Published July 31, 2015

In this scribe's view, Edmonton-based singer/songwriter Mark Davis is one of our most under-rated artists. True, he did make the Polaris longlist in 2012 with Eliminate The Toxins, but his previous darkly poetic solo albums  (including gems Don't You Think We Should Be Closer and Mistakes I Meant To Make) and work with roots-rockers Old Reliable should have received far more attention.

I'm pleased to see he's returning to the fray, but in radically reinvented fashion. Davis has teamed with keyboardist Missmannered to form the duo Concealer, and they're set to put out a debut release, fêted:fetid, on September 4 on Coax Records (a new label created by fellow sonic adventurer Rae Spoon).

Fuelling interest in the record is the just-released video for one of its tracks, "Place To Hide". The minimal black and white clip (directed by Alice Kos) features the pair seated in a stark setting that could be a jail cell or a bathroom. Davis stars impassively at the camera during the fuzzy guitar breaks, then mouths the vocal parts. His partner smokes a cigarette, applies makeup and gets drenched by water, and the pair at one point don masks. All rather disturbing, yet artful and compelling.

In a press release, Davis explains that the video works to reveal the very nature of the duo’s partnership. “It’s an accurate reflection of Concealer's bare bones, stark, aesthetic, and the fact that we don't take ourselves too seriously. We hope that it communicates the sparring between stoicism and flamboyance that takes place in our duo. The frightening yet playful homemade masks play on the notion of concealment."

Musically, Concealer's sound inhabits a different universe than Davis' solo work. Shaped over the past five years, it is described in the release as "smashing together sleazy rock and proto-punk", and cited reference points include The Jesus and Mary Chain and Suicide. Can't wait to hear Concealer reveal more music (some other album cuts are now up on BandCamp.).

Concealer will take to the road in Western Canada with Rae Spoon this September and extended fall performances across Canada will be announced shortly. Check their site for details.

Published July 24, 2015

Peppy indie-rockers The Elwins grabbed NCM's ear back in January with the single "So Down Low". Our Noah Siegel praised it's "Strokes-like riffs and unabashed pop hooks that even The Shins would be jealous of". We were also impressed with the subsequent well-received album Play For Keeps (out on Hidden Pony).

"So Down Low" now receives a new lease on life via a superb new video. Directed by Alan Poon, it features Post-it notes as a key component of the stop-motion animation in the clip. 

In a press release, Poon explained its creation: "The Elwins had seen some of my past work for Zeus and Broken Social Scene and asked me if I could help them make a stop-motion animated video that used Post-It notes - that was their only guideline! They were super-keen on participating and they had done a little stop-motion piece before, so I was happy to get them involved and create something with their participation as much as possible. The video starts simple and gradually moves to something much more complicated; each moment raising the bar on the last. The huge grid you see at the end uses over one-thousand Post-it notes to create the final animations!

The band was great to work with and came up with many of their own ideas and even performed in the video using a stop-motion technique called “pixilation” whereby we animate them frame-by-frame to make them slide across the floor and other fun but impossible moves. It was a really special video to work on and I think the results reflect the band’s energy and enthusiasm for creating all things with a fun and unique quality to them."

The fast-paced video suits the energetic vibe of the song perfectly. An earlier lyric video treatment for "So Down Low" grabbed a very impressive 80k YouTube views. 

The Elwins are now out playing summer shows, including Hamilton Supercrawl (Sept. 12), Pop Montreal (Sept. 17), and Toronto's TURF Festival (Sept. 18 and 20). For a full itinerary, go here

Published July 17, 2015

Ascot Royals grabbed our ears a couple of years ago with the polished and melodic modern-rock sound of their full-length debut Don't Let It Stop You. They've been working hard on a follow-up disc (their first with Sony Music) of late, and the video clip for brand new track "Best Is Yet To Come" is indeed an eye-catching one.

Lyric videos are often quite banal, but this one is full of life, thanks to the direction of Ben Rispin (Saint Alvia). Vibrantly coloured backdrops are switched rapidly and positive lyrics like "don't come undone, the best is yet to come" are juxtaposed on them. Strong group vocals are featured atop a vigorous instrumental groove, and the Gavin Brown-produced track clearly has commercial potential 

The cosmopolitan makeup of Ascot Royals lineup (including two British-born brothers) helps account for a sound that reflects both American modern rock and Britpop influences. We eagerly await more new material.

An earlier video for "Wolves", a key track on their debut, can be found here

Published July 10, 2015

Whether you love him or hate him, it seems that everyone has an opinion about Justin Bieber. The brat from Strat(ford) keeps making headlines, yet still finds time for some creative collaborations that have huge popular appeal. A prime example of that is the new video for the hit track "Where Are Ü Now", featuring Bieber in tandem with dance music giants Skrillex and Diplo.

The song is the first Top 20 single for Skrillex and Diplo (working together as Jack Ü) and the recently released (June 29) video for it has gone super-viral, with 22.4 million hits in very short order. Set against a flip-book backdrop of fan-made art, the clip features the tranformation of the Bieber body into a constantly shifting painted canvas at the video's L.A. gallery location.

In a press release, Jack Ü explain that “We are being overwhelmed, in a good way, by the success of “Where Are Ü Now” with Justin Bieber, so with the video we wanted to just take it back to the beginning of the record and essentially create an ode to our fans. Doing what we do, it’s entirely all about the fans. We walk a fine line by being “famous” and in the public eye but we are only here because of you, the fans. Justin wrote this record during a tough time in his life and it comes to us that sometimes, as artists, we are also just objects and we have to take that as much as we have to use that to create. We all do this for you, respect that you put us here and it’s Ü that made the video.” 

The rapid-fire edits in the clip may induce a headache as well as eye strain as you attempt to decipher the words flashing by. This apparent subliminal messaging features obscenities alongside religious references and even 9-11 conspiracy theories, and it's amusing to read the comments on the YouTube page from those offended or titillated by same. There's no denying that the track and the video are helping bring the Biebs some much-needed new credibility.

Published July 3, 2015

Ian La Rue is a highly-respected veteran of the Winnipeg music scene, having made a mark in such diverse bands as Flesh Auger and The Paperbacks and poetry/performance collective Poortree. He has now formed a new band, Heartbeat City, and their debut full-length, Thunder Amongst Us, is set for release on August 7th.

Heartbeat City also features Louis Leveques Cote (Boats, Naked Sex) on bass and Nick Krueger (Violent Screech) on violin. "Making this album was an intimate and vulnerable process and we put a lot of ourselves into it,” says La Rue in a press release. “It was an exercise in patience and respect for authenticity and sincerity. We're so excited to be able to share it now". Co-producer with La Rue is Michael P. Falk, leader of great indie-rock band Les Jupes (RIP).

The band is previewing the album via a strong new cut, "Lighthouse", and a just-released video clip that caught our attention. No big-budget special effects or psychedelic gimmickry here, but the video will hold your gaze via the fact that it doesn't include any cuts or edits. It instead comprises one long tracking shot featuring the band (in various guises and combination of instruments) playing the song. Simple and cheap but very effective.

Heartbeat City have announced a six-date Western Canada tour, running from Aug. 14-21. Check their website for further dates tba.

Published June 26, 2015

Last week NCM's Noah Siegel reviewed the new single from Regina-based indie-rockers Rah Rah, "Chip Off The Heart". This scribe seconds his sentiments, finding the track to be an irresistible and enjoyable earworm.

The upbeat vibe of the tune is now captured in a bright and trippy new video, put together by Dynasty Artists Picture Corp. In a label press release, Dynasty's Chris Laxton describes the mandate of the video: "Inspired from the band's visuals online, we ran with the look of the cosmos taking creative liberties and conjuring up a psychedelic world that reflects the esoteric lyrics of this break-up song. The constantly moving and forever evolving visuals take us from the vastness of space to the confines of a dense forest and back again, reminding us that we are the creators of our own reality. So in other words, enjoy the ride and don't panic." It's very easy to enjoy the ride offered by both the clip and the song.

'Chip Off The Heart' is Rah Rah's second single off their upcoming album Vessels, one to be released via Hidden Pony Records on September 11. The album was produced by the very busy production team of Gus Van Go and Werner F (Said the Whale, Hollerado, The Stills).  Rah Rah have also confirmed a number of tour dates for September. They support the Sam Roberts Band at Kee To Bala, Bala, ON (Sept. 5-6), headline Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern on Sept. 11, join Hamilton's Supercrawl on Sept. 12, and play the Fredericton Harvest Jazz & Blues Festival (Sept. 19).

Published June 19, 2015

Sly pop auteur Calvin Love is already receiving lots of love for his just-released new album Super Future (out on Arts & Crafts) - check out our review of the record.

Advance singles “Daydream”, “I Wanna Know” and “Automaton” helped create a buzz, and this week a video clip for "I Wanna Know" surfaced.

Directed by Luke McCutcheon and Michael Yablonski, it's a totally charming and funny video featuring Love doing his best lounge lizard crooner impression in a bingo hall. It sure works on the middle-aged women in the room, caught casting longing glances at Love. The song itself is a catchy and melodic confection, and the well-edited clip helps accentuate its appeal.

The Edmonton-based Love has a busy summer lined up. He recently played Field Trip in Toronto and Northside Festival in Brooklyn, and has now joined Jacco Gardner on a North American tour that includes a June 25 engagement in Vancouver at Fox Cabaret. Love later returns to Toronto for a show on July 24 at The Velvet Underground, and he has four Eastern U.S. dates set for September.

Published June 12, 2015

Powerhouse singer/songwriter Terra Lighfoot is making a real and highly-deserved breakthrough with her fiery new solo album, Every Time My Mind Runs Wild (out on Sonic Unyon). The ace production team of Gus van Go and Werner F (Monster Truck, Whitehorse, The Trews) does justice to Terra's triple threat talents, as a vocalist, writer and guitarist. Read our review of the disc here.

Lightfoot's skill as a high-energy performer is now captured on a new video clip for one of the album's key songs, "Never Will". It is directed by the Juno and MMVA Award-winner Christopher Mills, long a leading light on the Canadian music video scene (he has worked with the likes of Modest Mouse, Interpol, Broken Social Scene, Blue Rodeo, and Metric and recently was awarded a Special Prize at the Prism Awards).

His masterful quick cuts and inventive use of colour helps give the video both a retro and fresh look, in keeping with the feel of the song itself. Mills has also directed another compelling clip for "Veronica", another strong track off Every Time My Mind Runs Wild.

Lightfoot kicks off a national tour with a NXNE set at The Rivoli in Toronto on June 17. Shows will include appearances at Hillside in Guelph (July 25-26), the Pan Am Closing Ceremonies in her Hamilton hometown (July 26), at the star-studded Greenbelt Harvest Picnic in Dundas, ON (Aug. 29) and CityFolk in Ottawa (Sept. 19-20). Check for a full itinerary.

Published June 5, 2015

Melodic electro-popsters Stars have earned a significantly-sized and faithful following here and internationally over a career now spanning 15  years and seven studio albums. They actually deserve more credit than they've received for choosing to work in a field that was far less fashionable in 2001 than it is now.

They continue to produce high-quality work, as evidenced by recent album No One Is Lost (. A video clip for the title track has just come out, and it's a charming one. In a label press release, frontman Torquil Campbell explains that "Our little movie is about time, and how fast it passes, and whether you should keep doing what you do until you die, or try something else before it's too late. You will see some lovely footage of Mexico City, a couple of semi-hilarious/semi-depressing conversations, and Amy channeling Meryl Streep."

The Amy referred to is Amy Millan, Stars' other singer/songwriter (and a fine solo artist). We don't think Meryl has to worry about a new acting rival, but then again she sure can't sing as well as Millan. Campbell, on the other hand, is a recognised actor (he once acted with Philip Seymour Hoffman onstage in NYC) and the son of noted Canadian thespian Douglas Campbell. Torq is one of the brightest and wittiest rock stars we have, and he is in fine form with his reflections on death and the future of the band he loves. His comrades are also eloquent in expressing their toughts on the band. Long may these Stars continue to shine, we say.

Upcoming Stars gigs include Sound of Music Festival, Burlington, ON, June 20, Riverfront Stage, Calgary, on July 1, Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, July 22 (free), and Jackson Triggs Amphitheater , Niagara-On-The-Lake, Aug. 21.

Published May 29, 2015

Most music video clips these days go for high concept storylines and/or special effects to grab and keep the viewer's attention. Occasionally, however, an old-fashioned straight performance video devoid of bells and whistles can achieve that, as was confirmed this week with a new live clip from Patrick Watson.

The acclaimed Polaris-winning Montreal art-rock band are now reaping near-unanimous rave reviews for their new (fifth) album, Love Songs For Robots (read the NCM review here)

They filmed their April hometown show at Le Fairmount in April, and have just put out a clip of their performance of "Hearts," one of the key tracks on the album. It evocatively captures mainman Watson's animated and engaging stage presence as he darts to and fro from the keyboards to centrestage during the dynamic song. The video also showcases the formidable instrumental prowess of his bandmates, comprising some of Montreal's best players.

This scribe was privileged to catch Patrick Watson in the small and intimate setting of Toronto's Drake Underground just prior to the album's release. The grandeur of their atmospherics-drenched sound translates well to the much larger venues they are now playing. The band are touring North America and Europe through the summer, including Osheaga in Montreal (July 31-Aug. 2). Check the band's site for a full itinerary.