With its use of banjo, acoustic guitar and occasional pedal steel the album has an overall feel of bluegrass, even though Brooks is essentially a modern indie folk singer. The bluegrass element, however, lends a wistful air. It would, in fact, be mournful if it wasn’t the passion for life that is ever-present.

Brooks may have set out to face the reality of death but her infectious feeling of hope buoys up the compositions, resulting in a gorgeous work that is, in its own quiet way, a form of celebration.




ELIZA – Oootchh

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I doubt that Eliza set out to make an album that was all things to all people, but they damn well nearly succeed in doing just that. This band is essentially an art rock outfit with an occasional penchant for blasts of metal heaviness, but they are creatively restless and are forever seeking new ways to express themselves musically. There’s prog-folk with Beatlesque vocals (“Moonshined”), slow burn blues-rock with a complex beat (“TK’s Track”), post-rock instrumental (“Juju’s Transgressions”), and churning math-rock (“Mushi-Mushi”). None of this is straight-up, however, as all of the tracks are given the Eliza treatment, which includes abrupt tempo changes, screaming crescendos, and moments of utter chaos.

Unless you simply hate music, there is bound to be something in ‘Oootchh’ that appeals to you (or, if you are like me, all of it). It’s not that Eliza is out to entertain you, it would seem, or to even show off how clever they are (and they are). No, it’s more a case of Eliza just being Eliza.