Once in a while, a bill pops up on the calendar and makes you do a double take. “$10 for all of this? That can’t be right!” It’s like finding one of your favourite records that you’ve been looking for for ages, and then finding one in perfect condition at Value Village. So it went, leading up to the night of Nov. 21. A few artists I had come to really love, Dusted and The Elwins, managed to somehow meet and decide that they want to play music together in the same night at Ritual in Ottawa. Needless to say, no twisting of my arm was required.
I haven’t really been to any shows in a while due to a pretty serious accident I was involved in a few months ago. In turn, Eric Scharf has taken on the role of “La Machina”, hitting as many shows as possible and doing most of the coverage around Ottawa for several months. For this, I am extremely thankful that he took it upon himself to undertake all these responsibilities. Joe, who is the other leg of the Showbox tripod, has taken on an essential editorial role as well, which I am also thankful for. While I’m not out of the woods quite yet, returning to some state of normalcy means that I must slowly start bringing live music back into my life… with earplugs.
I arrived at the venue a little late, which, if you know me, is not an unexpected occurrence. It’s encoded in my DNA. I was thoroughly bummed that Dusted’s album Total Dust wasn’t available in vinyl, but I was able to catch the end of Pith and the Parenchymas‘s set as they opened the night. My first thought was “What the hell is a “pith” and a “parenchyma”?”
1. a) a usually continuous central strand of spongy tissue in the stems of most vascular plants that probably functions chiefly in storage.
1. the essential and distinctive tissue of an organ or an abnormal growth as distinguished from its supportive framework
(Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
So basically I still have no idea what their band name means, but it pertains to the structure of a biological organism of some sort. They’re a newer band on the Ottawa scene, and one of only a few experimental acts in the city. While I only caught the last song, it was enough to get a feel for the band. Granted, like most experimental music, it’s not for everyone. However, if you’re into opening your mind to structureless, obscure methods of sonic creation, this band is making music that doesn’t seem bound to any set of rules or laws in the music world. It was a nice surprise, as they diverged significantly from both Dusted and The Elwins. Their sound contains echoes of psychedelic influences, and triggered a notion in my head that if desert rock and experimental mated, the music would sound something like what Pith and the Parenchymas was making. The lead singer’s eccentric and energetic behaviour on stage really added to their appeal, as it became obvious the neither he nor the crowd wanted the set to finish. This “experimental freak folk” band is certainly worth keeping an eye on, as they have released two EPs in 2013. Check out their latest EP The Nocturnals here.
I heard of Dusted last year, upon the release of their debut album Total Dust in July 2012. I suppose I stumbled across it online, as the group is the project of Brian Borschedt of Holy Fuck and Wintersleep drummer Loel Campbell. Intrigued by this, I gave Total Dust a listen expecting it to be reminiscent of his instrumentation in Holy Fuck, or something along those lines. I was wrong. The album is a complete departure — a hollowed, reverb-laden work with overdriven vocals and contains a soul of its own. It was up there with my albums of the year, and the song ‘Bruises’ still one of my favourites. They played some new songs, which if we’re lucky, will materialize on a new album next year at some point. I was able to catch Dusted at NXNE 2013 in Toronto at The Garrison, and the incredible tone of his hollow-body Guild rang through all of us. There’s something special about two guys on stage, otherwise alone and naked (not literally of course). There’s nothing to hide behind, no crunchy distortion to cover missed notes – just two guys with their instruments. It was incredible being so close up at Ritual, as Brian and Loel recreated the sound they achieved on the album almost perfectly. This sound is something that is better to listen to rather than having me describe it, and is crucial to the emotive response the songs evoke upon listening. Also, Loel uses a bass synth pad instead of them having a bassist, which is awesome in so many ways. Unless you are a bassist, in which case your job is being taken over by an electronic device that does the same thing.
I met Brian at Arboretum Festival back in August (he was there playing with Holy Fuck), as I sheepishly introduced myself backstage as a local blogger who adored Total Dust. He’s a genuinely kind and modest guy, as he seemed infinitely appreciative to hear of this feedback in person. I will never forget him passing me on the street at 3am following the Arboretum after party, as I supervised a large beer fridge/tap on the sidewalk by myself as he strolled by with a giant grin on his face. Unfortunately for both of us, there was no beer left in the keg.
The Elwins are a really fun band to see live. I had first seen them at NXNE 2013 playing Audio Blood’s parking lot party, which was a ton of fun. They certainly did not disappoint. Their debut full length And I Thank You is instantly likeable, a complete pop album with catchy songs that inspire dancing, and in cases like last night, lots of making out. The Elwins have toured extensively in support of the album, and have made their way across Canada and Europe. Notably, And I Thank You was recently re-released through German label Affairs of the Heart. The band got the whole crowd going, and at one point guitarist/keyboardist Feurd came out into the crowd with the tambourine. He then devolved all tambourine responsibilities to a young gentleman in the crowd with an equally impressive moustache. The kind of moustache that exists all months of the year. They played some of their new material, such as ‘Awake and Well’ and ‘So Down Low’ which are expected to appear on a new album in early 2014. For my money, I think their song ‘Stuck in the Middle’ will remain a true Canadian summer anthem for years to come.
*NOTE: A former version of this post indicated that Brian was on stage with former Dusted drummer Leon Taheny. The drummer was, in fact, Wintersleep drummer Loel Campbell.