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  • A Review of Dim=Sum’s Latest Album

    Pink Floyd, Uriah Heep, Jethro Tull and Procol Harum all share a common musical genre—progressive rock.

    Prog rock captures several techniques and sounds expressed through the use of many musical instruments, such as the electric/acoustic guitar, bass, drums and synthesisers.

    Listeners who submerge themselves into prog rock know what it’s like to experience drawn out album tracks, where each song makes sure that every instrument presented onto an album is given the time it needs to really be heard.

    The New York band Dim=Sum does just that with their new self-titled double album. The band consists of four musicians, with Shuyler Jansen on electric/acoustic guitars, Chris Mason on bass guitar and vocals, Mike Silverman on drums and David Carswell on acoustic guitars, synthesizers and strings.

    The band had their start inside a basement in New York, each sharing a love and interest in similar artists and bands such as Giant Sand, VU, Van Morrison, Talk Talk, Crazy Horse and Pink Floyd.

    With their love for these artists, the band launched themselves onto a six month journey, recording a double album and touring around the United Kingdom and North America.

    By March 10, 2017, the band released their seven track album, introducing itself into the world of progressive rock. Some parts of each song are dedicated towards the use of guitars, whereas other parts are reserved for the hypnotic sound of synthesisers and the pounding beat of the drums.

    “Blue Rolls the River” was the track that I adored the most on the album. The song begins with a slow and steady jazzy beat, but with a touch of rock in the intro, where every instrument being incorporated into the song with a relaxing melody. Especially the part of the electric guitar just playing random lycs with the use of some distortion—slowly getting the listeners ready for what’s coming.

    Once the introduction ends, a continuous transition settles down between vocals and a small electric guitar solo, purposely projected towards the listeners for absorbing the negative message that the artist is trying trying to convey by repeating the same lyrics: “A heart that’s distance finds itself alone.”

    Finally the song ends with an electrifying jam, where the guitar, drums and synthesisers play, with a loud tone, the distortion effect used on the electric guitar lead every instrument, constructing a musical path— sounding as if a human being was crying out with rage throughout the track’s beautiful melodic solo lines.

    I found “Blue Rolls the River” a little similar to Pink Floyd’s 23 minute track “Echoes.” Both tracks provide a consistent transition between vocals and electric guitar parts. The two songs begin with a slow introduction—getting the listeners ready for the transition between the lyrical parts and small guitar solo — purposely done as a way for grasping the listeners into a relaxing mood.

    Once the transition is done, there is an extensive electric guitar solo conducted, where every musical note provides an echoed feedback, providing the listeners with a-bit of a psychedelic feeling while still remaining in the prog-rock genre. Following the solo is a continuous beat, including various tones conducted from the electric guitar.

    Both “Blue Rolls the River” and “Echoes” close with a remarkable ending, having every instrument playing softly, while slowly increasing the tone and building up on the momentum of every instrument, until they quiet down into the a short lyrical part and ending the song with a heavy jam, until the song slowly fades away.

    The last song on the Dim=Sum album, “To The Depths,” was a great closing track to end things. The piece consistently incorporated background vocals throughout the part of the lead vocals, following the same melody and rhythmic pattern, solidifying the track. Each instrument inside the piece was perfectly in synchronization with one another, especially the drums, that perfectly drove the melody into the right direction.

    This, combined with the effect of an orchestral piece that was merged with the sound of a synthesiser, made for a good cooldown track and leaving its listeners with a satisfying sense of finality.

    I would have loved to hear more of the synthesiser effect of orchestral music more incorporated inside the track since since it was rarely used. If the orchestral musical effect was more incorporated in the piece, then the track would have adapted a warm and amusing feeling projected towards the listeners, throughout having the effect of several string instruments.

    If you’re looking for a good crash course in the prog rock scene, Dim=Sum’s album is a good introduction. The combination of the instruments together makes for an explosive yet concentrated sound, whereas the moments that focus on each individual musician and their instrument really brings out the potential that each has.

  • A Modernized Wave of Nostalgia: A Review of the Operators album Blue Wave

    An isolated barn isn’t your typical location for a band to record music. However, the synth pop band Operators paid no mind to that notion.

    It was in a rural barn down in Southern Ontario where they got together to produce their album Blue Wave, eventually releasing it on April 1st, 2016.

    The band is led by Canadian singer and songwriter Dan Boeckner, along with Sam Brown on backup vocals, and Devojka as the synth manipulator. For the recording of Blue Wave, though, Dan collaborated with Dustin Hawthorne and Graham Walsh on bass, Joseph Shabbason on Saxaphone.

    Blue Wave offers a unique sound of alt-electronic and punk; the style of the music presents a nostalgic feel. At times the sound feels like it’s straight out of the 80s, but with a modern twist.

    “I’ve always kind of been into late 70s and early 80s. Like that pre-techno, sort of punk and dance music,” said Boeckner. “I listen to a lot of techno, sort of contemporary-electronic music and dance music,” he continued.

    As the band continued to work through the recording process of the album, the track “Blue Wave” became its centerpiece and was evidently made to be the official title of the album. Behind the electronic and punk motifs, Boeckner spoke about some of the societal and political themes embedded within the album.

    For example, Boeckner admitted that he had the feeling of dislocation for “Blue Wave” in mind while writing the lyrics for it. He emphasized the theme of online human communication within the track. More than half of human communication of modern people [is online], he said.

    “You have to sort of disassociate yourself from the inevitable crazy racist or right-wing stuff that’s still presented [in these] spaces that you can have digitally,” he explained. “I felt like it was a psychological condition that didn’t exist maybe five years ago, but it definitely exists now and I think it’s something worth talking about.”

    Blue Wave opens up with “Rome,” coming in with a smooth guitar strum. This soon changes when the song kicks into gear almost immediately, the instruments clashing together to create an explosive sound that carries on throughout the rest of the track—giving its listener an idea of what the rest of the album is going to be like.

    The chords and the beat of the record, Boeckner said, is kind of punk influenced. During the two years he spent living in San Jose, California, he recalled going on a hike through the suburbs, looking down on the city and imagining what his former city looked like after the 2016 Presidential elections. ”The empire city up in flames,” he put it.

    “A couple [of] months later when [I got back to] Montreal, I put it together in the studio pretty quickly […] and the song was done.”

    Boeckner didn’t hesitate to open up about the tensions that ensued while working on the album. “It was good at first,” he said. “Then it got tense because we decided to record the album in a barn in Southern Ontario.”

    “I think all in all it was worth it,” h said. “I think that environment and the tension in that environment was good.”

    The album ends of with “Space Needle.” The song, as opposed to the previous tracks on the album, is solemn and is evidently paced to a slower rhythm. You are easily immersed within the deep electronic flow of the record.

    Boeckner admitted that the track was his personal favourite on the album—pointing out once again that his time in San Jose was central to his inspiration while writing the track.

    As far as the eye can see, it’s a cookie-cutter suburb where everything looks identical, Boeckner explained. “I wrote this song thinking it looked like an [awful] colony that I wanted to write from the point of view of somebody who’s waiting to leave. Basically, to somewhere else.”

    Overall, Blue Wave caught me by surprise. The electronic flow mixed with the punk style of rock made for something aesthetically unique. If synth-y modern 80s inspired pop music sounds like something you think you can jam to, then this album is definitely worth your while.

  • A Cynical Hero in a Surreal Forest - Review of Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero

    Perhaps what makes a hero is someone who is willing to help others out of the goodness of their hearts. This particular definition of the term “hero” is not applied in Michael DeForge’s latest graphic novel.

    On March 16, Drawn and Quarterly’s bookstore hosted the launch party for DeForge’s latest graphic novel, Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero. This graphic novel was originally a webcomic that was updated on a weekly basis on Tumblr.

    The idea for the graphic novel was inspired by one of DeForge’s favourite books, The Canadian Naturalist by P.H. Gosse. He resonated with the idea of how Gosse described his idealized version of Canada in his book. DeForge thought that it would be interesting to have his own character who has never lived in a forest and had their own idealized version of what the Canadian wilderness was like.

    Also, since DeForge is a character designer on _Adventure Time_—one of Cartoon Network’s most popular shows—the art style is very similar to the style you’d see in the animated series itself.

    Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero is the story of a middle-aged recluse named Sticks who abandons her celebrity status as the daughter of a prominent Canadian politician, and goes to live in the forest. Along the way, she encounters many unique characters such as Oatmeal—a bunny who is in love with Sticks after she saved him from being killed by snake venom—and Girl McNally, a human girl who only speaks in song who was once condemned for her father’s crimes when she was a baby.

    Sticks isn’t your average hero. Early into the novel she comes off as a low-key tyrant, having ants act as her proxy and answering all her needs. In comic strips revealing Sticks’ backstory, the reader learns how she was a bully in her childhood wherein she constantly tormented her twin brother.

    Despite imagining a kooky version of Canada’s wildlife, DeForge drew inspiration from real life. Taking his friend and American cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt and basing a character off of her: a moose who dresses in human garb who dreams of becoming a lawyer one day. Hanawalt is also the producer and production designer for the animated Netflix series, BoJack Horseman.

    DeForge explained that he had a frustrating time rendering Hanawalt into a character for his novel.

    “I didn’t want to do a crappy ripoff of Lisa’s work,” recalls DeForge. “So, I wrote her up and said, ‘Hey, is this fine?’ And she very generously. was cool with it when I showed her the scripts.”

    As the narrative progresses, Sticks’s character development leads her into becoming a better person. She helps out Girl McNally in a court trial and gives a useful Secret Santa gift to one of the forest animals, despite the fact that she was reluctant to participate in the Christmas event at all.

    Overall, Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero is an entertaining read. DeForge’s cynical humour takes on a lighter tone compared to his last graphic novel Big Kids, published in 2016.

    The narrative fits into a continuous storyline with some stand-alone moments and mini story arcs that showcase a particular character. It is told mainly from Sticks’ point of view, but does switch between minor characters.

    At the graphic novel’s launch party, DeForge did a live-reading of three comics he had written called All Dogs are Dogs, Meat Locker and Mostly Saturn. It was an interesting experience to have the author read aloud from his work, accompanied by a large projector playing a slideshow of the strips. The reason why DeForge did not read from Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero was because he felt he couldn’t provide a multitude of different voices for each of his characters, of which there are many.

    DeForge explores themes of identity, transformation and community in Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero as a way to shape an alternate version of the Canadian wilderness. An example of how the theme of community fits into the narrative is that it establishes the forest laws in the fictional landmark, Monterey National Park. One law applies to those who are rejects of society or who have committed crimes. They are referred to as “unanimals,” creatures of the forest who have twine wrapped around their heads so they are no longer distinguishable and who lose their ability to speak.

    Later on, there was time for a quick question and answer session with DeForge, wherein explained that he enjoys creating little snippets of his imagined world. Little moments where readers could sample a brief slice of a bigger and more surreal world.

    DeForge’s simple yet charming art style paired with his writing style brings out the goofiness of the story’s characters. There are several minor characters in the story, but only the named characters get more fleshed out in the comic strips, such as Oatmeal, Lisa Hanawalt and Girl McNally.

    If you are a fan of Adventure Time and you like a cynically funny narrative, then Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero is not a graphic novel that you’d want to miss out on.

  • Dropping the Needle - Thoughts on the Vinyl Record Industry

    You go through a dusty crate of vinyl records until you find the right one. Once you’ve picked the perfect record, you remove it from its jacket and place it onto the turntable.

    Dropping the needle, you hear its first couple of crackles and anxiously await for the first track to begin.

    Although the vinyl record has existed since the early 20th century, this medium for listening to music has never truly gone out of style.

    It was believed that CDs and MP3s would destroy the vinyl industry, but the record remains indestructible. The question is, what is it that makes people want to purchase their music on vinyl?

    Normally, someone who buys vinyl records would want to experience the whole record completely, to get the feel of being at a live concert. Some may just want to get to know the message that the artist is trying to convey through the album.

    Steve Ludvik, along with Dan Hadley, co-owns of The Death of Vinyl, a secondhand record store on St. Laurent Blvd. Ludvik described how vinyl records would transmit various messages and stories.

    “A record is like a book. You don’t start at chapter three,” said Ludvik. Each side on the record begins with a specific song and ends with a specific song that the artists chose in order to take the listener through a musical journey.

    Vinyl records are considered as the format of music for understanding the messages that the musicians are trying to convey. However, others would purchase vinyl specifically for their sound.

    The quality of sound from a CD or an MP3 file is incomparable to the unique sound that the vinyl has to offer. According to an article from Pitchfork, vinyl offers a unique “warm sound” known as surface noise that enhances the listener’s experience for enjoying music compared to a CD which is capable of producing decent sound quality.

    Hadley described how vinyl offers a full spectrum of sound compared to digitally pressed files.
    “Original pressings are unchanged by the passing of time and are the result of state of the art analogue technology capturing the full spectrum of sound frequencies,” he explained.

    Some buy vinyl because of the nostalgic factor it brings them, while others dare to plunge for the first time into this new medium.

    Buying music on vinyl is quite an essential since it also comes with beautiful cover art, the sound quality and the connection it seems to provide between the fan and the artist. Ludvik stated how vinyl is not only about enjoying the music, but also about reading the inserts and admiring the artwork.

    Similarly, Hadley states how collecting vinyl is like owning a piece of history; an original pressing allows listeners in 2017 to replicate the same listening experience that the first listeners had in 1967.

    Listening and collecting vinyl is a great way for experiencing and discovering various types of music. But the question remains of whether or not if the vinyl industry is always going to be available on the market.

    Nathan Caskey, record shop manager at Aux 33 Tours, believes that there is always going to be a demand towards vinyl records and that the industry will continue to last for a long time.

    “People are genuinely interested in vinyl” said Caskey. “Not just because it’s a fad, but because of how they come to discover what’s so great about it; discovering its unique, raw sound with every spin.”

    As much as some people would like to believe that the vinyl industry will last forever, how can they be sure of whether or not the industry will not slowly phase out and die? The question remains unanswered, but what matters the most is taking advantage and enjoying the wonderful music offered on vinyl right now while it’s still around.

    Pull out a record from its jacket, drop the needle onto it, sit back and enjoy the various musical sounds that only the vinyl can offer.

  • Overcoming the Trauma and Hate: Documentary Sheds Light on Inuit LGBT Communities

    There is a lot to be said about the resiliency of minority groups.

    Simply existing can almost be seen as a political statement. It can also feel conflicting and alienating for individuals who may belong to multiple minority groups. Despite that alienation how, there are a lot of people who can relate to this experience.

    Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things is a documentary film that explores this topic by shining a light on the lives and experiences of Inuit LGBT people who live in Iqaluit, Nunavut.

    The film was presented as part of Never Apart’s ongoing LGBT Film Series. Never Apart is a small non-profit organization that’s dedicated to supporting the arts and advocating for social and environmental equality.

    The documentary film by Mark Kenneth Woods and Michael Yerxa, released in 2016, was filmed over a four day period on location in Iqaluit.

    During the early stages of the film in 2015, Woods and Yerxa considered Iqaluit’s first ever pride festival, but plans changed as the two started to uncover the story of Iqaluit’s LGBT community.

    Both Woods and Yerxa are members of the LGBT community. However, neither of them are Indigenous. They spent a lot of time researching the colonization of Canada’s Inuit population before going to Iqaluit to shoot the documentary.

    Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things has already been shown at film festivals on nearly every continent. It won the award for Best Documentary at the Fargo Moorehead LGBT Film Festival and Best Two-Spirited Film-Audience Choice Award at the Queer North Film Festival. Future screenings are taking place at the New Brunswick Museum in St. John (Maliseet land), the British Film institute in London, and the Glitch Film Festival in Scotland.

    The movie opens up with a brief lesson in history given by a few Inuit inhabitants of the territory. They describe the oppressive colonialism that took place on their land. Generational trauma, oppression and abuse caused by colonization are still very present in this community, as well as in other Indigenous communities, the film explains.

    As the documentary progresses, the audience learns about the history of the LGBT community in Iqaluit and the struggles they have faced as a result of the homophobia instilled by Christian churches.

    While still healing from trauma and the illusions that the church impressed on the community, it’s understood that circumstances have improved. In learning and re-connecting with their culture, Inuit people begin breaking down these notions, ultimately becoming more understanding and accepting of LGBTQ individuals in their communities.

    One of the people spotlighted in the film is Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, an award winning Inuk filmmaker and activist. She is a very prominent straight ally and has included Inuit LGBT characters in her past films. Another prominent voice in the film was Jack Anawak, a former politician who is considered to be an Elder by some community members.

    Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things is an important documentary about the resiliency that Inuit communities and LGBT Inuit communities share. By allowing the voices of Indigenous folks to guide the story, it’s clear that Woods and Yerxa were careful and respectful in their direction.

    They have donated copies of the documentary to several libraries and schools in Nunavut. Woods and Yerxa are currently in the very early stages on working on a new project.

    Two Soft Things, Two Hard Things puts people and stories that are often ignored in Canadian media and filmmaking at the forefront, highlighting the complexity that comes with belonging to two minority groups. Both Inuit people and LGBT people have faced a lot of hardships over the years, but together, they remain resilient.