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Yamantaka//Sonic Titan
Uzu

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Toronto-based genre-benders Yamantaka//Sonic Titan have taken noise rock, Asian pop, post-punk, and metal, and combined them into a sound entirely their own. They call it “noh-wave”, cleverly pulling from Japanese alternative theatre and 1980s New York art-rock scenes to describe their hybrid artistry. Reflecting their own mixed heritage and identities—founders Alaska B and Ruby Kato Attwood are both of Euro-Asian backgrounds—Y//ST play music that eschews boundaries, turning comfortably (if unsettlingly) from Western classical influences to Asian pop to First Nations drumming to brain-melting power guitar. Though their debut was rightly hailed as an astonishing piece of work, few of us were prepared for just how affecting their second record might be. It’s a strobe-lit trip through a hall of mirrors. See you on the other side. Stuart Henderson


 

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Hayden

Us Alone

(Arts & Crafts)

Review [25.Feb.2013]

4


Hayden
Us Alone


Every Hayden release is usually dubbed his “comeback” record and the Toronto-based folk rocker did indeed take four years to release the follow-up to 2009’s The Place Where We Lived. Yet there is a renewed sense of purpose from the 42-year-old veteran on Us Alone. Perhaps the birth of his first child served to inspire him; he sings with poise, clarity, and even a sense of reflection. His voice is crisp and he hasn’t lost his dour sense of humour either. Hayden doesn’t meddle whatsoever throughout the cohesive eight-song effort and if he wasn’t already part of the conversation already, Us Alone cements his place as one of the greatest Canadian songwriters in recent memory. Joshua Kloke


 

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Tegan & Sara

Heartthrob

(Warner Bros.)

3


Tegan & Sara
Heartthrob


Amazingly, on their seventh record, these critically acclaimed and deeply revered indie rockers took a left turn into synth-pop and crafted their masterpiece. Not only is this the best record of their career, it is one of the best pop records of the past half-decade or more. Gloriously produced to dance-club specs by a team of pros, these ten impeccable pop songs match peerless melody with often clever, accessible lyrics about love gone wrong, sex, desire, heartbreak. From “Now I’m All Messed Up” to “Closer” to “I Was a Fool” to “How Come You Don’t Want Me”, every song here is instantly catchy, an immediate earworm, a radio-friendly chartbuster. This record was simply unavoidable in 2013—not that we were hiding from it. Though some have (quite mindlessly) fretted that this straightforward approach to pop music marks these erstwhile indie artists as “sell outs”, many more have recognized the deeper, more salient point here: Tegan and Sara have managed the rare feat of shifting artistic gears only to find themselves creatively reborn. Many try it. Almost none succeed. Stuart Henderson


 

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Daniel Romano

Come Cry with Me

(Normaltown)

Review [21.Feb.2013]

2


Daniel Romano
Come Cry with Me


For so many long-time fans of traditional country music, people who were raised on post-hippie So Cal country-rock and who cut their teeth at shows in the alt-country 1990s, Daniel Romano appears as a kind of culmination, a startling convergence of all of these sounds, these approaches, these mythologies. His lyrics—often as quirky and as wise as the best of the ‘70s-era outlaws—always ring true; his voice—pitched somehow between the high sweetness of a Gram Parsons and the deep earthy baritone of a Johnny Cash or Stompin’ Tom Connors—is disarmingly affecting and deeply distinctive. His approach to traditional melody and arrangement looks backward and forward simultaneously, pulling from influences while pushing at boundaries. Daniel Romano’s uncanny ability to find freshness in the eminently familiar is what makes the timeless songs on Come Cry with Me all feel so vibrant, so essential. Stuart Henderson


 

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Tim Hecker

Virgins

(Constellation/Kranky)

Review [15.Oct.2013]

1


Tim Hecker
Virgins


For about a decade now, each new record from this Montreal-based experimental artist has impressed listeners in powerful ways. Tim Hecker has a mainline into darkness, but he is uncommonly adept at finding the beauty down there in the murk. On Virgins, these soundscapes, these messy, grooveless noises he pulls into something approaching harmony, are as unfamiliar as they are electrifying. A unified, seamless whole, when listened to under the right circumstances, Virgins has a hypnotic effect on its listener, pulling her into its vertiginous rotation. Perhaps it is Hecker’s way of finding unity in the disunity of the sounds that both compels and, thrillingly, unsettles. This record is phenomenally pleasurable, and part of the reason (and this isn’t too far from what I wrote about Hecker’s Constellation label-mates Godspeed You! Black Emperor last year) is that it is genuinely scary. But it’s a rich scary, a quiet and contemplative scary. The album of the year. Stuart Henderson


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