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What Gets You Excited About New Music?

(I first wrote this a year ago for the AUX Whisky Rocks series, and only just realized it’s the one post in the series that I didn’t get the chance to share here. Now that the competition is rebooting for 2013 – tune in for new posts!– I don’t want to lose it, so I figured it’s time to reblog it here.)

When I hear a band for the first time, whether it’s a band that just came out with their first ever EP last week, or a band from the 70s I somehow missed out on in my music education, there is an almost indescribable factor that will decide if I come back for a repeat listen (or obsessively dive into their entire back catalog).

I say indescribable because, really, how do we know what it is that attracts us to certain kinds of music, or certain musicians in particular? From what I can decipher, our individual music taste is just an odd mishmash of our musical upbringing, emotional state, genres of music we most relate to, and if we can connect the theme of the song to our lives in some way.

Being able to connect what a song (or more importantly, an entire album) is saying to a particular event or time in my life is what makes me want to return to it, and for me this happens primarily through lyrics. To say I grew up in the music school of Bob Dylan would be an understatement.

To clarify, I’ll reference my two favorite albums of the past two years, that came to me from artists I had no idea existed until their songs arrived in my inbox.

The first time I heard Cold Specks “Holland,” this past winter, time stopped. Everything I was doing stopped. I had to do nothing but listen. That is how I¬†know. ¬†The line “I’ll find God in the gutter” instantly connected with me in a big way, and I knew then and there this girl was making the kind of music I respect most.¬†Her voice was filled with a soul this city has never been graced with before, and the music took me to a place that was so peaceful, despite the self described “doom soul” nature of her lyrics. I desperately YouTubed her to see if I could find any other songs.

There is nothing that compares to that moment when you click play on a random mp3 and instead of thinking, “next” while fishing through your inbox, thinking “Oh my god, what is this and where has it been all my life?”

Of course, unless you’re listening to a singer/songwriter album like hers, you’re not going to hear the lyrics on the first listen. In these (ie. most) cases, it is the music itself that will either pull me in or push me away.

When I was sent the debut We Are Augustines album last year I had no idea who they were, or what they were about, but 30 seconds into the first track, there was no way I could move on with my day without listening to the entire album. The melody, the instrumentation, their musical influences, the production value, the raspy tone of his voice… I didn’t grasp the weight of all the heavy things he was singing about until I obsessively googled the lyrics and read about their story, but the honesty that instantly came across in their sound, combined with just being incredible, catchy,¬†orchestral¬†music (coming from just two guys!) had me coming back for more. It was the first record I heard in 2011 that actually made me want to get up and shout at the world, singing along. The album delivered exactly what its title,¬†Rise Ye Sunken Ships,¬†described – broken people rising from the ashes, hope. It made me feel alive.

So, to answer the question of the week, the thing that catches my ear when I hear a band for the first time is if I can instantly feel whatever they are supposed to be feeling throughout the song. Is this musician doing his or her job so well that they are transferring their emotions onto me? As Nick Hornby so aptly wrote in High Fidelity:

Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?

What is it that grabs you when you first hear a song? What qualities make you interested enough to explore the rest of their catalog?


My Final Whisky Soaked Thoughts


Here’s my final guest post for AUX for the Whisky Rocks competition, in which I say goodbye to the good times!

Just kidding, I’ll save that for later tonight! But really, it was super fun to be a part of this contest. It gave me a chance to discover a bunch of new bands I would have otherwise missed out on, and forced me to really think about just what it is that makes me so passionate about a good song. I wrote some of my favourite posts because of the questions AUX asked us.

One of my choices – Sarah Smith – even made it to the finals, which is great.

Those of you that entered and didn’t make it to the final three should still be proud, you put yourself out there to be judged, and that takes balls and faith in your own talent – two things that will get you far in this industry if you keep up the hard work. ¬†Be sure to stick it out – many bands will break up before they hit their stride, it’s the ones who don’t that eventually get signed.

It was also interesting to read my fellow bloggers opinions on all the topics we covered, and see their favourites. Despite it being an indie rock focused panel, for the most part we had pretty diverse opinions and choices.

The show happens tonight, and I look forward to finding out who takes home the grand prize! Will you be there?


My Other Favourite Whisky Rocks Entry

Here’s my latest guest post for AUX for the Whisky Rocks competition, in which I talk about my other favourite entry.

As I was going through the entries, the other song that really stood out to me was Sarah Smith’s “Shine Bright.” While the video is just a simple live one shot on a cell phone, her voice is so strong it immediately pulled me in and I had to listen to it a few times before moving on.

Upon googling, I discovered she is actually the singer from¬†The Joys, a band I’m not super familiar with but had definitely heard of as they’ve been around a long time. This explained the sheer depth of her songwriting skills and ease of performance on stage. Nothing makes up for experience.

The song is catchy, the lyrics are strong and her voice has that smoky quality I absolutely adore and seek out in female musicians. She can sing like no one’s business.

I also love that the song has that slightly alt-country sound, which is something I was looking for in the entries. These performers will be opening for The Trews, so their music needs to mesh genre wise with the headliner, and this definitely does. It feels like something The Trews would have written if they had a female leading the band.

If you like the song as much as I do, go give it a vote!


Photo ©Mark Gommer


My Favourite Whisky Rocks Submission

Hey guys! Here’s my latest guest post for AUX for the Whisky Rocks competition, in which I talk about my favourite entry.

After the entries went live for voting this week I spent some time going through the videos and listening to the different songs submitted, and there was definitely a band that instantly stuck out to me among the rest – ilvekyo.

The strange name immediately made me curious, and from the still alone I could tell this would be a video worth checking out as it looked to be a recording session rather than a live video. After going through countless entries I was getting tired, but as soon as I hit play on this song I was fully awake again and I knew I had found my first choice.

The video is great Рlove the focus on the strings on their instruments Рbut most importantly, they are incredibly talented. The song is catchy, I immediately found myself clapping along, and the lyrics and songwriting ability is the strongest I found among the various submissions. I love their vocal tone, the pacing, the verse is as strong as the chorus, and each instrument stands out on its own and adds something unique to the song. I played it at least 10 times more before moving on to the next video.

They remind me of some of my favourite slightly country tinged alternative bands like Wilco, but without being derivative at all. They would fit perfectly up there on stage with The Trews.

I wanted to learn more about them, and after googling, discovered someone else thinks they’re pretty great too.

Watch the video below and then go HERE to give them a vote Рthey deserve to be up on that stage. And remember you can vote once every 24 hours!



On The Importance of Showing Up For The Opening Act

Hey guys!¬†Here‚Äôs my latest¬†guest post for¬†AUX¬†for the¬†Whisky Rocks¬†competition (bands ‚Äď this is your LAST CHANCE to enter your song to win a spot opening for The Trews and gear from Gibson and Yamaha!), in which the guest bloggers were asked to talk about a memorable opening act we discovered by showing up early – or in my case, sticking around later.

When I was younger, I only showed up for the opener when it was important that I could actually see the stage (so, standing shows). Being short is easily the worst part of being a live music fan.

But, as I’ve become more interested in the local music community in the past few years, I’ve made it a point to show up earlier than usual – or stick around for the other bands playing that night in the case of some local shows – as it can lead to finding my next¬†favourite¬†band.

The most recent example of this would be during NXNE, when I attended the Horseshoe to see some of my¬†favourite¬†locals – Poor Young Things, CATL, and the special guests for the night – Yukon Blonde. As it was a local festival lineup, it wasn’t like a typical concert where the first bands to play are the lesser known ones, the order was a lot more random, and so Yukon Blonde (who would be considered the headliner) were on at 10pm before most of the bands for the night. After their set was over I decided to stick around for Young Empires and CATL, and this meant staying for The Lumineers set as well.

For some reason, I hadn’t yet heard of the The Lumineers, but the Shoe was abuzz about them – the venue was packed and I couldn’t get anywhere near the stage, so I figured I should stick it out and see what they were about rather than heading to another nearby venue for a different band and then coming back as I tend to do during these festivals.

And I am so glad I did.

It was easily the best set of NXNE for me, by a mile.

There is nothing like that feeling of seeing a random band you’ve never heard of, and being absolutely taken away by their set. I immediately had that “where have these guys been all my life?” feeling that always means I’ve found my next¬†favourite¬†band. I was transfixed by their presence, even though I was at the back of the very packed room and couldn’t see too much – that’s how strong the music was. The room went silent all the way to the bar – which, if you’ve ever been to a Horseshoe show – you’ll know what a rarity that is. It was that exact kind of¬†folky, foot stomping, hand clapping, sing along music¬†that fills me with immense joy, and I felt so¬†grateful¬†to have stumbled upon them. They left me feeling that incredible buzz I talked about in my previous article about¬†what makes for a memorable live experience.

Of course,¬†“Hey Ho” became a massive hit, and their self-titled album became the soundtrack to my summer. It will definitely be making it onto my top 5 albums of the year list.