(Bird and Flag; 2011)
By Calum Marsh | 12 November 2011
It’s not uncommon in Ottawa for a single musician to round out a half dozen bands at any given moment, but few manage to exercise as much discretion—or at least fall into as much luck—as Adam Saikaley, whose widely varying creative endeavors never fail to impress. If you’re even marginally interested in the local music scene here in the capital, you’ve most likely encountered Saikaley in one form or another before, whether on keys in former pseudo-prog outfit As the Poets Affirm, heading up vocals in the currently on-hiatus Videotape (whose excellent debut My Favorite Thing was celebrated by Conrad in these pages before), or while wielding complicated-looking computer equipment during one of his highly involved solo sets. Maybe you saw him DJ a party once. Or perhaps you’ve heard him on the radio, where he hosted CBC Radio One’s Bandwidth. I realize that to anyone outside of Ottawa (and, trust me, you are the 99%), none of this means much of anything. But try to understand that in a city without proper celebrities, local celebrities are sort of a big deal. This is the city that treats spotting Don McKellar at a Braids show like the second coming. Guys as talented as Adam mean a lot.
Because his bands have opened for bigger touring acts like Sunset Rubdown and Destroyer, I think Adam’s recognized around town as something of a quintessential indie rocker. But he’s also a classically trained musician who studied sound design in University, facts reflected more clearly in his solo compositions than in anything he’s done in a rock-oriented setting. On his own he’s opened for Pauline Oliveros, Trevor Dunn, and Growing, and I suspect those names are indicative of Adam’s personal influences and aesthetic predilections; they’re certainly appropriate reference points when it comes to describing the work he’s capable of producing alone.
Though he’s been known to delve into everything from deep house cuts to idiosyncratic glitch-pop, “Fire,” what you might consider his definitive composition, serves up the more straight-forward ambient-noise work Adam’s always done best. Originally released as a limited-run cassette (another gesture typical of Ottawa), “Fire” is finally being granted a more formal official release from Bird And Flag, a new local label run by one of Adam’s former bandmates. I suppose its life as a cassette made a certain aesthetic sense—“Fire” is rooted in the seductive nostalgia of analog equipment, after all—but there’s little, if anything, lost in the translation to digital; “Fire” still sounds as full-bodied and dynamic coming through earbuds as it ever did elsewhere, its texture still intact.
And its texture, in fact, is crucial: like Emeralds, with whom he shares a fondness for the sounds of technological obsolescence, Adam makes ambient music feel rich and full, a body with real momentum. It’s too easy for ambient music to lean on negative space, and when it does it sounds not so much “expansive” as empty. “Fire” does the opposite: as a soundscape it clearly stresses sound, and its depth gives it substance. It may be easy for ambient music to be superficially approximated with laptop loops and ready-made plugins, but you can’t fake something like “Fire”—the sounds speak for themselves.
I’ve seen Adam perform “Fire” live about six times across the last two or three years, and regardless of the venue—a Soviet-themed bar, a church, someone’s basement, wherever—it always commands the room. But then Adam’s always performing something somewhere in the city; a couple of weeks ago I saw him kill an hour-long set of improvised dance-rock with a new three-piece band called Silkken Laumann (at the opening of an art exhibit sponsored by the Mexican Embassy, natch), and they commanded the room then, too. The guy’s an indie rock Renaissance man, and “Fire” is just one facet of his talent. A compelling facet, of course, but it’s more impressive to consider it as one piece of a ridiculously impressive whole. I can’t wait for his hip-hop record.