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Best tunes of 2011: #4 Austra “Lose it”

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Have you ever listened to and enjoyed an album up to a point but then, after seeing the band perform its songs live, it’s suddenly your favourite (at that moment) album? Well, it’s happened to me… a number of times. And one of these was with Austra’s debut album, “Feel it break”, after seeing their incendiary performance at Ritual Nightclub on December 3rd, 2011.

If you’ve not heard of them before, Austra is a three-piece band from Toronto, Canada, whose moniker was taken from the middle name of the petite lead singer and front woman, Katie Stelmanis. The other two members of the band are drummer Maya Postepski (also of TR/ST) and Dorian Wolf on bass. When I saw them live, they were joined onstage by a keyboard player and the Lightman twins (from Tasseomancy) singing backup. However and with apologies to her bandmates, this project is really about Stelmanis, a classically trained singer who found a love for electronic music, which explains the seemingly boundless vocal range.

While listening, if you can tear yourself away from just the vocals for a moment and realize there is backing music, you might hear a strong resemblance to the sounds Depeche Mode was making during their darker periods in the late 80s and early 90s (see albums “Music for the masses” and “Violator”). And it’s not just her use of synthesizers that make me say this but also her use of the minor key. Kate Stelmanis has admitted a love for writing music in minor keys, which is something of which Depeche Mode’s principal songwriter, Martin Gore, was also fond.

“Lose it” is easily my favourite track of many fantastic songs on “Feel it break” and most probably the catchiest of the lot. Starting off with a cool robotic sound that mixes European industrial with that aforementioned early Depeche Mode, the song jumps up a notch when Katie Austra Stelmanis adds her lush vocals and you’re just thinking how amazing she is and then she blows that away again with the chorus.

So if you’re up for some new-wave inspired electronic tunes, I highly recommend giving “Lose it” a listen. It’s especially excellent for enjoying through earphones.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

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Best tunes of 2011: #5 Dum Dum Girls “Bedroom eyes”

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Lots has changed for Kristin Gundred since 2011, when she released “Only in dreams”, her second full-length as leader of the group, Dum Dum Girls. At that time, she was performing under the name “Dee Dee” (not “Dee Dee Penny”, as many have erroneously reported, including myself) and she had just released an album with a full band that many critics were seeing as the start of something. However, we would unfortunately only see one other LP* released under the Dum Dum Girls name, 2014’s “Too true”, on which Gundred returned to recording by herself and moved ever so slightly away from the noisy, wall-of-sound washes and 60s girl group melodies. Afterwards, she dispensed with the idea of Dum Dum Girls completely and rebranded herself Kristin Kontrol, going all synths and glam. Somewhere amidst all this, she also divorced with her husband and sometimes collaborator, Crocodiles frontman Brandon Welchez.

“Only in dreams” was my introduction to Gundred and her beautiful voice, an asset that she was only just starting to showcase on this particular album. It happened to also be my gateway to a few other likeminded bands that had somehow escaped my notice to this point, bands like Best Coast and Vivian Girls that riffed on the 60s girl group but upped griminess factor on the wall of sound. I had, on the other hand, already been exposed to the similar ethos of The Raveonettes, a band with whom I compared this album when trying to get others as hooked on them as I was. It didn’t surprise me, then, when I read in the album’s liner notes that it was co-produced by The Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner.

“Bedroom eyes” was the second single released from “Only in dreams” and also appears second in order of play. It has all that noise and peppy beat that you’d expect and Gundred imbues her vocals with longing, singing about missing her now ex-husband while they were both away on separate tours. It transports you back to a simpler time but doesn’t leave the current age so far behind that you forget how that so-called simpler time wasn’t so simple. Beneath the glorious jangle and shine and chiming backing harmonies is a toughness. Just watch the video that plays on all the videos that might have been made at the time. Kristin and her band members are all decked out in black, sexy and sneering, not at all like the delicate flowers the influencing groups back in the day would’ve been portrayed.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

* And an EP

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Best tunes of 2011: #6 Rich Aucoin “It”

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I made mention of AUX TV a few times during my Best tunes of 2010 series. I had somehow come across the channel during a random surf at the high end of my Rogers Cable offerings back around the beginning of the 2010s. I almost immediately made the connection that the channel actually played music videos* like MuchMusic used to do, especially at certain hours of the day. One of these happened to be in the early hours and it became part of my morning ritual to turn on the channel while I made and enjoyed my morning coffee. I discovered many a new tune and artist in this way, just check here and here for a couple examples from that Best of 2010 list.

Unfortunately, AUX has since changed formats and been rebranded but I mention it today because this is where I first heard tell of Rich Aucoin, seeing the video for “It” one morning and loving it from the start. If you haven’t seen the video, you should definitely take the time to peruse it below. It strings together instantly recognizable scenes from famous films, like Forrest Gump, The Princess Bride, E.T., Top Gun, Ghostbusters, amongst others, and places Aucoin and his cronies as active participants in the scenes. Many of these films are ones from my youth that I’ve seen numerous times and of which I have fond memories, so it never fails to bring a smile to make face when I watch it. However, I remember it took me a few times watching it originally to catch who the artist that was performing the track because I was always busy brewing coffee at the time or AUX TV would have its titles screwed up. One time, I swore they said “Roch Voisin” but I knew that couldn’t be right. Eventually, I got it nailed down and I went out to hunt down the album on which “It” appeared.

When I listened to Aucoin’s debut album, “We’re all dying to live”, I was very impressed that the rest of the tracks were just as phenomenally put together as “It” and so full of joyous orchestral music of epic proportions. However, I didn’t truly understand the energy and the joy until the following year when I saw Rich Aucoin perform live at Ottawa Bluesfest. His sets are less performances than they are celebrations. He blurs the lines between performer and audience, shattering that glass wall with the use of multimedia, by joining the audience in front of the stage, and employing the use of a parachute, all to create a miasmic, organic, celebratory event. I saw him again a few years later at the Toronto Urban Roots Festival, a set to which he invited the good people at Choir! Choir! Choir! to join him onstage for this entire time slot.

Yeah. Rich Aucoin is all about sharing and caring. He’s almost like a care bear in this way. Indeed, even the most jaded in the crowd can’t help but be pulled in by his exuberance and energy and zest for life. Though the “It” that he doesn’t want us to keep within our heads isn’t quite clear, we know by inference that it cannot be good. The tinkling piano that would have us floating up, Bugs Bunny style, into the clouds, our toes flapping us up like wings, says as much. And the imbued verve and the singing choirs are all working to convince you that we should indeed all be dying to live. Hallelujah to that.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2011 list, click here.

* It was especially cool because the channel focused on new and emerging independent artists.