Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Bella Clava's Medicine No Cure-All

Bella Clava - Medicine for Melancholy
Self-Released
-out now
3 / 5

Canadians do rock. These particular Canadians especially. And on Bella Clava's second full-length hard rocker, the quartet fight melancholy with melancholic tracks: the self-explanatory "Broken Spirit" and the terribly sunshiney "Bitter Jaded and Dumb," to name a couple. Toronto's best kept secret here, however, do not present their best performances; they don't strike that particular spark, don't evince that faith in their songs that they certainly should. They come off perhaps a bit too melancholy, even, slogging at times. We're going to single out lead singer Caitlin Dacey as the main culprit here, not singing to 11 (hitting maybe seven, eight) as Medicine needs her strong direction to pull us through. She mostly gets there, yes, but compared to their previous Holy Crow, Medicine doesn't have that bounce, that joie de musique, that fever that makes music memorable.

The rock is there. Each track has it, from "Amnesty/Amnesia (A.A)" to "When Christ Was a Cowboy." Check. But beyond instrumentals, which here support really well, Bella Clava needs Dacey to be on the spot, or a song with a promising synth start like "Survive" falls a bit flat on energy. To compare to their previous album (which is still the best five dollars you'll spend on Bandcamp), you can hear that extra reach Dacey makes for those vocals, and the guitar slamming right into those blazing jams. Instead, the performances here ("Middle Class Misfit," "Bitter, Jaded and Dumb") are too lax, too comfortable with themselves and not engaging enough.

We're not going to lie: Bella Clava is one of those rare, underground (potentially) great great bands. But they hit a bit of a slump on Medicine, making us want to add a teaspoon more of %#$*!@ rock to make it go down. Take a (near) pass on this one; but be sure to get their Holy Crow if you missed it last time around.

Bandcamp the lovely Bella Clava.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Hands Up to My Brightest Diamond's Fourth

My Brightest Diamond - This Is My Hand
Asthmatic Kitty Records
-out tomorrow
4 / 5

Shara Worden returns with a (drum roll please) drum roll. Marching band drum roll, to be more specific (care of the Detroit Party Band). Her fourth album as My Brightest Diamond has us reminiscing of St. Vincent's Strange Mercy, in that both ladies take counter-intuitive routes to accessible poppiness. And that's the way we like to get there: the road less traveled. The anchor to these songs is, of course, Worden's vocals - strong, feminine - but to say that's why we like this album is to deny the underlying impetus of This Is My Hand, which is, quite simply, musical simplicity. And if you're aware of My Brightest Diamond's previous works, perhaps you'll realize how unusual a tack that is.

Which brings us to songs like "Lover Killer." We weren't thinking we'd get anything danceable from Ms. Worden, given her penchant for the vast, dramatic (and bizarre) orchestration she is known for. But here it is: hand claps - nice and basic - into singable melodies, bass and horns, a svelte groove sexy and seductive. "Pressure" opens up with that drum roll, full-on marching horns, glockenspiel, and, of course, Worden's opera-trained voice - pounding, grooving, well-written. Our only complaint about this album (and is it really a complaint?) is that it doesn't stun immediately; it took us a few listens to get into truly appreciating the somewhat off-kilter route Worden takes with her instrumentation, with her shifting rhythms.

It's complex, as expected, and yet simple: pop, just a roundabout way to get there. This Is My Hand is My Brightest Diamond's return to the basic elements, their density and importance, their weight and pull, and comes highly recommended.

"Lover Killer" on Soundcloud. It's quite good.