#festivalseason - Rifflandia 11 rounds out the season in musically diverse style.

Another year of Rifflandia and another year of a densely diverse musical memories to help get us through the cold winter months. Unbound by any genre allegiances, Rifflandia is free to mine any part of the modern musical map they deem worthy and to their credit, each year they dig hard to bring something unique to the city of Victoria. Something different than the swaths of other catch-all festivals that flood the market each and every festival season. And in their 11th year, Rifflandia did not disappoint. With 150+ acts over three days, four nights and 14 stages, there was more than ever to take in. We didn't stop for the duration of the weekend and in amongst the chaos, these were the acts that left the biggest imprints on our ears over the four relentless days.

Best Non-musical Thing We Saw At Riff - KARMIK

We're don't necessarily advocate drug use at Rags Music, but we damn sure as hell advocate safety and and taking care of each other. Thankfully the good people at KARMIK made their first appearance at Rifflandia. Breaking ground is nothing new to the team at Karmik, so it only made sense they were the first organization to bring a mass spectrometer to Vancouver Island, and establish a legitimate drug testing presence at Rifflandia. To give you how big of a deal that actually is, the legendary Shambhala Music Festival (Salmo, BC) took years of fundraising and donations to be able to provide attendees with the technology – at an event that arguably has more drug use than Riff. But, Victoria definitely has needed something like this for years, and even with local law enforcement pushing back, the lovely individuals of Karmik stood their ground and provided a much needed service in Victoria that has been long overdue. Hope to see them back next year!

Gentle Mind

One of the first acts of Rifflandia weekend, Gentle Mind took the stage at Phillips Front Yard Thursday night to show how to kick off a festival right. With a small crowd and a chill in the air, the Vancouver soul (Acid soul? Jazz soul? Soul pop?) group started with a small smattering of people – more photographers than festival-goers – and by the end of their set, the stage was packed and the people were eating out of the bands hands. The bands originals, including their standout “Nighttime in Crema”, popped and pulled in the listeners with their slickness, their depth and their soul. A couple of choice covers sprinkled in to their set helped give a new audience familiar touchstones: A lovely rendering of Haitus Kaiyote's sultry “Nakamarra” and a groovy as hell cover of The Weeknd's “I Can't Feel My Face,” the latter of which took me way too long to recognize. We singled out Gentle Mind as a band to watch at this year's Rifflandia and they didn't disappoint, setting the tone for another great weekend of music.

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Handsome Tiger - Juggling EP (Review)

Handsome Tiger - Juggling 

Sometimes music just feels like it was made for a certain activity – driving a car, getting high, having sex, riding in an elevator, etc. If I was on a wild safari kind of hunt, far into some dense-as-fuck jungle, I would listen to Juggling, the latest offering from red-hot Vancouver bass-dealer Handsome Tiger. But this wouldn't be a hunt where I find and kill the animals, but like, I'd hunt them and bring them food and this EP and we'd have a big wild animal party. This right here is serious bass goodness.

Juggling drills down deep in the ears of those that hear it – relentlessly dense and swampy bass pulses and winds its way into your head, forcing your torso and hips to respond. As unflinchingly deep as Juggling goes, this is grimy bass music that doesn't ever fight the listener, instead drawing response with surprising warmth. There's a violence and darkness to the beats, but it's balanced by uhhh...pleasantness? Is that the word I'm looking for? Yeah. Pleasant violence. This is generally around the point in the review where I'd tell you which tracks are the best, which ones you should check out first. But honestly, Juggling is, thankfully, a cohesive whole with threads and ideas that run through the length of the runtime. It's a cohesive whole that demands to be experienced all the way through, at least on the first few run-throughs. In an overly fertile west coast bass scene, Handsome Tiger continues, with Juggling, to prove why he's one of the areas fastest rising purveyours of deep, quality bass music.

Zeal & Ardor - Stranger Fruit (Review)

Zeal & Ardor – Stranger Fruit

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The silence is broken by the steady sound of an axe chopping wood, soon joined by a single guitar and gospel-tinged harmonizing. “We all heard the stories/Bring you to your knees/Ain't no lord gonna help you now,” intones a ragged voice as more guitars and drums join, building to a momentary fury before falling silent again, except for that voice, that single guitar, and that unrelenting axe. So begins Stranger Fruit, the second LP by Zeal & Ardor, the brainchild of Manuel Gagneux, a thunderous blend of slave music and black metal.

And what a fusion it is. The album's title references Nina Simone's savage, sorrowful song about lynchings in the south, and here also we find songs about a people hounded and pursued. People forced onto ships, people murdered and mourning, the fear and tension are thick and palpable. The song “Row Row” speaks of someone losing their name “in salt and stone”, of being taken below, while “Gravedigger's Chant” begins with a burial, with the song's narrator asking for the dead man's shoes to be brought down to the sea shore, possibly the closest they can come to home.

These are not songs of mourning though. Like the introductory track, the looping rhythms of slave hymns give way to reveal a darker, angrier sound just beneath the surface. These are songs of a people turning away from the light of white Christianity, invoking something darker, something that promises vengeance, bought in blood and fire. “Now listen here, you can join us/Or you can die in the fire” says the song “Servants”; “Ship on Fire” begins with its narrator singing “I come in the breath of the dead/Bathing in my papa's blood/Bare-boned and covered in red” and ends with him promising “Nobody waiting on you/You better run son”.

Again: that axe. A steady, rhythmic sound, the sound of hard, thankless work, toiling under the sun. But also implicit in that sound is a threat, as the axe is both tool and weapon, ready to explode into an act of violence at a moment's notice, to be turned against the oppressor without warning. “You Ain't Coming Back” repeats the line, “Don't let anybody tell you that you're safe,” throughout. At first it seems to be spoken to caution a child or a friend, but as the song increases in intensity, the menace lying beneath the surface is revealed. “These are the eyes that saw them die/theses are the hands that dug their graves/don't let anybody tell you that you're safe.”

The introduction ends with a final stark thud, louder and more ominous than the rest. Vengeance is coming.  (Independent)

Support good music and pick up Stranger Fruit.

#festivalseason - The Phillips Backyard Weekender delivered all I expected...And then some.

There was a ridiculous amount of great music at Phillips Brewery for the annual Backyard Weekender in Victoria this year and I could go on and on about it. I could tell you how The Revolution was better than anyone could have thought, laying down a set comprised entirely of some of Prince's best tracks – and even a couple surprises... “America,” anyone? Or how Victoria OG s, Murge and Verse – The Champion Sound, held it down between sets all damned weekend. Or I could tell you about the fiery and relentless disco assault of !!! (Chk Chk Chk) lit up a mostly unsuspecting crowd. In a weekend packed with highlights, here are the four acts that inspired my own lazy ass to get back to important work, like creating things and loving live music even of a fraction of how I used to.

Reggie Watts is so good at what he does that people now believe non-facts about Victoria.

Ask anyone who was there - apart from the two dudes I saw walk out early declaring, “This guy's a fucking weirdo.” - and they'll tell you that Reggie Watts' Saturday night performance at The Phillips Backyard Weekender was a incendiary force of creativity. It was funny, fresh and relentless. It demanded attention to mine its deep rewards. During his set, which my words will never do justice to, Watts told the potted “history” of spare ribs. We all had a good chuckle. Early the next day, whilst in the smoke-pit, I overheard a discussion about the improvised glory that Watts laid down the previous night. “He must have done a lot of serious research about Victoria. Like, he talked about the history of the spare rib and how it came from Victoria. I didn't know that!” “I'm from Victoria and I didn't know that!” These are actual things I overheard. Are there hundreds or possibly thousands of people out in Victoria now spreading the wholly false idea that Victoria is the legit home of the spare rib? God, I hope so.

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Phonosonics - Reggae Don't Pay The Rent (Review)

Phonosonics - Reggae Don't Pay The Rent

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Jamaican-rooted music, probably more than another music, has a long history of straddling the line between lovers' music that makes you wanna pull a warm body close and fiery political anthems that make you want to punch an oppressor in the mouth. With their latest offering, Reggae Don't Pay The Rent, Victoria's rocksteady champions Phonosonics are paying proper tribute to the beautiful lyrical dichotomy of the musical culture they're helping keep alive and well. The production here is top-notch; all the tracks sound rich, full and warm. It's a clean sound, but it's not slick and shiny. It's an aesthetic that suits each of the five tracks incredibly well and fits the throwback feel of the band and its songs like a glove.

“If He Makes You Laugh” is undoubtedly lover's rock, as frontman Spencer Cleave's rich voice gets to stretch out between highs and lows as he mourns a love just out of reach, supported by a luscious organ line. The gently lilting rocksteady groove of “Feel The Same” is the perfect compliment to the lovey-dovey lyrics. Cleave, who also holds down the songwriting duties, turns his eye outside of his own heart on the title track, “Reggae Don't Pay The Rent” and the hard-hitting “Oil.” It's an interesting pair of political-leaned tracks as the former keeps it close to home, dealing with the struggles of the masses barely getting by, while “Oil,” unsurprisingly, takes on the damaging effects of a world driven by the endless quest for “black gold, Texas tea.” But, keeping in the spirit of the best reggae, the music makes you want to move, both tracks are genuinely fun and both are reminders that music with a message can still be hugely fun. The final track “No Sleep” is bouncy as hell and while Cleave sounds like he's having the best of times singing the song, he's singing about my own personal hell, staying awake to take in the never-ending party of life. Ah, hell yeah life is great but I'm tired. I'll see ya in the morning, I'm going to bed.

Legit though, it may seem odd that I'm writing so glowingly about rocksteady/reggae music coming from the Canadian west coast, but in the city that hosts North America's longest running reggae festival, it makes perfect sense that such glowing reggae music is emanating from the city. If you need those good riddims for these hot summer days – or even better, the slightly cooler but still warm summer evenings – Reggae Don't Pay The Rent has got what you need. Highly recommended listening. (Independent)

Pick up Reggae Don't Pay The Rent on bandcamp.