Come hear music from these and other local RPM Challenge albums on Saturday, April 2, 2011 at CBTGs. 9pm-3am. 19+.
The RPM Challenge is an annual creative challenge to record a full album of original music in the month of February.
It all started in a city in New Hampshire in 2006 when the small alternative publication The Wire dared its readers to stop what they were doing, hit the record button, and make some music. “We can give you a deadline!” they cried. And it worked. One month later, hundreds of CDs were rolling through their door. The following year they invited people from around the world to take part.
When we started encouraging readers of The Scope to take part in 2008, we were perfectly happy with the response of 22 complete albums.
Flash forward to this year, the beginning of March, when 103 brand new albums written and recorded by Newfoundland artists appeared out of thin air. It meant friends were encouraging friends to get together and jam. People who were not associated with any kind of music scene had gotten their guitars out of their closets and sang their hearts out into a computer microphone. People already in the music scene were trying their hands at new material or new projects.
“But are any of them any good?” you ask.
Heck yeah. Lots of them. We couldn’t even give reviewers Damian Lethbridge (am/fm dreams) and Patrick Canning (SUPERGOD!!!) enough room to write about all of their favourites. Here are 20 reviews.
A “NEW” WALLPAPER MUSIC
In talking to Alex Bridger about his RPM entry this year he revealed that the whole project was conceived as a tribute of sorts to the late Captain Beefheart and Syd Barrett. Of course having him tell me this was totally redundant, as from the opening notes onward nothing could be more obvious. Although the influence of other famous outsider musicians like Skip Spence and heroin-era John Frusciante is clearly evident as well, I can’t think of another contemporary artist who captures the aesthetic and spirit of Beefheart and Barrett as perfectly Bridger does here. The way he gets songs like “Doin’ this” to groove so solidly while simultaneously placing beats where you can never predict totally baffles me. Montreal seems to have pushed Bridger into a much more low-key and bluesy direction than he was here in Sin Jawns, but the richness and inventiveness of his ideas remains fully intact. Patrick Canning http://aebridger.bandcamp.com/album/a-new-wallpaper-music
MARIO RPM: LEGEND OF SEVEN STARS
If you’re like me and spent countless hours of your childhood punishing your thumbs with Nintendo classics like Mario Brothers, Tetris, and Mega Man, you will enjoy the humorous trip down memory lane that is Bad Breens’ (sisters Kerri and Krissy Breen) RPM debut. The opening track, “Excite-bike,” is an extended metaphor comparing building your own track with grass-traps and ramps in the game Excite Bike to the obstacles we sometimes build for ourselves in life. The song also references aspirations of becoming “the Billy Mitchell of Excite Bike,” an allusion to the renowned gamer and antagonist of the 2007 documentary King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters. The track “Boys Do Cry (When You Beat Them at Nintendo)” is a nod to the Cure and a jab at the collective ego of the predominantly male gamer community. Bad Breens are self-described as “sloppy/outsider/punk/folk comedy” with sparse electric guitar and vocal arrangements reminiscent of another famous sister duo The Breeders. One of the many charms of this album is it’s clever lyrics, with lines like “Mario Paint, Photoshop it ain’t,” “A Tetris mind is all I’ve ever had,” and “Power Glove is broken, can’t find my copy of Mega Man 3, there’s dust in my cartridge and my code won’t work for Game Genie.” Bad Breens have created an RPM album that is as classic as the vintage games that inspired it. Damian Lethbridge
“You know why I’m whittling? Because that’s what you do in a town where a yellow light still means slow down, not speed up.” Anyone who grew up in outport Newfoundland (such as myself – 1,2,3 La Scie that’s we!) can appreciate this Twin Peaks sound-byte that you hear before an onslaught of screaming mayhem assaults your ears on Boil Order’s Last Supper. This hardcore punk band is a potluck of musicians from various local bands that have united to produce a rural NL themed RPM album. As is usually the case with hardcore punk, the lyrics are virtually indecipherable, but the song titles say it all, such as “Woodrow” (every outport’s got at least one), “Relocate,” “Depletion” (about the raping of the cod-stocks, I’m guessing), and “Boil Order” (I still remember when Beaver Fever ravaged me and my classmates in Grade 7—one day I will have my revenge, castor canadensis.) In true hardcore fashion most of the songs clock in at about a minute, with the title track zipping by at a whopping 6 seconds – about the same amount of time it takes Beaver Fever to render you powerless. Damian Lethbridge http://boilorder.bandcamp.com/album/last-supper
PICK AN APPLE AND GO TO THE MOUNTAINS
One of this year’s pleasant surprises came from RPM newcomers The Drows, a folk trio that weave an enchanting fabric of ballads and toe-tappers about “cats, ghosts, dragon-flies,” and the like. Pick an Apple and Go to the Mountains is filled with the warm tones of ukulele, harp, violin (courtesy of Alison Corbett), and beautiful three-part harmonies, delivering a blend of folk and trad somewhere between Vashti Bunyan and The Be Good Tanyas. The introductory Celtic harp on the album opener “Chrysalis” promises a rewarding listen, while the charming sing-a-long “Little Kitty Cat” is an homage to the endearing quirks of a feline friend. The haunting fairytale “The Ballad of Trinity Loop” features the ghostly singing saw of Noah Bender, and “The Old Man” is a bluesy a capella lament of passing time and decay that would make Nathaniel Hawthorne proud. Hopefully we’ll be hearing more from these newcomers in the near future. Damian Lethbridge
CALLING YOU TONIGHT
The Blossoms (AKA Andrew Wickens) really stepped up his game from last year’s well received RPM album. There is an undeniable Beach Boys influence on this album (not surprising since Andrew is part of The Beach B’ys tribute band) every song is practically drenched in rich vocal harmonies and vintage 60’s pop touches like glockenspiels and doo-bee-doo choruses. The production is a step up from last year but not too much, there is a pleasant lo-fi haze that filters the sound into a dreamy mush that feels appropriate to the material. Andrew has a good mind for classic pop song structure and sly bit of dark humor present in songs like “Dead Sexy” (which is about sexy zombies) and this album is evidence that these skills are only improving with time. Patrick Canning http://www.myspace.com/563498852
The cover of Casual Male’s second album, and maiden voyage into RPM waters, speaks volumes about the music within. It features a zookeeper tickling the toes of a sprawling lion while the rest of the pride looks on in confusion. Like this precarious scene, Bonding straddles the line between light-hearted playfulness and ferocious intensity. The album was inspired by what Vic Lewis calls the “shambolic”, low-fi, garage rock that him and Brad Power have been listening to lately. Although hints of Black Lips, The Kinks, Roky Erickson, and 13th Floor Elevators are evident, the lads bring it to a new level with Brad’s bluesy leads and the vocal chameleon Vic Lewis turning on a dime from slacker croon to throat shredding howl that would rival Pixies screamer Black Francis. Bonding also has a great sense of humour running throughout, with Vic cracking up laughing in the middle of “Shy Bird,” and priceless lines such as “Going out to Badgers Quay, gonna get some good Chinese, egg-rolls, fried beef broccoli, yeah take it to go.” Damian Lethbridge http://goo.gl/37kKl
The Finkle, Warner, Graham, Sing, Wells, Emke, and Cuff Project
INTO THE ELEPHANT
Dear Finkle, Warner, Graham, Sing, Wells, Emke and Cuff, you need a better band name and fast. [This just in: They have a new name! “East of Empire” -ed.] Into the Elephant is phenomenal and I anticipate a lot of people are going to be talking about it in the months to come, but not with a mouthful of a name like that. Seriously though, TFWGSWECP have made an RPM album of complex, acoustic guitar/piano-driven alternative pop, complete with odd timing, tempo shifts, and other-worldly vocals. The lead singer’s voice has a brassy vibrato quality which sounds like a cross between Steve Haley (Human Soundtrack) and Tim D’Eon (Wintersleep). With a penchant for anthemic group vocals and stripped down arrangements that sound like a lost Arcade Fire demo cassette, these guys have all the elements they need to blow up the local scene (except a decent name.) Damian Lethbridge http://goo.gl/hxatJ
Georgie & JoMo
The husband and wife duo Georgie & JoMo have been playing together for years on the local circuit in bands such as Wolves, Reluctant Showmen, and Japan Batteries. Their 2011 debut Half-Life is their initiation into RPM madness, and also marks the first time the couple has written and recorded together. George created all the sonic backdrops for the songs in the first two weeks of the challenge after which Joanne stepped out of her usual role as drummer to take over lead vocal duties. Half-Life is an electro-pop gem with haunting, jagged soundscapes reminiscent of Massive Attack and Nine Inch Nails, and JoMo’s strong, soulful vocals add elements of Portishead and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Keep an eye out for Georgie & JoMo in the months to come as they are currently revisiting the songs on Half-Life to work out a live set. Damian Lethbridge http://www.reverbnation.com/georgiejomo
…IS REALLY PLAYING MUSIC
Gander native Nikki Sooley has been writing and playing original music since she was 15. While still in high school she formed the indie-rock band Starbox and appeared on the CBC series Rock Camp, where young aspiring musicians developed their rock chops under the mentorship of gurus like Joel Plaskett. Nikki Sooley…Is Really Playing Music, her first RPM contribution, is a solid collection of upbeat, acoustic rockers. Songs like “Sing Mama,” “Still Know You,” and “Let’s Go to the Party” echo influences from Tom Petty, Sloan, and her hero and mentor Joel Plaskett. Nikki also has an incredible and unique voice that blends the clarity of Sarah Harmer, the power of Joni Mitchell, and the edginess of Lucinda Williams. Nikki is currently a student at MUN so hopefully we’ll be seeing more of this amazing talent on the local scene. Damian Lethbridge http://www.myspace.com/nikkisooley
Justin Guzzwell is fast becoming one of my favourite local songwriters and over the past year has become a total powerhouse performer who needs to be experienced. This is his third year participating in the RPM Challenge and this year’s entry is by far his best. The gritty fuzzed out production really compliments the bounce and wallop of his ivory punishing and incandescent howl. The 60’s Brit-pop influence has never been more pronounced in his works; the recorder breakdown and marching beat of “The Alter Boy” and souring verses of “Bereavement and Grief” bear more then a little resemblance to a certain fab four. There is a real richness and sophistication to be found in his compositions and he’s not afraid to get experimental while he brings the ferocity and forcefulness to the performance on tracks like “She’s a doll, I’m a Chicken.” A very rewarding listen. Patrick Canning http://www.myspace.com/justinguzzwell
WAFFLE CHOCOLATE MAYO
One of the most talked-about RPM albums of 2010 came from 10 year-old Nicolas Trnka who submitted a short collection ofsongs about aliens, comic books, brushing your teeth, tigers, and other concerns of the typical unigenarian. To the delight of many, Nicolas has completed another RPM album this year. Waffle Chocolate Mayo retains the same playful spirit of his debut album, but shows great advancement in his musical skills after just one year. The album begins with a rolling piano, minor-chord slice of existentialism (“Alone in the Universe”) which would sound right at home on a Justin Guzzwell album. Backed by what sounds like a fancy new keyboard, Nicolas presents his 11-year perspective on such topics as superheroes, teenage werewolves, cheese tacos, his dog Ponyboy, and Narwhals, of which he sings, “They’ve got big pointy horns, they’re fishy unicorns.” Classic! Congratulations on another great album Nicolas. Damian Lethbridge
Another artist coming out of nowhere and grabbing me by the neck this year is Mammoth (AKA Steve Maloney, who ended up being a lot younger then I was expecting when I Googled him). With the exception of a couple tunes with fuller arrangements the album is mostly just guitar and voice, but what a voice! It’s not hard to make comparisons to either Tim or Jeff Buckley, but Steve is not quite so flamboyant or wanky in his delivery. His songs are a bit more simple and direct but have that similar lonesome and dramatic quality that you could associate with the Buckleys. The album is a relaxed and fairly understated affair, but there is a theatrical quality to the songs that brings it above a mere lazy Sunday album. Altogether it’s a refreshing and graceful listening experience. Patrick Canning http://goo.gl/CSyhy
This is probably the most high-fidelity entry in this years challenge, the production positively sparkles pixie dust all over your headphones. In their third year participating it feels like Other People have finally found their voice. In the past it felt like they were tripping over their own profundity of ideas and lacking a focus to the lyrics, but on Secret Joggers everything gels in a really satisfying way. The lyrics are still a bit cluttered and tangled, but they make it work to their advantage this time around by channelling some Stereolab into their intricate arrangements and by crafting melodies that make the words work more like tone poetry without distracting from their quite astonishing pop compositions. This is an ambitious and expertly executed pop excursion. Patrick Canning http://www.myspace.com/otherpeoplenl
Monotone Jones with Matt Fudge
This album is a bit of a throwback to a style of music that doesn’t get much love nowadays: early nineties hip-hop/rock fusion in the style of Fun Lovin’ Criminals or The Roots. I can’t say that it’s a style I’ve ever had much of an appreciation for, but this is one of the best examples of the genre I’ve ever heard. The band is tight as a tea bagger’s grip on her purse in Harlem and the grooves hit hard and thick with top dollar hooks. Monotone Jones occasionally lays a bit of turd lyrically, but his flow is smoove and his agreeable laid back personality wins you over. The guest stars are used really well: Andrew Waterman’s caterwauling on “Cracker Blues” really takes the song in an interesting direction, and Virginia Fudge’s vocal hook on “No way out” is sexiness personified. The production is crisp and clear as diamonds and everything is well balanced and well thought out, making this a much more enjoyable album then I was prepared for. Patrick Canning http://goo.gl/b9Stc
Personal Space Invaders
THE NEW NAME FOR MUFF IS BEAVER
If there was an award for best RPM band and album names, Personal Space Invaders, and their album The New Name for Muff is Bieber would clean up (take note Finkle, Warner, Graham, Sing, Wells, Emke and Cuff). This is essentially an improv-album by Brian Downton with a little help from his friends Jack E.Tar and Justin Hall. Each track was recorded on the a first take, straight of the top of his head. The album contains a diverse mix of material ranging from sludge-core (“Clear as Slush”), off-kilter piano ballads (“Beached Whale”), and beat boxing (“Money”). The comical “Daddy’s Motorcycle” is for Brian’s son, played on his toy keyboard. My personal favourite track is the screamo parody “Story of the Sub,” in which Brian laments “Don’t like the pineapples, it’s too foreign on my sub.” Nothing is more cathartic than sandwich angst. Damian Lethbridge http://goo.gl/sCWG5
First class weirdness all the way. I don’t know anything about Sleepymouth, but they have built themselves a fine album of catchy and ingenious, but very demented, pop ditties. A wide variety of auditory detritus flutters in and out of existence in a binaural flurry throughout the album, while the singer’s keening and slightly snarky voice sings about love and mouth-related issues. This year’s challenge has brought a fine collection of acts with a pronounced proclivity for weirdness and wicked hooks, and Sleepymouth are one of the finer examples of this phenomenon. You could make pretty apt comparisons to Animal Collective, Snakefinger, Teeth Mountain, or whoever else you want to name drop, but Sleepymouth are their own special animal and Love Yawns is one of the most satisfying headphone tripping albums of the year so far. A very diggable and rewarding set of bizzaro gems. Patrick Canning http://soundcloud.com/sleepymouth
One of the new participants who blew my mind this year was Ryan Kennedy. His album is like a bag of cane sugar poured into a bottle of Purity syrup and injected straight into your femoral artery. Sugary blissed-out pop songs with soaring vocal harmonies and hooks that aim straight for your auditory cortex like guided missile earworms. Cluttered, compressed artifacts of ramshackle arrangements, which may seem slightly random but are in fact quite expertly organized, flutter around your head space like locusts. There is a fantastic manic energy and a great wealth of demented styles and sounds of various vintage to be found all over this album, particularly in songs like “Group Home” and (my favourite) “I’m a Bee”. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is the best straight up pop album from this year’s RPM Challenge, or maybe even “this year” in general. Highly recommended. Patrick Canning http://goo.gl/3tgd6
A voice, a guitar, and a microphone in a room is enough to make this album totally enchanting. Love Bites is a textbook example of how to write perfectly simple, and totally sincere love songs. There is a real timeless quality to these songs and Jim Dobbin’s rich baritone croon, somewhere between Nick Drake and John Martyn, really soothes my poisoned, bitter heart and takes the edge off living in this cold heartless world. The production is just a hissy microphone in a room while he plays and sings, but there is real warmth there and his voice and the words are always present and well balanced. The album is a wonderfully mature and sincere take on the most universal of topics from a world weary but immediately personable singer. Patrick Canning
St. John’s Ukulele Orchestra
The ukulele is the new electric guitar, and St. John’s Ukulele Orchestra is its Rolling Stones. The group released an RPM album last year as the St. John’s Ukulele Club, but have upgraded this year to an Orchestra. The name change seems fitting as their sophomore RPM album sounds fuller and more coherent than its predecessor. Vonderlust still features the ukulele, but adds texture with banjos, guitars, keyboards, and drums. Kelsey Butt’s smooth, lilting vocals seem to float dreamily along on tracks like “Alone,” “Ukulele Vagabond,” and “All I Ever Needed,” while the boys add grit on porch-stompers like “Alligator Man” and “How Did We Get Here?” My favourite track on the album is “Rap Track (Round 2),” a hilarious diss-track that takes good-natured jabs at the stars of the “townie scene,” with lines like “Buzz off Hey Rosetta! Our rhymes are bettah,” and “After the show with your mind all blurrin’, I’m in the champagne room with Amelia Curran”. Damian Lethbridge http://goo.gl/YLJGA
Wish and Flo
Whenever I hear Wish and Flo I’m reminded of the acts that I would see at the Padarnic Lounge back in the day with names like Lester Fudister and the Dory Boys, which would be two guys with a canned backing track pretending to play guitars (they weren’t plugged in, which was a dead give away) and “sing” all the classics. Wish and Flo are the alter-egos of Colleen Power and Roger Maunder and they are a pitch perfect and loving send up of those kind of shaky outport barroom trad bands and the album is also a tribute to the recently departed legend Frank Willis. The album is a lot of fun with careful attention to the authenticity of the (crappy) sounds and well observed domestic humor. Although it gets a little weird in places, songs like “Poisoned With You” and “Stunned” are classics that should be played in Legions and Columbus clubs for years to come. Patrick Canning http://goo.gl/yEuVj