Goes well with: Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Broadway stage productions
Taking a distinctive turn from the direction of her last album, 2007's quietly seductive Barkentine, local songstress Jane Lui has wrapped herself with cinematic music and stage-ready bravado on her latest release, Goodnight Company.
Though the opening tracks have a decidedly electronic slant, the remaining numbers, with Lui's inclusion of choral arrangements, jazz percussion and a wind ensemble, could've been plucked from a Broadway stage show. But Lui doesn't linger inside these orchestral flourishes for more than a brief, playful moment. Rather, she allows the listener a glimpse of one or two theatrical scenes, and just as quickly tucks them away to keep you wanting more.
Lui's storytelling abilities shine on the jazz-infused “New Jersey,” a song with a honey-sweet, southern lilt. On “Long Ago,” Lui opens the scene with what feels like a quiet and innocent dream from her childhood and manages to pull in a brass section that momentarily awakens her voice with a lush crescendo.
The cinematic quality of the songs on Goodnight Company is undeniable, but she has more to say than what fits into 10 tracks. Dressed in stage makeup and underneath the lights, Lui has proven she knows how to put on a show.
But once the curtain closes and the audience goes home, she leaves us believing that she'd still be onstage, alone at her piano, playing the keys in the dark.
Songs for Singles
Goes well with: Foo Fighters, Hum, Husker Du
It's doubtful that metal has ever produced a band that's enjoyable on as many levels as Torche. That one of the genre's heaviest bands has gradually become one of its most melodic is pretty ironic, but by applying excruciating volume and depth to a series of pop songs, they've proven that even those who claim to only practice the dark arts are susceptible to a melodic sucker punch.
While their high-water mark, Meanderthal, was also a hook-filled beast, Songs travels even further down the path to major-chord righteousness. Some copies of the record even showcase a sticker with a quote from drummer Rick Smith claiming, “It's a bunch of radio-rock bullshit.” This is only half true. Every song except for the 52-second riff-burst “Lay Low” and the closing duo, “Face the Wall” and “Out Again,” hit close to the two-minute mark, and all the songs here contain more ingenious redirections and ballsy choruses than just about anything on the airwaves these days. Radio-ready it may be; “bullshit” it is not.
Torche is the kind of band crossover dreams are made of—heavy enough to please the diehards, catchy enough for the mainstream and confident enough to continue treading into uncharted waters. Now, will somebody put this band on the radio? Thanks.
Goes well with: Swell Maps, Velvet Underground, Fire Engines, Sonic Youth
After releasing what may have been the most underrated rock album of 2008, Calgary's Women settled back into their frozen Canadian stronghold last fall with producer Chad VanGaalen to cobble together Public Strain. One look at the barren winter landscape portrayed on its cover and you'd assume this is another bleak, alien record filled with unsettling ambiance and coruscating instrument abuse. You'd be right.
But what that fails to take into account is Women's uncanny way with a pop song and just how inviting they can be when everything locks into place (see “Eyesore” and “Narrow with the Hall”). This band thrives on such juxtapositions, much in the way their forebears managed to balance the traditional with the willfully difficult. And, two albums in, there is no other group on the planet that writes guitar parts like this—run-on, single-note lines that somehow coalesce into brilliant, squirmy melodies.
The first five times I listened to Public Strain, it felt as though I was listening to five different, equally wonderful, records by the same band. It exists in a thick fog, with noisy outbursts and sharp hooks occasionally emerging from the haze. But it's this mystery and ability to develop a unique signature that should place Women among the elite acts of its shade.