Rock & Roll Report Card

Brian Borcherdt
Brian Borcherdt
Jill Barber
Jill Barber

B+ (77%)
Brian Borcherdt
Coyotes
Hand Drawn Dracula

As one of Holy Fuck’s fathers, Brian Borcherdt is no stranger to multi-layered soundscapes. What a surprise it was, then, upon giving Coyotes a listen to find a refreshingly honest and naked set of tracks that lay bare the contents of a heart in turmoil.

While Coyotes is the antithesis of Holy Fuck’s electro-mania, it nonetheless forces the listener to understand the intricacies of its own simple audio texture. Recorded in the living room of Jose Contreras, By Divine Right’s lead vocalist, the seven scanty tracks feature Borcherdt, his acoustic guitar and very little other accompaniment save some background vocals and the odd violin and piano. That said, this self-conscious simplicity is peppered with found music, such as the creaks of Borcherdt’s chair, the squeaks of his fingers along the fretboard and the husky rush of breath forced through his larynx. These tones add subtly complex harmonies that complicate this aurally demanding album.

Thematically, Coyotes is both literally and figuratively an ode to all things nocturnal. Animals of the night are regularily featured, while the dark side of human consciousness comes out to play. The album cover also features a predatory, cigarette-smoking owl mirroring the title track’s defense against nighttime prowlers attempting to tear the speaker’s loved one away. The tracks “Evil Twin” and “Scout Leader” take an even more unsettling turn with images of drowning and wrist cutting for which the speaker takes disinterested responsibility. Borcherdt’s quietly howling vocals, reminiscent of Iron and Wine, mimic the self-imposed exile explored throughout the album. These elements combine to create some weighty material to which the listener is likely to echo the “While I Was Asleep” lyric, “just let me be, just let me sleep”. Coyotes punches above its seven-song weight. It’s an intense listening experience that is sometimes a little discomforting as listeners plunge perhaps a little too deep into Borcherdt’s angst. Nevertheless, Coyotes is a lovely study in loneliness that, while by no means earth-shattering, makes for beautifully wrought listening.

­—Heather Christie

A- (80%)
Jill Barber
Chances
Outside Music

It takes a lot of courage for an artist to throw caution to the wind and delve into a new style, which is exactly what Canadian songstress Jill Barber has done on her new album Chances.

It’s a surprising transition from her previously folksy roots. Echoing the sounds of Patsy Cline, Etta James and even Ray Charles, Barber provides the type of timeless, soulful appeal that has the power to draw listeners in. One doesn’t listen so much as sink into the record.

The record opener “Chances” is a perfect reflection of Barber’s romantic, Edith Piaf-like new direction. Packed with full, lush orchestration and light whimsical vocals, one can’t help but sway along carelessly. It begs to be spun on vinyl—I can almost hear the faint fuzz of an old recording.

Despite “Chances” being the title track of the album, the real stand out is in her one of many collaborations with Ron Sexsmith, “One More Time”, an emotionally charged song propelled by smooth, swirling jazz melodies, goose-bump vocals and swoon-evoking lyrics: “your love leaves me weak in the knees, so hold me one more time.”

“Oh My My” sounds as though it could be radio-friendly in any era, including the current musical swing of things. Upbeat and snare filled, “Oh My My” picks up where a pre-rehab Amy Winehouse left off, with a vintage resurrection of bold horns and soaring saxophone lines.

Though the songs are sweet and vocals passionate, I found myself bored around halfway through the album with the continuous and eventually dull layering of song after song that held much similarity. It was a source of disappointment to sorely miss the Jill Barber who was just a girl and her guitar, her tunes saturated in Maritime sing-a-longs.

This aside, Chances is a short, but emotionally and romantically charged album. The listener is bound to be lulled into an intoxicating vision of the golden age as this album will inevitably carry you away to a smoky 1940s hotel bar, with Barber’s sultry singing as a backdrop for a classier time.

—Ally Hall

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