Chad VanGaalen Artist Interview
The story begins in a galaxy far, far away… "Intergalactic slavery going on within this closed system," says Chad VanGaalen, describing a fictional world of his creation. "I basically started making the planet... Then I was like, ‘Oh, it's going to be this mining community." Surprise, surprise, like that's never been used before..." And that right there is about as close to "conventional" as Chad VanGaalen comes. 2014's Shrink Dust is VanGaalen's first album in almost exactly three years. Described by its creator as a "sci-fi folk record", it takes the sound of its predecessor from 2011, Diaper Island, and, through the introduction of a pedal steel guitar, amplifies a certain country element that's been rumbling around in the background for a while. That influence appears as early as the first track, "Cut Off My Hands", which drifts in on a sweet calm that's reminiscent of the quieter moments of, say, Joel R.L. Phelps and the Downer Trio. VanGaalen album-openers can be deceptively mellow, though, and "Cut Off My Hands" is chased by the propulsive, television snow Madchester-ness of "Where Are You". Spiraling through it all are his trademark traits and nuances: the spectral vocal quiver, melodic pivots and bursts, the stretching of a single word like "evil" to the length of a sentence...

In the continental 48 states, we often romanticize what life is like up in the mysterious neighbor to our north: Canada. With their peaceful lifestyle and free healthcare, it must be utopia, right? Everyone’s healthy and winning the Olympics with their athleticism, and no one ever argues with each other. Or maybe it’s just too cold to create too much of a fuss. Either way, we’ve seen an influx of Canadian musicians taking over the indie scene in the past decade, and their rise is due, at least in part, to the efforts of those who are committed to making sure the music is heard. Thanks in part due to FACTOR (The Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recording), a non-profit that works closely with the Canadian government to help fund Canadian musicians, there is a lot more freedom to experiment, without the weight of high recording costs. Yet another thing to envy about Canada! And when it comes to documenting and then launching artists from the Canadian music scene, specifically in Montreal, we are hard-pressed to find someone doing it better than Arbutus Records.

Out with the old, no matter how good it is! Here's our comprehensive list of Top Albums of the Year 2013, schizophrenic as always to reflect the diverse tastes of our staff, though there is some overlap. It's highly recommended you check out every release here, as each has its own creative strengths.
Matthew Carter - electronic, experimental, metal, pop, rock Vivian Hua - dance, indie, pop, psychedelic, soul Troy Micheau - classical, electronic, experimental, instrumental Judy Nelson - dance, electronic, indie, pop, psychedelic, soul Elizabeth Perry - indie, mainstream, pop, rock Peter Woodburn - classical, instrumental, metal XUA - electronic hip-hop, mainstream, pop Albums of the Year 2013

After their collaboration on The Belle Game’s first music video proved natural and compelling in narrative, director Kheaven Lewandowski and the band decided to once again work together on the music video for "River", from their debut album, Ritual Tradition Habit. Much less upbeat than the previous track, "River"'s finds its setting moving from Western countrysides into Japanese cityscapes, as it follows a male sex worker – also known as a rent-boy – through neon-lit streets and into a realistically-documented underbelly of the city. The result is both sensual and raw, leaving viewers curious to know more about the subculture. Lewandowski and The Belle Game’s Adam Nanji discuss the formulation and execution of the music video, as well as the social ideas it stirs up, in the bi-lingual English-Japanese Q&A interview below. Japanese translation by Katch, Matt Erik and Yoshiko Sanda 日本語翻訳:三田佳子、キャッチ・マシュー

Austra's two sold out shows in Berlin are expressive of the band's massive appeal in a city that thrives upon innovative music programming, anachronisms of the 1980s, and advocation for LGBT acceptance. Touring behind the sophomore album Olympia, an effort that features all of the aforementioned three, Katie Stelmanis and company delivered a set of darkly emotional synthpop that did not disappoint either night. Classically voice-trained as a child, with a partiality toward gloomy themes, Canadian Katie Stelmanis' laptop dabbling resulted in Austra's 2011 debut Feel It Break, which achieved remarkable success. Now on Olympia, Stelmanis has not only dropped the bleak moods of the first album, but discarded the backing tracks in favor of actual instrumentation rather than computer-driven guidance. In doing, so the band now displays a more human presence, as Stelmanis has relinquished more freedom to the rest of the band to apply musical coloration to her robust voice. October 28th, 2013 @ Heimathafen Neukölln in Berlin, Germany

Iceland Airwaves 2013
Iceland Airwaves started back in 1999 in an airport hangar outside of Reykjavik. Since then, it has grown into one of Europe's premiere music festivals, showcasing the insane amounts of musical talent coming from the land of few people and many sheep. Each year, the festival curates some of the best up-and-coming international talent to supplement the Icelandic artists, and introduces a ton of off-venue shows. The total schedule is 10 pages long, and the whole festival turns Reykjavik into a musical paradise for five nights. It is all incredibly overwhelming, so let's break it down into two parts to try and help you out:

 

The Icelandic Musicians Amiina Daníel Bjarnason FM Belfast For a Minor Reflection Ghostigital Hermigervill múm Samaris Sin Fang Sóley
The International Musicians Anna von Hausswolff (Sweden) Electric Eye (Norway) Fucked Up (Canada) Goat (Sweden) Jagwar Ma (Australia) Kithkin (United States) Kraftwerk (Germany) Royal Canoe (Canada) Stealing Sheep (United Kingdom) Yo La Tengo (United States)

The Icelandic Musicians

For a country of under 350,000 people, Icelanders sure love their music, enough so that just about everyone and anyone forms a band -- or two. The Iceland Airwaves Festival showcases this proud musical tradition perfectly, and many of the Icelandic bands hop on board in support, sometimes playing over five times throughout the festival. Iceland isn't all Sigur Ros, Bjork and Of Monsters and Men. There is a lot of fantastic music coming from the island, and here are some bands to check out, many of which we have covered in the past. (Those who would like a more intimate understanding of the country's musical climate are encouraged to read our essay, The Real Icelandic Music Scene: Interviews, which include excusive mixtape downloads and Icelandic musician interviews, or explore all of our articles related to Iceland).

Amiina

Gamla Bíó - Saturday @ 22:00 Amiina are well-known for recording and touring with Sigur Rós; any of those strings you hear underneath Jonsi’s howl: that is Amiina. The band combines a contemporary classical style with a minimalist’s touch, ambient littered throughout.

 

Daníel Bjarnason

Harpa Kaldalón - Friday @ 23:20 Daníel Bjarnason is an Icelandic composer of the highest caliber, who has had works commissioned and debuted by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. His pieces are emotive, complex and riveting. That should be no different in a live scenario.

thisquietarmy Hex Mountains Denovali Records (2013)Hex Mountains is a black mass, that rends the veil of consensual reality, plunging the listener into a twilight afterlife of elder gods and ancient wisdom. It's good to have post-rock back. For years, it seemed that all the genre could produce was ham-fisted Mogwai knock-offs that lost the emotional subtlety and expansive listening habits of the original movement. Imitators with long names sucked the marrow right out of post-rock's bones until it was an embarrassment, a shell of its former self. People forgot how thrilling it could be to combine the crushing weight of metal with the sonic possibilities of electronic music, and the weird eeriness of drone. The Denovali Records release of two albums from Montreal drone alchemist Eric Quach, who has released over 50 albums under the name thisquietarmy, suggest that this is about to change, and that it is again okay to appreciate epic instrumental rock 'n roll; people are finding new and interesting things to do with the format. Hex Mountains suggests a new phase in Thisquietarmy's extensive catalog. After touring with heavyweights like Year Of No Light and Deafheaven, Eric Quach wanted to turn up the intensity. He shattered the traditional isolation of TQA's somnolent soundscapes, to enlist members of Alashan, Northumbria and Monarch. It's some of his most pummeling work to date.

Phèdre Golden Age DAPS / Discos Tormentos (2013) Blurred, mildly distorted, catchy and strange, like a reflection of the past viewed through a dirty martini glass, Golden Age is a collection of playful tracks from musicians with a clear idea of what they want to achieve. Inspired, loosely, by the Greek mythological story of Phaedre and the track “Some Velvet Morning" by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood, Phèdre have produced a body of work that is often beguiling and sometimes enchanting. Incorporating a palette of sounds that is complementary and wide-ranging, this album is a kaleidoscopic journey into what is now possible and what was once probable. Reminiscent of the work of EAR PWR and Supertalented, you can also hear the electronic strangeness of The Residents coexisting alongside the rough cowboy and the vulnerable girl interplay of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood. Add to this the San Francisco psychedelia of Fifty Foot Hose, one of the first bands to combine rock and experimental music, and you have an idea of what to expect from Phèdre.