Some Party's Sappyfest 17 primer
Some Party is a newsletter sharing the latest in independent Canadian rock'n'roll, curated more-or-less weekly by Adam White. Each edition explores punk, garage, psych, and otherwise uncategorizable indie rock, drawing lines from proto to post and taking some weird diversions along the way.
This week I'm taking a rare break from Some Party's usual format to dive deeply into the 2022 roster of Sappyfest, the Sackville music and arts festival that blossomed years ago as an extension of Julie Doiron's Sappy Records. The event takes place from July 29 through the 31st in the New Brunswick college town. Tickets are now available for the entire weekend or individual days through sappyfest.com.
In case you're wondering, this isn't a paid promotion. It's bordering more on an obsession - and perhaps an act of therapy. My pending trip to the East Coast is the first time I'll have ventured anywhere outside Ontario since the pandemic started, and I'm overly anxious that I'll somehow mess it up and end up stuck in quarantine. This edition of Some Party is my talisman, warding off misfortune with Swamp Magic.
Below you'll find a recap of the complete roster performing this year's event, a manageable number of artists to wrap your head around, given the sprawling lineups we see at bigger festivals. Some of these names are well-represented in the annals of Some Party, while others required a good deal of research. I feel better for doing it, as Sappy's small enough that you can embrace the tapestry of sounds without needing to pick and choose. Even if you're not attending - I suspect you'll find something of interest below. Sappy has an uncanny ability to create a sense of community independent of genre or stylistic preference, and this batch of artists exemplifies that.
I'll also note two exclusive bits of content below. First, Sackville's own Klarka Weinwurm provided me with an on-the-ground report of the pandemic's impact on her hometown. Second, I dive deep with Tough Age on the band's future - sharing some extended passages from an unpublished interview I conducted/botched earlier this year.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Listen to Pink Tiger at Bandcamp - IG: @adrianteasure
Adrian Teacher issued several records since Apollo Ghosts called it a career in 2013 - both as the funky COOL TV and later as Adrian Teacher & the Subs. While the latter struck close to the Vancouver band's scrappy indie rock template, it took several years for Teacher to feel right reassuming the old name (and not before seeking the blessing of his original-run bandmates). The revived Ghosts played 2019's Sappyfest, the first summer of their reunion - and it was electric. Adrian's a jubilant performer and delivered their entire set with a gleeful smile. I recall them paying into the Subs' "Hello Everyone," and the winking understatement in the opening line felt penned for the occasion: "Hello everyone, thanks for coming out / We used to play here sometimes." Given everything that's happened, or didn't, these past few years, I could do with hearing that again.
The group issued Pink Tiger in the spring of this year, a massive double LP boasting two distinct emotional journeys. The album sports a thematic split between its platters, with the A and B sides sharing "an intimate home-recorded acoustic-based cycle that grapples with loss, illness, death, and memory." The latter half kicks into a higher gear, delivering "an exuberant indie-garage rock celebration of the persistence of friendship, music, and hope." Those are quotes cribbed from the original You've Changed press release, but they hold true.
The band worked as a three-piece in the studio with producer Jordan Koop, with Teacher backed by longtime drummer Amanda P. and bassist Robbie N. The group's future live lineup expands to a quartet, with Amanda picking up a guitar and Dustin Bromley of Brutal Poodle stepping in on percussion.
Listen to Hang Time at Bandcamp - IG: @somespecialsolace
Montreal's Cedric Noel has amassed an incredible catalogue over the past decade, issuing numerous albums in various styles, touching on indie pop, folk, and R&B while exploring ambient soundscapes in side-projects. With Hang Time, issued last fall through Joyful Noise and the Forward Music Group, all those disparate styles seemed to coalesce. In these thirteen songs, years of experimentation reach a cohesive nexus, a unified form. Hang Time is so enviously confident in its craft yet delivered with such a relaxed use of space that it's easy to overlook the years of churn it took to get here.
Noel recorded Hang Time primarily at Montreal studio The Pines with engineer Steve Newton, a space that wouldn't outlast the financial pressures of the pandemic. Liam O'Neill of the atmospheric art-rock group SUUNS came along for the ride, providing the album with a subtle rhythmic backbone.
Hang Time often directly engages with questions of race, identity, and belonging - grappling with Noel's personal history. A Black man adopted into a multi-racial family, he moved around the world before ending up at university in Fredericton, where he fell in with the city's predominantly white indie rock community. He revealed:
"In a sense I wrote this record for a teenage version of myself and hope that it reaches those who find themselves in similar situations that I was when writing the album. I hope that this album can contribute to the reimagination of what is understood as 'black music' and help remove the boundaries that term currently encompasses."
The Burning Hell
Fairfield, Prince Edward Island
Listen to Garbage Island at Bandcamp - IG: @theburninghellband
Even before recent troubles The Burning Hell's kept a keen eye on the apocalypse. Let's not forget that nimble singer/songwriter Mathias Kom vaporized an entire wedding once (see "Canadian Wine" from 2017's Revival Beach, an album that closed with the society-rebooting "Supermoon"). It's always done with a wry smile and a clever turn of phrase, though. These disasters often happen off-screen, with Kom more interested in cheerfully cataloguing and celebrating the messy human minutiae left in its wake. It's fitting that the band's first album since the pandemic quite literally revels in the trash: the 12-song Garbage Island addresses "The End of the End of the World" quite directly (although with a bit of an avian perspective).
Given their proximity and history with the festival, The Burning Hell are Sappy regulars. Knowing that, I kept close tabs on their tour announcements this spring, satisfied to see the Sappy-shaped hole in their summer routing persist. Sometimes dreams come true, even mundane ones, and the group's indeed returning to the post-apocalyptic Bridge Street stage. While the band's lineup often shifts around its core of Mathias and Ariel Sharratt, this latest incarnation sees St John's multi-talented Jake Nicoll play a prominent role. Nicoll spent his pandemic downtime building a solar-powered, mobile studio in the shell of a 70s-era camper. Look for that curiosity, which comes complete with a backline, analog recording rig, and even a tape duplicator, to be on hand at the festival. Christened the "Phonoautomat," the band's opening the studio for attendees to record impromptu projects on-site at Sappy. The festival revealed:
"Step inside the Phonoautomat, grab a guitar or a microphone, and off you go for five minutes of live recording. Once you're finished, relax in the art lounge outside and craft your handmade album artwork while you wait for the engineer to finish mixing and duplicating your project. In less than 30 minutes from start to finish, you and your collaborators will have a sonic souvenir to cherish forever.
Whether you're a professional musician and want to collaborate with other artists at a festival, get that sudden flash of inspiration down to tape instantly, or you have no musical experience whatsoever but always wanted to cut a single: the Phonoautomat is open to everyone."
Garbage Island, itself mixed by Nicoll in the Phonoautomat, landed in June through BB*Island and You've Changed Records. The album followed Ariel and Mathias' 2020 effort, Never Work, a collection of information-economy labour anthems that couldn't be more relevant given the fault lines exposed in the pandemic.
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
Listen to "Scraped Knee" at Bandcamp and YouTube - IG: @wearyband
St. John's Weary trades in subtleties, weaving affecting indie rock songs from sparse instrumentation and Kate Lahey's unassuming vocals. The sum of those parts can surprise you, and Weary proves they can cut deep time and again without needing a big noisy fuss.
The band recorded their 2017 album Feeling Things with The Burning Hell's Jake Nicoll recording, mixing, and mastering. Their follow-up LP Hush lands independently on August 20, promising a dozen new songs, including the recent single "Scraped Knee." On that tune, Lahey revealed:
"'Scraped Knee' is a song about the wounds that haunt us. On the surface, these scrapes might seem commonplace, like heartbreak, but they return to us again and again throughout our lives. In some ways, I'm trying to convince myself that tomorrow will be better, in moments when it surely feels like it won't. On the other hand, I find myself ruminating on the question 'will you think of me like I think of you?'"
Toronto, Ontario / Sackville, New Brunswick
Listen to Volcano Volcano at Bandcamp - IG: @stevenlambke
I've been listening to Steven Lambke my whole adult life. I entered the University of Guelph the fall after the Constantines issued their first album. I still have the match they slipped in the construction paper CD sleeve. There's a particular cohort of ex-punks who found their shit completely upended by the Three Gut roster, and I was one of them. Lambke's eclectic solo output (under his name or some permutation of Baby Eagle) ricochets between moments of undiluted poetry and onslaughts of guitar feedback. It's a loud/quiet dynamic that resonates throughout Steve's work, worldview, and politics.
Just look at his statement regarding the single "Every Lover Knows," which cycles through expressions of defiance and even rage, only to land somewhere truly centred and loving:
"The songs on Volcano Volcano were written as affirmations of a shared world. The world as it is. To affirm the reality and the great mutuality of the world, to experience the world through listening and breathing; to experience connections with different parts of the world, and relationships that feel like identification or understanding or participation or collaboration. And so it was written against the liars and politicians and corporations and police who say that life, your life, can be lived individually, on individually enclosed land, can be raised or punished individually, and outside the reckoning of history. Against the billionaires and their spaceships who imagine environmentally controlled existences on distant planets. As if no storms on Mars! Every Lover Knows is a song of celebration of experience as a teacher. The most profound moments in a life are often experiences of love, of connection, to another, to the world, to a shared moment. It is love that teaches the full scale of what can be experienced and of what can be lost."
His solo work aside, Steven Lambke's a community builder. You've Changed Records, his partnership with the iconoclastic Daniel Romano, helped introduce the world to acclaimed acts like Partner, The Weather Station, and Nap Eyes. While he recently relinquished his role as Sappyest's creative director, he returns this year, guitar in hand. Impact of a different stripe - but impact always.
St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador
Listen to Waves at Bandcamp - IG: @kellymcmichaelmusic
It's starting to feel like Kelly McMichael's year. Based in St. John's and hailing from Peterborough, the singer-songwriter arrives at Sappy during a crucial moment in her career. Her May-released LP Waves was recently shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize - with a winner decided this September. Summer thus finds her in between worlds - surrounded by the friends and collaborators of her past and yet a dice roll from a whole new level of attention. I'm confident saying that because McMichael writes the sort of timeless, psych-kissed pop-rock that could appeal to just about anyone, all they need is to hear it. If there's any justice, this may be a "see her before she was huge" moment.
Speaking of friends, Sappy finds McMichael in familiar company. Jake Nicoll of The Burning Hell is all over Waves, both engineering and playing drums on the album. Another performer, By Divine Right's José Contreras, holds the mastering credit. McMichael even returned the favour to Nicoll, singing backup on the recent Burning Hell album.
Listen to RIDE at Bandcamp - @hotgarbg
Hot Garbage appears at Sappy this year as ambassadors from Toronto's burgeoning psych scene. The quartet's supporting their first LP RIDE, a heady swirl of post-punk, krautrock, and surf elements. The group worked with Holy Fuck's Graham Walsh in the studio, recording live off the floor at Palace Sound and Baskitball 4 Life. The album followed several attention-grabbing EPs and singles (notably the 2020 jam "Easy Believer" and the preceding Coco's Paradise EP), while linking the group with the Montreal mind-expanders at Mothland.
This sea of fuzz comes courtesy of guitarist/vocalist Alessandro Carlevaris, bassist/vocalist Juliana Carlevaris, Dylan Gamble on keys and synch, and Mark Henein on percussion. Gamble's wearing a few hats at Sappy this summer, as you'll see in the next profile...
Sook Yin Lee
Listen to jooj two at Bandcamp - IG: @sookyinleee
As a punk kid in the 90s, my relationship with The Nation's Music Staton was contentious at best, but even us contrarians could find solace on MUCH. You just had to know when to look. Whenever you stumbled across some late-night island of authenticity - you could guarantee Sook-Yin Lee would be there. For my generation, or at least my corner of the high school hallway, she's iconic.
While Lee's work as a broadcaster may be the entry point, her filmography's where the accolades truly pile up. After starring in John Cameron Mitchell's Shortbus (which premiered at Cannes), she made her directorial debut at TIFF with Year of the Carnivore. Her role as Olivia Chow in Jack won her Best Performance by a Lead Dramatic Actress at the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards. The prestigious outlets for her work include Canadian Stage, the Ottawa Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Toronto Dance Theatre, and the Festival of New Dance. Her film Octavio is Dead! took home Best Director and Best Picture at the 2018 Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival.
Meanwhile, Lee's musical outlet saw her crafting ethereal art-pop with her late collaborator Adam Litovitz, resulting in 2015's electroacoustic jooj and 2021's synth-pop opus jooj two (the latter issued recently, and posthumously for Litovitz, through Mint Records). During the pandemic, Lee and Hot Garbage keyboardist Dylan Gamble collaborated on the lockdown-shot Death and Sickness, a film dedicated to Litovitz and featuring passages from his writing.
At Sappy, Sook-Yin appears as both musician and filmmaker - promising music from both the jooj series and the improvisational Lee & Gamble Unlimited (their Steely Dan cover is a treat). The event also features screenings of both Death and Sickness and the video essay Who Cares?.
Montreal, Québec via Moncton, New Brunswick
Listen to I Thought of You at Bandcamp - IG: @julie.e.doiron
Julie Doiron is so intrinsic to Sappy's story and character that a brief profile here could never do it justice, so rather than shortchange her history, I'll focus on recent times...
In early 2020 we first learned that Julie Doiron was in the studio with Welland's Romano brothers and Saguenay singer-songwriter Dany Placard. The prospect of this quartet recording ticked most of my boxes. Even before their prolific 2020 album run, Daniel Romano and his brother Ian were demonstrably restless in their art. Placard was hot off the release of his psych-rock opus J'connais rien à l'astronomie. Doiron was still in the critical glow of Lost Wisdom pt 2, the heartwrenching sequel to her acclaimed 2008 collaboration with Mount Eerie. With these four players together at the peak of their powers there was every reason to be excited.
It goes without saying that in March of 2020 we hit something of a global snag, and the eventual You've Changed release I Thought of You in November of 2021 felt like the first sign of spring after a long pandemic winter. Julie's, of course, a revered figure in Canadian indie rock, and at Sappy in particular, but I Thought of You stands confidently on its own. Nostalgia's been a great comfort in these difficult years, but these songs feel rather masterful. The joyous opener "You Gave Me The Key" speaks to a new beginning and circles back to the refrain "starting over again." It's tough to avoid projecting all sorts of unintended meaning onto lyrics like that, but given the times we're facing, we take what we can.
Since that Polaris longlisted album, Doiron and Placard issued their debut LP as Julie & Dany through Simone Records, a home-spun collection of lo-fi folk-rock tunes that find the couple navigating life in weird times.
Listen to At The Slaughterhouse at Bandcamp - IG: @bydivineright
By Divine Right are survivors. The proto-indie rock group's persisted in one form or another since 1989. They currently operate as a trio led by guitarist/vocalist José Contreras, backed by bassist/vocalist Alysha Haugen, and drummer Geordie Dyne. After a long period off the road and out of the spotlight, the Toronto group's finally ready to return to action, with a double LP slated for the fall. Dubbed Otto Motto, it arrives September 30 through Fortune Stellar Records.
While it's been several years between BDR albums, Contreras maintains a busy schedule as a solo performer and dependable collaborator for several artists (including a few playing this year's fest). These team-ups include studio stints backing Dave Schoonderbeek, the band The Heat Death with Sappy regular Shotgun Jimmie, and the dreamy found-art project Leisure Palace with Amy I. Nicoll. Recording solo, the Chilean-born singer-songwriter issued his sophomore effort At The Slaughterhouse in 2019 through Headless Owl. It's a set of confidently lived-in songs that could only achieve their world-weary gravity from years of experience.
This week BDR issued "The Weeping Man," their latest preview of Otto Motto. In the notes accompanying the video, Contreras commented on the moody, nocturnal track, claiming he never intended it for public consumption - but "as the world got weirder and weirder, this song got easier and easier to sing."
Sackville, New Brunswick
Listen to Weird Lines (2022) at Bandcamp - IG: @clmclaughlin
Given his early role in the festival, it's fitting that C.L. McLaughlin's Weird Lines project returns just in time for Sappy's resurrection. The enigmatic art-rock supergroup recently issued their second self-titled full-length, a 10-song set landing nearly six years after the first. McLaughlin remains the band's only constant, although several former members of the group appear on stage at this year's festival. The first edition of Weird Lines emerged as an interplay between C.L. and Jon Mckiel, an offshoot of the former's Sackville-based band The National Shield. The first Weird Lines record featured McLaughlin and Mckeil, with Julie Doiron, saxophonist Chris Meaney, and drummer James Anderson. This new lineup enlists Paterson Hodgson on bass and vocals, Micheal C. Duguay on drums, and By Divine Right's José Contreras on guitar.
The new incarnation of Weird Lines recorded quite some time ago, the results mired in the pandemic time warp like so much of the music coming to light this summer. The album, issued via Sappy Futures, delivers a slate of lo-fi rockers, noisy yet thoughtful and brimming with delightful flourishes.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Listen to Bobby Joe Hope at Bandcamp - IG: @jonmckiel
There's something surreal about the spring of 2020 - and the music that unfortunately arrived at that precarious moment. These were albums too far along to delay but issued at the juncture most rife with unknowns. With the world locking down, touring was impossible, leaving these artifacts to live and die on the internet, supported by awkward live streams, mail-order, and little much else. That's right about when Bobby Joe Hope landed, a genuinely distinct LP from Halifax singer-songwriter Jon Mckiel. Perhaps it's fitting, given the record's roots in a moment lost in time.
The album makes ample use of found audio: sounds recovered from tapes bundled with a second-hand reel-to-reel recorder Mckeil purchased from a faceless online seller. Mckeil and JOYFULTALK's Jay Crocker incorporated those artifacts into swirling fits of psychedelia. The results live in a chopped analog dreamscape, unlike anything you may have heard. Songs eerily stop and start. Tension hangs between moments of quiet beauty and oft-uncanny spates of discordance. It's an interplay between an artist we know and one we'll never meet.
Bobby Joe Hope, issued via You've Changed Records, follows Mckiel's decidedly more conventional 2017 LP Memorial Ten Count. I can't wait to see what he does with it live.
Colleen Coco Collins
Port Greville, Nova Scotia
Listen to Season 2 of the Greville Tapes Music Club at Bandcamp - IG: @colleencococollins
Colleen Coco Collins is as a regular a Sappy performer as any - and yet she approaches the festival rife with unknowns. Collins' participated in past events largely through the now-defunct indie rock duo Construction & Destruction, also appearing in the offshoot electronic group Delta Blip. This summer finds Coco striking out solo - with just a handful of publically shared recordings to her name.
We can hint at this new era through a pair of recent releases. Coco took part in the second season of the Greville Tapes Music Club, tracking a pair of songs at her prophetically-named living room studio, The Quarantine. "Physical Vibrations" find the artist's delicate vocals backed by glitchy electronic percussion and contrasted with a harshly distorted guitar. The organ-backed "Canard" feels decidedly gentler before drifting away into a mysterious cloud of atmospherics. She also appears on The Frency of our Dreams, a collaborative project rebuilding songs from Steven Lambke's Volcano Volcano. The striking "Coco Dreams of Ganymede" finds the artist even further afield, rebuilding her source material so dramatically that it subsumes Lambke's original.
What version of Coco Collins we'll see at Sappyfest is one of the weekend's true unknowns.
London and Toronto, Ontario
Listen to and Sewn Back Together at Bandcamp - IG: @ombiigizi
OMBIIGIZI seems to have struck a chord. The project links two Ontario-based Anishnaabe songwriters - uniting them at a fascinating juncture as they reach new heights in their respective solo ventures. On the one hand, we have Daniel Monkman, who from Hamilton launched the "moccasin-gaze" project Zoon. At times, that act's Polaris shortlisted Bleached Wavves LP feels like it's in direct conversation with shoegaze giants like My Bloody Valentine. Adam Sturgeon performed at Sappys-past with his sludge/grunge/folk chimera WHOOP-Szo, recently rebranding the project Status/Non-Status after a period of self-discovery and re-engagement with his family history. Just this past week, the band issued "Mashkiki Sunset," the first single from their forthcoming LP Surely Travel.
OMBIIGIZI's Sewn Back Together brought the pair with producer Kevin Drew (of Broken Social Scene) with Nyles Spencer at The Tragically Hip's Bathouse Recording Studio. What's incredible is how little of each artist's solo work bleeds through on the record. OMBIIGIZI shuffles through genres ranging from dream pop to latter-day emo and 90s-flavoured alternative rock. It's an album that feels surprisingly vulnerable and refreshingly outside the immediate comfort zone of either artist. It's also clearly resonating - as the critics recently voted the album onto the shortlist for this year's Polaris Prize, to be determined in September.
Pabineau First Nation, New Brunswick
Listen to Da Vinci's Inquest at Bandcamp - IG: @realwolfcastle
At just 24, New Brunswick rapper Wolf Castle's already amassed a sizable back catalogue. Hailing from the Mi'gmaq community of Pabineau First Nation, Tristan Grant's issued new home-produced recordings more-or-less yearly since the age of 17. His latest concludes a series of socially conscious (yet seriously fun) EPs in his Da Vinci Chronicles series, with Da Vinci's Inquest delivering old-school hip hop style with impeccable flow and an uncanny pop instinct. The seven-song set loops in several guests from the East Coast hip hop scene, notably on the classic posse cut "Top Dog." That track boasts fellow Mi'kmaw rappers Flacko Finesse and Shift from tha 902, along with family members Raphael de la Rez and Talon the Rez Kid.
Speaking to CBC Music, Grant commented:
"I just have this thing inside of me that wants to fight against all of that oppression and show the world like they're not going to keep us down. We're going to keep going. And maybe I could have become an environmentalist or an activist in some other way. But this is what I'm good at. So this is the way I'm doing it."
These efforts secured Grant nominations for two East Coast Music Awards (for Indigenous Artist of the Year) and a Prix NB nomination for Recording of the Year. Wolf Castle's turned that attention back to the community, sponsoring the inaugural NB Indigenous Artist Development Grant] with Music•Musique NB last year.
Dawson City, Yukon
Listen to Limerant at Bandcamp - IG: @deadbirdparty
With Sappy's new creative director Andrea Vincent moving over from the beloved Dawson City Music Festival, it's fitting to see a bit of the territory's artistic flavour make the transition with them. This year Sappy sees an appearance from Bird Feet, the sporadically active synth/folk outlet of artist Kim Edgar. Under that name, they last issued Limerant, an effecting three-song EP, in the spring of 2021.
As a visual artist, Kim's a celebrated painter and cartoonist, picking up a Broken Pencil Zine Award for their 2019 comic The Purpose and picking up two Doug Wright Award nominations for the 2021 work The Space in Between. In 2021 they kicked off Hecate Press, editing and publishing an anthology of northern-created comics through The Northern Gaze anthology.
In partnership with Sappy, Sackville's local Struts Gallery is hosting an exhibition of Edgar's drawings from July 26 through August 13. The announcement notes some of the major themes in the artist's work:
"Their work reflects on experiences of both the medical system and the ennui that comes with being sick with no end. Kim's work envisions the sacred nature of thresholds, and how those who occupy or cross these liminal spaces, such as trans and disabled people, hold a special kind of knowledge. "
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
Listen to "Dedication" at Bandcamp - IG: @kierrahmusic
Originally from Syracuse, NY, pop R&B singer/songwriter Kierrah moved to Prince Edward Island in 2019 to study at Holland College's School of Performing Arts. Upon graduating from the Music Performance Program, she now teaches vocal instruction at the college. Her musical output's fast become a prominent part of the island's tapestry, with the song "Sky Blue" featured on the Bell TV1 documentary series Secret Songs. The recent single "Dedication" landed her a nomination from MusicPEI for Best R&B Recording of the Year in early 2022.
Kierrah's powerful voice and stage presence have earned her comparisons to some of the genre's titans, with Erykah Badu, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, and Brandy regularly referenced in the press. The artist's debut album, 4 The Love, is due later this year.
Mister Monark and The Dirty B-Sides
Fredericton, New Brunswick and Toronto, Ontario
Listen to Presidents of Canada at Bandcamp - IG: @mistermonark/@wethebsides
Sappyfest is known for unique live collaborations, and this year promises a party through the pairing of veteran Fredericton MC Mister Monark with the live Toronto hip-hop collective The Dirty B-Sides. Monark's a force in East Coast hip hop, having performed for over a decade and sharing the stage with greats like Naughty By Nature, Mobb Deep, and Bone Thugs N Harmony. A show backed by the live instrumentation of the Toronto-based B-Sides promises to bring a whole new energy.
From behind the drum kit, bandleader Donny Milwalkee guides The Dirty-B Sides, a full live band complete with horns, strings, and an improvisational bent. He was the organizing force behind regular Toronto cyphers like the boombaphumpday and Honour Roll (both of which were, as you could guess, wholly upended by the pandemic).
Last summer Monark and his frequent collaborator Sean One teamed up with Halifax DJ Uncle Fester to issue Presidents of Canada, an album of Native Tongues-styled hip hop with jazzy beats and socially conscious lyrics. It arrived through Black Buffalo Records.
Sackville, New Brunswick
Listen to Easy Days at Bandcamp - IG: @klrkband
It may be seven years since Sackville's Klarka Weinwurm issued the Huddle EP, but their newly released Easy Days feels tailor-made for Sappy. That's not just good timing, as in many ways, the band feels emblematic of the artists this scene sprung from. With an instrumental bed of lo-fi fuzz ("swampy," if that's not too on-the-nose) paired with Weinwurm's vulnerable, folky vocals - the 10-song album lovingly follows trail cut by Eric's Trip and Julie Doiron without ever feeling like a facsimile.
The group recorded with Dave Trenaman at The Quarantine in Port Greville, Nova Scotia between the summer of 2019 and December of 2020, working in fits and starts amidst lockdowns and pandemic uncertainty. The record features the band's namesake Klarka Weinwurm on guitar, keys, and vocals, backed by bassist Ian MacDougall (The Tom Fun Orchestra) and drummer Luke Patterson (The Mouthbreathers), with select appearances on guitar by Zac Hackett (Lester Slade). Live the group's playing as a three-piece with Weinwurm backed by bassist Evan Matthews (The Mouthbreathers, Yellowteeth) and returning drummer Glenn Barrington (Snake Noise).
With the pandemic forcing the festival online for two years, most of us who travel from afar haven't set foot in Sackville for some time. I asked Weinwurm to give us a local perspective on how the town's weathered the storm. Here's her report:
"Like most places, Sackville has taken some hits since March 2020. Perhaps you'll notice a little gap in its smile? In a small town, it's your friends and neighbours that had to close down their business, take a pause or suffer financial loss. No time to say goodbye to some of the significant places and things that held this town together. Losing Thunder and Lightning (Our hub, pub, music venue, weirdo hang-out) was by far the biggest hit for myself and for a chunk of people in this town. I don't doubt this year's Sappy goers will feel that loss too. I worked there for 3+ years and never imagined it could just suddenly end like that. We've struggled to find a consistent music venue or "vibe" ever since.
So what's left standing? 'The Cube' is still ominously guarding our marsh landscape and glows with the moon most nights. The parks still have their trees, the streets kept their names and the breeze still blows heavy. You'll come across a few closed forever signs, discover a couple cool new spots and recognize some long-standing shops, cafes and restaurants. We've actually managed to hold onto a lot, or slowly build it over time. Sappyfest 17 will for sure be a big part of bringing more life back to this town. We deserve this weekend!"
Listen to Which Way Am I? at Bandcamp - IG: @toughageband
Of all the artists I've profiled in this mailing, I'm writing Tough Age last. Not to be, um, sappy, but I think they may be my favourite active band. I'll remain cooly detached and weaken that by saying "among my favourite active bands." This shouldn't be news to any regular Some Party reader.
Following a significant change in scenery, the group returns to Sappy with a fresh lineup. While the group's most recent brush with the festival had them return to Toronto, they've since uprooted for their original home of Vancouver. That relocation comes with a personnel shakeup - bassist/vocalist Penny Clark has stepped back from the live music grind, with original bassist Lauren Smith returning to the fold. Drummer Jesse Locke, who anchored the group's Toronto era, pulled up stakes and moved west with the group. Guitarist/vocalist Jarrett Evan Samson remains the band's creative core, making this new version of Tough Age a synthesis. If I called them the ultimate Tough Age, it wouldn't even be a misuse of the word. Perhaps you could call them the final Tough Age. In an interview earlier this year, Samson revealed as much to Some Party:
"I think the evolution of how I have seen this band is that it's a group effort. For me, combining the Toronto and Vancouver lineups in this version means this is the last Tough Age, and how long it lasts is up to the three of us to decide together. I like the group efforts of music and so the last gasp of me putting that together is realizing it's not a group if I unilaterally make decisions for everyone such as "we're done."
The group emerged with their surfy garage rock debut in 2013, the same year in which Apollo Ghosts, for whom Samson played bass, called it a day. Across their four Mint Records releases, including 2015's I Get The Feeling Central, 2017's Shame, and 2020 Which Way Am I?, the band ventured further from easily quantifiable punk. Songs often spin off into extended guitar jams, becoming more boldly cerebral with each release. There's reverence here for the Flying Nun and Ork Records roster, with notes of The Clean, The Feelies, and Television if you're looking for them. Samson's famously self-deprecating, but that comes coupled with self-reflection. In our conversation, he mulled over the group's evolution, unsaid influences, and future. Here's a sizable excerpt I couldn't just keep for myself:
"I just think a band has to change, and a band is also going to change based on who is in the band. When Tough Age started, I was coming out of making surf music, and I still listen to surf music! So that bled into the beginning of Tough Age, but I'm always writing songs in a million different genres, I just think how I present them has changed. And yeah, the people playing the music will always influence how it flows. A really neat example of that is "Self-Confidence," which we were playing live on the I Get The Feeling Central tour  and was like a huge Oh Sees-ish song. The song is the exact same structure on [2020's] Which Way Am I? but it's worlds apart from that, just because of a shift of approach.
My biggest influences on what I'm making are usually far outside of bands that sound similar to what we're making, but you can't drop that. No one will get it. I was talking the other day about how I play my guitar as hard as I can at almost all times, which is directly influenced by the Japanese folk artist Tomokawa Kazuki and the way he plays guitar. I can hear me trying to play like him on the self-titled, for example, but it doesn't sound anything like him.
The other evolution, and maybe why [our songs] feel more thoughtful, is because my songs do often exist in a same universe, or reference each other. Thoughts building on older ones in other songs. There are story songs that are sequels to other ones ("Castigation" and "Possession" are related, say), ones where I am answering myself... I think about my dumb songs a lot.
What's next? I don't know which is exciting! There's definitely some that follow what has been laid out over the last few records. I want to avoid the "aging as slowing down" trap. My mind is always flitting between genres and obsessions, and it will leak out (more flute coming for sure), but I don't know!
One of the really nice things about having Lauren back is regaining enthusiasm for older material or seeing how it fits with me now. I think that's one of the very few advantages with having been a band for so long. It's been really interesting to reconnect with some of these songs and see how they slot into my life and art in 2022 vs when they were written. Music always seems to be the art form where treating it like art is something to be ridiculed, especially if you aren't making ambient albums or something. There are very narrow definitions of what style of music is seen as worthy art, but I treat my music that way, and it's important to me to keep changing."
I've spent quite a bit of space unpacking the interconnected Sappy regulars, wrapped in a comforting blanket of familiarity. However, every year the festival lines up a handful of breathtaking, singular experiences which transcend the event's roots in Canadian indie rock - a bit of perspective that art and beauty comes from all corners. In 2018 that lesson came when the operatic Jeremy Dutcher floored the packed Brunton Auditorium at Mount Allison University, delivering an arresting performance that foreshadowed his Polaris triumph a month later. This year two performers look poised to take us on unexpected journeys, and both are notable for crossing the US border for the event (a relative rarity for Sappy).
Circuit des Yeux
Listen to -io at Bandcamp - IG: @circuitdesyeux
Based in Chicago, singer-songwriter Haley Fohr's performed as Circuit des Yeux for 15 years, delivering a sound unlike any you'll hear on the Sappy stage. The artist's instantly identifiable by a unique four-octave vocal range, backed by 12-string guitar and avant-garde electronics. She recently showcased that on the critically acclaimed LP -io, issued in the fall of 2021 on Matador Records. The album delivers a harrowing, epic sound, yet it can feel disarmingly intimate despite that scale.
Before the pandemic, the UK's Opera North commissioned Fohr to craft the soundtrack for Charles Bryant's cult silent film Salomé, delivering a performance described as "a one-woman post-cabaret movement." Fohr's also known for recording under the alter-ego Jackie Lynn, turning her vocal talents inexplicably to the genre of outlaw country.
Listen to Meditations Mixtape, Vol. I at Bandcamp - IG: @amidang
Based in Baltimore, Ami Dang vocalist/multi-instrumentalist (Amrita "Ami" Kaur Dang) creates a bold synthesis of traditional South Asian and modern electronic music. The Sikh composer melds the sitar with modern synthesizers, MIDI controllers, and other technologies to craft "ambient, beat-driven psych music."
Dang issued five solo albums since 2011's Hukam, most recently releasing the Meditations Mixtape, Vol. I in 2020, recorded during those harrowing early days of COVID amidst lockdown and isolation. She commented on its inception in the release notes:
"While working on other songs in quarantine, I was inspired to create this album after my aunt and uncle became very ill with coronavirus. My family held a virtual prayer and service to commemorate the Sikh holiday Vaisakhi, and my mother asked me to perform a shabad, or Sikh hymn, for our online gathering. I probably sing hymns at family occasions at least a couple of times a year, but every time, I forget how much the music and my voice move and uplift people.
Prayer (and moments of internal reflection) feel more important during this time--for too many reasons. We're living in an unprecedented time of change: it's difficult to plan anything this year, and a dark shadow has fallen over the world. Whether you or a loved one are ill, you've lost work, or are feeling general anxiety about the state of the world, these meditations are for you."
There we have it. Thanks for indulging in this atypical edition of Some Party. I'll be back in a few weeks with a more conventional update.
I should really start packing...