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Arts in Review

Soundbites: Toro y Moi, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Courtney Barnett, Oh Village

Reviews of the latest from Toro y Moi, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Courtney Barnett, and Oh Village



Print Edition: June 3, 2015

Toro y Moi - What ForToro y Moi
What For?

Toro y Moi is the pseudonym for South Carolina producer-songwriter Chaz Bundick. His latest album What For? revolves around the 1970s, featuring a dance, psych, and funk-pop fusion soundscape.

Toro y Moi is known to shift between multiple genres from album to album and often Bundick makes the transition successfully, but What For? is perhaps his most sporadic collection to date. There are some standout tracks on this record: “Buffalo” is a song you’ll feel like you’ve heard on That ‘70s Show back in the day with its groovy guitars, fat bass, and compressed drums, and both “Lilly” and “Run Baby Run” hearken back to the chillwave sound Toro y Moi became famous for on Causers of This.

But issues show up when the songs kick up a notch. Songs like “Spell it Out” and “Empty Nesters” are eclectic and charismatic, but Bundick’s vocal delivery is not. Bundick sticks with his laid-back vocal style when the song really needs something more, causing these tracks to fall flat in comparison to the more solid tracks I mentioned earlier. There are some great moments locked within What For? but for most of the record you’ll find yourself waiting for them to happen.


Buffy Sainte-Marie - Power in the Blood

Buffy Sainte-Marie
Power in the Blood

I heard Buffy Sainte-Marie for the first time at the Mission Folk Fest a couple years ago, and she was awesome. Her voice was real and unreal.

Buffy’s new album Power in the Blood is just all right. There are some old songs, there are some new songs, and they don’t really transcend like her earlier, folksier works. Perhaps the full electronic band arrangement dilutes the sincerity and therefore the power of the songs, or maybe the lyrics themselves don’t cut as deep. There are some particularly political lyrics, like in “Power in the Blood,” a cover of an Alabama 3 song with new lyrics about GMOs. The problem with political lyrics is that the song still has to be good in its own right, and “Power in the Blood” feels particularly slapped together.

The main problem is something feels off about the production. It’s very cluttered but very clean, producing a sort of “uncanny valley” sound. It’s difficult to get over at first, but later tracks like the amazing “Ke Sakihitin Awasis” and “Carry It On” manage to escape this.

The songs are amazing, the performances are okay, and the production is lame. In any case, I recommend Buffy Sainte-Marie’s other works to anyone who wants some mind-blowing contemporary folk.


Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett
Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett is no lilter or vocal skyscraper, but her songs are unique, catchy, and approachable. Sometimes I Sit and Think… begins, guitar and percussion setting the scene, with a steady, urgent tempo in “Elevator Operator,” which complements the subject matter and repetition in the chorus: “Don’t jump little boy, don’t jump off that roof / you’ve got your whole life ahead of you, you’re still in your youth / I’d give anything to have skin like you.” There’s an imploring urgency in this line, then Barnett shifts the focus with the boy’s response: “He said, I think you’re projecting the way that you’re feeling / I’m not suicidal, just idling insignificantly.”

The main reason Barnett’s music sticks in my head and keeps me listening over and over is its poetry and unsettling modern subject matter (suicidal seals and pesticide-sprayed apples, for instance). The tempo slows from “An Illustration of Loneliness” to “Depreston,” a quiet, meandering house search in suburbia. The album presses forward with “Dead Fox,” which seems fuelled by similar impulses to “Big Yellow Taxi” (Joni Mitchell), but instead of trees in a museum Barnett suggests cars become obsolete displays. “More people die on the road than they do in the ocean; maybe / we should mull over culling cars instead of sharks / or just lock them up in parks where we can go and view them.” Internal rhyme, as in that last line, weaves the lyrics together and lends them a certain resonance that keeps echoing long after the song — and the album — is over.


Oh Village - To Rely

Oh Village
To Rely

Even though Oh Village is apparently a local music staple, I hadn’t heard their music until two months ago, when I attended a three-band show in an old church basement in Abbotsford. I’m not sure if it was the low-lighting or the bandmates’ impeccable taste in fashion, but I fell in love with this band.

Their music is a happy mix of eclectic and commercial. The thing is, this band doesn’t sound like anything else I’ve listened to, but at the same time I’m able to relate to their music because it isn’t too purposely different. To Rely has five songs — all sounding different.

There are common traits in their music: lead vocals, the use of triplets on the piano, and swelling strings. At the tiny show I attended, Oh Village played a new song and that was the tipping point for me. Their music filled the room and many people stopped chatting to one another to watch them. Even though their music is “indie,” Oh Village doesn’t attack the listener with the argument that they are different or special — rather, they just are different. And I noticed.


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