New Wild tries but just doesn’t work
by Aidan Morgan
Great Lake Swimmers
New Wild Everywhere
Remember the first time you heard Great Lake Swimmers? It was lonesome and haunting stuff, the kind of music you take along for night drives down starlit highways. Songs like "My Rocky Spine" hit that magical folk-rock midpoint between elegy and lullaby - a melancholy comfort that said "Go to sleep now; the world's ending and everything's going to be fine."
Well, goodbye to all that.
New Wild Everywhere , the fifth album from Great Lake Swimmers, would be easy to dismiss if it were the product of mediocre artists. Instead it feels like a carefully and beautifully wrought dud.
It's the most sophisticated album yet from the Ontario band, with a fuller sound and a more ambitious production. At the same time, it's the most wan and lustreless thing I've heard from a group that's put out some quiet but vital music in its past. Tony Dekker's voice, which works so well against a backdrop of a few instruments, sounds outmatched by the punch of all the plucking and twanging and scraping going on around him. Melodies show up every so often, look for a catchy hook or a chorus, then wander away again when it's apparent that help is not on its way.
The album's problems start right in the title, which is vague instead of evocative, muddy instead of ambiguous. The "New Wild" Dekker refers to is the cityscape of Toronto, but the wilderness seems to have tamed him.
One very notable exception is "On The Water", a beautiful and sad tune tucked away on the back half of the album. Unlike the rest of New Wild Everywhere, it sounds like a song that needed to be born. It's a reminder of what made Great Lakes Swimmers so exciting in the first place.
Eight And A Half
Arts & Crafts
The roots of this Toronto-based band are clear enough. It has Broken Social Scene's long-time drummer Justin Peroff, along with vocalist Dave Hamelin and pianist/horn player Liam O'Neil of The Stills. As for where they got their name, I'm tempted to cite Fellini's 1963 classic 81/2. Set in Rome, it's a whimsical tale about a famous film director struggling to overcome "director's block" while coping with personal and professional difficulties. Sounds like a match for this: after successful 10 year runs on the Canadian music scene, both BSS and The Stills hit some rocky ground in 2011, with the latter disbanding and the former going on hiatus. And the songs in the first part of the album, like "Scissors" and "Go Ego", are imbued with a melancholy tone of introspection. Things pick up later though as the trio put their demons to rest and start celebrating their new, more experimental, musical partnership. /Gregory Beatty
The Joel Plaskett Emergency
This doesn't have the bells and whistles or shininess of the Emergency's Ashtray Rock -- wonderfully produced by Big Sugar's Gordie Johnson -- or Plaskett's triply-long solo album Three. Nevertheless, the man in the middle, Nova Scotia's Joel Plaskett, is always, always great. He falls back on a tired lyrical trope here and there but mostly sticks to a program of straightforward instrumentation and rock 'n' roll. It's good. /James Brotheridge
Madonna's genius has always been her mutability. On Ray of Light, she was the new age mama reflecting on her good fortune with William Orbit's shimmering production washing over her. On Confessions On A Dance Floor, she was slinking around in a leotard and feathered hair to a soundtrack of classic disco and modern Euro-dance beats. And so on.
MDNA - her twelfth studio effort - feels like an album in search of an aesthetic. Who is Madonna this time around? It's hard to say. The songs range from forgettable drivel (the banal cheerleader chants of "Give Me All Your Luvin", featuring M.I.A. and Nicki Minaj) to pretty good club music ("Some Girls") to self-preservation anthems ("I Don't Give A.") Vocally, she's all over the place: one minute, Madge is doing her "Lucky Star" coo and the next she's emoting in the ultra-serious Evita trill, leaving no cliché untouched ("like a moth to a flame", "like a thief in the night", etc.)
On "Gang Bang", we're introduced to a new voice in Madonna's arsenal: a cold, dispassionate chick who fantasizes about shooting her lover dead. By the end of the song, the rage bubbles to the surface and she's seething and snarling "Die Bitch!" over a tense beat. The production is fantastic, but it's a head-scratching song on an album largely devoid of darkness.
Overall, MDMA feels like a grab-bag of material - a bid to reinforce Madonna's legacy and remind us of her ease in inhabiting so many different personas. /Gillian Mahoney