In 2012 three youngsters from Ottawa decided to form a band; two years later they released their D.I.Y. bandcamp only 13-track debut album. A possibly over-long collection of sketches and experiments without any real production work, which passed unnoticed to the most. Nonetheless, it showed, despite all its faults and lack of focus, the songwriting ability of the trio to create great pop songs. The main ingredients, as a result of their first listenings, were already there : grunge, emo, metal, folk, ambient and hints of shoegaze elements .
The threesome didn’t give up, and while listening to lots of 70s rock classics, finally decided to move to a professional studio in Toronto and start experimenting with unusual recording techniques in order to find their own sound.
The brand new sophomore nine-track full length ‘Hell‘ is the more mature and accomplished fruit of this effort.
The album kicks off in beautiful shape with ‘Oceans’, saturated guitar riffs introduce the evocative vocal part ‘Love fades away like shadows …drifting apart like ships at sea’ before exploding in an anthemic emo-like refrain ‘l’m bringing on the end/Flushed away in great big seas’, and suddenly a minimalistic guitar melody introduces a dramatic violin interlude in order to emphasize the sense of loss that could only dissolve in a final noisy guitar feedback.
The dark climax is set, but it continues, with only a couple of exceptions, in a more gentle but still menacing tone.
The fine 70s influenced piano-led bitter-sweet track ‘Still Life Collage’; the amazing orchestral baroque psych-pop in the great British tradition of bands like The Zombies or The Left Banke of ‘Head In The Sand’ that ends with ‘Dim lights to me are bright when my head’s is stuck in the sand/It’s easy to sleep at night cause it’s so dark in the sand’.
‘Madeline’, with a voice that swims into a sea of dreamy reverbed guitars, but still with a sense of loss; ‘Winter is near/It brings me to tears/Here I’m with her’, and regret, ‘If we were younger/We’d still want extra time’.
‘Easy Love’ is a little classic lush orchestral pop gem, the cynical admission that at the end for everyone the simplest choice is an ‘Easy love that throws you away’.
The illusory and superficial calm seems to continue in the even more chilled ‘Barrhaven’, the name of a once green, rapidly expanding suburban neighbourhood in Ottawa; a typical mix of poor, immigrants and middle income people surrounded by ordinary house units and mega shopping malls. A narcoleptic electronic honeymoon that could fit in well in the Swedish Labrador Records catalogue, ‘… night’s like a prison’s day/Heads full of nothing but little dreams’, sharply after a minute something disturbing happens and for a space of 50 seconds a dramatic tempest of menacing percussion and sharp metallic guitar destroys the idyllic dream, then reverts to the original state; ‘death’, ‘garbage bins’, ‘dirt’, better seeking refuge in itself?
‘Sam McGee’ is another fine reverb-saturated epic ballad about a legendary character from an early 1900’s poem by Robert W. Service, ‘The Cremation of S. M.’, set in Yukon during the gold rush (also read by Johnny Cash in 2006).
We’re almost at the end of the road with the beautifully anthemic ‘Hollow’, which immediately hits the listener with an amazing cascade of multi-layered shoegaze guitar and typical black metal blast beat combined with ecstatic vocals, a wall of sound crescendo that rises in a powerful chorus and ends in a blistering sonic nirvana with the support of a brass section. Considered by the band as one of the closest tracks to their signature sound, definitely a live favourite for the years to come.
Lyrically at first it’s the usual unsettled admission of discomfort and anxiety : ‘I feel nothing/Am I happy? /Am I bleeding from inside?/No will, but I can feel you/Hollow but sincere’.
But when all seems lost, there’s a ray of hope : ‘I feel something/Am I crazy?… /No will/But I feel something. There’s something’.
The final ‘Comfort you (Goodbye)’ is the happiest and brightest track of the album, a mid-tempo raucous torrent in the vein of Paul Westerberg’s The Replacements.
One of the main gifts of great pop music is the ability to look back and at the same time look forward , so that we can feel the sense of nostalgia and hope, pain and pleasure, love and loneliness.
Since the beginning, the trio seem to have a clear awareness of this, and with their natural songwriting skills, musical open-mindedness and experimental attitude I’m sure that their best is still to come.
Don’t let this little jewel go unnoticed, please spread it all over the world.