plus Danger Mouse, Frazey Ford, Hot Hot Heat
by Emmet Matheson
ARE YOU MY MOTHER?
FILE UNDER: MUSIC
Fans of Kathryn Calder’s collaborative projects Immaculate Machine and the New Pornographers had an idea her solo debut would be a worth a look, but couldn’t have been expecting what a revelation Are You My Mother? turned out to be.
Calder recorded the album with producer Colin Stewart in her childhood home while she was caring for her terminally ill mother, and the result is a deeply moving work of emotional honesty that never forgets it’s also a pop record.
The album opens with three incredibly strong songs, “If Only You Knew”, “Low” and “Castor and Pollux”, where Calder establishes the conversational tone that gives the listener a sense of intimacy and compassion. “Take a look at my heart,” she sings on the latter song, “you’ll find the chambers are blown wide open.”
But Are You My Mother? is not an album of emotions made raw by the devastation of loss; it’s far more subtle and complex than that. And that’s why it’s so rewarding. Like Paul Simon in his best work, Calder isn’t interested in mere catharsis but in finding moments that at once feel desperately individual but also, somehow, universal. Her experiences may be unique but she relates them so smartly and honestly that they become easily relatable.
“I walk along, you’ll find me at the power station /I walk along, listening to the hum of things in motion,” Calder sings in “Follow Me Into The Hills,” one of several perfect lyrics on Are You My Mother?.
Calder and Stewart really made the most of their unusual recording setup. Are You My Mother? retains the charm and warmth we expect from home recordings but there are also moments of great volume and grandeur, especially on album closer “All It Is”.
After years of sharing the spotlight, Kathryn Calder comes into her own.
DANGER MOUSE AND SPARKLEHORSE
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL
The release of Dark Night of the Soul, from musicians Brian Burton (Danger Mouse) and Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse), is freighted with so much tragic backstory it’s a wonder that iPods aren’t cracking under its weight. Dark Night, which features collaborators as diverse as Julian Casablancas and David Lynch, exists in the shadow of the suicides of Linkous and contributor Vic Chesnutt. The album features different singers and styles on each track, which makes it feels more like a mix tape at times than a coherent group of tracks. Standouts include “Revenge” with Wayne Coyne of Flaming Lips and “Daddy’s Gone” with Nina Persson of The Cardigans. /Aidan Morgan
Not sure what Frazey Ford is doing differently that she couldn’t do with the Be Good Tanyas but that’s not for us to decide. Obadiah is a collection of songs that, musically, have drifted off someone’s cool early-1970s record collection, where the DNA between Joni Mitchell’s and Van Morrison’s music cut up and spliced itself together again with a dollop of Neil Young’s Everybody Knows This is Nowhere thrown in for good measure. Confident country/soul songwriting is held together with a quavering, quivering voice belying an inner strength. This is an album that will bear up to repeated listens, and its music will sound even better in live performances. If this isn’t the folk album of the year it will do until that music comes along. /Stephen LaRose
HOT HOT HEAT
Victoria-based, these guys broke big with their debut Make Up the Breakdown which Pitchfork, enthralled by the band’s percussive rhythms and Steve Bays’ emo-infused vocals, ranked as the 20th best album of 2002. But unlike similar Canadian bands like Arcade Fire, Metric and Broken Social Scene they weren’t able to sustain the momentum. Future Breeds is Hot Hot Heat’s first release since 2007’s mediocre Happiness Ltd. It’s a self-produced effort which is unfortunately marred by a lot of sound effect gimmickry. It’s still worth a listen though because buried beneath the dross there’s some decent tunes like “Times a Thousand” and “Nobody’s Accusing You (of having a good time)”. /Gregory Beatty