Sufjan Stevens “Carrie & Lowell” (Asthmatic Kitty Records, 2015)

Love, loss, questioning and reconciliation are just some of the feelings exuded on Sufjan Stevens’ 7th studio album: “Carrie & Lowell“, named after his mother & stepfather. On this album, Stevens uses his songwriting as a way to deal with, and further come to peace with, his mother Carrie’s death in December 2012. A very human and vulnerable state is presented in these songs in comparison to his last release “Age of Adz” in 2010.  As opposed to large-scale electronics and powerful mythical ideals as featured in “Age of Adz”, the release of “Carrie & Lowell” is quite stark & simplistic in contrast.

In the February 2015 interview presented by Pitchfork: “True Myth: A Conversation with Sufjan Stevens”, interviewer Ryan Dombal is able to shed some light on the somewhat folklore-esque life of the singer/songwriter, and allows fans to gain a deeper understanding for the power of this album, and the nature in which it was written. His relationship with his mother is a very important part of this work, and is the centre from which everything stems: a sense of abandonment, loss and pursuit of meaning.sufjan1440x8102

Musically speaking, we hear a much more subdued and resonating quality through the instrumentation, but also very calculated and supportive of the lyrics–which is a huge feature throughout the album. The listener is presented with little more than acoustic guitar, banjo, a few synths/wurlitzers and poignant piano, but the lyrics need nothing else. Stirring and arpeggiated guitars provide a comforting and repetitive backdrop to the story telling, like a blanket, to help the listener cope with the pain they feel coming through Stevens’ lyrics.

The album begins with “Death with Dignity“, a haunting and powerful track that sets the ‘storytelling’ tone of the album. Reminiscent of one of his earlier works, “Seven Swans” released in 2004, we hear highlighted piano tracks mixed in with the moving and hopeful acoustic guitar, a classic Sufjan Stevens sound. It is comforting at first listen, and ends with a very David Crosby-like cloud of vocals and slide guitar.

Eugene” paints a simple, memory-filled picture of his life and relationship with his mother. Reflective, nostalgic and sad, he sings: “I just wanted to be near you”. On “Fourth of July“, a stand out track, Stevens’ songwriting ushers listeners to feel captivated by the mystery and openness of death. His child-like abandon and poignancy within the lyrics is a trademark of his sound. “We’re all going to die”, which is a lyric repeated several times in this song, features that trademark: unapologetic and to the point, yet soft and peaceful.

The latter half of the album continues to leave heavy, but seemingly light emotions on the listeners’ hearts, embodied in the tracks “Carrie & Lowell“, “No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross” and “Blue Bucket of Gold” which is the last track on the album. The longing and questioning nature of Stevens’ work is captured so beautifully in the lyric: “Raise your right hand, tell me you want me in your life, or raise your red flag–just when I want you in my life”. Listeners are left feeling like part of Stevens’ family, having gone through so many of these vulnerable states with him throughout the album.

Overall, this is some of 39-year-old Stevens’ best and most inviting work. Captivating, bare, weighted and human, listeners can expect to release a heavy sigh after listening to the album front to back, and want to press repeat over and over.

–Kalyn

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Buy this album March 31st, 2015 on iTunes or from Asthmatic Kitty.

Dan Mangan + Blacksmith “Club Meds” (2015 Arts & Crafts Records) 

Dan Mangan ushered in 2015 with the release of his fourth full length album, ‘Club Meds’, alongside a new group of musicians under the name  ‘Dan Mangan+ Blacksmiths’. Mangan states that the new name encompasses the spirit of the project’s longstanding ensemble members joining the band from Vancouver’s experimental music community. After a two year hiatus, Mangan + Blacksmith with West Coast indie producer Colin Stewart, have released an album that fuses Mangan’s familiar acoustic songwriting and beautifully crafted lyrics with a fresh new sound derived from the band members’ eclectic and diverse musical backgrounds. 

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Stand out tracks:

“Offered”, the opening track to the album, starts with a slow and layered analog loop/beat that leads to the band coming in with a progression and sound that sets the familiar melancholic “Mangan-esque” tone for the album. Drums and bass keep the progression steady, while the guitars and synths explore more fluid moving riffs, displaying guitarist Gordon Grdina’sinfluences and prowess, which features throughout the rest of the album. The song breaks down into a beautiful guitar duet of sorts with Grdina and Mangan taking the reigns until the bass and drums come in leading to what feels like an emotionally charged jam session right to the end. Mangan’s vocals are intentionally layered alongside the rest of the band, taking on an instrument-like tone within the song and not necessarily being the feature of the song itself. Nonetheless, Mangan’s unmistakable voice tends to breakthrough the mix in piercing fashion with melodies that soar perfectly on top of the underlying arrangement, and lends itself to poignant and weighty lyrics that ask questions of the heart–and almost seem to question his existential purpose altogether. 

 

“Vessel”– the first single off of ‘Club Meds’ is a catchy track, opening with a playful piano riff, which then paves the way for the band to explore rhythmically driven layers. These all compliment each other beautifully, coming together in an upbeat and sure to please hit. Mangan’s vocals again rise above everything that is going on within the mix, to bring it all together despite what seems like chaos within the instrumentation. As the piano continues the opening riff, the guitars join in through the verse as the bass and drums hold it all together. The chorus picks things up, and the guitar dives into a 16th note hook that grabs, pulls, and drives you forward into a crescendo of organized chaos featuring brass and multiple layers of call and answer vocals. 

Mouthpiece” – a double time, war-cry like anthem screaming for something more, continues to display a side of Mangan’s songwriting that is visceral in nature while again, questioning the existential reasoning for day to day life. All the while, the rhythm section charges through the song from nearly beginning to end with the steady and unstoppable pace of a steam engine. This allows Grdina’s Jazz-inspired riffs and bell-like tones to fill the space left by the haunting and gritty sound of Mangan’s voice, bellowing out the melody. Backed by a choir of his own layered vocals, the lyrics speak with the weight of such hard hitting lines as: “those who pretend to believe might actually begin to / the nature of the bliss the warmth of ignorance gives in to”. 

 In the song XVI” things slow down a bit, while Mangan explores ideas related to the occupy movement, through the eyes of a banker and inspired by Louis and Marie Antoinette. 

War Spoils features a reverb saturated melody and small brass section, backed by long open ended loops and Sigur róslike guitar feedback, seemingly speaking to the futility of it all. This leads directly into Forgetery, which at first listen sounds like a hopeful response to the topics touched on previously, only to reveal itself as a response of ignorant bliss and capitulation. 

 The title track “Club Meds” continues the emerging theme of ignorance is blissand defeatism, by painting a picture of us living in a cycle of denial and in a self-induced comatose state in order to maintain the status quo. The instrumentation and arrangement echoes this theme with an almost lazy sound and carnivalesque feel to it, all reminiscent of a better time long since past. 

The album finishes with New Skies”, a harrowing track despite the now familiar chaos, made up with the arrangement of trumpets and guitars screaming out at times with an unintelligible and nonsensical duality, yet all coming together in perfect harmony with a sense of hope for the future. Mangan pulls it all together through the pained, yet hope-filled lyrics we hear, “Gone is the gray / the end of the thunder / oh the end of the hunger / hands that knew only need burst at the seams / overflowing / a new royal we”.

Club Meds has again proven Mangan as one of Canada’s most brilliantly talented lyricists and song writers. He is willing to take risks and explore new sounds/ideas while staying true to himself and the themes he so beautifully writes about. Mangan’s own words sums up the entire concept of ‘Club Meds’ beautifully: 

Sedation is massive. It surrounds us like a thick wet blanket. To be numb is to allow others to control your reality. It makes some people feel better, to know that you suffer also, that their numbness is shared like a virus. But unity in numbness is a façade, and not nearly as magical as a unity born of awakeness

CLUB MEDS is about sedation. Sedation can be chemical, but not exclusively so. There is a great vacation from actuality going on. Maybe there always has been. It seems like everybody else is already at the party and that life is somehow easier or more fun under the fog. But instead, it only makes people feel more alone, more dangerous, more desperate  – Dan Mangan 

 Be sure to check out what will definitely prove to be one of the best albums of 2015, and don’t miss any opportunity to see Dan Mangan + Blacksmith live this year.

 CRT. 

Upcoming Shows

Hey Everyone !

A few upcoming shows in the GTA to get your spring weekend plans rolling:

-Shad: March 27th, 2015 @ Massey Hall in Toronto, ON

-The Trews: April 1st, 2015 @ The Ale house in Kingston, ON

-OK Go: April 7th, 2015 @ The Pheonix Concert Theatre in Toronto, ON

-Alex Cuba: April 10th @ The Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre Centre in Toronto, ON

-Damien Rice: April 11th @ Massey Hall in Toronto, ON

-The Tragically Hip: April 14th @ Rogers K-Rock Centre in Kingston, ON

-2Cellos: April 28th @ Massey Hall in Toronto, ON

-Sufjan Stevens: April 29th @ Massey Hall in Toronto, ON

-Osheaga Line-up: July 31st-August 2nd, 2015 @ Montreal’s Parc Jean-Drapeau

More Shows will be added Weekly !

Cheers,

–Kalyn

Ben Howard “I Forget Where We Were” (2014 Island Records)

Ben Howard fans, anticipating a follow-up to his debut full-length album “Every Kingdom” released in 2011, will find themselves completely fulfilled with his stellar 2014 release, “I Forget Where We Were”.  You can really hear his personal growth as a musician deepen and take stronger roots within these tracks. Both dripping with melancholy and yet painfully hopeful, 27 year-old Howard evokes many poignant feelings through his poetic lyricism and overall album-feel. Stand-out tracks: “Small Things“, the first thing listeners hear on the album, is a heartbreakingly strong and harrowing electric guitar-driven track that sets up the album smoothly & cleanly. With a stirring, enveloping and all-encompassing guitar delay, he captures and almost entrances the listener, then keeps thehqdefaultm locked in with his playful and creative rhythmic phrases within the lyrics. Howard is a storyteller, through and through. His lyrics skip and weave in-and-out of the music in a perfect, smooth-as-glass-partnership. “In Dreams“, a gripping acoustic-heavy song, makes for the ideal soundtrack to running away and never looking back. The title track, “I Forget Where We Were“, delivers on title track status with anthemic and ever-present melancholy in perfect fashion. It simultaneously leaves the listener with their hearts bleeding on the floor, yet air-drumming and belting out the lyrics along with him. The latter half of the album stirs the sleepy and heartbroken parts of the soul with “End of the Affair” and “Evergreen“, then ends the album with a beautifully strong and emotionally-charged “All is Now Harmed“. These tracks all make the listener feeling like they’ve been through a tough but character-building breakup, ready to take on the world with an underlying hopeful nudge from the universe. Overall, this album has embodied emotion with an edge, found in Howard’s atypical electric-guitar driven songs, coupled with in-love yet pained lyrics. An absolute privilege to listen to, Howard will be gaining more and more fans with album releases as strong as this.

–Kalyn

Canadian Artists You Should Know (If You Don’t Already!)

Shout out to the artists from our home and native land !

If you haven’t checked these musicians out yet, add them to your next playlist:

  • Dan Mangan
  • Patrick Watson
  • Leslie Feist
  • David Martel
  • Broken Social Scene
  • Bahamas
  • K-OS
  • Elizabeth Shepherd
  • Land of Talk
  • Sam Roberts Band
  • Monster Truck
  • Emily Haines (of Metric)
  • The Tea Party (Jeff Martin)
  • The Tragically Hip
  • Wintersleep
  • Zeus
  • The Arkells
  • Big Wreck (Ian Thornley)
  • Esthero
  • Pilate
  • Matthew Good
  • The Trews
  • Neverending White Lights
  • Sheepdogs
  • Jason Collett

Our Top 10 Albums

So we thought to give everyone a little glimpse into where our own musical tastes lie, we’d throw together each of our top 10 lists. It was an excruciating process to narrow it down to just 10 but here we go!

Click the album to listen to each of our favourite tracks off of that album.

In no particular order they are:

Kalyn’s Top 10 Albums

Chris’ Top 10 Albums

Welcome !

Welcome to The Broken Chord.

A place to rediscover music. A place to rediscover the music within your soul.

Sometimes, life gets in the way; of our love of music, our passions and our goals.

This is a place to help counteract all of those things through the discovery of a new soundtrack to our lives. We all have our favourite songs, albums and artists who speak to us when we need them most. But how do we find those new songs, albums and artists to get us through new phases in life, when we’re constantly  bombarded with an over saturation of prosaic music from today’s commercial industry.

Our aim is to sift through the mire that is the music industry today. To share our humble opinions on artists, songs and albums, new & old. To share how we feel music.

This is our journey to rediscover the music within our souls.