Reviews: Foo Fighters, The Smashing Pumpkins, Sleaford Mods, The Besnard Lakes and Kiwi Jr.

Medicine At Midnight

Foo Fighters


It’s oversimplifying and lazy to say that 40 years ago, as a mainstream rock music consumer, you knew what you were going to get. But, let’s do that.

You saw a new album by a brand name, you bought it, and rarely did you debate its merits compared to anything other than was it a good album by Group X, or a good, but not-great album by Group X. Nor were you worried about a total change-up in sound, save for, like, KISS’s “disco album” Dynasty or Blondie going all crazy with that rap stuff.

Albums were defined by fans, and their pre-existing opinions of said bands.

That’s why a “new” Foo Fighters album now only comes with the baggage they and their listeners and lovers bring to it.

It’s like an April Wine album in the the ’70s: You approach it wondering how many rockers like Oowatanite you’re going to get alongside “artsy” tunes like Sign of the Gypsy Queen and power ballads like Tonight Is A Wonderful Time to Fall In Love. 

They always delivered. Rarely were you disappointed, except maybe in the number of each you were looking for. Still, satisfying as a whole.

Medicine At Midnight feels exactly like that.

You know what Foo Fighters are, have thoughts on what they’ve delivered lo these many years and have certain expectations about what you’ll hear — subsequently, this far into things, this is not an album for newbies to come to them. 

So, knowing that, you’re locked in and open to its offerings immediately, will like a lot immediately, and change your opinion on each track and the album on songs on subsequent listens.

Opener Making A Fire sounds like their You Coulda Been A Lady cover, with some of that Doobie Brothers soul and groove; single Shame Shame has an odd but recognizable structure that makes you wait for its chorus, wondering if it’s ever going to come, eventually making one on your own; Waiting on A War is the sensitive and restrained acoustic strummer that builds into something that briefly rocks; the title tune is that “?” you always get, the one that doesn’t really fit into things, oddly; shambolic and defiant No Son of Mine is the album’s “punk” tune; and closing track Love Dies Young is a poppier song for the Everlong, home-schooling parents among the crowd.

It all adds up to another Foo Fighters album.

A good album? Sure, that now kind of goes without saying.

A good Foo Fighters album? That’s on you.

But it will sound infinitely better on a mixtape.

— Mike Bell

The Besnard Lakes are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings

The Besnard Lakes

Flemish Eye

Times are strange. Days tumble along and suddenly the sun is going down. But you’re still in your jammies. What did you do? Where are you? Who are you becoming? What happened?

Montreal psychedelic rock ensemble The Besnard Lakes have time. They have time to imagine with you as you figure these things out, and time to walk beside if you don’t want to bother, as so many of us don’t right now.

Put on their newest of their six albums, The Besnard Lakes are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings, and hours vanish within their dreamy, creamy musical layers, moving along without you noticing when one song ends and another begins – a lot like the days right now.

The title is apt, as, speaking of thunder, there’s a wee bit of Thunderclap Newman vibe going on here, with joyous strata of sounds and vocals tucked in like little textured gems nestled in a gift box.

Seldom do I put on an album for a first listen and just keep going without a break. This one stayed on repeat.

— Mary-Lynn Wardle

Spare Ribs

Sleaford Mods

Rough Trade

The world remains a perpetual outrage machine — there’s always something to canker any mind and every audience.

Rightfully so.

U.K. electro-industrial-punk-garage duo, Sleaford Mods know that and cater to that, neither predictably or manipulatively, with their more specific, less broad and and more timely working-class, Braggian commentary on politics, society, class and culture. 

It’s enlightened, post-yobbo, spoken-word, blue-collar pub anthems and socially astute dialectics wrapped in Deja Voodoo meets White Stripes ’ead-buttin’, “C”-bomb-droppin’ awesomeness.

Spare Ribs finds the pair of Jason Williamson and Andrew Fearn kicking against the pricks amidst an island of Englanders surrounded by the fog, anxiety and anger (is an energy) of Brexit and the pandemic, while also living in a very real world with rising nationalism, racism and fascism.

Yes, it might be an album that’s more of a historical document than an attempt at a universal and timeless artistic statement, but it still is a wonderful mix of both and, ultimately, a fabulous ball of fuck you for all.

— MB


The Smashing Pumpkins

Sumerian Records

It is what it wants to recall how you want it to be. While being nothing like it.

Billy Corgan and Co. — here, with two thirds the rest of the original Pumpkins: James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlin — have always been about creating nostalgia even while they were making the now.

In their early’ 90s incarnation — in a zeitgeisty way and with a zeitgeisty sound — they made the mid-Gen Xers remember their wistful, Big Wheels, Lawn Darts and Lik.A.Stix youths as they musically embraced and rode hard and wet part of the then-current “alt” movement with post-metal/punk sonic aesthetics.

Well, then the next Smashing stage was to keep reminding you of those ’90s days, while working in a fairly defined and Corgan-y vision — by no means repeating him/themselves in an egregious and pandering manner; they moved forward while still whistling an ode to what was.

Got it?

CYR, the band’s 11th, is an altogether different nostalgia, a reimagining of the Pumpkins as an ’80s synth-inspired version of themselves, one that when the ’90s arrived chose digital over analogue, The Cure over The Cult.

Ten years ago, it would have fit into the Diamond Rings and Drive school of artistic fond remembrances — now, it’s well, a remembrance of the remembrance of … But, that said, there are a few tunes, such as the heavy and hard-driving ’90s rock-esque WYTTCH, which make you remember, looking back, how you felt when you first hear that band looking back. And so it goes …

And so, as an album, the success of CYR also goes. It differentiating itself from the canon only by Corgan’s deep, adroit and almost instrumental lyricism — which continues to cement him as one of the more enigmatic songwriters of the past 30 years of alternative arena rock (irony intended) — singing about a life of much living, mature enough to have many different decades of nostalgia at his disposal. 

Some songs wonderful, some banal, they deliver what you’ve come to expect from the Smashing Pumpkins.

Or what you expect to want to remember them to be.

— MB

Cooler Returns

Kiwi Jr.

Sub Pop


It’s what the East Coast of Canada is all about.

It’s what they pull out of the gills of, I guess, cod and, maybe, porpoise and mermen.

It’s also what gets all up in the ears of anyone who hears or has heard the offerings of the every-so-often-hip (“Halifax is the new Seattle,” said folks once) Atlantic-side indie-pop musical community from over the past 30 (!!) years, such as Sloan, Joel Plaskett, Thrush Hermit and Two Hours Traffic.

Entirely ignorant as to how geology, ecology, life and everything else works in this world, apparently those Maritime pop vibes have once again found their way into the nation’s popular water system, settling in Toronto Harbour (please tell me that’s a thing; I don’t want to have to Google a map) thanks to the relocation of P.E.I. quartet Kiwi Jr. to our country’s capital capital.

The Sub Pop kids — as did some of their fellow fish-kissers from the past three decades — are now infecting us all, with their way less obtuse Pavement and VU sensibilities, which are lovingly paired with those Eastery Coasterly leanings for a confectionary of treacly, screechy delight — quick, catchy, clever pop music, that pulls you in, makes you remember the hell out of it

Hooked and landed.

— MB