Life Melters 2013

Words: Kevin Stebner


Once again, I’m coming late to the game for the best jams of the year. But, as always, I needed that extra month to let things stew, lest we lose all music that came out in December (like the Self Defense Family LP, for instance). I like to choose songs over albums, and am prone to find a jam and listen to it over and over. Why let a perfect song get lost just because an album is uneven? That said, were I to make a best of albums list, a great many of these would top it as well. But I just wanted to share my favourite jams of 2013 with you.

~ Love, Kevin

Self Defense Family – “Aletta”
From: Try Me (Deathwish Inc.)

~ This is truth: Self Defense Family are the most exciting thing in punk right now — whether measured in terms of ethic, output schedule, band structure, no-fucks-given outspoken confidence, lyrical character, whim-taking, or even just song quality. They have no contemporaries, their shit is just better. And in 2013, SDF put out a ton of releases, each one filled with jams. If I can’t pick the one I released, then I’ll pick my second favourite: With “Aletta” they wrote the best love song by ripping apart the love song. Tear it down to bring it up.

Lucid 44 – “Torture Film”
From: Sweep/Sweep (Tonto is Jesus/Isolated Now Waves)

~ Easily one of the best (and certainly the most underrated) songwriters in Calgary, Markus Overland dropped a grumbly and understated monster with Sweep/Sweep from his Lucid 44 project. Fidelity-wise, this is his most assured release, to coincide with the level of writing. “Torture Film” is a re-recording of an old song with a harrowing vocal timbre and slow groove into impromptu jam, done with the confidence of following a decade-long labour of love.

Endless Rope – “Deterritoralise This”
From: Negi Surf (Self-Released/Common Thread)

~ This is a killer tape from the UK, and somehow related to Facel Vega, so I had to have it. Utterly snotty-nosed vocal styles growl over ripping guitars that are aptly described by the tape title: Negi Surf. It’s got Rev. Summer charge, UK post-punk and goth cool. Not since “Moon Over Marin” has this kind of thing sounded so pissed and rad.

Dasher – “Sodium”
From: Yeah, I Know (Self-Released)

~ Another unknown and killer punk tape. Dasher do that thing — fuzzed out guitars, shouted vocals, semi-grunge throwback — that’s hot with the kidlets and totally ruling the underground now, but Dasher do it better. “Sodium” has a sailing, pedal-laden lead matched with totally badass androgo-vocal bark. It’s got all the pieces that a thousand other bands have, but Dasher know how to correctly put ’em together.

Fiver – “Undertaker”
From: Lost the Plot (Triple Crown Recordings)

~ Were I forced to pick an Album of the Year, Lost the Plot is undeniably the one. Simone Schmidt actually released TWO of the best albums of 2013, and I could have easily picked “Widow” from the Highest Order LP, which came as a close second as favourite Schmidt jammer. For slow, smoke-ridden, deep-voiced, country/folk, Lost the Plot is perfect. Pick any song, they’re all jams. But for me, the record’s closer “Undertaker” possibly hits hardest. Two chords plodding along, poetess in-chanting, ending with a Dirty Three-like violin wail. Must grip.

Shahman – “Like an Old Friend”
From: Sounds That Look Like Us (Revolution Winter)

~ I’m too close, but that’s only because I had no choice. I don’t care. In my opinion, Shahman created the finest hardcore statement in this country in 2013. It’s astounding to me how little people have picked up on this record. Shahman run the gamut between quiet and loud, introspective and hard, all done by just two boys. Is it hardcore, sludge, post-rock, what? All I know is that it’s beautiful, and so singular in vision, with the assumed psychic interplay between the brothers Johnson. Put a spell on me.

The Courtneys – “90210”
From: The Courtneys (Hockey Dad)

~ Cousins gave us the theme song for summer with “Thunder” last year, and the Courtneys provided it for 2013. “90210” is astonishing in its simplicity: upbeat melody, memorable vocal hook, four-on-the-floor the whole way. Sonic Youth were at their best when they were having fun. This is like that. These ladies brought the soundtrack to chill evenings and biking through flood-tides.

Roboctopus – “Disco.txt”
From: Disco.txt (Cheap Beats)

~ No question about it, Endless Fantasy is dope, but Roboctopus put out the best chiptune release of 2013. This song has a totally funky shuffle, fun melody, unreal LSDJ instument use, pounding kicks, and the sneakiest drop a minute in. I listen to a lot of chiptune, and in a genre easily mired in same-y-ness, trust me: “Disco.txt” is THE chip jam.

Raein – “Amore e Morte”
From: Loma Prieta/Raein split 7″ (Deathwish Inc.)

~ When it’s juxtaposed like this, it becomes apparent that American hardcore has taken the wrong turn. Because placed alongside the inventiveness of Raein, the angle North America has taken, even by the masters at the moment, pales. Raein take that Italian chaotic thing and have honed it, bettered it, slowed it, added melody and dash, kept the noodles in check, and ultimately run circles around their contemporaries.

Lab Coast – “Recognize I’m Wrong”
From: Walking on Ayr (Mammoth Cave Recording Co.)

~ I suppose the GBV comparison is obvious, if apropos. The thing is, Lab Coast have bettered anything Pollard & co. have released in the last 15 years. Only after 40 listens do you even realize the intricacy of these songs. Everything appears as simple pop, yet changes so swiftly and deftly. You don’t realize anything repeats, you don’t know you just listened to a perfect indie rock song — but you did.

Top 10 of 2013

Words: Christopher Laramee

Solaris OST

Eduard Artemyev – Solaris: Music From The Original Motion Picture By Andrei Tarkovsky (Superior Viaduct)

Finally available after years in the wilderness, this classic of hissing synth washes and choral madness is THE reissue of the year, no doubt. The best sci-fi soundtrack of all time.

I Am The Center

Various Artists – I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age Music In America 1950-1990 (Light in the Attic)

Light In The Attic continues to prove their steez as one of the best reissue labels on the planet. The beautiful packaging and the blasted drool contained in the grooves hits all the sweet spots. Essential if for no other reason than exposing folks to Michael Stearns’ jaw-dropping Planetary Unfolding album from 1985, this gem also includes heavy hitters from Iasos, Laraaji, and Constance Demby, amongst other treats. OMMMMMMM…….

7 Days of Funk

7 Days of Funk – 7 Days of Funk (Stones Throw)

Snoopzilla (nee-DOGG) and boogie king Dam Funk together for a whole album? YES PLEASE. This one fullfills all expectations easily and is Snoop’s best foot forward since Dre’s The Chronic 2001. Smooth? I’m still on the floor as I type this.


Hawkeyes – Poison Slows You Down (Meat Tooth Recordings And Snacks)

The four-guitar, bass and drums instrumental wall of fuck from Kitchener/Waterloo’s Hawkeyes made me breathe cement, and I liked it. Being epic and subtle with this much firepower at your disposal is a hell of a trick to pull off. Screw the stoner/doom tag, this is elemental ROCK of the highest order. Best thing to come out of Canada this year.


Ketamines – You Can’t Serve Two Masters (Mammoth Cave Recording Co. / Southpaw)

The other Canadian release that floated up above the rest was YCSTM. With more spit and snark from TO’s K-dawgs, this record’s a real clear shot of tunes, tunes and, yes, more tunes. If Hawkeyes made me breathe cement, these dudes made me inhale Scotchgard.

Carlton Melton

Carlton Melton – Four Eyes EP (Blackest Rainbow)

Oakland’s finest continue cloud-bursting on this four-song release for the great Blackest Rainbow label. Vistas. Smog. Glimpses of space through the streetlight. In a year when the word PSYCHEDELIC gets bandied about with worrying and unjustified frequency, here’s the real deal, people. HEADBANDS ON.

White Hills

White Hills – So You Are, So You’ll Be (Thrill Jockey)

The latest effort from the hardest working band in America didn’t blow me away on first listens, but lately it’s been stapled to the turntable. Building on their strengths and using the studio to maximum effect, this one just takes off like a motherfucker, with Dave W’s guitars shearing the speakers AND ears of the listener. “The Internal Monologue” is the best pure drone whirl anyone put out this year. Kudos!

The Ballasted Orchestra

Stars of the Lid – The Ballasted Orchestra (Kranky)

Speaking of drone, here’s one of the greatest albums of the last 20 years, tweaked and brought up to speed. Anyone who “likes” atmospheric music, head music, DRONE stuff, if you don’t have this one already, well, check your papers. Don’t wanna Dad anyone, but come on, get with it! Your third eye will thank you!

The Cult of Dom Keller

The Cult Of Dom Keller – The Cult Of Dom Keller (Mannequin)

This one is a compilation of tracks from previously released CD-Rs. What really gets me is how well it hangs together as an album listen. The Cult Of Dom Keller is the best thing, along with Mugstar, Hookworms and precious few other groups, that the UK has issued forth in awhile. Their thing involves a dark and distorted wall of sound that doesn’t forget a certain melodic sense, while simultaneously making you realize most of the boring shit-gaze currently making the rounds is, well, shit. Brian Jonestown Massacre, Spacemen 3, et al, yeah, everyone’s doing it these days, but none anywhere near the quality these gents have. Buy now.

Krang Rats

Krang – Rats Flying Planes (Self Released)

Duane Allman fucks with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop? A chance meeting of an eagle and a spaceship on a McDonalds rooftop? All this and more, my friends. Two tracks of hard broom-age that mos def make those cold prairie nights a little more tolerable. Hell, they’ll do it for you wherever you hang your hat. I smell their sweat on my tape.

Shedding My Skin Post-Sled

Words: Jeremy Curry // Photos courtesy of Sled Island

Well, it’s been another insane week of music, art, comedy, friends, foes, party riots, pool parties, BBQs, and way too many beers to count. It’s been a wild ride at this year’s Sled Island. Things were looking a bit suspect at first, but the line-up was scheduled so that there weren’t too many conflicting artists. I’m sure people would argue that point, considering we all have different tastes, but in my opinion, I didn’t miss out on a lot.


Nü Sensae (photo: Crystal Sujata)

Wednesday was when things started rolling along, although it wasn’t a very good idea for me to start rolling along at 10:00 pm. The Russian Circles were playing at the Dicken’s Pub, and Boris were headlining as the “secret” guest. It wasn’t much of a secret, though. The line-up outside was huge, and everybody seemed to be waiting in line to see Boris play. The place was at capacity, so it was a better idea to move on down to the Bamboo for Nü Sensae. They’re a three piece from Vancouver that play some pretty insane punk rock, but have some pretty jarring riffs, sort of in the Sonic Youth vein. The vocals squeal like a hawk being captured by a bear, and the guitar/bass combo was ferocious. This got the crowd into a wild mood, which was kind of distracting from such a powerful set.

After that, it was time to chill out and go to bed. The next three days were filled with so many shows it was hard to keep up.


Too High Crew (photo: Liz Collins)

Thursday started off with a pool party up on 14A Street. The place was filled with people yammering on about what shows they were “stoked” about. There were free hot dogs, beers and heaters for all until they ran out, which was pretty fast. Each Other, Sheer Agony and the Too High Crew kept the party chill while we kept it cool in the pool. That is, until some total asshole peed in it and ruined it for everyone. Thanks a lot, you pile of trash. Otherwise, it was a huge success! Like last year, the pool was filled with dry ice and ended up looking like a child’s cauldron.

After that, there was a show at the Hillhurst United Church by two Montreal titans. CFCF opened the show with a very soothing set featuring many tracks from his latest EP, Exercises. A lot of it sounded like Philip Glass incorporating drum samples into his music. The David Sylvian cover “September” may have been the highlight. The bass was so low, I thought about making a cocoon for myself and hanging out there for a while.

CFCF was followed by the slow building textures of Tim Hecker, who almost put the audience into “The Drone Zone”. The only illumination in the whole place was the natural light coming through the pane glass windows. It was getting darker, so the whole thing was a tiring, hallucination of sound. This was a good thing. It was a completely different experience from seeing any other band at the festival. I wasn’t sure if I was being encouraged to soak myself in the drones and take a vibrating nap or not.

Gold (photo: David Kenney)

Broken City was the next place to run to. Having a bike is necessary for the festival, and I broke mine last year. Sled Island did have some to rent, but apparently not enough. Walking is relaxing, but not when you have to get from one venue to the next, knowing the show could possibly be sold out. It was also an issue for Shabazz Palaces, because on this particular evening, the bar was at double the capacity.

Openers Rap X and Gold had a cozy audience. Gold was one of the more notable local bands playing this year. They had some pretty interesting guitar riffs, dreamlike vocals so tender they were falling off the bone, and just good times all around. A solid performance.

Shabazz Palaces (photo: David Kenney)

After this, the bar got pretty insane, filling up to the brim while Prince Rama performed. Luckily a lot of folks had elsewhere to go when Shabazz came on. Either that, or they left halfway through because they didn’t get it. Their loss I suppose, because it was one of the better rap shows to come to Calgary in a very long time. The grooves were slow and intriguing, with thumb pianos plink-plonking under a twisted lyrical adventure through space and time. It was blasphemy to leave this show.


The Evaporators and Andrew WK (photo: Arif Ansari)

Another hearty day full of cool shit. I started at Local 510 to see another fantastic new local band, New Friends. Their set began like a witches’ ceremony. I thought we may be letting spirits, specters and ghouls enter the bar to terrorize patrons, but that wasn’t the case. The rest of the set was more along the lines of post-rock, but without all of that nasty build-up we’re so used to. What a yawner that would be. Instead, it was a real slab of icing.

Electronic bleep-bloop tape hiss guru Nate Young followed with a really interesting set. He dawned his shades and blasted out pretty pulsating, murky electronics with warped tape loops. People walking by outside on the street had no fucking idea what was going on. Were we building an evil robot indoors? No, just seeing a master at work.

A few doors down, the Evaporators were starting up a legendary set! They started off with the classic tune “Mario Cuomo Works at Domo”. It just got more fun and exciting as the show progressed. Andrew WK ended up onstage to play with the band, and even to play his song “Party Hard”. Everyone in the audience was totally psyched and had a really fun time. There was a lot of audience participation, which can usually be annoying, but with Nardwuar the Human Serviette, it’s an honour. He is definitely a Canadian treasure, and always fun to see. You will never see anybody with that much energy in your life. Combined with Andrew WK? It just makes me tired thinking about it.

Unfortunately for Feist fans it started to rain, and they had to watch the show at Olympic Plaza amongst the huge puddles. Oh well, my mom said it was good.

Thurston Moore (photo: David Kenney)

Over at the Grand Theatre, Yamantaka//Sonic Titan played a show that was visually fun and pretty goddamn loud. It was stepping into a psychedelic mountain of sound, dragons, hairy monster things, jingle bells, heavy jams, and one moment where I don’t think any of the band members even blinked for about 8 minutes during a song. For a band that also focuses on a visual component to their music, they were actually really fun to see. They opened the whole thing with “Queens”, one of the best build-ups to a furious jam I have heard in a while.

Thurston Moore followed with a pretty great set, filled with old numbers from the Psychic Hearts era, and a bunch of brand spankin’ new tracks from his forthcoming record with his new band, Chelsea Light Moving. The standout track from the new material was a song called “Burroughs”, which sounded like a classic Moore jam. The very best was when he played the title track from Psychic Hearts. Everyone’s head starting bobbing in unison. We were in a sit-down theatre, so we couldn’t really party down.

There were always so many choices after that show but because of missing Boris on Wednesday, I thought I’d make it up by seeing them at the Distillery after Thurston Moore. I have no idea why I thought this would be a good idea. If you have read any of my previous Sled Island articles, you would know that I think this is the most disgusting place in the city. This time it wasn’t totally horrible, aside from the dickhead bouncers and the bathroom that was literally covered in garbage. I don’t think I could see the floor at all in the bathroom, because it was covered in layers of trash! Besides that, it wasn’t so bad.

I arrived when a band called Black Mastiff started. They sounded like southern rock meets metal riffs. It would probably work well if I were rolling down a river with heavy rapids in hell. Ancients came on afterwards, starting off their set by yelling “tittays!!” into the mic. I don’t know about you, but I think this is really lame (but appropriate for the Distillery). I was expecting the worst from this band, but they weren’t that bad. They had some pretty crazy metal riffs going on, and made the crowd go pretty insane. Boris headlined the whole shindig with a pretty mixed bag of material, new and old. The new J-pop material isn’t all that fun, and I personally prefer the old heavy sludge jams, which were too few and far between. It was time to leave. I had heard they played the album Feedbacker in its entirety the previous night, so I was kicking myself for missing out.

BeatRoute was having an afterparty at their HQ, and it was a goddamn nightmare. It was so packed with people in some areas, and was a definite fire hazard. They ran out of alcohol very early into the party, which may have been a blessing in disguise, considering how incredibly wasted people were. I didn’t even know who or what was going on, because half of the time I was waiting for the bathroom, or waiting for somebody to move out of the way. Wait, wait, wait. It was time to hit the sack.


Han Bennink (photo: Katie Hyde)

The last full day of the festival. Local 510 was having a free hangover breakfast with breakfast tacos! Ironically, I could not eat the tacos because I was too hungover. Way to go, old body. There were loads of good bands playing as well, but I was in such a bad state I couldn’t deal with loud sounds. I did eventually manage to catch the comedy at the Auburn Saloon, though. Why is it called the “Auburn Saloon”? It is hardly a saloon. Shit, I think I am actually trying to make a joke. I apologize.

Todd Barry was one of the funniest comedians to come to Calgary. He told a girl that came to the show with a personal fan that it was “pretentious”, and proceeded to make many fan jokes throughout his set. He was extremely sarcastic, worked the crowd so well, and never fell flat. Tim Heidecker followed with a set that was basically poking fun at shitty, unfunny, sexist comedians. Think of a comedian who tries to copy Andrew Dice Clay (who also sucks) and fails miserably and there you go. He dropped the mic many times, had to take cue cards out at every moment, and made fun of his wife, “the nag”. He was the perfect comedian to bring alongside Neil Hamburger.

I wasn’t too familiar with Natasha Leggero, but she was another incredible comic. Her observational humor was fantastic, and reminded me of all of the dumpy things I have encountered in America, including the revamped TLC channel. 19 kids and counting! Neil Hamburger closed the show with a lot of coughing, hacking, yelling at the audience, making fun of all of the “shitty” bands playing, and having a joke-tribute to the recently deceased Whitney Houston. It was possibly the best comedy show in Calgary in a very long time.

Had a long walk over to the Ironwood to catch a wild set from Dutch jazz drummer Han Bennink, Toronto saxophonist Brodie West and Terrie Ex, from legendary punk band The Ex. Bennink was one of the most incredible drummers I have ever seen, playing with his foot bouncing on the snare at one point, while West sqounked out some squiggly sax blasts, and Ex gnarled with a coat hanger across his guitar. It was a spectacle that I cannot believe was even playing at the festival. Snailhouse capped the show off with their last show (I think?). It brought back so many memories from my high school days. The song “Twenty One Years” had all of the old high school memories flooding back. It was a great song to put on mix tapes for babes. It probably still is! Anyway, it was a really great nostalgic trip, and still holds up. Chris Vail, Chris Dadge and Aaron Booth all played in the band, which was even better. They are very important local musicians here in Calgary. Thanks a lot to Chris Dadge for putting on such a great show!

From here I walked on over to the Legion to finish off the night with Andrew WK. A dance duo by the name of SNAKATAK & Tessa G were gettin’ busy when I arrived. The beats were pretty cheeseball, but the party was bumpin’. People were going wild, and all the songs were about dancing and having fun. It was contagious, because within a few minutes, I was dancing pretty hard. They were actually a pretty wild duo to see! The beats may have been a bit silly, but leave your briefcase at the door and just have some fun!

Cherie Lily (photo: David Kenney)

Cherie Lily came on afterwards with her “Houserobics” music or whatever it is called, and that turned out to be another really fun time to dance. The party was flowing pretty nicely, and everybody was in great spirits until… Andrew WK came on.

Now, Andrew WK is a fun person, does a lot of cool things and is very positive when it comes to partying and having fun. He even did a motivational talk earlier in the week about partying and having a fun life. Unfortunately, before he came on I kind of had a feeling things weren’t going to be as fun as expected. When it was announced he was coming on stage, people started getting a little pushy to get close to the front. I moved back, because I am not in the mood for thrashing around like a maniac. He came on, and the audience went insane. People were flying all over the place, and a huge group of kids ended up dancing on stage.

From there, it was people jumping off stage every one second, and even massive asshole dudes behind me were elbowing my friend and I in the back. It was a very unsafe place to be. People were coming out of the pit, injured and looking almost dead in some cases. Andrew WK warned the audience that if they kept up the wild times, the party would get cancelled. Sure enough, after another song, the lights came on and the party was over. It was pretty sad to see a crowd turn into a bunch of goons in a few seconds flat. We were having such fun before! Anyway, the ambulance came and everybody had to go home.

Sometimes Calgary can’t have nice things. People forgot all about respecting each other and keeping cool, so everyone can have a nice time. I wasn’t even in the pit and I was being elbowed in the back. Calm it down you goddamn goons! It kind of made Calgarians look like a bunch of Neanderthals. I heard a guy from a band when I was leaving saying he wanted to “get the fuck out of here as fast as possible”. Now, that is not what I want to hear! It sucks that a few bad eggs can ruin everybody else’s day.


Duchess Says (photo: Doug Springer)

Sunday I woke up at the crack of 6 pm to catch the last show at the Republik. When I arrived, a great band called The Blind Shake was playing. They were a high-energy rock and roll band that just killed it on stage. Such intensity. I don’t think I blinked an eye during their set. I hear sometimes bands “kicked out the jams”, but I don’t usually see it in the literal sense. They did just that.

The band that closed the whole show was Duchess Says, a female-fronted group from Montreal. The girl had such a wonderful stage presence and such a cool vocal style that I told a friend of mine I wanted to marry her. A guy in front of me turned around and said “get in line”. She was so intense, yet really fun and got the audience involved. She let people come on stage, but instead of last night’s fiasco, everybody just danced harmlessly. I don’t know, is this band “dance-rock”? I don’t like that term, but I guess it suits them. Her vocal style was so wild and insane, like nothing I have heard before. The jams had everybody shaking their butts. It was so much fun.

So, besides a few bad eggs, it was a really great festival. There were a few new acts I want to get into, and a lot of older acts that were very impressive. Every year it is something for so many people to look forward to, for those who don’t like the Stampede that churns out a ton of assholes every year. It’s a great alternative for music, comedy, art and film lovers. Even if I moan and complain about the festival at the beginning because “the bands were better last year”, I’m usually wrong. There are so many new and upcoming acts to check out, and OK bands that end up putting on incredible shows. The best part is, Sled Island supports so many local artists, businesses, filmmakers, and bands. People come from all over to check out the festival, and it’s nice for people to come home and tell their friends about a cool local thing they saw. It was a pretty good show all around. Thanks a lot, Sled Island!

Life Melters 2011

Words: Kevin Stebner

2011: The year of the Castle? (photo: Landon Speers)

Funny how the only thing that truly marks the passage of the year are year-end Top 10 lists.

Well, once again, major media failed me. All the true life melters flew under the radar; all the true life melters had to come from active digging. Every record that moved me and was actually worth staying on the turntable longer than a listen or two were, once again, divided into two camps: either Country or Hardcore — those two most blessed of genres able to distil emotion into minute little gems. Sure, there were a few other alright things that crossed my path, but they don’t need my help.

So let’s just be subjective!

Raein – Sulla linea dell’orizzonte fra questa mia vita e quella di tutti gli altri (self-released)

Needless to say, I’ve had to spend a pretty penny on international mail-order to really keep up on all the new stuff coming out of Europe. If any proof is needed that the best skramz (if we dare start to use that term) is coming out of Europe, one need not look any farther than this record. Italy’s Raein released an utterly astounding record (THE BEST record of the year in my humble estimation), one that, while still firmly and definitively hardcore, nevertheless defies strict genre classification: screaming full-bore, yet following its own melodic course; bits of post-rock played fast; time changes that defy all logic. Even after a slew of really strong output prior to this, nothing even comes close to the strength of Sulla linea… The truly amazing thing about this record is exactly how perfectly everything is wed, so fast and aggressive and utterly breathtaking in its beauty. Must jam.

Enablers – Blown Realms and Stalled Explosions (Lancashire & Somerset)

After last year’s somewhat disappointing Tundra, it is a blessing that Enablers have returned with a record so absolutely stunning. Pete Simonelli’s spoken vocals are at their most heady, dare I say even out-Slinting Slint with dark humour, unsettling candour and sheer poetic cadence. The double-guitar-and-drums attack of the rest of the band is of one mind, often ethereal and morose, and at other times crushingly hard hitting. In a world where arty noise-rock has fallen out of vogue, such a concentrated statement as Blown Realms comes to remind us that bands can still actually rock, that it isn’t all lightweight lo-fi meaninglessness, and of the sheer power a single band can yield.

One Hundred Dollars – Songs of Man (Outside)

This was easily the most listened to recording of our cross-Canada tour. When radio fails and iPods die, how thankful was I to have Songs of Man on the drive. Once again, One Hundred Dollars have delivered the best country album of the year, so assured, so jam-packed with wailing country licks, campfire acoustics and poetic serenades. Just seeing a band like this open for another so much their junior in terms of weight and merit proves the world is an unjust place. “Where the Sparrows Drop” is an absolute blessing distilled into song (and very likely the most listened to song of my year). And the piano lines on “Brother”… I defy any eye to remain un-misty after listening to that. Simone Schmidt’s voice could likely be the most powerful voice ever to set down a country drawl. I would propose marriage just to be able to hear that voice every day. I guess this record will have to do until then.

Jennifer Castle – Castlemusic (Flemish Eye)
Castlemusic // Wyrd Visions – “My Boat” b/w “Voice of God” (Blue Fog)
Deloro – s/t (idée fixe)

I managed to catch two sets from Jennifer Castle when she came through Alberta both times this year. With just a guitar and her wonderful vibrato, her sets were absolutely crushing in their honesty, absolutely unsettling in their nakedness. Her full-length is nearly perfect, whether with the Joni Mitchell-like waver on “Neverride” all the way to the jaunty, psychy trem of “Poor as Him;” it’s got country steel, melodies that bore like ear worms, understated guitar work — just a truly memorable collection of moody folk jams. On the split with Wyrd Visions she presents one seriously haunting dirge, one that rests uneasily in ones consciousness for days after hearing it. Deloro, then, is something of a super group, featuring members of One Hundred Dollars and Constantines (among others), as well as Jennifer fronting a few of the tracks. The unevenness of the record is almost one of its biggest appeals — the grab-bag of songs and styles, ranging all the way from Rick White-styled freezing cold psychedelia to unashamed pop smashes. Powerful, varied, haunting. Everything Jennifer Castle did this year killed. 2011 could have been the year of the Castle.

Slates – Prairie Fires (Handsome Dan)

I can think of no other Canadian band who has worked as hard as Slates have (touring Cuba AND Eastern Europe in the last while!) and yet remains so unjustly underrated on their home turf. Slates once again forge out one major punk rock record, and it is punk rock, almost in the classic sense. I’m speaking in the Wipers, no screwin’ around, every song is a jammer-sense; the Springsteen, I’m talking about you, everyman-sense. Prairie Fires is chock full of some of the most memorable punk rock to have come around in forever, with riffs that Greg Sage would envy, and such a universal appeal. This record could be the one to unite all scenes. Not throwback — classic.

Daniel Striped Tiger – No Difference (Clean Plate)

I’ve written about this record before, but allow me to reiterate: No Difference is an incredible collection of post-hardore rippers. The guitar are clean, the songs super inventive. Daniel Striped Tiger have simply gotten way better; all the old trappings that can mire hardcore records — gone. Even the meanderings sound like excited blasts. Also, easily the best album cover of the year, without question.

Baton Rouge – Fragments D’eux Mêmes (Bakery Outlet)

France’s Baton Rouge has members of Daitro and 12XU, and that’s almost exactly how it sounds: a combination of the best elements of both of those two bands. It’s got pieces of Daitro’s smart post-hardcore, and 12XU’s dry rock, but without the trapping that bogged down those bands. All the senseless meanderings and jarring vocal takes have been stripped, while everything else has been blended into some seriously genre-riding, hooky rockers. I only wish my French was better so I could sing along.

*If I may take a moment to be nepotistic, allow me to say that the record I listened to most this year was something that I put out: Town Ship’s Future Confusion. In my mind, it’s the grossest, most thrilling, most ripping record. Town Ship are my jam, so I had to get as close as possible. May next year rip even harder.


Words: Anthony Hansen

Skrillex with The Doors' Robby Krieger (shudder...)

Track One: “My Own Cobain” by Limp Bizkit

One fine day, myself and two other Texture writers (J.R. Cumming and Texture head honcho Jesse Locke) attempted to relive the most misguided days of our youth by putting on Limp Bizkit’s Greatest Hits. It didn’t work. Though good for an unintentional guffaw or two, it seems Limp Bizkit weren’t just one in an endless parade of shitty bands designed to capitalize on teen angst — they were a product of a very specific time and place, brazen bandwagon-jumpers whose sound defined an era we’ve all worked very hard to forget. And yet, here’s Fred Durst, dragging his knuckles into the 21st century with a song about… feeling like… Kurt Cobain? Seriously? Why, that’s almost as bad as…

Track Two: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Miley Cyrus

Click to watch it (embedding disabled).


Track Three: “Edge Of Glory” by Lady Gaga

To everyone who ever pinned their hopes for the future of pop music on this woman, you fucking take that back. Right. Now. Not only does “Edge Of Glory” sound like the kind of tepid pablum you’d hear at a Céline Dion concert, it’s sadly representative of the horrifying tackiness that’s come to define and ultimately overwhelm Lady Gaga’s aesthetic. This is not to imply that I have a problem with kitschiness (I am a B-52’s fan, after all), it’s just that I can’t shake the nagging suspicion that it’s all in the service of one big desperate cry for attention, a temper tantrum thrown at a world that can and will never care enough. “Well, that’s what all pop stars do anyway!” I can hear you braying indignantly. OK, fair. But did I mention this song has a saxophone solo? Because it does.

Track Four: “Fireworks” by Katy Perry

Of course, if I’m gonna take potshots at Lady Gaga, it’s only fair that I should bash Katy Perry as well, seeing as the two seem to be neck-and-neck in their race for Top-40-queen omniscience. I know in my heart that I should probably like Lady Gaga more. After all, Lady Gaga actually has something resembling artistic credibility whereas Katy Perry’s songs aspire to be nothing more than trashy Top 40 fodder… but I’m not sure I buy that. I think there’s an art to crafting fun, simple, perfectly disposable pop songs that’s often lost on those who look to music solely for Big Statements and New Ideas.

Unfortunately, this song is dogshit and Katy Perry’s voice sounds like a defective car alarm.

Track Five: “Leck Mich Im Arsch” by Insane Clown Posse w/ Jack White and JEFF The Brotherhood

Insane Clown Posse – Leck Mich Im Arsch by Third Man Records


Track Six: “Swagger Jagger” by Cher Lloyd

This is the only song I had to actually research before I wrote this list, and as someone who now knows more about this song than I know about some of my own neighbours: it wasn’t worth it. Nothing is worth anything anymore.

Track Seven: “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes w/ Adam Levine

Business as usual. Adam Levine sings like he just unhooked his jaw to swallow a pile of gym socks.

Track Eight: “Profundis” by Morbid Angel

“Hear that, kids? That’s what your dad thinks all metal bands sound like. Now put on some Dire Straits or GET THE HELL OUT OF MY HOUSE.”

Track Nine: “Breakin’ A Sweat” by Skrillex w/ The Doors

Before I get to the year’s most infamous cross-cultural trainwreck, here’s something that might be even worse. Ray Manzarek has been doing his damnedest to sully The Doors’ legacy for well over 40 years now (Jesus), but working with Skrillex represents a leap in logic so convoluted it actually defies human comprehension. The worst part is that Skrillex’s production is actually not too shabby, it’s just that Manzarek’s constant spoken interjections posit this somewhere between running into your dad at a rave and watching a senile old dog try to hump an electric fence.

Track Ten: “The View” by Metallica w/ Lou Reed

Well, this was kind of inevitable, wasn’t it? It’s not every year that you get to witness a musical disaster of such epic proportions. And yet, I’d like to take this opportunity to point out something that I think no other reviewer has touched on, namely: Lulu sounds exactly like an early Swans album.

If Swans were terrible.

Sandro Perri and Ryan Driver РRaw Sugar Caf̩, Ottawa, ON (Nov. 3, 2011)

Words: Alessandro Marcon // Photos: Ming Wu

Sandro Perri’s got an ice axe, sledgehammer and razor sharp X-Acto knife, so don’t even think about putting him in a box. Unless of course that box is beautifully decorated, jammed packed and serving up pints. In that case, he’ll happily oblige, as was the case on Thursday night at Ottawa’s Raw Sugar Café.

First to take the stage was Ryan Driver, who can most ostentatiously be described as a subtly purple tipped butterfly skirting the banks of a placid bed of water. Look to the far shore. See the lovers holding hands. Feel the soft, caressing breeze of sporadic, melodious licks. “I’ll plant you flowers in the back of my mind,” he sings. Well Mr. Driver, you’ve certainly planted a few beauties in the back of the Raw Sugar Café. Driver wasn’t done there, as he saddled up alongside Perri’s Mexicali-donkey saunter through the rattlesnake backroads of enigmatic dreamscapes.

As with many a musician in the modern age faced with the daunting weight of everything that’s come before, the drive to create something new and meaningful inevitably lies in attention to layers, texture and unadulterated taste; the likes of which Perri is a cunning thaumaturge. Impossible Spaces: a tangle of twinkle, a riffing far from raff. The bassline on “How Will I?” is so silky, pulsating, and throbbing that the tune rises and falls like a spectacularly hypnotic surreal camel jaunt at sunset. “How will I come back to a simple refrain?” sings Perri. Who cares, man? Just keep this pony saddled and trotting.

The number that followed was like a cute little Lynchian teddy bear — one that you’d give to your child, not to fend off nightmares, but rather to draw them in closer, illuminating the beauty that lies in even the darkest of corners. The music continues. The Moog heats up, provoking and pulling loopy little ice cream balls out for a stroll when the sun’s gone down sanguine. Bass and percussion move in unison like a coalesced heartbeat, laying the down the carpet for Driver’s mellifluous flute glide.

The night, like almost all of Perri’s tunes, aptly and elegantly comes to a close. The crowd is appreciative; they ask for an encore. When the last note rings out, the dream is over. I’ve been crawling and floating through a grown man’s toy box, which I’d been ecstatic to be in. Lego blocks of beautifully insouciant sunrays are stuck in my hair. I have no desire to remove them. With luck, they’ll stay with me throughout my cold bike ride home.
“And you change again, but it’s nothing like a wheel goes round.”

No it’s not Sandro. No, it’s not. This Sandro hears ya.

X marks the spot

Toronto’s X Avant new music festival gives praise to generations of experimental sounds

Words: Jesse Locke // Photos and Video: Jesse Locke and Landon Speers

The legendary Nihilist Spasm Band (photo: Jesse Locke)

For his sixth annual X Avant as exiting artistic director of Toronto’s famed Music Gallery, festival founder Jonathan Bunce (a.k.a. Jonny Dovercourt) aimed to go out with a blowout. From high-profile opener Lee Ranaldo to composers-in-residence Tim Brady, Markus Popp and Michael Gordon plus a riotous closing performance by Canadian noise legends the Nihilist Spasm Band, 2011’s proceedings pulled out all the stops.

If Brian Wilson’s Smile is a teenage symphony to God, Ranaldo’s “Contre Jour” could be described as a radical adult’s concerto to the netherworld. Reprising the guitar swinging action he previously showed off at this summer’s Sled Island, the famed Sonic Youth axe-man strung his weathered Jazzmaster from a steel-wire noose, gleefully flinging it around the performance space at the Polish Combatants Hall. Creating a dreamlike wash of effects from a daisy chain of pedals, drumsticks and bow, the result was akin to the most ear-pleasing instrumental moments of Daydream Nation, ringing out like ecstatic church bells in purgatory. Combined with the gorgeous visuals of Leah Singer’s video projections on a massive wall-sized screen and a clattering mid-set pow wow from volunteer percussionists, Ranaldo provided a killer kick-off to the fest.

Back at the Music Gallery, Montreal’s Tim Brady took the stage for a solo performance of his own. Though his rapid-fire fretwork and metallic tonal explorations undoubtedly showed off some virtuosic skills (with several awe-inspiring moments) the slightly overlong set couldn’t help but pale in comparison to Ranaldo. Brady’s Branca-esque “20 Quarter Inch Jacks”, on the other hand, was a ton of fun, as he conducted (you guessed it) 20 electric guitar players through 30 swelling, squealing minutes. To give an example of the overall “tone” of the piece, one passage found Brady’s guitarmada chanting an alphabetical list of inspirations from B.B. King to James Blood Ulmer, with Jimi Hendrix filling in for X.

Glitch technocrat Oval (photo: Landon Speers)

The menacing Tim Hecker (photo: Landon Speers)

Night number two promised a powerful 1-2 punch with glitch pioneer Markus Popp (a.k.a. Oval) teamed with Montreal’s bad boy of drone, Tim Hecker. Local hip-hop/fusion quartet the Global Cities Ensemble started the show, yet the less said about them, the better. Popp’s performance marked his first in Canada in more than 15 years, with an excited, sold-out crowd gathered for the occasion. The abilities on display here were undeniable as the German technocrat cut and spliced sputtering samples through a countless array of rapid-paced permutations. Wailing guitars and crashing rock drums twitched alongside synthetic saw blades in a lengthy set as exhausting as it was exhaustive. From here, Hecker was perfectly set up to liquidate the room with his cortex-rumbling low end, processing sounds from the church’s pipe organ into a menacing wave of auditory magma.

Contact perform Michael Gordon's "Trance" (photo: Jesse Locke)

The Music Gallery’s pews were once again the place to be on Sunday night as the Contact ensemble swelled to 22 members for an epic rendering of Michael Gordon’s “Trance.” The Bang On A Can founder has produced a massively impressive body of work in the past quarter century, but this hour-long piece from 1995 might just take the cake in terms of breathless, mind-splitting sonic stimulation. Anchored by a herky jerky five-string bass heartbeat, the symphonic squadron added layer upon layer of off-kilter notes to a complex web of keyboards, accordion drone and eerily disembodied vocal samples, drifting from passages of sparse, pastoral beauty into rapturous intensity at the drop of a hat. Listen to an excerpt to experience it for yourself.

Disguises' damaged noise (photo: Jesse Locke)

The NSB get cooking (photo: Jesse Locke)

Toronto’s Disguises stormed the stage for a chaotic assault of skin-peeling noise damage, not slowing for a second even when animalistic stick-man Randy Gagne’s drumkit tumbled into disarray. The unrelenting trio represent the new generation of circuit-overloading ear torture and were canny programming on the festival’s part, providing an ideal lead-in for London, Ontario’s legendary Nihilist Spasm Band.

Since 1965, the NSB has mirthfully dismantled the notions of what music is supposed to sound like with a buzzing beehive of homebrewed instruments, noise-makers and vocalist Bill Exley’s booming foghorn monologues. Here at X Avant, the elder statesmen and permanently adopted member Aya Onishi sounded as spastic as ever, plowing through a selection of crowd favourites plus a cut from their upcoming album (!) on Wintage Records, closing it all off with the classic “No Canada”. Truly a national treasure if there ever was one, and a glorious finale for the fest.

Cliff Hanged

Words: Jeremy Curry

Cliff Hangers is an epic serialized story of Bill Cosby fan-fiction that began way back in 2009. Previous entries can be read by scrolling through Mr. Curry’s contributions to our old site here. This passage marks the brilliant finale of a tale that’s brought us from hoagies to Cockroach and into a twist ending you’ll never see coming.

Cliff was feeling woozy from his trail up to Vanessa’s room. He was getting older, and was on multiple medications from aches and pains that come with old age. He wasn’t sure if his eyes deceived him or if there was actually a young man in Vanessa’s bedroom. “Dad! It’s not what you…” her voice trailed off. Cliff opened his mouth to shout at Vanessa, but not a single sound was uttered. The whole room was silent. The whole house had an eerily quiet feeling to it.

His body felt much lighter than it did five seconds prior to his non-scream. He felt like he was filling up like a balloon, softly floating, but while still barely touching the ground. The room was bubbling outwards and slowly sinking back in toward him, as if everything around him was breathing all at once. Colours were more vivid and a slight haze flickered around every object. “Did I take the wrong dosage of medication today?” he wondered, but this time he managed to say it aloud. He thought Vanessa had heard him say this, to which he felt a mild embarrassment. But Vanessa was gone. She was nowhere to be seen, as the room had breathed such a gasp that it sucked her through a wind tunnel.

Cliff’s eyes had now become heavy, while the rest of his body remained very light. He felt extremely sluggish all of the sudden, but with none of the pain he usually carried around with him. This also went for the recent emotional stress he had built up. Nothing mattered. He was a balloon, stuck in a bright, breathing room that had at one time belonged to his now non-existent daughter.

Suddenly, his body began to slouch down. From a slouching point, it slowly dragged itself into a puddle. The puddle would not move or take another form. It lay stagnant on the ground. The room’s breath was slowing down as well, and the light became dimmer. The light dimmed until there was nothing except complete darkness. There was nothing blacker in the universe than this particular moment in time.

Cliff flickered as he adjusted to the burning light. It felt like burning spears were clashing with his retinas. “What did I do to deserve such pain?” he thought. He awoke in a hospital bed. “Bill, you certainly had a nasty spill,” said a man in what appeared to be a nurse’s uniform. “Who is Bill?” Cliff stammered. “You are,” the doctor replied. “Bill Cosby? You are great. I have a bunch of your stand-up albums, and I loved your show.”

Cliff had no clue what this quack was yammering about. Where was his family? His children and Claire? The nurse gave a short sigh, and explained that he was telling some jokes on some talk show program called “Jay Leno,” and that the jokes were not going as well as planned. In a fury, he rushed offstage and tripped over a camera cable, hitting his head on the ground, which put him in a coma.

None of this made sense. Why was he on a talk show telling jokes? He was a father first and a doctor second. Why was the nurse constantly calling him “Bill”? Was this the afterlife? Was his life a sham? The nurse left to call the doctor in. While Cliff waited, he turned on the TV. He changed the channel until The Cosby Show appeared.

Hillside Recipe Collection 2011

Words: Alessandro Marcon // Photo: Marilis Cardinal

Gobble Gobble: 1 to 2 to 3 packs of sparkle pop

Summer has arrived and with the heat turned up high, there’s all the more reason to chill, lay back, snooze under trees or languidly float in lakes. And, of course, get into some summer time cooking! The Hillside Buffet had a good selection this year and we thought we’d share a couple recipes with you so you can try them at home with friends.


Food, like art, is not always meant to be conventional. Sometimes we encounter a plate of adventure which we’re not exactly sure what to make of. To call it a mess, when it’s been crafted and designed with so much precision and patience, is a sign of the overly cautious. You can’t eat Kraft Dinner forever. Let the search begin.

2 parts scuttling, punctilious and precise rhythm splashes
3 or 4 peeled vagaries
1 green, space melon keyboard
4 bountiful tablespoons of ambient, soaring chorals
1 choppy spray of bright guitar
1 bass and sample ginger nut with shell removed and crushed
4 enigmatic thaumaturge bones
1 hot kiss

1. Simmer guitar, ginger nut and keyboard in pan for five minutes.
2. Flash fry with rhythm splashes.
3. Remove everything from heat and cool.
4. Return to heat and add a thaumaturge bone
5. Dash with chorals
6. Repeat steps two to five until all four bones have been added. Cook for another 20 minutes.
7. Pour on top of chopped, peeled vagaries and garnish with a hot kiss
8. Serve on a carpet with floss. (Might get stuck in teeth and in melancholic souls.)

The Midway State

This modern treat, simultaneously reflexive of tradition while edging forwards progressively, tends to entice tappy toes, clenched fists and the odd headbang. Peeling back the outer layer, edible for most, yet bitter for some, might result in the sublime, but might result in the slightly insipid. Adding salt can help.

1 part pulsating, rhythmic bass with a splash of fried-up rib rattle
2 parts hard hitting drums, mostly on the two and the four with some sprinkles of shuffles and breaks
2 parts dreamy guitar with soaring eagle sonic waves
1 large dose of droning, emotive vocals edging on angst, riding long and mellifluous on sporadic and elongated “ohhhh”s
1 part keys, spacey and dissonant

1. Simmer with melody, feedback, dissonance, nostalgia of lost summers, forgotten tongue kisses and sunsets.
2. Add one side of Bryan Adams’ ¨Run to You¨
3. Serve hot in a large bowl to youngsters, hipsters, 40 and 50 plusters hand-banging with white hair, hoop earrings and overalls/sundresses atop pelvic thrusts.

Chali 2na

A dish with a solid reputation can lazily ride its name and corresponding past success straight to the bank or, it can take the route of reinvention, hard work and careful attention to layers and spice. Many goods, even aged slightly past their mature date, never get too old — especially when they’re working hard to please.

1 huge slab of deeply baritoned MC aged many years in Jurassic 5
1 part funky low end, 8 string style with stomping, slapping, growling and grooving
1 part key/sample machine of spots, melody, upbeat, and twinkle
1 chunky hunk of kickdrum, boom-boom, shuffle and breaks
Dashes of spices
(No DJ necessary)

1. Prepare Q with charcoal and when burning red, add slab of MC and all other parts.
2. Cook for a good portion of time with top open. Add dashes of Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Jurassic 5 and Rick James.
3. MC might spit off quotes such as “Put your fist up if you’ve heard of Jurassic 5. Fuck it. Put your fist up even if you haven’t” or “Everywhere I go, everyone I talk to, it’s always the same — no one like the shit they hear on the radio.”
4. Flip MC and let cook fully through — might be tough in places, slightly repetitive, yet wholly nourishing and satisfying.
5. Serve on a plate with neck bops, diverse dynamics and shifty hips. Goes well with Mary Jane on your arm, rum in your hand and dark rolled tobacco.

Graveyard Train

A showy, dressed-up, old time rendition. This one you can tell from the musty smell of sweat, smokes, metal chains and rusty tracks. It works hard to please. It pleases with chain-gang. There’s bound to be a little juice on the plate when you’re done with this, at times, slightly sloppy number.

1 part sweating, chunky dobro
A splash of standard acoustic guitar
2 cups of banjo
A handful of steel slide
1 full bottle of upright bass
A tub of Hammer & Chain (to your liking)
Wraps of marching, wood-toned, hypnotic pulse
5 parts smoked, stray meat – sausage harmony complete with gristle, wolf-growl and thunder soul
1 drop of Australian Viking blood
3 curly beard hairs

1. Take dobro, guitar, banjo, steel slide and place in cloth bag. Beat with a large stick for 10-12 minutes.
2. Open bag and pour in bottle of upright bass. Take down to the railroad tracks, drop in blood and kick bag down the tracks for at least 100 metres. (Option – If train is coming, leave bag on tracks and allow bag to be trampled.)
3. Take bag to the nearest cemetery. Open and yell with benediction, into bag, “Even witches like to go out dancing!”
4. Take contents out of bag and place in pulse wraps.
5. Sear wraps quickly with Hammer & Chain.
6. Eat immediately and enjoy, ‘cause, “One day you’ll all die!”

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe

Some food doesn’t need any fancy tricks. Home cookin’ they call it. Soul food. And when baby’s got soul like this, all that’s needed is to chuck ingredients together and let’m stew in their juices; Let’m work their magic. It’s the mix, the vibe and interaction that makes the flavour.

1 large jazzy, soul badadadpa sax
A eager, mingling, serenading flute
A cup and a half of swank guitar (mostly clean, seeds removed)
1 bag of melodic trumpet hooch
Purple toned, deep thick and spicy organ
1 spine of electric-bass buffalo
1 or 2 big sacks of peeled, hard-hitting, perma-groove potatoes
2 cobs of call and response
1 heart from a pink and blue Aardvark

1. Place all ingredients in a large pot. Add spices and garlic and salt and vinegar (to your liking)
2. Put on medium to low heat, turning up the heat at sporadic intervals.
3. Let pot boil over at times.
4. Dig deep and let flavor blends, roll and dance with one another.
5. Serve to people with or without shoes in mid to full genuflect.
6. Might go well with copious amounts of sweet, dank, rich hash.

Gobble Gobble

There comes a time in every foodie’s weekend when he just wants to munch down on a snack that bites back a little – to gobble down a luscious, slippery little plate of the wonderfully chimerical. It’s a summertime dish that’s sure to sit well with both kids and the young at heart. Worried about trying something new? Don’t worry. Let’s dance.

1 large plastic bag of electronics containing wires of melodic vocals, reverb, echo, choppy chunk beats, crackle, hiss
1 to 2 to 3 packs of sparkle pop

1. Take bag of wires, insert into toaster and toast heavily.
2. Leave bag in toaster and then bake both bag and toaster in oven for 25 minutes.
3. Sprinkle with sparkle pop.
4. Serve inside a hockey helmet.
5. To be eaten with shovels.


Words: Jesse Locke // Photos: Landon Speers

For all the naysayers claiming Mutek is a fun-deprived festival for po-faced chin strokers, this year’s programming provided plenty of evidence to the contrary. The truth of the matter is that the 12th annual electronic music spectacle now contains enough diversity that anyone and everyone can find something to enjoy. From Amon Tobin’s gob-smacking stage show (pictured above) to the twisted toys of the Fab Gadgets showcase and decidedly un-Mutek Psychonautic Surfers event, it might even have topped 2010 in terms of surprises.

The late, great Lester Bangs once claimed he listened to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music once a week, obliterating everything else heard in the days preceding. Mika Vaino’s set on the opening night of the A/Visions series had a similar effect, as the former member of Finnish industrialists Pan Sonic cranked through an abstract array of dentist drill squalls and electronic chainsaws to the face, dropping down to the darkest depths of the bass cave. Raster-Noton duo Emptyset matched the mood perfectly with their trunk-rattling low end, heavy throbs and waves of white noise, yet nothing could overshadow Vaino’s attack on the senses.

Jerusalem-born Badawi kicked off the first Nocturne dance party with a mix of dark and banging electro, clearly enjoying every moment behind the decks while sporting an afro, sunglasses and an evil grin. London’s Gold Panda got off to a slow start but soon delivered on his excellent recordings with a glistening set of beats pumping through Metropolis’s top-notch sound system. Finally, hometown hero Amon Tobin unveiled his highly anticipated Isam live show, with the man himself at the controls of a stage-spanning 3D Tetris castle. Perfectly choreographed to match the music’s rapid shifts with colourful projections and exploding spacecrafts, it was a gamer’s fantasy soundtracked by mechanical breaks.

Following Sutekh’s interesting but overlong piece for automated piano, day two’s A/Visions showcase kicked into high gear with the world premier of Comaduster’s audio/visual piece, Scrape. Backed by striking images of microscopic close-ups and towering flames, the Edmonton-based multi-talent swam into washes of ambience and twitching techno. Lastly, the hotly tipped team-up of Mexican producer Murcof and Simon Geilfus of ‘visual label’ AntiVJ offered a sensory overload of glitching hiccups and screen-popping images of mutated pixels.

Montreal dream-drone duo Sundrips provided the ideal opening act for the Psychonatic Surfers showcase, and it was fantastic to hear their cosmic synths and guitar flickers on a high-end sound system. Fellow locals the Organ Mood were slightly less impressive, yet their squelching tunes on the titular instrument and analog projections are at the very least a unique and well-matched combo.

Hazy UK experimentalists Hype Williams were perhaps the most… hyped?… act of the night, and while their captivating performance lived up to the group’s recordings/reputation, it also left just as many questions unanswered. In their North American live debut, the core duo of Roy Blunt and Inga Copeland filled the room with a creeper ambience of Lynchian nightclub proportions plus a healthy dose of ’90s pop deconstruction, wobbly sounds of unrecognizable origin and muffled vocals in multiple languages. The future of mysterious music rests safely in the hands of this pair.

The Sun Araw Band, captained by Cameron Stallones, were equally vibe-changing, transforming the Société des arts technologiques (SAT) into a steamy tropical jungle. Though the electronic beats may have skipped slightly off-course, the group’s expanded jams — aided by wah pedal and an Indian banjo à la the Flower-Corsano Duo — were a blast.

However, it was San Francisco’s Arp who stole the show with his blissful washes of Moog, soft bass hits and flickers of guitar. The visuals projected on three wall-sized screens were an ideal complement, as they flipped through vintage commercials of sun-drenched nostalgia and movie moments ranging from Solaris to Koyaanisqatsi. Easily the most entrancing performance of the night, if not the whole festival.

SAT beckoned us back the following afternoon for the Fab Gadgets showcase, and proved to be yet another highlight. Local collective Women With Kitchen Appliances kicked off the proceedings with their deadpan deconstruction of ’50s gender roles, dressed in matching aprons and wigs while armed with a table of titular trinkets. Clearly relishing every moment of the performance while feeding off the audience’s puzzled reactions, the armada of irony maidens clanked, plucked and slammed their chosen cooking wares at exaggerated volumes thanks to the finest of contact mics. The climax was a steak knife jammed into a blender to create a shower of sparks inches from those in the front row. Fun stuff.

Tristan Perich’s ‘1-bit Symphony’ pushed microchips to ecstatic heights, yet it was British duo Sculptures who seemed to be having the most fun of all. Dressed like a pair of shaggy street-corner glam rock magicians, they blasted through a dynamic set of improvised sounds and visuals on set-ups that likely only make sense to them. As one member spooled tape loops together at seemingly random intervals to create a Frankensteinian collage of bleeps and skips, the other spun colourful images on a turntable equipped with a camera together to create kaleidoscopic eye candy. Catch these guys live if you ever have the chance, and prepare for a wholly unique trip.

Later that night, Vancouver’s Babe Rainbow smoked out the Savoy room upstairs at Metropolis with a head-spinning set of soft focus electronics and cough syrup hip-hop beats. Perfect for sitting down, getting lost in the haze and losing track of your surroundings. Back to reality, it was time to drop down to the dancefloor and cut a rug with Kieran Hebden (a.k.a. Four Tet). Once again, the venue’s sound system delivered a stunning array for the setlist plucking crowd favourite cuts from throughout his discography. Yet the peak came early on with an extended version of recent single “Love Cry”, throbbing and bobbing through its massive drops and re-entries. The party likely raged on into the wee hours thanks to headliner James Holden, but this felt like a fitting note to end on. See you next year…

Landon Speers’ recollections:

A real surprise for most of us who’d not hear much from him before the festival, Anstam blew some minds with his brand of melodically dark industrial dance jams. Think Raster-Noton meets Burial.

Despite apparently just rocking a DJ set for his Mutek debut, Siriusmo made hips sway and people groove opening up the Modeselektor night while playing crowd favourites from 2011’s Mosaik full-length.

FaltyDL opened his set with some great ’90s feeling dance music, piano house and all, then ended with some garage oriented cuts. Drawing on sounds from a lot of different places, he tied them all together and shifted from influence to influence while keeping people’s attention — a tricky task to accomplish.

While not breaking any new ground with 2011’s performance, Mutek veterans Modeselektor did in fact bring the ruckus and keep everyone very happy with their signature brand of techno and oversized personalities.