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.

ctv_autonomous_iTunes

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 – City of Glass – The Modern Age (2013)


David Phu and Michael Champion.

City of Glass, a Canadian duo comprised of Micheal Champion and David Phu, two long-time friends and opposite personalities, COG was born in Vancouver and cut its teeth in Berlin and across Germany.  Drawing from older dark pop favourites (The Cure and New Order) modern inspirations (Foals, The Whitest Boy Alive) and a love of electronic music, COG have crafted a unique and memorable sound on their debut LP The Modern Age.

In the last years, COG performed for enthusiastic audiences in the UK, France, Germany, Czech Republic, and across Canada. The band was honored to perform at landmark venues in London, Berlin, and Paris, and at festivals in Prague, Luxembourg, Toronto, Victoria, and Vancouver. Their recent visit to Prague included a five song showcase live on Czech national television.  City of Glass, a Canadian duo comprised of Micheal Champion and David Phu, two long-time friends and opposite personalities, COG was born in Vancouver and cut its teeth in Berlin and across Germany.  Drawing from older dark pop favourites (The Cure and New Order) modern inspirations (Foals, The Whitest Boy Alive) and a love of electronic music, COG have crafted a unique and memorable sound on their debut LP The Modern Age.

Songs from their brand new debut LP, “The Modern Age,” have already received much praise from major publications in Canada and the Czech Republic and from both Germany and the UK’s finest indie rock blogs. BKS Crew’s (The Union: The Business Behind Getting High) music video for their single “Tourist,” was featured on Canada’s MuchMusic television station and on Coldplay.com. Their most recent video for “The Modern Age” was created by up and coming videographer Jem Garrard (Linkin Park, Ringo Starr, Young Galaxy) who is working with City of Glass on some very exciting upcoming projects.

I’ve been a fan of City of Glass since 2009/2010.  I really love the music because it’s well constructed and although it’s reminiscent of some of my favorite bands from the 1980’s like The Cure and New Order but they also are unique and have modernized their original sound.  I’ve never seen the band live but I hope to change that if they play a show in 2014.

City of Glass with “The Modern Age” LP cover.

The track listing is as follows:

1.   The Forest

2.   Blinding

3.   Tourist

4.   I’m Not Here

5.   Wait For Me

6.   Sticks and Stones

7.  An Island

8.   The Modern Age

9.   Youth

10.  The End

“The Forest” has an ethereal quality to it.  On the slower side, it starts with bright high guitars and leads into Michael’s otherworldly vocals.   “Waiting till you think you know” and “Change what you feel is wrong” speaks to me of how we are killing our planet in many different ways and each of us has own way of doing what we do for the planet and reducing our carbon footprints.

“Blinding” starts out with sounds from a keyboard and guitars and in that begins the melody of the song and the beat follows.  I really like how this song starts out.  “Rats in a cage, travel together, breeding alone, which vein is better?”  are great lyrics which I think compares humans to rats.  Or so it seems to me.   I also like how the song unfolds throughout its life.  It’s a really well constructed song.

“Tourist” is a song that was on The Diving Bell EP, which is one of my favourite songs that City of Glass have done.  It’s a song that sounds good musically and lyrically. Speaking of broken promises/words and broken dreams it may speak of meeting someone whom you like or admire and having a falling out due to the fact that they don’t live in the same area geographically, which can be heard on any relationship.

“Sticks and Stones” is another favourite of mine and is a feisty fast paced song with guitars and keys that weave a great melody.  Again, this song is really well constructed from beginning to end.  Michael’s vocals punctuate with the chorus which gives a start stop feel to it.  “Sticks and stones, far from home, trail of bread crumbs” makes one wonder where are you/we going here?  But that’s not the point, the point is where do you want to go?  And when you go, leave some doors open just in case you fail.

And the title track for the album “The Modern Age” is a sombre song which begins with haunting guitars and a high hat.  In minor keys it gives a slightly foreboding of things to come.  “Hours and hours alone, kings upon the thrones” and “…blood spits out like water…” and also “…the illusion of control…”  are remarkable and one wonders what this song is about.  I feel that there are many things in our “modern” world that aren’t modern at all and have been re-discovered over time.  The passage of time and our bater system of money for consumer goods gives us a disadvantage because the illusion of control is that we are controlled but in a subtle way by our governments, police and judicial systems.  Is it for our own good to be monitored on CCTV constantly by big brother?  And why is technology being used against us in this “modern” age?  This is what this one song brings to the forefront for me.

Michael Champion and David Phu are City of Glass.

 

All in all, this is a really well done body of music by Michael and David.  The LP was produced by COG and Winston, mixed by Shawn Cole and Mark Angly at Fader Mountain Studio and engineered by Paul Boechler, Tom Prilesky and Winston.   Recording was also done at Spirit Vegetable and The Bunker and was mastered by Brock McFarlane at CPS Mastering.  Artwork by Michael Champion and Christoph Prevost Photography.  The LP was written and performed by Michael Champion and David Phu with Alexander Cumming on drums.  Additional vocals by Aude GL (An Island) and additional drums by Cole Godfrey (The Modern Age).

Watch some of the videos to the songs from this LP here:

City of Glass – The Modern Age

City of Glass – Sticks and Stones

City of Glass – Tourist

 

 

 

 

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.

SWS_FoxShow_May29_forweb

Review – Quick Wicked (self)


Quick Wicked are a band from Brantford ON that have high energy, focus and concentration.  It’s truly independent music at its finest.  Categorically this band is on its own in the stadium.  If you need a slot, they are progressive/hard rock/indie-rock band that have some of the best music I’ve heard this year.  Produced by Quick Wicked and Hamilton’s Matt Gauthier (who also engineered, mixed and mastered the album).  Part of the album was even recorded at the Gauthier house, as well as at B Town Sound in Burlington and at The Eggplant Collective in Toronto.

quickwickedfront

The band members are Jeff Love (vocals/guitars), Kyle Love (drums), Rob Eddy (guitars/bass) and Kevin French (bass/synths).  They have total “original music that doesn’t have any preconceived notions” and they “have a passion for making original music”.  They effectively use sharp musicianship, a collective creativity and a heavy use of effects.  They make each part work and you just know that so much is put behind the song emotionally.  I had the opportunity to email a few questions to Rob Eddy, who had this to say about the questions asked:

1.  Who writes the music/lyrics for the songs on the CD??  Do you all write together or separately and work it out in the rehearsal space?  What’s the process?

Well, Jeff writes all his own lyrics, and for the most part, everyone in the band is responsible for writing their own parts to the songs with only a few exceptions.  Our writing process begins with one member already having 2 or 3 different ideas worked out beforehand.  Then, at practice it get’s dissected and we usually know very quickly if it`s something that will work for a Quick Wicked song or not.  The structuring of the song and getting to the end result can sometimes take months.  We always try to treat each instrument (including vocals) equally, and feel that that is an important part of what gives Quick Wicked a different sound than many other rock acts.

The only exception to this is that on the album called “Night Chaser” which is a song that I wrote and recorded everything myself.  I re-recorded it with Matt to use on the album as an interlude.  I couldn’t be happier with the end result!  I’m also pleased with how the songs “Monolith”, “Night Chaser” and “King” flow into each other seamlessly.  I feel that it’s just one really long song.  That was not planned out; we just stumbled across that when we were putting the track listing together.  It ended up being one of my favourite things about the album!

2.  How did the band come together as a whole as it is now?

The story of the band is as follows:  Jeff and I (Rob) met each other in public school and have been friends since grade 7.  We’ve been playing music together since we were 14 and were in many different bands in our teens.  Kyle (Jeff’s younger brother) was too young at first but by the time Kyle was 16 he was better than any other drummer we knew and eventually he came into the band.  We were sneaking him into the bars at that point because he was the only drummer we wanted to play with.

I then took some some time off from playing in a band for about two and a half years when Jeff approached me about a new project he had in mind.  He said that he had found a bass player (Kevin) who was Kyle’s friend before becoming our friend, and he wanted me to hear some demos for a couple of songs that he had already done.  Shortly after that we all met for the first time together at a rehearsal space in Hamilton and started jamming the songs.  That was the birth of Quick Wicked.  Two years later after spending a considerable amount of time getting comfortable as a band, writing songs, playing live, finding Matt, recording a demo with Matt, writing more songs and finally recording the full album with Matt again, we have our first album and a finished product that we are proud of.

3.  What is the mindset of the band when it comes to social networking?  How has the Music Industry changed the rules of bringing a new band on a roster or signing to a major label?

Currently, we are using social networking for almost all of our content and promotions.  We feel it’s a huge part of getting your music heard.  In our early days, we desperately wanted to sign with a major label and have them take care of everything for us so we could just focus on the music.  I think that was the story that was being told to us.  After seeing what has been going on over the last 10-15 years we have re-aligned our goals and no longer have that mentality.  Our main goal with this project is to give people a taste of something different when there is so much of the same happening right now in rock genre.  Many bands seem to follow a “cookie cutter” approach to their songs that they end up becoming a parody of each other.

qw3

The track listing is as follows:

1.   Dingo

2.   Blix

3.   The Bodyline

4.   Rhum Rocket

5.   Monolith

6.   Night Chaser

7.   King

8.   Re-awake

9.   Beetleweed

10. The Docks

The CD begins with “Dingo” which is a song that has a killer melody and is played with an amazing attention to every single detail by all four members.  With time signature changes that would confuse the best of musicians, and root chords in the bass work, they make it seem so easy and seamless in this one song.  Vicious guitars, pounding drums and awesome vocals are just the beginning of this very impressive collection of songs.  This song speaks of control and being original.

“Monolith” is the longest song at just over 6 minutes.  It has a pretty guitar opening, followed by drums and bass.  The melody flows easily through the song and the vocals are pained – tearing at your heartstrings with emotion.  Lyrically, “I pick you over me/I’ve done it before/I miss you/Don’t walk away” can all be attributed by choosing another over yourself which can lead to confusion, tension and loss.

“Night Chaser” is an instrumental song, played well and is easy on the ears.  Similar to “Monolith”, it makes a statement of quality music for the listener.  The completion to this is the song “King” which gives you a trilogy of sorts.  All three songs have well constructed melodies that flow into one other.  The music is subtle and also tense, but “King” takes it over the goal line.  “Which side of the billions do you follow?” is an interesting question to ask in a song lyric.  As a listener it makes you think about what the band is asking you.

“Re-awake” is a short song (2:40) that is by far my favourite song.  Time changes, choppy drums and good vocals, this song makes me want to start headbanging and pretending that I’m at a Quick Wicked concert.  With my pretension to punk music, this song combines that punk spirit with hard rock and is played with intensity that equals no other band out there on the indie circuit at present.  Lyrically, I hear it as a rebirth of sorts in some way, which reminds me of a snake shedding its skin and becoming new again in its own protection for survival.

Every song on this CD is solid, likeable and really can’t be slotted into one category.  There are many influences this band takes from other bands and make it their own by playing to their own drummers, so to speak.  The recording, mixing and mastering are impeccable and speak to me of a band who found the perfect match in Matt Gauthier’s ability to nail the bands’ authentic sound in this 10 song CD.

You can find the band on Facebook (facebook.com/quickwicked), on Bandcamp where you can hear the CD in its entire format and buy it from there, and on the bands’ website.

The band has an upcoming show at The Volume Lounge in Oshawa ON on Saturday November 16.  Contact the venue for ticket prices and door times.

Quick Wicked – Video – Dingo (as recorded in studio) followed by “King”