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  • Review of HOAN’s Album Modern Phase

    A sound that manages to travel to a futuristic dimension where anyone is able to express any feelings they wish to. This is the music of HOAN.

    A Montreal-based band that formed in 2015, HOAN explores different sounds through the use of a number of techniques and equipment. This includes fuzz, distortion, reverb pedals, sound boards and synthesizers.

    The band is made up of Alexander Nicol on vocals, guitar and synthesizers, Oussama Laghzaoui playing lead guitar, Michael Heinermann on bass and Alexander Thibault on drums.

    After finishing up a tour across North America, HOAN is back in Montreal and has recently released their first debut record Modern Phase as of April 2017.

    The band has faced several challenges along the way. Gaining access to a sufficient amount of space for jamming has been one of them, but it doesn’t seem to have stopped them from creating their music.

    “It’s fascinating for what makes us want to keep [creating music] since you are [constructing something new] while [also being surrounded by] your friends,” described Nicol.

    Eventually, they found the place to produce their sound at Sound Hole, a recording studio in Montreal. The album plunges into the current era of online communications, by exploring the issues of connection and losing sight of surroundings.

    What drove the band to their debut album were the musical inspirations from several of their favourite musicians.

    “Neil Young is a great artist since everything done musically is going to be affected by our love towards him,” said Nicol. Young delivers powerful messages inside his solo repertoire or accompanied by other musicians such as David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash.

    The Spinners and especially the band Broadcast have also played a part in inspiring HOAN from developing their own unusual sounds into their repertoire such as their track “Poise.”

    This particular track begins with a continuous shuffling drum beat, accompanied by the guitar playing a mellow four note chord progression, flushing out several melodies that are inspired by the post-punk genre.

    At the end of the song, a soundboard and synthesizers are used to create a sound reminiscent of several lasers shooting in random bursts, replicating the nostalgic sound from Atari 2600’s cartridge game Space Invaders.

    Listening to Modern Phase, I immediately enjoyed the track “Technocrats.” This song describes how individuals are concerned with how quickly technology is evolving and how they are not ready to adopt a fast-paced lifestyle.

    “People are concerned how to innovate faster and how there is a lot of anxiety,” said Nicol. “Individuals aren’t ready for adopting these things too quickly or adapt that fast.”

    The track begins with the synthesizers holding for a while onto a specific chord, followed by a soft repetitive drum beat, a funky low tone bass beat and a simple clean guitar chord progression with a small touch of distortion.

    The momentum of the song changes into a fast paced beat, wherein the vocals slowly fade away, allowing the listeners to concentrate on this beat, until the vocals make a sudden return just like a boomerang.

    “Lots of other bands in the studio would just add several layers over the tracks,” said Nicol. The band chose to keep this track simple by not adding any additional dubs. They wanted to have a big sound, especially considering that they had a limited amount of tools at their disposal.

    “I want to make people imagine themselves in a world that they enjoy,” said Nicol.

    Modern Phase // HOAN //

  • Review of Speedy Johnson’s Album Before it is Dark

    • Speedy Johnson playing a live concert. Photo Alexandre Rebiere

    • Album cover of Before it is Dark. Photo Sasha Endoh and Alexandre Rebiere

    An exploration of different musical genres, from electronic to rock to a mix of country with a hint of folk: This is the music of Speedy Johnson.

    Before it is Dark marks Speedy Johnson’s fresh start as a musician, where he blends his love for folk, rock and roll and psychedelic music into several of his singles. For the recording of this album, Johnson collaborated with several Montreal musicians such as Ram Krishnan on drums, Kevin Moquin playing several electric guitars and synthesisers, and Shaun Ryan on bass.

    Johnson’s habit of incorporating multiple genres of into this album comes from his musical inspirations. From his years in high school, he developed a taste for the musical works of Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits and Les Claypool.

    “But right now, I’m listening to a lot of old country/blues singers,” said Johnson. Mississippi Hill music, Blind Willie Johnson and, of course, Bob Dylan are a few of Johnson’s inspirations behind the development of Before it is Dark.

    These diverse inspirations are clear on songs like “A Ship Full of Demons,” where he begins with an engaging repetitive soft-rock ballad, that gives the impression of riding a haunted carousel. Then, he switches into indie and rock where all you can hear is the electric guitar strumming a simple and mellow chord progressions, accompanied by an easy-to-follow drum beat. The song ends with the return of the soft-rock ballad.

    “I didn’t try to write a mainstream song,” said Johnson. “I tried to let the song move as much as possible.”

    The constant change of genres doesn’t stop Johnson from travelling further into his songs by incorporating several vocal transitions. For example, on “Deep in the Mire,” he begins singing with a screeching pirate accent that quickly switches into his standard American accent, but then ends with a return of the pirate voice.

    “The voices that I do depend on the part of the song,” Johnson said, laughing a bit. Each of his songs provide voice changes, since he firmly believes that incorporating several changes allows for each of his songs to stand out and helps when it comes to avoiding a constant tone of voice.

    Listening to Before it is Dark, I immediately fell in love with the track “An Everlasting Youth.” The song kicks off with the soft warm touch of the electric guitar playing a energetic repetitive chord progression, followed by the drums lightly adding in a slow shuffling beat.

    Johnson uses his normal and screeching tones of voice in the song, which perfectly compliments the track. The song recounts the story a young man, who believes he has the “world in his hands.” But as he grows older, he notices that his life has become more difficult, with the constant challenges and changes he has to face day by day.

    “I started writing that song when I was in high school and I’ve always loved that song,” said Johnson. He had no idea if that tune was going to be put onto the record, but when he brought it into a jam session, his bandmates immediately fell in love with the ballad.

    Before the launch of Before it is Dark, though, Speedy Johnson toured Quebec with his old Montreal-based band Ol’ Savannah. He and his fellow bandmate Bartleby J. Budde co-founded this foot-stomping folk band back in the early 2000s.

    Ol’ Savannah incorporates the deep root sounds of the Southern United States into their sound. They were ranked as part of the top five country/folk acts in Cult MTL’s best of reader’s poll in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and has made an appearance at Montreal’s Folk Festival near the Lachine Canal in June 2015.

    With his album now fully launched as of April 7, Johnson has recently completed touring around Quebec.

    “This was my first tour as Speedy Johnson,” he said. “If we can go and tour, then it keeps the fire fueling.”

    Speedy Johnson // June 23 // La Sala Rossa // 4848 St. Laurent Blvd

  • First Edition of Santa Teresa Music Festival Goes Off Without a Hitch

    An illuminous, colourful stage decorated with pink flamingoes, fenced around a parking lot, gathering the local community of Ste. Thérèse and outsiders of the city for celebrating one thing only—music. This is the Santa Teresa Music/Arts Festival.

    This year marks the festival’s very first edition. It was held inside a fenced parking lot behind the Sainte Thérèse D’Avila church, featuring an outdoor stage. Surrounding it were tents selling a variety of products such as music and beverages.

    Kicking things off was the Montreal hip hop artist, Rymz. Throughout his set, he energized the crowd by splashing beer around and jumping off stage all while continuing to sing his hit “Fuctorie” without missing a single beat.

    After his set, he gave the audience a glimpse of a new song from his upcoming album. He didn’t provide any details for the album or the title of the track, but the excerpt of the song filled the crowd with excitement.

    Later on, the famous theme from Warner Bros. pictures begins to play and here out comes the Montreal’s rap group: Alaclair Ensemble.

    The group is made up of five members: Kenlo, Maybe Watson, Claude Begin and Ogden on vocals and the last member is Mash, who rarely interacts with the vocalists, but provides them with the necessary beats to rap with.

    They kicked off their set with one of their well-known hits, “Mon Cou,” wherein the crowd immediately began reciting the lyrics alongside the performers.

    During the set, the members presented several rhythmic transitions such as slow and fast pace patterns within their tracks, familiarizing the audience with different levels of sounds.

    What was surprising was how the band incorporated several sounds of musical riffs such as guitar, bass and drums into their repertoire, even if they were only using a laptop with several mixers.

    Towards the end of the set, Alaclair created an improvisational track as a way of engaging with the audience. They asked the audience to find dance partners and introduced a slow love song. In no time, a funky fast paced drum beat kicks in and every member from the formation, descended from the stage and sang their part within the crowd.

    After the impatient wait for the upcoming musical set, bright blue lights appear from the stage and in walks each of the members from the Franklin Electric

    The members from the formation are made up of Jon Matte on guitar/vocals, Martin Desroby on bass, Ken Pressé as backing guitar and Adam Passalaqua on drums.

    With no rush, the band quickly kicked off with their first tune, “All Along.”The tune kicked off with the sound of keyboards used to mimic a piano being lightly played upon. Soon, bass and drums softly incorporating a shuffling type of sound to accompany the piano melody. With no wait, the presence of both electric guitars playing electrifying repetitive riffs, while maintaining a consistent beat for the audience to follow.

    Each of the songs performed accompanied different shuffling drum patterns, various instrumental solos such as guitars and drums, including percussion instruments such as tambourines used for elevating and providing a solid structure for each of the tracks presented.

    The last set of the night was the Canadian electronic music group A Tribe Called Red. The formation consisted of three musicians, Ian Campeau, Bear Witness and Tim 2oolman. Each of these musicians, were set up behind their mixers and soundboards, incorporating pieces of other genres of music such as hip hop, reggae and latin influences into a single given beat.

    They hope to expand their lineup next year, and continue to attract big crowds in future editions of the festival.

  • 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.