Pinback

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Pinback is a California-based indie rock duo comprised of multi-instrumentalists Rob Crow and Armistead Smith. Now, when I say “multi”, what I mean is like 50+ instruments each, but if I type “omni-instrumentalist” I get the red underline of grammatical error and eternal suffering. With origins in the late 90s, Pinback began as a side project between Crow and Smith, whose primary bands eventually dissolved, fell by the wayside or were abducted by aliens. Against all side-project odds, this group cultivated, matured and eventually became a quintessential, defining indie act that remains an absolute staple of the genre today. Crafting with uncanny writing styles that sound almost as though each member wrote then mashed an entire song irrespective of the other, Pinback is intertwined, oscillating and somehow harmoniously combative. Like a musical marriage, they’re constantly talking over and finishing each other’s sentences and acoustic phrases, but what comes of this war is milk and honey. With down-tempo instrumentation, emotionally-driven and often perplexing lyrical content, as well as an unusual knack for the painfully beautiful, Pinback are definitely one of those bands I consider “important”. They’re the melting pot interface between raw talent and truly collaborative creativity – where the listener can appreciate the value of each instrument’s contribution and accentuation.

With 5 LPs, well over 10 EPs and a compilation album, there’s a stunning amount of quality music to discuss, but I’ll stick to my besties. Starting with their amazing 1999 debut, the aptly-titled “This Is A Pinback CD”, this album is classic old-school Pinback, showcasing some of their very best work (try “Loro”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeJf-18lF84). However, it was in Pinback’s sophomoric LP that I believe Crow and Smith found their masterpiece: “Blue Screen Life”, released in 2001 and one of my most listened to albums of all time. It is a music lovers goldmine, a haven of solace and a gift unto the music world containing some of the greatest indie songs ever created. Afterward, Pinback took a turn for the poppier side of things, generating the excellent 2004 “Summer in Abaddon” LP, a solid 30-minute EP called “Offcell” and much, much more.

Favorite track: Concrete Seconds (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFCxR6SEDro)… Ahhhhhh…

ceo

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ceo (yes, I intentionally left the “c” lowercase… it’s stylized that way) is the moniker of enigmatic, larger-than-life Swedish producer Eric Berglund. Previously a member of the reasonably-influential and strangely violent electro-pop duo The Tough Alliance (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pU8ToFiEgg), Berglund recently chose to focus on solo work and running his label Sincerely Yours (home to Air France, jj, Magic Tapes and others). With nods to synthpop, EDM, national anthems, love ballads and ethnic diversities like South Asian instrumentation and African-sounding beats, ceo flies the listener at mach speeds through a rainbow-coloured sonic whirlwind of tinsel and sparkles.

Since 2010, ceo has released LPs “White Magic” and this year’s brilliant “Wonderland”, as well as some pretty solid covers of Blondie (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=obtXz9_9LkE) and, yeah, Beyoncé (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKpLU6e2uDo). Takes some guts to attempt a Queen B song. And about as much talent to do it right.

Favourite track: Illuminata (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=318JRydSzB8)… Rising on the wings of honesty of a magical pegasus headed for the sunset.

Memoryhouse

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Memoryhouse are a dream pop duo from Guelph, Ontario comprised of Evan Abeele and Denise Nouvion. One time I saw a middle-aged human wearing a shirt that read, “If I wanted to feel ‘all warm and fuzzy inside’, I’d swallow a kitten”. When I want to feel that way, I put on Memoryhouse. I distinctly remember coming across their first gem of a track, “Lately (Deuxième)” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2xgP4hjdPs) while perusing some of Nouvion’s eye-catching photography (www.wearebandits.com). Featuring a perfectly-integrated sample of Jon Brion’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind OST standout “Phone Call”, “Lately” uniquely captures the melancholic hopefulness of that beautiful, timeless film. Memoryhouse reside in and effortlessly emanate that time before the sun goes down, where shadows are endlessly lengthened, everything is washed in gold, the warm air now cooling and you’re thinking about heading in. Drenched in the warmth of reverb and feather-weight production, their music is about as cathartic as you get inside the realm of indie. That is, of course, assuming you don’t consider those nature noise/piano soundtracks playing in novelty stores to be “indie”.

In their 4+ years of crafting lullabies, Memoryhouse have chartered some gorgeous territory. Their original 2010 “The Years” EP (now offered solely as the 2011 remastered version), as well as the follow-up “Caregiver / Heirloom” EP represent some of the very best of their genre. They have also waved their magical wand of nostalgia over a number of remixes for the likes of Korallreven, Seven Saturdays, Porcelain Raft and CFCF, as well as covers of Grizzly Bear’s “Foreground” and The Andrew Sister’s “Christmas Island” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLYl79Zrqu8 – if you can stomach another Christmas song in February). Recently signed to Sub Pop, Memoryhouse changed up their overarching esthetic, as bands often do, to one of refinement and pop-oriented songwriting. For the most part, their debut LP “The Slideshow Effect” is an enjoyable listen, but there are a few tracks mixed with the vocals too forefront for Nouvion’s style and proficiency. However, the vast majority of their work is a honeypot of sweet, soothing nectar.

Favourite track: Lately (Troisieme) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3-FDMFMdXA)… You’ve heard of the girl/boy next door, well this is the music next door.

Sevendeaths

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Sevendeaths is Scotland-based electro producer Steven Shade, signed to UK’s LuckyMe label. Software developer by trade, Shade puts his skill set to good use, creating and modulating much of his sound with customized inventions and equipment adaptations. Generating a dense blend of gritty drone and bassy synth tones waterlogged in a wash of static, his frantic arpeggiated melodies fight and occasionally break free from this world of overwhelming ambience. It’s like standing on the meridian of a busy freeway during a windstorm, looking up at low-set heavy overcast canopy passing above and catching transient glimpses of  twinkling stars through voids in the cloud.

Since late 2012, Sevendeaths has put out 2 excellent releases, his 3-song “Sometimes, Silence” debut and this year’s “Conreté Misery” LP.

Favourite track: Petrograde (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doneKqmPGaw)… The title track “Concreté Misery” is also amazing, currently hosted near the top of Pitchfork’s “Rising” article (http://pitchfork.com/features/rising/9318-sevendeaths/).

Sepalcure

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Sepalcure is an American electronic duo that started in 2010 as a collaboration between Travis Stewart (more widely known as Machinedrum) and Praveen Sharma (also performing under the moniker Braille). Originating as a “cathartic” two week project, it’s obvious from the passion and energy of their music that these dudes found a deeper connection than probably expected. With beats and glossy licks equally catchy as their eye-candy album art, Sepalcure provides a refreshing take on beat-driven club-quality dance tunes while still cruising sufficiently mellow to facilitate an unambitious Wednesday evening of lounging around and writing music blog entries.

Since signing to UK-based Hotflush Records (home to other talents like Mount Kimbie and Scuba), Sepalcure has released 3 heavenly EPs “Love Pressure”, “Fleur” and 2013’s “Make You”, as well as their stellar 2011 debut LP pictured above.

Favourite track: Me (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VEuFhOcjmc)… Smooth cruise.

Gesaffelstein

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Gesaffelstein is French techno producer Mike Lévy. Reportedly crafting this moniker as a portmanteau of the German word “Gesamtkunstwerk” (which has like 10 definitions, one of which is “synthesis of the arts”) with the suffix of “Einstein” (not sure where “ffel” is coming from, let’s say… “Eiffel” since he’s French and all). Anyways, this dude is the most heavy-hitting, in-your-face, relentless and devastating electro artist I’ve heard in many moons. Being an unreasonably dashing, well-dressed chap, it was initially difficult for me to put face to name, as I spent the better part of my evening picking up the pieces of my broken eardrums, recovering after our first encounter. Picture a semi-automatic machine gun made of diamonds and crystal lattice, a tight-knit brood of grey-eyed wolves staring at you from the cold and the dark; imagine yourself falling, reeling and flailing, looking up at a receding black silhouetted figure watching your descent from the top of an endless high-rise… that’s Gesaffelstein. However, as you lick your wounds and delve into Lévy’s works, you realize there is one theme that permeates all his versatile sound: class.

After hearing his works, Kanye West invited Lévy to collaborate on what became “Black Skinhead” – the best song on “Yeezus” – and “Send It Up” (also appearing in Gesaffelstein’s work as the track “Hellifornia”). From the stalking I’ve done online, Gesaffelstein also boasts an amazing live show. More than any producer I’ve seen, he spends noticeable time staring intent and wide-eyed into the audience, particularly during the most intense beat drops, in a sort of maddened agreement and approval of the collective surge and pulse of the crowd’s energy. He smokes like a chimney, or the smoking barrel of a shotgun perhaps, concurrently dropping ashes, beads of sweat and blasting, hammering tempo.

Since his 2008 origins, Gesaffelstein has released a handful of EPs, the “Conspiracy” series and his contribution to the Brodinski split “Bromance 1” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FB58S5ywPm8) being standouts, as well as one the best records of 2013 in his punishing debut LP “Aleph”. With a tasteful cocktail of spine-crushing techno and quieter IDM haunts, Gesaffelstein shows incredible promise and talent beyond his years.

Favourite track: Pursuit (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJ5JpHH1ovI)… Run for your life.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967–2014)

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I wanted to take a few moments to write an article in dedication and memory of my favourite actor of all time, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Suffering for many years with the disease of addiction, Hoffman reportedly died of overdose just yesterday. Known for his incredible versatility and consistency in both film and stage acting, I think he was one of the most talented performers to ever grace cinema. His very presence in a film, no matter how grand or minute, was always a sight to behold, a force to be reckoned with, and a remarkable demonstration of true talent.

Over the course of his short career, Hoffman received numerous awards and accolades. With 4 Academy Award nominations, he won Best Actor in a Leading Role for the portrayal of Truman Capote, author of modern creative non-fiction masterpiece “In Cold Blood”, in 2005’s “Capote”. He has teamed up with some of my most cherished directors, helping to mold and flawlessly manifest their artistic vision. Highlights include collaborations with the majority of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, including “Boogie Nights”, “Magnolia”, “Punch-Drunk Love”, and most recently, “The Master” alongside the talented Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams. However, his heart-felt performance in Charlie Kaufman’s “Synecdoche, New York” as Caden Cotard, a troubled playwright and director struggling to complete his works due to endless relational quarrels and bizarre health issues, will remain in my mind the absolute pinnacle of his brilliance.

Other notable performances and cameos can be seen scattered diffusely throughout his prolific career, including his cult classic role in the Coen Brother’s “The Big Lebowski”, his antagonistic characters in “Patch Adams” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, as well as his witty, punchy flare in “Charlie Wilson’s War”, “The Ides of March” and “Pirate Radio”. Known for both art house and blockbusters performances, he lent his skill to the latter in “Mission: Impossible III” and films 2-4 of the “Hunger Games” quadrilogy, the finale which is still in filming.  Interestingly, and perhaps a little too close to home, Hoffman also portrayed a finance executive struggling to hide his addiction to heroin in 2007’s “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead”. Known for his humility and gentle demeanor, he would be the last to boast of the impact of his works in the world of cinema.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is survived by his ex-partner, Mimi O’Donnel, and by his 3 children.

Favourite film: Synecdoche, New York (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XIizh6nYnTU)

Andrew Bird

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Andrew Bird is a talented Chicago-based multi-instramentalist and performer who has steadily released music since the late 90s. Mastering the violin from a young age, Andrew likewise excels at singing, whistling (yes, whistling), guitar, and a plethora of other instruments he uses live, leading to him being nicknamed “The One-Man Orchestra”. Combined with the remarkable support of Martin Dosh (a like-minded percussionist, pianist and electro programmer), their live shows are amongst the most impressive and often entirely flabbergasting performances I’ve ever seen. If you listen to a live recording, you might expect there to be 5-10 backing musicians present, and it seems almost impossible that only 2 could build so many looped layers, maintain such dynamic intonation, and still play in eyes-closed passion throughout. Over the years, I’ve watched more Andrew Bird live footage online than most other bands combined, a natural consequence of his genius and ingenuity (here’s a prototypical example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUjBe21xEgk).

Cruising effortlessly between indie, folk, country, blues, jazz and about any other genre he feels like gracing with his proficiency, Andrew never sacrifices in artistic quality, charm or wit. With semi-savant likeness, he writes music entirely in his head, relying on the catchiness and memorability of his ideas to self-select into what is album worthy and what can pass over into wherever the forgettables go. He also believes in sustainable touring, traveling in organically-fueled vehicles, biking to venues when possible, and planting trees along cross-country journeys. Quite the gentleman.

His modern streak of genius started with with the release of 2003’s “Weather Systems”, followed by the masterful “Mysterious Production of Eggs” two years later. Since then, Andrew continues to deliver magnificence with 2007’s “Armchair Apocrypha” (my personal favourite of his), “Noble Beast”, “Break It Yourself”, a series of covers / re-works in 2012’s “Hands of Glory”, as well as a host of EPs, live albums and compilations. Outside his solo work, Andrew plays a collaborative role in projects ranging from productions of Walt Disney’s The Muppets to children’s TV shows (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnRoGSmgLKw) to crafting arrangements for fellow indie acts. In short, I think Andrew Bird is one of, if not the most talented and versatile artist in indie music today.

Favourite track: Imitosis (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2m90GEsnIs)… I mean, who else can get away with singing about bunsen burners, petri dishes, and research studies examining mitosis?