Culture | Pop Montreal Guide

Black Kids & The Virgins

October 4 / Saphir (3699 St. Laurent) / With Hot Springs, The Virgins

What’s in a name? When your band’s called the Black Kids or the Virgins, maybe your title sounds a little too intriguing for your own good. The unusually-named bands share the stage October 4 with a show that promises to be earmarked by anyone who’s paid attention to online music buzz over the past year.

As many have pointed out, Black Kids is somewhat of a misnomer. Truth be told, the quintet sports three white kids; the other two account for the accurate portion of the band’s title. Inanities aside, the Black Kids play what has been described as My Bloody Valentine meets The Cure, but in reality sounds more like Bloc Party meets White Williams. Perhaps this explains the great strides the band has made over the last year and a half. Going from relative obscurity to playing The David Letterman Show didn’t exactly happen overnight either – but, close enough. To clarify, the Florida band won national attention in August 2007 after playing at the Athens Popfest in Athens, Georgia. Not one scant month later, they received high-profile coverage from Vice and The Village Voice, with NME even printing an article simply titled, “The Black Kids Are Amazing.” So there you have it: instant success. It doesn’t hurt, though, that it’s physically impossible to not dance to their debut single, “I’m Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You.”

While the accuracy of the latter band’s name is beyond the scope of what I know to be fact or fiction, I can say that the Virgins have remained highly hyped since their inception in 2005. After members Donald Cumming and Wade Oates met on the set of a Ryan McGinley photo shoot in Mexico, they returned to New York to form the group with its other two members and began playing live shows. They have since toured alongside Patti Smith and Sonic Youth, in addition to the perhaps more regrettable tour they shared with Jet. It was the widespread attention they garnered following 2008’s SXSW, however, that truly cemented them in the public eye. Even if their music has appeared on both The Hills and Gossip Girl (shudder), you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a hipster who wouldn’t pop it to their track, “Rich Girls.”

Titles and labels aside, the show promises to be mercilessly fun. While one could easily point out that both bands have passed their blog-hype expiration date and that their successes could in part be chalked up to their next-big-thing statuses, they’ve also clawed their way to notoriety by playing some seriously entertaining music. Call them what you will, in the ever-revolving door that is the independent music scene, these bands are names to pay attention to.

– Benjamin Brown

Socalled

October 3 / Cinema L’Amour (4015 St. Laurent)

Once upon a time, Montreal’s klezmer hip-hop darling, Socalled, a.k.a Josh Dolgin, embarked on a quest for interesting porn. His friend Ryan McGinley – coincidentally a photographer who almost exclusively features nudes – held the answer to his prayers: Cruisin’ 57, a 1970s hardcore gay porno film by Toby Ross.

If we were dealing with an average pornography enthusiast, the tale would end here. But Socalled – who’s collaborated with everyone from Killah Priest to the Addath Israel Choir for High Holidays – is not one to embrace normalcy. Instead, he’s taken his enthusiasm for Crusin’ 57 to a whole other level: Porn Pop.

The x-rated evening will open with a talk by Thomas Wa, an expert on porn and homoerotic art, followed by Dolgin’s own documentary on the life and work of director Toby Ross. For the piece-de-resistance, a rare 16 mm print of Cruisin’ 57 will be screened as Socalled and friends (Al Watsky, Owen Pallet of Final Fantasy, Snef Schneider of Bel Orchestre, and Mike Dubue of Hilotrons) accompany the film with a live musical score.

Promising to stay faithful to the 1950s songs featured in the original, Dolgin envisions a soundtrack performance that playfully alternates in volume with the film’s diegetic noise: copious amounts of onscreen sex. Theoretically this should grant the live music as much attention as the porn, but Dolgin divulges that the x-rated onscreen antics will be “pretty hard to ignore.”

While the prospect of these five innovative musicians collaborating on a film score has definite appeal, and every decent porno needs a quality soundtrack, Porn Pop is unapologetically more about pornography than it is about music.

“It was totally different porn, something I had never seen before. It looked like people were actually having fun, it was well shot and there was this hip music playing,” an enamored Dolgin says of Cruisin’ 57. He was so inspired that he tracked down the director. Although the filmmaker boasts a small cult following, Ross was happy to correspond with his fervent Canadian fan.

Dolgin’s original master plan was to bring Ross to Montreal: “I wanted to have him speak, maybe make a little porno in Montreal.” When Ross was unable to cross the border into Canada, Dolgin trekked all the way to Chicago to meet him. Fascinated by Ross’s filmmaking philosophy and experience as a pornographer since the seventies, Dolgin began shooting a film (a documentary, that is) of his own.

What began as an innocent search for porn has morphed into an artistic, historical, and musical take on one of the industry’s more interesting gay filmmakers. As was the case with many of his early films, Toby Ross directed Cruisin’ 57 in an era when radical feminist groups like Women Against Pornography were violently anti-porn and HIV/AIDS had not yet been identified as an epidemic ravaging gay communities. Cruisin’ 57 is a historical, sexual artifact, pointing a 1970s camera at the sights and sounds of gay sex in the fifties.

With this nostalgic interest in onscreen sex – as it was back then, it’s only fitting that Porn Pop take place at Cinema L’Amour. Montreal’s red-carpeted house o’ porn opened in 1914 and is one of the oldest erotic cinemas in North America. While it’s too simplistic to argue that older, alternative pornography is easier to see in an artistic light, it’s hard to imagine the contemporary, mainstream films shown at Cinema l’Amour being targeted by hip, young musicians – Big Butt Teens and MILF Cruiser are two of this week’s featured titles.

“MILFs” and “big butt teens” may not be my idea of a good time, but I’m no anti-porn crusader: an introduction to the world of 1970s gay porn with live violin, electric guitar, drums, and vocals thrown in for good measure promises to be one of the most interesting (and sexiest) events this Pop Montreal.

– Caitlin Manicom

Herman Diine

October 3 / Sala Rossa (4848 St. Laurent) / With Akron/Family, Great Lake Swimmers

Herman Düne is easy listening for the lovesick soul. Quick, cool, catchy, sweet as syrup – like Ricola for your ears. Ricola: those delicious “medicated” throat lozenges that do so much more than psychologically soothe, they quench your candy cravings.

The band describes themselves as “surf, folk, grunge,” with a whiff of anti-folk, wrapped in a delicate upbeat rhythm. “I Wish That I Could See You Soon,” a love song about a long-distance romance, made #89 on Rolling Stones’ list of the 100 best songs of 2007. The starling indie team achieved understated success, slowly but surely blasting through the blogosphere.

Just like Ricola, Herman Düne is originally from Switzerland! The Franco-Swiss duo is based in Paris, France, yet their influences are overwhelmingly North American. Influencing their sound, you hear the poetry of Leonard Cohen, boyish charm of Jonathan Richman, and melancholic soul of Nina Simone, to name a few. They have played backup for The Moldy Peaches and collaborated with Kimya Dawson on numerous occasions. The band’s sound is simple yet substantial, with David-Ivar Herman Düne on guitar and vocals and Néman Herman Düne on drums.

Herman Düne’s music is ripe with heart-throbbing sincerity, and extends the invitation for you to sing along. David’s voice endearingly wavers with passionate adolescent frankness as he sings “I hope you know how bad I like to be with you” in “1-2-3 Apple Tree,” while in “My Best Kiss” he croons, “I will miss you when I go to bed without you / and I will miss you when I wake up by myself.”

It’s not always about sunshine kisses and lollipop tears for Herman Düne – but even their heavier songs are something to smile about. Songs like “Your Name My Game” and “Not on Top” speak to those more pensive, languid melodramas us post-adolescents go through, while remaining hopeful nonetheless. Life is not without its problems, but if you set your sorrows to some toe-tapping tunes, they drift away with a tender melody.

Formerly a trio with Andre Herman Düne as their front man, their current duo status has lead to a discography with a lighter heart. Andre Herman Düne penned serious songs with a somber tinge; titles such as “My Friends Kill My Folks” and “Land of Long Shadows,” with lines bitter as “When you hate yourself / It’s the mirror you break.” Rumours have circulated that David and Andre are estranged from one another, with Andre Herman Düne touring as a musician under the name Stanley Brinks. Whatever ill will led to this schism, it’s not something they sing about. Herman Düne now strum lighthearted riffs and starlight anthems ripe with nostalgia and longing, perfect for a late summer night.

– Aditi Ohri

Bonjay

Oct 2 / Le Divan Orange (4234 St. Laurent) / with Grambleton Geraldine

Bonjay is a Torontonwian duo that may have found the key to clubbing happiness: electronic-infused soul and (genuine) reggae. Alanna and Pho offer an appealing new standard for club music: songs like “Stumble” have the breakbeat backbone of an M.I.A. piece while also incorporating the softer, warmer tone of R&B.

Alanna’s Caribbean roots toss just enough booty into the band’s reworkings of indie masterpieces such as TV on the Radio’s “Staring at the Sun.” Bonjay’s diversity is marked by the impressive array of groups they have performed with: rising electro DJs Jokers of the Scene, French technopop princess Yelle, and hip-hop artists Kid Cudi and Megasoid. “Gimmee Gimmee” offers the irresistibility of “Giiii-mmee” callings layered over softer “Gimmee-gimmee-gimmee” chants.

Bonjay’s music has an immediacy and intimacy that makes the audience itch to comply. Dancing is mandatory; no statuesque concert-goers allowed.

– Megan Wray

Brazilian Girls

October 5 / Club Soda (1225 St. Laurent)

Brazilian Girls have long enveloped themselves in layers of mystique, purposefully thumbing their noses at classification. Achieving the unexpected appears to be one of the trio’s primary goals – none of them are, in fact, Brazilian. The group is comprised of the gyspy-glam Sabina (vocals), Didi (keyboards), and Aaron (drums). Their newly released full-length album New York City has proven to be an artful, nearly inconceivable melange of genres: pop, world, tropicalia, electronic, bohemian, psychedelic – shall we call it experimental?

Didi is quoted on the Girls’ web site proclaiming that New York City is a “musical hybrid of an indefinite, undefined, unidentifiable nature.” It’s true, the thesaurus does little justice to the diverse sound of the Girls, but “unidentifiable” they are not. Over their multitude of backdrops, many of the songs offer catchy, repetitive lyrics with the buoyancy of dance classics. New York City opens with gay whistling and inviting percussion – a near-subliminal come-hither calling. Within the gaudy clutter of their myspace (filled with purchasable ring tones) blithe pop pieces can be found. “I Want Out” is reminiscent of Thievery Corporation in its spacey, psychedelic sound. The band’s carnivalesque throwback to Parisian cabaret, Berlin, hints at the Brazilian Girls’ true quirkiness, often evident in Sabina’s fantastical stage costumes. “Losing Myself” and “Good Time” have the bounce and fanciful lyrics of a Yelle song, with phrases which border on nonsensical such as “some people go woo quack quack they go key.” Still, all this is balanced by Sabina’s dizzying pentalingual performance.

But the most intriguing tracks of the Girls’ new album don’t appear on their myspace. Unlike the repetitive (if popular) “Good Times,” songs like “Strangeboy” and “Ricardo” are more fulfilling trance-like creations. And not trance as a genre – a literal trance. Sabina’s voice is siren-like in “Strangeboy,” submerged within a multiplicity of softly chiming percussion. This might seem a little off-kilter, but the hypnotic chanting of Ricardo seems almost appropriate of a fantasy-world of lost lagoons. Sabina’s voice – in its ever fluctuating languages – has the unmistakable sultriness of mermaid-hood. But relax! The Brazilian Girls will not drag you down to the deep end of weird. A clip on the Girls’ site depicts Sabina explaining once and for all that “it’s all about fucking, ultimately.” What a relief.

– Meghan Wray

Irma Thomas

October 2 / Ukrainian Federation (5213 Hutchison) / With Denitia Odigie

Hip Shakin’ Mama Shoots the Straight Shit: A conversation with the Soul Queen of New Orleans, Irma Thomas.

Irma Thomas has been in the music business for a long, long time – coming up on 50 years. Pregnant and married at 14, divorced by 17, and with four children under her belt, she was fired from her job at a cocktail bar when her clients began asking for the “singing waitress.” She left the restaurant industry for the stage and never looked back. At 67, Irma still has the voice and the moves that made her the Soul Queen of the New Orleans and she ain’t takin’ no shit from nobody.

When we first speak, it’s apparent that my fancy university-talk is not going down here, as she responds to my first question with “Are you asking me a question or are you making a statement?” Fair enough. I rephrase, refocus, and we get down to business.

McGill Daily: Tell me a little bit about your new record, Simply Grand, and what direction you hope it takes.

Irma Thomas: Well, whenever an artist records a new album, their direction is to make something the public will love and a make a hit record. That’s all. I mean, I love what I’ve done. The album is a piano-based work designed to showcase my vocals, which is something we did with the last record [After the Rain, 2006] which won us a Grammy, so we figured if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, you know?

MD: If you were entering the music business now, what would you do differently? What advice would you give to young artists just starting out?

IT: Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t want to get into this business. Talent don’t have anything to do with whether you have a hit or a miss. In the old days, record companies would pick up a young artist, develop them, spend time on them. They don’t do that nowadays. They just want the whole ball of wax put together for them.

MD: Who have been some of your favourite touring partners?

IT: In the nineties when Sing it! came out with Marsha Ball and Tracy Nelson, that was a fun tour. We’d get to a town and all the reporters would come out and they’d want to know who was dissin’ who, it was real funny. When they found out that we were mature women in our fifties, and we all respected each other and were interested in just getting the job done instead of cat fights, they just would lose interest. That’s showbiz, though.

MD: What can we expect at your live show?

IT: Just what they hear on the record. Usually I start out with a couple songs from the new ones, and then all do the old stuff because that’s what people want to hear. I won’t put my gospel songs in the middle of an R&B show, though. How you gonna get up on stage and sing “Hip Shakin’ Mama” and then turn around and sing about God, while everyone’s drinking and getting it on, huh? I don’t do that. For me, gospel is prayer and R&B is about hardships, joy and having fun. They don’t mix.

– Julie Alsop

The Wedding Present

October 5 Theatre National (1220 Ste. Catherine) / With WIRE

For North Americans, the Wedding Present is a rare dose of classic British indie rock – a refreshing reprieve from the triple threat of Pavement, Guided by Voices, and the Pixies that characterizes every halfway-hip college student’s “old-school” playlist. And while their name hasn’t achieved the same sort of ubiquity this side of the Atlantic, they’ve had an astoundingly prolific and influential career since their inception in 1985. Their story begins with a series of successful singles, but comes to a peak with 1987’s George Best, a manic, personal indie pop album with an originally melodic charm. Zippy tempos and hyper guitar lines characterize this momentous record, which is matched by Gedge’s witty and often vitriolic lyrics. Take iconic “Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft,” a delightful fuck-you to an ex-girlfriend and her new prospect; it slyly bounds between perfunctory small talk and cathartic pettiness, building to a satisfying chorus of “Everyone thinks he looks daft/But you can have your dream.”

Later albums would reveal a depth to the Wedding Present’s style. 1991’s fan favourite, Seamonsters, eschews the band’s prickly mania in favour of a noisier approach. Produced by ultra-scenester Steve Albini, it sounds modern and somewhat more American, but Gedge’s unmistakable vocals and compositional spasticity keep things distinct. As is typical, the songs here come from a frequently lovelorn spot. Hard-rocking “Lovenest” muses on lost possibilities, while tense “Heather” is a heartbreaking study in self-torture. But part of the Wedding Present’s appeal is that they play songs about scorned love but never sink to cheesy whininess. Sure, there are lots of love songs out there, but it kind of feels like Gedge was the first guy to write one.

Meanwhile, 1994’s unusually varied Watusi could be the band’s greatest accomplishment since George Best. A return to the less amped-up, more melodic pop of the Wedding Present’s yore, its melodies flail around like a sock filled with change, producing some of the band’s most infectious material in perfect “Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah” and charged “It’s a Gas.” A few pretty slow songs (“Spangle” and “Big Rat”) are even attempted, and the results are unexpectedly straightforward and unsurprisingly good.

Over their two decades of existence, the Wedding Present has put out eight albums and 36 singles. They’ve gone through members like boxes of Count Chocula, and only David Gedge – eternally the band’s main songwriter – remains from the 1987 incarnation that spawned George Best. The release of 2008’s El Rey has motivated their recent venture onto our fair continent, and nobody will be excused for missing out on such a rare chance to experience this indie rock institution. A few grey hairs and some extra rings in their trunks may alienate the members of the Wedding Present from all the hip young bands on offer at Pop Montreal, but that’s all the more reason to lend them your ears on Sunday night.

– Michael Tau

The Knux

Headlining show

October 3 / Preloved (4382 St. Laurent) / With Heidi Mortenson

Hip hop and rap artists have always been a minority at past Pop Montreal festivals, which is why those that do pop up at the festival get particular attention from hip hop junkies. Previous Pop Montreal hip hop and rap acts have included TTC, Spank Rock, Kid Sister, and the Cool Kids. All have been dubbed “alternative” hip-hop artists – if such a genre even exists.

The Knux is a pair of classically trained musician brothers, Rah Almillio and Krispy Kream, labeled as “alt-rap saviors” and “leaders of the new school” by Complex Magazine. Their first official single, “Cappuccino” has been increasingly buzz-worthy in the blogosphere, but it’s a weak representation of their overall funky musical style. It’s clear that the duo seem to be trying hard to step out of the box, but “Cappuccino” is an unfortunately over-engineered work with weak similes like “clear like Visine” and “sweet like fruit punch”.

The Knux’s sound is a mix of old-school A Tribe Called Quest and new-school OutKast. They were tour buddies with Common in 2007, which gives them some cred, but the pair simply don’t possess the swagger that brings that je ne sais quoi to hip hop. As much as you can improve your flow, your beats, your lyrics, and your production, you can’t fake that type of swank. What the Knux lack in swag, they make up for in fashion sense: plaid button-ups, fat gold chains, cardigans, worn-in sneakers, large-lensed glasses, acid wash, and backpacks worn on stage make up their atypical hip hop getup.

But, style isn’t everything – otherwise, the pair might potentially drift into a realm of mediocrity. Nevertheless, I’m anticipating that their live shows (they’re scheduled to perform thrice at this year’s festival) will incorporate a number of live instruments that will captivate the audience. The Knux are a multifaceted duo who are not only rappers, but producers and instrumentalists – this alone should stand for something in today’s hip hop circle of soulja boys and soulja girls.

– Tiana Reid

Baltimore Round Robin

October 4 & 5 / Eastern Bloc (7420 Clark) / With Beach House, Lizz King, Teeth Mountain, Lesser Gonzales, Creepers, Lexie Mountain, Santa Dads, Jana Hunter (Eyes Night) & Dan Deacon, Smartgrowth, Nuclear Power Plants, Videohippos, Deathset (Feet Night)

Dan Deacon is a hard man to get in touch with. His flourishing music career is just the tip of the iceberg: as a prominent member of Wham City, a collective that Deacon formed alongside fellow students from New York’s public University at Purchase, his music is one of many artistic endeavors piloted by 18 or so 20-somethings shacked up in a loft in the industrial district of Baltimore, Maryland.

Wham City aims to foster and support individual creativity while promoting their organized collective consciousness. They do this by constantly producing and involving themselves in each other’s work. It seems fitting, then, that Deacon comes to Pop Montreal this weekend with his Wham City counterparts, other B-More acts, and an entirely restructured idea of performance for what he calls the Baltimore Round Robin. The event consists of two installments – Eyes Night and Feet Night – and was curated by Deacon to showcase Baltimore talent.

Eyes Night, as described by its creators, is an amalgamation of “folk, noise, theatrics, improvisation, [and] music that is spiritual and dreamy.” The orchestral Casio and pipe organ of Deacon’s labelmates, Beach House and heartfelt acoustic crooner Jana Hunter, will round out a lineup of 11 bands. Feet Night’s premise is simpler: it’s music you can cut a rug to. The frenetic Nintendo-inspired epics of Adventure and 12 other Baltimore gems will reinforce Deacon’s set.

Megashows that last all night are nothing new, but the catch here is in the performance itself. Participating bands will set up as a circle in the Little Italy loft Eastern Bloc. Then, with the audience in the middle, each band will play one song and pass the baton to the next act, going round and round as the night progresses.

The desired effect is to create shows with “no headliner, no opener, no front row, or back of the room.” On Eyes Night, the industrial noise of Wzt Hearts will be followed immediately by the staged comedy of Ed Schrader, which precedes the electro-trance Indian ragas of Teeth Mountain. The next evening, the pop-heavy hooks of Future Islands, the post-modern punk of Double-Dagger, and the post-hip-hop grungy beats of Height will set toes a-tappin’.

The man holding the puppet strings is Deacon, who hardly needs another thing to do. He has been on tour since the spring in support of his latest album Spiderman of the Rings. It was this album that solidified Deacon’s popularity, and it was named to multiple best-of lists at the end of last year. Though tickets to Round Robin may be bought solely because Deacon’s name is on them, the goal isn’t self-promotion. This is a concert that is less about presenting any one band and more about presenting the music scene of Baltimore.

In experiencing what the minds at Wham City have made of their art, it becomes clear that their driving force is experimentation. That is what lies at the heart of the Round Robin – rethinking what it means to be a band playing a show and to be an audience listing to a show.

But, as with all things these days, we must question what happens when the experimental becomes available to the public, who appropriates it as cool and dismisses it just as quickly. Collectives like Wham City are actively combating this saturation point the only way they know how, by constantly striving toward the new and innovative with the force of experimentation.

– Joseph Watts

Ratatat

October 3 / Club Soda (1225 St. Laurent) / With Heidi Mortenson, Erock, Panther

As I sit and listen to the electronic rhythms thumping from my computer, I can’t help but immerse myself completely in the rhythm of each tone. I am lost – tapping my foot and bobbing my head along to the brilliantly constructed movements of sound – temporarily shrugging all responsibilities.

The musical ingenuity I speak of is that of New York City duo Ratatat. Guitarist Mike Stroud and producer Evan Mast met as students at Skidmore College in upstate New York, but eventually wrote and recorded tracks for their 2004 debut album from the inspiringly hip streets of Brooklyn. Their name is perfectly suited to the type of music they create: as you pronounce Ra-ta-tat, the syllables jump off your tongue just as their beats encourage one another in a progressive pattern. Although the album is entirely instrumental, it possesses a captivating quality that overwhelms your bones: your body itches to let loose.

Originally recorded and produced with laptops, the band’s instrumental range has expanded on their third album, LP3, incorporating manipulated guitar, keyboard, and other string and percussion instruments that haven’t been previously explored.

A story develops in each song, and the clever collaboration of tones, pulsations, and backwards guitar take more than one listen to fully appreciate. This effect would not be entirely possible with lyrics.

With a deeply layered sound, Ratatat have brought innovation to the electronic-rock genre. The tune “Loud Pipes” has an upbeat and surprising note sequence, granting it immunity from the dreaded label “Overplayed.”

– Juliana Atallah

The Dodos

October 3 / La Sala Rossa (4848 St. Laurent) / With Passion Pit, Au

Everyone knows drummers get a bad rap – or at least that’s been the rock stereotype throughout music history. However, Meric Long and Logan Kroeber, together forming the Dodos, are proving that the backbeat of the band can take back the reigns in a big way.

Hailing from San Francisco and born out of Long’s solo work, this duo combines percussion-heavy psychedelic folk with collegiate pop to make a hybrid that is something else altogether. The Dodos follow in the footsteps of indie sweethearts the Magnetic Fields and the Shins, managing to envelop their poignant lyrics in a catchy pop framework that still finds time to indulge in their fair share of extended instrumental interludes.

Clearly, this band’s got a lot going on, but rather than overwhelming the listener, diversity serves as their greatest strength. What is really remarkable here is the ability of two people to pull off what many larger bands could only hope to accomplish, with each component of the duo flourishing in their own right. The Dodos create catchy rhythms, but simultaneously seem to project walls of sound reminiscent of the organized chaos achieved with much larger outfits like Broken Social Scene and Animal Collective.

The Pop Montreal festival is merely one stop on an extensive tour the band is currently undertaking in support of this year’s release, Visiter. The buzz surrounding the Dodos’ critically praised album definitely warrants a listen: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll dance around a bit, guaranteed. Within the confines of Visiter’s 14 tracks, the band manages to cover a lot of ground: finger-picked guitar and whimsical vocal ballads draw comparisons with freak-folk artist Devendra Banhart, while the beautiful, idiosyncratic chaos present on other tracks proves that the Dodos have no qualms venturing well outside the comfort zone of the typical tame folk duo.

Despite their inherent parallels with other coveted indie rock successes of recent years, this band is anything but a cheap imitation. In the age where the label “the next big thing” is more of an expiration date than praise, the Dodos might prove to have more lasting power than their name would suggest.

– Laura Anderson

Akron/Family

October 3 / La Sala Rossa (4848 St. Laurent) / With Great Lake Swimmers, Herman Dune

Little is known about this quirky band. In fact, it seems as though it is a deliberate effort to emphasize their music and shadow everything else. Their web site’s history page is only a scorecard from a miniature golf game, clearly irrelevant to what we’re after. But then again, it should be music we’re looking for, and that is exactly what we’re forced to do. We can be sure, then, that Akron/Family is a genuine project where music is not only the focus, but rather all that exists.

What then is the music all about? It is essentially a folk sound. What makes them unique are the combined tweaks of lo-fi and psychedelic esthetics. Their most recent album, Love is simple carries heavier country rock/psychedelic tones than the others and loses some of its atmospheric qualities. Indeed, their hippy side truly shines through as they chant, “Go out and love, love, love, everyone.” Their music and message are extremely optimistic. They have an amazing quality of flux, flowing from one style to another, from one emotion to another with such fluidity that it’s sometimes hard to tell when one song ends and the next one begins.

If you’re planning on going to see them, expect their high energy and general playfulness to dominate the stage. And don’t be surprised if you encounter a 20-minute version of one of their songs with an extended jam that grows and grows and grows until its climactic end. As their songs proclaim, music is a shared experience and their style of performance demands your participation.

– Livingston Miller

Pas Chic-Chic

October 3 / Le Divan Orange (4324 St. Laurent) / With Hot Springs, Pony Up

Roger Tellier-Craig is a man of contradictions – and thank God, because his band, Pas Chic Chic, wouldn’t be nearly as good if he wasn’t.

Though it’s only been a few months since it was released, their debut album already sounds oddly timeless, like a wrongly neglected oldies record, far ahead of its time. Part of that feeling I could attribute to the sound – a shimmering bastardization of 1970s French pop music, psych-rock pioneers The United States of America fronted by Brigitte Fontaine. But looking past the name-drops, it’s clear that Quebec, as a French cultural entity, could have used a band this smart long ago.

Tellier-Craig wouldn’t quite frame it the same way, but his disappointment in his native Quebec’s music scene is palpable. “The French music that gets made here,” he sighs, “is either a francophone version of something that’s been produced elsewhere, or it revolves around a dated conception of Quebecois identity.” And considering the bands he’s referring to – Eric Lapointe’s trashy, barroom rock and Jean Leloup’s trite singer-songwriter-isms – that statement is almost flattering.

But it’s one also one that smacks of irony. After all, Pas Chic Chic’s closest musical debts are several thousand kilometres removed from Tellier-Craig’s homeland, not to mention a couple decades past. Nonetheless, his musical upbringing doesn’t just make these tensions inevitable – it makes them downright personal.

“Listening to Stereolab as a kid,” he recalls, “led me to discover musicians like Serge Gainsbourg, Francoise Hardy, and Brigitte Fontaine. And listening to them…it hit me – like, ’fuck! Now there’s French music that isn’t afraid to rip shit out!’”

And as a long-time fixture on the Montreal post-rock scene – having played in the likes of Godspeed! You Black Emperor, and Fly Pan Am – Tellier-Craig finds himself in an unusually good position to follow his idols’ paths of destruction. Less of a songwriter than an architect, he obsesses over structures and sounds, nailing the aesthetic before ever getting to work on the emotive. That he’s hoping to breathe life into a genre so fundamentally guided by feeling and expression stands as somewhat paradoxical, yet it affords him the chance to create a sound that’s entirely his own.

“I’ve always wanted to generate synthesis by sticking contrasting influences on top of each other,” he reveals. “It’s like, you’ve got reference points here, there, all over the place and when you bring them all together, they cancel each other out and form something entirely new.”

Well he’s obviously done something right. Pas Chic Chic’s pristine cacophony is one of the most unique things I’ve heard all year, equal parts maximalist pop and kitschy pastiche. But beneath all that noise, we’re still dealing with a regular guy trying to make sense of his cultural identity.

“But what the hell is cultural identity, anyway?” he implored. “That’s what I want to know. Is there any way for me to acknowledge my roots without picking up a wooden spoon and a violin?”

If Pas Chic Chic’s first album is any indication, then the answer is probably yes.

– Nicolas Boisvert-Novak

Japanther

October 3 / Le Divan Orange (4324 St. Laurent) / With Double Dip, Career Suicide, Brutal Knights, An Albatross

What started as a tough, metal-sounding name sprayed on the walls of Brooklyn laneways and walls has, in the past six years, become a distinct noise institution. Brooklyn’s Japanther, consisting of Ian Venek (drums, cassettes, vocals) and Matt Reilly (bass, keyboard, vocals), has attracted a devout following thanks to their raucous concerts, eccentric rhythms, and blaring vocals.

“We give it all our all every time and try to think of funny shit to keep from boring our brains out,” said Vanek in an exclusive interview with The McGill Daily. “We played on the Williamsburg Bridge with Ninjasonik the other night and it was the best concert of the whole summer in New York City. Keeping it fresh and interesting is what graffiti is about, and we tend to be more of a gang of bad kids than a traditional band.”

In the modest period of time that they’ve been playing shows, Japanther has managed to embark on 16 sizable tours – nine of them in the first two years of their career – as well as release four seven-inches, two CDs, and two LPs. They have performed in just about every venue or location imaginable, from art galleries to bedrooms, bathrooms, and showy ballrooms, at street corners, under the Williamsburg Bridge, on boats and, once, in 2006, at New York University’s Palladium Pool, where they teamed up with synchronized swimming team Aquadoom and played their piece “Dangerous When Wet.”

To no one’s surprise, Japanther has earned the complete support of their musical counterparts. Pitchfork Media calls them New York’s most underrated act, and Thurston Moore has described them as a “slam boogie machine with no time for boredom.” Their distinct sound is simply too rambunctious not to love. Japanther is to the New York music scene what Judd Nelson’s character, Bender, was to the Breakfast Club.

They’re a rapscallion duo fueled by adrenaline and a disregard for authority, writing songs that evoke the poetry of those dancing days, a disregard for Kofi Annan (“two words,” says Valek, “push over”) and the sweat, blood, and cheers of their supporters.

Usain Bolt, with his damn hubris and arrogance, and Michael Phelps, despite his determination and drive, could only hope to fetch a bronze and silver behind Japanther’s rhythm and beat. Where touring and venues seem like a nag for most bands these days, Japanther is conscientious of their fan base and haven’t forgotten why bands were put together in the first place: to perform. “Maybe people are getting less inspired as the world comes to an end,” said Valek, “but people dance like a motherfucker at our shows.”

– Nick Cameron

The Bug

October 3 / Portuguese Association (4170 St. Urbain) / With Ghostbeard, Bonjay

Take off your Converse knock-offs. Trade your modest, tight indie-wear for something a little more demonstrative. For goodness sake, take off that scarf. Get something a little baggier, a little less plaid, maybe some more solid colours – black, or white, right? Not for this show, a perfect opportunity to branch out from the McGill indie-rock-hipster tri-force without venturing too far.

The Bug, Kevin Martin’s pet project, takes its cues from no one and everyone, dipping into all the wonderful sounds of dubstep, dubtronica, dancehall, grime, reggae, and techno covered in a thick layer of hip-hop. Chummy with Flying Lotus and a worshiper of Public Enemy, the Bug has proven to be one of the more accessible names in the wave of Jamaican-influenced underground groups coming out of London’s eclectic club scene in recent years. If you’re looking for that next great British rock band to emerge, don’t hold your breath – they probably bought some decks after a long night of club hopping.

Listing some of his biggest influences as David Lynch, David Cronenberg, and Philip K. Dick (the novelist behind Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report), Martin doesn’t limit himself to London clubs while shaping his art. In fact, he branched out so far as to use the Bug to release 1997’s Tapping The Conversation as a homage to Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation. That was 12 years ago.

Now, after releasing the critically aclaimed London Zoo on Ninja Tune (an 8.6 on Pitchfork, if that means anything) he seems more focused on pumping your headphones full of some of the fleshiest, most gratifying dubs since Caspa and Rusko headlined 2007’s FABRICLIVE.37.

The show at the Portuguese Association will feature Warrior Queen who, as the most prolific of his long list of sidekicks, cuts through the sweaty basslines with a melodic but combative flow. All the live videos floating around point to a ridiculously energetic performance. So go ahead – catapult from the familiar indie-popdom we just can’t get enough of into a realm of vibrating sternums, involuntary head nodding (hat optional) and let loose.

– Nicholas Van Beek

Chad Vangaalen

October 3 / Ukranian Federation (5213 Hutchinson) / With Women, Julie Doiron

Like Emily Dickinson, Chad VanGaalen’s creative process occurs largely inside the home. Secluded within his basement, the multi-talented Calgarian singer-songwriter and artist not only plays every instrument on his recordings, but he also creates most of them. Having taught himself how to play guitar by imitating Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation, VanGaalen’s songs are still written in the non-standard tuning he invented in his youth.

Although commonly labeled as a member of the all-encompassing indie-rock camp, VanGaalen personally refers to himself as fundamentally a folk artist. His use of electronic circuit-bending and homemade instruments harks back to earlier traditions of DIY instruments that resonate most strongly with folk music, which he calls the “original punk-rock aesthetic.” Clarinets fashioned by VanGaalen out of wood are a frequently featured instrument, and only add to the rustic quality of his music.

The recently released Soft Airplane is considered to be VanGaalen’s first true album, fully realized and conscientiously sewn together. Its 42 minutes confidently explore genres ranging from jaunty electronic to pre-1975 Neil Young (a name almost synonymous with VanGaalen’s feathery falsetto). In comparison, his initial two albums – Infiniheart and Skelliconnection – are more fragmented compilations created by compiling tracks selected from hundreds of songs accumulated in over ten years of back-catalogue.

“Willow Tree,” the opening track of Soft Airplane, features a breezily strummed banjo, deceptively sweet in accompanying lyrics which depict an undaunted perspective toward the aftermath of death: “When I die / I’ll hang my head beside the willow tree. When I’m dead / is when I’ll be free.” Electronic music in its most danceable form appears on “TMNT Mask” as VanGaalen’s voice wavers over the poppy glitches juxtaposed with a flowing harmonica interlude. The minimalistic ballad-like “Molten Light” and shimmering “Rabid Bits of Time” lay VanGaalen’s warbling voice bare in all its vulnerability.

In contrast to bands such as Of Montreal, VanGaalen is the opposite of exhibitionist. “Singing in front of people is probably the most embarrassing thing I can think of,” he says. But despite foregoing fishnets, kimonos, and spacesuits in his concerts, VanGaalen manages to still deliver a captivating performance. The recent birth of his baby daughter has perhaps even driven him further away from any radical tendencies. “You make changes in yourself for the best because you don’t want to pass on bad habits to your kids,” he muses. “You get rid of your car and stop swearing in front of people.”

Oh, and like Dickinson, VanGaalen’s lyrics frequently return to themes of death, a topic he says “sets [his] mind in motion.” But the similarities end there, I swear.

– Jane Hu


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