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.
Music Track Day was yesterday. It was one of the most ambitious things I have ever done. It was also one of the most successful things I’ve ever done.
The concept is crazy and I am still in awe about how we pulled it off. Inspired by “Hack Days”, which is where people get together and spend the entire day hacking a project and then they show it off at the end. You’re in a room with lots of people and you spend the entire day – usually 10am – 10pm just having fun and interacting. Our Computer Music Course Union (http://uvicmucs.wordpress.com/) had done a “Music Hack Day” at the beginning of the previous semester, and I had wanted to do something similar with recording.
I wanted to get in as many bands as possible, spend all day recording them, and have one or two songs done to show off to everyone when we were done. The concept is the same, but we quickly learned that the logistics of a Track Day vs a Hack Day are very very different.
In the works since October of 2011, Thor and I have been planning out just about every thing we can think about. We contacted at least 10 different bands to gauge interest in our idea. I wanted to get a range of sonic groups, so we settled on Bucan Bucan, Ben Parker, the UVic Jazz Combo, and Amy Wood.
The bands had been locked down, and now the logistics of how everyone would flow came next. We were able to book three different rooms for the entire day of Saturday the 14th, so this gave us some options. We decided to do bed-tracking in our Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, doing piano, drums, guitars, and the entire jazz band there. The second room was used for overdubbing and the third for mixing. The biggest challenge was planning how each group would rotate from room to room.
We slotted 3 hour sessions in each room, and surprisingly each group was finished before their allotted time was up. By keeping the drums set up in the hall, with the mics adjustable for each group, we were able to quickly switch from group to group – this turned out to be very helpful in keeping the day flowing.
The schedule went as follows:
9 – 12 – Jazz
12 – 3 - Ben Parker
3 – 6 - Amy Wood
9 – 12 - Bucan Bucan
12 – 3 – Bucan Bucan
3 – 6 – Ben Parker
6 -9 – Amy Wood
9 – 12
12 – 3 – Jazz
3 – 6 – Bucan Bucan
6 -9 – Ben Parker
9 – 12 - Amy Wood
The bands and the plan was in place. We had 4 lead engineers, 12 people who were interested in being involved. Each lead engineer was assigned 2-3 assistants to help with their session. Once the sessions got going, people were able to flow and see what was going on in the other sessions happening simultaneously. I was there at 7:45 to set up our 100 foot snake from our mixing studio to B037 where we did overdubs. Unfortunately the session I was running wasn’t until 3pm, so I was a little tired when that came around.
Bucan Bucan did a rambunctious track with loud horns and shout choruses, whilst the Jazz Band laid down some great tunes. Ben Parker brought in soulful blues song and Amy Wood played a lovely ballad for us. So much great music and great musicians in one place.
I got to work closely with the fantastic Amy Wood as she recorded a beautiful piece. I’ve listened to Amy’s music before and will hopefully be providing a review of her CD “Cinnamon Heart” (which you can get for free – here) shortly!
I can not imagine how an event like this could have gone better, all the people I worked with made things so easy. The bands were great, and were incredibly patient with us as we moved mics and tried out new things. The biggest problem we had was that the coffee I had brought wasn’t ground fine enough, and we had the wrong filters. Other than that, the entire day was great. Our mixing engineer spent 6 straight hours mixing 2 different bands and did a great job with all of that.
For a crazy and outlandish idea, I was so amazed at how well it went over. I will add some of the mixes of the bands as they get posted.
Thanks to everyone who was involved, the bands, the techs, the assistants, Kirk McNally, Shawn Trail and a host of others who had their hands in on this. You can see all the tweets from the day with #MusicTrackDay
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.
So this is the continuation of the previous post, but more what I really wanted to talk about and less about everything that’s been going on in my life.
Over the past week, I’ve been able to meet and talk with to some great people about this whole music thing in general. Last Wednesday I went to a coffee house show put on by a girl from my music classes. I have her CD and really enjoy her music (http://www.amywood.ca) and decided to go – especially since it was two blocks from my house and I was not going to be getting anything done that night. As you might have seen – I’m that guy who goes to concerts and music events by himself and so I brought my computer and sat at the back and tried to enjoy myself without seeming too awkward. Amy and I are friends on Facebook but not super close – mostly because us CombinedMusic/ComputerScienceKids are a weird breed that rarely permeate into the social culture of the Music kids (but this is another story for another time).
After Amy came Nicole Byblow (http://www.nicolebyblow.com/) and after the initial flub of the first song and the jitters were gone – she played a really good show and I thought her music was really quite good. Being the nerdy-awkward guy I am, I was tweeting at her while she was playing her show (it’s a good thing she’s a good musician and probably turned her phone off before hand). When she was done, I bought a CD and told her that she’ll see a bunch of tweets from me later. We ended up talking more and met for coffee later in the week. It was fun to talk with someone who has already established herself in the industry (a foot in the door is still a foot in the door).
Nicole mentioned reading this blog and she actually called it a “Music blog”, which I found kind of funny, since I haven’t really done anything super musical on this here for a long time. I’ve been in touch with a guy on Twitter who works for CTV, and he’s apparently sending me some CD’s to write reviews of – so hopefully that comes and I can start writing again. There were two main reasons I had for starting this blog almost two years ago, one was just writing a chronicle of my life – in case my memory fades quicker than I hope and I can always come back to see what I did, where I was, and who I was back then. The other reason was to write CD reviews for my university paper. I’ll probably start off with writing a review of Nicole’s album “Plays All the White Keys”, so look for that soon.
And if you’re one of these new people whose just found my blog – leave me a comment? Let me know what you think! This whole blog thing is a lot more fun when you guys interact.
I later spent the evening again with Amy and Nicole and their friends listening to them playing. Again, the awkward-music-computer-science-nerd effect kicked in for me. I recognized some of the people there, had classes with them, even worked on projects with them – and yet, I still didn’t feel like I fit in. Maybe that’s just me being paranoid, maybe that’s just me being awkward, but it’s a weird cliché-y situation. Nicole referred to it as being a “party” and I joked saying that “it better not be a bunch of people sitting around politely listening to people play the piano.” It was.
It wasn’t til the next day that I realized how special that is though. And how much I want to go to more of these kind of things. I was poking fun at one of our professors who does the same thing with his classical music friends – saying we were just like him. And we were, because it’s a collection of great people in a great place sharing their talents. And that’s something really cool and I’m glad I was apart of it – even if I was the socially awkward concert guy.
You should have already heard my favourite track from her CD; “Things I Learned When I Worked In The Hospital”, so here’s a video from Amy Wood!