Mass Choir
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"Top 10 lists provide a subjective look at the best albums of 2010"

We take a look back at the year in music. Top 10 lists should always be taken with a grain of salt -- they are so subjective, who is to say which is the definitive list?

What appeals to a hip-hop fan doesn't necessarily appeal to a pop fan or a country music fan. Jamey Johnson's The Guitar Song topped a number of lists this year, along with the likes of the Zac Brown Band, Mumford and Sons, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars and Ozzy Osbourne.

Keeping in mind that variety is the spice of life, here's a number of lists -- from a multitude of informed sources -- citing the Top 10 albums of 2010. Enjoy.

Jeff DeDekker

Leader-Post Entertainment

Co-ordinator

1. The Guitar Song, Jamey Johnson

2. Hits Alive, Brad Paisley

3. Bare Bones, Bryan Adams

4. Need You Now, Lady Antebellum

5. Sigh No More, Mumford and Sons

6. Doo-Wops & Holigans, Bruno Mars

7. Up On The Ridge, Dierks Bentley

8. 34 Number Ones, Alan Jackson

9. Charleston, SC 1966, Darius Rucker

10. Go With The Show, Hedley

Ron Harwood

EMI Music

1. Sweet Thing, Sweet Thing

2. American Slang, Gaslight Anthem

3. Mojo, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

4. A Place Called Love, Johnny Reid

5. Need You Now, Lady Antebellum

6. The Promise, Bruce Springsteen

7. Comes Around Sundown, Kings of Leon

8. Sigh No More, Mumford and Sons

9. Plastic Beach, Gorillaz

10. Live My Life On The Backbeat, Mass Choir

(an Edmonton band)

Brad Prosko

B-Rad Studio

1. Band of Joy, Robert Plant

2. Scream, Ozzy Osbourne

3. Ends of the Earth, Blake Berglund

4. Black Dub, Black Dub

5. Save Me, San Francisco, Train

6. The Promise, Bruce Springsteen

7. Teenage Dream, Katy Perry

8. Love Like Crazy, Lee Brice

9. Hands All Over, Maroon 5

10. Need You Now, Lady Antebellum

Chris Tessmer

Leader-Post freelancer

1. The Guitar Song, Jamey Johnson

2. Body Talk, Robyn

3. Infinite Arms, Band of Horses

4. American VI: Ain't No Grave, Johnny Cash

5. Terrible Things, Terrible Things

6. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,

Kanye West

7. The Five Ghosts, Stars

8. The Big To-Do, Drive By Truckers

9. The Suburbs, Arcade Fire

10. Charleston, SC 1966, Darius Rucker

Sandra Butel

Artistic director, Regina Folk Festival

1. Heartland, Owen Pallett

2. Have One On Me, Joanna Newsom

3. City City, Chic Gamine

4. Sigh No More, Mumford & Sons

5. The Early Widows, Justin Rutledge

6. The Suburbs, Arcade Fire

7. Femmes de Chez Nous, Christine Fellows

8. Fields, Junip

9. Across The Plains, Little Miss Higgins

10. Oh Little Fire, Sarah Harmer



- Regina Leader Post


"Banner year for Edmonton music - Looking back on the hottest local acts"

EDMONTON — The worst part of my job? Having to say no. Unfortunately, it happens more often these days — since Edmonton seems to be sprouting more talented musicians than ever before.

Eleven years ago, when I first started at The Journal, I covered about one local CD release party per month. Now, there’s usually one or two per WEEK, thanks to cheaper recording gear, the rise of indie labels, and the power of the Internet.

Anyone can write and record music (not to mention shoot a video or start a festival); you no longer have to wait for your blood-stained invite to the Exclusive Club of Rock Stars and Major Labels. You don’t always have to resort to using Ticketmaster either — thanks to yeglive.ca, a new made-in-Edmonton ticketing service and listings guide.

Yup, it was another banner year for Edmonton’s music scene. Thousands celebrated local acts during the first SOSFest in Old Strathcona and Open Sky Music Festival in Hawrelak Park. Pop-rockers Ten Second Epic and Edmonton-bred popsters Stereos were nominated for Junos.

Folk-pop artist Colleen Brown toured the country with the Crash Test Dummies while a growing flock of singer-songwriters, including Eamon McGrath, Michael Rault and Corb Lund continued to nurture their overseas markets.

With new opportunities comes the urge to move to new cities, and though we lost several artists to Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal, our talent pool is still ridiculously deep — from Ross Shep student and electronic artist Dylan Khotin-Foote, better known as Kumon Plaza, to singer-songwriter Jeff Morris to dance messiahs Mass Choir.

They’re three of the artists to make my list of favourite local releases of 2010:

Wool on Wolves, Grey Matter

Armed with this assertive and adventurous debut, these folk-rockers could be Canada’s next big sensations.

Kumon Plaza, Cliff

Here’s proof you can turn silly video game sounds into heart-wrenching electro-pop.

F&M, Sincerely, F&M

An exquisite collection of bittersweet folk-noir tunes, featuring the haunting vocals of Ryan Christian Anderson and his wife, Rebecca.

Eamon McGrath, Peace Maker

One of Edmonton’s most prolific songwriters serves up another piece of his soul on his latest rugged folk-punk album.

Cygnets, Bleak Anthems

Bleak, yes, but also one of the best ’80s synth-pop flashbacks you’ll have without trying to find your Cure or OMD albums.

The Provincial Archive, Maybe We Could Be Holy

Delicate folk-pop, stitched together with banjo, accordion and mandolin, about life in a northern town.

Jeff Morris, Original Songs on a Borrowed Guitar

Breezy, yet soulful acoustic pop in the vein of Jack Johnson. Only better.

Michael Rault, Ma-Me-O

Life’s not always a beach, but this album of ’60s-soaked garage-pop tunes will put a smile on your face.

Mass Choir, Live My Life on the Backbeat

Uplifting dance tunes inspired by the ’90s, gospel and hip-shaking beats.

Jay Sparrow, In Our Time

Quivery folk and lurchy blues never sounded so intoxicating from this songbird. - Edmonton Journal


"A Choir Of The Masses"

Drummer Brett Henry doesn’t want to sound like a hippie, but when he’s summing up his band’s sound he resorts to those classic tenets of hippie-dom: to Henry it’s all about upbeat vibes and good energy.

“We don’t have really super deep or strong political agendas or ideas we’re trying to push,” adds Matthew Skopyk, who works the keys and shares vocal duties in Mass Choir, an outfit that’s best hyphenated as an indie-electro collision. “They’re all pretty simple, positive messages.”

And they’re prepared to call out anyone who’s planning on raining on their dance-party. “Good Times” is the message they’re currently spreading across the radio waves as Sonic’s Band of the Month, and the chorus decisively declares, “If I can have a good time, then you can have a good time too.” So get your game face on Edmonton — Mass Choir will not put up with any brooding at their showcase this Friday.

They’ve already made video highlighting the key aspect of the songs, i.e. good times. But I’ve always assumed that there’s a pretty substantial difference between partying with friends and corralling a house full of friends into organized revelry that looks decent when captured on film.

“The trick was just bribing them with free beer and pizza,” explains Skopyk, “We had 80 litres of beer and 10 pizzas. It’s shot in our house over in south Belgravia.” I stand corrected, sounds like a party to me.

“It got pretty foggy, pretty sweaty,” adds Henry over some early afternoon caffeine at their neighbourhood café. “Everyone co-operated pretty well with us.”

“Easiest way to control people is to get ‘em drunk,” says Skopyk.

“To get them, maybe, half-drunk,” adjusts Henry.

The beer and pizza may have worked to weigh the crowd down between takes, because Mass Choir’s synth-driven pop is that kind of elation-inducing music that makes you feel like you’re floating instead of dancing. Featuring Mary Hulbert’s massive vocals reaching across fades of electronic grooves, as noted on their website, their sound will take you back 20 years, to the last time dance music really took over the airwaves in the mid-’90s.

“I’m pretty sure everyone owned, like ‘Mix ’96,’” says Henry.

“I had all the MuchMusic ones on cassette too and then I did the switch over to CD,” agrees Skopyk.

“We’ve always talked about this. I think it’s pretty evident that there’s a 20-year cycle in western culture. We were joking that in 1997 … so that means 2017 we’ll probably start doing like Bush X or Silverchair.”

“But at this point, 20 years ago was the dance stuff so things cycle themselves. Who knows, maybe four-on-the-floor is making a comeback.”

Mass Choir is bringing it back, with their own touch of indie-rock vocal stylings, crisp piano tinges and the earnest use of plaid shirts and comfy sweaters. It may not be a party, but it is still a party in Edmonton. - See Magazine


"Mass Choir resurrects the dance parties of the ‘90s"

The summer hit emerges from an especially potent brand of music. Summer is the time when pop artists bring out the big guns: the most relentless earworms and heaviest dance hooks that are impossible to escape for the entire season. Edmonton-based dance outfit Mass Choir, with one album already under their belt, is working on their next offering that's likely to be released in the fall — but they know the value of a great summer single.

"I've had one-song summers and I love them," keyboardist Jay Burke says.

"Was it Shaggy, 'It Wasn't Me'?" vocalist Mary Hulbert responds.

Everyone bursts out laughing as Hulbert and drummer Brett Henry begin their own rendition of the chorus of the infamous ode to bad excuses for getting caught red-handed with the girl next door. When it's over, they all look at each other expectantly, then crack up again while bassist Nathan Setterlund attempts to imitate Shaggy's unintelligible singing style.

"Nobody knows the words to that part," Hulbert laughs.

The camaraderie between the members of Mass Choir is obvious, and although they've only been playing together in their current formation for slightly more than a year, they're all on board with their vision for the kind of experience they believe their music should provide. With its full roster of six members — including Matthew Skopyk and Peter Fernandes rounding out the group's vocals — Mass Choir in its entirety is a driving electropop force, combining thick synthesizer riffs, live drums and bass, and powerful back-and-forth male/female vocals.

"I feel that we're bringing a dance party to the Edmonton scene," Henry says. "We're trying to bring back that kind of '90s feel, but at the same time, we're trying to do it with a different twist."

"It really might just be the generation we come from," Burke says of the group's '90s-influenced aesthetics. "As far as when you're first becoming a teenager and getting a taste for things — for me, anyway, that was the heyday of Electric Circus."

"That constant rhythm is almost hypnotizing," Henry adds. "Even if you're not totally dancing, you're kind of — everybody is moving. That's what it's all about."

Making people move is extremely important for Mass Choir, and the band's primary focus is putting on a dynamic live show. Hulbert, who also has a theatre background, feels particularly strongly about creating a genuine connection between both the band and the audience, and the band members themselves.

"Where I feel it all really comes alive, when we're all working together, is in the live set," Hulbert says. "It's a 45-minute, make-you-sweat power set. You better have stretched beforehand. But I know — and as flaky as this sounds — I can feel the energy they're giving behind me. I know that every single person behind me is supporting me."

"And if I catch, out of the corner of my eye, Nathan rocking out so hard on the bass — if I get a little drip of his sweat, I'm like, 'Yeah, he's in it,'?" she continues. "There are certain little drum things that Brett does that I know he's totally in it, and I look over at Jay, and I know what part he does. These are things you get to know.

"It's when we play live that the magic happens." - The Gateway


"Mass Choir keeps their live music real"

Edmonton band Mass Choir gets a lot of help from computers when assembling its early-90s-style dance songs.

But when it comes to the quintet's live show, there's no electronic trickery.

Mass Choir will get the Haven Social Club jumping Friday night, along with opening acts We Were Lovers and The Consonance.

"We're all sequencing stuff and we're all playing the pianos and synthesizers, and the singing. It's not like we just rely on backing tracks," says Matthew Skopyk, who handles vocals, synthesizer and piano.

"It's quite involved, actually. There's a mound of gear on stage, it's stressful to set up."

Even the highly danceable rhythms are done with a live drummer and bassist, rather than a laptop with booming speakers.

"You can't touch that, it's incomparable. And the audience reacts to (live instruments) better," Skopyk says. "It just creates a larger live show."

Mass Choir's 2010 debut Live My Life on the Backbeat has made major waves, cornering the nostalgia market for music fans in their 30s while appealing to modern rock and dance fans as well.

Mass Choir took Sonic FM's Band of the Month honours last September and its single Good Times got heavy rotation on pop station Hot 107, as well as cracking college radio charts across Canada.

"There's something about Mass Choir that's appealing to everybody, and that's kind of how we want it to be," Skopyk says. "We don't want to be pretentious, we want to be very inclusive."

Skopyk wrote most of Live My Life on the Backbeat, but has opened up the creative process for the follow-up, which is set to be released this fall.

Rather than plugging in their instruments and jamming, the band members have been working independently on computer programs and sending each other files.

To prevent things from getting too jumbled, the frontman has laid down limitations on which programs and elements he and his bandmates can use.

"If you're going to have too many cooks in the kitchen, you might as well control what's in the cupboards, right?"

Skopyk says he's putting in about 40 hours a week on Mass Choir, on top of his full-time job as head of sound at the University of Alberta's drama department.

Opening the songwriting dialogue has shaved a tiny bit off his heavy workload, and has expanded the band's musical horizons for its highly anticipated sophomore release.

"For me, it's super rewarding right now to see members come into the band and contribute to writing now," Skopyk says. "I've seen the arc of their songwriting improve and improve and improve, to the point where everything that they're making now is solid gold."

To hear Mass Choir, visit myspace.com/masschoirmusic. - Edmonton Examiner


"BACKLASH BLUES: JUNK SCIENCE"

BACKLASH BLUES: JUNK SCIENCE
MATTHEW SKOPYK AND MICACHU USE MUSIC AS A CONSTRUCTION PROJECT
Roland Pemberton / roland@vueweekly.com

In my opinion, the act of building something is tantamount with reproduction as one of the chief reasons for human existence. It can be anything, from a house to a document to a photograph. In the music world, the method of creation can go beyond merely developing a song into the realm of actually building the instruments. Aphex Twin is famous for building his own synths. Bjork is frequently cited as avant-garde for her all-inclusive approach to sound design. Tom Waits is a junkyard genius, almost single-handedly bringing lo-fi to the mainstream. These big names are a part of the lineage that continues with London’s Micachu.

Jewellery is the debut from Micachu, the grime-folk project of experimental British pop artist Mica Levi. On these dizzying punk-length pop exercises, she’s sometimes flanked by a live band called the Shapes but her choppy samples and detuned melodies are rarely missing from the mix. Samples, buzzes, crashes and other found sounds hang on for dear life to hobo blues guitar licks as Mica divulges her skewed views on life and love. Her flat, androgynous singing style is reminiscent of Berlin transplants such as Planningtorock and Kevin Blechdom, but with a significantly more abrasive sonic base.

Producer Matthew Herbert’s penchant for unorthodox instrumentation and sampling is shared with Levi, as she can be heard playing a vacuum cleaner and glass bottles for melodic effect on this record. She also invented an adapted guitar called a “chu” that has a pedal for pitch shifting on the go.

Outside of the frantic edits and interest in physically constructing new implements for art, Jewellery also holds a strong core of songs. The off-key melodies and playing on this record may make this a tough listen for some, but songs like the Timbaland meets Tin Pan Alley diss ballad “Curly Teeth” and the epically unhinged electro-grunge closer “Guts” have a compelling, addictive quality. Strip these songs down to the basics and they retain their strength, moving you beyond the initial expectation of her aesthetic decisions being gimmicky. It’s definitely not style over substance.

A similar struggle lies closer to home. Opening act for Christian Hansen’s album release party, Matthew Skopyk’s six-piece long-awaited pop project debuted last Saturday at the ARTery. After a technologically inspired false start, the band bounded through the contents of its first release, Find Your Love. Skopyk’s approach implies a carpenter’s knowledge. He designed and built most of the computer-integrated gear seen on stage, including an opaque solid rectangle that lit up and played chords when it was touched, a Tron-like ring device that seemed to modulate vocals like a vocoder and MIDI-controlled cello and violin that played notes and looped segments.
It was a ton of flash, but it was well-executed. The music itself recalls early ‘90s techno and late ‘80s acid house, funnelled through modern technology and the very Edmontonian lyrical themes of isolation and alienation. It’s projects like these that illuminate the inquisitive nature of the human mind and how our ideas can be manifested into physical objects of permanent value. V - Vue Weekly


"Lifting voices and heels for '90s romp: Mass Choir combines high-energy dance numbers with soulful vocals for jubilant flashback"

Club kids, indie-rockers and atheists, take note -- it's time to kick our addiction to the '80s and move on to the next decade.

Who better to lead us than local composer/singer Matthew Skopyk and his Mass Choir?

Their collection of high-energy dance tunes, Live My Life on the Backbeat, accented with Mary Hulbert's gospel-style vocals, will take you on a euphoric flashback through the early '90s, inspired by British and European dance artists such as The KLF, 2 Unlimited and Black Box.

"It was such a beautiful era," says Skopyk. "The first music I started to take an interest in was the early house and techno stuff. So there's 10-year-old Matthew getting his first little Yamaha synthesizer and learning how to play 2 Unlimited tracks."

Twenty-one-year-old Matthew was more into creating dreamy sound-scapes with his guitar. In the early '00s, he was the frontman of one of Edmonton's more exciting indie-rock acts, Por Nada.

Brimming with potential, they didn't amount to much -- Skopyk was preoccupied with earning his fine arts degree, then starting his career as a composer and sound designer for local theatre companies. He's now the head of audio for the University of Alberta's drama department and is writing two scores for Free Will Players, the producers of Edmonton's annual outdoor Shakespeare festival.

Along the way, of course, Skopyk realized he needed to create music for himself again. First, he tinkered with instruments and electronics -- creating cellos that mimic human voices, violins that sound like saxophones -- then started developing the concept for Mass Choir and Live My Life on the Backbeat. He knew he wanted to use a lot of synths, groove, and gospel influences.

"From the skills I picked up as a sound designer, I'm a big fan of setting limits for yourself, defining boundaries of what you can work within and then building your palette before you do anything," says Skopyk.

"I think that's when brilliance happens because you're limited for resources. If you have unlimited things you can do, where are you going to stop?"

The results, also featuring Jay Burke (electronics/keyboards/percussive pads), Brett Henry (drums) and Nathan Setterlund (bass), is an unabashed expression of joy and four-on-the-floor beats. ( My Life on the Backbeat is now streaming on Soundcloud.com.)

The album's first track, The Music Stays Strong, features an uplifting choir of voices ( "We've got to love everybody!") and a mid-tempo, but frenzied, piano melody.

Every Little Move You Make is an acid-house rave-up with faux strings, Skopyk's soulful vocals, and distorted diva-esque incantations, while The Music Shines On takes the bluesy rasp of a southern preacher and sets it to funky beats and Mobyish melancholy melodies.

"We took time off (last) summer to work on the record, drank a lot of booze, and danced around while making it," laughs Skopyk.

"We want to get our music out to as many ears that will listen and as many toes that will tap."

ssperounes@thejournal.canwest.com

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal - Edmonton Journal


Discography

Mass Choir - Live My Life On The Backbeat (2010)

Photos

Bio

Mass Choir is a fast paced palette of M1 pianos, groove-driven arpeggios, foot-stomps, handclaps, and a devout homage to southern gospel whooping packed in with four-on-the-floor rhythm and unforgettable melody: prepare yourself for a 90s themed time-warp dance party.

Mass Choir is based in Edmonton, AB and comprised of Edmonton music veterans Matthew Skopyk (Por Nada, Fractal Pattern), Brett Henry (A Last Goodbye, Of Angels), Nathan Setterlund (Fractal Pattern, Viking Fell), Jay Burke, and the unmistakable vocal pipes of Mary Hulbert and Peter Fernandes.

"Live My Life On The Backbeat" (released Q1 2010) delivers ten non-stop dance tracks drenched in themes of hope, love and passion. With production styles matched only by heavy weights like Tim Goldsworthy, Russell Small and James Wiltshire, Mass Choir creates a flurry of rich, melodic sing-alongs. Thrown into a playlist on repeat, the record loops on itself. It is the perfect soundtrack to your summer.

About Live My Life On the Backbeat:
"The same rush of butterflies you felt hearing Dance Mix '93 for the first time" (Jordan Schroder, Jam Union).

"An unabashed expression of joy and four-on-the-floor beats" (Sandra Sperounes, Edmonton Journal)

Would sound good on a mixtape with: The KLF, Blackbox, Robert Owens, Mariah Carey, Primal Scream, Orbital, Yeasayer, Passion Pit, Hot Chip and LCD Soundsystem.