Mo Kenney’s candid third record, The Details, follows her through a period of depression to eventual stability. The songs are short and the details concise, rolling effortlessly from one to the next like the days do when you’re not paying attention. Despite the brevity, Kenney fills them with sharp wit and brutal honesty that make you hang on every detail. The Details is rougher than Kenney’s previous two releases, and the coarse guitar and punchy percussion match her scrappy resiliency. On “I Can’t Wait,” she begins to stand upright, and the muted and methodical guitar strums echo Kenney’s steady commitment to heal: “I can’t wait to get out of my head,” she sings. The closer, “Feelin’ Good,” is a sparse track and the most subtle song on the album, but it’s filled with a startling light. To open, Kenney sings, “I’m feeling good for the very first time”; what follows is a celebration of self and an uplifting end to an emotional journey. (Pheromone,
from Klezmer, rock and European folk. Berner includes some old songs here (“Phony Drawl”) and is up to his old tricks — namely, making scathing political points with a side of sarcastic wit, while keeping things danceable. What’s often most surprising and memorable on a Geoff Berner album, however — and Canadiana Grotesquica is no exception — is when he lays aside his funny provocateur hat for a moment to sing something more straight up and heartfelt: “Prairie Wind” and Klezmer-y “Trick You” are good examples. (Coax, coaxrecords.com) pheromonerecordings.com)
The Details is more rock. Was this a natural transition?
Yeah, it was natural. I co-produced this record with Joel [Plaskett], so I was recording and demoing a bunch before we went into the studio. I was in a high school band and exclusively played electric guitar. So me playing acoustic when I first started was something I’d never really done before. I really love rock music and I really like playing electric guitar a lot, so it feels natural to veer in that direction.
How do you keep creative during darker periods?
It is a struggle. If I’m really feeling awful, I can’t write. I think it’s in the period after I’ve started feeling a little bit better and I can reflect on what happened, that’s when I can write about it. When I can step back and look at it after it’s already happened, that’s when I can turn it into something productive like a song or a drawing.
ance of songs deserve special attention: “Autumn in New Brunswick,” with Olenka Krakus (Olenka and the Autumn Lovers), is a lovely hymn to travel; “Young in Love (At the End of the World),” with Abigail Lapell; and “You’re Lonely, Too,” with Merival on vocals and Christine Bougie on guitar. They’re all lyrical sketches of everyday life, love and loneliness. Lyrically, the recurring theme on TOPAZ is exploring uncharted emotional and geographical territory. Musically, though, it’s all about collaboration, and the phenomenal women who elevate and illuminate the music. The vocal matchups alone are irresistible. Clarke’s electric guitar is a welcome addition, as are film composer Alexis Marsh’s woodwind arrangements throughout. Clarke is a master of nuance, simplified use of instrumentation and luminosity through storytelling. (shawnwilliamclarke.com) river twice, after all. But beyond its clear stylistic changes, Fool’s Paradise
feels more like a notable transition point, one that sees artist Ladan Hussein stepping away from obscure pseudonyms to adopt a more experiential approach. Largely absent are the organs, guitars and other rock-oriented instruments that made the last Cold Specks release so tempestuous. Instead, spare, delicate synthesizers and skittering beats underpin Fool’s Paradise.
Unfortunately, this change in direction doesn’t always suit Cold Specks’ established talents. While Hussein’s voice is as strong as ever, many of the tracks on Fool’s Paradise lack memorable hooks, creating a sense of stasis on tracks like “New Moon,” where verses simply drift into one another with little build or release. Many songs feel restrained and muted, even when the production lends a little extra heft. “Void” creates interesting textures with its distorted, mechanical beat and ethereal synths, while the title track features strong arrangements. Yet too often, Hussein seems to let tracks simmer when they could boil. “Exile” closes Fool’s Paradise
by reconciling the foreboding organs of Hussein’s previous work with her