wears the trousers magazine

amy millan: masters of the burial (2009)
September 7, 2009, 6:58 am
Filed under: album, mp3, review | Tags: , , , , ,


Amy Millan
Masters Of The Burial ••½
Arts & Crafts

Singer-songwriter Amy Millan initially made a name for herself as a major contributor to indie favourites Broken Social Scene and as co-lead vocalist in her own band, Stars. With these Canadian acts, like many others, the name of the game seems to be collaboration – Broken Social Scene is as notorious for its massive and ever-changing line-up as it is for its trippy art rock – and Millan has embraced this ethos of collaboration on Masters Of The Burial. The follow-up to 2006’s solo debut Honey From The Tombs, it features guest performances from a variety of colleagues including Evan Cranley of Stars and fellow Broken Social Scene alumna Feist on backing vocals. But while Millan’s work with other bands has helped to push indie into the mainstream, expanding musical genres with complex music that also manages to be eminently listenable, Masters Of The Burial is not nearly so interesting, sacrificing innovation for an album that’s unapologetically sweet and soft.

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free music monday: amy millan
July 27, 2009, 8:56 pm
Filed under: free music friday, mp3, review | Tags: , , , ,

fmf_amymillanAmy Millan
‘Bruised Ghosts’

With stakes in Stars, Broken Social Scene, a number of side projects and a well regarded solo album in 2006’s Honey From The Tombs, Toronto’s Amy Millan is constantly creating. Her second solo album, Masters Of The Burial, due for release on September 8th through Arts & Crafts, was overseen by established Canadian producer Martin Kinack (Sarah Harmer, Broken Social Scene) and includes collaborations from extended muso family members such as Liam O’Neil, Evan Cranley, Dan and Jenny Whiteley, and the always extraordinary Leslie Feist.

‘Bruised Ghosts’ is a lulling, slow tempo number, rich with Millan’s low vocals and wry lyrics. The initially simple-seeming structure is actually rather detailed, with the central, acoustic strumming given a pleasant texture from small patters of piano and a warm, smoky trumpets. Amy proves yet again that she is magically gifted at creating simple, unfussy melodies that transform into original, rain-spun numbers under her direction, and Masters Of The Burial looks set to be another great solo work. MP3 after the jump.

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amy millan returns to solo stardom in september
June 26, 2009, 5:39 pm
Filed under: news, trouser press | Tags: , , , , , ,

wie_amymillanSpecial guests include Feist

In the three years since the release of her debut solo album Honey From The Tombs, Amy Millan’s band Stars have put out a critically acclaimed album, an EP and a remix collection, so it’s high time the talented Canadian climbed back into her very own spotlight. Sticking with the morbidity awareness, her second release will go by the (possibly elephant-inspired) name of Masters Of The Burial and will hit the shops on September 8th through Arts & Crafts International. Recorded earlier this year with producer Martin Davis Kinack (Sarah Harmer, Broken Social Scene) at The Well studio set in the hilly Ontario countryside, the 11-track album is billed as “A work of true love and devotion immediately apparent in the warmth of Millan’s angelic vocals and the depth of each song as they unfold.”

Guest performers on Master Of The Burial include Feist, Christine Bougie, Dan & Jenny Whiteley, The Stills’ Liam O’Neil, and Evan Cranley of Stars. Fans of Amy’s cover of Death Cab For Cutie’s ‘I Will Follow You Into The Dark’ will be happy to know that she’s finally cut a studio version, and she also tackles Sarah Harmer’s beautiful ‘Old Perfume’ from Weeping Tile’s 2001 release, Valentino. No European tourdates have been announced just yet but there will no doubt be some coming up. 

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EPs of the year: readers poll results (part IV of V)

EPs of the year: #10–6


Peggy Sue & The Pictures
The Body Parts EP
Broken Sound Music 

Released: August 2008

On The Body Parts EP, Peggy Sue combine a soundtrack of nostalgic folk and buccaneer blues with modern, lyrical poetry full of drunken ocean voyages, love and disembodied anatomy. From the macabre yet playful clamour of dismembered limbs that grace the artwork, to their primary school-inspired, fancy dress stage outfits and treasure-and-heartbreak compositions, they seamlessly blend make believe with reality, and the result is a beautiful, surreal adventure. They are nautical poets, with heads full of rain-lashed, bittersweet music, and all the joy of children who raided the dressing up box [full review].

iTunes £3.16



My Brightest Diamond
Inside A Boy EP
Asthmatic Kitty

Released: May 2008

The music of Shara Worden lends itself unusually well to the art of remixing, as proved on last year’s Tear It Down, and this EP (a first taste of the album and the other two EPs she has since released) included some memorable reworkings from Tim Fite and celebrated newcomer Son Lux. With the dramatic orchestrations of the title track and the undulating, whispery swoon of exclusive B-side ‘I Had A Pearl’ also on offer, this was a fantastic start to a diamond year.

FREE MP3: My Brightest Diamond, ‘Inside A Boy‘ [Son Lux remix] [thanks to Pitchfork]

iTunes £1.99



Sad Robots EP
Soft Revolution / Arts & Crafts

Released: November 2008

Sad Robots makes for clever and intense listening, but nothing more so than the releases dotting Stars’ past. Instead, it’s another reminder of how powerful this band is, even though their power lies in a bleaker, more malaise-rich paradigm. But death makes life important, and understanding, even playing with such actualities, can be blissful. Just don’t expect this robot to ever have a smile on its face [full review].

iTunes £3.16



The Mountain Goats & Kaki King
Black Pear Tree EP
Cadmean Dawn

Released: October 2008

Perhaps most interesting for the chance to hear Kaki King accompanied only by piano and subtle electronica instead of her usual armoury of guitars on the doomstruck title track, plus the sweetly characterised Mario Bros.-inspired closer, Black Pear Tree is an interesting meeting of minds. Vocally, King is largely consigned to the background but her virtuosic guitar chops are what underpins the middle tracks and rescues them from potential mediocrity. Hard to get hold of, but worth the effort.

FREE MP3: The Mountain Goats & Kaki King, ‘Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is In Another Castle‘ [thanks to Pitchfork]

Not available on iTunes



Anaïs Mitchell & Rachel Ries
country e.p.
Righteous Babe 

Released: August 2008

Teaming up with good friend and occasional touring partner Rachel Ries, Anaïs Mitchell proves her mettle as a versatile writer and as a harmoniser par excellence. With commercial suicide not really a concern for these two relatively under-the-radar performers, they were free to concentrate on nailing the organic sounds and appeal of their onstage chemistry, letting the sentiment of the music speak for itself. Some of the loveliest duetting since Emmylou took up with Gram [full review].

iTunes £3.16

stars: sad robots ep (2008)
September 22, 2008, 12:37 pm
Filed under: EP, review, video | Tags: , , , ,

Sad Robots EP •••½
Arts & Crafts

A few weeks ago, Stars posted a small flash animation on their webpage, a ticking clock counting down to September 1st. Good PR stunt indeed, as it forced everyone to come up with their own reason why the band did this. That is buzz, chatter and presumption. Truth be told, the end result was another release: the digital/tour EP, Sad Robots. Other than a live version of ‘Going, Going, Gone’ (originally on their criminally underrated sophomore album Heart), this quietly released set of six is all new, signalling the beginning of a new stage for the Montreal sextet following last year’s full-length, In Our Bedroom After The War. But Sad Robots is not a full release, and shouldn’t be treated as such. It’s clever at times, but nothing groundbreaking. Instead, it is a welcome stopgap, a surprise set of new songs that, while appreciated, does not elevate their canon to another level. It’s simply more of the same, as good as the same can be.

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trouser press: diane cluck, the pipettes and more

in today’s trouser press:

– listen to new Diane Cluck songs. Lots of them!
– remix The Pipettes for upcoming tour CD
– new Stars EP out to download from tomorrow
– Róisín Murphy teams up with Gucci, covers Bryan Ferry
– The Long Blondes to release singles compilation
– lovely new Laura Nyro reissues have bonus tracks galore
– Juliette Lewis to co-host Vodafone Live Music Awards
– Kish Mauve set out to make it on their own
– Amy Winehouse pulls a Pete in Paris

* * *

It’s been quite a while since we heard any new Diane Cluck recordings but our hopes for a new album were unexpectedly given a boost this weekend when we found out that Diane recently played on genius US radio show Phoning It In, literally phoning in nine songs from her home in Stone Mountain, GA. New song titles include ‘Goodless & Badless World’, ‘Cummed Out’, ‘All One Thing’, ‘Hai’, ‘Not Afraid To Be Kind’ and ‘My Right To Lose My Life’. Want to hear it? Hell, you can own it. For free. Download the show here. Or stream it here, whatever. Enjoy! (And check out the archive for other performances by the likes of Laura Veirs, Petra Haden and many many more)

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amy millan: “i spent my youth drunk and heartbroken”
July 1, 2008, 8:37 pm
Filed under: feature, words in edgeways | Tags: , , , ,

words in edgeways with amy millan

Of all the members of Montreal post-poppers Stars, Amy Millan always looked and sounded like the one who’d be the most likely to batter you if you tried steal the band’s stuff. That’s perhaps self-evident given that she shares guitar and vocal duties with a rather fey chap named Torquil [Campbell]. But one listen to her turn on ‘Your Ex-Lover Is Dead’ – the first track on last year’s Set Yourself On Fire album – and you find yourself in the presence of a vocal so steely you could chop someone’s head off with it. Some wags have suggested that such moments are proof positive that Torquil should stop hogging the mic, go gawp at his own navel in the background and hand the spotlight over Millan. That’s possibly a bit unfair, but it is to some extent borne out by the fact that Stars’ best songs are quite blatantly the ones Millan sings lead on (check out ‘Ageless Beauty’ for their most sublime moment to date).

Naturally being a bunch of rampant misandrists Wears The Trousers would say that, but fortunately a happy compromise for the Millan mob emerged this summer in the form of her debut album Honey From The Tombs, a record very nearly as good as a Stars album with her as sole singer. Though the front cover features her looking, if anything, even more badass than usual (think Patti Smith’s prettier but much, much harder daughter), from the moment opener ‘Losin’ You’ kicks in with a simple, gorgeous strum so timeless you can’t help but wonder if Millan nicked it from someplace else, we’re clearly deep into country territory. Country-ish, anyway.

“I don’t think of it as a country album,” notes the actually-very-charming Millan, speaking down the phone from her Montreal home, “I think of it as a toxic roots album. Like, I dunno, I came up with that one myself because I knew that people were going to continually ask me what I thought the record was. I don’t thing that by any means you could classify a song like ‘Skinny Boy’ or ‘Wayward & Parliament’ as country. I know there are confusions in there like ‘He Brings Out The Whiskey In Me’, but to me I look to people like Johnny Cash and Loretta Lynn and the records they’ve made and over the past couple of years they’re showed me you can sound like that without necessarily having to put yourself inside a box.”

Whiskey, incidentally, is nothing if not a recurring motif. Wears The Trousers couldn’t actually be bothered to count the number of times Millan references the spirit over the course of the record, but a vague guesstimate would put it somewhere in the low billions. “I know!” she laughs. “I swear that’s going to be the last time that happens, I’m not going to make any more whiskey songs after this record. I have sort of moved on to Bordeaux. For me what it was was the texture of it and the sound of the way it pours and the way ice rings in that glass, there’s a whole sort of structure and, uh, tradition to the way you work your drink.”

She speaks in the past tense, which is apt because Honey From The Tombs is a past tense type of record. The title is cribbed from an old Tom Waits quote making reference to the Ancient Egyptian practice of burying pasteurised honey with the dead because it will still be good generations later. Serving a rather more practical purpose than offering a snack to hungry grave robbers, the words on Millan’s debut are those of a much younger, pre-Stars singer who, not being very happy in her lovelife at that time, decided the only solution was to get absolutely hammered.

“I kind of put these songs on the backburner for a while but they were haunting me in the back of my mind, I felt like I wasn’t really respecting the part of myself that had lived and should have made this record a long time ago, but then I joined the circus and there wasn’t really the time to do it, and finally I mustered up the time and courage to finish it.

“Did I spend my youth drunk and heartbroken?” she chuckles. “That’s exactly the case actually. And you know, I was a fan of George Jones and there’s some old Keith Whitley song, you know that song ‘Tennessee Courage’? I can really relate to it, my early 20s was a very lonely period and sometimes what comes through as a great friend is your glass.”

Hence the gargantuan number of free endorsement for the hard spirit industry, and also ‘Losin’ You’, both the album’s loveliest and saddest moment, the tale of a lover walking out on the dying embers of her of her relationship. “I was absolutely heartbroken and he absolutely does not deserve that song,” she sighs. “It’s things you can’t articulate I guess, and I find that I’m addicted to the dream of that song that you kind of have the last word in that way, and though I was the one going, I felt completely dissed and ignored by that person in my life. But I can now get up and everyone will feel sorry for me and think he’s a jerk. And that’s why I love three minute songs,” she smiles.

Whatever the hell ‘toxic roots’ might actually be, they definitely aren’t restricted to gently strummed, nocturnal songs about being shitfaced. For every ravaged, bottom-of-the-barroom-floor ballad like ‘Pour Me Up Another’, there are tunes far stranger than anything offered up by Cash or Lynn even at their most adventurous. The aforementioned ‘Wayward & Parliament’ actually manages to outweird the dayjob, being an elegiac, lyrically ambiguous piece of shoegazing which abruptly collapses into a completely barking drum and horn breakdown.

“Actually,” smirks the singer, “the middle part was even more insane before and I really hated it, I felt I’d really failed and missed the mark of what I was trying to emulate. I was really obsessed with Brian Eno when I wrote it and I thought that maybe if I wrote it right he’d come find me and er, we would talk about weird scientific facts and, I dunno, come up with bizarre new keyboard sounds together.

“I didn’t want it on the record,” she continues, “but Ian Burton, who produced it, loved the song and knew he could save it and he started mixing it and I started yelling at him that ‘this is a terrible song and you’re completely wasting my time and I don’t want to hear it for one more single second’ and he kind of looked at me very sternly said ‘leave the studio. Come back in four hours.’ So I was very angry because I really did feel he was wasting my time and money. But I left because he was my producer and I came back and he’d manipulated it and it became one of my favourite songs on the record.”

With most of this album written years ago, a new Stars record due next year, and Millan still having commitments to the mighty Broken Social Scene collective, it would be not unreasonable to savour Honey From The Tombs as a one-off and hope Torquil gives over a bit next time. Not so, apparently. “I felt clogged by these songs,” she explains. “I had to put them out and bring them life and part of finally making this record was learning from Stars and Broken Social Scene, that was what gave these songs three dimensions And since I’ve given these songs the life that they deserve I’ve got back into the studio and I’m now ready to make a new record next year.”

Given the comparative age of her first solo album, given Millan’s unwillingness to be labelled a country artist, and given how entirely unexpected Honey From The Tombs was in the first place, it’s anyone’s guess what her next solo record might sound like. The only thing for sure is that it’ll probably have a much lower proof by volume. “You have to say ‘I need a glass of water’ at some point,” she confides, with only a trace of wistfulness.

Andrzej Lukowski
previously unpublished


‘Skinny Boy’

‘Baby I’