On Thursday night, crowds escaped the damp, rainy Ottawa streets and piled into a dimly lit Bronson Centre to witness an evening of ambient, atmospheric music. Headliner Timber Timbre visited Ottawa for the fourth time in 6 years along with support from Ottawa’s own Boyhood Scattered Clouds.
Scattered Clouds took to the stage first, rising out of an ascending red fog. Performing as a 2-piece band with Jamie Kronick on drums and Philippe Charbonneau on guitar, keyboard, and vocals, this band was the most surprising act of the night. In terms of style, Scattered Clouds describe themselves as “dark, experimental, and post apocalyptic.” These characteristics could not be more fitting. Beginning their set with a heavy presence of baritone guitar and an emphasis on drums driving the synths, the band achieved a sound that could easily be equated to a modern day embodiment of a Joy Division b-side album, with an “Ian Curtis- esque” vocal tone. The second half of the set however, transitioned into an emphasis on synth and a precision in instrumentation. Creating an atmospheric 80’s dance vibe, the band achieved a type of lo-kfi sound that left the audience in a state of euphoria. Waking from this set with the harsh Bronson Centre lighting was like waking out of a heavy, romantic dream.
When the lights dimmed again, our good pals Boyhood took to the stage. Clad in flared pants and turtlenecks, Boyhood did not fail to deliver their staple moody, noisy sound. As always Caylie Runciman delivered raw and airy vocals that harmonized beautifully with her band, and provided an emotional and unpolished set completed with songs that morphed and melted into one another. Giving us a taste of what is to be expected from the upcoming album Bad Mantras, which will be the bands first album since 2012, the set featured the bands catchy “Drivin’” and “He Don’t.” Beginning with keyboard, Caylie swapped over to guitar midway through the set where she went to town in an emotional and raw guitar solo. It’s easy to get lost in a Boyhood set, and this was no exception.
Last but not least, Timber Timbre finished the night in almost total darkness, with only subtle lighting sweeping the stage. A glass of liquor sat idled on an amp to the right, Taylor Kirk began playing what seemed like it would be the entirety of his most recent work, Sincerely Future Pollution. However four songs in, the set took a detour towards an intermingling of a huge sample of his work, ranging from his self titled back in 2009 to his most recent. Detouring the set with Hot Dreams, the band’s instrumentation, and deep, sultry vocals, the song was delivered with a raw, sensual and emotional demeanour.
This specific Timber Timbre performance was unlike many others. His previous shows in Ottawa, which included a performance in Ottawa’s first Baptist Church in 2011, a set at Folk Fest in 2012, where he performed alone with a kick drum, and even his set at Jazz Fest in 2015, stuck pretty tightly to the delivery of the songs on the album. However, this set tended to use the style in the albums as backdrops for experimentation and improvisation with melody and pace during the performance, providing unequivocal authenticity. Most notable in this performance was the “Curtains?!” jam session that lengthened the song by about two extra minutes with intense instrumentation. The night ended with a 3-part encore beginning with “Grand Canyon,” that delivered an expressive and theatrical but emotive and raw finale.
This show captured a unique energy that seems to have been strengthened by the uniqueness of all the bands but also the ways in which they played off of one another. They each brought an atmospheric sound and seamless instrumentation, as well as a hard punch in the heartstrings with their raw vocals, lyrical movements, and honest and authentic delivery. The perfect ambiance to fit the creepy environment that is the Bronson Centre on a rainy evening, this show was not one to miss.
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?