Album Reviews — Amyl, Austra, Pack A.D., Blank Sun and more
Amyl and the Sniffers – Live at the Croxton (Melbourne, Australia)
With such a live fury and no live shows to play right now, Amyl and the Sniffers new live EP feels like the perfect offering for a concert-less time. Roaring and shifting up the dynamics from their album a little, it's a smart bite-size package that doesn't reinvent the wheel but instead lets you feel the rumble of a venue. "Control" itself plays more loosely with its tempo throughout and often lets its guitars gain a more playful chug than they can in a studio recording. Though it's Amy Taylors' more spastic vocal play and the rest of the Sniffer's crowd shouts to the choruses that make this song and the rest of the EP so fun. There's an excitement to the shift between sloppy playing and overpowering distortion on "Gacked on Anger" and as the band finally rides the wave of their massive chorus you want to fly with them. Amongst how wonderfully chaotic the mix is on songs like "Shake Ya" the mix perfectly hammers Taylor's voice right into the middle as a commanding presence amongst the turbulent sounds.
Blank Sun – When You're Going Through It Volume 1 (Ottawa)
In such dark times, Blank Sun makes heavy music that bears a sense of hope without overstaying its welcome. So if you're looking for some instrumental music to shine a light at the end of the tunnel, buckle in. The simple melodic charms of "Twelve" will grab you right away, as it leads you into this record with a smooth but welcoming energy. There's tones of "Twin Peaks" and more modern synth scores on "What She Spoke to the Darkness" and it all ties together in a mélange of unnerving excitement. "Safeguard" plays with more natural acoustics, and sits with such a light touch of effects compared to most of the record that it comes off as a more personal reflection. You're put right back into the ether on "Jccxx" as a dense world of keyboards usher you to a dangerous but seemingly shining future.
Pack a.d. – It Was Fun While It Lasted (Vancouver, BC)
It's hard to believe the Pack a.d. are already stepping away from their project, but at least they've done it on their own terms. With deeper pop sensibilities and a more shocking dynamic range in their tones and emotions for that matter, the duo says so long with a bang. From its sombre strums to the colossal fuzz of its chorus belting, "Give Up" runs the gamut of feelings on leaving, with all the strength and vulnerability that comes with it. There's more of a sneering attitude on "It's Okay," as every part of the band serves as its own memorable hook until they tie into this fiery pit on each chorus. We get a rare rhythmic, jamming energy in "Soul Warden" as every note seems to ooze warmth and a kind of exotic wonder at the same time. Alternatively, all the lo-fi Western-style garage energy injected into "Shake" feels like a back to basics take on the band with an effects-driven reinvention (not unlike The Raveonettes) that would be fun to see more of if they ever come back.
Kathryn Patricia – Inner Roads (Ottawa)
Through subtle effects and a masterful delivery of her viola work, Kathryn Patricia is able to make a lot from one instrument. She can even reinvent Bach through "Prelude No. 3: To Begin Again" where she layers in her playing in so many fun ways that it becomes as much an echo as it does a chorus. Though through the cold tones of "Mirror Gaze" we start to feel the place that Patricia is creating within her adaptations, as a frigid energy settles within the bones of her loops. You get some startling beauty in the leap-frogging voices of "The Unthaw" as a slow-burn of growth lets her core melody really flourish like a flame. Alternatively, despite all the dancing solo work of "When the Wind Kept Time," it's actually the echo and ghostly qualities in its background that give it the most startling qualities.
Austra – HiRUDiN (Toronto)
Between her more operatic albums and the dance club-focused efforts, Austra has created worlds within science fiction that have been as fun to dance to as to imagine. Her latest effort mixes these in a more symbiotic way that sees both energies providing a dynamic contrast that elevates the moment. This allows the more dramatic breaks of "Anywayz" to feel impactful, and every shaking beat to feel like a satisfying release from this world of worry. There's a much more back-and-forth approach to "How Did You Know" that sees its sparse synths bloom again and again into these ethereal, dense wonders. With so much driven by keyboards here, it's all the more interesting to hear the strings and brass define the other side of Austra's worlds in the interludes here. Though you'll easily find the power of this record whatever your taste, whether it's in the booming movement of "I Am Not Waiting" or the triumphant harmonic majesty of "Messiah."