Category Archives: Chris Ho

Autistic character well-illuminated

Do you think this is strange?

By Aaron Cully Drake

Brindle & Glass Publishing Ltd.

272pp; $17.95

Reviewed by Chris Ho

Told from the perspective of Freddy, a 17-year-old boy who struggles with autism, Aaron Cully Drake’s debut novel offers a unique narrative collage.

Vancouver-based writer/editor Drake has written for newspapers and magazines. He has a wife, a son, and an autistic daughter. Not surprisingly, the novel is dedicated to his daughter, with an inscription that reads: “For Natalie. How could it be any other way?”

Despite a certain degree of linearity, Cully doesn’t present his narrative in an orderly progression. Instead, just as Freddy’s thoughts and memories are scattered, each chapter is named after whatever thought or memory that Freddy is revisiting. In that sense, the overall collection creates a beautiful mosaic that gives the reader an overall impression of the main character, and his tendency to become stuck inside of his mind and disconnected from reality.

As Annie Dillard wrote in Living by fiction, “The use of narrative collage . . . enables a writer to recreate . . . a world shattered, and perhaps senseless, and certainly strange.” Do you think this is strange? is an illustration of the world in all its chaotic, imperfect glory: there isn’t always a reason for things, and tragedy is unavoidable.

Drake’s own sympathies and first-hand understanding of autism, I think, bring his already humorous prose and poignant dialogue to a new level. No matter how strange Freddy may be to the outside world – no matter how dissimilar his mind map may be from mine or yours – he is still one-hundred-percent believable and human. Freddy is not a stereotype or archetype of the autistic; he is a teenager who happens to be autistic. Freddy, is uniquely, just Freddy.

Drake’s approach allows the reader to think about or at least acknowledge some grey areas concerning the treatment of autism. For example, to what extent should autism be celebrated as a different, rather than stigmatized as a disability? And do public schools need to be more accommodating toward autism?

I also appreciate how Drake doesn’t attempt to answer these questions, or force-feed readers his own beliefs. He simply focuses on the story, and allows the deeper questions and themes to grow organically. Moreover, the main focus of the novel is at the heart of Freddy himself, and in the challenges he faces when trying to understand a world that seems foreign to him – a chaotic world that his overly analytical mind attempts to understand and rationalize.

Freddy’s unconventional friendship with his long-lost friend Saskia, who suffers from a different sort of autism, not only adds a unique romantic element to the story, but also illuminates Freddy’s narrative web and ignites a renewed understanding of his own life: There is a web between people. The strands are the bonds that they make with each other. The stronger the love for another, the stronger the bond and the stronger the thread.”

Do you think this is strange? is a worthwhile read. Its style is colloquial and, but it is also infused with just the right amount of poetic depth to give it authority as a truly heartwarming work of art.

Chris Ho is a Victoria-based musician and writer.

Artful folk suffuses Mike Edel’s second album

Mike Edel

India, Seattle

Cordova Bay Records

Produced by Colin Stewart, Jason Cook and Mike Edel


Reviewed by Chris Ho

It’s hard to believe it has been four years since the release of Mike Edel’s debut album The Last of Our Mountains – a debut that earned the Victoria folk singer-songwriter national recognition with its roots firmly grounded in Western Canada. Born in rural Alberta, Edel’s songs re-awaken that sometimes long-forgotten Romantic era where vast wheat fields, outstretched blue skies and nostalgic landscapes inspired poets to capture the otherwise indescribable feelings of love and loss, and the memories of childhood. Once again, Mike Edel’s songwriting style feels spontaneous, organic and hard-hitting throughout his highly anticipated sophomore album, India, Seattle, which is set to release on April 14.

Those who are already fans of Edel’s debut album The Last Of Our Mountains, can sleep soundly knowing that the seasoned Island songwriter hasn’t strayed too far from the path on which he began. India, Seattle gives rise to much of the same folk-pop sentimentality found on his debut album, with its enchanting guitar hooks, compassionate lyrics, and infectious vocal melodies.

At the same time, his sophomore album is laden with twists and turns that dance uninhibited along the lines of straightforward folk-rock rhythms and artful, progressive soundscapes. Songs like “Blue Above the Green” and “St. Columba,” for example, begin with expectant acoustic guitars but then build gradually into a crescendo of crashing symbols and soft ambient noise that fill every crack and corner of the audio mix. The effect is emotionally potent – as if Edel has carefully plotted out the points where lightning strikes suddenly and a great storm whirls in all its chaos and darkness.

You can feel this especially in the climax of “St. Columba,” as Edel’s voice rises up through the reverb-rich guitars and splashing symbols: “Cut the ribbons, open the doors, down on your knees close to the floor and pray it will remain.” The “it” here is likely referring to nature itself; bringing to mind a timeless lyric where Bob Dylan is, arguably, addressing nature as he sings “you’re gonna’ make me lonesome when you go.”

Needless to say, India, Seattle stands as a testament to Mike Edel’s growth as a songwriter and musical poet. It is tastefully infused with newfound depth and artful ambience that hadn’t been as thoroughly explored in his previous debut, The Last Of Our Mountains.

It is also worthwhile to call attention to the eclectic nature of the new album, which is another element that makes India, Seattle stand out from The Last Of Our Mountains. Edel may be consistent, but he is not repetitive. There are many different influences that make themselves apparent in his latest album.

Some songs, such as “East Shore West Shore” and “Sunny Outside This Afternoon” have a very classic roots and folk sound to them; whereas others like “Thought About July” and “All The Morning” veer slightly to the way of alt country, with their twangy guitar licks and soft lap steel sounds. And there are even moments in “East Shore West Shore” and “All The Morning” that burst in the background with vocal hooks and bells singing brief little melodies that bring to mind an alt-pop vibe similar to Feist’s third full-length album, The Reminder.

Mike Edel makes no apology for the creative liberties he takes with India, Seattle. The pace of the album feels unrushed and effortless, and it is uncontrived in its deeper expression of love and nostalgia and the landscapes that shape our conceptions of the world around us. Where words fall short in describing the sometimes-cloudy haze of emotions, or the memories that remind us of what was found and what was lost, India, Seattle serves as a reminder that sometimes all you need to do is listen. And take it all in.

Chris Ho is a freelance writer and guitar and voice instructor.

Abraham’s debut EP reveals life after love 

This Old Heart

By Abraham

Produced by Sam Weber

Reviewed by Chris Ho

The soft strum of a ukulele is a fitting introduction to the delicate and powerful sound of Abraham’s debut EP, This Old Heart. Victoria songstress Sydney Batters describes her solo project, Abraham, as “a rebirth,” and this could be part of the reason why the EP identifies with, and yet transcends, the singer-songwriter tradition. Her songs eloquently express the bittersweet nature of heart-on-your-sleeve love. It may be a timeless theme, but the delivery is far from generic on Abraham’s debut.

This is not an EP that tries to get your attention with bubbly melodies and energetic drum beats. It’s up to the listener to share that moment of stillness when the fog beings to clear and you’re overcome with thoughts about past heartbreak. This feeling comes to mind in the opening tracks “Naked Daughter” and “Send My Love.” The emotional weight gradually lifts – not just toward the end of some songs such as “To Be Free,” but also at the end of the album when you hear the powerful line: “Take my body down when I die / Burn it bright baby, baby burn it bright / Throw me in the ocean, let the breeze carry me on.”

Each song feels carefully placed to enhance the album’s emotional journey; yet it’s done in a way that feels natural and free. And therein lies the brilliance of This Old Heart. Abraham is described as a “project [that] is centered around the evolution of life, love and death. It is a journey through human connection and relationships.” And the EP delivers this in a genuine and refreshing way.

What is most striking to me, however, is that Abraham’s voice is not at all fixed in any one kind of singing style. It moves freely, ascending into the sweet and airy and back down again into sultry and soulful song. This is especially apparent in her final track (and my favourite so far), “Burn Bright”, which was featured on CBC Radio 1 last week.

Though the emotional depth of Abraham’s songs often shine through in a raw and stripped-down way (such as in “My Head My Heart”), the production of the EP enhances its overall themes and moods. It sounds as if producer Sam Weber recognized that Abraham’s sweet but powerful voice can stand on its own, and decided to take a “less-is-more” approach. I loved how some of the instruments and sounds felt subtle and, at times, even ambiguous. It was sometimes difficult to discern which particular instrument played a certain part.

Abraham will release This Old Heart tonight (Nov. 28) at the Victoria Event Centre at 7 p.m. Copies of the album will be available at the show, and soon digitally available online.

Chris Ho is a freelance writer and Victoria-based musician.

Debut novel explores Japanese-Canadian prairie life

Prairie Ostrich

By Tamai Kobayashi

Goose Lane Editions

200 pages; $19.95

Reviewed by Chris Ho

The trials of finding one’s place in the world is something that everyone must go through (“yes, don’t remind me of high school,” you say), but Tamai Kobayashi’s distinct and cautious prose is woven with heart-wrenching elements of racial otherness, family fracture and religion. At times, Prairie Ostrich feels a bit like a diary of a young girl growing up, but what makes it unique is the way that Kobayashi intertwines and develops these themes while writing with powerful poetic voice.

Kobayashi’s debut novel is a heartbreaking story about the “only Japanese-Canadian family on the prairie” of Bittercreek, Alberta, in 1974. Kobayashi’s fictitious locale is a small town set in its ways and wholly non-accepting of diversity – whether it be religious or racial. Readers follow eight-year-old Egg Murakami through a grueling year in which she is bullied at school and feels isolated and neglected by her mother and father.

For Egg, stepping outside of her home often feels “like stumbling into a room where she does not belong, where Japanese turns into Jap.” Desperately and inquisitively, she searches for a sense of belonging, hiding away in the crevices of the school’s library to avoid the cruelest of bullies, Martin Fisken. While other kids might read fictional tales of talking animals and heroic kids, Egg finds comfort in the precision of the dictionary because “everything else [in life] is so muddled.”

After the mysterious death of her oldest brother Albert, her father exiles himself to the ostrich barn while her mother attempts to numb her pain through excessive drinking. Confused and alone, Egg somehow feels responsible for her family’s fractured spirit. Her sister, Kathy, tells her that stories help us make sense of life because they always having a purpose and a moral. But as Egg is surrounded by all the bad in the world, she can’t help but wonder: “What if there isn’t a Moral, or a Meaning? … What if God can’t do anything?”

Kobayashi seems to find a balance between the voice of an eight-year-old searching for meaning with the strong poetic language of the narrator – though at times I found it improbable that an eight-year-old would have the kind of intellectual depth that Egg expresses. This feeling took me out of the story from time to time: Egg is definitely not your average eight-year-old.

That being said, my only real criticism is that the dénouement seems rushed, and overly tidy. Throughout the novel, the narrator presents a few ways to look at adversity as Egg begins to realize that maybe there is no “moral to the story” in real life. But instead of transcending these viewpoints and concluding the novel with an enlightened and more complex moral message, Kobayashi opts for the predictable. I felt as though the “message” was that Egg turned out to be right in thinking that suffering is sometimes a blessing in disguise since it leads to personal growth. As for her other thoughts about life throughout the novel, well, she was just being naïve. Kobayashi rebels against that traditional feel-good ending; however she doesn’t take it far enough to avoid the clichés associated with those feel-good endings.

Chris Ho is a Victoria musician and freelance writer.

Rifflandia: Death Cab for Cutie worth the 17-year wait

Day 3 of Rifflandia 2014,

Royal Athletic Park,

Reviewed by Chris Ho

The hot sun beat down as swarms of  people waited in a massive line that  veered down Cook Street. Luckily, I  wasn’t wearing my banana-suit costume  like the brave men in front of me, but part  of me wished I had. I already felt carefree  energy in the air. Royal Athletic Park was  decked out with two stages, one on either end, and a plethora of vendors and activity tents.

As I walked through the entrance, a giant banner popped out from above: Rifflandia. To my left were black wooden Artlandia panels and a big main stage. To the right, aisles of local vendors led the way to the side stage tent, fast-food trucks, and then, of course, to beer and cider taps.

I was impressed by the musical choices: indie rock, dubstep, Celtic dance-pop, 70s influenced pop-punk and hip-hop. I hadn’t encountered anything like the fiddle-infused dance-pop that is Kytami: the high-energy fiddler hardly missed a beat, even as she danced around, stirring up the crowd, her arms and fingers moving furiously to the notes.

While the main stage sound quality and setup was successful, I had a love-hate relationship with the Rifftop Tent side stage. Everyone appreciated the much-needed shade of the big tent, but unfortunately the sound was muddy trapped under the tent roof. In the end, I put it out of my mind while listening to the Dum Dum Girls.

An all female line-up, the Dum Dum Girls had one guy fill in on lead guitar. He too had awesome long hair and matched the well-coordinated black outfits of the trendy rock trio. The initial impression I had from their video Bedroom Eyes was that they overplayed the gorgeous girls with guitars shtick. But their live performance was more about heartfelt lyrics backed up by Blondie-inspired harmonies and dream-pop guitar licks.

Even though it’s predictable to say so, the highlight of day three was the headlining act, Death Cab For Cutie. As I first discovered at the group’s Pacific Coliseum performance in 2009, there is something special about a band that has played the music it loves for almost two decades. Their on-stage chemistry and energy was infectious. The crowd roared with excitement after the opening song as Ben Gibbard (lead vocals) announced this was their first show in Victoria since the band formed in 1997.

“Wow, they’re old,” I heard a young woman say.

She sounded disappointed. But to me, that was incredibly exciting: the last time Death Cab performed in Victoria, they were just starting out. Seventeen years later they’re back, an international success, still flawlessly performing some of the very first songs they wrote.

After the encore, Ben Gibbard gave a heartfelt thanks to the multi-instrumentalist and co-founder of the band, Chris Walla, who had just played his last show with the band. It was a moment to remember. The drums built up and crashed on the closing note of Marching Bands Of Manhattan and the band put aside their instruments for a group hug. A flurry of camera phones reached up to capture the occasion.

We finally made our way to the exit lights with huge smiles, plastic beer cups crunching underfoot.

Chris Ho is a Victoria musician and writer.

Not your average flick

The Flick, by Annie Baker

Produced by ITSAZOO Productions

Presented by Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre

Directed by Phoenix alum Chelsea Haberlin

Reviewed by Chris Ho

It seems appropriate that The Flick, which takes place at “a falling apart movie theatre” in Worcester Country, MA, is being performed at the once run-down but beloved Roxy Theatre on Quadra. And even though the amusing bit of irony, combined with the fresh smell of popcorn may have already put me in a good mood as I entered the theatre, I can objectively say that this contemporary play by Annie Baker is a must-see.

As one can imagine, it isn’t easy to create a consistently engaging play that explores the subtle gems of self-discovery and change that sometimes emerge during the mundane moments of everyday life. The first 10 or 15 minutes of the play might be summed up as two employees bantering as they sweep popcorn off the floor. And yet when I took a glance at the audience, it seemed like they were at the edge of their seat like I was. Annie Baker touches on a very universal theme about the moments in life where we stand at a crossroad that then gives us insight into who we were, and who we might become. Yet she manages to do it in a way where it doesn’t feel overly cliché, or overdone.

This is something that ITSAZOO Productions clearly understands, and captures very beautifully in its rendition of The Flick. Kyle Sutherland (Set Design) and Simon Farrow (Lighting Design) seamlessly transform the Roxy from a movie house to a live performance space, — and stay true to the simplistic design that the playwright likely intended. Bits of popcorn are strewn about, surrounding the authentically creaky movie seats – and directly above, a small pane of glass looks into the projector room, as the projector looks out on us. To visually portray the idea that people’s lives can seem like a performance at times, the movie projector transitions the scenes by intermittently projecting clips of Hollywood movies toward the audience as the lights are dimmed.

For me, the appeal of this production lies in the fact that there aren’t really any missing components or weak links in its overall composition. The three characters in the play, Sam (Chris Cochrane), Avery (Jesse Reid) and Rose (Kate Dion Richard), were perfectly cast. Each and every one of them was consistently in tune with their roles, as well as with the nuances in their characters’ development throughout the entire play. Everything from the sound, lighting and set design were complementary and did a great deal to enhance the overall vibe of the play. Under the direction of Brian Richmond, these actors were able to bring out the thematic subtleties in Annie Baker’s writing.  I’d give it four out of five stars.

Chris Ho is a Victoria-based singer songwriter.

Hank Angel Pays Homage to Rock and Roll

Hank Engel

Hank Angel (Extended Play 45)

Produced by David Jeffrey and Dave Lang

Reviewed by Chris Ho

Victoria musician Hank Engel’s self-titled EP is a nostalgic gem that brings you right back to the feel-good rockabilly vibe of the 50’s. Engel pays homage to the underground music scene in Edmonton in the 1980s, and more specifically to one of his favourite bands, The Draggnetts. Although this band had recorded much of their material and were admired for their musicianship, they ended up disappearing into obscurity. In an interview with Drive-in Magazine, Engel said, “We idolized those guys. Not only did they play great music, but they lived it, in an old house with rebel flags and velvet paintings and overflowing ashtrays. Empty bottles all over the place, a bust of Elvis on the mantle. Their girlfriends walked around looking like Betty Page and Marilyn Monroe. Their band was like a gang, like every band ought to be.”

The idea of living out the music that you write and express is essential to a lot of rock and roll — something that you don’t see as often these days. Many bands don’t have the luxury of being signed and consequently need to manage their own careers. Likely, it would only hinder productivity in that regard if they were to live out that kind of lifestyle – (talk about a buzz kill). But this isn’t the sort of genre that lends itself well to being focused on marketing, and making sure you tweet frequently enough. It’s a genre that’s about the music and the lifestyle. It reminds us that, when all is said and done, it’s the whole package that counts: sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.

Hank Engel’s EP reminds us of this. The production isn’t flashy, and the vocals aren’t tuned to perfection. Many of the tracks sound as though they were recorded live off the floor, which gives it that old-­‐school rockabilly feel. And regardless of how polished the EP may be, one has to admire this decision to record the songs in this way. Hank Angel could very well have recorded these old tunes in a more mainstream, or polished way, but instead he stays true to the rockabilly roots.

Producer David Jeffrey clearly has a good understanding of Hank Angel’s genre, and has recorded and mixed it in a way that harks back to that early vintage rock-­‐ and-­‐roll sound. As a result, the EP gives you just the right amount of crisp guitar tones, non-­‐intrusive drum rhythms and raw vocals. Hank brings a new life to the songs of Art Adams and The Draggnetts, although it’s a shame that he doesn’t include more of his original material. His song “A Guitar and A Broken Heart” is a great opener for the EP since it has many of the elements that make a great song, including the catchy vocal melodies, tasteful guitar riffs, and simplistic drum rhythms. But instead of developing this, along with his own sound, he decides to resurrect a couple of great rockabilly tunes, obscuring his own path as a musician.

Nonetheless, his motives are pure, and the songs have come together very well. And who knows, maybe we’ll get to hear more original rockabilly releases from Hank /Engel/Angel in the future.

Chris Ho is a UVic  graduate, musician and closet cookie dough eater.

Self-taught Poet Turns Modernity Upside Down

This Drawn & Quartered Moon

By Klipschutz (Kurt Lipschutz)

Anvil Press, 121 Pages, $18


Reviewed by Chris Ho

Over ten years in the making, This Drawn & Quartered Moon holds some astounding contemporary poetry that, taken all together, amuses and stirs the reader. Klipschutz – (yes, he’s cool enough to have a pen name) – is able to alternate between personal and public poems, and infuse them with decadent romance and poignant comedy without making things too weird. Hailing from San Francisco, Kurt Lipschutz is a poet, satirist, songwriter, and part-time scrivener in a law office.

The opening memo effectively sets the tone for the book, giving us a glimpse of Klipschutz’s tongue-and-cheek style and subtle commentary concerning the economic and social condition of the United States. After playfully filling in Wordsworth on the world today, Klipschutz tops it off with, “Say hi to Sam & Dorothy & the gang / (big hug to the missus) from the bloody future, / […] Brother, you don’t want to know.”

As would be appropriate for an introduction, “In Memory of Myself” further emphasizes the speaker’s ironic voice, and calls attention to the motifs concerning modernity, republicanism, consumerism, romance, and city life. Combining the personal and the public, we immediately get the sense that Klipschutz has carefully plotted out these works, despite their deceivingly colloquial nature:


Renovate me like one of your Victorians, San Francisco –

deck me out in color-coordinated sashwork & trim

& plunk me down beside a looker

on a Sunday cable car

from the turnaround at Woolworth’s

alongside Union Square …



O when will you embrace your blinking nipples, San Francisco –

                        tho they tear the rose from her brow

On the Starlight Room dance floor for all to see? …


Evidently not the kind of man who takes himself too seriously, Klipschutz gives us that cheeky political criticism just as easily as he interjects with wonderful one-liners that show the humour in romance. The overwhelming corporate influence on government is certainly a thematic concern for Klipschutz, but in poems like “You The Man,” he realizes that dry humour and irony are sometimes the best way to get the point across:


Another Ford from Michigan

once coveted the White House.

Henry hated Jews as much as Hitler

hated Russia. Oh but Jerry


played the slow-wit to a fault,

handed off the ethnic jokes to others,

with a head like a helmet, two knees to replace,

and assumed the Oval Office in reverse.


As Henry Ford represents the notion that consumerism is the key to peace, Klipschutz cleverly challenges the idea by sharply joining together the two major economic and political American Ford figures. This effectively draws attention to the implications of allowing huge corporations to have so much power over a country’s government and destiny.


There is something pleasing about the way Klipschutz both invites the reader to live and breathe the streets of San Francisco, and connect it to Western Civilization as a whole. The overall development of consumerism has been a huge focal point for many contemporary poets, and, for Klipschutz, the irony is never ending:


It’s a good day to have all this–

a promised land to zip around in,

a cruel tipsy blonde by my side,

the heat turned to high and gloves

of polished leather.

We park

to pop out like jacks-in-the-box,

to survey our immediate surroundings.

Are they not to our liking?

Well then

we shall stuff ourselves back

in our coiled cube and be gone …


Once again, he interweaves decadent romance with decadent living, turning everything we know about our lifestyles right on its head, (and then pulling out a few white hairs just for laughs).


Some of the more solemn works help balance out Klipschutz’s comedic propensities with a tangy compassion and underlying tenderness. This is beautifully shown in the title poem of This Drawn & Quartered Moon, as the harsh consonant sounds of the words emphasize the dark underlying political motifs:


It hangs there like a broken toy

cut out, unpainted, crude

a toothless faceless grin

stationed over Talllahassee


the election given, Rehnquist’s gift, outright. . .


Kurt Lipschutz’s downplayed comedy and moving tragedy give the reader a mixture of hard-hitting, and softly meandering poetry that is all at once relevant and subtle. The “autodidact and gregarious loner” boldly (but humbly) takes the stage for This Drawn & Quartered Moon and then earns himself that glorious encore we all dream of.

Chris  Ho is a Uvic graduate, musician and avid peach eater

Iconic Alt-Pop Vancouverite Captivates

Hannah Georgas
Hannah Georgas (Dine Alone Records, 2012)
Produced by Graham Walsh

Reviewed by Chris Ho

Yet again, Hannah Georgas gives us that middle ground between accessibility and originality in her songwriting. And although this is what initially earned her Vancouver’s love and respect, it only accounts for a mere fraction of the impeccable craftsmanship that her newest album embodies.

Hannah Georgas opens with a soft, pulsing synth. A distant electronic kick drum slowly creeps in and almost throws off the rhythm for a moment as she laments, “You’re off kilter with me.” The instrumental representation of the lyrics instantly establishes the long anticipated marriage between the electronic synth and the heartfelt singer. It reassures the listener that there is purpose to the supportive synthetic gems, and more importantly, to the words that Georgas sings. But while the assumption might be that an increasingly electronic influence will make an album more “upbeat,” this is not necessarily the case for Hannah Georgas.

The production of the album stays true to the dark lyrics that seem to reflect back on a past, all-consuming kind of love. It instrumentally mirrors that emotional place where we find ourselves distraught, frustrated, and yet determined to move forward with our lives. This is best represented in “Somebody,” where the punchy bass line and drum beat drive the song as Georgas sings, “I know you don’t know what you do / what you do to me / but it hurts like hell.” The album locks into that groove that makes it a suitable “car jam,” but it doesn’t fully dive into the alt-pop dance realm that might be comparable to MGMT.

While the temptation of over-producing and cluttering an electronic album of this nature might be challenging for some, Graham Walsh and Hannah Georgas make it seem like a walk in the park. The minimalist guitar work and synth support result in an incredibly tasteful album, which is at the same time simple and complex. And if this wasn’t already the main highlight for me, then it would have to be its song order and flow.

The first and last tracks give the album a cinematic feel because of how well they portray the carefully plotted introduction and ending, through the use of plush instrumentation paired with artistically adept songwriting. You can practically see the rolling credits as the final track, “Waiting Game,” begins to play, renewing that familiar feeling of Hollywood-movie hopefulness.

Hannah Georgas performs Saturday, August 31 at Whistler Olympic Plaza, Whistler BC.

Chris Ho is a UVic graduate and Victoria-based singer-songwriter.

Metric’s shimmery precision

Synthetica (Mom + Pop Music, 2012)
Produced by Gavin Brown, John O’Mahony, Liam O’Neil and James Shaw

Reviewed by Chris Ho

Metric’s slow rise to the top has been an inspiring sight for fans and musicians alike. Notably, their previous release, Fantasies, earned them Juno Alternative Album of the Year as well as Alternative Band of the Year. Now, having charted at number two on the Canadian albums for their latest single “Youth Without Youth,” they have once again been short-listed for the Polaris Music Prize, this time for Synthetica.

Formed in 1998, Metric has had a long and prosperous life thus far. Touring on the heels of their fifth studio album, which has just as much to offer as the last one, they are showing no signs of slowing down. While many older bands often face the conundrum of continuously producing music that lives up to their previous releases, Metric has tactfully avoided this tragedy with style and glamour.

Standing by their signature guitar and keyboard hooks that are tightly synced with the meticulously produced rhythmic grids, the album is musically compatible with their previous albums, and yet still offers a fresh artistic vision. It’s that same stylish and classy indie rock-and-roll that their adoring fans were hoping for.

The album opens with a much darker and more experimental track than one might expect from the band, although it’s probably meant to showcase their ability to transcend the rock-pop vibe that they often abide by. But it isn’t long before it rolls perfectly into track two, “Youth Without Youth,” where they snap right back on to the tight rhythmic grid that encapsulates the pure precision and straight-ahead indie rock that is Metric.

And admittedly there’s some comfort in hearing that transition, although it doesn’t mean that the rest of the album continues to unfold exactly how you might expect. “Breathing Underwater” almost seems like the modern revamp of U2’s “With Or Without You,” with its similar bass line and tastefully delayed guitar. This is followed by a couple more curveballs, where Emily Haines feminizes her voice ironically in “Lost Kitten,” and then does a duet with Lou Reed (of all people) in “The Wanderlust.”

But whether the track in question is leaning toward the gloomy or the shimmery, Synethica as a whole pulls through as a manufactured masterpiece that is fully deserving of its Polaris Music Prize nomination.

Chris Ho is a UVic graduate and Victoria-based singer-songwriter.