5 reasons to forgive Canada for Celine Dion*

* well almost, she's pretty near unforgivable.

Stars - Set Yourself On FireStars – Set Yourself On Fire: Stars are a group formed in New York, but based in Montreal. What sets them apart from the other groups here (apart from the Dears) is the sharing of vocals between Amy Millan and Torquil Campbell. The two of them have an almost symbiotic voice, which seems to belong to one person or entity. The fact that the lyrics in their songs take the form of two (former) lovers telling their stories.

It's best showcased on the beautiful opening track "You're Ex Lover Is Dead", where they both end up saying "I'm not sorry I met you …. I'm not sorry it's over". The music itself matches the tone with brass and strings over melodic guitar line. The next song, title track "Set Yourself On Fire" is a complete departure; a shimmering electro number. Other standouts are "Reunion", which reminds me of Interpol, but more upbeat. "Let It Go" is a meandering tracks that suddenly stops before reinventing itself as a laid back, Daft Punk-esque dance track. Overall, this is a good album that delivers a kind of intelligent indie-pop, that spans plenty of musical styles but is held together by some great vocals. Much like….

The Dears - No Cities LeftThe Dears – No Cities Left: The Dears creative force, Murray Lightburn, has been accused of trying to "sell British music back to us", which frankly does him a big disservice. He's also been called the "black Morrissey", which again doesn't do him justice. True, Lightburn was in London at the time of Britpop and spent a few years being obsessed with Blur. But the Dears are very much a product of varied influences.

Even when the lyrics are positive, the mood is always an attractive gloominess. During the first track, "We Can Have It", Murray sings "You're alone/you're not alone" like a condemmed man. "The Second Part" has a beautifully lazy clarinet part that makes you smile, but that's before the tragic duet of "22: The Death of All The Romance" and it's sorrowful line "I can't believe the things you say/tell me the lies,".
The standout is the brilliantly layered "Lost In The Plot" starts with some great guitar work before going into a long middle section which builds and build until the climatic chorus, with Murray singing "I promise not to cry/any more". It's a undoubtably a melancholy album, littered with broken romances, doomed fatalism and heartache, but tracks like "Lost In The Plot" help steer the album into territory that might be described as almost…. triumphant?

Godspeed You Black EmperorGodspeed You Black Emperor! – Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven: people who have heard stuff by GYBE! say it's basically the same thing: start of quiet and sparse and end on planet crushing wall of sound. They're not far wrong, but this album (the group's second) shows the full range of their sound. This is a double album, with 4 tracks spread equally over 2 CDs. Whilst I prefer the second CD, this is a album meant to be experienced in it's entirety.

The first track "Storm" opens up with an upbeat melody until it comes crashing down, in an almost exhausted mix of spoken words and violins. "Static" is much more subtle and never reaches the sheer noise of the first track, but uses more ambient sounds and noises to a lovely effect. The second disc opens up with "Sleep" and features an old man recalling his youth spent on the beach at Coney island. From there it's a staggered build up to a furious crescendo in which guitars sound almost as if they are snarling at you. Final track "Antennas To Heaven" is a much more placid track, with only a short section showing any sign of anger. The final few minutes are nothing but static and drone, but which have a heartbreaking melody.

This is GYBE!'s finest album, (they've released 3 so far, with the band currently on hiatus) an album that shows they command a full range of sounds and ideas, but are able to create a cohesive album that is worth repeat listens.

Feist - Let It DieFeist – Let It Die: Leslie Feist has done a lot in her career; toured with Peaches and the Ramones, rapped on records with Gonzalez and has been one of the vocalists in the brilliant Broken Social Scene. This means she's only has time to release 2 solo albums in 6 years.

"Let It Die" maybe shows that it's creator didn't have a lot of time on her hands; 5 of the 11 tracks on the album are covers. But don't let that put you off: Feist manages to pull them into her overall sound for the album. She has a lovely warm voice that manages to make you feel warm inside. There's plenty of variety though; "Gatekeeper" is a sparse acoustic lament, whereas "One Evening" almost sounds like an 80's nu-soul track.

The standout two tracks are maybe inevitabley covers. "Inside and Out" was written by the Bee Gees and as such has a slightly funky edge to it, but still fits in with the rest of the album. "Now At Last" is beautiful song, a simple, piano led track that show's Feist's voice off to the full.

Buck 65 - Secret House Against The WorldBuck 65 – Secret House Against The World: Buck 65 would be an anomally in the world of hip hop even if Eminem didn't exist: he's a white guy from rural Canada who makes hip hop more concerned with subjects like alzheimers, homelessness, cancer, incest and the problems of being a Centaur. To use a lazy comparison, Buck 65 is like a combination of DJ Shadow's beats and the lyrics of someone like Tom Waits or even a novelist like Charles Buckowski.

Endlessly prolific (he's released 8 albums in almost 8 years), for his lastest album he manged to rope in Chicago's avant-jazz leaders Tortoise to produce this album. This means it's sounds more like the result of a group playing live, with Buck as the vocalist. This means it sounds a world away from his previous albums.

The two standout tracks are both very different. "The Floor" descibes a scene of domestic violence in nothing but a hushed voice and sparse piano. "Blood of a Young Wolf" is slightly more upbeat with Buck railing against the modern world to the sounds of twangy country guitars and banjos. This is a much more eclectic album than any of Buck's previous ones, but that's to be expected after 2003's "Talkin' Honky Blues" which was a concept album and the 4 track "Square" in 2002. But it's all the better for it, showing that Buck can push hip hop in a new and weirder direction.

Also worth checking out are:

  • Broken Social Scene – You Forgot In People
  • Arcade Fire – Funeral
  • Hot Hot Heat – Elevator
  • Silver Mt Zion – Born Into Trouble as the Sparks Fly Upwards
  • Anything by Neil Young
  • William Shatner – The Transformed Man (no, wait! How'd that get here?)

  1. Stars are the best thing in the world at the moment, although I do think they’ve settled for a pretty naff name.

    I saw Buck 65 on Saturday. I love that man and his bearded Canadian ways. Support act Holy Fuxk were also v good. A bit Chemical Brothers, but with live drums/bass.

    And you’re right about prolific – he’d burnt some CDs of new stuff especially to sell on tour (including a spooky remix of Centaur).

  2. Cool, I’ve seen him twice in Glasgow (Gary “Snow Patrol” Lightbody was there). Second time his deck stopped working and he went on about how we could have seen Basement Jaxx that night, but we came to see “a Canadian yahoo with a phonogram”. He’s great live, nice dance moves and a dry line of humour.

  3. Personally, I’ve never forgiven Celine Dion for beating mighty England in the Eurovision. If she’s Canadian why was she representing Switzerland?! Shenanigans.

  4. None of these reasons are good enough. Celine Dion and by extension the rest of Canada must die.

  5. I think Nik is Cartman. You never see them in the same room together at the same time.

  6. Nik can’t be Cartman, Cartman’s ears are too small.

  7. Have you not seen Mission Impossible 3?! Latex is a wonderful thing.

  8. Stoogy

    And I went to both of those Buck 65 gigs with Ali D so I can verify everything he has said about them… but I won’t lol
    I knew you had to mention Buck 65 in this list, it was hardly gonna be Sum 41, was it!
    Stop being so hard on Cartman, he’s not that bad 😉
    Of course I haven’t seen MI3, Tom Cruise films are no longer bearable (which is a shame coz I heard that Collateral is really quite good).

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