Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: Ontario

Nicole Dollanganger – Natural Born Losers (Album Review, Stream)

Nicole Dollanganger

“I shot an angel with my father’s rifle. I should have set it free but I let it bleed.” Those lines open Nicole Dollanganger’s Natural Born Losers, the young songwriter’s fifth full-length (but first for Eerie, an artists’ co-op that was co-founded by Grimes specifically so this record could reach a wider audience), which is comprised of nothing but 2015’s most haunting pop songs. What follows is an examination of life’s darker corners, usually cast in the guise of gripping magic realism and supplemented with consistently breathtaking guitar work. Feedback ripples through these songs like blood, providing some lightly menacing color to their ghostly pallor.

Even with an excess of starkness and grotesque violence, there’s a certain elegance in the songs’ delicate filters. Dollangangers airy vocals at times verge on otherworldly, suffusing an overwhelming sense of doom with a near-paradoxical lightness. Hope is fleeting in Natural Born Losers but Dollanganger’s ability to understand and present the beauty in that bleakness renders it a vital, possibly even essential, record. Only two songs in and stories about how her room’s divided by chalk dolls on one side and guns on the other become just a touch more illuminating and meaningful.

There’s a war that’s constantly being waged in Natural Born Killers and the stakes are never relegated to the background. As the album glides forward, the Molotov cocktail of violence and (deceptive) innocence becomes increasingly bracing, allowing the record’s atmospherics to emerge as a complementary focal point. As swans necks break, cops are baited into violence for the purpose of sexual pleasure, executioners are meticulously observed, Satan gets tempted, and mouths are filled with fresh reptilian blood, Dollanganger hovers over her narratives, exerting terrifying control and indulging a shadowy sensibility that’s, disconcertingly, presented as something approaching hedonism.

All throughout Natural Born Losers, the tempo’s downplayed to a near-whisper, allowing for a strange maximization of both Dollanganger’s dynamics and aesthetics. In the record’s chill-inducing lead-off singles, “Angels of Porn (II)” and “You’re So Cool”, this approach is emphasized to achieve a heightened dramatic effect. In the former, the song builds its way into a wall of sound, driven by snaky guitar lines and a committed vocal performance that contains the verse Natural Born Losers hinges on: “I’d give my body to Satan if I could only keep my soul, but I can’t seem to find the split between them anymore.” The latter elevates the record’s considerable level of tension and cloaks itself in ambiguity and pulls at the threads of what’s good, what’s evil, and what’s preferable without ever offering a clear reconciliation.

It’s that song, “You’re So Good”, that unifies and clearly lays out the major thematic elements of Natural Born Losers while also acting as a strong finale. For a record that’s so committed to its cinematic tendencies, it also makes sense that it might follow the rule of bookending (a technique that, traditionally, is supposed to show how much in a given story has evolved based on the first and final frames). Following that law, Dollanganger brings Natural Born Losers to a conclusion that serves as its most haunting moment: “I see the future and there’s no death. ‘Cause, you and I, we’re angels.”

It’s in that moment where it’s difficult to find any words and best to simply resign to a stunned silence before taking a deep breath, collect a modicum of composure, and hit repeat.

Listen to Natural Born Losers below and order it here.

Weaves – Shithole (Stream)

weaves

Following another insane Monday, Tuesday’s kept things humming along at an impressively furious clip. A few of the full album streams that surfaced included CreaturoS’ miraculous psych-punk stomper Popsicle, Nude Beach’s characteristically impressive 77, Dope Body‘s ferocious Lifers, and Marshall Teller supergroup Psychic Markers’ impressive self-titled debut. On the EP and 7″ side of things, the absolutely jaw-dropping four-way split between Krill, LVL UP, Ovlov, and Radiator Hospital started streaming over on Soundcloud, while the split between Girlpool and Slutever= where both bands cover each other’s songs- went up on bandcamp. Vetter Kids also debuted their excellent new EP, Logan, on AV Club.

A fair few single songs started to make the rounds as well: Guided By Voices mastermind Robert Pollard introduced his new project- Ricked Wicky- by way of the hard-charging “Mobility“, Diarrhea Planet continued to improve with the 90’s-influenced throwback “Bamboo Curtain“, Sorority Noise’s “Wesleyand’s Best Dressed” confirmed their growing buzz is fully warranted, Strange Babes ensured that their upcoming debut effort is worth anticipating with the lovely powerpop of “Holiday“, and Ex-Breathers continued breathing fire into their peculiar brand of hardcore with the violently unhinged “Falling Away“. In addition to all of that, the visual medium was well-represented with a highly stylized (and extremely disquieting) black-and-white clip for “Am Gone” from avant pop weirdos Adult Jazz and Routine Involvements‘ surrealist headtrip for their instrumental track, “UFO“.

Having already given the split between Krill, LVL UP, Ovlov, and Radiator Hopsital quite a bit of attention recently, today’s feature fell to an artist who has yet to earn notable coverage on this site: Toronto’s Weaves. Having just missed their set opening for Courtney Barnett at Sonic Boom during NXNE, they’ve been a band that’s been on the cusp of the radar. Previously, the band’s sound has been rooted in a brave kind of DIY punk experimentalism; electronic and dance undercurrents cut apart what would’ve otherwise been straightforward rock n’ roll songs. While that proved to be an angle that kept things interesting, the band’s done away with any tangential excess on “Shithole”- and they might be better off for it.

“Shithole” is the most direct track of Weaves’ still-young career and very likely their best effort to date. Precariously balanced on the tightrope connecting a laid-back vibe to a relentless energy, it still manages to come across as enticing and effortless in equal measure. Ragged guitar riffs meet a sweetly irresistible vocal melody while vocalist Jasmyn Burke’s lyrics push the whole thing towards the sublime. It’s an absolutely stunning track that completely re-defines the rules for a band that was already emerging- and in doing so, forces an adjustment for the expectations that have started surrounding them. All of that is prompted even before the track’s closed out by a relentless, feedback-tinged solo that supplements the cathartic final chorus. If this really is an indication of the direction Weaves is heading in, it’s time to sit up and start paying extremely close attention to this band.

Listen to “Shithole” below and keep both eyes peeled for whatever Weaves has in store to follow it up.

Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs – Gates of Hell (Music Video)

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Sam Coffey & the Iron Lungs have always had a real sense of fun about them, which was clearly evident during their NXNE shows. Fortunately, that awareness continues to tie over to their music videos. Last week the band released a clip for the title track off of their just-released full-length, Gates of Hell, which stands as their finest effort to date. “Gates of Hell” as a song finds the band emphasizing their powerpop sensibilities without losing any of their basement punk grit. Guitar riffs and organ jabs are exchanged at a perfectly-paced tempo and the final breakdown builds to a rousing finish. It’s a great song that gets even better when paired with a deranged music video. “Gates of Hell”, the video, finds the band members positioned as part of a black magic occult. Tinted in a rusty sepia and clothed in robes throughout, this would look like a low-budget black metal music video if the audio was muted. It’s a clever, nuanced video that’s full of the same borderline self-deprecating humor that drives the song itself. Packaged together, it’s a welcome bit of irreverence from a band that’s not afraid of distancing itself from similarly-minded acts who can occasionally take themselves too seriously.

Watch “Gates of Hell” below and order the record from the always-reliable Southpaw Records.

METZ at Smiling Buddha – 6/22/14 (Review, Photos, Video)

METZ XXVII

The last full bill to get taken in during the Toronto trip wasn’t part of a festival but it was at the venue that housed several of the best NXNE shows: Smiling Buddha. Up to bat for the all-ages isolated bill this time around was Pleasure Leftists, Holy Fuck, and noise-punk titans METZ. Pleasure Leftists had already torn apart Soybomb HQ the night before, in what was easily the most stacked non-festival bill to take place all week and were more than poised to take Smiling Buddha over in the exact same fashion: fearlessly and without pause. Once again, vocalist Haley Morris proved to be as spellbinding as the music pouring out of the cabs behind her. Frantically shifting from side to side, Morris commanded attention and channeled the relative bleakness of the increasingly spectacular songs into something entrancing and indefinable. There’s a certain spirit permeating throughout Pleasure Leftists’ work and presentation that so many bands are trying to do but failing miserably in their attempts. It’s an intangible element and it resonates throughout all of their songs to an absurd degree. Moments of nervousness, dread, tension, fear, anger, and the unknown all get emphasized in one way or another through Pleasure Leftists’ songs and the band, time and time again, manages to find a way to harness it. Both of their performances were unforgettable affairs but the masterfully mixed levels at Smiling Buddha put their second performance just a notch above the first. Both outings proved that the band has found the perfect balancing point between the graceful and the intimidating. Both times it was extraordinary.

Toronto noise/electronic/experimental trio Holy Fuck graced the stage after Pleasure Leftists’ set left a few more uninitiated attendees completely stunned. If there was any trepidation over how well Holy Fuck’s set, a relative outlier, the band eased those doubts within a few songs. Being one of the few acts playing their brand of music to feature live drums on a full drumkit worked out to the band’s advantage in more ways than one. Did it make them a more suitable fit for the bill? Yes. Absolutely. Was it beneficial during the band’s early sound problems? Undoubtedly. Each member of the trio attacked their instruments with unbridled passion, clearly loving every moment of their time on stage. While the drums were being pounded into oblivion, both multi-instrumentalists set about utilizing everything in their arsenal to its maximum potential. Their audience ate it up; people were headbanging, dancing, and attempting to project as much energy onto the band as the band was projecting onto them. What some assumed would be an unmitigated booking disaster instead wound up presenting a clearly-loved contrast (or reprieve) from the moodiness exhibited by both Pleasure Leftists and METZ. Holy Fuck kept things going for as long as they could, smiling all the way through. At set’s end, they were all drenched in sweat, still smiling, and looking at an entire venue smiling right back at them.

After delivering an insane set last year in a very small room of an arts center in Champaign-Urbana, IL as part of the Pygmalion Festival, expectations were considerably lofty for METZ- especially considering the fact they were playing to a hometown crowd. They didn’t disappoint. They didn’t even come close. METZ didn’t even manage to make it through their first few songs before the crowd had tipped over into verging-on-volatile, killing the stage flood lights completely. Instead of getting hung up on an understandable technical issue, the trio subverted expectations in a way only they can, pleading with the photographers present to use their brightest flashes to create a natural strobe light effect. All of them obliged. What followed from that point forward was an exercise in endurance for both the audience, a constantly shifting heaving mass of bodies, and the band themselves, who each managed to turn their clothes a few shades darker via profuse, hard-earned, sweat. The band’s self-titled Sub Pop LP is still their defining achievement and most of it was played- but they did manage to throw in a crowd-assisted cover of “Neat Neat Neat” as well as a new song or two, while providing discography balance wherever they could. Audience members were actively encouraged to climb onstage and hang out for a song or two while also being given the standard reminder that “if you see anyone fall down in the pit, pick their ass back up, give them a kiss on the cheek, and keep going”. No one gets hurt at a METZ show and everyone looks out for each other. No matter how much screeching feedback, pure chaos, total noise, and unrelenting darkness there was, it never felt too dangerous. METZ refused to let it get too dangerous, even though they know exactly how to walk right up to the border. That underlying humanism is part of what makes a METZ show feel so enlightening; this is outstanding music being made by genuinely great people- and it’s worthy of being celebrated on all accounts.

Follow the link provided below to see a photo gallery of this show. Beneath that is a video of Pleasure Leftists’ set hitting its stride.

Smiling Buddha: Pleasure Leftists, Holy Fuck, METZ (Photo Gallery)