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AUX Top 10: September 2014

October 1, 2014

Each month at AUX, our specialists in punk, metal, indie, hip hop, electronic, and pop vouch for their favourite releases of the month and have it out behind the scenes to bring you a trim, alphabetical, genre-representational list of the Top 10 Albums of the Month. Such fun!

Here were our favourite releases from September.

By: Jeremy Mersereau (JM), Tyler Munro (TM), Mark Teo (MT), and Aaron Zorgel (AZ)

Elisa Ambrogio
The Immoralist
(Drag City)

Thee almighty Magik Markers are one of the most bewitching and bewildering groups to emerge from the margins of aughts-era out-bound rock. The long-running trio of singer/guitar-wrencher Elisa Ambrogio, drummer Pete Nolan, and bassist John Shaw specialize in squealy jams with an appetite for SY/Royal Trux-style deconstruction and thinly veiled glimmers of light peeking through the tuff gnarl. Nonetheless, the band’s seesawing soft side was still not enough to foreshadow this swing into autumn sweater swoon-mode on Ambrogio’s excellent solo debut. “Superstitious” swells the album to life in cinematic fashion with sweet nothings marched on by martial snares up to cloud nine. These swirly-headed feelings continue to cloudburst through the drum machine sputter of “Reservoir” and chill-inducing cello of “Kylie” before the storm breaks at the harried conclusion of “Far From Home.” The barbwire brambles of “Mary Perfectly” and blood racing pulse of “Stopped Clocks” raise the heat even higher, but the album hits its apex at a fragile finale with the string tugging strains of “Arkansas.” In the cult of immorality, Ambrogio reigns. (JL)

BANKS
Goddess
(Harvest)

The debut full-length project from Bloglandia’s much-hyped matriarch is satisfying, even if it falls short of blue-sky expectations. Los Angeles pop singer-songwriter Banks, also known as Jillian Rose Banks, has been on the fast-track to Billboard’s summit since releasing a pair of stellar EPs in 2013, and Goddess is the realization of how quickly major labels look to monetize Internet hype. The album’s first single, the Shlomo-produced rattler “Brain” was released in January, and instantly shot to #1 on Hype Machine. Five more singles later, and Banks still has yet to crack the Hot 100. Regardless of real world chart performance, Goddess is a confident and complex pop record. If she takes her time, Banks’ next effort could secure pop starlet status to match a title like Goddess. (AZ)

Jennifer Castle
Pink City
(Idée Fixe)

Jennifer Castle built Pink City brick by brick. In the three years since her last album for beloved Calgary label Flemish Eye the foundations of piano, guitar and that soft, smoky voice have been subtly refurbished. Of course, this is far removed from sonic gentrification, and more like friends popping by to hammer some nails or help hang the drapes. The flourishes of Brodie West’s sax skronk, Michael Davidson’s vibraphone shimmer, and Owen Pallet’s sighing strings provide a strikingly colourful backdrop to contrast previous Castle-music strummed out from starkness. “Sparta” may be the standout in this regard, hitting the same sweet spot as Bill Callahan’s Dream River as it bobs along with the fluttering flute of Ryan Driver. However, there are countless pin-drop moments here that will work their way under your skin with each passing spin, from Castle’s gentle throat clearing midway through “Down River” to the unexpected twist in the final seconds of “Nature.” Recent interviews have seen her rail against the environmental issues of the Alberta oil sands, and here she voices her thoughts in poetic form: “Out on the land / two either side / there is a pit as deep as it is wide / And underneath a rolling dime / I lift my skirt for the economy.” Even the prettiest places have problems at the core. (JL)

Darkspace
Dark Space III I
(Avantgarde Music)

Darkspace is one of those bands you almost hate to write about as a straight-faced black metal fan, since the Swiss trio’s expansive, atmospheric sound can often only be described in the most flowery of ways. Furthering that, they write about the bleakness and emptiness of outer space—hence the name—and have inexplicably titled their latest album Dark Space III I, which either means it’s Dark Space IV, which is how roman numerals actually work, or it’s Dark Space III: Part I, which doesn’t make sense with Dark Space III tearing black metal a new one back in 2008. Regardless, the album is fantastic and, with three songs totaling more than an hour together, worth the investment. Yes, it’s grim and bleak and misanthropic, but it’s also expansive, at times mind-altering, often ferocious, textured and, most importantly, worth the six year wait. Black metal often lends itself to hyperbole. Dark Space III I reminds us why. (TM)

[bandcamp id=”42142352″]

Justin Townes Earle
Single Mothers
(Vagrant)

As he toured in support of the impeccable Harlem River Blues, Justin Townes Earle seemed to be playing at half-speed, trapped iunder the weight of… something. The meandering energy of those shows carried over into the sparse, soulful Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, which while decent seemed to be missing that spark. Thankfully, Single Mothers is Justin Townes Earle reignited. Bluesy, with enough swing, stomp and storytelling to keep it varied, his sixth album is a succinct 30 minutes, but in that time it’s also a reminder of why he’s special; more than just a second generation talent, Justin Townes Earle proves here that he has the chops to live up to two of the genre’s strongest namesakes. Where Nothing’s Gonna Change… accented itself with horns and soulful flourishes, Single Mothers relies on Earle’s quick wit, sharp tongue and snappy, top-tier guitar chops. His voice is as impassioned on the title track as it is smooth on “Worry About the Weather,” and while no track has the breakneck zest of a song like “Halfway to Jackson” off 2009’s Midnight at the Movies, there’s an indescribable quality that shines throughout. It’s what allows the hard-hitting, stripped-bare “Picture in a Drawer” to fit beside the electric bounce of “Wanna Be a Stranger.” As much as Single Mothers is about dealing with loss, musically it succeeds by showing an artist rediscovering himself. Ryan Adams is going to steal the spotlight when it comes to September, but Single Mothers isn’t going down easy. (TM)

Foxes in Fiction
Ontario Gothic
(Orchid Tapes)

In the interviews he’s given about Ontario Gothic, Ontario-born, New York-dwelling Warren Hildebrand (a.k.a. Foxes in Fiction) has repeatedly touted the healing power of music. No wonder—there are countless ways we to describe Ontario Gothic, but it’s most accurate to call it therapeutic. But it’s also his most focused work yet: Swing From the Branches, Hildebrand’s gorgeous 2010 album, was a collection of field recording and sound collages, demonstrating his ability to find allure in the everything (even an ice cream truck’s far-off jingle). Ontario Gothic, meanwhile, packages his ear for beauty into nine airy ambient pop tracks, layering gentle drones, sweeping guitar melodies, and looping drums into compositions so fragile, they feel like they could shatter upon touch. Owen Pallett lends his violins to several of Ontario Gothic’s tracks, but they’re hardly the focus—tracks like “Shadow’s Song,” “Amanda” and “Into the Field” drift between airy shoegaze, music-box guitar melodies, autumnal drones, and post-rock so masterfully, the transitions are barely detectable. Ontario Gothic doesn’t have singular standouts, but that’s no flaw—ever so subtly, Hildrebrand’s assembled an LP that grips from start to finish. (MT)

[bandcamp id=”188389692″]

Perfume Genius
Too Bright
(Matador)

Even if Perfume Genius’ Too Bright lives up to its name, you would be wise to not look away. Seattle-based croon-wave artist Mike Hadreas’ third record sees him teaming up with Portishead’s Adrian Utley as co-producer, giving the ivory-tinkling balladeer’s intense lyrical delivery a layered reverberative playground to thrive in. A Krautrock-tinged synth loop is the platform for cryptic hypnosis on “Longpig,” while “My Body” is host to an anguished falsetto paired with industrial bass stabs. Despite the sonic tinkering, musicality still wins out when it comes to Too Bright; in its 30-minute span, Hadreas delivers each distinct musical idea with clarity and polished grace. Despite its name, Too Bright casts its glow into exciting, experimental territory, ultimately guiding him in a direction that will invite the acknowledgement he deserves. (AZ)

SHXCXCHCXSH
Linear S Decoded
(Avian)

“Mysterious Swedish techno duo” is already almost a brand in itself, what with that other famous sibling act coming to mind, but at least The Knife had the good sense to not completely internet-proof themselves. Hope your SEO game is on lock, SHXX-whatever. Anyway, Linear S Decoded’s 13 tracks come across like a somehow even more watery Drexciya, undulating and morphing into bass-heavy depth charges. Standout “The Under Shore” combines the ambient beauty of Stars of the Lid with the bone-disintegrating bass of Pole, while the only thing “This Humming Ravery” can be compared to is an ancient undersea temple slowly rising to the surface (can’t find that on Spotify). Whatever compels our Nordic brothers into anonymously creating dark monolithic slabs of pulsing bass and kicks, let’s hope it spreads to the non-reindeer eating world. (JM)

Yacht Club
Burnt Cream
(Bad Actors)

Ben Cook’s Yacht Club—his breezy project with guitarist Matt Delong, later of No Warning—is among his most divisive, largely because it’s the closest the Fucked Up guitarist has come to pure, uncut pop. Accordingly, the coreman contingency has always approached Yacht Club with skepticism, much of it unfounded. Singles like “Flash,” “A Little Messed Up,” and “Tropicana” were raw, but were undeniably evocative—through Cook’s sneer and sleazed-up synths, YC conjured images of hotel rooms with mirrored ceilings, boxy pastel blazers, and the timeless pairing of gold chains and salt ‘n’ pepper chest hair. Solid as their early tracks were, Burnt Cream is a massive leap forward, bolstered by Cook’s opulent production. It helps, too, that Cook and Delong’s songwriting reaches new highs—“Cold Wind From Fools,” for its hilarious title, is lovely in its silkenness, dusted with R&B and funk guitars; “Picture Perfect” is a hazed-out slow jam, and the most earnest sexy song Cook’s written; “What’s Your Sadness” is a chilled-out downer that could run with Chaz Bundick’s best. Topped off with an edit via rising bedroom producer Harrison, and Burnt Cream isn’t only the best thing Yacht Club’s written—it’s an argument that Cook should be pursuing his soft-rock band full time. (MT)

Youth Code
An Overture
(Dais)

Industrial music was always ahead of its time, so it’s a good thing dedicated diehards like Youth Code are around to keep the faith. Sara Taylor and Ryan George are obviously more indebted to Skinny Puppy and the EBM side of the spectrum than artier first-wave groups like Coil and Throbbing Gristle, but no one’s complaining. All strict tempos, shrieked histrionics, and distorted synths, the four new tracks on the An Overture collection show an incredible leap in production and songwriting from their 2013 debut (also included), which were already leagues ahead of what goths with FLStudio are always cranking out. In Youth Code’s hands, industrial becomes what it was always supposed to be—the soundtrack to an incomprehensible and vicious future. Purists might moan about punk kids who probably have no idea who :wumpscut is (not true, check out their fav industrial jams, they’re definitely rivetheads), but everyone else will remember just how awesome a label Nettwerk was. Anyway, gotta go, got to jam old OhGr and VNV Nation on YouTube. (JM)

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