Denise Benson’s monthly round-up of Toronto talents making big moves in the weeks ahead. Here’s a look at who’s currently creating buzz, and why.
Who: Coleman Hell
What: Clever wordsmith transcends “hipster rap” tag with debut EP
Why: Thunder Bay native Coleman Hell is a rapper, songwriter, and producer on the rise. Though he hustled on home turf within group projects, it was only after Hell moved to T.O. two years back that he focussed more heavily on his solo guise, resulting in the sharp, savvy album Stark Raving. Now available as a free download on Hell’s website, Stark Raving is an impressive debut made by a man who is equal parts self-confident and self-effacing. (“As extravagant and ego-fuelled as Kanye West while as depressed and self-loathing as any Radiohead song you’ve ever heard,” according to his bio.) Hell raps, sings, opens personal wounds, and boasts his way through 11 tracks filled with often-clever wordplay and genuinely creative production. The songs—mostly written and produced with multi-instrumentalist and fellow Sideways8 collective member la+ch—are largely slow in tempo while big on melody. Hell, I can’t even diss him for album opener “Chasing Amy,” both because he’s amusingly aware that the track is textbook-classic straight-boy talk, and because the musical approach is mad ambitious. Similarly, “Beer Cans” is laced with nods, winks and hooks, all nicely reflected in the song’s accompanying video. Next up, Hell will release a single and video for “Synesthesia,” and he’s currently planning a Stark Raving summer tour.
Where & When: Coleman Hell and band perform live at Friday’s (June 7) release party for Stark Raving. They’re joined by hip-hop crew Notes to Self, with the show taking place between 9-11 p.m. at The Drake Underground (1150 Queen W.). $10.
Who: Still Life Still
What: Arts & Crafts act plays Field Trip festival, reveals details of sophomore LP
Why: Making music together since grade school, the five friends in indie-rock outfit Still Life Still—Brendon Saarinen (vocals/guitar), Eric Young (vocals/guitar), Aaron Romaniuk (drums), Josh Romaniuk (keyboards/percussion), and Derek Paulin (bass)—grabbed ears with the 2009 release of their debut album, Girls Come Too, on Arts & Crafts. Recorded largely live-off-the-floor, that full-length was bright and bouncing with harmonies and youthful abandon. Almost four full years later, we’re treated to a more sombre, but equally arresting, side of the band with recent song “Burial Suit.” Info accompanying the announcement of a related new video, and the August 20 arrival of sophomore album Mourning Trance, explains the mood and lyrical shifts: three members of the band’s extended family passed away during its making (“so Mourning Trance became about loss and family, but also about coping and finding a way to enjoy life through all of the exhaustion”). Anyone who has also lost a parent or family member can relate to these themes, and the shared information certainly makes the beautifully-edited video—featuring footage shot by the Romaniuks’ grandparents in the 1960s—all the more poignant. As we await the band’s full-length—produced by Alex Bonenfant (Metz, Crystal Castles)—Still Life Still can now also be heard in collaboration with Zulu Winter on the new compilation Arts & Crafts: X, while infectious new single “In Enemies” debuted yesterday on MTV Hive and will be available for sale from June 11.
Where & When: Fresh off their Canadian tour with British band The Boxer Rebellion, Still Life Still is on the road for most of June. They perform this Saturday (June 8 ) at Arts & Crafts’ 10th-anniversary Field Trip festival, alongside labelmates Broken Social Scene, Feist, Bloc Party, Stars, and Timber Timbre, before touring a series of nearby cities with Gold & Youth. On June 14, the band plays a midnight NXNE set at BLK BOX (1087 Queen W.).
Who: Ell V Gore
What: Deliciously dark foursome releases debut EP, Sex Static
Why: Ell V Gore made an instant believer out of me. I had no clue about frontman Elliott Jones’ history before stumbling upon the band’s “Lobotomy” single as it debuted on Vice’s Noisey blog a few weeks back, but that’s all it took. “Lobotomy” immediately appealed to both my goth history—particularly my love of bands like The Cramps, Swans, Gene Loves Jezebel, and Birthday Party—and my ongoing appreciation for darker electronics. Little wonder. It turns out that Jones himself is a former member of bands including Guelph post-punkers Brides; is also known for throwing “freaky” late-night parties; and runs local darkwave imprint Pretty Pretty. Check, check, and check. But Ell V Gore’s debut EP, Sex Static, is even better than the sum of these parts. Out today (June 4) on Bad Actors, the new label headed by Ben Cook (Fucked Up, No Warning, Yacht Club), Sex Static finds the four-piece band working in unison to create an equal number of dark, deliciously noisy, tightly wound tunes. The EP has met with praise from the likes of Exclaim! and CBC Music, both of which posted full streams (the latter also included Sex Static in a list of “15 Canadian albums you need to listen to this month”), while The Grid’s own Stuart Berman gave the EP a solid 8/10 rating. The video for “Lobotomy” made its debut on Pitchfork today.
Where & When: With a live show that’s reputed to be entertaining and intense, Ell V Gore is a bona-fide NXNE buzz band. Their June 13 release party for Sex Static doubles as a Pretty Pretty showcase, with Ell V Gore joined at BLK BOX (1087 Queen W.) by bands including Kontravoid, No Joy, Cellphone, and Black Marble. $10 or free with a NXNE wristband. Ell V Gore also performs as part of NXNE on June 16 at The Garrison (1197 Dundas W.), and opens for Montreal’s Mac DeMarco at The Hoxton (69 Bathurst) on June 30.
Who: Torro Torro
What: Local electronic music ambassadors bring the party home
Why: The Toronto production duo of Mike “Digits” Gonek and Evan “Yo Ev” Norton, together known as Torro Torro, has grown enormously in sound and reach over the past five years. Known for creating big-room party smashers and slowed moombahton riddims alike, Torro Torro is now a favourite of high-profile producers and label owners including Skrillex, Steve Aoki, and Dave Nada. The duo’s 2012 remix of Neoteric and Wax Motif’s “Go Deep” was absolutely massive; having garnered widespread DJ support and amassed almost 600,000 YouTube plays, the tune led to enviable touring and production opportunities. Thus far in 2013, Torro Torro released two big remixes for Ultra Music—of Congorock and Sean Paul’s “Bless Di Nation,” and Zeds Dead’s “Cowboy”—and reworked Zedd’s “Clarity” for UKF Music/Interscope. The goal now is to focus on the release of original Torro Torro material, including an EP anticipated later this year.
“The overwhelming support of our remixes has established our name in the dance world, and built a ton of interest from the music industry; now it’s time for us to explore our own original ideas and songwriting,” Torro Torro tells me by email, adding that they’re encouraged by electronic music fans’ “growing appreciation for diversity.”
Torro Torro has toured steadily for much of the past year, with audiences increasing “exponentially, from venue capacities of 500-1,000 people to ones of 2,000-10,000 people,” as they made their Australian debut and covered much of North America. “The extensive touring has really strengthened our crowd interaction.”
Where & When: Torro Torro performs their first full live show in T.O. in 10 months at a special NXNE edition of Slowed, where they’ll be joined by Nadastrom on June 14 at The Hoxton (69 Bathurst). $15 advance tickets are available online.
“We’re eager to play our full spectrum of sound, which is typical of touring sets: lots of uptempo electro, bass, and house music, as well as our Moombahton/’Slowed’ sounds. Recent sets [in Toronto] haven’t showcased this diversity.”
Who: Fresh Snow
What: Dynamic psych-rock foursome releases debut album, tours with Wavelength
Why: Exploring the sweet spot between psychedelic abstractions and warm washes of melody, Toronto indie quartet Fresh Snow is aptly named and infinitely exciting. Comprising Sonic Boom employees past and present, the band—Tim Condon (guitar/wires), Bradley Davis (guitar/keyboards), Andy Lloyd (bass/keys), and Jon Maki (drums)—first made waves with a split 7-inch, also featuring METZ, that the shop released for Record Store Day 2012. Fresh Snow has played a select number of live shows since (bassist Andy Lloyd has been a touring member of Caribou and also tours with Born Ruffians), many of them connected to Wavelength, which also embraced the foursome as a “2013 Artist Incubator band.” Fresh Snow will spend the latter half of June touring with the two other incubator bands, Del Bel and Most People, as part of the Wavelength Road Show.
“Wavelength has been great to us,” confirms Davis. “Very early on, they had faith in us and let us run with our crazy ideas. At the first Wavelength event we participated in, we played inside a pod with projections being directed outwards. The audience could surround us 360 degrees.”
Fresh Snow’s approach to musicmaking is equally adventurous, as debut album I exemplifies. Released digitally and on cassette last month by Reel Cod Records, I was culled from improvised studio sessions that were later re-imagined and reconstructed by Condon, the band’s “electronic noisemaker” and a trained sound engineer. Primarily instrumentals, the dense, hypnotic songs demonstrate how that Fresh Snow travels beyond the frequent comparisons to Can, My Bloody Valentine, Oneida and the like by creating their own highly accessible, surprisingly linear world of distortion and rhythm. The album is intensely dynamic—I hear something new in each listen—with the vinyl version (available now as a pre-order) made all the more so thanks to a mastering job courtesy of musician/producer James Plotkin. In addition, Fresh Snow will soon release a split 7-inch with label-mates Mimico, and is currently developing a large live show for fall that reverses the pod concept. “I am very into the idea of creating a borderline overwhelming experience,” says Davis. “I like it when I see a live performance and it leaves me out of sorts and a little confused.”
Where & When: Fresh Snow performs June 15 at Creatures Creating (822 Dundas St. W.), on night three of Wavelength’s NXNE series. Also on the bill are Fin, Os Tropies, Most People, and Del Bel. Free with a NXNE wristband.