Album Review: Ex-Directory EP By Spector

I’ve loved Spector for years. They’re a band that knows how to capture the discomfort and confusion and agony of being a young adult, and they do so without sugar-coating or idealizing any of it. Every single one of their tracks expresses emotion in a poignant and intelligent way, all of them with sharp lyrics like Heard he was your rock, does that make me your hard place? and If you weren’t on my mind, I’d have no mind to be on. Bands like Spector are good company to keep when you’re moving through awkward periods of change and growth, and maybe that’s why I’ve held onto their music for so long.

With the release of their newest effort, an EP titled Ex-Directory, Spector is following through with the themes they know and love. Clocking in at just over ten minutes of music, each track is short and to the point. The songs feel like paintings or short films or tableaux, four tiny glimpses into a big, chaotic life. Despite how quickly it’s over, the EP feels full. A quartet of tracks is more than enough for the band to get their point across.   

Ex-Directory’s first track, ‘Untitled in D,’ was released last December. Despite its late release, it became one of my favourite songs of the year. The song takes Spector past teenage angst and onto the verge of real adulthood, discussing the disappointments and setbacks and confusion of growing into a new form of existence.

Following ‘Untitled in D’ is ‘Fine Not Fine,’ which wins the prize of my favourite song from the release. The track is an anthem for those of us growing up and finding our footing in the age of the Internet, drawing inspiration from emotions and thoughts expressed on social media. From the outset, it’s clear that the song is as truthful and intelligent as every other Spector release. Opening with the line And I’ve never been myself, I just follow orders, it’s instantly relevant and relatable. Each verse expresses another conflict, and the chorus is built on a simple but impactful repetition of I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m not fine. 

The EP then moves into ‘Local International,’ a track that seems too smooth to be the vehicle for lyrics about navigating relationships in a world that feels like it’s falling apart. Like every other Spector song, it’s catchy, but it’s also pertinent and hard-hitting. The band has somehow managed to wrap human connection up in words about globalization and capitalism, a combination that seems to project the realities of a life that we’re all trying to adjust to.

‘Wild Guess’ rounds out the collection, leaving listeners on a melancholic but hopeful note. It’s the slowest track on the EP, and the one that feels the most like love. The lyrics are dripping with longing and hesitation, the kind that comes with meeting someone you’d probably like to have around for a while. It’s layered and intricate, and the repeated insistence of Don’t ask me who I’m trying to impress, just take a wild guess is enough to make me swoon.

I like when bands release new music that shows off how much they’re progressing, but also how much integrity and soul they’re retaining, and that’s what Spector has done with Ex-Directory. The tracks are impressive, the lyrics are honest, and the whole thing feels like a refuge for anyone struggling to navigate a world and a life and a body that seems to change with every passing second. The EP is proof that Spector is alive and well, and that maybe we’re all alive and well, too. Finding the life that lives inside your chest is hard, but it’s worth it, and I hope that one day soon we’ll all be standing on rooftops, filling our lungs with air and proclaiming how much we love what and who and where we are.


Track Review: ‘Mistake’ by Middle Kids

I am a creature of habit. I love music with every fibre of my being, but I don’t always (read: rarely) deviate from the genres and bands and songs that I know I like. I listen to The Vaccines and Patti Smith and The National as if they’re my lifeblood, and although I would happily do so for the rest of my life, I figured I should start making the effort to get to know something that’s a bit out of my wheelhouse. This promise happily coincided with the release of Middle Kids’ newest single, ‘Mistake,’ and I happened to see an article about it just as I was searching for new listening material. Needless to say, it took one listen for me to be hooked, and I’m not planning on playing anything else anytime soon.

Middle Kids are a three-piece band based out of Sydney, Australia. Last year they dropped an EP overflowing with great tracks, and their debut album is set to be released in May. If ‘Mistake’ is any indication, I’m sure it’ll be full of songs that tug at your heartstrings and make you want to scream life’s praises all at once. I am really looking forward to it.

‘Mistake’ is the kind of track you can’t really ignore. It’s strong, rhythmic indie-pop, glorious and demanding. Lead singer Hannah Joy sings with drama and emotion that can’t be duplicated, evoking a sense of urgency and need in the listener. The lyrics are truthful and bittersweet, speaking of faults and errors that can’t be erased once they’ve been made. The chorus is a spectacular expression of feeling, and if I ever saw the band live, I’m sure I’d be standing in the middle of the crowd with my hands in the air and my head thrown back, singing along with all my might.

This is a song that my heart feels drawn to without any explanation, one that I want to share just because it is undeniably good. Teenage me likely would have scrawled the lyrics – “It was charming/the way we danced around the truth,” or “You’re standing out in the rain tonight/Like you’ve got something to say to God” – into notebook margins or inked them into my forearm in an act of identity creation. It’s addictive and magnetic and human, and I can’t wait to see what else Middle Kids have to offer.

Middle Kids’ debut LP, ‘Lost Friends,’ is set to be released on May 4th.

Track Review: ‘I Can’t Quit’ by The Vaccines

It is not news to anyone that The Vaccines are my favourite band. They have been for nearly six years, and this is not a fact that’s going to change anytime soon. I wear their merchandise as if it’s surgically attached to my person, their records exist permanently on my turntable, and when I was eighteen I got the name of one of their songs tattooed on my bicep. They are the longest and happiest relationship I have ever had. I’m stuck with them for life.

Because I am so heavily invested in this band, Wednesday afternoon found me sitting cross-legged on my bed, wearing my oldest band t-shirt, and anxiously listening to BBC Radio1 for the premiere of their newest track. I have done this multiple times, from the debut of ‘Melody Calling’ to the first play of ‘Handsome,’ and at this point it’s pretty much a sacred ritual. I feel weird if I don’t get to perform it at least once every few years. I was in my element.

I expected ‘I Can’t Quit’ to be good. I love everything The Vaccines have ever done, and at this point I automatically send praise and adoration their way whenever they release something new. What I didn’t expect was to hear it and have my entire world shift into a space that is largely better than the one I was in before. There is something indescribable about the return of your favourite band, but this was that feeling multiplied by a thousand.

The track marks The Vaccines getting back to what got them started – catchy pop tracks less than three minutes long with lyrics that you can’t help but belt out at the top of your lungs – but it’s also a step forward into territory that somehow feels brand new. The song is inherently different to anything they’ve done before, as if the band is moving forward and surrendering to the music the universe is telling them to make while also fulfilling their own desires to evolve as artists. I knew The Vaccines could write a perfect song, but this is even beyond that.

The Vaccines have always offered me a reflection of myself. What Did You Expect from The Vaccines? feels like the perfect representation of the emotions I find myself flitting between. It fluctuates as I fluctuate, lives and breathes and lets itself be whatever it is at that moment.  Come of Age gave me an album full of angst-ridden tracks that got me through the most angst-ridden parts of my adolescence. When I’m fed up or in a bad mood or confused out of my mind by where my life is heading, it’s the first record I think to put on. English Graffiti is experimental while still sounding distinctly like The Vaccines, and it’s a nice reminder that doing something new is not necessarily a bad thing. Although ‘I Can’t Quit’ is only the first track we’re hearing from Combat Sports, it’s already continuing the trend of mirroring my being back to me. I entered the year with the fiery spirit of determination bubbling up under my skin, and the new track is a three-minute repetition of a mantra. I really can’t quit, and apparently neither can The Vaccines.

I realize that I am overwhelmingly biased. Nothing I say has any basis in reality, because all my thoughts are coming straight from my heart and bypassing my mind on their way out. But sometimes a feeling is all you need to go off, and ‘I Can’t Quit’ makes me feel unstoppable and free and in alignment with everything around me. I have been listening to it on repeat for forty-eight straight hours, and I will likely choose to continue this habit for the rest of the foreseeable future. What I know for sure is that this is a spectacular track, and my excitement for the release of the full record only increases as time goes on. The Vaccines have gotten somewhere really good, and I want to be there too.

Gig Review: Wolf Alice at The Danforth Music Hall

I always get antsy before a concert. Always. I have lined up for hours at the end of November to get a good spot at Julian Casablancas. I have waited outside a venue for an entire day even though I had assigned seating. I have attended concerts just for the opening act, sitting through a headliner that I don’t necessarily love just because my favourite band was playing the previous slot. No situation ever makes it easier, and I am always overflowing with excitement by the time I get into a venue. The reality of finally being in the same space as an act, of them walking on stage after an excruciating wait, is something special. It shifts the whole world for an hour or so, twisting the truth so that all that exists is you and the act in front of you. The importance of the event and the days leading up to it and the anticipation that bubbles over while you wait all adds up to a very specific kind of suspense, and I simultaneously love and loathe the feeling.

Counting down the days until you get to see a band live is one of my favourite rituals, and as the date gets closer, things usually get easier. Wolf Alice, somehow, was the opposite. I spent the week before their Danforth Music Hall show listening to My Love Is Cool and Visions of a Life obsessively. I read all the lyrics and watched all the interviews and had an awful lot of one-woman bedroom dance parties. The day of the show went by painfully slowly and mostly involved lying on my bed watching their tour documentary and mulling over whether or not it was idiotic to wear a slip dress on the first of December just because Ellie always wears them. I made copious amounts of tea and sang at the top of my lungs as the caffeine raced through me. I sat in Pizza Pizza and jiggled my leg while I watched Charlotte eat. And then finally, finally, we walked into the venue and my heart knew it could slow its beating, and I returned to my brand of normal. The opening act walked on stage and it all kicked off and I found some sense of calm, until Wolf Alice graced us all with their presence and my universe was turned upside down once again.

Wolf Alice is the kind of band that you don’t really grow tired of. I listened to their debut album, My Love is Cool, on repeat the fall I started university, and it will always remind me of that time of transition, dipping my toes into strange waters and seeing what could come of it. Their second effort, Visions of a Life, hit me slowly, but once I understood the magic of it I could barely pry myself away. They’re a group that makes sense to my heart – their untethered glory, their poignant way of expressing the entire spectrum of human emotion. I often feel like I run parallel to them, or maybe their past stories are my present ones, and it’s something special to be able to relate to a band in such a way.

The first thing I need to mention is that they stepped on stage while Patti Smith was blaring over the venue’s speakers. When I saw Patti in New York City in September, Wolf Alice was the last band we listened to before parking the car and making our way through the metropolis, and this was nearly the reverse of that. It seemed kismet, and from that very moment I knew how special the following hours would be.

They began with ‘Heavenward,’ a song that is heartbreaking in its lyrics and yet somehow hopeful in the melody. It was the perfect start, and looking around me to see the entire venue mouthing along to the bridge in a shallow chant of I see you dancing on, you dancing on, was a powerful first moment. The second track, ‘Yuk Foo,’ stood in harsh juxtaposition to the opener, but the transition from a glowing ballad to an all-out, anger-filled punk song seemed to sum up the feelings of the band – and of the audience – in under ten minutes.

The four of them mixed tracks from their first and second releases, fitting them together in a puzzle that felt like one of the best setlists I’ve ever experienced. Nearly a third of the way into the set, they played ‘Don’t Delete The Kisses’ and ‘Bros’ back to back, and I felt my heart drop to my feet in an instant. The former is perhaps my favourite track of the year, and hearing it live and attempting to keep up with Ellie’s effortless muttering of the lyrics is a moment I’ve made every effort to burn into the skin on the back of my eyelids. I often spend concerts picking out the minutes or seconds that feel like they’re only for me, and that song is what did it this time.

They went on to play ‘Silk’ and ‘Lisbon,’ their movements practiced and nearly second nature. A few songs later they barrelled into ‘Beautifully Unconventional,’ a song with a chorus that holds my name and yet another moment that allowed me to block out the rest of the world and hold space for myself. My mouth opened against the lyrics (Hannah! She lives! She breathes! She’s beautifully unconventional!) and a smile came out with the words and my heart swelled to ten times its usual size. Sometimes I forget that music makes my heart stop and start, and this felt like both.

Afterward they went into ‘Sadboy,’ an honest, lilting track and one of my favourites from the second record. The first few verses make you want to rock your hips back and forth in a steady rhythm, and the bridge comes in like a call to arms, expressing emotions every one of us has felt. It’s nice to feel the energy of a crowd shift and a thousand people join together to sing I was waiting, waiting for anything to happen, waiting for love?, I was just waiting for this not to hurt.

The final trio of tracks rounded out the show in the most satisfying way, and yet I still sent a silent prayer to the heavens that Wolf Alice could stay onstage and I could stay in that venue until the end of time. ‘Space & Time’ is frustrated and anxious and I connected with it the very first time I heard it. There is unparalleled honesty in the lyrics – I hope my body gets better, do I mean my body or my mind? I hate the word “forever,” I hate the word “change,” I just need time – and the whole thing felt like a much-needed release. That rolled into ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ and ‘Fluffy,’ the band ending on the highest note they possibly could before heading offstage. They returned minutes later with ‘Blush’ and ‘Giant Peach,’ an encore that had me reeling. I really could not have asked for a better gig.

Wolf Alice is the kind of band that breaks down walls. Yes, they’re performing for the crowd, and yes, they’re the artists, and yes, this role is something they’ve had to work for. But they feel like they’re part of the same entity as the people watching them. They turn an entire venue into one living, breathing being. Lots of shows make you feel like you’re just watching something, but it’s even better to feel like part of it, and Wolf Alice does the latter effortlessly. Bodies pushed against mine and Theo danced for the crowd and Ellie yelled with everything she had in her. I screamed until I couldn’t force anything else out of my mouth and I watched Joff shred through guitar solos and Joel sit at his drum kit and do what he’s good at. I felt like my lungs expanded at the same time as the bands’, like my heart beat through the same rhythm and my blood pumped through my veins on the same magnetic frequency. I could live my whole life feeling like that, and I’d say yes to seeing them again in a second.

Gig Review: Little Boxer at The Rivoli

I haven’t been to a concert in what feels like forever. I went to Field Trip at the beginning of June, but even that was nearly two months ago and the festival high is long gone. The constant cycle of recording and releasing and touring mean that a lot of my favourite bands end up playing shows at the same time, but that also means that there are long, long dry spells that seem to stretch on forever. Needless to say, I think I breathed an audible sigh of relief a few weeks ago when I stepped into the light-strung backroom of the Rivoli to see Little Boxer perform.

I adore this band. I have to admit that I’m not really a night owl and I don’t often make it out to a lot of local shows, but when the stars finally aligned and Little Boxer invited me to their set, I jumped at the chance to see them live again. They don’t feel or sound or look like a band that plays in tiny clubs – they’re a group that should be playing fairly hefty venues, a band that wouldn’t look out of place at The Opera House or The Phoenix. The four-piece walks onstage and fills the extra space with a brass section and a keyboard player and some kind of magic thrums in the air before they even begin to play. When the first song starts, things get electric, and there’s no turning back.

Little Boxer create a rare feeling that allows for both intense intimacy and sweeping expansiveness. There’s a sense of grandeur to their set, a practiced way they have of interacting with the crowd, a sense of camaraderie between them all that makes the audience feel like they’re being let in on their lives. That extends to the way the tracks come across, too, and every song feels like an inside joke or a vulnerable conversation at midnight or a secret that you only share with the people who are closest to you. It’s all raw and real, but it’s also the most fun you’ll have on a Saturday night in a bar in Toronto.

The group’s set list was pretty damn perfect, a selection of songs that blended the slow and steady tracks with the big ones that fill the entire room to the brim. It’s nearly impossible for me to choose a favourite – I love “Problems” and I love “Dementia,” but I would be happy listening to any of them on repeat forever. With names like “Downtown Girls,” “Hungry Poets,” and “Shot in the Dark,” there’s something there for everyone, and I guarantee you’d hear one that sounds like it was meant for you. To top it all off, they finished off the set with a cover of Springsteen’s “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out,” and I sang and danced along like it was the last night I had on earth.

I don’t really think Little Boxer needs any more explanation, because their music is overflowing with personality and their shows are bursting at the seams with it. They play like they were born to do it, they put their heart and soul into everything I’ve seen or heard them do, and they’re the kind of band that you know is never going to back down. They’re a group that’s here to stay, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Gig Review: Local Natives at The Danforth Music Hall

There’s something refreshing about going to a concert on your own. The anonymity you feel being in the midst of a crowd of a thousand people who have no idea who you are. The fact that you can just let everything go because you’re not with anyone and you don’t care who’s watching. The ability you have to stand in the crowd and feel everything and not worry about anyone but you and the band on stage in front of you. It feels strange at first, and then you stop caring about the fact that you’re alone and the whole thing feels amazing instead. I’ve only done it a couple times, mostly because I often second-guess myself when it comes to doing big things alone. With Local Natives, though, I went anyway. I stood in that crowd and had one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time. And I can’t stop thinking about it.

Local Natives stepped out onstage and I think I melted right away. The opening chords of ‘Past Lives’ began streaming through the speakers, a smile appeared on every face in the crowd, and the band went straight into the performance. That track in particular is one that I adore, one that soars straight into your soul to light you up from the inside out, and it was the perfect way to start the night. I was captivated from the very first second, I let go of everything outside myself, and I tuned in and didn’t tune out until I was on the streetcar home.

The band went on to play ‘Wide Eyes’ before moving into ‘Villainy,’ another personal favourite from their most recent album, Sunlit Youth. From his place on stage, lead singer Taylor Rice asked the crowd if we wanted to dance, only to be met with a resounding “Yes.” A “yes” that meant something. They dove into the song, the crowd began to dance while simultaneously screaming the lyrics back to the band, and I felt everything melt away. There’s something about that song that ushers in a new beginning, a fresh start, a shedding of your old skin to make way for a better, thicker one. And I felt all of that. And then Taylor jumped into the crowd to continue the dance party, and I fought to feel the moment while capturing as many seconds as possible. Three songs in and we were already off to an unforgettable start. I couldn’t believe my luck.

The set was a spectacular mix of songs from all three of Local Natives’ albums. From Gorilla Manor came ‘Sun Hands,’ ‘Who Knows, Who Cares,’ ‘Wide Eyes,’ and ‘Airplanes.’ From Hummingbird came ‘You & I,’ ‘Breakers,’ ‘Colombia,’ and a few more. The majority of the set list was from Sunlit Youth, but nothing felt out of place in relation to the older records. The nostalgic feelings brought on by songs I listened to throughout high school were balanced perfectly by the tracks off of an album that ushered in a new beginning for me. The show felt like a renewal – like I had to see the band who helped me through a tough time standing right in front of me in order for a new chapter of my life to actually feel real. I doubt I’ll ever stop being in awe of what the right music is capable of doing.

On ‘Dark Days,’ the band brought out Charlotte Day Wilson, a Toronto fan-favourite. The collaboration was dreamy and expansive and over far too quickly. ‘Jellyfish’ was another amazing performance, and one made more personal by Taylor’s explanation of the track. ‘Masters’ was incredible. ‘Colombia’ was stripped back, emotions laid out for the crowd. ‘Fountain of Youth’ was the rally call that we all needed to hear, a small beacon of hope in a Trump-era world that feels like it could crumble in a second. Nearly twenty songs went by in what felt like a millisecond, and I would give anything to be back in that crowd once again.

Sometimes, when a concert is really good, you start feeling everything at a heightened level. The songs sound ten times better when the band is only a few feet in front of you, the crowd around you is unified under the same feelings and reasons for being, and your heart pounds just a tiny bit faster as you tune into the excitement of what’s occurring in that very moment. You get to forget about everything else because the most important thing to you is the band on stage and the people you’re surrounded by and the songs that you feel deeply connected to. I felt that as soon as Local Natives graced the stage last night. It was evident in the goosebumps on my arms, in the smile that didn’t leave my face for an hour and a half, in the way my heart pressed against the skin of my chest as though it was trying to escape, and in the way my soul was being stitched back together with every word muttered into a microphone. It’s not every day that you get to feel like that, and I’ve learned to really savour the times when you do.

There are lots of tiny moments from last night that I wish I could share with enough detail to do them justice. There was a moment during the encore when Taylor stood on the barrier, begging everyone to come closer, to be more unified, and we all did. During ‘Who Knows, Who Cares,’ the crowd sang so passionately that it sounded like a well-rehearsed choir, and the band stepped back for a moment or two, wide smiles plastered almost permanently onto their faces. Kelcey and Taylor argued about whether or not to tell the audience about the beautiful weather in their home base of Los Angeles, and Taylor made a joke about the crowd giving the band a warm welcome to an otherwise cold climate. Those are the things I’ll carry with me for a long, long time.

What I got last night was a thousand times better than anything I could have ever imagined. I danced. I sang so loudly that my voice disappeared for a little while. I smiled so big and for so long that my cheeks still hurt. Almost twenty-four hours later and I’m still riding a concert high, still feeling the immense joy that Local Natives brought to The Danforth last night. When I think about it, the only words that really come up are “thank you.” Over and over again. For the music, for the happiness I still feel, for the free feeling that lingers. For the crowd of people that weren’t afraid to dance their hearts out. And for the fact that I live in a city that allows me to see my favourite bands easily and often. Local Natives restored something in me last night in a way that only the right band can, and I wish I could thank them a thousand times over. Hopefully my words do that sentiment justice.

Gig Review: Hamilton Leithauser and Lucy Dacus at The Opera House

There’s a certain excitement that comes with the first concert of a new year. With a lull in live music around the holidays, diving back into my routine of as many concerts as possible is one of my favourite feelings, and I often look to the first one as the kick off. That night sets the tone for the rest of the year in a way, gauging my excitement and commitment and setting me up for the coming months. This year, my kick off concert couldn’t have been better, and it’s still fresh enough in my mind to make my heart beat fast as I recall it.

Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam Batmanglij released I Had a Dream That You Were Mine last year, and within a couple listens it became one of my favourite albums of twenty-sixteen. I struggle to even find words to explain how it sounds or to slap a genre on it – a couple labels doesn’t really do it justice, because it’s so much more expansive than that. When it was announced that Leithauser would be touring the record, I jumped at the chance to see it performed live, and I had been waiting for it ever since scoring the tickets.

The night kicked off with an incredibly beautiful set by Lucy Dacus, a name that I had heard buzzing around music blogs and websites, but who I had never committed to listening to. The singer is soft-spoken and charming, and put on a set that had the crowd singing along and screaming loudly between tracks. Her music, as well as Lucy herself, is instantly likeable and hard to get out of your head. I loved the entirety of her performance, and as soon as she walked offstage I hoped that she would get back on for a couple more songs.

This was one of the rare concerts that is so perfectly timed you could cry. Lucy’s set lasted forty-five minutes, leaving only a short wait before Leithauser and his band turned up onstage. They wasted no time in getting started, and in my mind that’s always best. The audience is there for the music, the band is there for the music, so you might as well just get to it.

Leithauser played for an hour, moving rambunctiously through tracks from his collaboration with Rostam as well as songs from his own previous releases. He was engaging, telling stories between songs, pulling a harmonica out of his pocket and wailing away on it while the drummer fixed a broken pedal, and making a thousand-person venue feel surprisingly intimate. The entire thing felt haphazard and thrown together on a whim, but that’s what made it special, and it ended up being one of the most fun shows I’ve ever been to.

The entire set was spectacular, but some songs just nestle themselves into your heart space, which makes hearing them live that much more special. I loved the performance of ‘You Ain’t That Young Kid,’ a bluesy, folky track that Hamilton fumbled and lazily spoke his way through. ‘Rough Going (I Won’t Let Up)’ showed off his screeching vocals and had the entire crowd shouting simultaneously. ‘Sick as a Dog,’ ‘Peaceful Morning,’ and ‘In a Black Out’ were all wonderful in their own right, each one pulling me further into Hamilton’s world. That closeness is something I haven’t felt in a while, and it was amazing to be at a concert filled with moments that felt like mine and mine alone.

The last few moments of the set either make or break a show. Before the encore, Leithauser played ‘A 1000 Times,’ a mind-blowingly incredible song that had me retreating into my own world and closing my eyes to feel every word that was sung. Coming back on a few minutes later, the band brought out Lucy Dacus and did a haunting rendition of ‘1959,’ the one track on I Had a Dream That You Were Mine that features female vocals. Hamilton stripped himself of his guitar, standing right at the edge of the stage with the mike cord tangled through his fingers, singing with immense fervour. Dacus provided the complimentary melodies, standing shyly off to the side but catching the audience’s attention nonetheless. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

As the concert ended for real and the audience began to file out of the venue, I walked back to my apartment feeling full and content. The show had been more than I initially prepared myself for, and that kind of happy surprise stays with you. The past three days I’ve listened to nothing but Hamilton + Rostam, and I can’t see that changing anytime soon. It’s a lovely album created and performed beautifully, and I would die to hear it live again. I doubt I’ll ever tire of it.