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Daily Picks: Saturday 

Jennifer Castle, Chad VanGaalen, Hip Club Groove, Rural Alberta Advantage

click to enlarge Chad VanGaalen - JEFF THORBURN
  • Chad VanGaalen
  • Jeff Thorburn

w/ The Belle Comedians, The Weather Station, Spring Standards
Saturday, October 22, The Company House, 8pm, $10

Many of the songs on Jennifer Castle's major-label debut Castlemusic are unadorned; tunes like "Powers" make their mark with delicate strumming, spare, rattling percussion and whispers of flute. Though the music is low-key, an enormous strength crackles behind it through Castle's elegant, haunted songwriting. A winter inhabitant of Toronto Island, Castle's music builds tales upon landscapes; through a backdrop of oceans and sunsets crashing over canyons, she unpacks the mysteries and burdens of the artist's life. It doesn't hurt she's also one of the best folk singers Canada has going right now. That voice---high and tender, with an understated and thrilling vibrato---caught the attention of Fucked Up, Constantines and Doug Paisley, who borrowed Castle's talents for their own recordings. It's impossible to see Castle without losing part of yourself and becoming captive to her odd, enchanting dazzle. Now that she's taken her place on the Calgary-based label Flemish Eye---home to Chad Van Gaalen and Braids---she's started bewitching audiences far and wide. Do not miss.


w/Rituals, The Graboids, Skip Jensen, Demon's Claws
Saturday, October 22, Gus' Pub, 9:30pm, $10

Its music has absolutely no problem living up to the image and radness that its name conjures up. Fuelled by beer, dope and plaid, Outtacontroller's unique, singular and awesome moniker was inspired by the Night Rider's credo in the film Mad Max, "I am the rocker! I am the roller! I am the outta controller!"

Part of a strong movement of punk, power pop and garage bands in this city, Outtacontroller is one of the best bands in Halifax of the last year. When asked why it exists, James O'Toole of Outtacontroller responded with one word: Japan. This is a band with a plan.

With a brilliant EP to be followed up by an even more brilliant LP on the German based label P. Trash, Outtacontroller is poised to take Halifax and Japan by force.


w/The Meligrove Band, Suuns, Miracle Fortress
Saturday, October 22, Olympic Community Hall, 9pm, $18/$25

Chad VanGaalen's Diaper Island boasts one of my favourite songs of 2011---the beautiful ballad "Sara"---but the Calgary-based musician is shockingly quick to downplay his own songwriting skills.

"It's kind of a joke on myself that everybody thinks I'm a songwriter," he says over Skype from Eugene, Washington, where he's winding down a west coast tour. "It's strange to say it, but it seems way more abstract for me to imagine myself making three-and-a-half-minute songs as opposed to 15-minute soundscapes. I still enjoy doing it, though; it's like a test on my own mind."

Diaper Island passes that test, with VanGaalen achieving a more straightforward, rock-oriented sound while still keeping much of the raw, weird and wonderful sensibility that defined his earlier records. He explains he worked three different albums to various stages of competition before finishing Island---electronic, folk and rock records, respectively---and much of this abandoned material is due to be released on cassette this fall.

That DIY sensibility extends not only to his records, which he performs and produces almost entirely on his own, but to his album design and music videos. "I just didn't want another person determining the outcome of what people think about me," he explains. "It's a pretty precious thing for me: I want to be the only one to blame for my own decisions."


w/More or Les, Freedom or Death, Trouble Andrew
Saturday, October 22, Reflections Cabaret, 8pm, $15

The inaugural Halifax Pop Explosion featured over a dozen bands including such luminaries and hometown legends as jale, Lou Barlow, Hardship Post, Eric's Trip, Quahogs, Doughboys, Redd Kross, Thrush Hermit and Hip Club Groove. It was 1993, Joel Plaskett was too young to have a drink at the Khyber, Buck 65 was known as Stinkin' Rich and indie rock bands shared bills with hip-hop groups.

Hip Club Groove was, and possibly still is, the quintessential hip-hop group in Nova Scotia. They were cocky, quick-witted and not afraid to offend. They released a LP on Murderrecords, became a staple of the first three Pop Explosions and released a final album in 1996 before calling it a day. DJ Moves and Derek MacKenzie joined the one-hit-wonder group Len, while Cheklove Shakil turned up as a regular on Trailer Park Boys for six seasons.

Nearly 20 years after the first Pop Explosion, Hip Club Groove is reuniting to tour and record new material. References to movies like Philadelphia and Rush may seem dated, but Hip Club Groove's songs in the familiar trappings of HPX will yield a show you'll obviously be discussing in 2031.


w/Find the Others
Saturday, October 22, St. Matthew's United Church, 8pm, $20/$25

Formed in 2005 in Toronto, Rural Alberta Advantage spent its early years quietly building a dedicated fanbase that spread quickly outward to the edges of Canada. After self-releasing a demo tape and an EP, the group put out its debut LP, Hometowns in 2008, cementing its reputation as one of Canada's best unsigned bands. That title quickly shifted when Omaha label Saddle Creek re-released the debut the following year. With a boost in exposure, the three-piece spent the following year touring the continent, making stops at SXSW, Coachella and Pop Montreal.

Returning to HPX this year on the heels of its sophomore release, Departing, the band has sharpened its percussive folk rock and found new confidence in its earnest expositions, while darkening a few corners. Imbuing its live shows with the same raw energy as found in its recordings, expect a heartfelt performance with plenty of familiar shout-a-longs.


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