Music That Has Influenced Me From A-Z: C is for City and Colour

No surprise here, to anyone that has known me for more than a week.

Dallas Green has a very special place in my heart. His band, Alexisonfire, is the catalyst that prompted a love affair with heavy music that has gone on for twelve wonderful years. His majestic voice, expert guitar playing and insightful songwriting is one of the main reasons for it.

In the beginning, from his EP work to his first studio album ‘Sometimes’ Dallas was what at the time we all so eloquently called “emo”. He was sensitive, heart wrenching and just plain sad in most of the songs from his first album. However, his second album ‘Bring Me Your Love’ immediately projected a more mature and confident man with a more full bodied instrumental sound backing him up. Though still emotional in its tone and subject matter, it seemed that his priorities has shifted and his worries where placed in a very different set of values, namely in the sorrows of being in love instead of the pains of a broken heart and a lonely life. One of the biggest treats on the album, for me, was ‘Sleeping Sickness’ which is actually a very old track that he recorded before his first album was even released. The new, vibrant update starred a stronger voice and a more solid foundation, not to mention a beautiful verse by Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip.


City and Colours 2011 album ‘Little Hell’ was a complete turning point for his entire musical style, in my opinion. Suddenly, there was this luscious, impressive fullness to everything from the production value to the harmony of the instruments and vocals. It felt like Green had found his stride. ‘Fragile Bird’ still stands as one of his most beautiful and powerful songs to date. There is a heaviness to the tone of the entire album and an unmistakable authenticity to the talent of the artists.


Recently, City and Colour released ‘The Hurry And The Harm’ right around the time that Alexisonfire announced they were disbanding. There is a lot of speculation that it is directly as a result of City and Colours growing success and yearning to focus on the side project. Though I was all but heartbroken, this album helped me to understand. At first listen, I was unsure of what to think, but perhaps it was because of the chip on my shoulder. As always, I gave it another try and immediately fell in love. The pride, the confidence, the humble poetry and the passion behind the music is intoxicating at its best. The focus continues to shift towards the musicianship of the band and the growing strength of Dallas Greens vocals. The song ‘Harder Than Stone’ seems to be a direct reference to his role in Alexisonfire, with a few lines taken directly from their song ‘Born and Raised’ from the ‘Old Crows/Young Cardinals’ album. That alone was enough to make me an emotional mess.

 

Albums aside, after seeing City and Colour perform live on three separate occasions, two in the past year, I can honestly say that he is one of the most impressive live performers that I have seen. Listening to him live is very much like listening to him on vinyl record. The rawness that you hear on his albums translates perfectly in his live show, which is understated and always outlined with a perfect set list of audience favourites and live stunners. His voice never misses the mark and the band sound is amped up to such a seductive way that I often find myself thinking that I’d rather listen to them live than through my stereo.

I could go on all day, but because of his raw talent, his beautiful voice and his constantly maturing ear for music, City and Colour is one of my most influential musical idols.

Listen to: Fragile BirdSleeping SicknessThirstWeightlessDeath Of MeThe Lonely Life

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Music That Has Influenced Me From A-Z: B is for Ben Folds

As per my last post, I started a column in March that highlighted artists from A-Z that have influenced or shaped who I am today. B is for a guy named Ben.

B is for Ben Folds/Five

Listening to Ben Folds is like listening to one of your best buddies play piano and sing about what they did yesterday. His songs are very literal, straight forward and honest from a lyrical standpoint. Musically, however, he is the modern king of piano rock. He takes an instrument that is traditionally meant for classical and contemporary pieces and turns it into an exciting and modern musical tool. Much like Elton John before him, the piano is not just used for background music, but it carries his songs. While making music with his band, Ben Folds Five, the sound is rounded out with guitar, bass, drums and the like.

Folds has such a vibrant and confident personality and he showcases it in every single one of his songs and his live performances. He can break your heart in two with songs like “Still Fighting It” “The Luckiest” and “Brick”, give you a reality check with “Learn to Live With What You Are” and “There’s Always Someone Cooler Than You” and then he will have you laughing out loud over “The Bitch Went Nuts”, “Rockin The Suburbs” and his cover of “Bitches Ain’t Shit”. Some of his songs seem so literal that they leave you wondering if they are about anything at all. For example, the song “Dr Yang” which seems to be, well, a shoutout to a couple of his doctors and physicians. In reality, there never seems to be a “hidden” meaning behind of his songs at all. He writes a story, then he puts it to piano. Its as simple as that. Don’t mistake this straightforward approach for laziness or lack of skill, because it is quite the contrary. Simplicity allows a universal understanding and a comfortable listening experience.

He takes his music seriously, but he is definitely not a man that you could ever mistake for pretentious. He has something of a boyish charm to him, always joking around, but has such an impressive maturity when it comes to speaking from the heart.

I first discovered Ben Folds when I was working in my first kitchen in Ontario, and my chef started playing his music while we were prepping for the day. I fondly remember him aggressively headbanging and singing along, exclaiming “BEN FOLDS IS THE GREATEST SONGWRITER EVER” to the beat. Ever since then, I’ve made it a point to keep his albums in rotation. His music is the perfect fix when you are looking for a roller coaster of emotions. One song relaxes you, the next makes you think, the next makes you cry, the next makes you dance.

For his fearless songwriting, being an unapologetic geek, and for single handedly making the piano cool again, Ben Folds is the B in my musical influence repertoire.

Listen to: BrickStill Fighting ItLearn To Live With What You AreBitches Aint Shit

Music That Has Influenced Me From A-Z: A is for Alexisonfire

In March, I attempted a month long series of entries dedicated to the music that has struck a chord with me throughout my life. From A-Z, each letter represented one key artist that changed me in some way. ‘A’ ended up being the band that has had the most influence on who I am today. Support Canadian music!!

A is for Alexisonfire
Ironically the first entry ends up being dedicated to my favourite band to date. The first time that I saw the video for “Pulmonary Archery” on MuchMusic I was intrigued, and a little confused. At the time, my musical repertoire consisted of a strange mixture of genres and artists, from Good Charlotte to Eminem. This was unlike anything that I had heard at the time, and although I was initially turned off, something kept bringing me back to it and making me want to keep listening. It was messy, distorted, alternative and incoherent. After the release of “Counterparts and Number Them”, as it slowly began to grow on me, I bought their first album, and as they say, the rest was history.
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From that point in time, at 14 years old, many aspects of my life changed. I started going to shows, discovering new bands and developing a deeper appreciation for musicianship in general. Alexisonfire was one of the first bands that made me pay attention to the instrumental layers, the vocals, the harmonies and the meaning behind the lyrics. The lyrics on their self titled debut album had no rhyme or reason, rather it was journal entries set to music. The followup, ‘Watch Out!” was far more structured and arranged in all senses of the word. The true talent of the entire group began to shine, from the precision and technique in the guitars to Dallas Green’s soothing vocals. I was officially hooked.
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It was around that time that I really began to immerse myself in alternative music and started to leave my pop past behind me. Luckily, this was also around the time that “emo” music was having its heyday. Every band with bangs and a guitar was vying for a spot in our angsty hearts, and very few were talented enough to hold on. The bands that focused on the music and the message rather than the mugs of its members, those were the bands whos music still stands the test of time and continues to show up on my ‘shuffle’. AOF achieved a really perfect balance between melodic and mayhem, mellow and mad. Because of their influence, I discovered bands that I still keep in rotation, like Thursday, Underoath, Brand New and Alien Ant Farm. Stripped down sounds also started to resonate with me, bringing me to a love affair with Matthew Good, Dashboard Confessional and City and Colour. Going to shows and discovering new music became an intoxicating experience.
The doorway that they opened truly changed who I was.
After seeing them live twice in twelve years, in December 2012 I saw Alexisonfire perform one last time. They announced that they were disbanding-effectively breaking my heart-and at their final Edmonton show they proclaimed that “this is not a funeral, this is a fucking wake”. Though my heartstrings were twisting with every last song counting down to the end, after one of the best concerts of my life, I am optimistic that these guys will see it fit to reunite in the future.
Their music holds a special place in my heart and is extremely important to me. It is music that reverberates through my bones and generates an emotional response from my stomach to my heart. For completely changing the way that I listen to music, for allowing me beautiful friendships based around musical love and concert attendance, and for giving me four fantastic albums to repeat and cherish for life, Alexisonfire is the “A” of music that made me who I am today.