5 ON THE FLY: Five mini reviews all in one place.
n/k – baby teeth
A brief but powerful EP from n/k (Niko Clementine). The gorgeously sung “be/have” starts things off like something from a nostalgic ’80s dream. But with lines like “skin yourself why don’t u, baby/be a little less” it’s clear that Clementine means business. Then things turn dark as “nesting” rumbles in with experimental droning. The child-like chimes do nothing but add to the nightmarishness of a song that compares the mind to a termite infestation. The wordless “interlude” is no less chilling, and one could hardly expect a track called “funeral song” to end things on a fun note. If there was such a thing as dreampop blues then this tune about metaphorical death would be it.
The EP is a quiet killer, proving that beauty in music doesn’t have to be pretty.
Prime cut: “nesting”
THE AGE – Inner Palace
‘Inner Palace’ by The Age is a cornucopia of psych-pop delights. The Halifax band capture the lysergic trippiness of the late ’60s but they also infuse their own sense of unbridled fun. “Three Wishes”, for example, starts off like one of those weird Lee Hazlewood country tunes but quickly bounces off into more garage-like territory. More than anything, it’s a blast to hear the different ways that The Age interprets psychedelia: the Beatles style in “The Lantern”, the faux honky-tonk in “Dyin’ Road”, and a kind of Madchester take on things in “Lygersic Blue”. Perhaps most outrageous is the glam-rock of “Rock & Roll”, complete with Mott the Hoople saxophone.
Prime cut: “Three Wishes”
VIVA NON – Pure
Winnipeg producer/musician James Hofer revives the New Romantic movement (partly anyway) with his project Viva Non. The title “DFA” stands for dark fashion art, which could almost have been a mantra for the British New Romantics of the early ‘80s, who emphasized style over substance. Hofer, however, shows off more than a little substance throughout ‘Pure’. Synths may washes over melody and Hofner definitely affects a coldly calculated emotiveness in his voice, but his artistic tendencies shine through nevertheless. A repetitive droning at the beginning of “Internally” evolves into a rhythm, while “Youth” features clever electronic elements and the synthesizer loops in “Arbor” sounds downright Eno-like. His cover is completely blown with the closing track “Non”, which is a gentle ambient number with a dark undercurrent.
Prime cut: “DFA”
THE WEIR – Calmness of Resolve
‘Calmness of Resolve’ has the kind of artistic vision and execution that will draw the ears of even non-metal fans. Most certainly if you listen to drone, prog or post-rock in any form then you cannot fail to appreciate the mastery of the material here. The landscape that is presented isn’t particularly an usual one for doom/sludge metal — a ravaged wasteland where no hope can exist. But the Calgary quartet are virtuosic in their “brushstrokes”, i.e. in the way they use the drums, bass and guitars to create their sonic textures. And their lyrics are far from nonsensical (even though you’ll have a hard time deciphering those growls), with “Rust in Blood”, for instance, being about getting rid of crippling negativity (the “rust” is poison in your veins). The record’s crown jewel, however, features no lyrics. The title track is an epic of reverberating guitars evolving in patterns — rising, falling and regrouping over the space of nearly 15 minutes — and giving post-rockers such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor a run for their money.
Prime cut: “Calmness of Resolve”
SLOW MAN TOFU – Steer
With the help of some friends on drums, synths and backing vocals, ‘Steer’ is essentially a one-man show. And what an odd man he is. Using the moniker Slow Man Tofu, David Parker unfolds a work of curious ingenuity that just gets stranger the further in you get. Except for a few quirky turns of phrase, the first three tracks come off as fairly typical alt folk fare, but the wheels really come off part way through the fourth cut “In The Cedars”. Shortly after intoning “death is on my mind” the song just structurally falls apart and then there is no turning back. “Do The CEO” with its pounding drums and distorted guitars simply defies any genre classification. “For David Blackwood” is weird folk, with emphasis on the “weird”. “Puke Purple” is pretty enough but is definitely off-kilter, and you begin to realize that Parker’s voice sounds like Eddie Vedder from an alternate universe. By the time “The Bellows” rolls around you are so indoctrinated that the music begins to sound normal to you, despite the fact that it burbles and echoes with electronics.
Prime cut: “Do The CEO”