Thursday, July 31, 2008

Magnet-ic Yields, July 08

Three reviews from the current issue of Magnet, which I'm looking forward to reading on the beach this weekend.

Sam Amidon - All is Well (Bedroom Community)

Sam Amidon gets the star billing on this album, but he has little to do with it. It's certainly not a sign of creative bankruptcy to reinterpret an album's worth of antique folk songs, but to do so in such a detached, opiated and nonchalant manner makes you wonder what Amidon finds interesting about these songs in the first place. When he sings, “Got my money in my pocket and my pistol in my hand,” he sounds like he’s genuinely befuddled as to how either ended up on his person, and more than a bit puzzled about what he might possibly do next. His valerian vocals don't commit to the lyrics in the least, not even when trying to resurrect "O Death." “You’ll never go to heaven when you die, little girl,” he cautions, but it sounds entirely inconsequential. That's not to say that the appropriately titled All is Well doesn't have its copacetic charms: it does, all of which stem from producer Valgeir Sigurðsson and orchestrator Nico Muhly. Both are recent Björk confidantes and were behind the scenes of Bonnie Prince Billy’s The Letting Go. Sigurðsson and Muhly treat Amidon as a tabula rasa where they can project their brass and string fantasies onto these folk songs, with occasional electronics situating everything in the 21st century. “Little Johnny Brown” stands out here, primarily due to Muhly’s piano, which provides an ominous pulse underneath, worthy of a John Carpenter soundtrack; Eyvind Kang’s droning viola is equally creepy and Sigurðsson’s subtle electronic shadings provide further disorientation. Amidon sounds like he’s trying his best to maintain calm while surrounded by these ghostly figures; it would be a lot more interesting for everyone if he put up a bit of a fight.

Plants and Animals - Parc Avenue (Secret City)

"It takes a good friend to say you've got your head up your ass," sings guitarist/singer Warren Spicer. Looking at the freaky friends they've assembled for the album's cover shoot—not unlike Devendra Banhart's Cripple Crow—Spicer and his colleagues (drummer Matthew Woodley and multi-instrumentalist Nicolas Basque) were likely egged on to push the boundaries of their freaky folk rock wherever their wandering muse desires. That means grabbing any instrument they can wrap their fingers around, inviting rousing brass sections and swirling strings along for the ride, and navigating carefully between African grooves, Harvest backbeats and jam band territory. By the time the album is halfway done, it's not surprisingly at all when they stop a song cold with a piano coda featuring a seven-year-old boy singing in French, or a choral round accompanied by medieval flutes. For a trio who had never played outside of Montreal for the first six years of its existence, Plants and Animals sound like they're ready to stop noodling around and take on the world. It begins on a bombastic note, with a huge choir leaping out of the speakers a mere ten bars into the opening track; soon enough, Spicer starts straining and distorting his high notes much in the same way Win Butler does on Arcade Fire's "Wake Up." (Butler's bandmate Sarah Neufeld provides string arrangements here.) Yet though Parc Avenue is undeniably epic and was two years in the making, Plants and Animals take a refreshingly casual approach to the expansive scope of their sound, stuffing their songs with structural shifts rather than browbeating us with grandiose statements. Lyrically, however, Spicer could stand to make a statement or two—much of his lightweight, rambling narratives don't survive the spontaneity of the moment he scribbled them down. It's a tad shocking, considering the meticulous attention paid to detail elsewhere on the album; it's also the only real indicator that P&A are still emerging from their incubatory period, evolving slowly from the trippy, abstract instrumental band they originated as. As intriguing as it is, Parc Avenue is obviously only a small indication of what this band can do.

Vetiver - Thing of the Past (Gnomonsong)

Releasing a covers album only three albums deep into your discography can be a dicey notion. Yet Vetiver doesn’t have much to lose; they’re a band known more for its associations with others than their own material, having backed up Devendra Banhart, Vashti Bunyan and Gary Louris in recent years (or in the case of Louris’s latest solo tour, recent months). Here, they further confirm their rep as record collector geeks by opening the album with Canadian psych-folk obscurity Elyse Weinberg (ed. note: she's emerging from the woods for this year’s Pop Montreal!), and then proceeding to dip deep into the songbooks of her fellow 60s songwriters such as Garland Jeffreys, Norman Greenbaum and Townes Van Zandt, inviting folkie fogies like Bunyan and Michael Hurley to join them. It’s saying a lot that the most recognizable song here is “The Swimming Song” (written by Loudon Wainwright III for Kate and Anna McGarrigle), and it’s this curatorial taste of the obscure that makes Thing of the Past more than just a romp through campfire favourites you’ve heard a thousand times before. It’s all pleasant enough, especially when producer Thom Monahan bathes everything in analogue tape so that even your MP3 player manages to sounds as warm and fuzzy as those old vinyl records. As tasteful as it all is, one still wonders what it is that Vetiver themselves are bringing to this material other than reverence. Not that it matters when they close things out with Bobby Charles’ “I Must Be In a Good Place Now,” a song that—unlike some of this album’s more inconsequential material—deserves the kind of loving resurrection it receives here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

July 08 reviews

More housecleaning. These are July reviews from the K-W Record in alphabetical order; more to come tomorrow.

The Abrams Brothers – Blue On Brown (

Not many teenagers know the songbooks of Bob Dylan and Arlo Guthrie with any degree of intimacy; fewer still are capable of playing and singing them in high lonesome harmonies and with serious skills as bluegrass instrumentalists. And yet the Abrams Brothers appear to have emerged from the woods near Kingston, Ontario as freeze-dried artifacts from an earlier time; I’m guessing that they probably don't spend their spare time playing Grand Theft Auto on the tour bus. Instead, there will always be new licks to learn, old songs to soak up—and probably a bit of homework to tend to as well, seeing how the oldest of the two brothers (and one cousin) is 18.

For their debut album, the Brothers formed a fortuitous relationship with keyboardist/producer Chris Brown—whose extensive rolodex helps him call in favours from both sides of the border: Canadian icons like Bruce Cockburn, Sarah Harmer, Colin Linden and Amy Millan (Stars), as well as all-star American session musicians like Tony Scherr (Bill Frisell, Norah Jones) and Mickey Raphael (Willie Nelson).

As tasteful a tribute as Blue on Brown is, however, one has to wonder why—on their debut album—they tackle the songs of one of the most-covered songwriters of the latter 20th century; hearing “Mr. Tambourine Man” or “The Times They Are A-Changin'” for the umpteenth time doesn't do much to establish the identity of such a young act. Thankfully, the material by Guthrie—both Woody and Arlo—helps break it up, as does a version of Steve Goodman's “City of New Orleans.” But they'd be much better off steering clear of obvious iconography and casting their net much wider for source material. (K-W Record, July 24)

Note: They announced during their rousing Hillside Festival set that they are, in fact, working on a new album of original material.

Broken Social Scene Presents: Brendan Canning – Something For All of Us (Arts and Crafts/EMI)

There are about a dozen acts that comprise Broken Social Scene (Feist, Stars, Jason Collett, etc.), but only two members at the core. Kevin Drew released his underrated solo album last fall, full of fragments and anthems that encapsulated the dichotomy that has always been the band's strength. By not putting it out directly under the name Broken Social Scene, he successfully sidestepped expectations for the band to make another epic like the 2003 classic You Forgot It In People, leaving him to be as wonderfully weird as he wants to be.

Thank god for lowered expectations, because his cohort Brendan Canning’s similarly billed album offers even less immediate thrills than Drew’s creatively confounding solo effort—and arguably contains no thrills at all.

Something For All of Us ironically contains very little for anyone: the attempts at rousing rockers are mostly muted, while the quieter pieces don’t relish in the abstractions that defined the early, nebulous and ambient stage of the band’s existence. Canning is the least charismatic vocalist in the Scene, and the songs meant to showcase female compatriots Liz Powell and Lisa Lobsinger don’t give them much to play with.

Other than first single “Hit the Wall,” the only time Canning hits a clear target here is on “Love Is Now,” which owes a large debt to the Talking Heads’ mid-period, when they were at their funkiest. The track is entirely incongruous in the context of this album, which otherwise opts for different shades of grey in lieu of painting with stark colours. Canning’s talent is better served mediating the mountains and valleys of a creative mind like Drew. Now that the solo records are out of the way, it’s time to see what they can accomplish together. (K-W Record, July 24)

Note: Kevin Drew teased me mercilessly about this review all weekend at the Hillside Festival, pointing out that—among other things—it’s divisive and a cheap shot to compare the two solo albums. Which it is. But I’d argue that most people who aren’t critics for a living are going to do exactly that, much in the same way they will evaluate the Wolf Parade album (see below). Does that excuse lazy writing? No. But personal relations and a mutual extended circle of friends aside, the fact is that--sadly--this album left me cold.

The Dutchess & the Duke – s/t (Hardly Art/Outside)

Twenty-five years after punk rockers discovered the virtues of roots music, the genre of alt-country is more than played out at this stage of its history. Any sense of subversion has long since been neutered into clichéd arrangements that are indistinguishable from your average rock band. Which is why The Dutchess & the Duke sound so refreshingly raw. Male vocalist Jesse Lortz has a satisfying snarl that lies somewhere between Iggy Pop and Lee Hazlewood, while his female foil Kimberly Morrison counterbalances with haunting harmonies worthy of any psychedelic 60s chanteuse. Flutes, fuzzy electric leads, maracas and tambourines dance around big bare-bones acoustic guitar chords that all sound like they were recorded in one take in a living room. Aesthetics aren't everything, of course; the songwriting is simple, straightforward and made for profane campfire singalongs. With ten songs in half an hour, this is a lean operation that spares nary a note nor a minute. All skills, no frills. (K-W Record, July 31)

Alejandro Escovedo – Real Animal (Blue Note/EMI)

Bouncing back from a near-fatal bout with Hepatitis C, this is the sound of Escovedo's life flashing before his eyes. The renowned Texan songwriter dips deep into the varied stages of his discography for inspiration, starting with his punk years in New York and San Francisco through to his rootsier melancholy material. These two worlds sit comfortably side to side on these largely autobiographical songs, united by some of Escovedo's most soulful vocal performances to date, as well as sympathetic production by Tony Visconti—the man responsible for some of David Bowie and Lou Reed's greatest 70s albums, sonic traces of which can be heard here. Escovedo seamlessly incorporates the string section he's been working with for the past decade into the raw punk songs, which—despite the cheezy cover image—don't feel in the least like an old man trying to fit into old clothes. The size and scope of Escovedo's discography has always seemed daunting for newcomers hungry to learn more about this rock'n'roll legend; Real Animal is the ideal place to start. (K-W Record, July 31)

Fleet Foxes – s/t (Sub Pop/Outside)

When an album opens with four men singing harmony at the top of their register, a debt to the Beach Boys is obvious—and it’s not one that Fleet Foxes singer/songwriter Robin Peckingold shies away from in the liner notes of the band’s debut album. And because they hail from Seattle, it’s also easy to imagine this as a perfect soundtrack to drive through the Pacific Northwest down to California: it’s lush, spacious music drawing from 60s psychedelic pop and more modern takes on acoustic folk music, including a notable resemblance to early My Morning Jacket albums, before that band dropped their quiet intimacies for the temptations of stadium rock.

Despite these easy references, Fleet Foxes have mysteries of their own that are a delight to discover. The vocals all sound like they were recorded in an empty church, haunted by ghostly reverb; the finger-picked guitars and often orchestral percussion provide further warmth to the sound. But what really sets Fleet Foxes apart is that they’re not just about aesthetics: every song here is the work of a seasoned band who don’t feel trapped in verse/chorus structures, yet they always deliver masterful melodicism that puts them in the same league as their heroes. (K-W Record, July 10)

Feuermusik – No Contest (Standard Form/Outside)

Most jazz albums are about capturing a live performance—after all, what kind of a jazz player are you if you aren't in the moment? In the case of Toronto duo Feuermusik, the recording studio is a composition tool where elaborate harmonies are constructed to accomplish what one lone saxophone and Gus Weinkauf's set of percussive paint buckets cannot. Wind player Jeremy Strachan constructs layers of sax, flute and guitars into increasingly elaborate arrangements, compared to the more straightforward melodic compositions heard on Feuermusik's acclaimed 2006 album Goodbye, Lucille, a debut which vaulted this obscure group outside of both jazz circles and the Toronto experimental rock underground where they were born. No Contest is a more abstract work, focusing more on long tones and less frantic melody lines—though still with ample room for improvisation. How they present this material as a duo on stage will be the greatest challenge. (K-W Record, July 17)

Seun Kuti + Fela's Egypt 80 – s/t (Mr. Bongo/Fusion III)

When Fela Kuti passed away in 1997, two sons were poised to carry on his legacy. The eldest, Femi, formed his own band and updated Fela's pioneering Afrobeat sound by working with European and North American collaborators including The Roots. Femi didn't stray too far from his father's formula of politically charged and jazz-infused Afrobeat. Ironically, it's Fela's youngest son, Seun, who has debuted with a more traditional sounding album that is firmly rooted in vintage sounds, due in large part by powerful performances by the veteran players from his father's second band, Egypt 80.

Seun—who started playing with Egpyt 80 when he was 9, and is now a mere 25—is brimming with political piss and vinegar, decrying "all the shitty shit" that plagues Africa: corruption, murder, environmental exploitation and disease. Surrounded by injustice, there's little time for poetry; at times he resorts to simply shouting "bad, bad, bad, bad, bad." No matter, because his political fire feeds into the urgency of the music, especially on the malaria-themed “Mosquito Song,” where the piercing sounds of squealing trumpets soar over the most relentless rhythm on the album.

While Seun is a compelling performer and capable singer, it's Egpyt 80 that is the real star here, with their bold brass section and interlocking polyrhythmic guitar and drum patterns that never wear thin over eight-minute grooves. Time has not diluted their power in the least; these veterans still have plenty of lessons to teach, as does the relative youngster who now leads them. (K-W Record, July 31)

My Brightest Diamond – A Thousand Shark's Teeth (Asthmatic Kitty/Sonic Unyon)

Operatic ladies who mix their classical influences with rock instrumentation don't usually walk away from the clash with their dignity intact. Shara Worden is not one of those ladies. That she has the operatic chops is unquestionable; she has a degree in classical vocal performance, and it's the crystal purity of her voice that sells almost every moment on this, her second album as My Brightest Diamond. Compared to her 2006 debut, she's left much of her earlier bombast behind and brought out the bassoons, bowed percussion, harps, marimbas and carefully arranged string sections. In doing so, she shares some minor similarities with her sometimes-employer Sufjan Stevens, but Worden strays far from the straightforward and the folkie at every given opportunity. She might be channeling vintage Kate Bush at her most wonderfully whacked, or crooning atop chilled out jazzy beats, or sounding like a windswept chanteuse locked in a Scandanavian lighthouse with violins and some percussion. The songwriting takes a bit of a backseat to the overall aesthetic, but with such a compelling personality and voice as Worden's, there's little to gripe about. This diamond may well be your new best friend. (K-W Record, July 3)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

June reviews 08

So much housecleaning to be done, and apologies for the delay. Much of July for me has been a build-up to the Hillside Festival last weekend--about which I'll have plenty to say very shortly--and only now does my schedule seem like it's returning to a semblance of normality.

In the meantime, I've been meaning to post these June reviews for... oh, about a month now--aka five years in the blogosphere. For whatever reason, June was fogey month... in a good way.

Don Brownrigg – Wander Songs (Weewerk/Outside)

More than any other provincial Canadian population, Newfoundlanders can be found in every corner of the country; they know what it means to leave home, they know what it means to have your life packed in a suitcase, and they know the pull that the motherland has on their cultural consciousness.

This Newfoundland songwriter opens his astounding debut album by advising the listener: “Don’t be afraid of the world if you ain’t out there in it.” Halfway through, he covers a song written by two of his uncles, who impart similar worldly wisdom: "Remember, fights and people's wives are to be left alone/ and if all else should fail you/ please remember home." Throughout Wander Songs, Brownrigg sings about leaving home for a transient life of “bags and boxes.” He does so in an old soul’s voice that’s perfectly suited for what he calls “these A.M. times.”

Befitting a child of such a strong oral culture, Brownrigg writes melodies that barely need any ornamentation at all—and yet the expert production work of mandolin player Donald McKay allows space for subtle shadings of banjo, lap steel, spoken word interludes, guest guitar from Jim Bryson and backing vocals by Jenn Grant. Between McKay’s sonic touches and Brownrigg’s haunting voice, there’s an enchanting sense of mystery heard on every one of these 11 songs, which fall somewhere between the sparse atmospheric beauty of Daniel Lanois and the masterful storytelling of Newfoundland songwriting legend Ron Hynes.

Wander Songs was released quietly in Brownrigg’s adopted hometown of Halifax late last year; it’s now being brought to wider attention by Weewerk, the label converted the world to the Great Lake Swimmers—whose fans will find plenty to love here. (K-W Record, June 26)

Solomon Burke – Like a Fire (Shout Factory/Warner)

On his last album, the soul survivor Solomon Burke headed to Nashville, where his towering voice was welcomed by a group of players more rustic than R&B. The experience wasn’t a one-off, it seems, as Burke is still carrying a bit of a twangover— a strong country influence can be heard loud and clear on Like A Fire, along with the blues, gospel and soul that have been his trademarks for the last 40 years. Producer/drummer Steve Jordan hooks him up with Eric Clapton, Keb’ Mo’, Jesse Harris and other guests who provide material worthy of Burke’s booming vocals, though none of them are as excellent a match as Ben Harper’s song "A Minute To Rest And A Second To Pray"; Harper’s own backing vocals and dobro playing are the one time any of the studio musicians here dare to compete with Burke’s presence. Even when Burke decamps to the hotel bar to croon "If I Gave My Heart to You," he maintains the dignity and class that he exudes in every other setting. Like a Fire is another worthy chapter in his productive comeback. (K-W Record, June 26)

Elvis Costello and the Imposters – Momofuku (Lost Highway/Universal)

So far 2008 has been a good year for the fogies, not just Al Green. Witness R.E.M.’s miraculous resurrection to relevance, the bold comebacks from Erykah Badu and Portishead, and decent albums by James, Joe Jackson, Sheryl Crow—hell, these days even Def Leppard sound better than they have in decades.

When word got out that the ultra prolific Elvis Costello was recording a stripped-down album in six days, there were hopes that a sense of immediacy might override his tendency to overwrite and overcook, which usually leaves listeners feeling more exhausted than entertained or enriched. Sadly, that’s exactly what happens here yet again.

For a guy who normally spends too much time on his band arrangements, here he doesn’t spend enough. If he was writing three-chord rock’n’roll songs, this approach would be fine, but simplicity doesn’t come easy to Elvis. These are songs that need more than a couple of takes for even the finest studio musicians to wrap their heads around. Many of them would be better served by stripping down them even more, like the Loretta Lynn co-write "Pardon Me Adam, My Name is Eve."

Elements of Costello’s finest work are in place—namely the keyboards of Steve Nieve and Costello’s own vocals, which retain their gritty edge when he’s fronting a rock band. He’s also bolstered by female vocal harmonies courtesy of Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis. The occasional song stands a slim chance of holding its own against his best work ("Drum & Bone," "Turpentine"). But for an artist of Costello’s calibre, this just doesn’t cut the mustard. (K-W Record, June 5)

Al Green – Lay It Down (Blue Note/EMI)

Five years ago, soul fans were ecstatic to learn that the Rev. Al Green had reunited with Willie Mitchell, the producer and architect of Green’s early 70s work. And yet the two albums that resulted from that reunion (2003’s I Can’t Stop and 2005’s Everything’s OK) were little more than aesthetic pleasures: Mitchell didn’t have the material—or the willpower, it seems—to push Green to the kind of powerhouse performances he’s capable of.

Enter the new school: drummer/producer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of the Roots and keyboardist/producer James Poyser were put in charge of Green’s latest project, and it turns out that the young musicians who were probably conceived to Green’s music know him better than his old bandmates do.

Lay It Down stands as a high point in Green’s entire discography, full of the lush strings, smooth guitar licks and deep grooves that cushion his buttery bedroom vocals, which haven’t aged an iota. It opens with the slow and stately title track, but soon kicks into high gear with "You’ve Got the Love I Need," where Philly soul singer Anthony Hamilton and the Dap Kings Horns (Sharon Jones, Amy Winehouse) provide the punch that helps propel Green to one of his greatest vocal performances since "Let’s Stay Together."

Despite Thompson’s hip-hop background and Poyser’s career building the neo-soul movement through his work with Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and Common, they don’t attempt to modernize Green or pair him up with incongruous duet partners (although the Corinne Bailey Rae track is suitably sleepy). They do, however, provide him with more of a backbeat than even most of his vintage work had, as the big funk drums on "I’m Wild About You" illustrate. They’re also responsible for the strength of the material: they and the rest of the backing band co-write every song here with Green. (K-W Record, June 5)

Emmylou Harris – All I Intended To Be (Nonesuch/Warner)

The album title suggests autobiography, as if this was a work of a veteran artist reflecting on her life. Quite the contrary—throughout her storied career, Emmylou Harris has been a conduit for other people’s stories, acting best as an interpreter of other songwriters and as a harmony vocalist and duet partner. Until recent years, her own songwriting has taken a back seat; this album, however, is the first where her own compositions stand tall beside the work of masters such as Tracy Chapman, Billie Joe Shaver, Merle Haggard, and the McGarrigle sisters (she co-writes several songs with the latter).

All I Intended To Be is a classic storyteller’s album, filled with rich character narratives of love, loss, resilience and disappointment. As always, Harris’s warm vocals bring her characters to vivid life, but such is the songwriting standard here that she barely has to—even an atonal mumbler could communicate the crushing heartbreak heard in her song "Gold." In Harris’s hands, however—along with Dolly Parton and Vince Gill on backing vocals—the effect is devastating.

Musically, Harris strikes a balance between the Daniel Lanois-influenced work of her past decade and her more traditional country roots, making the aptly titled All I Intended To Be a summation of everything she’s accomplished in the past 40 years. (K-W Record, June 19)

The Notwist – The Devil, You And Me (Domino/Outside)

This German pop group made a minor North American splash in 2002 with an understated gem called Neon Golden, wherein they merged the icy world of digital bleeps and blurps with bluesy electric guitars and melancholy pop. Part of its artistic success was the fact that The Notwist never sounded like they were trying to prove anything—unlike more ambitious albums by the likes of Radiohead and others. If anything, The Notwist were too subtle for their own good, starting with the narcoleptic vocals of singer Markus Acher.

Acher still sings like he’s sleepwalking, but that’s part of his charm—especially when delivering defeatist witticisms like, “Remember, the good lies win.” Here, over harsh guitars that sound like sirens and an avalanche of tumbling drums, Acher promises, “I won’t sing you algebra.” And yet The Devil, You And Me finds The Notwist becoming considerably more complex.

They improve considerably on Neon Golden’s template, upping the abstract beats that populated their side project 13 And God, relying less on the once-novel juxtaposition of acoustic guitars and electronic percussion, and becoming simultaneously more traditional and more experimental—maintaining the kind of admirable consistency at the core that few other acts can accomplish.

Songs like the title track and "Gone Gone Gone" are one step away from straightforward Coldplay balladry, though elsewhere they toy with textures and rhythms that draw from dreampop spawned in bedroom electronics; "On Planet Off" harkens back to the dubbed-out dropped beats of late 90s trip-hop, without sounding dated in the least.

The Notwist will never be a band that makes a huge first impression; their pleasures are best discovered slowly, if not secretly—and six years after Neon Golden, it sounds like they wouldn’t want it any other way. (K-W Record, June 26)

James Pants – Welcome (Stones Throw/Koch)

When a man called Mr. Pants welcomes you to his party, you have every right to be suspicious. But this debut album delivers a non-stop thrill ride of electro funk that touches on hip-hop, garage rock, disco and all stops in between, with live drums and subsonic bass synthesizers giving it a low-down, raw and dirty feel that guarantees a full dance floor.

Mr. Pants keeps the vocals to a minimum, but he doesn’t need vocal hooks to keep your interest. He pulls off some impressive jazz keyboard noodling and funky drumming throughout, boasting some serious chops, the kind not normally found from basement dabblers—from Spokane, Washington, no less.

If Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters backed up Kraftwerk, it might sound something like this, although this isn’t entirely a retro ride; Pants has also clearly studied the slice-and-dice approach to electronics spawned in the last decade. And for someone who’s obviously a huge music geek and record collector, none of this sounds studied or self-conscious, no matter how much stylistic ground he covers. There’s a party in these Pants; consider yourself invited. (K-W Record, June 5)

The Wet Secrets – Rock Fantasy (Rodeo Peanut/ Six Shooter)

Plenty of artists have proved that you do not need electric guitars to be a great rock band; few do it as well as The Wet Secrets. Singer Lyle Bell boasts a meaty bass guitar, fuzzed out to the maximum, and he's bolstered by tubas and trombones to boost the bottom end. This is the third ongoing project for this prolific Edmontonian: he also fronts the dense rock duo Whitey Houston, and is part of the Shout Out Out Out Out electro-dance army. The Wet Secrets take lessons that he learned in both bands and amps them up into a fist-pumping fury of ecstatic profanity packed into pop songs with kiss-off titles like "Get Your Own Apartment" and "Grown Your F---ing Moustache, A---hole." With their marching band uniforms and background in burlesque troupes, it's not surprising that the lyrics are little more than juvenile jokes—but that doesn't distract from the powerful arrangements, the huge hooks or the way that engineer Diego Medina brings it all to vivid life. This was released locally in Alberta a while back; the national re-release features remixes from Cadence Weapon and Nik Kozub from the Shout Outs. The Wet Secrets don’t just dream about a Rock Fantasy; they’re ready to start living it. (K-W Record, June 12)
Note: They were also the best thing I saw at this year's NXNE festival, where Bell's vocals proved to be even stronger than on the album and superceded the schtick of the outfits.