Track Review: ‘Make Me Cry’ by FLIIIS

I first introduced you all to FLIIIS a few months ago, and the duo is kicking off the new year by releasing a trio of glossy, glittery pop songs. The collection is polished and varied, and it truly shows off the immense potential of the group. With this release, FLIIIS pulls the listener completely into their world and shows us all what they have to offer – and their offerings are vast.

Title track ‘Make Me Cry’ is impressive. The lyrics fall effortlessly from the mouth of the lead singer and the backing beat envelopes you in a harsh wall of sound. It’s heavy at times, but it also shines like a beacon out of the dark. Its contrasts are what make it interesting and worthwhile, and it’s definitely something you should be listening to. With the nostalgia of eighties new wave and pop but the modern draw of a track by The 1975, it would be hard to stay away from this song.

‘Fuga’ is the bridge between worlds. A field recording of New York City bustles in the foreground while a spoken word poem hums subtly in the back. You can hardly make out all the words, but the times when you can hear something clearly feel like finding a treasure trove that was thought to be long lost. It’s reminiscent of the sixties beat poets of Greenwich Village or the fearless performances of Patti Smith, and it’s spectacular to hear a group going back to something that feels like its pushing boundaries.

‘Daze BLVD.’ closes the whole thing off, and I think it may be the most dazzling track out of the three. To be quite honest, I’m on a bit of a Ryan Gosling movie kick, and to hear a band draw from ‘Drive’ and create something beautiful and interesting out of a haunting, thrilling film is awesome. It would fit in seamlessly with the soundtrack, with the early hours of LA, with the flashy cars and silk jackets and neon lights. It samples scenes from the movie and you can hear conversations and cars peeling quickly away intermingled with slow, heart wrenching melodies and beautiful lyrics. The track feels masterful, and if this is what everything else by FLIIIS is going to sound like, I’d be all for it.

‘Make Me Cry’ is a near-perfect effort from a band that deserves a hell of a lot more recognition. The capsule of songs they’re about to release is nostalgic and yet still modern and current, it’s packed with emotion but it still lifts your spirits. I couldn’t recommend it more, and I can’t wait to hear what’s coming next from FLIIIS.

Track Review: ‘I Don’t’ by Eadie

With a new year comes great new music, and Toronto-based musician Eadie was ahead of the curve with that one. The soulful singer released her newest track, ‘I Don’t,’ just a week before ringing in twenty-seventeen, and it’s the perfect song for the first pages of the next three hundred and sixty-five days.

Eadie’s vocals are clean and effortless, dripping with heart and soul and bearing all sorts of emotion. That complexity works well for her here, complementing the impeccable production beautifully and immediately pulling in the listener. Despite its simplicity and bare bones, the track is far more than interesting while still being the kind of thing you’d willingly listen to a thousand times over. Eadie’s output sounds more like that of a veteran soul singer than something released by a young adult who’s just getting off her feet, and that definitely makes ‘I Don’t’ feel like a remarkable creative effort.

Produced by Canadian music producer TreyR., ‘I Don’t’ is a perfect display of some of Toronto’s most impressive up-and-coming talent. The track is spectacular, but more than that it shows off the incredible things that musicians and creatives in this city are getting up to, and that’s one of my favourite things about being so entrenched in the Toronto music scene. Every layer of the song, from the enticing beat to the incredibly well-written words to the intricate melody is wondrous, and as a result, the track is too.

In all honesty, I think Eadie is definitely one to watch. With vocals reminiscent of Amy Winehouse and a style that seamlessly blends pop and soul, the musician is remarkably easy to love. Her lyrics are relatable and beautifully crafted, her songs are catchy and addictive, and she sounds like the cool girl next door who you’d just about die to be friends with. All of those pieces fit together to form a wonderfully gifted pop star in-the-making, and I am dying to see what she does next.

Album Review – ‘A Strange Sense of Humour’ by Alex McCulloch

Toronto-based singer-songwriter Alex McCulloch has released her debut full-length album, A Strange Sense of Humour, and it’s something spectacular. The record is a well-rounded portrait of a life filled with bits of Canadiana and the modern world, and it’s a captivating entity that I often find hard to come by. It’s polished and well-done, something far better than you’d expect from a self-released debut – Alex sounds more like a musician with decades of experience than a young woman high off the release of her first LP.

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The album starts off with ‘Depression,’ a shiny, catchy tune that instantly alerts the listener, pulling them in and allowing them to warm up to the artist. I adore the contrast of stark honesty and impeccable production, and that thread of similarity runs through the entirety of the record. A song called ‘Empty House’ follows, and at times it’s nearly gritty, pulling at your heart strings and dripping with unfiltered emotion. It’s not often that such depth of feeling is showcased so plainly to the world.

McCulloch weaves worlds with her words, displaying her talents as an artist by painting pictures with her voice. It’s difficult to listen to A Strange Sense of Humour without crafting visions in your own mind, easily inserting yourself into the narrative of the record itself. One of my favourite tracks on the album, ‘Butterfly’, rouses brightly lit images of a relationship clouded by the haze of summer, while ‘A Light Goes Out’ contrasts it with dim bars and long nights.

Other album highlights include ‘Genesis’ and ‘One Time Show’. The former is rhythmic and engaging, a track that moves effortlessly through dynamic melodies and great lyrics. The latter is a slower, harmonica-backed ballad that shows off McCulloch’s vocal range beautifully, highlighting the ease with which she moves through each word. The album closes out with a trio of live tracks and demos, and the addition of the rawer, stripped-back songs makes the record feel more intimate and real. You can tell that McCulloch sings straight from real life, drawing experiences out of her heart and mind and soul and sharing them with her audience like some kind of self-led therapy. At times it can feel like she’s reading pages from your own journal, and although the tales she tells can be remarkably personal, they’re also believably universal.

It’s beyond inspiring to listen to a woman bare her every emotion, laying her thoughts out like puzzle pieces to be linked together by the audience. A Strange Sense of Humour is a phenomenal debut – it’s effortless, it’s complete, and it engages the listener from the very beginning. Already, Alex McCulloch seems to be in a league of spectacular singer-songwriters who wear their hearts on their sleeves in the best way.

Bands You Need to Know Now: FLIIIS

Two-piece Manchester-based band FLIIIS (pronounced ‘flies’) is dead-set on staying genuine to their creativity and making art that they’re proud of – and that’s exactly what they seem to be doing. Their self-declared genre of ‘art-pop’ suits not only their sound but their image as well, and each crazy element comes together to create a unique, real form of music that’s often hard to come by in an age when the charts are full of songs that all sound the same. FLIIIS forgoes the ordinary, instead choosing musical romanticism and dreamy vocals and trance-inducing melodies, and it’s all kinds of wonderful.

The duo was a natural progression for best friends Daniel and Jazz, both of whom “have an uncontrollable urge to create,” says Daniel. That sense of artistry truly comes across in their work – it all sounds natural and organic, and that’s because it is. As Daniel puts it, “the band was never really started because it was always there, it just had to be manifested and let loose.” Isn’t that the best way to go about making music?

The band is inspired by just about everything, and they speak passionately about all that influences them. Daniel says they “love everything that breaks a boundary, be it the writings of Harold Pinter, the shots of Miles Aldridge, the beautiful monotony of Philip Glass’ scores.” Those seemingly-unrelated inspirations have left a clear mark on the duo’s work, each track reflecting something different or experimenting with a new feeling. There’s emotion and brilliance behind the music, and that makes all the difference.

FLIIIS has built up a solid collection of songs over their time as a band, and one listen to their Soundcloud account shows you just how strong they are as a duo. Each track is remarkably put together, crafted to perfection, and released into the wild only once it’s the best it can be. The songs differ from one to the next, but they all stay true to the duo’s overall creative ideas. ‘Feel It’ is a definite standout, a song that’s energetic and sparkly, the kind of thing you can’t help but dance around to. Their newest track ‘Conversations’ is also incredible, a wonderful proclamation of lust and adoration. Everything blends smoothly together, each track linked by an inexplicable thread of similarity, and that thread creates something absolutely magical.

With things working out so well for them, Daniel and Jazz show no signs of stopping. They’re “happy if [they] can genuinely create art that inspires thought or evokes a connection with people whilst staying true to [themselves].” At this point I’m so engrossed in their work that I can’t really bear the thought of being without it, and I’m sure once you give them a listen, you’ll feel the same. FLIIIS makes music that sounds fresh and current, and they’re a duo that I want to see on the music scene for a long, long time.

Little Boxer Release New EP ‘Volume IV’

Toronto-based rock band Little Boxer are set to release a new EP titled Volume IV, and they’re preceding its release with a two-part series of live off the floor videos shot at the city’s very own Studio 313. If the band’s previous releases are anything to go by, the newest EP is sure to be spectacular, and the videos only heighten the anticipation.

The Studio 313 Sessions see the band play a wide range of songs from their diverse catalogue, interspersed with conversations with the members and clips of their previous shows and funny antics. The videos show off the band’s insane talent by perfectly capturing their unique, intimate performances. The footage is interesting and captivating, and it could only make you like their music even more.

Little Boxer is a band that has interested me since seeing them play live this past February, and I’ve loved everything they’ve released since then. Their songs range from mellow and low-key to intense and commanding, and I think that diversity is what makes them so fascinating. Each track is raw and honest while still being extremely powerful, and that juxtaposition easily draws the listener into the band’s world.

So far, some of Little Boxer’s standout tracks include “Bare as Bones,” “Find Your Way,” and “Runaway,” but there’s something great about each song they’ve put out. The latter is more upbeat and catchy, while the first two are soft and slow. “Bare as Bones” has a steady rhythm that beats firmly throughout the track, while the vocals start off peacefully and build up in force with each chorus. “Find Your Way” is quiet and reassuring, and the band still packs a punch in such a simple song. The lyrics are sung with a kind of desperation, a need for answers and solutions. Finally, “Runaway” is relatable and sincere, and each chorus calls for smiling faces and loud, singing voices. Plus, the bridge is wonderful – and we all know I love a good bridge.

Volume IV is going to be another hell of an EP. Little Boxer do a wonderful job with each of their releases, and this one definitely won’t be any different. They’re on their way to becoming a staple in the Toronto music scene, and I’d recommend hopping on the bandwagon while you can still brag about being a fan before they hit it big.

Volume IV is released on October 28th via Dungus Records, and you can catch Little Boxer live on November 4th at The Cameron House.

Photo Credit: Gianfranc Pipitone 

Weekly Playlist: Thank You For the Music

I got to thinking this week about everything that I’m thankful for. The list is pretty much endless, and it encompasses a lot of things, but I noticed that there are a lot of songs and albums and bands that I’m unendingly grateful for. My obvious next step, then, was to write new post (finally) about all the tracks that I hold dear to my heart and that deserve a bit of a shout out for that. Tis the season.

This is definitely not a conclusive list, mostly because I’m constantly consuming music or rediscovering songs that I was once obsessed with. This is an amalgamation of tracks that I’ve loved for years, songs that I’ve only recently discovered, and melodies that have been around for decades and adored by thousands of people. Not only does this list span years of music, it also spans lots of pivotal moments in my life and times when I desperately needed to call on the powers of these tracks. I cringe just thinking about how cheesy it is to say that I’m thankful for music, but I am. I suppose spending my childhood listening to ‘Thank You for the Music’ by ABBA had a profound effect on me.

1.‘Dog Days Are Over’ by Florence + The Machine

This song means the world to me. Just listening to the first bars brings me back to the times I’ve seen the band live, the collectiveness of the concert and the passion with which Florence directs the crowd, instructing us all to jump simultaneously, to clap our hands with abandon, and to lose ourselves in the joy. It reminds me of picking my sister up from school and driving down quiet roads singing (yelling, more like) the lyrics at the top of our lungs and feeling absolute freedom, nothing more or less. It reminds me of family sing-alongs, of dancing and clapping our hands and laughing incessantly.  I’m thankful for the song, but I’m even more thankful for all of those moments and the sheer happiness they’ve brought me.

2.‘Come All Sufferers’ by Gabriel Bruce

Although this one’s a recent addition to my list of songs I could never live without, it’s also a powerful one. Gabriel Bruce legitimately makes magic in each and every track he puts out, and this one hits me hard. I love the build-up and the message and the lyrics, especially the line “Been taught to want/But never how to create.” The climax of the track, the call to action of it all, is powerful beyond belief, and I do feel like I heal a little every time I listen to it. This song is a proclamation of pain, but it’s also a reminder of the good that comes out of the bad and the collectiveness of human emotion. I’m so thankful that there are people on this earth who make art that reminds us that we can rise up out of the dark.

3.‘I Always Knew’ by The Vaccines

This is my favourite song in the entire world, hands down. I’ve never been in love with anything except a few cities and some bands – The Vaccines included – so I can’t really relate to the content, but this track, the emotion that drips off of it and the honesty that it’s filled with have always stood out to me. I think I adore it so much because of how vulnerable it is, and listening to it five hundred times over (this is not an exaggeration, if anything it’s an understatement) has drilled into me this idea that being vulnerable isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve only ever seen The Vaccines perform live once, but I’ll never forget the instant I heard the first chords of this track and the way in which my heart began to fill up with love and my soul started soaring with happiness. Songs can teach lessons and bring joy to the listener and can inspire a multitude actions and emotions, and I’m thankful that human beings have the ability create things with so much power.

4.‘Babelogue’ by Patti Smith

In all honesty I feel like I could write an entire post about this song alone. It has shaped me in ways that words can’t describe, and it has been a companion throughout the past few years of my artistic journey. The first time I ever heard this track, I was floored by the power that could exist within a woman, and by the sense you get when you listen to it that Patti is bearing everything and not letting an ounce of emotion goes to waste. The woman plows everything she has into her artistic ventures, and the track inspired me to do the exact same – to throw myself off the deep end, to write as if my life depended on it, to paint or draw just because I felt like I needed to. I’m thankful that I’ve found a sweet spot with my creativity, and that I found the push I needed to do it in this track and in Patti herself.

5.‘Hunting’ by The Darcys

I remember hearing this song for the first time and feeling like it was the only time I’d ever actually listened to art. I was used to admiring paintings and sculpture, taking in theatre productions and films, but this was something else. It sounded like art, but more than that, I could nearly feel the artistry that the song is so full of. It has a physicality to it, and that was something new to me and I loved how it felt – so much so that I can vividly remember countless high school bus rides spent listening to the track on repeat. The Darcys create incredibly masterful tracks, and this one is my absolute favourite. I’m so thankful that sonic works of art exist, and that some of them can be as beautiful as this one.

6.‘Father Electricity’ by Julian Casablanas + the Voidz

Tyranny was a huge album for me, and this track has always been one of my favourites – it’s overt political themes and lyrics that allude to the fractures in the system were everything that I wanted to hear as a teenager who was just starting to figure out what I thought about politics and how the world works. Listening to this track, I felt like Julian was rallying us all together, enlightening us a little bit and using his platform to speak out about what felt wrong to him. I hold Julian himself in high esteem, and to hear someone you look up to sing about things that you agree with and relate to was a big deal. I’m thankful that politics have become something that’s no longer out of place in works of art.

7.‘Ones Who Love You’ by Alvvays

This song is straight up magic. I’ve seen Alvvays live four times, and every time they play this I just let myself have a moment. I stand there in the middle of the crowd with my eyes closed and my body swaying back and forth awkwardly and I take it all in. It’s soft and airy but there’s so much meaning and feeling in it, and it’s another one of those tracks that reminds me how powerful honesty and emotion can be. I am beyond thankful for bands who can make the dead of winter feel like the height of summer.

8.‘Blank Generation’ by Richard Hell and the Voidoids

This has been my song for the past couple of years, and I can’t imagine a life where I am not obsessed with it. In my mind Richard Hell is Patti Smith’s male counterpart – he has the same unabashed creativity, the same dreams that can’t be crushed, the same effortless means of existence. All of those traits have been wildly inspirational for me, something to live by and aspire to. This song expresses dissatisfaction and boredom, which is something nobody can help but experience, but it also serves as a reminder that we can create incredible things out of even the worst feelings, and I’m forever thankful for that message.

9.‘I Can’t Win’ by The Strokes

I had my moment with The Strokes six or seven years ago, and the band has been with me ever since. The discovery of the group is almost a rite of passage for any music lover, and I remember spending days and days listening to Is This It and Room on Fire on repeat. ‘I Can’t Win’ has always been a standout for me, and, although it’s pretty pessimistic, I adore it. It’s simple and to the point and I like how truthful and candid the track is. I’m really thankful for my search to find my most authentic self and for the songs that are guiding me while I do it.

10.‘All The Sad Young Men’ by Spector

I heard this song in the spring of last year and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. To say I love it would be in understatement – I think it’s an undeniably incredible piece of music. In all honesty I think I’m just thankful for this song because I adore it so much. There’s no special story or memory attached to it, but it has become a companion and a song I go back to over and over again in the middle of the night when I’m up late because of an overactive imagination or an idea that came to me and that I had to get out before it disappeared. And really, that’s enough. So I’m thankful for songs that feel like best friends, and this one is definitely one of them.

And that’s a wrap. I could add about a thousand more tracks to this list, but these are the ones I hold close to my heart, that serve as reminders or inspiration or lessons. I love them all dearly, and I’m so glad that music is so eternal – I can’t imagine living in a world where songs as good as these ones didn’t exist.

Album Review: ‘Sunlit Youth’ by Local Natives

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Earlier this year I had a moment with ‘Past Lives’ by Local Natives. The band hadn’t released anything in three years, and when they went and dropped a single that was pretty close to perfection, I felt really good and really excited about what was yet to come. It’s the kind of track that sits under your skin and stirs something deep inside you and when you listen to it on repeat for hours it can start to feel like pure magic. After that incredible start, I could hardly wait for their third album, Sunlit Youth, to be released. I was itching with excitement, aching for its release date. Now that it’s here and I’ve listened to it a dozen times over and it’s seeped into my soul a little bit, I figured I should probably share my thoughts with you.

Sunlit Youth is essentially ‘Past Lives’ on steroids – and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s simultaneously expansive and introspective, it’s instantly captivating, it’s borderline trance-inducing, and it’s honestly downright beautiful. It’s a perfect night-time album, one to listen to as the sun sets and the sky fades slowly into darkness, cloaking everything in quiet and comfort. It’s exactly what you’d expect from Local Natives, but it’s not boring or predictable. It’s hard to be displeased by a band that has perfected their craft just as Local Natives have.

The album opens with ‘Villainy,’ a powerful track about mistakes and do-overs and transformation. It’s one of my favourite songs on the album, and it has an understated intensity that draws the listener in, allowing the audience to instantly become lost within the parameters of the album. Next up is ‘Past Lives,’ which I’ve already reviewed and which I adore deeply. The track captures the nuances of youth within its pleading lyrics and fluctuating rhythms, and it’s a song that I can never see myself growing tired of.

Sunlit Youth seems to be made up entirely of stand-out tracks, so it’s difficult for me to pinpoint the ones I love the most. ‘Fountain of Youth’ is a glorious narrative, a declaration of the power that exists within the millennials, but also a plea for that weight to be lifted from our shoulders. ‘Masters’ speaks of young love and the feeling of invincibility that often comes along with that, and the track is surely just as beautiful as the love itself. These themes of adolescence and naivety and perceived power run through the entirety of the album, knitting the tracks together to form a cohesive unit whose sum is far greater than its individual parts.

The second half of the record kicks off with ‘Coins,’ which pulls easily at your heartstrings as it turns the difficulties of a long-distance relationship into pure poetry. ‘Mother Emanuel’ is undoubtedly the most moving and compelling song to come from the album. It’s also the most overtly political, a track that reflects and comments on the 2015 shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, North Carolina. It’s vivid in its critique of senseless violence, especially against people of colour, while also mentioning the public’s tendency to turn a blind eye when events such as these occur. The song is deeply raw and emotional, and also incredibly important.

‘Psycho Lovers’ is downplayed at first, but its real strength comes with the chorus. A powerful chant of “We won’t give up/Paradise/Heaven wants us/Alive” anchors the track, and sprawling verses and backing vocals make it feel heavy and enveloping in the most magical way. ‘Everything All At Once’ expresses the anxieties and pressure of adolescence, the substantiality of those defining years and the raw emotion that comes when it feels like everything is riding on a particular, fleeting moment. It’s a wave of peace and comfort and the reassurance that you’re not alone in your emotions.

The album ends with ‘Sea of Years,’ and quite honestly, it’s the perfect close. Somehow the band has managed to encapsulate the race to fit everything into life – all the experiences, the opportunities, the adventures and exploration – and how it can feel like you’d need to live a thousand times in order to do it all. It builds up just as well as ‘Past Lives’ does, and it ensures that the album closes with the same power that it opened with.

Local Natives made magic with this record. It’s a pure shot of what it feels like to be in the thick of your youth, to experience growth and heartbreak and change and challenges. It’s sprawling and intimate, it’s socially and politically aware, it’s quietly beautiful and massively overwhelming all at once. In all honesty I’m a little overcome by how much I cherish and delight in this album, but I won’t question that. The point is that Sunlit Youth is a triumphant, beacon-like album – one that you’ll fall in love with in seconds.