Album: The Seer
Released: August 28, 2012
It reportedly took thirty years to make, but it’s finally here. A massive, monolithic, double-disc release spanning nearly two hours, Swans’ The Seer is anything but an easy listen; songs repeat the same two-note progression for several minutes before abruptly turning into avant-garde campfire sing-a-longs or bagpipe solos. Additionally, any form of traditional song structure is pretty much disregarded, with two tracks hovering around twenty minutes and one even topping thirty (!).
Indeed, the album feels more like a long trek than anything, and the discordant atmosphere throughout only adds to this sensibility. Some listeners may be turned off by the record’s deliberate pace and lengthy repetitious stretches, but these are all part of that aforementioned trek, one that is just as rewarding as it is challenging. The Seer is a masterfully crafted, painstakingly detailed album and the best of the year so far. It may have been thirty years in the making, but it was thirty years well spent.
Album: EpicloudReleased: September 24, 2012
It’s epic, it’s loud… it’s Epicloud! The latest solo release from musical mad scientist Devin Townsend is also his most grandiose yet, combining layers of heavy guitars, choirs, uplifting keyboards and pounding drums. And of course, insanely diverse vocals from the man himself into one enormous-sounding record.
It’s actually a happy, upbeat listen for the most part, with great performances across the board (particularly guest vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen). However, the problem is that some of the melodies are all too familiar, repeated for needlessly long stretches. Furthermore, the record lacks the depth of Townsend’s previous work. But that’s not to say it’s a bad album by any means – the song “Epicloud” is a fun listen that definitely lives up to its title and the name of the album.
Artist: Colin JamesAlbum: Fifteen
Released: June 12, 2012
I have been a big fan of Colin James since Little Big Band in 1993. During the intervening years he has progressed from swing blues into the rock/soul/blues groove of “Fifteen” his 15th(!) and most recent CD.
James is originally from Saskatchewan but he gets a lot of help from local talent like Gordie Johnson, Tom Wilson and Ron Sexsmith for this record.
Of his new songs, “Sweets Gone Sour” and “I’m Diggin’” are the best. The cover of Robert Palmer’s “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley” brings back memories. And big props go to the cover of “Oh Well” by the original Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac – it sounds like real British Blues, before the sugar coating added in the seventies.
Colin James is on tour this Fall; check him out at the Sanderson Centre in Brantford on October 26.
Artist: Billy TalentAlbum: Dead Silence
Released: September 7, 2012
If you bought the Canadian punk rock band’s fourth studio album expecting a jaw-dropping masterpiece or a musically revelatory leap in the Billy T progression, you may have to look elsewhere. What you can expect from Dead Silence is a firm step in the right direction from a band that hasn’t failed to deliver in terms of consistency with each release. From the top, we’re graced with the haunting, hymnal intro of “Lonely Road To Absolution,” which features some of guitarist Ian D’Sa’s most impressive harmonies to date. Any hopes that this atmospheric beginning might indicate a more progressed Billy Talent sound are dashed as soon as the familiar galloping guitar rhythms of the album’s single, “Viking Death March,” are heard.
The rest of the album is exactly what diehard fans will expect: repetitive but well-crafted vocal hooks, easy-to-decipher lyrics, unique progressions, crisp guitar tones, climactic bridges, and the iconic triumphant howls of frontman Ben Kowalewicz. Tracks like “Stand Up And Run” remind us that Billy Talent doesn’t need to stick to a full-speed-ahead formula to sound good, while the more traditionally punchy “Man Alive!” stand as testament to just how well they can execute all the old tricks. Dead Silence certainly isn’t the refreshing, matured album that we should perhaps be expecting after three very linear (albeit solid) releases. But if you’re looking for talent, the boys still live up to the band name.
Artist: Jens LekmanAlbum: I Know What Love Isn’t, (Secretly Canadian)
Released: September 3, 2012
Jens Lekman has always been at his best when he’s at his saddest, so the release of his breakup album, I Know What Love Isn’t, was an exciting prospect. But writing 40 minutes of music about heartbreak clearly comes with some creative constraints: while Lekman’s characteristic wit is still on display, his third LP largely plays it safe musically.
There’s none of the left-field pop weirdness of “It Was A Strange Time In My Life,” or the canned steel drums of “Happy Birthday, Dear Friend Lisa.” Instead, for an album about heartache from a man who once sang “It’s a perfect night for feeling melancholy,” Love is a pretty upbeat record. “Erica America” finds Lekman perfecting his signature slow-burning cabaret, while the funk guitar and bongos of “The World Moves On” recall the poppier moments of 2007’s Night Falls Over Kortedala. Far from the lachrymose fare one might expect, I Know What Love Isn’t comes off as emotionally flat compared with the intensity (and idiosyncrasy) of Lekman’s past work. But its smooth, lounge-y arrangements allow Lekman to showcase his charm and pop sensibilities, and ultimately make for an endearing album.