The great city of Toronto, Canada has a thriving music scene, and I’ve featured a number of artists and bands based there, most recently The Autumn Stones and their stunning album Emperor Twilight. After seeing that review, singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Andrew La Tona reached out to me for consideration of his latest album Human for a review, and I’m so glad he did because it’s fantastic! I can say without equivocation that I love his extraordinary album. Andrew’s a creative and gifted composer, songwriter and musician who employs all sorts of experimental and unique instrumentation, melodies and time signature and chord changes that make for incredibly interesting songs that always deliver unexpected surprises for the listener.
Andrew has had a lifelong love affair with music. As he explains in his bio:
“It seems as if music has been my life since the day I was born. My mother always reminds me that as a toddler, she signed me up for a Mother and Tot music class. A fond memory of mine is that for as long as I remember, there has always been a piano in my home. At the age of seven, I began formal lessons in piano and classical theory through the Royal Conservatory of Music for seven years. By fourteen I made a commitment to myself that music was to become my life. I discovered my father’s old guitar hidden in the basement. I took it upon myself to learn by ear, listening to records and reading guitar magazines. When I entered high-school I was proficient on Piano, Guitar, Bass and Drums. I made the band room my home, where I played in all the school ensembles, refined my sight reading and theory, and learned Trumpet, Euphonium and Flugelhorn as a personal project.”
He went on to study Radio Broadcasting and Journalism at Seneca College and School of Communication Arts, and from 1999 to 2006, he played with various groups with long-time collaborator Edward Kramer, with whom he founded the bands Odd Man Out and Yesterday’s Gone. They recorded four albums together, and Andrew personally completed three solo albums which went on to be the foundation for his and Ed’s band Big Stereo, to which he devoted his full attention from 2006 to 2009. Since 2010, Andrew has continued to work on his own music, and Human is his latest album, which dropped in June.
Human is a commentary of sorts on the current state of things, in which Andrew expresses his antipathy for today’s leaders, our growing obsession with gadgets, and ponders our place within the vastness of the universe. His lyrics are so well-written and compelling that I’ll be quoting a lot of them. The powerful opening track “Leader” speaks of how humankind’s ignorance and greed is wrecking our planet, yet we’re hungry for leadership to help us solve our problems, but our leader (Trump) is a fraud:
Here, we find ourselves trapped inside a fate so paramount
And we live for ourselves with no regard for other animals
Our mother earth is threatening with disaster
We’re blind, we are condemned to live upon the soiled earth
How could we figure out how to reverse our plight, our misfortune, our ignorance
You’re not the leader we want
Leave or we’ll never have peace
The way you speak is absurd
It warps the minds of our young
Musically, the track starts off with a distorted spacey synth, then expands to a rolling drumbeat as Andrew begins singing in his silky, yet vulnerable voice. His layered jangly and chiming guitars are marvelous, and he uses a variety of synths to great effect in creating a very intriguing song.
“Borderlines” is a feast for the ears. Andrew employs guitar, bass, organ, horns, cymbals, drums and glittery synths to weave a rich tapestry of sound that unfolds throughout the length of the enthralling track. The song is about breaking free from mind control and expectations placed upon us by oppressive societal norms.
I want to be free. Free from your borderlines
I need to break the mold you’ve always cast for me
And in my mind, there’s a place like this
Without your rules, your greed
Andrew takes on people who feel success is having more money and stuff than everyone else on “At the Top.” The delightful song has a Latin vibe thanks to a peppy Samba beat and instrumentation that beautifully softens the bite of the lyrics:
Boast among your rich yuppy friends
‘Bout how you trample on all those around you
All just to end up at the top
And what’s left for you?
Is there more than just the cars – the yacht?
Honestly, I’m not impressed
Baby, nothings cooler than you, my friend
“Power and Prowess” is an incredibly satisfying ‘fuck you’ to Donald Trump, which automatically makes this a winning song in my book! The track has a fast-paced galloping drumbeat, with wonderful intricate guitar work and crisp layered percussion. Andrew vocals get downright raw as he snarls the scathing lyrics:
“Be the champion”, that’s what you tell yourself
I guess in your mind you are
It’s true you shit on johns of gold
You’re at least champion of that
So how can you lead the people of today
Forward to tomorrow?
I doubt you know the gravity of your post
I’d say no
There are people out there who want to love
There are people out there who don’t want to die
You’re not one of us
We should be blessed with human rights
No one should be groped by you
No one should be owned by you
You’re in charge of you, big boy
And that’s all (And that’s all)
Weald that sword in battle, head up to the front line
Bring yourself to ‘fess-up to one crime
Let us know who’s running the show
You’re not the man for the job
Move over, asshole
We can save the world
One of my favorite tracks is “The Walls,” a beautiful declaration of love to someone to whom you are beholden. This song is so utterly captivating it gives me chills. It’s as if Andrew has gone out of his way to make the guitars and synths sparkle like jewels of sunlight strewn across the sea. His fervent vocals, which occasionally soar to a smooth falsetto, are positively sublime.
Another favorite is the bouncy “Laniakea Supercluster,” a fascinating track that has a strong Talking Heads vibe. Along with his echoed vocals, Andrew uses lots of otherworldly synths to create a sci-fi feel to go with the lyrics that speak to the fact that, on the one hand, Earth is but an insignificant speck in the overall massiveness of the universe, but on the other hand, it’s our home and so very significant to our survival and well-being.
“So Long to the Human Race” is an apocalyptic clarion call after a nuclear war for those who survive and repopulate the world to try and co-exist in peace and be one with the earth. The gritty guitars, heavy buzzing bass, organ, and spacey synths lend a somber mood.
It makes me sick to look upon all we’ve done
And the little we’ve done to help
And if I could, I’d eat up all the terrible things we’ve done
And shit it down your throat
Can’t you see that our kind is a warning
From the first flame, to the first rocket
So little is left of what we blew all our cash on
And burned up all the oil
And killed who we loved
So long to the human race
“Time Goes Ever By” touches on our obsession with our mobile devices, addicted to the siren song of staying connected on all our social media accounts, at the expense of many other facets of our lives. I know I’m sometimes guilty of this behavior myself. Musically, the track has a lovely melody, with some terrific guitar and organ. And have I mentioned that I love Andrews’ vocals?
Everyone around me seems to be gripped by the same illness
Never putting down their device
Never looking up from their trance
Never have the time to sow seeds
Never stepping past the bar
Of this jail we’re put in by ourselves and our will
Can we find the strength to let drop the rock upon the screen
And our friends logged on the web
Human is a brilliant album on every level I can think of – composition, melodies, lyrics, instrumentation, vocals, and production. Andrew has done a masterful job with all aspects of the album production, and should be very proud of this outstanding work. And if all that weren’t enough, he even did the amazing cover art!
He’s now in the process of forming an ensemble of musicians to perform with him live, and is excited to have them add some amazing character and flavor to the songs from Human, as well as some of his songs from his back catalogue.