When Montreal’s HOAN formed in 2015, there was an intention to deviate from the path of jangle-pop and explore new horizons. Cutting their teeth in the DIY scene, HOAN’s music is simultaneously pensive and audacious. Their new EP, Modern Phase, is a 7-track effort that fuses dark and reverb-laden instrumental layers in a post-punk foundation. Alex Nicol’s vocals and lyricism whisp us away, but we’re constantly grounded again by noir moments of frenetic energy. Three of HOAN’s members were in the now-defunct band Kurvi Tasch, and have taken this window of opportunity to write music outside of a box and experiment with electronic elements, as well as explore more issues in the social and political realms in their lyrics.
I spoke with singer/guitarist Alex Nichol as HOAN get set for their show at Bar Robo on Thursday, August 31, with Organ Eyes. Be sure to catch them live, they’ll be playing most of the tracks on Modern Phase live. Doors are at 8 pm, and tickets are $10 at the door.
Interview with HOAN
Some Ottawa folks might remember Kurvi Tasch, a group that contained most of HOAN’s members. Has the change in name signified a larger shift for the band’s approach to music?
Kurvi Tasch was a guitar-based band with a pretty limited sonic palette. We made a bunch of releases under the name and felt like we wanted something new. Alex traveled to India with his computer and began making electronic music. This kind of propelled the idea for HOAN, and it became clear that the music we wanted to make did not make sense under the Kurvi Tasch name. ‘Modern Phase’ was recorded in this transitional period. The next release will have more synths, programmed drums, and so on, as we continue to expand our approach to music.
Modern Phase is not only sonically intriguing, but it also touches on many themes and ideas that we deal with as individuals and a society as a whole. Can you expand on some of these ideas, and what caused you to go that direction?
Yea, sure. The first theme that strikes through is the notion of technological advancement at all costs, without the ability to manage or deal with the impact it has. ‘Technocracts’ is the best example of this. I feel like it’s rampant all over the world since industrialization in the West, and will have similar impacts in places that have yet to fully industrialize. Take fracking, for example. You would think that people realized in the beginning that it is harmful on the environment. But the science was there to extract the oil, and there was such a demand for it, that alternative approaches to fueling cars never really had a chance. I feel there is a lot being ignored in discussions around innovation, namely how to sustain communities, give proper job training, the white-washing cultural impact it can have, and so much more. The title, ‘Modern Phase,’ is kind of poking fun at the idea of a “Modern era” in the hopes that people look at the human and environmental costs a bit more closely.
Is there an artist that you’re listening to – either locally or not – that you think people should hear?
Lido Pimienta is great. So is Perfume Genius. Locally there is tonnes of great stuff: Un Blonde, Maggy France, Loon, Blue Odoeur, ANEMONE, Slight, Blanka, the list goes on.
What was the most exciting part about making Modern Phase? Did you try new things? Mess around with new instruments at all?
The best part was trying out a whole bunch of keyboards we never knew existed. A lot of them made it on the record!
Ottawa has a small, yet strong DIY scene, and that ethic translates into a lot of pretty cool music here. Can you talk a bit about the Montreal scene? What are some of the challenges the scene there is facing these days?
Gentrification is gonna hit pretty soon, as the area around Parc and Beaubien is bracing for a new University of Montreal campus next door. There will be a few new spots opening up in Park-Ex and over on St-Hubert, but for the time being it’s pretty solid with the Plante, Drones, Poisson Noir, the Bog, and a couple others.
You’ve played a lot of dates in the US over the last several months. What is the atmosphere like down there? Was general social discontent pervasive in music clubs? Or was it business as usual?
We had some apologetic Americans in NYC in March, and in general a lot of discussion about the socio-political climate at the moment, that’s for sure. A lot of musicians are quite engaged in fighting the good fight – like our friend Richie in Hamtramck who runs a record store on a shoe-string budget in an area that is gentrifying fast. I think the Trump presidency will bring more people into the political process, which is actually a good thing. I look forward to seeing where people are at when we head out for 10 shows at the end of September.
Ottawa power-pop duo No Fuss have released their first full album, titled LP1. This is the band’s second release – last January they put out a three-song EP appropriately named EP1. I think I’ve spotted a trend here…
LP1 is a 9-track rocker of an album with only one song clocking in over 3 minutes. The album kicks off with an infectious and sing-a-long worthy tunes called “Up To You,” which would certainly call for you and your friends to rush to the front of the stage and yell “leave it up to!” right back at them.
Chris Cook takes care of the strumming and most of the singing, while Mark takes care of the drumming and backup vocals. Chris is the lead vocals on the majority of songs, and fans of FINDERSKEEPERS and The Sir John A. MacDonalds will recognize his unique voice and style. Mark’s vocals provide an excellent balance, and compliments Chris’ well. They do, however, feature more prominently on a few songs, such as “Rat Breath.”
My favourite song on the album is the seventh song titled “Old Truths,” which I fell in love with last summer when I saw them perform it live. It really jumps out at you off the album thanks to Mark’s rolling drums setting the stage for Chris’ opening line “We’ve both got symbols of things we lost / I’ve got my pictures and you’ve got your bloody cross / But we disagree of what’s deep inside / You think it’s spirit and I think it’s empty pride.” The song really paints a great picture of the importance of perspective when thinking of religion and how people talk about it and justify their acts with it.
Have about 35 minutes to kill? Listen to No Fuss’ debut album below and go see them play live tonight as they open for Screaming Females at House of Targ – show info here.
JUNOfest kicked off Thursday with a few shows around town, and I decided to make my way to Zaphod’s to check out Operators along with supporting acts Charly Bliss and Potential Red.
Juno fever was in the air, and you could feel the excitement building in the city. The first act to hit the stage was a newer post-punk group in Ottawa called Potential Red. I’d heard about these guys through the grapevine but hadn’t seen them before, and they impressed everyone in attendance with a strong set. There aren’t a lot of Ottawa groups writing songs in the footsteps of late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s post-punk and new wave bands, and these guys do it right.
Right away Potential Red captured the audience’s attention and held on tight as they blasted out heavy bass-driven grooves layered with reverb-laden guitars and flutters of synth throughout their songs. Dare I say that lead singer David Sklubal’s moves on stage were reminiscent of Ian Curtis’, frantically exuding his energy into the crowd and getting the front riled up. I heard some of A Place to Bury Strangers in some of their songs, which I certainly connected with. Sklubal nearly broke the neck of his guitar as he jumped around on stage, just before launching himself into the crowd with reckless abandon. This is definitely a local band to keep an eye on, their live performance is not to be missed.
Next up was Brooklyn, NY grunge-pop band Charly Bliss. The four-piece churned out the kind of power-pop that we all know and love, channeling a sound that many of grew up with in the 90’s. Front-woman Eva Hendricks stole the show with her stage antics, having fun with the set and luring the crowd in with her energy. In all honesty, this is the kind of band I’m skeptical of going in. Having not heard their music before, I felt like they might toy with my emotions and try to pull some nostalgic strings without executing it properly. This happens sometimes. I was admittedly looking for something not to like about Charly Bliss, but one can’t help but fall in love with those catchy hooks, overzealous performance style, and honest songwriting delivered with a bow on top into our eardrums.
The band’s stage chemistry was obvious, and it wasn’t difficult to tell how close they are. They have opened for Veruca Salt, Sleater-Kinney, Tokyo Police Club, PUP, and are currently touring with Operators. Needless to say, catch Charly Bliss at small venues while you can because I have a feeling they’ll be playing bigger clubs any day now.
The headlining act Operators hit the stage as the crowd packed in tight. I would be remiss to leave out that I am a huge fan of Dan Boeckner – he has the Midas touch and all of his projects rule. I’m one of those old Wolf Parade fans that fell in love with Handsome Furs, and then Divine Fits, and then Operators. I’m sure there are a few curmudgeony Wolf Parade die-hards that don’t like the direction he’s gone in, but I for one am excited to see him playing with new toys and collaborating with great musicians such as Devojka and Sam Brown. I had the chance to chat with Boeckner last year, an interesting piece which you can read here.
Analogue synths abound, Operators’ modern take on post-punk has really taken shape over the last few years. This was the best set I have seen them play yet, and the road has surely tightened up their live performance. Boeckner’s comfort in this role is evident, and the smile on his face suggests that he’s loving every second of it. The songs off of Operators’ debut LP Blue Wave translate extremely well live – it’s part 80’s new wave, part dream pop, part dark post-punk – but whatever you call it, it works.
A couple highlights of the set were their performances of “Cold Light” and “True,” each of which electrified the room and got the crowd into a frenzy. Some of their songs had the audience a little unsure of themselves with respect to their dance moves, but the bodies kept flailing nonetheless. Sam Brown’s dialed-in drum beats were mesmerizing – even I got lost in his incessant, fixated rhythms. Devojka’s electronic wizardry provided the high-voltage energy of the set, complimenting both Boeckner and Brown perfectly.
My favourite part of the night was when Operators were cheered back onto the stage for an encore, during which they played a Handsome Furs track “Damage” from 2011’s Polaris-nominated Sound Kapital. I left with a smile, as night one of JUNOfest set a pretty damn good tone for the rest of the festival.
Ottawa’s droney post-punk outfit Expanda Fuzz has released a new video for their single “Sonic Halo.” The track appears on bandcamp along with a cover of Earth, Wind, & Fire’s “September” in the wake of founding member Maurice White’s death last year.
The track is a minimalist psychedelic trip, with rolling percussion, a fuzzy lead guitar part, and mesmerizing vocals by Niki. The video’s aesthetic is dark and ominous, taking place in a remote field at dusk and featuring characters with strange masks and costumes. The video is not as dark and creepy as their video for “Flavour: Zombie” released last year, and it also contains beautiful colours of the sunset. However, the smoke-breathing Grim Reaper-type character also leaves the viewer with chills down the spine, and it’s not the kind of figure you’d want to run into on a dark, empty farm.
Although the song is just over two minutes long, it’s great to see a video being made that perfectly suits the sound of Expanda Fuzz. This song could have easily been incorporated into season one of True Detective, or even Apocalypse Now. The video accurately reflects that kind of imaginary trip into the darkness.
Expanda Fuzz is playing JUNOfest March 31st with Dilly Dally, No Fuss, and The Dirty Nil at House of TARG. Ticket and wristband information can be found here.
This past Wednesday, Detroit post-punkers Protomartyr visited Babylon, along with Hull’s Scattered Clouds and Ottawa’s own Baberaham Lincoln. I was really excited to finally see the headliners since 2014’s Under Color of Official Right, which was chalk full of catchy-but-thoughtful songs that really centred on front man Joe Casey’s compelling vocals.
Unfortunately, I only managed to arrive at the venue just as Scattered Clouds was finishing their set and Protomartyr began to set up. A modest crowd was already lingering around, having braved the drizzle and humpday blues to come out for the evening.
I was immediately intrigued by a suited gentleman wearing a baseball cap who hanging around by the stage and didn’t seem tot match the vibe of the room. As the band came out onto the stage he assume his position by the microphone as I quickly realized that the man dressed like a car-salesman was actually Joe Casey (the Detroit ball cap should have been a dead give away).With little banter the band got right into their set with as more people started to show up.
The wholesome thirteen-song set feature some of their most popular tracks from their two most recent records, the aforementioned Under Color of Official Right and mostly from last year’s more polished The Agent Intellect, with a few new tracks peppered in. Every song was delivered with nihilistic exuberance as the suited frontman passionately belted out the lyrics to Protomartyr’s noisy anthems with a beer in hand and free styled lyrics like “Don’t fall in love with your own asshole” on their rendition of “Maidenhead.” All of Casey’s stage presence was derived from his lyrical delivery by bellowing or almost talking through the words as he stood relatively still on stage.
Despite the relatively low turn out (which was substantial given the circumstances), the rest of the band seemed to be really enjoying themselves as they play through some of their songs with breakneck speed that threatened to tear them apart. Many songs from their last album, including “Why Does it Shake?”, “I Forgive You”, and “Pontiac 87” were prominently featured as well, with the latter’s refrain of “There’s no use being sad about it/ What’s the point of crying about it” emphatically repeated accompanied by a frenetic instrumental crescendo.
The rest of the set played out in the same way, punctuated by energetic increases in speed volume and noise along with a halftime breakdown here and there. As a whole, the four piece was very compelling, using a pointed guitar licks and economical but effective drum grooves to accompany Casey’s weighty lyrics. As the band finished their set I felt the need to go revisit the lyrical content of these songs after seeing odd and engaging way that Casey delivered them – you can tell that there a bigger ideas and themes behind the sometimes simplistic lyrics.
In this age of easy knowledge, there are hardly any corners of the cultural map still under shadow. It takes an increasingly more impressive sense of novelty for an act to rise above the waves of ‘lost’ artists and be noticed. The 1980 EP Transportation by Chandra boasts a backstory that threatens to become more interesting than the act itself. Fortunately the EP and it’s central artist, Chandra Oppenheim, are singular and brilliant enough stand apart from their remarkable origins.
That first ripple away from the centre of punk, so-called post-punk, is an amorphous and difficult thing to define. It is not a genre (genres be damned), but a moment in time – principally the years 1979 and 1980. In England it fused paranoid punk experimentalism with dub, funk, and more, while in New York it cleaved unto another side-lined genre – Loft disco. And in Transportation, the wiry talents of art-punk band the Model Citizens combined forces with a twelve-year-old songwriter to create an anxious and hyperactive masterpiece. But we will not fall prey to genetic fallacy, regardless of who made this record and when: it is outstanding.
Oppenheim has now decided to revisit her pre-teen career with the help of a six-piece backing band including among its ranks the Toronto experimental electronic duo, Bile Sister. And so, inside the bare stone walls of Gabby Hey, perched over the stretching City Centre, we interred ourselves alongside shades of the past to see what might be resurrected.
Inside I stood in an empty space while the steady pulse of DJ Jason Skilz reverberated off of the dark concrete. Slowly more of the curious crept in to stand in the shadows while the first act, Doves, took the stage. The low-set peripheral lighting threw expressionistic shadows high on the wall behind the three performers. This was the trio’s first live appearance and they pulled us down into a lowland of glacial and brooding shoegaze. Over a palpitation of bass and kick drum, they sent up cloudy sprays of guitar chords and silver pads of synth; washing the walls and our ears with abrasive strokes, while the dual vocals ranged in dynamic from fey croon to stentorian bark. It was a confident inauguration for the group, and left more than a few ears twitching.
Swiftly began the set up for Bile Sister which was as alchemically obscure as to warrant a circle of salt and sacred names around the stage. Wires and pedals, synths and synth drums, bass and vocals; missing only the bubbling phials of bright liquid and scrying mirror. The duo had descended on us from Toronto in a sickly spray of experimental pop, using live percussion loops, electronic invocations and mad, commanding vocals. Vocalist Julie Reich’s voice expands elastically, ecstatically from squeal to croak to doleful and dramatic croon, flying through the room and drawing everyone toward. The band waved their wands around and we were under their glamour in a world of sounds both brackish and sweet, with looped beats moving the body while the electronics addle the brain. The stage was cleared and the splatter was cleaned and soon the duo returned to aid in bringing Chandra back to life.
When Chandra took the stage, there was a palpable uncertainty and anticipation among the crowd. Who in their right mind would sing songs written by their twelve-year-old self, over thirty years later? The answer: only one who wrote such great songs. As was to be expected, the back catalogue was exhibited and the re-enactment was executed with bubbling, bouncing, freak funk precision by the seven assembled musicians. There were holes in the mix initially: the guitar was plucked but unheard and the backup singers sang mutely into their mics, but this was gradually rectified and the band found their cohesion. If anything the set served as a reminder for an album that deserves so much more recognition than it was afforded upon its original release. Bodies moved to the slithering bass line that bears aloft the discordant organ stabs and maniac disco clap of Opposite; and who alive could fail to be stimulated by the queasy groove of ‘Kate,’ with it’s unforgettable opening line. It would suffice as any for a signature song and boasts a lyric that, at first seems like simple juvenile prattle but which reveals a surprising depth and myriad inference.
The representation of these artifacts will hopefully remind listeners that one of the most important elements of the post-punk period was it’s attempt to move away from the increasingly ugly boys cult that was (and still is) much of the punk rock scene and to include a wider variety of voices. Yes we remember Joy Division and Gang of Four, but let’s not forget the racial politics of Two-Tone, or the feminist art-punk of Delta 5, Au Pairs and the Raincoats. Though the era has been tirelessly plundered, with the remount of Chandra we are reminded that there is still some mystery left to the world and who knows what else, what other voice seemingly less than suited to mainstream digestion, lies buried under the sands of the years?
NOTE: This contest is now closed. Scott M. is the winner of this contest. If you are not him, grab your tickets here now for the Feb.25 show: http://bit.ly/1Tiaeca
Dan Boeckner – a founding member of the seminal Canadian indie band, Wolf Parade – is a hard-working guy. When Wolf Parade went on an indefinite hiatus in 2010, many of us felt an emptiness caused by the void caused in the Canadian music landscape after this announcement. Up until the band’s recent announcement that they are getting back together for a string of residency shows in Toronto, NYC, and London (UK), many of us die-hard fans were left with very little hope to hold onto.
Boeckner, being the warhorse musician that he is, kept the tunes coming through various projects. He started the highly successful and Polaris-shortlisted group Handsome Furs with his then-wife Alexei Perry in 2005. This band explored Boeckner’s synth and dance-pop sensibilities, particularly on the acclaimed 2011 album Sound Kapital. After three great records, that band dissolved in 2012 upon their divorce.
Shortly after, Boeckner got back to his sonic roots and formed a new rock band called Divine Fits with a friend that he’d met in 2007 at a Handsome Furs gig. That friend just happened to be Brit Daniels of Spoon, joined by drummer Sam Brown (ex- New Bomb Turks). They somehow managed to find time to write and record their 2012 album, A Thing Called Divine Fits, which is just as great as you’d expect it to be given the calibre of that collaboration.
In 2013, Divine Fits was put on hold and Boeckner returned to Montreal along with Sam Brown and Devojka (of Guests) to form Operators. Although Operators is sonically similar to Handsome Furs, the band and the approach to the music are very different. Describing themselves as “analog post-punk,” the band uses equipment such as analog synths, sampling pads, drum triggers, and yes, his electric guitar. No laptops. No pre-programming.
Along with Brown and Devojka, Boeckner has taken a bold next step in his musical career. They toured with Future Islands following the release of EP1 in 2014, and are now set to release their debut full-length, Blue Wave, on April 1st through Last Gang Records.
Local punk/post-punk/whatever band Boonie Doon released their first EP called An Affair to Imagine on Bruised Tongue yesterday, Saturday, June 28, when they played a massive show with Pregnancy Scares and White Lung at House of Targ. They’ve already released the EP on bandcamp, and this band teleports me to a time when pizza was good for you because it contains all four food groups and sleepovers didn’t include hangovers the next day.
Here is their message to us: ◢ ◢ ◢ Bonnie Doon was born under the full moon in the eighth month of the twelfth year of the pizza. We came from outer space to wag the dog. ◣◣◣
The band brings about a similar emotive reaction as The Pixies or early Nirvana: one part a little fucked up and esoteric, and two parts amazing filthy, bang-on instrumentation that can cause mass hysteria. I’m really excited to see where these ladies take this band, as their music is pretty different and genre-defying.
Lesley: We separated the recording process because some of us weren’t in town, so that was a learning curve.
Keltie: We recorded drums first and I nothing to go off of, so Sarah sang all the parts into a microphone which was fed into my ears going na na na na and I somehow knew what she was talking about.
Lesley: There’s a lot of great women in the scene and it’s fun to be a part of that and part of the scene in general and also see other women do awesome shit and be like “hey sweet!” A lot of people are jazzed on our band, I think because there was a lack of female presence in the Ottawa scene, so I’m really honoured to be seen as a mentor for the scene. It’s super rad, and I’m stoked to see more women and men playing music together.
Listen here to hear them talk about the urban legends of Pizza Shark and more. Check out the EP below!