Mo knows rage, sadness and guitar on her catchy new album
by James Brotheridge
In My Dreams
“I Faked It” is an odd start to In My Dreams, the new album by Nova Scotia’s Mo Kenney. Not “odd” in the sense that it’s a bad song, because Kenney doesn’t write bad songs. No, “I Faked It” — which you might have heard at Kenney’s many performances around the Regina Folk Festival this past summer — is odd because while it sounds like a Mo Kenney song, the stuff after it goes in a new, different direction. For example, song number two, “Take Me Outside”, travels to psychedelic electric guitarland. I mean, Kenney’s not going full rock-god or anything like that, but the fuzzy guitar is an effective mood setter and it blends in well with her established style.
Moving past style shifts, “I Faked It” efficiently sets In My Dreams’ emotional tone. Kenney is great at being miserable. She’s smart and funny too, and can somehow write catchy sing-alongs without ever losing her topics’ sad impact. That’s part of the magic of In My Dreams; for an album that includes cheerily sung phrases like “take me outside and blow my fucking head off,” I still feel great after every listen.
(The second half of the record leans more acoustic, by the way.)
Kenney’s first, self-titled album was full of great tracks that were as remarkable for Kenney’s clear and pure mid-range vocals as for her rock-solid songwriting. She and producer Joel Plaskett, who returns for In My Dreams, avoided (and continue to avoid) the pitfalls of over-production, staying out of the way on the debut’s deeply hook-filled tunes (like “Sucker”) or the simple perfection of numbers like “Déjà Vu”. On In My Dreams, they give the songs a subtle pop shine without over-polishing good work. No gilded lilies here. This one’s worth your time.
The Barr Brothers
No one would ever suggest the Barr Brothers are short on ambition. On their sprawling sophomore album, the Montreal folk quartet flirts with everything from gentle acoustic balladry (“Even the Darkness Has Arms”) to ragged Black Keys-style riffing (“Half Crazy”). Hell, there’s even a Tom Waits-esque number thrown in for good measure (“Little Lover”), complete with slinky Bone Machine percussion. At their core, the band members are students and admirers of American roots music, but they’re innovators as well, bringing unexpected textures to familiar sounds. Harpist Sarah Page is one of the group’s biggest assets: listen to “Wolves” and hear how she plays off of the pedal steel lines and vocals. The 13-song album, which has a running time of an hour, is a dense one and frankly, a lot to absorb. But it’s a real beauty if you have the patience. /Gillian Mahoney
Eden the Cat
“Eden the Cat” is the nom de musique of Eden Rohatensky. Following the break-up of a long-term relationship and switch to a new tech job where she works at home instead of an office, she found herself wrestling with loneliness and isolation. Her solution? Record a folk-tinged solo project. With tons of contacts through social media and a growing presence in the Regina music scene with Orphan Mother and Eden and Escrow, this mini-album garnered over 10,000 listens. As befits its origins, Amateur is a sombre record that sees Rohatensky, in songs such as “Play Alone”, “Hush” and “Sleep Alone”, use sparse guitar arrangements, heart-on-sleeve lyrics and ethereal overdubs to work through some pretty heavy emotional terrain. But with a solo tour of Saskatchewan and Alberta in the works, she appears to be bouncing back quite nicely. /Gregory Beatty
As long as there has been popular culture, people have debated what era was the best one for music. Washington, D.C.’s Ex Hex (comprised of Wild Flag’s Mary Timony along with Laura Harris and Betsy Wright) proves decisively that the answer to that question is “right now”. That’s not to say that Rips, Ex Hex’s debut album, is some sort of manifesto for oh-so-2014 pop futurism or anything; instead, this is an act of unapologetic influence-worship, with songs like the note-perfect pop anthem “How You Got That Girl” revelling in its seamless pastiche of the Cars, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie, late-’70s punk and garage rock. Despite all of those ingredients in Rips’ sonic stew, this is an outrageously assured album, full of no-nonsense pop songs that get in and get out with a surfeit of ass kicking and melody in equal measure. Rips may be indebted to acts of the past, but the songcraft on display is anything but stale. /Matthew Blackwell