Category Archives: Music

Band Aid: A Lovesong for First Aid Kit

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Yes, they’re Swedish. No, they don’t sound like ABBA.

Sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg make up the remarkable folk duo First Aid Kit, singing their bittersweet, narrative-rich songs in tight, country-twanged harmonies. The pair skyrocketed to fame in their teens as an online sensation with their polished cover of Tiger Mountain Peasant Song in 2008. The sisters demonstrated their serious artistic chops with their follow-up album The Big Black and the Blue (2010), completed while Klara was still in high school. They followed this gem with The Lion’s Roar (2012), its lead single “Emmylou” noted as one of the top 10 singles of the year by Rolling Stone.

“Lots of people write storytelling songs…set to acoustic music and do pretty harmonies, but First Aid Kit transcends that cliché. Their songs sound like they’ve gone away and seen too much and come back tired but still alive”, writes Tavi Gevinson in Rookie.

Klara’s clear, voice-throwing lead vocals and finger-picking guitar lines are complemented by older sister Johanna’s rich harmonies and accompaniment on the keyboard and autoharp. Upbeat tempos drive mature, sometimes melancholy lyrics. Similar to how the 22-year-old T.S Eliot convincingly took on the persona of a self-conscious middle-aged man in The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, the sisters (22 and 25 respectively) belt out tales of female characters coping with adultery (Tangerine), struggling to love again (Blue), and searching for themselves (Waitress Song) with a startling authenticity. As well, country music’s familiar trope of celebrating faith in God is both thoughtfully and provocatively undermined in the songs Hard Believer and Heaven Knows.

“We want our music to work as a means of consolation, as a way of making life a bit more bearable for people. A First Aid Kit for the soul,” the sisters explain of their group’s name.

Graduating from the minimalism of their début album (recorded in Johanna’s bedroom), their music’s wall-of-sound lushness soars in their third studio album Stay Gold (2014), proving the depths and versatility of the sisters’ talents. Together, they’re at the forefront of a revival in folk music appreciation for a new generation.

So go ahead. Take a chance on these Swedish sisters.

Club Profile: University of Toronto Electronic Music Community (UTEMC)

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Image by UTEMC

Interested in electronic music? As per one commenter’s request, read on to learn more about U of T’s only electronic music community!

blogUT: How was the UTEMC created and what is its mission?

UTEMC: The UTEMC was created by two close friends who have been going to EDM events together forever. They decided to create a club where U of T electronic music fans could come together to meet other people and attend events together, as well as foster a culture of electronic music appreciation by fans from all over the three campuses. Our mission is to establish a group of like-minded individuals with an interest in electronic music and DJ events. Our goal to is set up a place for everybody to congregate and discuss events (both upcoming and past), new music, or just to meet somebody else with whom you might share a similar electronic music taste to. Throughout the year we’re going to be hosting events to bring people together, including in-house DJing events and workshops. Continue reading Club Profile: University of Toronto Electronic Music Community (UTEMC)

Concert Review: Stromae

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A crowd of two thousand gathered at TD Echo Beach last night to see the impeccably-dressed, French-singing Belgian electropop superstar Stromae. Until recently, I hadn’t heard of him either.

This changed when I lived with a French exchange student who introduced me to the “bête de scène” (their term for charismatic showman) and his infectious hip-hop sound. As the New York Times succinctly put it, “his music mingles electronic dance beats with hints of African, Latin and cabaret styles. He sings and dances with long-limbed aplomb; he’s a striking video presence with a flashy and sometimes androgynous fashion sense.”

Listening closely to (or Google translating) his lyrics reveals the deep and often sombre subject matter of his songs, with topics ranging from absent fathers, breakups, unemployment, gender stereotypes, social media’s impact on our relationships and, most recently, cancer. However, this does little to stop his fans from dancing like crazy. Stromae’s live vocals and spectacular audio-visual displays are legendary.

The tracks chosen for the concert strayed little from his biggest hits, Stromae likely aware that his Toronto audience would not be familiar with the lesser-known songs in his repertoire. He closed the show with a trippy extended drum solo and an a capella version of “Tous Les Mêmes”, showcasing his sheer talent and artistry on full display.

Aware of his Kanye-like, million-selling status in Europe, is was exhilarating to be fewer than twenty feet away from Stromae in this intimate concert venue. As the performance concluded and the crowds dispersed towards the streetcar, all anyone could say was that the concert had been “formidable”.

 

Reviewing Crazy for You and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival

I had the pleasure of seeing two wonderful shows at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival yesterday: the musical Crazy for You and the comedy classic A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They were equally extraordinary, but in totally different ways.

Continue reading Reviewing Crazy for You and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival

Interview with Victoria McEwan, Director of Sweet Charity

Following on the successful heels of last semester’s drama, UC Follies will be producing the legendary Broadway musical Sweet Charity from January 31 – February 8. I had a chance to sit down with director Victoria McEwan, several kilometres away on my laptop, to ask her a few questions about herself and the show.

Continue reading Interview with Victoria McEwan, Director of Sweet Charity

Musical Review of The Wedding Singer at Hart House

The Wedding Singer is a musical adapatation of the 1998 movie of the same name. Because most of you have seen it, and are familiar with the plot (even if you’re not, it’s a predictable rom-com) I’ve decided to skip to the good stuff. This is a review of Hart House’s ongoing production of The Wedding Singer, set to the music of the main theme/opening number of the show. Enjoy!

I saw this play 3 hours ago
I’m still humming some of the songs
‘Decided to write a review
Of what went right and what went wrong.
Now indulge me a moment, if you please;
I have a lot to say about this show,
and the actors I thought were good
and bad.
Here it goes:

Isaac has that “X-Factor” –
an accessible actor.
But his pitch control could
use improvement.

Ashley Gibson wasn’t bad,
and her singing really had
a lovely quality
that makes us all love her.

Cortina was a great, strong crooner
even when her mic went berserk.
But she couldn’t bring the humour
to her lines – they needed some work.

Horsman was a delightful dancer,
and her songs really brought
us to the moment.
Cattel was a rapping grandma –
what can I comment?

The ensemble was quite strong,
even in the weaker songs,
and their dancing was all
memorable.
This show is just lots of fun
(‘cept for those who’ve seen it once).
I would recommend
you see it sometime soon.

(L to R) Ashley Gibson as Julia and Isaac Bell as Robbie. Photo credit to Scott Gorman.

 

Note 1: Yes, it’s not perfect. Considering the constraints – a review deadline and an imposed rhyme scheme and working in people’s names and accurate descriptions of their performances – it’s really not that bad. Seriously, if you’re looking for someone to write the opening for the next Tonys…

Note 2: Apologies to Mr Bell, who is treated with undue familiarity for the purpose of meter.

Note 3: There is some precedent for the moment/comment rhyme, imperfect though it may be. See Shakespeare’s Sonnet XV. I take full responsibility for the mangled syntax.