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I just had to write this album review for one of my favourite new Montreal bands, The Coward and the Pelican. I’m loving their debut EP. Here is my review…

Written For Baeble Music:

Silhouettes EP
The Coward and the Pelican are a band of fresh-faced youngsters from Montreal, Quebec, a city that has for some time now been known as a Mecca for independent music. It is perhaps fitting then that Philippe St-Louis, his brother Etienne, their sister Evelyne, their cousin Carmen Madfouny and their friends Simon Mercier-Nguyen and Emma Glasser, all Montreal natives, have joined together in forming The Coward and the Pelican. On the band’s debut Silhouettes EP they bring all the energy of their youth along with a maturity in musical composition that is beyond their years.

Upon first listen of The Coward and the Pelican’s Silhouettes EP, it becomes immediately apparent that this isn’t your average band of youngsters. Along with guitar and drums (the staple instruments in rock bands worldwide) they also have a violinist, trumpet player, and flutist. And after listening to band after band of guitar, drums and bass, it becomes sort of refreshing to hear some new sounds enter into the mix. The fact that all the members of the band are still in University, some fresh out of high school makes their sound even more impressive.

The EP is strong from start to finish. The opening track, “Let’s Dress Up Again” displays the band’s lighthearted innocence, while at the same time showcases that they really know how to handle their instruments. The song plays out as a love song but has this cute back-story about dressing up for Halloween (“Scar on his face, his wicked wooden leg, they made my heart race”). “The Peasants Lament” starts out with dramatic pizzicato violin, piano and flute, until the violins and trumpet take over, quickening the pace of this song’s film-score like introduction. Eventually, Evelyne and brother Philippe begin to sing in turn, while the backing vocals give the song its emotional appeal.

Now would normally be the time when I would talk about the album’s potential missteps and pitfalls, but there are truly none to speak of on this beautifully crafted EP. The final three songs continue along with the same energy and song crafting excellence that was displayed on the first two. The band shows their softer side on “Edmond Arfuite”, a ballad composed solely of piano and melodica. This song is also the only song on the EP that is sung entirely in French by Philippe, with sister Evelyne providing a spattering of backup vocals near the end.

Usually a band’s first recordings are rough sounding and at times awkward, as it sometimes takes time for a band to develop and come into their own. This just simply isn’t the case with the Coward and the Pelican’s debut. The Silhouettes EP, while still having that raw unpolished feeling of a band’s first recording, manages to show that while these guys may be young, they are definitely talented. Perhaps even more so than some of the bands out there that have been putting out albums for years and have garnered world-wide fame. This is just about as strong a start for a band as could be imagined and while what the future holds for them may be unknown, things are certainly looking good.

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Written for The Yellow Bird Project:
December 26th, 2008 by themiddledistancerunner

Seasons Greetings My Merry Music Lovers,

The time is here, for my albums of the year. Sorry, Christmas makes me feel like rhyming. Anyways, I have finished my schooling and can once again indulge in the things I love (music, books other than textbooks etc). After much deliberation I have come up with a list of my top albums of the year. Like my list of my favourite songs of the year, the list is simply all my listens added up to see what I listened to the most throughout the year. I’m not saying these are the “best” albums, just my favourite. I think it’s pretty obvious what my album of the year is judging by my previous two lists (EPs and songs) and the picture at the top of this post which depicts a pretty fleet looking fox, but if you haven’t already figured it out, take a look:

20. Noah & The Whale – Peaceful The World Lays Me Down

To start us off is the debut album by a talented little group of music makers from England, Noah & The Whale. I love pretty much every song on the album, and Laura Marling’s beautiful voice sparkles here and there throughout the album, making it shine ever brighter. A promising start for these guys and I hope to hear a lot more from them in the future. I had the privilege of seeing them play live in New York City and wow what a show.

19. Tyler Ramsey – A Long Dream About Swimming Across The Sea

Next is an album that I listen to every time I have had the need to just take a step back and calm down a little while. It is by guitar extraordinaire Tyler Ramsey. Ramsey also serves as one of Band of Horses’ guitarist. A truly talented musician and a great debut album by him.

18. Laura Marling – Alas I Cannot Swim

If you don’t know who Laura Marling is by now you must be living under a rock. Her debut album is just pure beauty, and she is only 18 years old. I can’t wait to see what she will have for us next. In her spare time she has been making guest appearances on the albums of some pretty awesome bands. Mystery Jets, Noah & The Whale and Mumford & Sons have all collaborated with Marling and it seems as if everything she touches turns to gold.

17. Plants & Animals – Parc Avenue

This one is the debut album from my fellow Montrealers, Plants & Animals. I fell in love with this album over the summer while I was interning in New York City. I remember strolling down 3rd avenue on bright sunny days listening to Parc Avenue. Good times. Ok I’ll stop being cheesy now. Seriously, this album is pretty incredible and if you haven’t already, you should give it a listen.

Plants & Animals – Feedback In The Field

16. Department of Eagles – In Ear Park

Number 16 on my list is by a band called Department of Eagles. If you are a fan of Grizzly Bear, then Department of Eagles is right up your alley. You see, the bands share the same lead singer, Daniel Rossen, and because of this have a similar sound. There are obviously differences between the two bands but I was really impressed with this album. “No One Does It Like You” is among my absolute favourite songs of the year.

Department of Eagles – No One Does It Like You

15. Horse Feathers – House With No Home

Number 15 is just a beautiful album that I listened to to death this year by a band called Horse Feathers.

Horse Feathers – This is What

14. Vampire Weekend – Self Titled

Vampire Weekend was another one of my bands of the summer. It’s funny, when I first listened to this album I wasn’t that impressed. Maybe I just felt like it didn’t live up to the hype. Then one day I just got it and it quickly became one of my favourites of the year.

13. The Dears – Missiles

The Dears are back and better than ever on their newest LP, MISSILES. The band has been completely rebuilt from the ground up, while keeping the foundation of Murray Lightburn and Natalia Yanchak and adding an array of talented musicians from all different places. What we are left with is a group of seriously talented musicians who have created a really great album. This may in fact be my favourite Dears record to date.

12. Ratatat – LP3

I waited for this album to come out for so long that when it did come out I was so excited that I listened to it non-stop for weeks. That being said, it is quite the album. I don’t know how it ranks among the other two Ratatat albums but it is definately a fresh new sound for them that makes this album stand apart from the other two.

11. Blitzen Trapper – Furr

This was an album that I was reluctant to listen to at first, because I wasn’t crazy about Blitzen Trapper’s first release. But after hearing a couple of songs on satellite radio I decided to give it a try. I was happy I did because this album is pretty amazing. I had the chance to see them play when I went to see Fleet Foxes opening for them awhile ago, but I left after Fleet Foxes’ performance. Looks like that was a bad decision on my part.

Blitzen Trapper – Furr

10. Dr. Dog – Fate

Number 10 on my list is Dr. Dog’s album Fate. This is just an amazing album from start to finish. The highlights on it for me would have to be “The Old Days” and “The Breeze”, but every song on this album is worth a listen. Just an all around solid album.

9. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

You won’t find too many top album lists without this album on it. Bon Iver exploded onto the scene this year. Songs like “Flume” and “Skinny Love” have been permanently on my mind as I often find myself singing or humming them to myself. You can see how much bigger they got within the year. The first time I saw them play was at a small venue in Montreal called The Cabaret. A few weeks ago I saw them play in New York City at the prestigious City Hall, one of two sold out back to back shows at the same venue. By the way, have you seen the awesome design they did for YBP?

8. The Dodos – Visiter

Even though The Dodos album cover looks like it was created by a child, the album itself is as far from childish as it gets. These songs are rife with emotion, lead by the incredible guitar playing of Meric Long and Logan Kroeber’s tribal drumming. And as good as they sound on the album, you have to see them live to fully appreciate them. I was lucky enough to do so and all I have to say is…”The Season”.

7. Born Ruffians – Red, Yellow & Blue

I’m not sure how popular this album was because I don’t know that many people who listen to Born Ruffians but I was in love with this album the second I heard it and I am still in love with it today. “Little Garcon” is probably my favourite, but the rest of the album is great as well.

Born Ruffians – Barnacle Goose

5. Man Man – Rabbit Habits

What could possibly be bad about a new Man Man album? It seems as if these guys just get better and better with time. Their first album was okay, their second was great and their newest album, Rabbit Habits is stellar. What I love about Man Man is that they always keep you guessing. For example, who expected that amazing xylaphone action in “The ballad of Butterbeans”? This is another example of a band that is great on the album and even more amazing live. If you have a chance to see these guys live you must do so.

Man Man – The Ballad of Butter Beans

4. Pinback – Autumn of the Seraphs

This was arguably my most anticipated albums of the year. Pinback has been one of my all-time favourite bands for a long time now and the idea of a new Pinback album just gets my hyped. I don’t know if this album will go down as one of my favourite Pinback albums, but it is definitely worth a whole bunch of listens.

Pinback – Bouquet

3. Pete & The Pirates – Little Death

Number 3 on my list is a wonderful little album by some awesome Brits that go by the name of Pete & The Pirates. I really became obsessed with the album for a good while this year. I’m not sure what makes these guys so likable. Their music is just exciting. They might be my favourite British band of the year. They also have two new songs on their myspace page called “Blood Gets Thin” and “Jenny” that are worth a listen, check it out.

2. The Hush Sound – Goodbye Blues

The Hush Sound at number 2. Who would have thought. Their first two albums reminded me too much of Panic at the Disco, but on their newest album, Goodbye Blues, lead singer Greta Salpeter takes the reins and is featured much more prominently then the band’s other male singer. They may be too poppy for some, but I love it and think they are well deserving of my number 2 slot.

The Hush Sound – Break The Sky

1. Fleet Foxes – Self Titled

Fleet Who? Ya right. This has been the year of the Foxes. Throughout the year we have been treated to one of the best EPs of the year, in the Sun Giant EP, as well as an amazing debut self-titled LP by Fleet Foxes. Songs like “Mykonos”, “White Winter Hymnal”, “Your Protector” and “Oliver James” have been on continuous repeat throughout the year and I was lucky enough to see them play live twice in Montreal. I’m so excited about this band and what will come from them in the future.

Fleet Foxes – White Winter Hymnal

Fleet Foxes – He Doesn’t Know Why

So there you have it. Fleet Foxes sweep the series. They have produced my favourite EP, LP and song of the year. I’m so happy for these guys. Now I would like to pay tribute to a few more albums that either just missed the top 20 or were released too soon to be a part of this year’s list. Here are some albums that deserve honorable mention…

Yeasayer – All Hour Symbols

Girl Talk – Feed The Animals

Santogold – Santogold

The Tallest Man on Earth – Shallow Graves

Alaska in Winter – Holidays

The Welcome Wagon – Welcome to the Welcome Wagon

Tv On The Radio – Dear Science

Radiohead – In Rainbows

Now that you know pretty much everything that I listened to throughout the year it’s your turn! What are your top albums of the year? I’m sure there’s plenty I’ve forgotten.

Until next week…

The Middle Distance Runner

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This picture fully encapsulates what is David Martel’s first solo album, but far from his first venture into music making, as he has been at it for quite awhile. I first got wind of Martel when he was the lead singer of the band onlyforward. Even then it seemed as if it was Martel’s show. His vibrant and eccentric personality led the way, making the name onlyforward synonymous with the name David Martel.

Four years later, Martel has parted ways with onlyforward, and is now making music on his own, music which has become the framework for his debut solo album, I Hardly Knew Me. Now if we look back to the picture, we see a myriad of instruments ranging from trombone to banjo, all of which can be heard on this record, accompanied by his powerful vocals.

The album opens with “Stories” which serves as an appropriate introduction, offering us a glimpse into what is in store for us. The lush vocal harmonies, the synth, leading into what may described as the album’s catchiest track (or my unofficial favourite) “End of Self”. The song starts off with some awesomely catchy synth reminding me a little bit of Sunlandic Twins era Of Montreal. It came as a surprise to me because it’s different than what I am used to hearing from him, but it also got me excited because while I wasn’t expecting it, it sounds great! The song builds up to an amazing ending, reminding me of something off of Sufjan Steven’s Illinoise album, but still maintaining that uniquely David Martel sound.

One of my favourite things about this album is how each song tells a story in it’s musical composition. These songs aren’t your average 2 and a half minute pop songs. Each song goes through many transformations, building up and then crumbling, surprising you at every turn. Just when you think a song is going to end, it veers in a completely unexpected direction, keeping your ears on their toes (yes…your ears on your toes!)

You can purchase the album online here and on Itunes. I highly recommend it. And definitely make it a point to see him live. I have had the privilege of seeing him live 4 times and each time I am amazed. His live show is something not to be missed.

Martel is currently wrapping up a short tour with a date in New York City next week. He also has a few shows lined up in Montreal in July but the venues are not known yet:

June 20 – Rockwood Music Hall – New York, New York
July 10 – tba – Montreal, Quebec
July 22 – tba – Montreal, Quebec
July 31 – tba – Montreal, Quebec

And here is a video of Martel performing “Cancel All Your Plans” live on April 19, 2008 at Cafe Lola Rosa:

Dave Martel’s Myspace

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I first heard of this band from a guy named Jeremy I met on a plane from Montreal to New York. I noticed that he was listening to Sufjan Stevens so we got to talking. Anyways, he told me about this band Bon Iver, and they have quickly grown on me to the point where I can’t stop listening to them.
The album is called For Emma, Forever Ago, and it was released in 2007, so it’s not really new, but hey it’s new to me!

Bon Iver is the solo project of Justin Vernon, who apparently recorded most of this album in the winter, when he moved to a remote cabin in the woods for 3 months. The name Bon Iver is obviously a weird way of saying “Bon Hiver”, which is French for “Good Winter”.

I first listened to this album in the car, which was a bad move. In order to appreciate this album you need to be alone, and your attention needs to be focused on the album. I suggest walking through a forest, or if you don’t have access to a forest, then simply walking through your city streets should be fine, especially on a cloudy day.

The album begins with the song “Flume” which has turned out to be one of my favourite, if not my favourite song on the album. It’s a perfect introduction to Bon Iver. Melancholy guitar strumming, leads into Vernon’s sad falsetto. Not only is this song beautiful and sad to listen to, but if you listen to the lyrics he uses wonderful alliterations,”Only love is all maroon, lapping lakes like leery loons, Leaving rope burns reddish ruse.”

In the song “The Wolves (Act I and II)”, the song again starts with simple, lonely guitar, and then what sounds like a choir begins singing. Of course this is just Vernon’s layered vocals, but it actually sounds like a choir of the most beautiful harmonies. This choir of Justin Vernon’s rhymes, “And the story’s all over you. In the morning I’ll call you. Can’t you find a clue when your eyes are all painted Sinatra blue.”

One of the saddest songs on the album is “Skinny Love” in which Vernon poetically tells a love story gone awry. “Come on skinny love just last the year” Vernon sings in his steady falsetto at the beginning of the song. You can hear the anger and desperation in his voice as he yells, “I told you to be patient, and I told you to be fine, and I told you to be balanced, and I told you to be kind, and in the morning I’ll be with you, but it will be a different kind, and I’ll be holding all the tickets, and you’ll be owning all the fines.” If this song doesn’t get to you, you are made of stone I say!

Bon Iver exemplifies what music is all about, an artist, all alone, doing whatever he feels like doing, not being pressured by anything or anyone. And the result of this is a simple, organic and beautiful album. In the song “re: stacks” he concludes by singing, “this is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization, It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away.”

1. Flume – favourite.
2. Lump Sum – kind of upbeat
3. Skinny Love – wow
4. The Wolves (Act I and II) – soulful and sad
5. Blindsided – nice vocal layering
6. Creature Fear – catchy
7. Team – nice instrumental track with some vocal harmonies and whistling
8. For Emma – great song, I hope she likes it.
9. re: stacks – amazing

9/10

Bon Iver performing “Flume” for a radio station:

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New Islands! It’s about time. I am torn on this album. At first I was mildly disappointed, then my disappointment changed into a slight liking. And finally I have arrived at this state of intense reverence for parts of the album and strong dislike for other parts. Islands’ sound hasn’t changed much since the last album, which is a good thing. What this album does provide is a more dramatic and intense sound, with moments of levity and Brian Wilsonesque harmonies. Where Return to the Sea was fun and made you want to dance, Arm’s Way makes you feel.

They don’t completely lose their dancey sound however. At the midway point of “J’aime Vous Voire Quitter” the song, fast paced and guitar heavy, lead by the yelling of lead singer Nick Thorburn, transforms into an Islands dance party, complete with steel drums, only to slow down to a sombre finish where Diamonds laments “you said you had my back, but I was attacked by a pack of dogs frothing at the mouth”
One of my favourite songs on the album, and maybe one of my favourite Islands songs on both albums is “Pieces of You”. It’s probably the catchiest song on the album along with “The Arm”. It goes through many different emotions, with beautiful violin leading the way. The song starts out with Thorburn’s cryptic message that, “the capillaries of the community are hemorrhaging on everything”. As with most Islands songs, I have no idea what he is talking about. He ends the song by singing sadly, “It’s a cold, cold world we swam into”.

The song “Life in Jail” takes a long time to get started. The first two and a half minutes of the song are just plain boring. Then the song picks up with some funky guitar and violin. The song then ends excitingly with some unprecedented ba ba ba’s. One song I really can’t stand is “I Feel Evil Creeping In”. I don’t understand why. When I saw them perform this song live at the Osheaga Festival in Montreal 2 summer’s ago I remember really enjoying it. I’m not sure really how they have changed it from what I saw live but when I listen to it on the album it makes me cringe.

The highlight of this album for me is the playing of violinists Alex and Sebastian Chow. They’re violin parts really drive the album forward and make you feel the emotions that the songs evoke. Whereas in Return to the Sea the violins were used more as accompaniments to the other instruments, in Arm’s Way they are what makes the album as good as it is. I just can’t wait to see them reproduce these songs live. And I will do just that on May 24th at Webster Hall in New York City.

1. The Arm – Exciting start
√ 2. Pieces of You – Catchiest (best?) song on the album (violin!)
3. J’aime Vous Voire Quitter – Intense
4. Abominable Snow – Nice guitar, violin and harmonies at the end
5. Creeper – Catchy!
6. Kids Don’t Know Shit – Grows on you
7. Life in Jail – Boooring, until 2:35
√ 8. In the Rushes – Tied for best song on the album! (Nice violin plucking)
√ 9. We Swim – Intense, Emotional = Goodness
10. To a Bond – Almost 8 minutes long, at least 4 of which are really good
11. I Feel Evil Creeping In – Better live
12. Vertigo – Extravagant and appropriate ending

7.2/10

In case you haven’t seen it, this is their video for “The Arm”:

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