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Music

Canadians: A Sky With No Stars

Mike Hilleary

Geographically confused Italian band the Canadians, successfully channel the sweet sunny pop of the California coast.


Canadians

A Sky With No Stars

Label: Ghost
US Release Date: 2007-10-16
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For reasons unknown -- and probably not worth losing a lot of sleep over -- a good number of contemporary music groups have found some unusual humor in referencing worldly locations that have nothing to do with their own charted origins. Take for example the instrumental experimenters within Architecture in Helsinki. Formed in the down-under city of Melbourne, Australia, the band has as much to do with the Finnish capital as a square peg and a round hole. Following suite are the Strokes-infused garage rockers Tokyo Police Club, which find their home based out of Newmarket, Ontario. Of course the worst offender is probably the 29-piece chorus pop ensemble I'm From Barcelona, who all hail Jonkoping, Sweden.

Joining the ranks of these geographically confused performers are the Canadians, a five-piece collective born and raised in Verona, Italy. Led by vocalist/guitarist Duccio Simbeni, and accompanied by guitarist Michele Nicoli, bassist Massimo Fiorio, keyboardist Vittorio Pozzato, and drummer Christian Corso, these foreign visitants have made a solid stateside arrival with their debut album A Sky With No Stars.

Though released under the Varese-based indie label Ghost Records, A Sky With No Stars does not sound like a record made by a bunch of native Italians. It draws heavily from the sunny, harmonizing influence of Beach Boys and combines that with a wall of power chord fuzz. Utilizing melodic hooks that come across like some lost Rivers Cuomo arrangement, the Canadians' wade comfortably deep in the West Coast waters of the happy sounding/sad song dichotomy.

Perhaps the best example of the Canadians' California idolizing is presented with their first single, "Summer Teenage Girl". Evoking the memory of a season's lost love, the song is an anthemic version of a sweet '60s pop ditty. With a lyrical nod to one of the most beloved songs conjured by Brian Wilson ("I fell down into you discovering new vibrations"), Simbeni's voice, alongside the band's balanced guitar crunch, successfully recreate the illusion of the sun and surf. As major-to-minor chord changes and harmonizing "la-la's" wedge themselves in the mix, the Canadians pay homage without morphing into a tribute band.

For all their references to the Pacific shoreline and the supposedly insurmountable amount of fun that comes with such a glamorous environment -- particularly in songs like "15th of August" and "Find Out Our 60s" -- the majority of the Canadians thematic focus concentrates on their own inability to really feel included. Playing the role of the geeks that just can't hold onto the girl regardless of their Death Cab for Cutie levels of sensitivity, the Canadians keep their collective chin up by listening to their favorite albums, remembering the good times, and writing songs entitled, "Last Revenge of the Nerds". With unabashed loser chic looking for aide from Marty McFly, the Goonies, and anyone with a pocket protector, the band carries the Dungeons and Dragons torch from Weezer's "In the Garage".

While it seems a little unorthodox for a bunch of Italians to call themselves Canadians, playing music that sounds right out of California, there's not a whole lot to scoff at when they manage to pull off a debut that is so unyielding and well rounded. Looking to make their first Stateside appearance at this spring's SXSW Festival, Austin, Texas will be the closest the band has ever been to their true geographic inspiration. One would think it would only be appropriate for them to make a little side trip to the Pacific shore.

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Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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