Graven
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Graven

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada | INDIE

Ottawa, Ontario, Canada | INDIE
Band Alternative Rock

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"Graven - Valley Theory"

Appearances can certainly be deceiving, as can someone’s preconceived notions and definitions. It’s easy to make fun of Canada (“America’s Hat” being my personal favorite), but it’s damn near impossible (and quite negligent) to dismiss the powerful presence and role of Canadian bands and singers in the contemporary indie rock landscape. Whether we’re discussing The New Pornographers, Stars, Wolf Parade, Arcade Fire, or the slew of groups and solo artists that comprise or have spawned off these bigger acts, Canuck rock outfits hold a firm place in our ears here in 2009.

So, I was quite taken aback by the sounds of the Valley Theory EP by the underground Canadian rockers Graven. As opposed to reaching out for the anthemic pop heights of its countrymen and women, these guys have opted for reinventing and revisiting some solid ‘90s Midwestern rock. If not for regular references to Northern touchstones like Halifax, the Northern Lights, and the Lodestar, Graven could easily and deservedly be mistaken for yet another hard-working bar rock band from the American Midwest. The band’s sonic influences range from Wilco to Counting Crows, The Wallflowers, and the Gin Blossoms with twinges of Spoon and The Hold Steady present for good measure.

Most of the five songs on this offering are written to or about the women in the band’s lives, and can certainly be a bit syrupy and sentimental, but so are most decent bar ballads. The exception is “Golden Garage,” a nostalgic track written to a long-lost friend who’s seemingly sold his soul to make a buck in the record industry, beckoning him back to his more organic self from his past. There’s a sweet innocence to this band’s aesthetic, right down to the lead singer’s thin, almost breaking tenor, as he wistfully dreams of what could be, while living in what actually is.

The glaring strength and weakness of this record is the abject lack of flash in Graven’s sound. True, the band seems to have good chemistry and the music flows quite seamlessly, but there’s little to no punch to these songs to make them as memorable as they could be. Moreover, the music could stand for the occasional variation in tempo and injection of pop zip, just to shake things up a bit. Fronted by “The Northglow” and “Harsh,” Valley Theory is an admirable attempt to create some quality thinking man’s rock without dipping too deeply into the clichéd excesses of overly introspective folk, rock, and country tunes.
-Aug. 10, 2009 - Adam P. Newton (Dryvetyme Online)


"Graven: From Mountainview To Canyon Heart"

Michael Dallas Miller

Graven: Mountainview to Canyon Heart


When I am not writing widely (I hope) read album and concert reviews, or composing six-to-eight-page papers on Ian McEwin, John Donne and other literary figures, I am working four hour shifts at the Pike Place Market, selling hand-crafted oils to rich people, making friends with homeless, hipsters, high-as-a-kite hippies, and homeward bound travelers. Talking to so many people from way outta town, I have gathered what it feels to be like trekking through the Northwest. There is no album better to sum up that feeling than our very own Graven’s free EP, Mountainview to Canyon Heart.


The EP (which plays with such as much depth, consistency and fluidity as any full-length album) begins in my very own Seattle with “Fresh Fish for Everyone.” It is a simple, acoustic jam about walking through the Market, smelling the iced fish, the dried flowers, the wind off the water, and the fresh Asian pastries. It is about straddling, “the line between hating the States and loving this town.” This song perfectly captures what it feels like to see the beauty and individuality of Seattle and wanting to have some part of it: the coffee, the pedestrians wearing fleece and Kavu boots, the particular blue and purple of the summer sky.


The album was recorded with simple Mac technology, and although this is evident, it is not a distraction or a downfall. Almost all the songs, like “Hwy 5” are built together with relaxed campfire harmonies and guitar work. The emotions of displacement, restlessness, and discovery are as accessible and open as the interstate that cuts through the desert and winds effortlessly to where you want to go.


I remember sitting in the Frankfurt airport, feeling exactly like Matt did in “Thirty Dollar Hotel.” I just wanted to see my home, my family, my friends, my record store, my park with jugglers and dogs and dirty and dark cigarette smokers. Where I am is not home, “it’s not luxurious, but it will do.” Songs like, with the mellow vocals and heavy-eyed piano, bring me right back to that place, that feeling, something we all have felt, no matter how far from home we find ourselves.


And although the emotions are genuine, McKechnie does not give much effort into digging deep into the places he is traveling through. He cannot reach past the Market, the dark local beer, the vinegar and French fries, the Las Vegas strip and the vast desert of Arizona. It would have been neat to see the lyrics take a deeper and varied look at the culture and colors of this diverse section of the country.


This is a large group of songs, as long as EPs go. A lot of solidity would have added to it, had such songs as “Inside Space Mountain” and “Jonboy” been excluded. These songs land flat and are barely listenable and highly skippable.


The highlights of this album were the drifting tunes of “Carsleepers” and “Last Night in the Desert.” McKechnie allows the melody to move with the lyrics in a way that is heartfelt and organic; in a way that makes me want to listen and take care of these songs. The dusty guitar notes picked in “Desert” allow me into the backseat of that van, my face against the window, feeling the hot air from the driverside window, seeing the white stars just beyond the reflection of my eyeball in the window.


It doesn’t take much effort to get this EP—simply go to the website and click a link or two—but it is definitely the five minutes out of your day to download and the thirty-three minutes it takes to listen. The songs are made with honesty and heart and invite you along for a little drive down a black highway. It is a short trip any northwest music-lover should take.
- thickspecs.com


Discography

Pilot Light Out LP (2005)
Charles Called It...Anthemic LP (2006)
From Mountainview To Canyon Heart {FREE EP} (2008)
Valley Theory EP (2009)

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Bio

Growing up, Matt McKechnie was a massive listener of J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr.), Stephen Malkmus (Pavement) and Led Zeppelin. Having played in garage bands since his mid-teens, he began to adapt and progress with the shifting musical terrain around him while still staying true to his idyllic influences. Graven is more about free-form and the 'meat' of a song than it is about falling in line. Matt's songs are truly different and rare and with a solid band of ever-talented individuals (all of whom are a part of the homespun collective label 'GravenRecords') backing him, his music generates both interest and intensity. With production and inspiration from folks like Charles Austin in Halifax (producer of Buck 65, Matt Mays, Joel Plaskett) and Dean Watson in Ottawa (producer of Meredith Luce, The Soiree, The Murder Plans), Graven is ready to hit the streets and rumble for the good of molten rock.