Imagine yourself treading water in a Bermuda triangle of Guided by Voices, Joanna Gruesome and the Pains of Being Pure At Heart. That’s where you’ll find Woolworm, beloved Vancouver pop-shoegaze-punk-hardcore-whatever stalwarts. You swim over as they begin playing “Heathen Too”, the first tune off their latest split with Grown-Ups. You wonder how such frenetic drumming and spirited hooks, played with such reckless abandon, would be of any use in such an absurd situation. Then they turn to you and croon “I would never run from you / honey, I’m a heathen, too.” Suddenly, nothing matters — you’re in this together. You lay back, let the bitter ocean wash over you, and all you want is to listen to Woolworm play forever.
The title’s irony is obvious – clearly such innocuous-looking brothers such as the Johnsons merit an innocuous sounding record, right? Wrong. Shahman’s “Sounds That Look Like Us” is crushing, devastating, and best of all, unpredictable. It’s the soundtrack to a dark, empty room: you’ll never know what lurks within until it’s too late. Take, for example, “Like An Old Friend”, which features whispered, ethereal vocals, tempered with subtle, sparse drumwork — that is, until the track explodes into fiery screams, howling guitars, and relentless noise. All in two minutes. The last words of the album — and a perfect conclusion — are “background white noise fodder for your dreams”. Close your eyes, delve in, and explore.
“I’m no longer young, with eyes open wide,” Doug Hoyer sings on “The One For Me,” off his newest LP “To Be A River”. Doug has been called a lot of things throughout his career: storyteller, troubadour, pop purveyor. But older? Wiser? Reflective? Contemplative? … Doug?
That’s “To Be A River”. That’s Doug Hoyer after traversing the country year in and year out, after taking his tunes to the Halifax Pop Explosion, Sled Island, CMJ, and North by Northeast. That’s Doug Hoyer coming home and asking “what’s next?”
That’s Doug Hoyer, taking the wonder and awe of his previous albums and focusing it on day-to-day life. Falling in (and out of) love. Having a dead-end job. Making small talk. Yearning for one’s childhood.
And yet, Doug’s playfulness, musical invention, and ability to write hooks remains intact. The punctuated horns on “One Foot”. The triumphant strings on “Forever Now”. The galactic backbeat on “Bulgogi Pizza”. The jaunty whistle on “To Fall in Love”. That’s the beauty of “To Be A River” — this is Doug tackling the uncertainty of what’s around the bend as only Doug can.
When asked what “To Be A River” means to Doug, he simply answered “It’s our lives.” It’s the ups, the downs, the twists, the turns, the highs, the lows. It’s taking the mundane, and turning it into magic. That’s Doug Hoyer, and that’s what Doug Hoyer does best.
“Drift”, the latest EP from Toronto’s Greys, is a giant weight, an anvil dropping through the sky. Like their previous six-song EP “Easy Listening”, this is ten minutes of relentless, ferocious, heavy, noisy and sludgy noise rock. But compared to their previous offering, this is even heavier, noisier, fiercer; it features three fewer songs but three times the fury. It’s like being in a room where the ceiling is threatening to crush you. Yet despite the constant relentlessness, there’s still room for short punctuative moments where you think you can catch your breath: the short guitar squeals in the verse of “Carjack,” the subtle pause at the end of the chorus in “Drag,” or the extended breakdown in “Pill”. But, as singer Shehzaad Jiwani wails at the end of “Carjack”: “no exit / no exit / no exit / no exit.” No exit, indeed.
My favourite album of 2013 so far. “Homes” could easily be lumped into a bland, all-encompassing category such as post-rock or post-hardcore or emo, but that wouldn’t give it enough credit. Let’s just say that these are eight beautiful, earnest, heart-wrenching songs which simultaneously soar and crash — the former through their intricate, interweaving, textured melodies and the latter through singer Andrew Benson’s intense, heartfelt vocals. Listen to “Hold Tight” for an example of how each component of this band complements and heightens one another, turning five seemingly off-kilter, chaotic elements into a fluid, contiguous whole. Or, listen to album standout “Champion City,” which, in its four minutes and forty-seven seconds, will make you believe that its refrain “please come home” are the most important three words Benson and company have ever sung. I can’t recommend this album enough.