The Famines are a Montreal-based noise garage music duo made up of Raymond Biesinger (who also happens to be an incredible illustrator) and Drew Demers. But they are not just a band, the duo is also a “DIY-minded experimental record label thing” called Pentagon Black.
In early 2016 Pentagon Black released it’s first compilation containing 23 unreleased songs from bands from across the country as a 20×30″ double-sided newsprint art poster with download code. They had 17 compilation release shows including 30 bands at various locations across the country for it. In April 2017, they did it again with compilation number 2, once again on 20×30″ double-sided newsprint art poster with a download code.
Pentagon Black are back with another compilation, and while they stayed true to their other compilations, they changed it up a little. Pentagon Black Compilation No. 3 is a “phone comp.” It is named as such as 16 diverse bands between Edmonton and Saint John recorded original unreleased tracks live via phone (no multi tracking allowed). This time they went with a smaller format of a 6X6″ postcard with download code.
Eric took some time to discuss with drummer Drew Demers about being a band and being a record label, as well as the story behind the compilation and the inclusion of bands from Ottawa.
Interview with Drew Demers of The Famines/Pentagon Black
What inspired/motivated the two of you to not only be a band but be a label?
Drew Demers: After releasing music on vinyl for the better part of a decade, we realized that it was becoming increasingly difficult to manage/produce. Turn-around times don’t work in anyone’s favor. We were sitting on a recorded full length and didn’t want to have to wait an additional 4 or 5 months just to get a test pressing back. On top of that, the cost was just too great for us to be enthused about it anymore, so we decided that we would just produce things as cheaply and quickly as we could on our own.
[…] we weren’t really trying to establish anything specific. We are a punk band, and so we typically play with like-sounding artists.
Subsequently what pushed you to put out these trans-Canadian compilations?
Drew Demers: We had already released a single and a record on the newsprint poster format, the latter as Pentagon Black and the former in partnership with Psychic Handshake in Montreal. We were discussing what to do next, and the idea started as a split record with The Famines on one side, and then another band on the other. The problem was, we were at odds over whether it was going to be Century Palm or Kappa Chow. We played a show with a ton of pals at this crazy fest called Strangewaves outside of Hamilton.
The lineup included a ton of bands that ended up on the first compilation, and it was beautiful because there was hardly anybody at the show outside of band members. We all just got up and played for each other and there was this sense of communal spirit behind everything. It took us maybe one day to realize that we needed to make something bigger and connect more scenes together, and the first compilation was born out of that notion. BTW, the lineup for that show: Strange Attractor, The Famines, TV Freaks, Mick Futures, Century Palm, Kappa Chow, Lizzie Boredom, and Flesh Rag.
How did you select the bands and decide how you wanted the first two to sound?
Drew Demers: The first compilation was an amalgamation of friends we’d made on tour. There really weren’t that many artists we didn’t personally know on the thing. The second time around, we wanted to focus on hitting specific zones we hadn’t traveled to in a while, and so we enlisted some close friends to give us suggestions on who we should talk to that might be interested in a project such as ours. There are a small handful of people involved in the second compilation we’ve actually never met.
In terms of the sound that we were going for, we weren’t really trying to establish anything specific. We are a punk band, and so we typically play with like-sounding artists. There is an obvious tonal undercurrent that runs through all three of the compilations, but there are significant departures happening on each of them as well.
What makes this third compilation special?
Drew Demers: This third compilation is all about spirit. The songs are rough, in many cases unfinished, and in all cases under-produced. It’s exciting to think that sonically it’s an even playing-ground for each of the tracks. For the most part, it sounds like all the bands recorded in basically the same room with the same gear. It’s also special because it’s the first time we’ve outsourced the art side of things. Historically Raymond has taken care of the art side of Pentagon Black/The Famines, but this time we placed the project in the esteemed hands of Lisa Czech. We explained the project to her and she absolutely nailed the chaos with her cover art.
This has been our most inexpensive and rapid turnover for a compilation. The postcards cost basically nothing to print, and all of the bands recorded their tracks in a three week time frame. Also of note – this one was released not too long after our second compilation, and it came out as a surprise. We were originally planning on dropping it the day of our showcase at Ottawa Explosion, but instead we just decided to jump the gun because we felt like it this week, and a project like this allows us the freedom to do that.
I am excited to see Ottawa bands on all three comps, what drew you to the Ottawa bands you selected ?
Drew Demers: We have a ton of respect and admiration for The Yips, and knew that we couldn’t release our first comp without them involved. Bonnie Doon are officially Pentagon Black royalty. They were on the first two comps, and played both the compilation releases with us in Montreal. Deathsticks are actually fairly new acquaintances of ours, but we feel connected by the sisterhood of two piece bands. They were suggested to us via our pal Karol aka garbageface in Peterborough. We can’t wait to play with them and hang out with them in Ottawa next weekend!
If you track Raymond or myself down in person, we can become pen pals and send you a postcard.
If you’re a little more adventurous, you can head to a show in your town featuring any of the 48 bands we’ve worked with and ask them very kindly to dig one out for you.
What do The Famines and Pentagon Black have planned next?
Drew Demers: Famines have a couple things up our sleeves, including but not limited to writing material for a full length album to come out under Pentagon Black sometime in the next decade. Ottawa Explosion is actually the only show we have booked right now, and it’s exciting facing a blank canvas. As for Pentagon Black, we intend to keep things fast and easy. After releasing the PRIORS record, we realized that we’re open to the idea of putting out music for other bands and want to move forward with that in the future, however that will work.
May is always a nice time of year. The tulips start popping out, the trees start getting greener, and it becomes normal to slab some poutine onto your pizza slice. That’s right, May is POUZZA FEST month. In 2015 we took over Montreal and followed some Ottawa bands in a very, very DIY film called Ottawa Invades POUZZA FEST: A Documentary. If you were to watch that, you’d get just a glimpse of how POUZZA usually goes down.
This year, we couldn’t all make it to Montreal, but our photographer-extraordinaire Els Durnford did. Here’s a look at some of the incredible photos she took while diving into all the madness. Enjoy!
After a very, very last minute decision to go to a show, I was set to take on Pressed Café on the 13th of April. For those who have never been, Pressed Café is a small coffee house and bar on Gladstone Avenue. The venue is one of the smallest I’ve seen to this day and the room itself seems to be designed to fit maybe thirty people seated. This “full house” standard was once broken, but that is a different story for another time.
On the 13th, Pressed was not a full house, however, everyone left with hearts filled with something they’d come to the venue without. For me, it was pride and hope, and lungs filled with the smoke from the fog machine (yes, they did indeed have one).
Nightshades was the first to perform, and Mallory (guitar and vocals) even admitted that at practice the night before, everything sounded amazing. But when she went on that night, she felt like it just wasn’t as good. However, I beg to differ. Their sound, although described as garage punk, thrash, or grunge, is astoundingly similar to The Breeders, and Mallory’s voice is so much like Kim Deal’s that I was completely blown away. Her vocals sweet and melodic but with a little depth that you wouldn’t expect. She didn’t hold back at all, and laughed off not being able to quite remember the set list, joking around that it’s what professional bands do. The overall sound of the band, going past just describing it as The Breeders, is gritty. Accompanied by a strong baseline that caused the building to shake was a heavily distorted guitar and some really unique drumbeats.
If you came to see Nightshades for a heavy and overpowering guitar sound, you’ve come to the wrong place. Dean’s bassline is the focus, it’s aggressive but doesn’t make a big deal out of itself and when Geoff pounds the drums, it’s truly something else. It’s not like most drummers that I’ve seen that go at the drums like Grohl. This is something that came from the late 80’s and transitioned into the 90’s. Not quite the anger from the grunge movement but definitely holds a strong element of it. It’s so well put together and the fact that the band itself seemed so into what they were doing just created a more positive experience overall. A favourite of mine was by them is for sure a song called “London Bass” because the bassline is prominent but has a unique build with the guitar.
The next band to play was one by the name of Look Vibrant. They’re a band that seems to be a bit of noise rock with a psychedelic twist to it. Here’s a better visual for you. Remember back in the 70’s when kids would get high and listen to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon? This is a band that you would probably do the same thing with. They’re an incredibly unique band, and believe me when I say I’ve never heard anything like them. There are falsettos used in every song, but it feels just right in a strange way. With many keyboards, drums (with a broken crash symbol), and some synths, this band of five is impressive. How they fit these instruments that look like they shouldn’t be able to go together, I won’t understand, but they managed to do it all. The overall style of the band really caught my eye because they seem like what would either be considered hipster or very 80’s, but when they began, I was blown away by the harmonies and by how lost they got in the music. Not to mention how much they enjoyed performing for a small room despite the limited amount of space. Overall, the performance was one that drew you in either out of curiosity or because you genuinely enjoyed it. It was soothing and if you ever find yourself in a place where you might have a creative block or just need something to listen to while laying on your floor thinking about the rest of your life, by all means, find their Bandcamp and all of their EP’s. I especially recommend the song “Clouds” if you are going to do the aforementioned.
The last band,Smokes, was a band I found myself enjoying a lot more than I thought possible. With small moments between all the members and the way they threw themselves into it, it really set the tone of the show and created a positive atmosphere. Everyone felt like they were part of something. The genre was a strange one and verged on punk and rock, bordering it all but throwing in elements that you wouldn’t see in either. When I say that, I mean they managed to throw in a violin into the mix of guitars, and drums, changing the sound of it with many pedals, but nonetheless, it was incredibly impressive. When you learn that those few sounds that sound like a synth are in fact a violin, it blows your mind away completely and all notions of what a punk band needs to be are blown out of the water. These guys push the boundaries, and I mean that in a good way. They certainly make explorations with their music. Playing the bass more like a guitar, plucking at the violin strings, combining some guitar into that and an intricate drum beat that doesn’t remain the same throughout the entirety of every song, it was incredibly impressive to watch. They took absolutely every detail into consideration to make sure it sounded ideal. Not only that but the movements throughout the performance really proved for a more enjoyable show and challenged photography if you tried to get a shot of just one of the members. All in all, their distinct sound which faintly echoed that of Depeche Mode’s was truly money well spent. Their lyrics were insightful, especially in the song “Body Heat,” allowed emotional connections to the songs they performed.
After all the songs, save one, were performed, it was exactly 10:59 pm. People scattered and started to help dismantle the drum kit, and packed up equipment while others got a beer and handled the merch tables. During that time, I went and thanked the bands and talked to them a bit about their show (making sure they weren’t in conversation or too busy). It turns out Look Vibrant was thrown into an Ottawa show and they didn’t really realize it, but went with it anyway and drove back to Montreal for a show the very next day.
Pressed is an intimate venue where you can go up to people, start a conversation, and just simply connect with the bands, which is exactly what I did. Some engaged in conversation, others exchanged information and it was left at that but overall, everyone was incredibly friendly and pleased to have a conversation with you.
I strongly suggest you keep a lookout for these bands if you want your mind blown, your creativity to flow, and to hear a strange and artistic take on your favourite genres. Your experience will be a pleasant one, you can hold me to that, and if for some reason you don’t find yourself tapping your foot to at least one of the songs, a least you got out of your stuffy home.
A bad concert can be enjoyable. Like with a cheesy B-movie, there is pleasure to be found in watching a band bomb hard, as depressing as that is. In these scenarios, the audience might watch, entranced, as the band fumbles through their Kafkaesque set, seemingly unaware of the nature of the attention they are receiving.
But Islands last Tuesday at Ritual was not a bad show. Not by any means. Instead, it was a boring show, which is far, far worse for everyone involved. There is no fun to be had watching a band plod through a carefully thought out sequence of chords and rhythms, singing melodies and harmonies that they have rehearsed over and over and over. I’d take a truly terrible show over a boring one any day.
It would be one thing if this unusual for Islands, but I can tell you from experience that they have always been like this. The first time I saw them, nearly 10 years ago at Babylon, they were upstaged completely by a young Gregory Pepper, then a member of the Montreal band The Dymaxions. After a rock-god-inspired set from Pepper, Islands took the stage to play their brand of boredom-pop and put everyone to sleep.
And let me be clear: I like Islands. My history with the band, aside from live performances, is very positive. Return to the Sea is one of my all time favourite albums. I’ve been with them since The Unicorns, and the fact that they play uninspired shows affects my love of their work only slightly. But it also makes me really hesitant to recommend that anyone see their shows, because based on shows like this they are nothing at all to write home about.
It’s a shame because they are clearly talented and creative artists. Why they fail to inspire anything but the faintest of toe-tap, even in completely appropriate venues like Ritual, will never cease to befuddle me, and likely many of their fans.
What’s more is that Ritual’s show began with an energized and dynamic set from Lushlife, whose recent album is nothing short of brilliant. Watching Lushlife made me want to buy his merch. Watching Islands made me wonder why I was watching Islands, which is too bad. I want to like them live, I really do. They just don’t give me much of a reason to.
Perhaps part of the problem was that, on a Tuesday night in downtown Ottawa, it’s much easier to sell chicken wings and Keith’s than live music. The venue was only about a third of its capacity, and much emptier for Lushlife, the opener.
Whatever the reason, I think we can all safely say that Islands will never be known for their live performances. However, if you’re interested in seeing some very excellent musicians play largely flawlessly, if dispassionately, they aren’t a bad time. It depends on what you’re looking for, in the end.
In May of 2015, Eric and I had a crazy idea. We joked about going to Pouzza Fest – a Gainesville, Florida, The Fest-style music festival – and film all the Ottawa bands. We even went so far as to joke about making an actual documentary. We are by no means documentarians or filmmakers, but we do tell stories on this website, and that is something we are pretty passionate about. In that respect, we declared ourselves pseudo-raconteurs of the people and music in Ottawa, and that it wouldn’t be so far-fetched to actually make this thing happen. Well, folks – we did it.
After 4 days of filming and keeping on pace with the loud and late nights, we caught all the Ottawa acts slated to play Pouzza (except Crusades, who had to pull out for personal reasons). Those bands were Dead Weights, Jon Creeden & The Flying Hellfish, Fresh Hell, Jonathan Becker & The North Fields, Rich Chris, Sidelines, The Tenenbaums, and The Valveenus. We had more than our fair share of fun, and it was definitely an experience I’ll never forget. Plus – it’s Montreal. There’s something about the city that makes everyone who visits fall in love with it.
This documentary is by no means a masterpiece. In fact, technically it is a piece of shit. We recorded almost everything with our phones and learned video editing on the fly. After all, it’s a punk rock festival named after poutine on pizza, so I don’t think we’re competing for an Oscar anytime soon. Even though some of the video is a bit shaky and there is audio that you can’t hear at points, it was filmed and edited with care. After spending a lot of hours cutting and splicing the footage, we ended up with this product.
We want to give a huge thank you to the bands for being involved, and all the folks who helped make this project possible! It was like exploring uncharted waters for us, and all the friends who helped us learn new programs and teach us some tricks of the trade – we salute you.
This weekend I took at trip to Montreal to continue a mother-daughter concert tradition, and this beautiful city sure knows how to party. A year after their latest album release, Death Cab for Cutie co-headlined with Metric on the Lights on the Horizon tour, forming one of my ultimate dream teams.
The Centre Bell was not as packed as I thought it would be, but the crowd made up for any lost volume and after a full day of walking the city, I welcomed the chance to sit down on the beer-soaked stadium floor. Death Cab kicked off their set with “The New Year,” a track off their 2003 Transatlanticism LP, which in the four times I’ve seen them play, I’ve never heard them open with. Older DCFC fans were stoked to be able to sing along to “Crooked Teeth,” “Title and Registration,” and even “President of What?” off their 1998 debut album Something About Airplanes. About halfway through the set, frontman Ben Gibbard got choked up as he explained that Death Cab’s earliest friends and influences Harvey Danger had lost their bassist to a long-term illness this month. He went on to explain that for every stop on this tour, they would play one of Harvey Danger’s songs, and dedicated “Why I’m Lonely” to the late Aaron Huffman. If you love Ben’s melancholic vocals and appreciate a sick bass line, check out this Harvey Danger tune:
Metric has always been one for showmanship, a talent they flashed with pride as they lowered two large lighting pieces, using the negative space to depict the letter M. To the crowd’s delight, singer Emily Haines danced out on stage leading “IOU,” an old hit from their 2004 album Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? The set continued to incorporate an awesome balance of old and new crowd favourites, as well as a handful of songs off Metric’s most recent album Pagans in Vegas. Haines made use of an impressive collection of capes, beginning with a tasseled leather poncho during “Too Bad, So Sad,” a lime green chiffon number during “Artificial Nocturne,” and a bedazzled black cloak during “Black Sheep.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as Haines invited the Montreal Choir up on stage to join the band in singing “Dreams So Real,” which she prefaced as an ode to this crazy, messed up world we’re living in. The magnificent light show went dark, as the stage was lit with two spotlights and a couple glowing trees as Metric, the Montreal Choir, and the audience joined together in song and smartphone flashlights for a serene 2 minutes and 41 seconds. Haines also let guitarist James Shaw take the lead in performing “Other Side,” off Pagans in Vegas, for which the crowd swooned – what a perfect combination of leather jacket, cowboy hat and dreamy vocals.
La pièce de résistance was the disco ball decent into a veil of red smoky light as the band played “Celebrate” leading into an acoustic version of “Gimme Sympathy,” for which the only source of light was the sea of cellphone lights across the stadium walls and floor. The finale continued to build in volume and energy until confetti spontaneously exploded from the ceiling, coating the roaring crowd in a blanket of paper and sparkles.
If you haven’t already caught this power duo on their 10-city Canadian tour, you have 8 dates left as of Tuesday, March 22nd and if you have to travel, it’s definitely worth the gas.
On Thursday, February 18th, an eager Ottawa audience ventured to Happy Goat Coffee Co. to witness a thrilling pop-grunge quadruple-header, arranged and executed by Debaser. The first artists to take the stage were the one and only Baberaham Lincoln. Their music was thick and satisfyingly sludgy like a dense, scalding ladle of tin-can stew.
These hometown heroes scraped the evening open with a determined demeanour – throughout the performance, prevailing pop vocals swirled over driving distortion, while drum rhythms meandered cyclically through the grungy sonic wonderland. Reverberating microphones and buzzing guitar cabinets plowed perfect plots for gardens of crooked roses and disjointed audience-movements. Indeed, this was a set for the head-bobbers, and from my vantage point near the back of the venue I watched the crowd move altogether, so accurately out-of-unison.
Baberaham Lincoln at Happy Goat Coffee (Photo by Ming Wu/Photogmusic)
Shortly after the conclusion of Baberaham’s set, a band called Dories began to play. Truthfully, I merely assume that this band was called Dories because of the order of names on the bill, and the obvious correspondence to their bandcamp page. Still, I don’t recall this band ever formally introducing themselves, or saying much of anything at all. Instead, Dories became absorbed in their music – and they could not be blamed, as their brand of tightly-knit tunes soared through a vast landscape of song-structure and time-signatures.
This set was a fast-paced, post-punk minefield – reminiscent of fellow Montreal group Ought – featuring jangling electric guitar chords, which cleared the way for more jarring lead tones and dissonant bass motifs. During the set, Dories’ music would amble and carry; then suddenly halt, for a brief pause, before carrying on again. Continue, then cease. Start, then stop. Until finally, following an uncomforting combination of sounds, the band stopped permanently. This partially-pop set was new and refreshing, seizing the audience’s attention with a storm of whirling dissonance and a mosaic of musical meters.
Band number three, called Hand Cream – also from Montreal – kept the atmosphere alive during their spirited set. Like Dories before them, Hand Cream’s songs seemed meticulously structured, with compelling beginnings and uncluttered endings. Their repertoire was chalked full of pop-progressions and outgoing basslines, topped with airy vocals, and served on a plate of hesitant rhythms and busy drum fills.
Part-way through their set, their lead guitarist reached into an abyss, and drew forth perhaps the noisiest solo in my recent memory. Like a rocket, this solo blasted-off in a fiery-hot mess of smoke and flames. Only the most scientific of infernos will get Hand Cream to the moon. The audience, pleased by the tasteful cacophony created by the musicians, also appeared to reach a new level of excitement, dancing and hopping about, especially near the front of the crowd.
Hand Cream at Happy Goat Coffee (Photo by Ming Wu/Photogmusic)
Finally came Walrus, a band who had transported their neo-psychedelic vibes all the way from Halifax to play for the lively Happy Goat crowd. They performed a balance of fast and slow pieces, though all of their songs pulsated with the accuracy and reliability of a human heart.
The presence of delay effects was strong in the band’s instrumentation, as the vocalist’s plain voice echoed over daunting synth sounds; tripped over folksy guitar chords; and collapsed over skipping drum patterns. Evidently, Walrus was the headlining act that everybody had been waiting for, as they lead the audiences’ minds and bodies on an active, movement-oriented tour through a dance-y, psychedelic machine.
Half Moon Run is like a sexy Mumford and Sons who had a baby with Alt-J; it’s a religious experience and all you can say is ‘goddamn’.
– as described to me by friend, Kathryn Redwood over dinner prior to the Half Moon Run show this past weekend.
Crammed into Ritual’s tiny basement, I waited impatiently – cursing myself for not showing up as soon as the doors opened – listening to Folly and the Hunter start their set. Humming along to “Residents” as I stood in line to check my coat, I couldn’t believe how great Folly sounded through the concrete floor, especially as only a three-piece ensemble. Seriously, you should go see this band – even if you just stand outside the venue. That’s how good they are.
I was lucky enough to make it upstairs just in time to catch them close with “Awake,” the title track off of their new album (which is a great listen, in case you haven’t heard it yet). Although it seemed to be a Half Moon Run majority crowd, I think it’s safe to say Folly and the Hunter won many hearts in Ottawa that night, and as a long-time fan I was happy to hear some of the songs I first fell in love with upon the release of their 2012 debut album, Residents. These Montreal natives should definitely be on any concertgoer’s bucket list.
After the change over, Half Moon Run took the stage with “Turn Your Love” and the energy was immediately palpable and it got hot. I mean that very literally – Ritual was a sauna. As someone who is relatively new to the Half Moon Run bandwagon, I would agree that their live performance is definitely a religious experience. The lights were phenomenal and complimented the band’s driving beats and melodic ballads. I’ve also never seen long hair, black tank tops, and button-downs look so good.
Despite Ottawa bring known for its relatively conservative crowd vibe, people started singing and dancing as the band played many of the songs off of their 2011 debut album Dark Eyes. Their loyal fan base went wild. Vocalist Devon Portielje eventually ditched his guitar to better accommodate his dance moves during “Trust”, the last song off the band’s latest album, Sun Leads Me On. The band ended their set with their breakout single “Full Circle” off of Dark Eyes, which elicited a full-fledged sing-along and surprisingly on-beat audience clapping (it’s always a 50/50 gamble when gauging audience clapping capabilities). Portielje impressed us all with his ethereal vocals, percussion, guitar and keyboard playing, all of which were only slightly overshadowed by Conner Molander’s wicked harmonica solo during “Hands in the Garden”.
But wait – that’s not all! As the crowd clapped and desperately chanted “one more song!,” Folly and the Hunter joined Half Moon Run on stage to deliver the most heart-warming, soul-thumping rendition of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall be Released” that I’ve ever heard.
It seems only fitting that these two Canadian bands, founded in the same city no less, should tour the country together. Unfortunately, Ottawa was their last stop, but I hope you were lucky enough to catch one of their shows. If you haven’t checked out either of these bands, grab a pair of headphones and get on that shit.
I listened to the entirety of Tölt, the long-awaited debut LP by Ottawa’s Flying Hórses, approximately six times before finally understanding that I would hear a different narrative on each pass. First I walked through Gormenghast, then through Cirith Ungol, but also through large meadows that could have been Hyrule. The music called “post-chamber” by two of the city’s most interesting musicians have created a bestiary of dark and beautiful creatures, deadset on being released August 15.
Cellist and composer Raphael Weinroth-Browne is part of several prolific bands that play a range of neo folk, classical and experimental chamber music. He said that Tölt would surprise most people who were familiar with Jáde Bergeron’s original compositions that she’s often played live over the past few years. I have to concede he wasn’t just hyping me up—this isn’t the same trip to the “Dollhouse” or ride around the “Carousel” that we’ve heard before.
And it’s not just the preeminent production by Birgir “Biggi” Jón Birgisson of the Icelandic Sundlaugin Studio that has brought on this change. The idea of the album still hinges a collage of childlike wonder that Bergeron has been exploring through music boxes and devotional bells, but it goes further now.
There are sonatas for cello accompanied by Bergeron’s piano, and what sound like piano/celesta duets. Sometimes the pairing of cello to piano is replaced with bells or chimes that Bergeron plays in what she credits as “sacred places” in Montreal and Reykjavík.
Flying Hórses release the debut LP Tölt on Aug. 15, 2015. Photo credit: J. Lorange
A song named “Spiladósir” begins much in the same way as some of the vignettes in this 14-track album but, unlike its shorter cousins, it fires off a dark and ambient rush of energy. It grabs you with a dissonance of music boxes, some even lending their mechanical crank to the metal storm.
On one listen, these shadowy songs reminded me of the score to 2014’s RPG Child of Light, composed by Béatrice Martin a.k.a. Coeur de Pirate. The orchestral arrangements by Gémeaux-nominated composer Anthony Rozankovic give the role-playing fairy tale story of that game a beautiful depth. However, listening to that music alone feels as though something is missing (a palette of pixels?) whereas an amble down Flying Hórses, with no supporting images or words, fills the listener with northern histories, nostalgia, and creatures far stranger and dazzling than pegasi.
The title track “Tölt” does not exactly trot, the most precise translation would be an ambling gait that is instinctive in Icelandic horses. It’s different than a gait though, and as a movement for horses it’s known to vary quite quickly.
I enjoy ambient background music as much as the next writer, but I’m also a sucker for liner notes and lyrics. Here, the song titles create a 14-word story that spans three languages: English, French & Icelandic. I’ll add a fourth, the German, since Tölt is a Bildungsroman—a coming-of-age story. It’s also a dream-like ride into dark places that are lit up by Bergeron’s vision of innocence and memory.
“Oubliette” is a dirge, maybe even a requiem. It’s the longest track of the 14 and does not conclude the album with a ribbon nicely tied at the end—it ends the album more than the final track “107” because it builds into an ellipsis, followed by a question mark that seems to say, “and the light shone so brightly that it blinded, covered everything, and suddenly there was—”
On June 9, a full-length album called The Vanity of Reason was released by Estan Beedell. Originally from Ottawa, he’s just moved back to the 613 from Montreal for an indefinite amount of time, see “for life.” Released simply under his first name, A Vanity of Reason is the symphonic exploration of his tastes in electro rock-pop complimented by a vibraphone, marimba, alto, tenor & baritone sax. As a consistent contributor to a variety of other bands, he seems to have had no trouble finding his own collaborators including Harley Alexander of Sheepman & Emperor Bulash, Chester Hansen of BADBADNOTGOOD, saxophone player Julian Selody, and drummer Luke Graves, among many others.
This is a concept album. The liner notes in the vinyl start with a quote by J. Castell Hopkins from his 1898 Life and Work of Mr. Gladstone that lists many human intellectuals controlling and domineering their fields or professions. Estan also manipulated the instrument that drew the cover art to his album, which depicts little people chipping away at the foundation of their civilization to build it higher and higher. The quote sums this and the concept of the LP with its climax: “…the whole human race seems to be moved by a supernatural impulse to assert its dominion over every force […] which might impede its progress.”
I’m feeling the influences of Manhattan Transfer, chamber music and barbershop harmonies here. The peppy tracks don’t last in their pop, they soon dip into contemplative and pleasant experimentation. The fact is Estan’s voice sounds like a kind of key-operated instrument on its own. There are traces of gospel mixed in with an overabundance of jazz. The whole album would be a wonder to see performed live, and there are potential July or August concerts to come. It remains, for now, a perfect background LP on the first few plays until you really hear “Common Sense Revolution“. Then you can’t really help but listen to it from start to finish. On top of being a masterful display of many instruments—of which Estan plays thirteen!—the subject matter and range of his vocals are very enjoyable. If the call-to-arms of the fourth track don’t grab you, then “House Torn Down” or “Lodyzhensky” might.
This one-man project will surely last longer than the time it took to put together. I don’t doubt it had a lengthy gestation period and my expectations for it will be surpassed. Cop a feel below: