ALBUM REVIEW: “ABSENTEE” BY MARY DEAR

Mary Dear’s Absentee is 10 tracks packed with diaphanous harmonies floating over mellow and severely locked in grooves. The band delivers complex lyrics that seem to touch on themes of being fed the fuck up, dreamy narratives and (sometimes painful) realizations.

Recorded in St. John’s in January 2017 with Jake Nicoll, keyboardist and vocalist Esmée Gilbert and guitarist and vocalist Leslie Amminson had collected most of the 10 tracks for Absentee over a few years from demos and RPM Challenge projects. Throughout their 6+ year career, the band grew from a two-piece to a five-piece band (Sarah Harris on bass, Peter Lannon on guitar and Jack Etch on drums), Gilbert says that many of the tracks hadn’t been backed by a full band before. You’d be hard pressed to guess that if you weren’t familiar with the band’s history as the album sounds very cohesive and very clean.

Spare instrumentalism (I say spare but it leads up to a really bomb guitar solo that really rips the hell out of er so don’t like crank it first thing) on “Nothing” showcases almost Baroque-ish harmonies. “Please Don’t Lie To Me” absolutely crushes some poor dork with a “simple mind” (ow) but like in the sweetest sounding way possible? Like you’d obviously perish if this song was about you but you’d also have to hand it to them because it also owns. “Strange Sort of Joy” has some real strong Plumtree vibes, noted and appreciated. And what a goddamned BOP is “Backbiting”—the bass bumps all to hell and back, just try and stop it. You can’t, so don’t try.

mrdr

Photo by: Heather Nolan

Amminson and Gilbert’s vocal skills alone could carry Absentee, but thoughtful lyrics and dynamic musicianship make the album super lovely.


Contribution by: Stephanie Johns (she/her) plays guitar in Not You and bass in Moon and has been writing about music for 20 years. She made two cute people that she spends a lot of time with these days.

PREMIERE: JUICE GIRLS

While working at a juice bar together in Halifax, Kirsten Todd (guitar/vocals) and Michelle Moraitis (lead vocals/harmonica) bonded over their love for shoegaze, the diy-ness of the riot grrrl movement, and their lived experiences of misogyny in their music community. At first, singing out their frustrations while chopping fruit was just their emotional outlet, but this inevitably planted the seed for the all-femme band, Juice Girls.

band photo

Michelle Moraitis, Kirsten Todd, Kelsey Crewson, Lauren Randles, Robin Fraser
Photo by Scott Randles

They rejected gate-keeping in their music community and encouraged each other to learn, create, and take up space. After playing as a two-piece for a while, they later invited femmes, Lauren Randles (keyboard), Kelsey Crewson (bass), and Robin Fraser (drums), who shared their frustrations to nurture and water this baby seedling with them.

Their first full length album, Juice Girls, is a shoe-gazy, slacker-pop, dreamscape. Each song creates a sort of uncertainty with it’s direction through the way they play with tempo, dynamics, space, and emotion. Like the tides, the drum parts pull you in and push you back. This album lulls you – it can pass you by, blurry and unaware. The jangly guitar, harmonica melodies, and delicate vocals offer listeners the opportunity to be introspective, yet it would be a shame to miss what they are saying.

Michelle and Kirsten’s songwriting is poetic and tender while playful and empowering – the imagery they create is both vague and dream-like while vivid and relatable. In ghoul gal, fish eye, and my baby, you’re offered stories about cute, maybe frightening, and potentially heroic creatures. milk me tall and castor soap are love songs for femmes while grapefruit is about disappointing boy-crushes. blueberry, watermelon, and when she comes offer insight into appreciating the duality of things, anxiety, and pivotal spaces that can be both difficult and exciting. They use gentle, affirming, and welcoming language in their songwriting to describe these mundane, idealistic, and even magical themes.

Juice Girls is a product of sweetness, femme resilience, and ripened friendship. While their tenderness is their greatest strength, they aren’t waiting for an invite into spaces dominated by men – they are taking up the space that they need.


Contribution by: Nikki A Basset

ALBUM REVIEW: “MERCURY RETROGRADE” BY YEE GRLZ

This August was busy for yee grlz as they released their EP mercury retrograde right before playing Out of Earshot and going on tour. A quick google search tells me that mercury will be in retrograde again on November 17th – a time when intuitions are high, coincidences are likely, and reflection is encouraged.

Deviating from their typical sound, s.a.d. starts the EP at a slower pace with more pronounced vocals. Vocalist Catherine Roberge sounds pissed off, sad, and aloof at the same time. The track ends with the lyrics, “night falls and light falls and so does everything”, making you feel like you won’t be able to pick yourself back up from sadness… until you switch to the next song thrift store treasure. I could be wrong but I think thrift store treasure is a love-lost song about a troll doll, which couldn’t be more on brand for yee grlz. I mean, “light pink hair! big brown eyes!” sound like admiration lyrics to me. The third song troll addresses an internet troll. Troll is my favorite track because the drums absolutely command the song. From the build up in the intro to the cymbals in the outro, drummer Jess Barry masters punk time (signatures) – the only punk time I don’t want abolished. The lyrics “you think you’re the authority / you think you are the shit / you make me wanna cry / you make me wanna quit” kind of gives you the idea that yee grlz feel defeated by this troll despite calling them out. However, the final track, authority, is the powerful response to troll. Authority makes no apologies – the killer riffs between sisters Becky Gibson (guitar) and Jess Gibson (bass) feel symbiotic. Authority finishes the way all good punk songs do – with a sick breakdown and one final riff that says “I don’t fucking care!”.

yee grlz

Photo by Isobel McKenna

Contribution by: Stephanie Muise (“smuise”)

ALBUM REVIEW: “BODIESOFWATER” BY RAE SPOON

Rae Spoon, a non-binary musician and writer who centres their own lived experiences within their work, recently released an album called bodiesofwater (09/07) – an electropop-rock album that articulates their intimate relationship with water.

rae spoon portrait

Photo by Dave Todon

This relationship is an exploration of the ways in which they feel connected to, and responsible for, water. The first track, I Held My Breath, gives the album an opening that feels delicate and hopeful while setting a precedent of uncertainty.

One recurring facet of this relationship is the parallels they draw between the way trans bodies and water are treated by our society: commodified and regulated. While It’s Not in My Body negates this harmful commodification and regulation, the pop-hit Do Whatever the Heck You Wantis an anthem to empower trans and non-binary folks to reject the boxes and binaries that others impose on them and to instead do, well, whatever the heck they want.

Rae Spoon’s relationship to water is also one of advocacy and reconciliation. They are calling us in, and calling higher power structures out, to protect and take care of the unceded lands stolen from Indigenous people. It’s Getting Close rejects climate denialism by reflecting on the anxieties we can no longer ignore as we are confronted with the effects of climate change (“It’s getting close and I can feel it / The sky is orange and my throat is burning / Where is the line between saving what we have and our lives“) where the dark and sludgy track, You Don’t Do Anything, sheds their frustration with the current Canadian government and their false promises of reconciliation (“How am I supposed to believe / That you really care when you don’t do anything?“).

They also acknowledge, and are grateful for, the healing potential of water. In Seascape, they explicitly sing “Meet me by the water / When I’m feeling low, that’s where I go / I will try to lift you / So that you can float” which offers insight into their coping, as well as their capacity to offer emotional support when others around them are sinking. In My Town, while less directly speaks to water, contributes to an important conversation of keeping survivors safe in music communities. While many may argue that it is possible to “remove art from the artist”, Spoon thoughtfully negates this in their lyrics, “If you think there’s still a question / Look into the crowd / Which person has lost nothing / And which one is not around?“. Until we stop supporting rapists and abusers in our communities, the survivors of their harm and violence will feel unsafe and isolated. This song resolves by using a drenching wave as a metaphor for a catalyst that results in a community-wide demand for safer spaces.

The album closes with Beach of Bones, a song that pulls this album together by encouraging, and being certain of, a sense of optimism. While the lyric “Put it back together now” speaks directly to the settlers relationship to the land, water, and Indigenous communities, it seems likely that Rae Spoon is also speaking towards the injustices and discrimination towards trans and non-binary people.

Rae Spoon will be playing the new RadStorm space (2177 Gottingen St, Halifax, NS) on October 6th with supporting guests respectfulchild (敬兒) (SK) and local two-piece Holy Crow.


Contribution by: Nikki A Basset

ALBUM REVIEW: “BE THE COWBOY” BY MITSKI

Two years ago, I was obsessively listening to Puberty 2 on my record player, on my phone, in the car, as I ran, by myself, or in company. I was swirling in the fuzzy, emotional depths that Mitski created and had encapsulated me during a shifting time in my life.

On August 17th, she released her fifth album, Be the Cowboy, on the label Dead Oceans. Be The Cowboy is an incredibly diverse, ambitious album that goes beyond an introspective account of personal experience and offers a world of performance and glam, a world created as a piece of art in itself.

mitski be the cowboy.jpg

We are welcomed on the opening track, ‘Geyser’, by an organ and Mitski’s crescendoing voice singing my favorite lyrics of the entire album, “You’re my number one / You’re the one I want /  I turned down every hand that has beckoned me to come”. The burst into an orchestral sequence confirms Mitski is still tapping the audience’s emotions in her latest endeavor, but with each song we’re transported to a carefully crafted narrative.

It’s the dance beats of ‘Why Didn’t You Stop Me’, the country-esque vocals of ‘Lonesome Love’, the disco vibe of ‘Nobody’, and the pop synth melody of ‘Me and My Husband’ that proves Mitski is a dynamic, diverse songwriter. She’s a skilled composer with the ability to string these different genres into an incredibly tender, cohesive album. An album I’ll be spinning in my room, at a party, or on the go continuing to discover the moments of tension and allure. An album that only Mitski herself could create.


STAFF CONTRIBUTION: Alycia Socia

ALBUM REVIEW: “THE BLUEST STAR” BY FREE CAKE FOR EVERY CREATURE

On August 3rd, free cake for every creature (PA) put out a new full length soft-pop album called the bluest star. What started as a solo project for song-writer Katie Bennett, free cake has expanded to include long-term band members, Francis Lyons and Heeyoon Won, as well as a rotating cast of musicians and friends.

the bluest star was recorded over the latter half of 2017 in the apartment that Katie and Francis share; maintaining free cakes’s lo-fi bedroom-pop roots while also showing growth through collaboration and experimentation.

Composed with a heart wide-open, each song offers insight into Katie’s lived experiences and her feelings about them. She whispers about the simple and mundane, “eating clementines on the subway / put the peels on my blue jeans” (be home soon) and shares her existential musings, “walked for hours aimlessly / washed in the nothing, happily / the world went on without me / and I let it, happily” (sunday afternoon).

Every track has something special to offer: the drum machine in shake it out, the pedal steel guitar that keeps coming back, the whisper of Katie’s voice in goodbye, unsilentlylisten closely to the bluest star; you won’t want to miss anything.

Favourite track: sideline skyline

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Photo by Francis Lyons

STAFF CONTRIBUTION: Nikki A Basset

ALBUM REVIEW: “GOODBYE TONY” BY TONY PEACHKA

On July 16th, Tony Peachka (Minneapolis, MN) put out a surprise album called goodbye tony two days before their final show where they said farewell to their main lyricist Melissa Jones (guitar/vocals).

This five-song EP, similar to their debut album dirty knees, is a cute but fierce, delightful yet dangerous, angry but self-aware, punchy garage pop album about general discontent, coping mechanisms, and working through existing in 2018.

Fruit Salad, the first track on the EP, opens with the lyric, “I lighten my hair / in hopes it’ll lighten me elsewhere” which sets the tone for a song that is about learning how to cope when change feels hopeless. The following song, Gossip Girl, is about turning around feelings of general discontent (“I’m bored / I’m horny / I work too much / I’m lonely” and “I’m tired / I’m hungry / I eat like shit / I’m lonely”) yet being unable to keep up with them as they pile too high. My personal favourite, I Don’t Know, is critical of and confused by the heteronormative script and milestones that we are meant to reach within relationships (“move in together / write a cover letter / end up hating each other”).

Tony Peachka wrote relatable songs for people (like me) in their mid-twenties trying to, but only barely, keeping up with their responsibilties, social commitments, and relationships all while having boundaries and taking care of themselves. This album is an anthem for coping.

goodbye tony.

 

tony peachka.jpg

Photo by Tessa Loeffler

STAFF CONTRIBUTION: Nikki A Basset