II: Halifax & Cape Breton, NS
By Scott Reid | 20 September 2006
Short introductory note: With this scenecast, I’m not trying to capture all or even most of Halifax and Cape Breton’s worthwhile independent music; instead. Instead, I’m aiming to capture very specific pieces of it, in an attempt to a) be somewhat selective, b) leave more than enough material (genres other than folk, pop and rock, for instance) for a very probable Part 2, and c) create a good stand-alone mix and not just an introduction to the Maritime independent music scene. With all of that in mind…
1. Air Traffic Control: “Feel Proud”
- (0:01 – 3:04)
- from Air Traffic Control (Self-released; 2005)
This sounds exactly how east coast rock should sound—and did, actually, during its mid-‘90s “little Seattle” (ugh) era: a little Guided by Voices swagger, huge pop hooks and simple garage-rock arrangement of just guitar, bass, drums and vocals. You can hear more from the Lunenburg trio at their Myspace page: myspace.com/bandairtrafficcontrol.
2. Mardeen: “Kids”
- (3:05 – 7:07)
- from Read Less Minds, unreleased.
This one’s from an album that “won’t be out for a while” according to Mardeen’s guitarist/vocalist, Travis Ellis. Their Friends Don’t Love EP set us up for this kind of harmonic, driving guitar-centric indie pop—the title subject of which also seems to be their new angle for promo photos. Cute.
3. The Lighthouse Choir: “Heard Through an Open Window”
- (7:08 – 10:05)
- from The Lighthouse Choir (Self-released/Omnicloud; 2004)
Lighthouse Choir are one of the area’s more diverse bands, penning beautiful instrumental post-rock, Decemberists-y sea shanties, and, like with “Open Window,” the early centerpiece from their self-titled debut, stark bedroom folk. The formula is simple but endearing: just two chords, (at first) light percussion and a terrific “la de da” group chorus, iced by Carolyn Lionais’ wandering harmonies.
4. Broken Deer: “Faces on the River Side”
- (10:06 – 13:33)
- from Displaced Field Recordings (Self-released; 2006)
Here’s a edited clip from the album’s one-track, 45-minute lo-fi (seriously: cheap tape recorders and answering machines only, makes early Mountain Goats sound Bob Rockish) from Halifax’s Lindsay Dobbin, who decribes her music as “a weld of geology and sound. A historical recovery. The earth building up and collapsing, weathered down, restrained and decayed. Spaces of loss were sifting around underneath. Little pieces quietly fading, shifting, wanting to sweep the sky. I needed to recover them. Bring what was left to the surface. Find the hidden hope beneath a layering of heavy sediment. I wanted to remember a gathering of our small going, displaced.” Sure.
5. The Heavy Blinkers: “Mother Dear”
- (13:34 – 16:25)
- from The Night and I Are Still So Young (Endearing; 2004)
The Heavy Blinkers were my favorite non-defunct Halifax band even before I lived a single day in the city for many more than the following reasons, but since I have to keep these blurbs short: 1) they love Brian Wilson and know how to translate that admiration into more than a competent facsimile; and 2) they love way more than just late ’60s/‘70s-era B Boys, and each record has taken significant steps toward defining their own richly produced indie/chamber/soft-pop sound within an endearingly retro approach. A few years later, The Night and I Are Still So Young still just be the best album of its kind the city’s produced since, well, Better Weather.
6. Mayapple Weather: “Hey Kid, Keep Your Head Above the Water”
- (16:26 – 19:15)
- from We No Longer Believe in Miracles, We Rely on Them (Sundays in Spring/Omnicloud; 2005)
Beautiful, sparse autumnal folk akin to Iron & Wine and Horse Feathers, from a member of Lighthouse Choir/the Omnicloud collective (“labels have money, we’re a community”). Mayapple Weather, aka Cape Breton’s Mark Boudreau, is also a fine lyricist, not that you’re likely to recognize that through his low mumble. You can find more info about Mark’s solo work at the Sundays in Spring website.
7. Dog Day: “Use Your Powers”
- (19:16 – 23:42)
- from Thank You (Sonic Unyon/Out of Touch; 2005)
Now readying their first full length for release on Tomlab, just a year after releasing their debut EP, Dog Day is likely the city’s best bet for next ‘breakout’ artist. “Use You Powers,” a catchy lo-fi mash up of Built to Spill, Eric’s Trip and Treble Charger (!) that effortlessly runs through hooks like each is too good to repeat, is early reason why. Hear more at the band’s Myspace page.
8. Wintersleep: “Jaws of Life”
- (23:43 – 26:45)
- from Untitled (Dependent; 2005)
How an ambitious east coast rock band breathe new life into grunge: they deflate it, wrap it in strands of classic rock and pop (check the harmonies that unfold near the end of this track), work with but not entirely within the quiet/loud dynamic, avoid repeating everything in standard verse-chorus-verse structure (i.e. you can’t do this), and produce it with restraint instead of an overdo-it-like-you-mean-it modern rock approach.
9. The Dean Malenkos: “Norwegian Punk Song”
- (26:46 – 27:49)
- from_ The Album That Turns Girls Into Sluts_ (Self-released; 2005)
“Coming Soon” might be Sluts’ Patton-does-Propagandhi centerpiece, but “Norwegian Punk Song” is their most recent release’s early standout amongst cancer and emo jokes. (And only one of the two I can actually make available for download, so….) It’s tongue-in-cheek pop-punk, sure, but this is no Simple Plan or Gob; the track takes the basic punk approach, attaches a couple of actual hooks and clever tempo changes, then tops it off with a great sing-along finale, all in 65 glorious what-the-fuck-just-happened seconds.
Oh, and they killed as a Nirvana cover band at a Halloween show last year at the Attic—which, if you’ve ever been to High School talent shows (in the mid-late ’90s, at least, I have no idea what teenagers are ruining these days, probably My Chemical Romance or something), is actually a lot harder than it sounds.
10. City Field: “Pigeon Quest”
- (27:50 – 29:46)
- from Authentic City (Field Recordings; 2006)
City Field is Matt Murphy’s new band—his first since the break-up (and then dismal reincarnation) of the Super Friendz and then later the Flashing Lights—with Firecat USA’s Gregg Millman, bassist Brent Randall and visual artist Mitchell Wiebe. “Pigeon Quest” at best only half-resembles what you’d expect from a Murphy-fronted project, weirding up familiar guitar-pop with a B52’s half-spoken warble, melodic female backing vocals (surprise twist: Gregg’s not a dude), and lyrics about hippies and midgets.
11. Carmen Townsend and the Shakey Deals: “River Rat”
- (29:47 – 33:50)
A Cape Breton native now based out of Halifax, Carmen Townsend’s “River Rat” is from her upcoming full length with backing band the Shakey Deals. The Deals do well to create a jittery, animated backdrop for Townsend’s monster of a voice, cradling and propelling her melodic wail instead of sedating or overpowering it. And here’s another animal-themed track from that much anticipated debut LP: “Sweet Little Bird.”
12. Mike O’Neill: “Andy”
- (33:51 – 36:15)
- from What Happens Now (Zunior; 2000)
13. Jill Barber: “For All Time”
- (36:16 – 39:56)
- from For All Time (Dependent/Baudelaire; 2006)
Ok, so this is cheating a little—Jill Barber’s originally from Toronto and currently working out of Halifax, but this one’s worth the stretch. CMG’s Kate Steele recently pointed out her similarity to fellow Canadian singer/songwriters Sarah Harmer and Sarah Slean; and though this track doesn’t reflect Slean’s cabaret influence, it certainly does recall the raw, folkier moments of Harmer’s incredible solo debut, You Were Here (2000), matching the style with a melody strong enough to carry its repetition and familiarity.
You can hear four more tracks at Barber’s Myspace page.
14. Joel Plaskett Emergency: “Light of the Moon”
- (39:57 – 46:25)
- from Down at the Khyber (Brobdingnagian; 2003)
In the past few years, the ex-Thrush Hermit frontman has started to embrace the kind of anthemic bar-rock that his first solo record had gleefully shrugged away from in all its lo-fi glory. His records have grown progressively more accessible (and far more/less enjoyable, depending on who you ask) since heading it solo with the Emergency, but it was with his sophomore effort, _Down at the Khyber,_that Plaskett got everything right, infusing his now by-rote pop-rock with variety and depth. The record contained the city’s best single that year (”Careless Love“), a stunning collab with the Heavy Blinkers’ Ruth Minnikin (“Blinding Light”), and one hell of a folk-rock epic album closer with “Light of the Moon.”