Modern Mystery’s Top 10 Videos of the Year

1. Morning Benders “Promises”

2. Wavves “Post Acid”

3. Of Montreal “Coquet Coquette”

4. Cloud Nothings “Hey Cool Kids”

5. Surfer Blood “Floating Vibes”

6. Vampire Weekend “Giving Up the Gun”

7. Miniature Tigers “Bullfighter Jacket”

8. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin “Let It Sway”

9. Arcade Fire “The Suburbs”

10. Ra Ra Riot “Boy”

Review: Guards – self-titled EP

Guards EP
Guards is essentially just singer Richie Follin with contributions from Caroline Polachek (Chairlift) and Cults. The album is filled with so much sound that one might think it was a five-piece band. There are many instruments used on the album and each does a particular job to create a lo-fi pop experience.

If MGMT was married to Karen O and The Kids and had an illegitimate child with Arcade Fire, it would be Guards. This bastard child croons, chants, and makes sure it is heard on all eight tracks of Guards. Guards seemingly have all the characteristics of its parents: It has the “Oooh Oooh Oooh” backing vocals a la Arcade Fire, yowling vocals set to a magical keyboard a la MGMT, and  a childlike wonder tone a la Karen O and the Kids. It has been a while since  a debut EP has been so ambitious.

This is not some exasperating brat that steals from its parents’ success, in fact, Guards explores new terrain especially with vocal harmonies. “Sail It Slow” strides forward smoothly as the vocals play off one another in a vigorous fashion. The opening track “Resolution Of One” has a chorus that explodes like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. On “Crystal Truth”, there is a blissful melody that makes you wonder how no one has written it before. Each song is solid in its own distinct way and it never feels like you have been listening to the same song for too long. This is probably due to the fact that most songs do not go past the three minute point. Also, each song flies by with the help of the harmonizing refrains. Instrumentally, everything is solid especially the thunderous drums. The beat always feels firm next to such sweet-tempered vocals and each instrument highlights another fittingly.

It is impossible not to allude to other bands that Guards sounds like but that does not take away from the achievements of Guards. No doubt, Guards sounds like the illegitimate child of a few notable indie bands but who really cares? At least it is not the illegitimate child of MC Hammer and LFO. This is a wonderful debut EP for the little brat.

Album Review: The Luyas – Too Beautiful To Work

The musicians in Montreal clearly have a deep-seeded need and desire to collaborate. Bands such as Arcade Fire, The Dears, and Broken Social Scene adopt a more-is-better policy when it comes to assembling their personnel. Because of the large infrastructure in many of these groups, musicians travel between the ensembles, like musical chess pieces, as their scheduling and tastes dictate. Another group to add to this list: The Luyas. The band formed in late 2006, releasing their debut album, Faker Death, in 2007. Although the number of members changed at various points in the group’s history, they have essentially consisted of: Jesse Stein [also of Miracle Fortress], Pietro Amato and Stefan Schneider [both of Bell Orchestre, Amato also having worked as a french horn player for Arcade Fire], and Mathieu Charbonneau. Add in Sarah Neufeld [violinist for Arcade Fire] and Owen Pallett [Final Fantasy and string arranger for Arcade Fire] to the current recording roster, and you have one amazing Canadian super-group on your hands.

On their Dead Oceans debut, Too Beautiful To Work, the band excels at crafting dreamy pop textures—using layers of organ, keyboards, horns, and mallet percussion on top of the standard foundation of guitars and drums. Jesse Stein contributes significantly to The Luyas singular sound by playing the Moodswinger—an experimental 12-string zither—as well as supplying her breathy vocals, calling to mind both Nina Persson and CocoRosie’s Casady sisters.

The opening title track plunges the listener right into The Luyas’ world: a short organ riff becomes the foundation for the song’s spiky rhythms, light drums, and Stein’s voice, which churn bubbly lyrics at you so quickly, it actually takes a couple listens to even decipher what the text is. [The track is so infectious and joyous that really, multiple listens would be mandatory anyway.] Stein is incredibly adept with her voice, working hand in hand with the drum set so well that she sounds like she is replicating yet another percussion instrument to add to the mix. “Worth Mentioning” places her even more in the forefront of the group, gently cooing “Trust me now, and keep in mind there are no ungraced thoughts” over throbbing guitars and organ. Stein might as well be singing right into the listener’s ear; the effect created is so intimate and hushed.

The Luyas move into a different direction on lead single “Tiny Head,” washing their entire sound in reverb. The guitars echo, the percussion trembles, and Stein’s Moodswinger finally comes into play. It’s an altogether different sound than you’ll ever hear, and as the vocals and zither dovetail in and out of each other’s phrases, you come to realize that this bizarre instrument is used as an extension of Stein’s voice and not another piece of accompaniment—the Moodswinger even taking center stage as the track gently fades into silence.

The second half of the album alternates between these two contrasting styles: “Canary,” “Spherical Mattress,” and “Seeing Things” submerging the band in their wash of reverb, while “Cold Canada,” “What Mercy Is,” and “I Need Mirrors” display their sense of intricate rhythm and catchy hooks. “I Need Mirrors” finds the band at their most playful and inventive, creating a modified-Bossa Nova rhythm as the foundation of the song, a tropical idea of a dance to enjoy even while your city is covered in snow and ice.

Even though the album began with the greatest sense of energy, by the end of Too Beautiful To Work, the group is seen at its warmest and most intimate on the closing track, “Seeing Things.” After a brief chorale employing a set of muted French horns, an oscillating figure in the guitar begins, and Stein and guest vocalist Pallett form an incredibly moving series of harmonies—never rushing any piece of the melody as the drums and horn try to interrupt their thoughts. Stein keeps the mood tranquil throughout, never allowing the group to attain the energy produced earlier in the album. Compared to the anthemic nature of their Canadian brethren, Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene, The Luyas overwhelmingly come across as atmospheric, intimate, and endearingly quirky—welcome qualities to display in a music scene already filled with a whole lot of pomp and circumstance.

Horn Player Colin Stetson’s New Album and Bon Iver Tour in 2011

Though you may not recognize the name, Colin Stetson has played with everyone from the African legend Angelique Kidjo to Tom Waits, Arcade Fire and TV on the Radio.

Though the roster of projects is quite impressive, Stetson is an equally astounding solo performer. You can confirm this yourself by listening to his latest offering on Constellation records, New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, releasing late February 2011. Recorded live in Montreal’s Hotel2Tango studio with no overdubbing or looping, guests on the record include the inimitable Laurie Anderson and My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden.

Stetson uses all kinds of techniques that probably mean nothing to lay people like us (or at least me). He’s got tricks up his reeds including circular breathing, arpeggiated swirls, singing through the reed of his horn and amazingly, not fainting while doing all this heavy breathwork. In other words, it all sounds hella good and pretty damn impossible.

Whatever you may think you know about jazz will forever be open to reinterpretation and that’s a gift Stetson possesses. He has an ability to defy categorization. Stetson’s originality and forward thinking talent is iconoclastic and refreshing.

Catch Stetson with his bands Sway Machinery and Bell Orchestre or touring with Bon Iver throughout 2011. All the latest here:

Arcade Fire Given the Nod for Three Grammy Awards

Does Arcade Fire have what it takes successfully win their nominated categories? Having a great year musically, Arcade Fire is up for: Album of the Year, Best Alternative Music Album, and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

The competition is stiff, as they are going up against heavy weights Eminem, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga.

Will the underdog pull it out, or will the popularity contest continue. Tune in February 13 on CBS to find out.


For a complete list of all nominees and awards click here