Pierre Stemmett - Float EP (Review)

Pierre Stemmett – Float EP (Review)

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Pierre Stemmett manages to hit a shocking number of musical spots on the aptly titled Float – a four-song collection of deeply contemplative and emotional tracks that gently winds and seeps its way into your ears. Undoubtedly headphone/empty (Or at least single-occupied) room music, mired in youthful heartbreak but brimming with introspection that belies Stemmett's youth, Float does flash moments that would fit perfectly in a downtempo DJ set or a smaller house party. It's the difference between the aching lilting chords of “Sleep Walking” and the deep, droning bass of “Blur” with its gently plucked strings and hard-driving bars courtesy of fellow South African Kearne Dragon. Both songs are dripping with the aforementioned heartbreak and longing – the dominating feelings permeating the EP front to back. Stemmett's delicate, emotive voice cries “I know you hate me, but I love you/I wish I could do this without you” in between surprisingly disarming (and appropriately emotional) rapid-fire raps on the seriously big “Head Space” – it's a moment that proves how starkly naked Stemmett can be about his feelings, a trait that continues to set his music apart from stuff that may be sonically similar. The title track “Float” sets the space with its atmospheric, almost anti-gravitational feeling, untethered to almost anything beyond Stemmett's attention-demanding voice. Like any good EP, Float is a cohesive musical idea, completely filler-free and leaving the listener craving more of the sonic vision. Highly recommended listening. (Independent)

Chali 2na & The House of Vibe, The Gaff - 09.02.19 - Capital Ballroom, Victoria, BC

Chali 2na & The House of Vibe, The Gaff – 09.02.19 – Capital Ballroom, Victoria, BC

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Yo, Canada, can we just give Chali 2na honorary citizenship already? The hip-hop legend (Both with a spray can and on the mic) is basically family now here on the Canadian West Coast and Saturday night at Capital Ballroom in Victoria, Chali 2na and his incredible band, The House of Vibe, showed yet again why he's a mainstay in people listening diets...and judging from the reception he and the band received for 2+ hours, a mainstay in peoples' hearts.

The band, one of the tightest (But somehow ephemerally loose at the same time) bands around, The House of Vibe held things down with ease as they helped 2na run through a career-spanning set that touched on two-plus decades of Chali's world class hip-hop. Loose and relaxed, the band was smiling as much as the man himself (Which is A LOT) during the set as they flexed their considerably funky muscles from beginning to end. Every time I see these cats play (I've seen them more than a dozen times now), I always think at least once in the night, “Man, Anthony (Brewster) is fucking sick. I know he gets some spotlight every set, but I really wanna see him do an opening set or something one of these times.” And then, this past Saturday, as I'm thinking that very thought, the band launches into an extended medley with Anthony front and centre rocking “Get Up, Stand Up” and “Smoke Two Joints.” Note to the House of Vibe for next time: Loved that, more of that please. As great of a band as the House of Vibe is, Chali 2na is the guy that makes the motor move.

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Just know Chali from Jurassic 5? Well, he's gonna play a few songs to cover you. Know him from his more recent work with The Funk Hunters and Westwood Recordings (Like his recently released beast of an EP Instrumentality)? He's got you covered. Know Chali from his (I'm calling it here) timeless hip-hop masterpiece, Fish Outta Water? He's got you covered there as well. In fact, no matter how many times I've seen the songs from F.O.W. I'm still amazed at how big they hit in the live setting. Whether it's the hard-hitting “Guns Up” or the tender, contemplative “Righteous Way,” or the downright grimy “So Crazy,” the songs on that landmark album are captivating. They are a part of my musical make-up now. I could honestly watch Chali and the House of Vibe just play that album once a year for the rest of my life and I'd be a happy human. Thankfully though, Chali is straight-up relentless in his output and is always creating new music and new art. The thoughtful and sublime “Blue Marble” from Instrumentality was a track that I originally glossed over, but in a live setting, whooooa boy, that struck deep. As 2na continues to add music to his repertoire, his sets just get longer, adding new stuff into the mix while not taking old staples out. It's a good choice because honestly, is there such a thing as too much Chali 2na? After more than two hours of grooving and smiling, I think a packed Capital Ballroom would answer that with a resounding “No. No, there is never too much 2na.” Another west-coast success for the immortal 2na fish.

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Alright, I'd be remiss in writing this little review without mentioning the groovy stylings of one of the smoothers operators in the DJ game, The Gaff. Getting things started on a rare snowy night in Victoria is never an easy thing and I was one of only a handful of people there when Gaff took his place behind the decks, but he did the thing and gave zero fucks how many people were there, going in straight away with the goods. At one point my brother asked me, “So, Gaff is a scratch guy right?” A moment later Gaff was scratching up a storm, as he does, and my brother was in. That's a win on a dude notoriously iffy on the whole DJ thing. And apparently, his main turntable (The left, because he's a lefty) stopped reading Serato 10 minutes into his set so he had to dig into his apparently vast improvisation skills to make that shit go- The mark of a true master. By the time he finished his set the room was packed and sweaty, all lubed up and ready for Chali & The House of Vibe to do their thing. Good snap.

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#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.