Benjamin Hollihan

freelance journalist and writer


Live Review: Bring Your Headphones at the Bleeding Heart Art Space

Bleeding Heart Art Space (Photo by Kali Wells)

by Benjamin Hollihan, March 12, 2018

The concept of a bring your own headphones show was a strange and almost comic one for me. It conjures up images of headphone discos, glow sticks and the sound of heavy breathing and squeaking shoes for anyone not plugged in. Bring Your Headphones, an event put on by record label Mangled Tapes, in tandem with a show promotion and curation organization Sweaty Palms, both based in Edmonton, was nothing like that. It could hardly be called a music performance at all, but rather a live and spontaneous art installation.

With my photographer, Kali Wells, I showed up at Bleeding Heart Art Space in the heart of Edmonton’s downtown a few hours before the show began and to much dismay, we could not locate the venue. Feeling suddenly like an alien in my hometown, we wandered around for twenty minutes, checking between Google Maps and the street signs, before noticing the small bleeding heart logo in a otherwise nondescript doorway. Unbeknownst to us, Bleeding Heart Art Space was literally that, a small art gallery, not exactly ideal for live performances, but as we were shown, it was the perfect venue for an event like this.

We ascended the stairs into a tiny room, one in which forty people would have at capacity. Hanging on the bleach white walls, illuminated by a low winter sun, was an art installation, Contemporary Relics, by Dominika Koziak. There were four or five long tables, each with their own amp heads that were all hooked-up to a master, providing plenty of opportunities to plug in and listen. Shuffling about the room, setting up chairs, projector, and ensuring all the amps were connected and working were Matthew Belton (Westfalia) and Mustafa Rafiq (Family Injera), the organizers and performers of the event.While Belton and Rafiq paced around the room, plugging in equipment and testing gear, I chatted a bit with them about who they are and their music and the idea behind putting on this show. Rafiq spoke about his history of being involved with theatre before being fully converted—following an experience with the Japanese band Mono at a psychedelia festival in Austin—to a life dedicated to promoting and performing experimental music.

“[They] completely changed the way I thought about music,” said Rafiq.

For Rafiq and Belton, ambient music shifts from a perfectly rehearsed package in which performers follow a set structure and have total knowledge of what comes next, to a more visceral one, where the music comes alive through total improvisation. Both of these musicians also work heavily in the music industry outside of performing, by producing, tracking, and curating events for things like Found Festival, Nextfest, or for their own companies, Sweaty Palms and Mangled Tapes.

Review – “Good Cake” – Akage No Anne

reviewed by Benjamin Hollihan, Februray 22, 2018

Good Cake, the new release from Toronto’s Akage No Anne, is a wild ride.  The band’s members- Yoshihide Nakajima, Fran Copelli, Tom Dunbar, and Bill Bedford- channel their inner pastel coloured souls in an attempt to communicate something a bit heavier. The 80’s Japanese aesthetic seems to be everywhere right now. It started to seep in from the fringes of vaporwave and internet culture to slowly soak into everything present in the musical underground. The four track release gives you plenty of this as Akage No Anne combines the goofy sounds of drum machines with ballad style lyrics to create a sound that is unusual, to say the least. But certainly not bad.

This release is about a break-up, and fundamentally about barriers. Barriers between us and others, us and ourselves, and the musician and listener. Upon the first few listens, what really stood out was the kind of ironic disguise. The whole album seems to be stemming from the concept of something meant to come off as self-aware, but is really only doing so as a sort of defence mechanism. Akage No Anne shifts from half-joking towards vulnerable and serious and back constantly throughout the release, the samples and synthesizers often adding the humorous element in while the guitars and lyrics anchor our attentions back to the emotional centre.

We are introduced to the EP by the title track through the echoing bounce and smooth timbre of synthesizers slowly building with the addition of a drum machine. Eventually a guitar chimes in, and that’s when the first shift towards an introspective album is clear, the vocals about breaking up and leaving each other close behind. It is a gradual start from the first impression of being a groovy mindless release into what makes up the majority of the album, stories of tough memories and the fear of loneliness.

“Robot Philosophies” is an amazing track about the need to be on your own, but the fear of the total freedom and lack of direction that comes with it.  The titular robot’s “life has meaning when the lights go green” – they only safe when they are in the company of someone they feel comfortable giving themselves over to, not able to withstand the idea of being alone and having no one to be controlled by.

Good Cake closes out with the “Play”, which strikes me as a love song, coming full circle into no longer being alone, but instead the opposite conflict that occurs when feelings are too one sided. It completes an album arc about break-ups and barriers, as the release touches on love, control, alienation, and loneliness.

On Good Cake‘s Bandcamp page, each track’s info is a little poem of sorts, which perfectly fits into the idea of using ironic humour or aloofness as a cover for legitimate emotions. Each liner note gives you an initially confusing yet intriguing introduction to the song. I found the more I listened to each track the more I could piece together what Akage No Anne was trying to convey with each piece of writing. I think that they are definitely worth a read, if only to get a glimpse into the mysterious and conflicted world of Akage No Anne.

Top Track: “Robot Philosophies”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

Review – “Deception Bay” – Milk & Bone

reviewed by Benjamin Hollihan, February 15, 2018

Deception Bay, the synth-powered pop album from Montreal’s Milk & Bone, made up of Laurence Lafond-Beaulne and Camille Poliquin, has had a perfectly timed release. Sent out into the world during an icy cold snap amidst the warmer, albeit dark depths of a Canadian winter. It is an album of precise, calculated production that meshes with the honest warmth and vulnerability of their vocals. The subject matter however, is never as enchanting or relaxing as Milk & Bone’s singing, instead they choose to venture into the reliable but painful gold mine of songwriting: the changes we undergo as we transition from our formative years to the permanence of adulthood; the memories and scars we gather along the way to now.

The release has an extremely cohesive sound, occasionally bordering on repetitive. It is as though Milk & Bone are trying to convey the idea that these memories, these reflections, are all stemming from a single source; the same voice is recollecting each emotional scar and channelling it into the tracks on the release. They all share an ethereal, airy quality, achieved through the heavy use of synths and the occasional solitary grand piano, dreamy, breathy vocals and percussion in a groovy style akin to relaxed club beats.

The perfect phrase to describe it is one coined by Milk & Bone in the release: “I just can’t forget that crazy hazy tenderness.” (“KIDS”)  It constantly feels as though the narrator of these stories is getting lost in thought as they further dive into the past, slowly fading away from us. It is an album for remembering the past, not living in the present.

Deception Bay manages to sink a hook into the listener at the beginning with some interesting melodic lines which range from dull warble to sharp pangs, powerful lyrics about childhood and innocence, and a vibe that makes you want to get up and sway along to the songs. It gets off to a strong start with “Set in Stone” and “Daydream”, two tracks full of original twists on the dreamy synthpop trend, if only for the lyrics and unique use of low-fidelity sounding synths mixed in with high quality production. By the title track it has begun to drift dangerously far into pop generic-ism. From that point it settles into more familiar pop music territory. Not a disappointment, but not really challenging or exceedingly interesting either. For some this is exactly what they may be looking for in an album to listen to as they relax alone.

There is a very thin line that Milk & Bone is towing between drawing on material from past pop albums and shaping it into their own interesting, emotionally charged sound. While they do not achieve on every track, when they nail it, they really do nail it.

Top Tracks: “KIDS”; “Set in Stone”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

Review – “~11~” – kraft 海 dayle

reviewed by Benjamin Hollihan, February 5, 2018

Kraft Dinner is simple, understated, and has some dedicated fans. It’s cheap, quite unhealthy to regularly eat it, and can be quite repetitive. Yet it’s loved for all these reasons. When a box of Kraft Dinner is torn open, an silent voice heard by all tells you exactly what you’re in for, a low quality, albeit delicious meal. It speaks to a certain lifestyle, an atmosphere that instantly comes to mind when the image of eating KD out of the pot is presented. A hazy, goofy feeling of nostalgia, of our lives when things were simpler (life only seems to go one direction in that respect, constantly complicating) or at least when things weren’t as they are now. Lo-fi hip hop is exactly the same, a simple, tasty morsel that appeals to a specific mood and emotional landscape.

~11~, a new project from Oshawa’s kraft 海 dayle, fits this mold perfectly with their fresh release. The formula on this album, like KD, is straightforward and loveable; take a 27 track tape, each one rarely running over ninety seconds, comprised of deep kicks, cracking fat snares, swinging hi hats, fuzzy melodies, A Tribe Called Quest and other anonymous vocal samples, throw in some interludes, and put a heavy compression over it all to bring out the low end in the sounds. This yields one bumping, self-aware tape full of political and personal weight. On this specific release, what you do get is an example of just how appealing and enjoyable this formula can be.

I haven’t heard many beat tapes that have hooked me with the very first track. They’re far and few between, and dayle has definitely created one, opening with a quote about genderfluidity to give us an insight into their thoughts and life, and then immediately launching into “mom”, a standout beat, which starts off with a short piano loop followed by a heavy thumping bass drum just a few seconds in, setting the tone for an album of whimsical short beats full of colour and bright sounds. The constant references to Kraft Dinner throughout the tape reinforces a humorous examination of identity, and perhaps even a knowledge of the tapes existence as a perfect summary of the lo-fi hip-hop genre.

What makes this tape stand out, aside from the amazing sampler beatcraft, is the personal connections and political statements that dayle has put into the liner notes, song titles, and interludes, infusing the tracks with these thoughts. It accentuates this release as a deeply emotional soundtrack for their lives. It gives the listener a different perspective to know that these positive, groovy beats were spawned out of a love and passion for dayle’s life and the people in it.

~11~ is a low-fidelity, half-serious take on serious issues. Its creative use of loops and snares, kicks and hi hats all come together perfectly in each beat, and while all the tracks are quite similar upon first listen, eventually the nuances of each one comes through, whether that be from the differing patterns of syncopation, or the unique melody phrases. Sometimes we all need a reminder that life is, after all, not so bad, despite all the problems we might face. And this tape is exactly that.

Top Tracks: “mom”, “obowl”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Review – “steady phase” – steady phase

reviewed by Benjamin Hollihan, January 29, 2018

Music and time are inherently linked. Specifically music and the passage of time as it gets entangled with memories, emotions and events in your life. Music is a vehicle to be used to travel through your life, whether or not you want to. It causes involuntary memory. For some it can be a scary, painful thing, and for others it is a nostalgic and exciting idea to sit in the passenger seat as music takes the wheel. steady phase, an EP from Victoria’s steady phase (a new project from Germany Germany’s Drew Harris), explores this concept perfectly. The title of the EP itself frames the release as an exploration of the phases of life and relationships we move throughout. Each track is, in its own way, a perspective on one of these phases.

“track one/ present” opens up the EP with thumping drums, a hopeful, optimistic guitar riff, and contented synth lines. About halfway through, the drums on the track begin to  syncopate and bounce around, creating an almost whimsy. It generates an exciting feeling of being at the start of something, the “present”, and knowing that the only direction you want to move in is forward. In “track two/ trust” steady phase sends us into a steadier pulse-like rhythm of 808’s. During the B section of the track, vast, reverb heavy guitar and synth leads in combination with the constant drums puts us at the moment the excitement of life settles down and we fall into a routine, beginning to build a comfortable trust. It all comes together to form a track that is predictable yet comforting, as though you’ve heard it before.

steady phase skips right to a bittersweet and peaceful sounding “fade” for the last track, intentionally missing the messiness that transpires as change occurs and we move on. Harris leans heavily on the drums and synth in this track, leaving out guitar, creating a resonant, wistful sound. A pensive synth loop closes the EP, almost as if it is reminiscing and reflecting on the release as a whole. Leaving out the pain and end of a life-phase points to an optimistic and perhaps lacking perspective on things; who wouldn’t want to go past the height of comfort and trust with all- yourself included- in life, and immediately into a fading and forgetting of the phase? Pain would be left out, but so would a crucial feeling that life has to offer.

Part of the brilliance is that these three tracks, all displaying the rise and fall of a life event, can be applied to any infinite number of them that we experience. Although the three tracks are quite similar upon first listen, the shifts in between each one are worth putting the effort into picking up on. The subtle feeling of empathy created lets us step into steady phase’s shoes, or anyone’s, for that matter.

Top Track: “track two/ trust”

RatingStrong Hoot (Good)

Review- “counter productive resolutions & demos from south east edmonton”- Aladean Kheroufi

reviewed by Benjamin Hollihan, January 19, 2018

This harrowingly self-aware three-track EP from Edmonton’s Aladean Kheroufimanages to somehow perfectly capture the divide between wanting to grow up and hanging onto young recklessness. Calling a forgotten someone because of a bittersweet dream about them and feeling the nostalgia rekindle your connection. It brings to mind a worn out slinky with no spring left, yet you can’t stop playing with it; it above all still knows how to relax down the stairs. Sad, but still fun.

Kheroufi summarizes and uses lo-fi dreamy pop as a tool to paint a vivid picture of his emotional states through time. The second track of his EP, “Reeling,” is a perfect example, with hazy vocals telling a story of night time reminiscing of a relationship gone wrong. The pain sits cozily amidst upbeat drums, warm keys and slinky guitar riffs. An extreme vulnerability is wrapped in the safety of the other instruments.

What stands out on this EP is Kheroufi’s lyrical ability to blend irony, humour, and loneliness into a mixture that anyone can immediately understand.  The third track draws comparisons between our own personal problems and plans with those of an entire ideology. “You, me, and the American dream, know it was never meant to be” Kheroufi lazily sings on “American Dream,” highlighting our tendency to feel as though our own issues are just as impacting and important as any others, because to us, they are. The EP resolves calmly, and in the last moment a happy yell is heard to remind us to stop being so self-pitying, that it’s time to get our head out of the past and start living a bit already.

counter productive resolutions & demos from south east edmonton is truly is an EP that needs to be listened to whenever the fear of being human strikes. You’ll see what I mean.

Top Track: “Reeling”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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