Artist: Bob Dylan
Writer: Spencer Nestico-Semianiw
Bob Dylan’s 1997 album Time Out of Mind marked his return to the musical innovation that hasn’t been heard since the late 1970s. With the creation of his 2000s masterpieces Love and Theft and Modern Times, Bob Dylan sought to invigorate his career by reinventing himself as an artist. In this gathering momentum Dylan has released the appropriately named Tempest.
Bob Dylan has always felt the need to write about the social barriers within his time, but here he's looking more to the past. Instead of rambling about the present, songs like “Roll on John” reminisce. Perhaps Dylan is just living the life of his contemporaries, who see the past as an escape from today. He doesn’t adapt to the times because he knows they’ll adapt to him. But these sentiments may not mean much to young people who want music grounded in the present, just as the youth of yesterday did.
The title Tempest sparked anxious rumors that this would be Dylan’s last album. Although Dylan has refuted the claims, if this is indeed his last effort it would do an appropriate justice to his career. That’s saying quite a lot.
Album: Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Artist: Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Writer: Alexander Sallas
A few weeks ago, the music world collectively orgasmed as famed
Canadian post-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor announced out of nowhere that they would be releasing their fourth album after a ten-year hiatus. Now, one might be inclined to believe that such a long break would have affected the band in some way. One would be wrong. GY!BE are just as good as they ever were.
On Allejuah! Don't Bend! Ascend! the songs are still paced perfectly, the crescendos are still just as mighty, and the instrumentation still comes together to form one living, breathing organism in a way that only GY!BE can do.
The record consists of two longer, more "traditional" songs and two ambient drones. In typical GY!BE fashion, the songs are about twenty minutes apiece, and the drone tracks clock in around six and eight minutes, respectively. Each second of the album is carefully constructed; every sound, every cerebral sample and every bit of feedback has its place.
The album doesn't quite get a perfect score mainly because the final drone track is a little underwhelming. But this is an excellent album nonetheless, and firmly cements GY!BE's place as one of, if not the, greatest post-rock band of all time.
Album: Dead End Kings
Writer: Alexander Sallas
Katatonia’s latest release doesn’t really change the band’s formula of depressive, proggy metal. Instead of change, the band expands their sound. Keyboards and violins are more prominent than ever on "The Racing Heart" and closer "Dead Letters" and female vocals are utilized to great effect on "The One You Are Looking For Is Not Here."
The record has a strong sense of flow, and instrumentally the band puts on a solid performance. The drumming is particularly great, with lots of tasty, creative cymbal hits. David Castillo's production is also fantastic; every instrument is clear and the levels are perfectly balanced.
The previously mentioned lack of change is slightly disappointing, but nonetheless, Katatonia have crafted a great album with Dead End Kings. It may not reinvent the wheel, but when the wheel is this well-oiled, why bother changing it?
Artist:Matt & Kim
Writer: Brody Weld
Heavy kick drums, over-the-top synth layering, shout-y vocals, catchy melodies…sound familiar? If you’re already a Matt & Kim fan, you’ll recognize this formula. It hasn’t changed, and they intend to keep it that way.
To be fair, Matt & Kim’s consistency could be seen as either a talent or a crutch. Most bands have a difficult time getting to their fourth album without trying a new direction. Not Matt & Kim. They still pepper their upbeat songs with simple piano lines, the keyboards still sound like early ‘90s Casios, and Matt is still belting the same vocal lines (seriously, some tracks have nearly identical vocal melodies to previous recordings; compare “Let’s Go” and “Good For Great” from the previous album).
The strengths: they’re still great at what they do. “I Said” and “I Wonder” are masterfully produced. “Let’s Go” is an echo of their first big hit, “Daylight,” and “It’s Alright” features one of the catchiest brass lines ever. The flaws: it’s a disappointingly small album, and if you played it back-to-back with their self-titled debut, most people couldn’t say which came first.
Album: The Seer
Released: August 28, 2012
It reportedly took thirty years to make, but it’s finally here. A massive, monolithic, double-disc release spanning nearly two hours, Swans’ The Seer is anything but an easy listen; songs repeat the same two-note progression for several minutes before abruptly turning into avant-garde campfire sing-a-longs or bagpipe solos. Additionally, any form of traditional song structure is pretty much disregarded, with two tracks hovering around twenty minutes and one even topping thirty (!).
Indeed, the album feels more like a long trek than anything, and the discordant atmosphere throughout only adds to this sensibility. Some listeners may be turned off by the record’s deliberate pace and lengthy repetitious stretches, but these are all part of that aforementioned trek, one that is just as rewarding as it is challenging. The Seer is a masterfully crafted, painstakingly detailed album and the best of the year so far. It may have been thirty years in the making, but it was thirty years well spent.
It’s epic, it’s loud... it’s Epicloud! The latest solo release from musical mad scientist Devin Townsend is also his most grandiose yet, combining layers of heavy guitars, choirs, uplifting keyboards and pounding drums. And of course, insanely diverse vocals from the man himself into one enormous-sounding record.
It’s actually a happy, upbeat listen for the most part, with great performances across the board (particularly guest vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen). However, the problem is that some of the melodies are all too familiar, repeated for needlessly long stretches. Furthermore, the record lacks the depth of Townsend’s previous work. But that’s not to say it’s a bad album by any means – the song “Epicloud” is a fun listen that definitely lives up to its title and the name of the album.
Released: June 12, 2012
I have been a big fan of Colin James since Little Big Band in 1993. During the intervening years he has progressed from swing blues into the rock/soul/blues groove of “Fifteen” his 15th(!) and most recent CD.
James is originally from Saskatchewan but he gets a lot of help from local talent like Gordie Johnson, Tom Wilson and Ron Sexsmith for this record.
Of his new songs, “Sweets Gone Sour” and “I’m Diggin’” are the best. The cover of Robert Palmer’s “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley” brings back memories. And big props go to the cover of “Oh Well” by the original Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac – it sounds like real British Blues, before the sugar coating added in the seventies.
Colin James is on tour this Fall; check him out at the Sanderson Centre in Brantford on October 26.
Released: September 7, 2012
If you bought the Canadian punk rock band’s fourth studio album expecting a jaw-dropping masterpiece or a musically revelatory leap in the Billy T progression, you may have to look elsewhere. What you can expect from Dead Silence is a firm step in the right direction from a band that hasn’t failed to deliver in terms of consistency with each release. From the top, we’re graced with the haunting, hymnal intro of “Lonely Road To Absolution,” which features some of guitarist Ian D’Sa’s most impressive harmonies to date. Any hopes that this atmospheric beginning might indicate a more progressed Billy Talent sound are dashed as soon as the familiar galloping guitar rhythms of the album’s single, “Viking Death March,” are heard.
The rest of the album is exactly what diehard fans will expect: repetitive but well-crafted vocal hooks, easy-to-decipher lyrics, unique progressions, crisp guitar tones, climactic bridges, and the iconic triumphant howls of frontman Ben Kowalewicz. Tracks like “Stand Up And Run” remind us that Billy Talent doesn’t need to stick to a full-speed-ahead formula to sound good, while the more traditionally punchy “Man Alive!” stand as testament to just how well they can execute all the old tricks. Dead Silence certainly isn’t the refreshing, matured album that we should perhaps be expecting after three very linear (albeit solid) releases. But if you’re looking for talent, the boys still live up to the band name.
Released: September 3, 2012
Jens Lekman has always been at his best when he’s at his saddest, so the release of his breakup album, I Know What Love Isn’t, was an exciting prospect. But writing 40 minutes of music about heartbreak clearly comes with some creative constraints: while Lekman’s characteristic wit is still on display, his third LP largely plays it safe musically.
There’s none of the left-field pop weirdness of “It Was A Strange Time In My Life,” or the canned steel drums of “Happy Birthday, Dear Friend Lisa.” Instead, for an album about heartache from a man who once sang “It’s a perfect night for feeling melancholy,” Love is a pretty upbeat record. “Erica America” finds Lekman perfecting his signature slow-burning cabaret, while the funk guitar and bongos of “The World Moves On” recall the poppier moments of 2007’s Night Falls Over Kortedala. Far from the lachrymose fare one might expect, I Know What Love Isn’t comes off as emotionally flat compared with the intensity (and idiosyncrasy) of Lekman’s past work. But its smooth, lounge-y arrangements allow Lekman to showcase his charm and pop sensibilities, and ultimately make for an endearing album.