The Space That is Years
I remain disappointed that the brilliant Toronto art-punks WLMRT opted for an early grave this winter, but thankfully the band's distinctive vocalist is back with a new project. Only God Forgives pairs the dry vocal wit of Shelby Wilson with Tallies' Stephen Pitman as a twitchy electronic duo. Wilson unfairly diminished the 12-song Power and Prowess as a rip-off of Olympia's legendary Beat Happening ("but [with] some punky songs, because punk is the best"), but you should judge for yourself over at Bandcamp. The home-recorded project features the couple with guest appearances by Cam Fraser of Luge, Mary Getachew of SExT, Kenny Boothby of Little Kid, and Nathan Patrick of Albert Plague. Wilson tries on a few different vocal modes as the record progresses, with the quirky pop backing giving her a little more space to play she had among WLMRT's breakneck frenzy.
WLMRT last released the 10-song full-length cassette Forever in 2019, with Pitman producing. It followed the band's 2018 Pleasence Records EP Lube 2.
Daniel Romano's enviably prolific quarantine hasn't gone unnoticed in the world outside this newsletter, but last week the Welland artist unveiled what may be his most over-the-top release of the period. Along with his remote-recording band The Outfit, and inexplicably joined by Tool drummer Danny Carey, he shared a nearly 23-minute prog epic dubbed "Forever Love's Fool." You can find the opulent new track now on Bandcamp.
This particular genre swerve follows the country-styled record Content To Point The Way, the slightly more alt-country LP "Visions Of The Higher Dream", and the punky EP Super Pollen (with Jonah Falco and Mike Haliechuk Fucked Up). Before going into lockdown, Danny was on the road with The Outfit supporting that band's first live album, the You've Changed released "Okay Wow".
Haligonian singer/songwriter Matty Grace recently shared a five-song single from a new project dubbed Modern Cynics. The band's nimble 'quarantine-core' has the added wrinkle of constraining each song to no more than 12 words. That restriction gives the whole set a wonderfully minimalist feel, perfect for tuning out the crushing complexities looming just ahead of us. In that way it's very pure and Ramones-like. These recordings feature Grace on all instruments and vocals, with mixing and mastering provided by Will Killingsworth.
In normal times Grace fronts of Future Girls and recently released a pair of solo recordings. March saw the arrival of Rumination Year, a six-song folk-punk set that's been in the works for several years under the studio eye of that Surrender's Dave Williams. It arrived just a few weeks after Beneath The Bridges, a four-song split cassette pairing Grace and the Dartmouth rock trio Designosaur.
Matty Grace is a veteran of several Halifax-based punk and hardcore groups, a list that includes the Fat Stupids, Weekend Dads, Outtacontroller, and Cutie among others. Future Girls last released the full-length Motivation Problems in 2018. Cutie has a song on Seaside Sickness, the upcoming compilation of east coast punk and hardcore from Sewercide Records. I understand that it's at the pressing plant as you read this.
Elsewhere in Halifax, Steve Earle of the Booji Boys has a new side-project, recording extended, atmospheric post-punk as Flesh & Blood. Under that name he has a single song online, 7-minutes of moody, unbroken audio dubbed "Inner Exile." You can find this sea of gnarly industrial noise at Bandcamp and pick it up as a cassette from the Abattoir label.
Booji Boys, a low-fi punk group who are among the finest bands in the country (in my non-professional opinion), last released Tube Reducer in 2019. Look for the group, and several offshoot mutations thereof, to appear on the above-mentioned Sewercide comp as well.
Chance & Jackie have another new quarantine single online. You can follow the punk rock power-couple around the grey spring of isolation-era Montreal in their new video for "Tall Grass." The duo features Chance Hutchison of the garage-punks PRIORS and Jackie Blenkarn of the rock'n'roll quartet Pale Lips. "Tall Grass," with vocals by Blenkarn, is the group's third release following "Dark Spots" and "Get Loose," both of which surfaced a few weeks ago (a few months maybe? I'm having a hard time keeping track anymore).
PRIORS last released New Pleasure, their sophomore full-length in 2018 alongside the quick follow-up EP titled Call For You. Both arrived on Slovenly Records. The group was preparing their third LP before the pandemic hit. Pale Lips released After Dark in 2019 on God's Candy in Canada (and several other labels abroad). Just after everything ground to a halt, the group shared that record's second single, "The Kids."
Vanity Phase saw Andrew Payne swap his guitar for a synth and delve into the weird pop of new wave legends like DEVO, the Units, Gary Numan, and OMD. The project's kept out of public view following the Pleasence release of the Unnatural Habits EP, in part due to a sudden bout of sensorineural hearing loss that struck Payne late last year. While not related to playing music, the condition's left the artist all but deaf in his left ear. While that uncertainty persists, it was nice to hear Payne return this week with a pair of new video singles. You can premiere "Self Control" and "Walking Around" on YouTube now.
"Waling Around" was filmed on the west side of Toronto, including footage shot at the Studio Z recording space and Stanislav Jurkovic's Blue Room public art project. Sara May directed, filmed, and edited the clip. Payne commented:
"It's a synth pop tune full of mixed emotions, featuring Kristina Smiff's vocal debut (the angelic backups). The song itself is about being stuck inside during the winter and itching to go out and explore. It wasn't written with a pandemic in mind but it still works with the current mood out there. If you do go outside, be safe."
"Self Control" meanwhile features video synthesizer effects by Travis Kiid. Both tracks were produced and mixed by Adrian Popovich (Solids, PRIORS) and mastered by Mikey Young.
Andrew Payne formerly played in the new wave-inspired Toronto indie rock outfit Century Palm. Before that, he served time in an array of weirdo garage-punk units like Zebrassieres, the Ketamines, and the Fun Funs.
Scheme is a tough-as-nails Vancouver D-beat hardcore group with members hailing from the Halifax crust band Napalm Raid, along with the BC punks acts Mass Grave, Phane, and Decontrol. The pandemic not only took down the group's near-term touring plans, but it also nixed their first planned live performance at all. While holding out hope that they'll hit stages in the UK this fall, the band's proceeding with the release of their 10-song self-titled debut here at home. You can pick it up now as a limited cassette release from Kamloops' Slow Death Records.
Josh at Neon Waste recently featured the group on his webzine, commenting:
"Scheme adopts that classic Swedish hardcore in the riffs and drumming. Barking over the top is a great, dry vocal delivery that is really refreshing to hear with this style. Without trying to sound too typical, I'm hearing some Troops of Tomorrow meets Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing against a backdrop of choose-your-own-adventure D-Takt. If you're a fan of this stuff like I am it's at least worthy of some time and if you're only on the periphery of that stuff then I'd still recommend it. You won't be disappointed."
In related news, the BC-focused Slow Death Records recently released Killed by Slow Death, a limited-run cassette comp collecting music from the label's first 29 releases. It pulls material from a catalogue that started in 2015 and should resurface with a new entry after the next 30 releases.
It must be tough to be Blue these days. Ross Miller's hardcore solo project has the high-concept of staying extremely positive, bordering on mania, with aggressively inspirational lyrics. 2020 has to be testing that. Miller, better known as The Dirty Nil's bassist and hype-man, recently revealed the three-song EP 2020 Vision. He commented:
"NEW BLUE - 2020 VISION - 3 hardcore songs, where I express my love and anger for what I hear, read and see. Initially these recordings were only intended to be used to show my band the songs for our early 2020 performances but now with my vision, they are what they were supposed to be. Instead of purchasing please listen, be kind to the world, and the loving people you are in quarantine with. Enjoy and keep a positive attitude."
The set follows Only Attitude, a Blacktop Records tape collecting Blue's Positive Attitude and Only Anger demos. The Hamilton group debuted as a live-band earlier this year, with Miller backed by members of Basement Revolver, Stay Down, and Captain Wildchild.
Toronto's Cosmic Range Records is back with another reliably acid-fried psych odyssey from Matthew "Doc" Dunn and friends. Stonegrass is a new project that pairs the Cosmic Range bandleader (on bass, flute, guitar, and organ) with percussionist Jay Anderson (Badge Époque Ensemble), carrying on from an earlier project the two collaborated in, then-dubbed The Spiritual Sky Blues Band. The liner notes at Bandcamp pile on the sun-baked 70s psychedelia:
"...Barely using words to communicate, their instruments became highly charged positive ion conductors for a natural telepathy between these two local burnouts. On board was Tony Price, manning the controls, with the results, of what you have here, their FRIED AS THE SKY debut LP. Its overcooked and burnt to the CORE, but once cooled, these jams come LEAKING out of your mind hole like an unholy baptism of PEACE. Rough and frayed like yr mind, but comforting like yr old Uncle Billy's drug rug. Ask the peyote coyote, he'll tell you its no easy ride, but enlightenment never is. So take it EZ or just TAKE IT."
Co-producer Tony Price, who plays in the Young Guv touring band, was behind the boards on recent releases from Ice Cream and US Girls. The self-titled Stonegrass LP clocks in with seven songs and is due in full on May 22. The duo recorded this material over two separate days in back in 2018.
While quarantined in PEI, Mathias Kom of The Burning Hell recorded "I Want to Drink in a Bar," a track that longs for the day when one could do such things without risking a calamity. That song now has an accompanying video, with Kom performing solo on an old Hammond organ in an appropriately claustrophobic plastic-wrapped bubble. You can find it on YouTube now. The band plans to make the song available for purchase again on Bandcamp when the service next waives its revenue share (June 5 and July 3 are up next), with all money raised to be due for COVID-19 shuttered venues.
The band's also taking part in the efforts of PEI Musicians for Migrant Worker Relief, a group focused helping the migrant farmworkers who've been thus far ineligible for emergency support from the Canadian government. To that end, they've made their four-track EP Birdwatching on Garbage Island available once again as a limited-time download. The set was initially released as a lathe-cut 10" last spring and has been unavailable since selling out then. The EP won't be available for long either, as some of these tracks will likely be re-worked for the band's future follow-up to 2017's Revival Beach.
Arial and Mathias, under their given names and not billed as "The Burning Hell," recently released Never Work on BB*Island. It's a collection of gig-economy-focused labour anthems and protest-folk for the age of Amazon. Given how circumstances have tightened our reliance on the tech giants this year, I'm going to go ahead declare it essential listening.
London's WHOOP-Szo has a new video online for "Nshwaaswi," an aggressive and sludgy instrumental from 2019's Warrior Down. Guitarist/vocalist Adam Sturgeon commented on the track in a statement:
"Nshwaaswi is the name of the eighth song on our record Warrior Down. Much of Anishinaabe culture is based around the number seven, most notably our 7 Grandfather Teachings (Truth, Love, Bravery, Respect, Humility, Honesty and Wisdom) and the stages of life. We also have a prophecy that talks about an 8th fire or stage that we as humans can choose to light. The 8th fire of prosperity, love and well-being. An eternal fire of peace."
Videographer Travis Welowszky directed the "Nshwaaswi" clip, piecing together a surprisingly nerve-wracking, if downright apocalyptic, narrative from Sturgeon's old family vacation footage. You've Changed Records released Warrior Down last November. Before the pandemic shut the live music scene down, the band was slated to tour North America alongside ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead.
WHOOP-Szo features Sturgeon alongside Kirsten Kurvink Palm on guitar, synth, and vocals, bassist/keyboardist Joe Thorner, Andrew Lennox on 12-string guitar and synth, and drummer Eric Lourenco. They're hinting at more recorded material to arrive this year.
Last weekend the London-bred Single Mothers released the deluxe edition of 2018's Through a Wall, a remix and remaster of the Juno-nominated Dine Alone Records LP. The set came with a bonus track, "I'm Wrong," which you can preview now through a video shot by the band while in isolation. Before the pandemic, the group was booked to tour North America with the Fat Wreck punk act PEARS.
"I'm Wrong" follows the group's first pandemic tune, the swiftly-recorded "Turbulence" single.
On the other side of the coin, Drew's decidedly friendlier namesake The Drew Thomson Foundation, recently shared a video for "Break," the hooky lead single from their self-titled 2019 full-length. The pop-rock band was supporting that set, another Dine Alone release, on tour with Toronto punks PUP when COVID-19 hit. The "Break" video compiles live footage from that abbreviated trek.
A Flood Magazine feature premiering the video also includes a conversation between Thomson and PUP frontman Stefan Babcock that recounts the final days of that tour. In the piece Thomson also comments on the sentiment behind "Break," calling to mind the mental gulf between the first and second semesters of university:
"There was a Greyhound station around the corner from my apartment in London, ON that would fill up with university and college students every weekend during the school year. These kids would be heading back to Toronto or the surrounding area to their parents' house or wherever and I would pass them by very often. In the crowds there would be new couples saying goodbye for the first time. Do you remember love in the time of first year? Lunch dates at the student union building? Was everything so new and important?"
You can follow that Drew's train of thought in the Flood article. It certainly seems to line up with my own experience as a freshman.
Last month Thomson did his part in adding to the collective flood of archival material hitting Bandcamp, releasing a massive 37-song trove of demos and outtakes titled Bedroom Door. It appeared during one of the site's artist-benefitting Friday events in which the company waived its revenue share.
The third portion of new media to arrive last week from Thomson's camp was a spoken-word solo project dubbed No Idea Head. The EP's five-songs feature Drew delivering prose diatribes over instrumental backing, often examining his perceptions as coloured by the ongoing quarantine. Given how Thomson's half-spoken vocals were such an integral and distinctive part of those early Single Mothers songs, it's satisfying to hear him lean entirely into that aspect of his art.
London label Get Party! recently debuted a new pop-punk act dubbed Hey Dad!!!, a group featuring members of Wasted Potential, Snacks? and the similarly punctuated Yeah Bud!!!. The new group hits that early-2000s nail squarely on the head with their first single "Life's Alright," streaming everywhere now.
Vancouver's Celtic punk pioneers The Real McKenzies return this summer with a new full-length titled Beer & Loathing. The group shared the title track from the record, which arrives June 3 from Stomp Records at home and Fat Wreck Chords elsewhere. The album serves as the veteran group's 10th overall full-length, following 2017's Two Devils Will Talk. You can check the new tune out now at Bandcamp.
Chris Page has another demo online, this past week sharing the "The Space That Is Years." It follows "Undercoat" and "Interstellar Basement Dweller" in the capital-region singer/songwriter's isolation catalogue. This recording originated from sessions tracked at a Quebec cottage this past summer and finished during the quarantine at the artist's Vanier, Ontario home. Page commented:
"This song has been around for as long as I've been writing songs. I honestly can't tell you how old it is, but you'll notice there's a line about writing a letter. I think the genesis of the song was getting a letter to my mailbox in residence at University from a girlfriend. (Yeah, old friends used to write letters to each other, believe it or not).
This song is about not getting around to writing back. I've done many versions for different records over the years that never made the cut, and Camp Radio even took a crack at this some years ago (that would be a fun recording to dig up)."
You can stream the track on Bandcamp now and find a live acoustic rendition on Facebook as well. Page's new solo LP, Decide To Stay and Swim Again, was due to release in early April but is now on hold. Chris plays these days as part of the duo Expanda Fuzz, with his career before that spanning the above-mentioned Camp Radio and the 90s pop-punk group The Stand GT.
I swear B.A. Johnston's antics are the only thing keeping me sane during isolation, and that includes his spotty live stream from a few weeks ago. That event, marred by a few early technical issues, is in retrospect perhaps the last time I'll ever see the inside of the recently sold This Aint Hollywood. I even parked my kids in front of a computer last week to watch Johnston read from his upcoming children's book Gary The Seagull.
This coming Friday, B.A. will perform a mostly acoustic live stream in support of the Hamilton Artists Relief Fund, with the feed available on both Facebook and Instagram at 4 PM EST. He promises some deep cuts for the show, along with a preview of the material for his next full-length. That record looks to be titled Werewolves of London, Ontario and will follow up 2019's The Skid Is Hot Tonight.
To hold you over until then, here's a stray new track posted to Johnston's Twitter account, dubbed "Now We Consume Chinese Food." It certainly has me thinking fondly of the Trasheteria-adjacent Sun Sun restaurant in Guelph. RIP.
Another new jam. Called "Now we consume Chinese Food". pic.twitter.com/Ys3YHjdyBi— BA Johnston (@BAJohnston) May 9, 2020
The writing's been on the wall for weeks, and we're now finally seeing the last hopeful hold-outs of the summer festival season put their events on hold for the year. Today that list included Sackville, New Brunswick's SappyFest, a gathering and a state of mind that's played a pivotal role in shaping the heart and soul of this very newsletter. The event was slated for the first weekend in August. A statement from organizers read:
"For 14 consecutive years, Sappyfest has been held, here in the heart of the heart of the heart of the maritimes, in the hot heart of summer, on the August long weekend in beautiful Sackville NB. It is with a certain sorrow that we have to acknowledge that even impossible dreams sometimes meet impossible realities. The ongoing public health situation will prevent us from hosting Sappyfest, as we've come to know it and love it, this summer.
So many of you have gathered here, from near and far, year after year, and given your kindness and your generosity and your genius to make Sappyfest what it is. Please know we miss you dearly and true, and look forward to a time when circumstances may be more lenient and allow us to welcome each other, face to face.
For those of you who trusted us enough to purchase an early-bird ticket for this year, we thank you, foreverly, and will be in touch to work out the details of your refund.
While we cannot meet this year in person under Sackville's magic summer sky, all is not lost. The Sappyfest spirit remains strong. Swamp magic still rises unexpectedly, and our dreams and goals remain the same: to foster connections, collaborations, and encounters; to celebrate and present great art and music; to work together to make something surprising and kind and hope filled.
Sappyfest will manifest this summer, at more or less the appointed time, in a new way. More on this soon. With love, sappiness, and good dreams, Team Sappy"