West My Friend “Place”
Grammar Fight Records 2012
West My Friend is:
Eden Oliver: Vocals, Guitar, Flute
Alex Rempel: Mandolin, Vocals
Jeff Poynter: Accordion, Vocals
Steven Taddei: Bass, Vocals
Place represents a milestone in the relatively short life of West My Friend. Their first full length album, following up on their self-titled EP released in 2011 will be available for wide-spread release on April 5th 2012. I’ve had the pleasure of working with West My Friend before to record backing tracks to BFA: The Musical in the summer of 2011, and I am excited to bring you a sneak peek of what you can expect to hear on Place.
The 4 piece consisting of guitar, bass, accordion, and mandolin bring a unique style. The 13 song album comes in at just under 50 minutes, making each song just shy of an average 4 minutes each. A unique aspect of the creation of this album is that the band used the fast-growing site IndieGoGo.com. It allows for groups such as West My Friend to let their fans donate money to their cause. In this case it was recording this album. Their campaign using YouTube helped them with the funding of Place.
The first track on the album, “Tic-A-Toc,” is a great opener and sets the tone for the rest of the album; a slow build to the first chorus that introduces all the elements of the band. This instrumentation is not one that the average listener will encounter on their everyday music-going experience. The mandolin and the accordion bring a distinct feeling to the band’s vibe and musical structure, the shuffling drums carry the momentum of the track throughout, and syncopated lines between the band members provide a back and forth swaying motion (dare I say pendulum like?). “Tic-A-Toc” closes with a fantastic melodic line – with the male members imitating the ticking, and Eden, the lone female and lead vocalist, leading with “Ding Dongs.”
Throughout the record, Eden’s voice has the ability to rise above the instrumentals and then sits comfortably, meshing with the gents in harmony. The production is generally consistent over the course of the record, with the accordion in your left ear and the mandolin in your right.
One of my favourite tracks on the album is “Shakes and Rattles.” It starts stark with just the mandolin and the lead vocal. The reverb suggests a large empty space, bordering on cavernous. The pseudo-sloppiness of the drums works fantastically with the reverb, and this track marks, albeit briefly, the introduction of the flute for the first time. The climax comes when Eden’s voice returns in the chorus with “Shakes, Rattles, Shakes,” and the track denouements into black with a trailing cymbal.
(“I Refuse” – with Chris Ho)
Although the band is able to maintain a high level of energy on all of their tracks, I feel that the ones with drums backing them tend to be more cohesive and convey the style of the song just a bit more. A track like “I Refuse” would benefit from a solid beat behind it, as well as smooth fills in the syncopated bits where the music drops. A few tracks later, the band shows off their strict music talent doing a version of the “Pin Oak Reel.” Each member takes the lead, with Jeff on guitar and Eden on flute, while Alex provides some rather slick mandolin lines.
“Home By The Sea” provides a change of pace from the previous mainly upbeat tracks. The male vocals, provided by Alex, are a welcome variety, the lyrics describing a dwelling the title refers to. Swelling accordion and vocals combine for a captivating timbre as the percussion rises, causing the track to lean toward a bobbing motion while boomy drums rise, wave-like, which was one of the stand-outs for me on the album.
The album closes with what feels like the music that would be playing during the credits of the West My Friend movie. “Oh Future” is a blues and folk infused track with a crunchy piano that fits into the half-ragtime style of the song. It is definitely the perfect track to end the album.
West My Friend provides a great outing on their first full length album, Place, drawing inspiration from many different styles and showing off their ability to play create lush indie, emotional folk, with a bit of roots-twang here and there. The upbeat and downbeat tracks provide a fantastic contrast in sounds that the classically trained band is able to produce. If you wish Mumford and Sons had an accordion and a female lead singer, West My Friend is the band for you. You can pick up Placeon April 5th, 2012 from their website http://www.westmyfriend.com/apps/webstore/ or at their CD release show (featuring the Kovich String Quartet) at Hermann’s Jazz Club.
“IN A SEA OF LOVE, ONE SINGER SONGWRITER TRACKS MEANING BEYOND ‘YOU’”
I’ve been meaning to write about Amy’s album Cinnamon Heart for a long time now, (which you can get for free at http://www.amywood.ca) but never found the time to do so. So I’d like to show off and talk about her latest work. Amy helped us out for Music Track Day and her song “Symphony” is finished and being mixed by Jesse Bell, so stay tuned for that!
Amy’s current project is called “Not-Love Songs,” where she creates and records covers of songs that aren’t focused on love. Surprisingly, there are fewer out there than one would expect.
Each week previous had been someone else’s material, but for her latest release, Amy showed off an original track, “Universe.” Teaming up with Julia Gummo of Gumo Productions, Amy set out to create her first music video.
Now with “Not-Love Songs,” there are three things that we need to take into consideration:
- The Video
- The Song
- The Project
I think it would be better to look at all these parts individually, as opposed to clumping it together into one whole.
Starting with the song, Amy provides us with her signature style – her lone voice accompanied by her piano. Having heard Amy’s album, I feel that “Universe” is a pristine example of how Amy composes, writes and sings.
With quick arpeggios and bouncing bass notes making up the verses, the dynamic range of the vocal is captivating. Some lines are sung at a half-whisper, while some are sung quickly, the variation appealing to the ear. Amy’s voice rises above the piano and draws the listener in, especially after the second chorus into the bridge. A held note falls and then climbs pulling you into the ending of the song.
Amy’s style can draw comparisons to many of the female artists who base their music around a piano. Sara Bareilles immediately comes to mind for me, as the vocal liking and the piano both sound similar.
Next, let’s take a closer look at the video. There are a few things that immediately catch my attention, and not necessarily in a positive way. In a music video, it is very obvious when a musician is lip syncing with a song as opposed to having the audio being included in the video recording during the shooting process. I understand this is usually not possible and that lip syncing is the only feasable manner in which to record videos, but that’s the focal part for the viewer and it needs to be done spotlessly. In “Universe” there are a few moments where the song and the video don’t line up, and it makes the video seem unnatural.
The message of the video is spelt out for us, quite literally in fact, as we see the words “Follow your path” and “and let them talk” written out on scraps of paper. I like the stop motion effect during these parts as the papers travel. It adds congruency to the other stop motion style parts – particularly the bench scene. The synchronization between the piano line and the cutting frames also works at this point.
My favourite scene occurs at 1:45 when Amy is silhouetted on the blue sky backdrop. I think this scene works because of Gummo’s composition as well as the natural elements that create the natural universe Amy is singing about. The birds that fly through could not have been timed any better, and the visual element matches well with the sonic, creating a lovely scene.
The video as a whole seems to be built of a few parts – that don’t necessarily relate to each other.
- Amy singing on a mountain
- The words on paper
- The bench scene
- Some slow motion parts
I think it would have been nice if there was a unifying tie to these visual elements. Perhaps the words could have found Amy on the mountain – and she would have followed them down to the bench, where they get caught in the tire and she rides off into the distance. The video is just missing the glue in which holds together all the composite parts.
Lastly, the project as a whole is a unique experience, inspiring us to look into the music we listen to every day, and examine how much of that involves love. Songs in which a lover’s heart was broken, or a ballad preaching one’s undying love to whomever fill a majority of our musical libraries.
Amy defines a “Not Love Song” to be:
“[A] Song that doesn’t deal with ‘before you’ ‘you’ and ‘after you’ in a romantic way. I don’t think I’m gonna write-off songs about human connection…. The point is to level the subject matter playing field out there in the [musical] world.”
I am kind of embarressed to admit – but I’ve just looked up the entire track listing of Justin Bieber’s My World 2.0, and there is not one “Not-Love Song” on the entire album. This album is certified double platinum in Canada. I think Amy’s onto something here with this idea.
Already, Amy has covered “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Steer,” and, “Life is a Bowl of Cheeries.” Accompanying each song is another music video. So far, all videos have been live – using the sound from the actual performance, with “Universe” being the first to use a pre-recorded track. Amy’s fallen off her once-a-week upload schedule (and understandably so) to finish her music performance degree, but that doesn’t mean she’s given up. Hopefully we will get to see at least 40+ Not-Love Songs over the course of this year.
You can head over to her Facebook page and offer up your own suggestions for Not-Love Songs for Amy to cover! My pick was City and Colour’s “Happiness by the Kilowatt”.
It’ll be interesting to look back once this project is done and see how the videos have evolved and if Amy ever runs out of Not-Love Songs to play! I’ve started to look into my iTunes at all the music I have based on love, and this is just one more thing to add when listening critically.
Amy Wood has set out on an ambitious journey to show the world you can sing about more than love, and her song “Universe” is a perfect example of that. If you’re looking for a fresh take on popular, check out what Amy is doing with her “Not-Love Songs” project. See the other Not-Love Songs here!
(Update: Here’s Amy’s latest Not-Love Song, with West My Friend! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agsJlmTsBAg)
This post is going to outline 11 great artists I found in 2011. This does not mean that they had their first hit in 2011 or even their album was released in 2011 – I just discovered them this year. There’s no order – no music is better than the other – it’s just 11 bands I hope you might like!
- Childish Gambino: “EP” – AKA the amazingly talented Donald Glover, I discovered Gambino after watching Community. His raps are clever and well delivered. Lots of puns and good lines (“An elephant never forgets, so my dick remembers everything.”) I loved his music so much I did a cover or Freaks and Geeks and did my best to recreate Gambino’s style and flow.
Favourite Songs: Freaks and Geeks, My Shine
- Dan Mangan: “Oh Fortune” – Shown to me by a friend, Dan Mangan’s style is the folk/acoustic stuff that I really enjoy. His voice can be calming and haunting all at the same time and his songs incorporate a lot of different musical elements. Definitely worth checking out.
Favourite Songs: Oh Fortune, Post-War Blues
- Dance Gavin Dance: “Downtown Battle Mountain” – I found Dance Gavin Dance after searching Alexisonfire on Jango radio (similar to Pandora), the lead singer is part of a new band called Emarosa which I really enjoy. This is a lot heavier than the previous three entrees – but if you like melodic screamo with technical instrumentals, then you will like Dance Gavin Dance. They’ve got a large discography but are no longer a band (I think) so you’ll have lots of music to go through.
Favourite Songs: The Importance of Cocaine, And I Told Them I Invented Times New Roman
- Jamie T. : “Sticks and Stones EP” – I picked up this CD at a random book and CD sale at school for $1. It’s definitely a stellar find. Jamie is a British artist whose music is light and go lucky. A mix between acoustic and rap, it’s an interesting blend between the genres.
Favourite Songs: St. Christopher
- Kimbra: “Vows” – By now, everyone has heard Kimbra in Goyte’s Someone I Used To Know, and after listening to both of their albums, Kimbra was the one that I enjoyed most. Her music is layered and thick, and her voice rises above all the production giving you something to grasp onto all the time. There’s a mix of pop, soul, and RnB on “Vows” – so a little bit of everything for everyone!
Favourite Songs: Cameo Lover, Two Way Street
- Klaypex: “Loose Dirt” – I don’t usually listen to dubstep/techno/electronic music. But this free album definitely caught my ears. I dunno really how to review it or whatever. But I enjoyed it!
Favourite Songs: Chinter’s Will, Rain
Macklemore: “The Language of My World” – One of the strengths of Macklemore’s music is his story telling ability. Most of his songs have a linear progression and try to send a message by the end. His flow is impeccable and the songs have you going along with him as he gets angry, sad or in love. He’s embraced his story and is working it.
Favourite Songs: Otherside, White Privilege
- Nicole Byblow: “Nicole Byblow Plays All The White Keys” – Hopefully you saw my review earlier of this CD, if not –>link<– . Nicole’s a great musician, singer and pianist, her songs are witty and she’s not afraid to drop an F-bomb or two here and there. She’s definitely worth checking out.
Favourite Songs: Things I Learned When I Worked At The Hospital, About A Lover
Reason: “Fools” – A band I’ve never heard of and randomly bought their CD in HMV, they turned out to be a hidden gem. Straight forward rock and roll
that leaves you with a good feeling when you turn it off. Don’t have to say much more than that.
Favourite songs: Where Do We Go From Here, Run, The Longest Highway Home
Tim Hecker: “Ravedeath, 1972″ – Another electronic CD, but more based on the ambient and slow developing side. It’s more a transformation of sounds than typical music. Hecker was nominated for the Polaris prize for his efforts and many in the contemporary music community also enjoy his work. He’s one of the only artists I’ve listened to first, and then found out that the contemporary music world likes him too.
Favourite Songs: In The Fog I, In The Fog II
Watsky: “A New Kind of Sexy Mixtape” – Along the lines of Childish Gambino, Watsky is a rapper with clever rhymes and songs with little to no message. Best known as the “Pale Kid Who Raps Fast” on YouTube, where his video has over 16 million views. He doesn’t rap that fast on the album, but you can definitely see he has the potential to do it. It’s fun music with wit.
Favourite Songs: Kidnap Your Boyfriend, Ten Fingers
The Rural Alberta Advantage
A Tribe Called Quest
Stars of the Lid
Of Monsters and Men
Mylo Xyloto by Coldplay – 2011 – EMI
With their fifth album, and latest since Viva La Vida… in 2008, Coldplay picks up where they left off in their experimentation from Viva. For people who enjoyed Coldplay of olde, with songs like “Yellow”, “The Scientist” and “Sparks”, I would advise you to immediately stop reading this review and go listen to A Rush Of Blood to the Head. You will not like Mylo Xyloto. The album blends styles of funk, dubstep, pop and almost everything in between for an interesting en-devour from this supergroup.
To start, the title Mylo Xyloto has come under quite a bit of scrutiny in the press even before its release. Martin, a man who has named his kids Apple and Moses, is quoted as saying
“It is pronounced My-low Zy-letoe… and even the lads admit the title doesn’t mean anything. Chris says: “At the moment it seems a bit ridiculous and I accept that. “Something about it feels quite fresh. The title doesn’t have any other meaning. I think we’re a band with a lot of history now so it’s nice to come up with something that doesn’t have any history at all. We’ve had that title for about two years on a board and any other potential titles had to be written next to it. Other ones made more sense but we just liked this one, that’s all we can defend it with.”
It seems to be pretention bordering on idiocy, which some might say is a decent way to describe the band as a whole, but one cannot dismiss the fact that they have created some powerful music for quite some time now.
The title aside, the album unfolds in a continuous manner, with songs blending into each other as is the style with CD’s for some time. What is unusual about the Coldplay CD is that they have a few shorter tracks that sort of divide the CD into three almost equal parts. These short tracks play as “soundscapes”, and show direct influence from producer Brian Eno. Eno is famous in the music world for his work with legendary bands such as U2 and David Bowie, as well as being the composer for the Windows 95 introduction sound. Eno’s background in electronic and ambient music has a large impact on the band’s overall sound and these smaller soundscapes.
Specifically speaking, a few tracks stand out against the rest, but there is nothing that feels like a stand-out hit. The first single “Paradise” quite nicely reflects the direction that Coldplay is heading. Lushly filled with strings and synths, the half-time tempo of this track just begs for a dub-step remix (Oh wait – they already exist! See the end of the video). This emphasizes the departure from the bare bones of what Coldplay became known for when they first emerged. With Eno’s production, it sometimes becomes hard to find the skeleton of the band beneath all the foliage of sound.
The track “Charlie Brown” stood out to me as a song that many who liked Viva La Vida will latch onto and enjoy. The similar four on the floor beat throughout makes for a driving song with a return to the guitar based tracks. The track ends with a nice little piano homage to the yellow striped character for which the track is named. If you listen closely, you can almost begin to hear the beginning of the “Christmas Time” song in Chris Martin’s final piano lines.
A track that feels like it’s off in a whole new direction is “Major Minus”. Once it broke into the meat of the song, I immediately felt like this should be a Red Hot Chili Peppers hit from the 90′s. The chunky guitars and the “Ooh ooh’s” just scream “Higher Ground” off of Mother’s Milk. “Major Minus” doesn’t have the same energy as the early Peppers did, but the song doesn’t suffer either.
Another foray into the synth driven pop world, and bound to be their next single, ”Princess of China” feat. Rihanna is the last stand out from the album. Mostly due to the combination of Martin’s and Rihanna’s vocals, which at times can seem over produced, this track catches the listeners ear. The bridge kind of lags on, but the energy is quickly brought back with a drop leading to the final chorus and hook.
Lastly, it pains me so much to listen to the song “Up In Flames”. The simple piano and vocal track is ruined by a digitized drum set. Martin’s reverberant vocals and harmonies would be so much better suited to a real drum set. When the strings, back-ups and guitar solo comes in, the drums move out of focus and the track finally sits in a really nice place. This track could have been a hidden gem without that drum sound. I think with a few more listens, it might grow on me and become my favourite number on the album.
To conclude, Mylo Xyloto is more so removed from the Parachutes, Coldplay’s first album, and much more similar to Viva La Vida. Hopefully this distinction helps people decide whether or not to pick up the album. It’s definitely worth a listen for its production and thick sounds and interesting experimentation on the band’s part. For those who want Chris Martin to just record himself at a piano singing, avoid this one.
And now for a dubstep remix of “Paradise” – as promised!
Nicole Byblow Plays All the White Keys by Nicole Byblow (Shiny Nickle Music 2011)
Manitoba born, British Columbia educated, and now calling Ontario home, Nicole Byblow brings a sound that all of Canada can love. The young singer/songwriter who is finding her footing in the national music scene has embarked on a tour to promote her latest CD, entitled “Nicole Byblow Plays All the White Keys.” She made a stop in Victoria where I saw her play and met with her to discuss music, school, life and even a little fashion. Nicole and her piano are packed and ready to go back east with a few more stops in the prairies before heading home.
Over the years, we have seen enough examples of “boys playing guitar”, and Nicole falls into the female opposition of “girls playing pianos” which seems to be a common theme in recent musical trends. Starting with Alicia Keys and Vanessa Carlton, this movement led the way for the likes of Sara Bareilles, Sarah Slean and more.
Slean is one of Byblow’s biggest influences for the career path she chose. The Canadian Juno-Nominated singer was one of the reasons Nicole started playing piano and writing songs when she was just 16. Luckily, Nicole was able to meet her other idol at the 2011 Juno Awards Dinner and Gala in Toronto in March of this year. The spontaneous introduction initiated by her sister and singer Matt Dusk left Byblow both wide-eyed and starstruck. It’s nice to know that even people who make CD’s and tour get a little speechless every once in a while.
When listening to Nicole’s music, you can immediately hear the impact of her influences in her vocal and piano stylings. Citing Ben Folds as one of her biggest inspirations, Nicole told me of how she spent many hours trying to learn his songs. When things weren’t going well, she would write to Ben via email. She assumed that her angry rants about the difficult of Folds’ songs went unheard, until she received a reply from an artist who has sold over 3 million records in his career spanning almost 2 decades. The two pianists continued emailing and eventually Nicole was invited to meet Ben at his show in Seattle. Fully expecting to be turned away at the door, Nicole was shocked when two tickets had been left under her name. The evening concluded with a conversation at the hotel bar where Folds was staying.
Now, I think this is enough background for you, what you’re really here for is to know what her CD is like and whether or not Nicole Byblow is worth a listen. But before I give you that answer, I’ll do my best to break it down for you.
Nicole Byblow Plays All the White Keys actually comes with one of the “Parental Advisory” stickers commonly found on albums from Eminem, NWA and 50 Cent. This is rather unexpected from the girl on the cover with a white background and staring at a red balloon. Nicole’s been described as “hyper-feminine” and “delicate” and for me; this is one of the first things that grabbed me about this music: Nicole’s unabashed attitude towards profanity is rather striking. When hearing her drop an “F Bomb” for the first time in a small coffee house on a rainy night in Victoria, I instantly looked up from whatever it was I was doing and started paying attention. Not many singer/pianists of this genre have the guts to swear on their records. You’ll never hear Sara Bareilles say “I don’t give a shit” about her former job in a hospital, but Nicole is unafraid to tell it as it is. She speaks the way in her songs the way she does in her normal life and that translates to her songs. She’s not trying to beat around the bush or use a clever metaphor to say she doesn’t care; she just doesn’t give a shit.
(Things That I Learned When I Worked in the Hospital)
My favourite track from the album is “Things I Learned When I Worked in the Hospital.” Starting with the toy piano, and the rolling drums chugging along, Nicole’s witty lyrics bring you a real insight to the life of a hospital. Lyrics like, “Patient confidentiality is of the utmost importance, but you’d be surprised how accessible that information is when you have to sweep the room it’s in”, are the kind of sarcastic backhanded lines that riddle this song. The chorus reminds us “who cares what we do in the mean time, it builds character doing the things we hate all our lives,” which, in out of context is rather quite depressing. But in the nature of the song, it’s understood that this is a sarcastic inflection of the songwriter and just an excuse for her to get through her shitty job. The bridge of this song builds follows the typical pattern of most pop songs, with one slight deviation. We have all come to expect the key change going into the last chorus of songs (think “You Raise Me Up”, “My Heart Will Go On”, etc.), and thankfully, Byblow doesn’t go this route with this song.
Once you get past the occasional expletive, the music itself is simplistic in its nature. All the songs only feature piano, drums and bass guitar, with the occasional splashes of violin and the toy piano from the CD cover. It’s Nicole’s song writing and melodies that stand out musically. Some of her lyrics are complex and compact, not unlike the rap counterparts who share her “Parental Advisory” sticker, which is juxtaposed by simple melodies and hooks that make the CD a treat to listen to. The track “February” has a particularly catchy “Ooh ah” section, that later features the range of Nicole’s vocal in the bridge.
Aside from the first single “They Didn’t Think So”, which Nicole describes as a song about what would happen if Jesus came and let every person on earth ask him a question about life, the lyrical content of the album is mostly what you would expect from the genre of girls playing piano. “A Song About A Lover” and “If I’m Lucky” may not have different thematic content, but are striking and beautiful in their own right. The production quality of the entire CD is superb. Ben Nixon, who was the bass player, recording engineer and co-producer of the album, did a fantastic job in a “garage turned studio” to produce The White Keys. I can only hear one minor slight throughout the whole album, but overall I have been impressed throughout.
You will be happy to know that Nicole does play in keys other than C major and A minor, utilizing more of the piano than the album title implies. I hate to use the buzz-word “up-and-coming” to describe Nicole and this album, as I think it gets thrown around too liberally these days, but I feel that you hipsters out there need to latch onto this girl so you can say that you liked her “before she was mainstream.” Byblow’s album is a melting pot of the fairy tale wonder of Cinderella, the epic storytelling of the Princess Bride, with just a sprinkle of Tarantino-esque profanity. If you love “girls with pianos” but are missing something with a little bit of an edge, Nicole Byblow Plays All the White Keys will be able to fill that void for you. No matter what kind of music you enjoy listening to, I would highly recommend this album for anyone (even if there is a Parental Advisory on it).
This is what Canadian music is all about and I look forward to everything else Nicole Byblow has to offer.