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Arts in Review

SoundBites (Braids, Bright Eyes, Gang of Four, Jordan Klassen)

Capsule reviews of the latest releases from Gang of Four, Braids, Jordan Klassen, and Bright Eyes.

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Braids –Native Speaker

Released on January 18, the first effort from Calgary-turned-Montreal band Braids is a strong one. The art-rock group creates a masterful instrumental landscape, layering depth of sound with the dreamy, floating vocals of lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston. All four members sing on the album Native Speaker, but Standell-Preston’s mature yet poppy voice soars in the album’s epic and melodic songs, most of them reaching higher than the six minute mark. Native Speaker is an album for the music lover. Dive in, swim around in the atmospheric melodies, and then stick around for the lyrics, which will sneak up and dazzle you with their poignancy. Best tracks on the album include “Same Mum,” “Plath Heart,” and the eight-minute-long “Glass Deers.”

-Sophie Isbister

Bright Eyes – The People’s Key

After three years without an album release, the musical trio of Connor Oberst, Nate Walcott, and producer Mike Mogis have decided to do one last Bright Eyes album. The highly anticipated February 15 release of The People’s Key will give listeners a medley of politically and socially influenced lyrics, heavy subject matter, and sonic sounds emanating from their speakers. In an interview on billboard.com, Connor Oberst says, “There’s a certain desire for… common ground between people, just the idea that we’re all kind of in the same boat and are all the same as far as the way human beings go.” With that influence in mind, I found myself listening to the album differently, allowing it to reach out to me and truly hear everything that was being said. There are numerous auditory clips that are eerie in their sense of truth. Bright Eyes seems to have migrated from their instrumental feel and settled into a futuristic sound, while managing to keep a familiar tone and captivating emotions true to the human heart.  

-Nicolle Hodges

Gang of Four – Content

Gang of Four are back with a new album, Content, after a fifteen year hiatus: but why? In their heyday, this politically radical band was on the cutting edge of music and helped to pioneer new wave, post-punk, and funk. In 2011, however, Gang of Four (named after Chinese Communist Party officials) seems as irrelevant as their namesake. Content’s eleven tracks are danceable yet uncompromisingly boring. The lackluster production smoothes out the once jagged edges of the band’s material and damns whatever potential the songs had in the first place. It is tempting to look for highlights, but looking for a standout track on this album is like trying to find some health benefit of a pack of cigarettes: it just isn’t there.

-Hamish Kilgour

Jordan Klassen – St. Brigid EP

Originally hailing from Abbotsford, singer-songwriter Jordan Klassen launched his solo career with the 2009 release of Tempest and Winter, an intricately-crafted collection of literate and deeply personal folk songs that garnered the attention of independent music circles across Canada. While Klassen spent nearly four years perfecting his debut record, his follow-up EP went through a much quicker genesis, coming together in a series of recording sessions in October 2009. That it is impossible to tell is a testament to the musician’s rapidly developing artistic faculties. Not one note is out of place on St. Brigid, the orchestration achieving a shrewd balance between lush and spare textures. EP closer “You Are the Branches,” is a stirring quasi-anthem that distils the best elements of the record. While his latest release does not break much new ground, it is an excellent addition to Klassen’s growing catalogue of sensitive and sophisticated folk-pop. 

-Nick Ubels

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