Review – Combine The Victorious – Autonomous


Combine The Victorious are an electronic, progressive pop band that has great melodies and equally great lyrics.  Buying the new album Autonomous on iTunes was a real gem in the cave of music that is iTunes.  The album was released on September 13, 2015 to the masses and the twelve songs are very good and was easy to listen to and dance around my apartment getting coffee and dinner together.

mark henning isabel dunlop 2015

Mark R. Henning and Isabelle Dunlop

Combine the Victorious formed in Vancouver in 2007, growing from a spirited collaboration between husband and wife: record producer/engineer Mark R. Henning, formerly of Pure and Blisterene, and fashion designer Isabelle Dunlop, formerly of Sex With Strangers.  Isabelle has her own Boutique located in Vancouver, B.C.

Details:  Isabel Dunlop, Clothing, Designer & Singer, 4158 Main St., Vancouver, Hours:  Wednesday – Sunday 12-6.

Already independently successful in their chosen fields, their instinct for collaboration was soon realized on their debut full-length album The World Over. The record received both critical and popular praise, including inclusion on compilations as far afield as Toronto and the Czech Republic! The lead single, “Blue Kitchen” went on to become the theme song for the television series “About A Girl”, and was one of eight songs licensed from the record.

Drawing upon this initial success, Combine the Victorious extended to found the wider Boutique Empire Collective, gathering bands Sex With Strangers, Gilles Zolty, Guilty About Girls and other artists connected with the Vancouver scene. Despite this wider commitment, Mark reunited with Jordy Birch to form Guilty About Girls with Isabelle singing with both Guilty About Girls and Sex With Strangers.  And all the while, Combine the Victorious continued to evolve.

Subsequent releases, Disagreements and Crumbling Hearts saw the band refining their musical identity, distilling to a powerful, evocative essence and perfectly captured on the standout track from Crumbling Hearts, the song “Glasgow”, where sumptuous guitars weave in and out of Mark’s wily groove, a perfect backdrop for Isabelle’s melancholy lyric and heart-breaking melody.

Following a European tour as a duo to support the release of Crumbling Hearts in which they did showcases in Stockholm and London, and continued to work for two years writing and recording material for their second full length album Autonomous. A longer process than before, this album is the result of collaborations with Don Harrison, Stefan Sigerson, Ingrid Schroeder, Leigh Grant and several other highly talented artists from the Vancouver music scene. Once again, Combine the Victorious fuse elements of electronica, rock, dance and pop into a unique and compelling soundscape.

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With Autonomous, I can clearly hear and see the evolution and progression of a band with a lot of talent.  The track listing is as follows:

  1.   Hardly Spoken
  2.   Recharge
  3.   Stand In Front Of Tanks
  4.   Caught Up To You
  5.   California ’15
  6.   Smoke and Choke
  7.   Happy Girl
  8.   Best Tonight
  9.   Stop Givin’ Up On Love
  10.   Real Life Turns Me On
  11.   Encryption
  12.   It’s Still On
The first track “Hardly Spoken” is a smack in the face to wake you up to the fact that is band is to be reckoned with in a respectful way in regards to what the album has in store for you.  With choppy and chunky guitar tracks, this song speaks about destruction and devotion, giving up and the like, and they make it clear that it’s been too many times.  However, the chorus is the flip side of the song, and is about hope and not giving in to giving up.  The melody is sweet and matches Isabelle’s fuzzed out vocals that make a great statement in the structure of this song.

“Recharge” is making a fresh start after recharging the batteries.  A sharp guitar picks out the backbone of the song and is almost a bass line which is a perfect match to the melody, which comes in and out of the structure of the song itself.  The guitar work is very good and fits in the song seamlessly.  Awesome.

The third song “Stand In Front Of Tanks” reminds me of a picture of a loan man in Tiananmen Square from China. This song is fast and upbeat with a great electronic start to it, and the melody takes off into the clouds.  Standard drum tracks, which is a background vocal, made me laugh.  I don’t know why, I just found that amusing.  I like the build up of everything towards the end of the song, and handclaps always work in any song.

tiananmen

Tiananmen Square, China, June 5, 1989. Photo: Jeff Widener

“Caught Up To You” has a very catchy guitar groove.  The song explodes with “Woo!” in the background with the pounding melody sounds good.  It’s a great dance/raver song if that’s your scene.

“California ’15” is a slower, more bluesy song with jazz over-tunes throughout the song.  I really like the way it draws you in and washes over you in just over four minutes.  A very pleasant song to chill on.

In “Smoke and Choke”, you have a groovy electronic beat that carries the melody and the whole song.  I like the drum machine changes in this song.  Uniquely done.

“Happy Girl” is upbeat and has a playful feeling to it.  The electronica is the backbone of the song and fuzzed out guitars in places and this gives it a positive feeling in the melody.  This song reminds me of electronica for hippies everywhere, but the truth is that this song is for everyone.  A good dance song.

The song “Best Tonight” has a good combination of guitars and electronica.  Upbeat, positive and making it makes for a good song in the collection of the album.  The beat is solid, the electronica sounds melancholy for a second and it gels with the vocals.  The harmonies are particularly good in this song.

The last 4 songs are in the same vein as the rest of the album.  They are languid, fast, upbeat, melancholy and almost sweet with the song “Giving Up On Love”.  I highly recommend that if you like structured electronica with twists and turns and great dance tunes as well as chillin’ out then this record should be in your playlist.  “Real Life Turns Me On” totally reminds me of being in Germany in October and singing songs in German, drinking beer and having fun polka dancing.

You can hear the album on their website highlighted with the band name, follow them on the Twitter highlight, visit them on Soundcloud here, find them on Bandcamp where you can also buy the album here  and visit the boutique that is Isabelle Dunlop if you are in the Vancouver area.  You can also visit their YouTube  channel to see loads of videos.

 

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Review – Sex With Strangers – You Know Something We Don’t? (2014)


Sex With Strangers (SWS) are from the shadows of rain-covered Vancouver.  They draw from a wide source of influences from new wave and post-punk to ’60’s inspired ballads. Although the band revels in the exploration of a wide variety of genres, SWS has managed to create their own unique sound that is highlighted by robust bass grooves and the vocal interplay between lead singers Hatch Benedict (lead vox/keyboards) and Alexis Young (lead vox/keyboards).  It seems to me that Hatch has met his female musical counterpart in Alexis and vice-versa.  They play well off each other as far as studio music is concerned.  Rounding out the band is Mike Gentile (bass), Cory Price (guitars) and Dan Walker (drums).  I’ve been a big fan of this band since 2009’s The Tokyo Steel LP.  Spin Magazine once named SWS as one of “7 Undiscovered Bands Worth a Listen”, and they are best known for their feverish and interactive live performances.  The band has been showcased at a number of North American Festivals since their inception – which includes performances at SXSW, CMJ, NXNE, Halifax Pop Explosion, Riffilandia, Sled Island, Junofest and Shambhala.

Hatch Benedict.  Photo by Jade Sperry 2010.

Hatch Benedict. Photo by Jade Sperry 2010.

The band are set to release their 6th Studio LP this May 27.  This LP extends the sonic margins of the band’s previous efforts, moving the guitars out front and furthering the unique vocal interplay of Hatch and Alexis.  The vision for this new album is clearly evident when comparing the album’s first single “Slaves to the Night” (a dark unrelenting bass driven track) to Alexis Young’s dreamy synth crackling entry ballad “Burned”.

The album was recorded, mixed and produced by Paul Boechler (along with the band Sex With Strangers) at Garth Richardson’s Fader Mountain Studios in Vancouver. It was mastered by Brock McFarlane (at CPS Mastering Vancouver BC).  The cd was designed and photographed by Alexis Young with photo styling by Lindsay Elliott. Also in the cd, there is a thank you to the students at the Nimbus School of Recording Arts in Vancouver BC.

Mike Gentile (bass) on the left and Cory Price (guitar) on the right. Photo by Jade Sperry 2010.

Mike Gentile (bass) on the left and Cory Price (guitar) on the right. Photo by Jade Sperry 2010.

The track listing is as follows:

1.   Hostages

2.   22

3.   Pink Sock

4.   Slaves to the Night

5.   Falling Over

6.   Burned

7.  Wasted Glory

8.   Space Wolf

9.   Temporary Love Confession’

10.  Wandering Eyes

“Hostages” begins with high chords on the guitar and has some good bass grooves that come in and out of the song which gives it a choppy feel.  “Don’t you hate it when the panic never arrives?” and “Don’t you hate it when the truth sounds better than lies?” are great lyrics in my books because in a lot of ways, these are true statements. What you expect to happen doesn’t.  “Whatever happened to our senses?” gives one a thought of your senses may be misleading you because you want something to happen that never does.  “You don’t want to be hostages in the night” which can elude to some primal act or emotion or both.  Great song!  This song also reminds me of another great Vancouver band whose CD I’m also reviewing right now.

“22” is a good song with a good hook and melody.  Reminding me of a band in Ontario whose music I really like, this song is taken over by Alexis who sings the lead vocals.  The music is fast, danceable and has a feeling of being crazy. This song also sounds very punk in the music because of the guitar work by Cory Price.  Alexis’ vocals are really good and make a dramatic part from Hatchs’ vocals.  “Let’s go out and tell everyone we know” and “Cause you won’t stop and I won’t tell you no” gives you the impression that there is something that one cannot say no to.  What that is only the band knows.

“Pink Sock” is an interesting title for a song that is written in minor keys (as much of the album is) which gives it a slightly darker feel to it.  “I only want to watch you carry on with your convection” which gives me the impression someone is watching you for what reason(s)?  For their own amusement?  Or for some darker purpose you aren’t aware of?  The guitars are very much in your face but so is the keyboards, so you have a duel off between them. Which is wild and crazy as the melody of the song is really not like that.  But SWS has a way of making notes of music do that.  Bend it baby!

By far the best song on the CD is “Slaves to the Night”.  Wow.  The bass work by Mike is so deep down which makes the song and gives it a great backbone to work off of. Dirty heavy guitars are laced throughout the song as an evil coiled snake moving its way through the songs sinewy body.  Hatch and Alexis’ vocals trade off each other and also compliment each other which gives the song an even more darker edge.  The melody itself is rather edgy in its own way and kind of has a life of its own.  “….I warned you lovers/you can’t take back what’s under the covers” is a great lyric for this song and gives me an indication as to what the song is about.  Fantastic job on guitars Cory!

“Burned” is a dark ballad sung very well by Alexis.  The melody has a very dark edge to it and is all keyboards with some drums, other percussion instruments and guitars with a little bass.  The song reminds me a very well cooked meal in its design.  The melody flows really well in the background giving it a full lush sound. With lyrics like “Oh the way you tricked me and how you lied” and “Oh and how it feels to be so alive” give an indication of a romance gone bad in visceral way but somehow managing to surviving the fallout.

“Space Wolf” is a great title for any song but this song reminds me of a running wolf.  Always going going going without taking time to look around and enjoy life around him/her.  Once again, Hatch and Alexis trade off vocals with Hatch being the aggressive singer and Alexis being softer more gentle with the lyrics.  The music is fast paced, moving on its own as if it too is alive.  “Let me hear you lie” reminds me of lying and maybe getting away with it.  But in the animal world its all about energy that you give off so in a way I would imagine it would be harder to lie to another animal.  That’s how I see the song – very animal like and of the energetic world as opposed to our shallow world of make believe and distractions.

All in all this is an evolutionary turn for SWS as this is a real departure from the last five albums.  Their fourth album, Behaviours, indicates a direction but this album is that direction burning down the highway in the fast lane.  I look forward to hearing more from SWS in the future and also look forward to hearing more evolution from these great people.

The band doesn’t have a video off the new album yet, but from 2011, Sex With Strangers show their fun side from The Peak Performance Project with 102.7 The Peak (Vancouver Radio Station).  Enjoy!

SWS are also playing a FREE CD release show in the Vancouver area on Thursday May 29 with some of their friends Actors, War Baby and Combine the Victorious and DJ Trevor Risk (Ice Cream Social) at The Fox Cabaret.  Come on down and have some fun and some drinks!  You might even end up meeting the band who wander freely with drinks in hand through the club stalking nothing and no one in particular.

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Review – Combine The Victorious – EP Crumbling Hearts


Combine The Victorious

Combine The Victorious (L to R) Mark Henning, Isabelle Dunlop, Justin Kadis and Misty Reid.  Photo credit – Klee.

Vancouver’s Combine The Victorious most recent EP was released back in October 2012 which is entitled Crumbling Hearts.  Founded by husband and wife duo Mark R. Henning (record producer/engineer) and Isabelle Dunlop (a fashion designer) in 2007, both were independently successful in their chosen fields. Their instinct for collaboration was soon realized on their debut full-length album The World Over (2007) The record received both critical and popular praise and their individual tracks were being included on compilations as far as Toronto, and even reaching the Czech Republic. The lead single from The World Over, “Blue Kitchen”, went on to become the theme song for the television series “About A Girl”.

Drawing upon this initial success, Combine The Victorious  founded the wider Boutique Empire Collective Music Label and have artists such as Sex With Strangers, Gilles Zolty and Guilty About Girls as well as other artists connected with the Vancouver scene on the roster. Despite this wider commitment, Mark reunited with Jordy Birch to form Guilty About Girls, and Isabelle began singing with both Guilty About Girls and Sex With Strangers.  But behind all this, Combine The Victorious continued to evolve.

Following a successful European tour to support the release of Crumbling Hearts (which included showcases in Stockholm, Sweden and London UK), Mark and Isabelle  welcomed new members Justin “Juice” Kadis and Misty Reid (both formerly of The Yoko Casionos from Universal Music Canada) into the band. Now officially a four-piece band, they look forward to releasing a full-length album in late-2013 or early 2014. This new offering will fuse elements of electronica, rock, dance and pop into a unique and compelling sound-scape.

Crumbling Hearts EP cover.  Photo credit - Klee.

Crumbling Hearts EP cover. Photo credit – Klee.

This EP was produced by Stefan Sigerson and the band.  The track listing for Crumbling Hearts is as follows:

1.  Crumbling Hearts

2.  California State of Mind

3.  Glasglow

4.  Smoke & Choke

5.  Paros

*Their new song “Brotherhood” (Dec. 2013) is included in this review but is not on the Crumbling Hearts EP.  Other artists who worked on this EP include Ingrid Schroeder, Hugh Ellenwood, Matt Kennedy, Jim Berry, Marc Wild, Simon Hunt and Stefan Sigerson.

“Crumbling Hearts” is a song that Isabelle started writing just before she left the band Sex With Strangers in 2012.  Starting on the slow side, the melody carries the song into a steady 4 beat hit.  Trippey psychedelia keys play well with the guitars, bass and drums.  Lyrically, it’s about love in many forms which can be good or bad and expressing it like dancing, writing, painting and any other creative way of expression.

“California State Of Mind” is a laid back song just like the state itself.   A whimsical melody melds well with the lyrics which speak of going away and coming back as a completely new person in some or many ways.  I like this song because a state of mind can be achieved by anyone and it can be for the better.  It can also mean a step backwards or negative state of mind.  Either way it’s up to the listener to figure it out.

“Glasglow” starts life in Scotland in a busy airport.  It speaks of being disappointed in some way in life and going somewhere you’ve been many times but not for enjoyment.  It’s seems to be about being supported by people who are close to but you’ve not seen in some time.  The melody is choppy and ragged but is played well.  I like the time changes as they are out of time but effective in the overall sound of the song.

“Smoke & Choke” sounds very new wave and reminds me of the 80’s new wave movement in its melody.  Funky and danceable, it weaves from a minor key to major keys well and is very fluid in the way the song is built.  Lyrically, choking on the air reminds me of pollution or could be choking on the cigarette one smokes.  It also speaks of putting two heads together which could be an issue to do with smoking or pollution or both.  I dig the melody as it reminds me of childhood songs or carnival music for some reason.

“Paros” speaks of instant love/chemistry and anything to do with falling in love.  Being in love is a commitment and takes two to make it work especially over time.  The drumming is really well done as is the vocals and harmonies.  It has a bit of new wave and experimental keys which give it a climax of sorts in mid-song.  And as I stand up and get more coffee, I’m dancing to the kitchen and back.  Of all the songs, this is my favourite song.  Its very easy to relate to on many levels by anyone who listens to the song.

“Brotherhood” is a radio friendly song that is upbeat in tempo, has a fluid positive melody and good lyrics.  Speaking of taking on the world after meeting in high school, its about two people sticking together and making their own way through life and looking out for one another.  This is a very well put together song.  Lush sounding at times and then going to the bare bones of the song is a brilliant way to capture a positive feeling/thought/emotion.  Well done!

On their Soundcloud page, they have numerous songs all of which are pretty damn good.  They also have some very good videos done as well on their YOUTUBE page.  Check them out when you have time as you won’t be disappointed.

Combine The Victorious – Crumbling Hearts and interview with Isabelle and Mark.