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Alex Jacquemin, First & Last Light

Modern jazz guitarist Alex Jacquemin’s latest memoirs First & Last Light is double concept album that captures specific moments of creation. The first album, colour-coded blue is called Charms and was created in 2010 with the help of a loop station accompanied by percussionist Mario Monaco and cellist Yoed Nir. The second album, colour-coded brown is called Zanchin and are live, spontaneous compositions created again with a loop station accompanied with just Yoed Nir back in 2008.

Let’s work our way backwards.

Zanchin was first conceived when Jacquemin moved to New York City where he could only play small gigs – hence delving into loop station technology – his musical partnership with Yoed Nir flourished during this period and the duo create beautifully together. The loop station here isn’t used as a gimmick and works because of the spontaneous nature of the recording, you can feel the artists reacting to one another and it helps that Jacquemin has no limitations to his guitar style. Every track on Zanchin is a dedication; opener “A Suzanne” is for his mother and revolves around a heart-breaking melody line, “A Bridgette” is for a friend who committed suicide and is a breath-taking buildup of guitar and cello loops while German philosopher, “A Peter Sloterdijk” is epitomized in Afro-beat.

Charms is the perfect companion disc to the moodier styling of Zanchin and features bright and groovier tunes taking “A Peter Sloterdijk” one step further by creating an entire album of African beats with percussionist Monaco. In addition, these melodic arrangements allow Jacquemin to show off a bit more as otherworldly opener “The Charm” proves. Follow-up track, “Snakes” features some scary quick finger-picking that builds on some eerie electronic sounds created by the guitar while my favourite track “Children” creates an atmosphere of joy with a few simple chords and effective playing.

First & Last Light is a classic mosaic of multi-cultural modern jazz that challenges contemporary jazz to extend beyond what is considered popular. Definite listen for guitar enthusiasts or those looking for a challenging but gratifying listen – prepared to be awed. (Independent)

Rating: 5/5 Stars

Alex Jacquemin – Official Site

Revelstoke, Espirit d’Escalier

Revelstoke is a basement project recorded, produced and mixed by Toronto’s Andrew Seale that tunes in at barely a whisper. His debut EP, Espirit d’Escalier, will be released as a free download on July 5th on his Bandcamp page.

Before we begin, let me say that I understand the spirit of this record; taking on traditional forms of popular music by recording with nothing but a banjo, mandolin and voice.

Revelstoke is indeed an abstract artist as he claims on his bio. Unfortunately, while Revelstoke has the heart of an indie-pop poet he doesn’t conjure up an endearing performance. It feels to me like Revelstoke gets lost in these simple arrangements and after a while Espirit d’ Escalier merely becomes back round music.

Many of the albums best moments are ruined by abstract zeal. On “A Certain Artist’s Judgement” you almost miss the “da da da da da” chorus due to layers of soft noise and album closer “Song For Ania (Because You Can’t Be Here)” contains a beautifully simple melody that could have been built up with strings. Instead, you are greeted with gritty hand-claps and lacklustre vocal effects. (Independent)

Rating: 2/5 Stars

Fine Canadian Forces, Hebrew Lessons

Fine Canadian Forces is multi-instrumentalist Jordan Fine (Five Star Trailer Park, Lake Country VHS) who for the past year has been constructing his debut album using a loop-pedal by combing his love of Modern Jazz, Noise Rock and Pop.

Hebrew Lessons follows two rules (So it seems): 1) Must use the loop-pedal at all times. 2) Can these songs be pulled off live?

It is these two rules that have hindered Fine’s sonic experiment by forcing him into the loop formula. Most of the tracks on Hebrew Lessons consist of one liners being repeated as Fine focuses all his energy on intricate compositions. The worst being “Bigfoot” which features the unfortunate line, “We buy possum guts / We buy gorilla suits” while clocking in at 5-min long! Must be an inside joke, maybe it’s a Toronto thing?

What saves FCF’s debut are Fine’s cleaver cover choices that challenge the original while somehow keeping them recognizable; especially Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” and The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby”. Fine has an exciting concept here, but people are looking to be inspired as well; He needs to start telling stories besides just making cool effects. (Independent)

Rating: 2/5 Stars

Fine Canadian Forces – Official Site 

Hands and Teeth, Enjoy Your Lifestyle

There seems to be a multitude of experimental pop acts coming out of Toronto these days but I haven’t been disappointed yet and Hands and Teeth are no exception.

The fuel-injected pop gem “Race To The End”  opens Enjoy Your Lifestyle where the duel vocals of Kevin Black and Natasha Pasternak reminded me of the defunct Brooklyn trio Rainer Maria. But you can’t label H&T, “Rainbows and Unicorns” breaks the indie-pop mold with a brooding ethereal drawl that peaks with guitars fuzz then segues beautifully into the folksy-rock “The Beacons” where the bands Fleetwood Mac inspiration comes out.

Topping off the EP with the intricately layered lullaby “Until The Night” and the melodically driven piano, “It’s Disaster You’re After” (A track Coldplay wished they thought of) – H&T will enjoy the reputation of creating some of 2011’s most infectious arrangements while challenging the biz on what is considered pop music. Good news is, they are just getting started; the band is already working on a follow-up EP and playing two showcases at CMW. (Independent)

Rating 4/5 Stars

Hands and Teeth – Official Site

Tu Fawning, Hearts On Hold

Portland, Oregon’s Tu Fawning began as a collaboration between Corrina Repp and Joe Haege but has turned into an eclectic assemble of adventurous song-smiths and multi-instrumentalists – enter newer members Toussaint Perrault and Liza Rietz. The band’s first full-length, Hearts On Hold, is not to be taken lightly; this reviewer felt the beginnings of mini-anxiety attacks before every track and loved every bit of it.

Opening track and lead single, “I Know You Now” is a funeral march set to distorted Latin guitar chords, tweaked ragtime organ samples and Death’s personal choir. It’s a freaky, oddball number and there really isn’t anything else like it, but it sums up Tu Fawning’s sound perfectly. The dark flourishes of “I Know” sets the tone for the album, leading into “The Felt Sense” and its tribal dream sequence before continuing on to the jazz-noir waltz, “Diamonds”. Only by the fourth track, “Sad Story” do we hear any recognizable melodies, but like their major influence – Tom Waits – the band is happy to delve back into the mud with brooding elegance (see “Apples” and “Mouths Of Young”). Signing off with the jovial (Yes, an upbeat track!); “Just Too Much” suggests that the band has much more to explore.

Tu Fawning have put together a challenging album that will take multiple listens to fully realize and enjoy; already Hearts On Hold has set the bar pretty high for any other band debuting in 2011. (City Slang)

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tu Fawning – Official Site
Tu Fawning – I Know You Now (Official Video) from City Slang on Vimeo

Bass Lions, … is Diamonds

I completely missed the boat on Bass Lions rise to fame in the Canadian indie-pop world, but only after a few listens of this contagious follow-up, it is easy to hear why fans were looking forward to … is Diamonds.

Hipsters and Bass-heads will probably give me some flack for this, but to be quite honest, I enjoyed this record so much because it instantly reminded me of Broken Social Scene’s early years. Like BSS, Bass Lions create little pop enigma’s dressed in messy electronic static, folk-y acoustics before exploding into a fury of fuzzy guitars and noise.

Bass Lions’ cinematic tale begins with the mesmerizing “Diamond Quartz” with its recurring sparkled keys and light acoustic strums it’s a beautiful lullaby before melding into the sprawling “Wind-Up Bird” then continuing on to the one-two punch of first single, “You Brought The Bass”. Don’t get me wrong, Bass Lions are not following a formula;  The cut & pasted “New Intuition” and “Varicose Veins” introduce indie-pop to a raw and empowering new sound. (Nevado Records)

Rating: 3/5 Stars

Bass Lions – MySpace

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