Album Review: Meant to Be by JB the First Lady

Whether she is rapping, singing or performing spoken word, JB the First Lady‘s smooth vocals and agile flow make her a captivating storyteller. On her fourth album, Meant to Be, JB the First Lady — the pseudonym of Jerilynn Webster —furthers her mission to create music that is both positive, personal and political.

Meant to Be opens with the title track, which functions as the album’s manifesto. She says, “I’m telling a story so open your ears/They wanted us to disappear.” Through the telling of her story, JB resists Canadian History’s attempt to erase the voices of Indigenous peoples, more specifically the voices of Indigenous women. Both her vocal stylings and the autobiographical nature of her music positions JB in a tradition of female MCs like Lauryn Hill. Akin to her musical predecessors, JB the First Lady mixes the personal with the political. When she says, “Justice must come eventually,”it seems like  she is hopeful for the future and critical of the distance Canada has to go before we achieve reconciliation.

Yet, JB still finds room to explore minutely intimate subjects. “My Baby” is a mellow R&B track about how her love for her partner builds her up and helps her to “keep shining.” Themes of heritage and culture still remain present, and JB and her partner assert the power of their connection is due to their ancestry. With a refrain of “My baby’s my baby,” it is one of the more repetitious tracks on the album. Still, JB deserves credit for unabashedly representing her love.

In contrast, “O.O.T.G.,” which stands for ‘out of the gates,’ is a rallying cry. With declarations like “No one can take my light,” “O.O.T.G.” is life affirming. JB denounces the injustices Canada has inflicted against her people: “There is no excuse for hate and abuse.” JB’s son Sequoia is her hype man, calling out, “Tell ’em, Mommy!” Horns coupled with a booming bass line make for polished and gripping production.

Building upon this tone, “Still Here” is a forceful closing track and assertion of identity. JB references the Canadian federal government commitment to Truth and Reconciliation, murdered and missing Indigenous women and the staggering number of Indigenous reservations without potable water, and increased suicide rates in rural communities. In spite of the systemic racism and colonialism, the Indigenous peoples of this land endure. JB calls on everyone to dismantle systems of oppression because “Together we are better.” JB asserts both her own resilience and the resilience of her culture. With honest lyrics and compelling storytelling, Meant to Be proposes a better future for Canada.

This review was originally published in the November  2017 issue of Discorder Magazine.

Chad VanGaalen Masterminds a Science Fiction Vision

Chad VanGaalen’s myriad artistic vision is manifested in his music and visual art. Residing in Calgary, Alberta, he is a multi-instrumentalist who plays and produces all the music he records. His recently released sixth album, Light Information, is an immersive musical experience.

His label Flemish Eye describes his music as “living maps in songs, drawings, modified instruments, animations and performances – shifting forms pointing to another world.” VanGaalen’s albums are universes unto themselves. He says, “My alternate worlds [are] just an expanded universe of the 1970s heavy metal science fiction culture. I’m trying the best I can to bring my childhood inspirations to life through my own animations.”

Since the release of his first album, Infiniheart, VanGaalen says, “My studio has changed, my mind has changed, my gear has changed.” Across his discography he says, “Each album will have a similarity because it’s my work but what I sing about will change.” Whether creating music or visual art VanGaalen says, “Everything connects because it’s created from my mind.” This is especially apparent in the animation he did for “Pine and Clover,” in which the two main characters transform together in a show intimacy or perhaps solidarity. Though the sounds and images initially seem as thought they are in stark contrast, the visual shifts are in keeping with the tonal variation within the song.

While his arts work in tandem, he says they all require different approaches. “[In] music it’s more difficult to convey the end product quickly because the nature of the medium needs to be assembled more delicately and takes much more time to achieve the end result. There are more moving parts to making a song [whereas] I can draw an image pretty much right away and you can see the end result much faster.” Moving parts is an apt description for VanGaalen’s song composition. How he begins his composition process “is different for every song,” though he admits his voice is the instrument with which he is most comfortable.

Throughout his six albums VanGaalen delves into themes of “feeling integrated with nature.” He asks, “What is natural? Why?” and explores these concepts on tracks like sunny, jangling “Golden Oceans.” On “Host Body,” he couples spaced out synth with a science fiction narrative. Lead single “Old Heads” is about technological obsolescence with an upbeat melody and reverberating vocals at odds with the disconcerting image of replacing old heads with new ones. As rich as the narratives and imagery on Light Information are, VanGaalen calls atmospheric instrumental “Pre-Piano / 770” his favourite track and style of song to create. Rather than create narrative through direct lyricism, he tells an evocative story through tolling bells and dissonant synthesizers.

VanGaalen is touring throughout Europe in October, with a Vancouver stop in November to open his North American tour. At this stage in his career he says, “Live shows are great. I feel totally comfortable and free on stage, finally.” Though he plays all the instruments on his albums, he plays live with a full band. He says of his band, “These are the same friends I have been playing with for over a decade, they tour with me and are some of the best people I know.” After more than a decade of touring, his live shows still engage his audiences. On his albums and in his live shows and visual art, the alternate universe VanGaalen creates continues to captivate.

This article was originally published in BeatRoute Magazine.

Single Review: Slow Turismo Release “Pistol Powder”

Slow Turismo have released Pistol Powder. It is the first single they have released since they won the 2017 triple j Unearthedspot for Groovin the Moo Canberra.

Slow Turismo self-describes as “the new Hanson but older, [with] one less relative, darker hair and different taste in music.” They previously played as a four piece band made up of brothers Sam, Max and Riley Conway and their friend since primary school Louis Montgomery. Their last single You Are Dead was produced by Ben Woolner from SAFIA.

Pistol Powder opens with effervescent layers of synth and reverb. The arrangement is reminiscent of dream pop duo Beach House, with waves of sound leading into a harmonized chorus. The chorus takes on a sunny groove, moving away from the minimalist opening notes. The full sound is complimented by the contrasting tones of Sam and Max’s voices. Despite the warmth of the chorus, the lyrics are as doleful as the verses: “I need something real to pick me up / More than just the sun shining.”

While Pistol Powder doesn’t sound as melancholic as You Were Dead or the songs from Slow Turismo’s eponymous 2015 EP, its sound is comparable to the poignance of waking from a dream that you try to recall “just before it goes.” The song fades into a whistle and a final shimmering note.

This article was originally published on Savage Thrills.

Album Review: Death From Above Get Critical on Outrage! Is Now

Few album titles better suit current affairs in 2017 than Outrage! Is Now. Toronto two piece Death From Above returns with their third full-length album, the band’s second since their reunion following a ten-year hiatus. (Though they purportedly dropped the ‘1979’ from their band name, they remain Death From Above 1979 on their website domain and their Facebook page.)

DFA makes a roaring return on album opener Nomads. Sebastien Grainger‘s percussion steadily builds before Jesse Keeler’sbass kicks in. The track has a similar intensity to their acclaimed 2004 album You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine but it deviates from the dance punk sound and discord for which DFA is best known. The sound is more in the vein of classic rock. Without referring to it explicitly, Nomads is about forced displacement. “Nomad, never home / No matter where you go,” Grainger wails on the chorus. Lyrically, Nomads sets the tone for an album that is more culturally critical than the band’s previous works.

Rather than the raw emotion that was the lyrical focus of You’re a Woman, I’m a MachineOutrage! Is Now is a social commentary for the internet age. Freeze Me asks, Are we in trouble? to which those in North America concerned by white supremacist rallies are liable to answer with a resounding yes. The album’s titular track simmers without reaching a boiling point. Outrage! Is Now is apathetic, claiming “Outrage is all that rage,” rather than critically engaging with the source of outrage. It feels as hollow as the Pepsi protest commercial that added fresh infamy to the Kardashian brand. Never Swim Alone is a loose criticism on consumerism that relies too heavily on clichés and quirky phrases like “YouTube haircut” and “Satan is my username.”

While the band’s label, Last Gang Records, describes the record as weirder and wilder than its predecessors, the album rarely approaches the passion or experimentalism of seminal track Romantic Rights. Despite the ominous build up on the verses of Moonlight, the chorus never reaches a satisfying crescendo. Similarly, the psych rock riffs of even keeled Statues lack the intensity that has always drawn fans to DFA. The reverberating fade out is the track’s most interesting instrumental element. Outrage! Is Now is nearly temperate when moderation is never what fans have sought in Death From Above.

There are, however, some instrumental standouts that suggest DFA are on their way to successfully diversifying their sound. Lead single Freeze Me is Keeler’s strongest instrumental track, incorporating melodic piano at the track’s opening and powerful bass riffs in its latter half.

Caught Up has a lazier tempo and subdued riffs. Coupled with lines like, “Tell me one thing you care about / Take your beliefs and shake them out, all the way out,” it runs a dispassionate course until the song makes a ripper transition in its latter half. The flailing minute is as unrestrained as DFA sounds on the album. “Caught Up” is a surprise standout in spite of its repetitious opening minutes.

“All I C Is U & Me” is a name that befits the internet culture DFA satirizes on Never Swim Alone. (The same can be said of penultimate track NVR 4EVR.) It could be derivative from the work of any number of the band’s early 2000s indie rock peers. Still All I C Is U & Me is also a fun, danceable track with a few satisfying pitch shifts.

Holy Books ends the album on a high note – literally in the case of Grainger’s falsetto. Keeler’s power ballad piano pairs successfully with the barrage of bass and percussion. The proclamation against organized religion on the chorus is readymade for a singalong when DFA tours the album. It’s a strong track worthy of the closing slot.

While Death From Above can be commended for never seeking to replicate the formula that earned them acclaim in 2004, Outrage! Is Now falls short of its full potential. DFA neither capitalize on the album’s critical possibilities nor invoke the typhoon of angst for which their previous works are known.

This review was originally posted on Savage Thrills.

Catching Up With Psymon Spine

Psymon Spine’s sound is nothing short of euphoric. Though they have only released an album’s worth of material, they have already masterfully created a sound that defies conventional genre classification. Founded in 2013 by Peter Spears and Noah Prebish, the Brooklyn, New York band currently has a five member line up that includes Devon Kilburn, Nathaniel Coffey, and “Brother Michael” Rudinski.

To call their music electro pop – or more generically, EDM – is to risk classifying Psymon Spine alongside the genre’s least interesting and paradoxically most popular acts. In contrast with the repetitious sound of mainstream electro pop, Psymon Spine’s debut album You Are Coming to My Birthday is intriguingly unpredictable. The album’s sound is a seamless meld of synth beats and melodies, subtle instrumentation, resonant chants and choral harmonies.

You Are Coming to My Birthday is a multifaceted album with a complex soundscape to compliment the band’s pop sensibility. Album opener Separate leans towards maximalism without being overwhelming. The song pairs choral vocals with an up tempo guitar driven melody.

Shocked builds steadily from layered West African style percussion and a whistled melody. Atonal vocals sing in a round, “I don’t understand why you think / Nothing in your life is changing,” over a chorus of melodic chants. The prominent synth in the latter half of the song makes for a seamless transition into YoanaYoana drives towards a climactic beat drop in its final minutes. Herein lines their ability to make excellent electronic music: the beat drop is a perfect culmination to a danceable track rather than the sole pay out of a drawn out build.

Predominantly instrumental track Eric’s Basement and Secret Tunnels is a rapturous addition to the album. Eric’s Basement and Secret Tunnels is lighter and subtitler than the preceding tracks, with soft guitar woven through the track alongside the heavier electronic elements.

Even when Psymon Spine adhere more closely to an indie rock formula, like they do in the latter half of the album, the sound is never routine. With layers of strings and vocals instead of synth, Crown a King showcases a different side of the band without sacrificing the depth of their sound. It pairs fittingly with Dad Country, which appears a few tracks later. Dad Country is reminiscent of the ethereal progress of Sleeping Lessons by The Shins. It makes stunning instrumental progress over the course of its six and a half minutes.

Speakers deviates even more substantially from the rest of You Are Coming to My Birthday. Its guitar riffs are heavier than the guitar work on Eric’s Basement and Secret Tunnels or Crown a King, with shouted vocals and a heavy beat on the chorus to match.

Experience Machine melds West African drumming with the heavier guitar and vocal styles of Speakers and – unexpectedly but not unfittingly – the melodic chants heard throughout the first half of the album. Transfiguration, too, returns to the chanting of the half former half of the album. Its instrumental progression is stylistically comparable to Dad Country – though this time I thought more of Meet Me in the Basement by Broken Social Scene – with the addition of a rapped verse.

Penultimate track Lines and Lines and Lines End soars through its six-minute runtime in technicolour exuberance. It is the album’s most popular track for good reason; it makes an effective summation of You Are Coming to My BirthdayGears brings the album to a softer conclusion while still exhibiting the range that makes Psymon Spine’s debut so compelling.

You Are Coming to My Birthday is a stunning introduction to the band’s musical sensibilities. With the range they have showcased, there is so doubt they have the abilities to make fun, interesting music for a long time coming.

After listening to their album, we were able to ask Psymon Spine some questions to find out more about what went into You Are Coming to My Birthday.

How has Psymon Spine changed since the band’s conception in 2013? Has your creative process changed since you started working together? How does working on Psymon Spine differ from working on your solo efforts?

Psymon Spine underwent, like, 30 member changes before evolving into our final/current form. It’s a pretty intense band to be in and so definitely requires a particular type of person.

In the beginning, Peter [Spears] and Noah [Prebish] wrote everything. It’s become much more collaborative since. Working in Psymon Spine requires a lot of communication and teamwork because we all have such different interests and musical backgrounds. Our ability to communicate and compromise effectively is definitely enhanced by most of us having other creative outlets.

What was your writing process for You Are Coming to My Birthday?

Being that it was our first record and that some of the first versions of these songs existed before we had even met, there wasn’t really any one process in the beginning. As the album progressed the process became more collaborative and streamlined. Our main struggle initially was finding continuity while still doing whatever the fuck we wanted. Working with our producer Graham Dickson (Crystal Fighters / Axis Mundi Records) and using a lot of the same gear on each track helped with that.

What mood is You Are Coming to My Birthday meant to evoke? In the liner notes for Atwood Magazine, you said that album opener Separate is meant to “feel inviting but also a bit dangerous, like walking into a jungle.” What sort of tone does Separateset for the album? How does it compare to the sound of, say, Crown a King?

The goal of the record was to conjure up a range of moods, with the outcome feeling optimistic overall. We made a conscious decision early on to make our first record so all over the place that no one would ever expect any one particular thing from us in the future.

Separate sort of represents that goal on a micro-scale. We thought it’d be cool to have the first song on the record be pretty over-the-top and weird so as to give people a better idea of what was in store and ward off those that weren’t interested in that kind of thing.

How would you describe your sound? Has your sound changed since you first started collaborating?

Our music is like an ever-expanding party playlist for people who overthink shit. Our sound has always been changing, but as time goes on a character definitely has emerged throughout all of it.

We heard you spent time in upstate New York recording the album at William Dafoe’s Rubber House. Could you please tell us about your experiences recording there?

The Rubber House is this dreamy, sorta surreal house in upstate New York surrounded by beautiful snowy woods. I believe the story is that Dafoe had built it with his wife’s dancing career in mind, so it has this giant dance studio that we recorded everything in. This was where we first started tracking the record with Graham, and where we first met most of the Axis Mundi Records family.

Which track best represents Psymon Spine off You Are Coming to My Birthday?

It definitely depends on the listener. That being said, Shocked probably has the widest range of influences within it. It took so long to write that it became sort of like a timeline for the music that we had been listening to throughout the process. We can go through and be like, oh, we were listening to this for that bridge and this other thing in that verse.

What kind of energy do you want to convey in your shows?

Ideally, people leave our shows feeling all wobbly and peaceful and relieved like they just left a sweat lodge or did something really physically exhilarating.

How do you hope to evolve as a band?

Our influences and goals are constantly changing, which is pretty much what makes us sound like us, so it’s hard to say what the future will hold. There’s always room for improvement though.

What do you think of today’s pop and electronic scenes? Where do you think your band fits relative to mainstream pop bands?

There’s a lot of really incredible pop and electronic music coming out right now, especially out of Brooklyn, where we now live. The underground house and techno scene here, in particular, has had a big impact on our sound in the last couple years.

Our sound has been influenced by a lot of different artists, some of which could be classified as “mainstream”, others not; the line gets finer all the time, which is awesome. We’re just trying to go on this fun, freaky adventure, and should the mainstream choose us one day then that’ll just be a new reality, with aspects great and not-so-great. It’s not something we think a lot about.

Is there a story behind the band name how did you decide on the name?

Psymon Spine was the nickname of a friend of ours from school. We just liked the way it sounded. Or maybe we just wanted to make it incredibly difficult to tell people what the name of our band was while in loud venues.

Listen to Psymon Spine on SoundcloudSpotify and Apple Music.