Aquakultre & DJ Uncle Fester
Bleeding Gums Murphy
Black Buffalo Records
Halifax, NS
RIYL: A Tribe Called Quest; The Pharcyde; Songs in the Key of Springfield

Hot on the heels of his excellent May 2020 album, Legacy, Aquakultre returns with another electrifying full-length collaboration with DJ Uncle Fester. As Gary Suarez wrote earlier this year, the one-producer-one-rapper format is a storied recipe for sonic consistency. Bleeding Gums Murphy proves this point, serving up jazzy, Native Tongues-influenced hip-hop with socially conscious lyrics from a crew at the top of their game.

While Legacy found Aquakultre’s Lance Sampson backed up by his band of hyper-talented instrumentalists, here he’s joined by a gaggle of guest rappers that includes fellow Haligonians Ghettosocks, Tachichi, and Corey Writes. The scorching sound of live sax played by Anthony Rinaldi bolsters Uncle Fester’s boom-bap production on album standout “Hard Reset” and the crackling, sample-filled “Eye To Eye.” 

Another recurring element filtering throughout these 11 songs is the voice of Bleeding Gums Murphy himself. The genius jazz man behind Sax On The Beach was misunderstood by everyone except Lisa in his lifetime, but Aqualkultre’s second standout album of 2020 should propel him in his rise as a musical hero.

Jesse Locke

blueberry lemon
The Blue-Winged Warbler
Self Released
Halifax, NS
RIYL: John Fahey; Vashti Bunyan; migration season

Gloom presides over the eight ambient, folky guitar instrumentals on blueberry lemon’s The Blue-Winged Warbler. “Northern Cardinal, Flightless” namechecks a species that nests in shrubs, but why is this one flightless? What ran through blueberry lemon’s head or heart while writing “Crow’s Tears?” Did blueberry lemon witness the literal “Death of an Osprey”?

“Blue Jay, Where Have You Gone?” and “Blue Jay and the Hawk” prompt less grim questions, about the colourful bird’s mysterious migration patterns and penchant for mimicking hawk calls.

Like birding, listening to instrumental music is an exercise in patience and a way to lose yourself in thought. Sightings aren’t guaranteed, and neither are revelations about your deepest questions; they might flicker past you, if they come to you at all. “I spend hours trying to spot tiny distant creatures that don’t give a shit if I see them or not,” musician Jack Breakfast told Kyo Maclear in her book, Birds Art Life. “I spend most of my time loving something that won’t ever love me back. Talk about a lesson in insignificance.” 

Don’t get hung up on your smalless, though. Get lost in wonder about the world around you with The Blue-Winged Warbler.

Leslie Ken Chu

Jazz Codrington
K.O.
Self-Released
Halifax, NS
RIYL: the lo-fi hip-hop radio stream on YouTube; Street Fighter II for Game Boy

I guess it’s too easy to say that Jazz Codrington’s K.O. is a knock-out EP but there, I’ve said it anyway. Made on a PO-33 Knockout – a vocal synthesizer and sequencer – K.O. is six compact trip-hop tracks that hypnotically bob and weave from your ears into your chest. In under 12 minutes, Codrington pays tribute to Muhammad Ali and creates glitchy sound worlds that can act as either background music or places to get lost. If you choose the latter, you will find delight in small details like the ringside bell on “Heavy Weight Champion” and the slinky guitar riff on “Soul of a Butterfly.”

If you can’t get enough of K.O., the five other releases by Codrington from this year are also dazzling treats.

Laura Stanley 

Misanthropic Minds
Welcome To The Homeland, Greetings From The Wasteland
Sewercide Records
Halifax, NS
RIYL: Reagan Youth; crusty hardcore; running through walls

The new EP from Halifax-based hardcore band Misanthropic Minds is a delightful blast of lo-fi punk. It counts five tracks that together clock in under 10 minutes, and the brevity is welcome: attention spans are shot and catharsis is rare, and Welcome To The Homeland, Greetings From The Wasteland is a sludgy salve for both of those conditions. 

Opener “Silver Spoons & Silverfish” is a rampaging double-time slice of classic hardcore, while “The Homeland” sweeps in on a Pixies bassline and temporarily-restrained heartrate. “Fascist Frat,” at 63 seconds, is the EP’s shortest and most brutal track, a pure, eye-bulging sprint. The EP is remarkably clean given its chaos and aesthetics; guitar work is mucky but defined and the drums on closer “Kill Hubtown” suggest that the most impressive percussionists of the moment are cutting records in their garages with friends.

Joining recent releases from Booji Boys, Abraxas, and Warsh, Welcome To The Homeland, Greetings From The Wasteland registers another ephemeral and thoroughly loveable entry from the East Coast’s prolific hardcore community.

Luke Ottenhof

Owen Meany’s Batting Stance
Feather Weights
LHM Records
Halifax, Nova Scotia
RIYL: The Weakerthans; Neutral Milk Hotel; a less hyper John Darnielle

For folks who grew up playing hockey in Canada, it can still feel gratifying (if not altogether revolutionary) to name and discuss the ways that the sport scarred its participants. It usually feels like a useful allegory for all the other ways society fucks us up before forbidding us from discussing them. 

That’s part of why “The Androgynous Hockey Stick,” the lead track off Feather Weights, the new record from Halifax band Owen Meany’s Batting Stance, lands so squarely in my heart. It’s a bit of alt-folk-rock perfection with a cheery, wistful trumpet melody and an imaginative attention to minutiae that would make John K. Samson blush. The narrative finds vocalist Daniel Walker fielding homophobic slurs and cruel jeering after he opts to aid an opponent rather than capitalizing on their misfortune. He’s made a misfit for demonstrating care rather than aggression. This doesn’t feel like a hockey story; it feels like a life story.

The rest of the record never quite reaches the melodic or narrative heights of that opening, which is perhaps to be expected, but it paws successfully at the same form: careful, dense lyricism, spacious arrangements, pop-but-not structure, and Walker’s endearing vocal deliveries. The comparisons to the Mountain Goats and Neutral Milk Hotel hold water, and the writing, composition, and targeted tenderness on Feather Weights rise to the competition.

– Luke Ottenhof

Squidney the Dude
Ben | Habits 
Independent
Halifax, NS
RIYL: The Microphones; Akron/Family; Grouper’s Dragging a Dead Deer up a Hill 

Squidney the Dude appears bundled up in a heavy fall jacket on the cover of Ben | Habits. You might feel like reaching for yours when listening to the two eponymous singles. Their lingering, low-hanging chords dangle timelessly. “Ben” thrums with plinking guitar and robust bass before a toasted guitar solo breaks up the sense of hibernation, as does the chirping of birds. “Picked up a couple of habits along the way / temporary as coffee stains,” Squidney mutters on the next track. Habits tend to stick, but the song feels as faint as a fingerprint on a window that’s fogging back up. Here’s hoping Squidney the Dude makes a habit of releasing more songs soon.

– Leslie Ken Chu

Harley Alexander
I’m Feeling Things EP
Oof Records
Halifax, NS
RIYL: Brighten the Corners-era Pavement; Alex G; Haley Heynderickx

Harley Alexander is used to roaming across Canada, but he’s in no rush to get a move on on his latest EP, I’m Feeling Things. “Slacker pop” describes his affable tunes’ leisurely pace – they’ll make you slow down and savour your coffee, gaze at clouds, and watch grass sway – but the prolific songwriter has been knocking out openhearted gems with all his heart for a decade. With sparse instrumentation, low energy, and rife references to water, soil, and flowers, I’m Feeling Things is budding garden-rock; its most verdant patches are the sax on “Riverbank” and the sudden downpours of guitar riffage and cymbal crashes on “Love Language.” Alexander sounds relaxed and centred throughout most of I’m Feeling Things, and even when he battles feeling valueless and socially disconnected on “No More Tries,” he instantly rebounds with “Exactly You Now,” on which he vows to rise high and lift up those around him.

Leslie Ken Chu

New Hermitage
Unearth
Independent
Halifax, NS
RIYL: François Houle; John Zorn; Peggy Lee

A survey of the song titles from New Hermitage’s latest album, which include “Boiling Off, Collecting Vapour,” “Skeletons,” and “In Amber,” reveals a preoccupation with uncovering what lies beneath the earth – that which has been abandoned by, frozen in, or ravaged by time. New Hermitage reward patience, and Unearth is a demanding work. Saxophone, clarinet, cello, guitar, and harp respond to one another in the chamber quartet’s 11 crackling, reedy, mostly improvised compositions like organisms in an ecosystem. Unearth is weighty and tactile. “Light Through the Rubble” wedges you under the rockpile. “Moss | Rust” presses your cheek against a damp, grown-over surface. On Unearth‘s eeriest piece, “Stalkers,” distorted footsteps stir up an illusion of being pursued through a tunnel. Respite follows on “Desertification,” one of the album’s most desolate moments, like the predator has lost its prey. Stay alert when listening to Unearth, and it, too, will bring you relief.

Leslie Ken Chu