By Calum Marsh | 5 October 2009
It’s been belabored on these pages before, but that Ottawa’s HILOTRONS continue to exist largely unnoticed by the general population is nothing short of iniquity. This is doubly true for CMG’s own Dave Ritter, whose trumpeting of last year’s Happymatic carried with it an air of resignation, as though the band’s continued anonymity beyond this city’s borders was a given. But that review ended on a note of anticipation, not for the HILOTRONS’ hopeful future but for the path of those following in their wake. Future generations of Ottawa pop bands, Ritter hypothesized—“bands who know what it means to be a great pop band because of the one in their home town”—might appropriate the former’s approach to indie rock with more lucrative (and border-crossing) results.
Within a year of its utterance, I suspect the prediction has been fulfilled: from within the borders of our fair capital city bursts forth the Balconies, a precocious indie rock three-piece brimming with youthful charm and vigor. If the HILOTRONS are this city’s beloved mainstay, the band that’s worked tirelessly for many years, scheduling practices around dinner with their respective families and populating hometown gigs with more friends than fans, the Balconies are the fresh-faces, the new blood, booking shows around school timetables and visiting their grandparents on holiday weekends. As champions of the former, we grasp you by thrift-store lapels, urging you to buy—or hell, download, or listen to their Myspace!—Happymatic; the Balconies require no such urging on my part, because their imminent success is obvious. They are headed to your iPod with unfathomable celerity. Prepare to hear a lot of them.
And this is a very positive thing indeed, because The Balconies is about as charming as indie rock records get. And as unpretentious: this is the kind of adequate, assured pop music that has made superstars out of many, and it is delivered by a group every bit as redolent of glamor as the aesthetic practice in which they revel. It’s glitzy and smooth around the edges; it’s light and breezy; it’s fun. Just listen to Jacqui Nevelle’s alluring “ooooh“s on “The Slo,” or dig those backing “ba-bah“s on “300 Pages”: these are party jams.
Competent, serviceable indie rock records like this provide such a narrow sort of satisfaction that it’s difficult to fault them for their relative vacuity. The Balconies tend to rely heavily on convention, but the fun lies in their ability to execute those conventions so adroitly. Just check that fidgety bass line in “Battle Royale,” or the jamming the closes out “Serious Bedtime”: it’s tough to trace these gestures to any one identifiable source, but the Balconies quote contemporary indie rock convention so liberally that proper citation seems strictly impossible. It’s like a slasher director whose compendium of influences is much too broad to get a proper handle on—the resulting work feels like such a vague pastiche that it almost ends up less contrived than had it referred to something specifically. Thus the Balconies sound kinda like Bloc Party and kinda like Metric and, yes, kinda like the HILOTRONS; but, like so many of the post-Funeral (2004) indie rock outfits, very rarely do the Balconies let their direct influences show.
One of the first times I saw the Balconies live was at the GaGa Weekend, Ottawa’s annual congregation of the city’s best punk and garage rock bands, and they were the odd group out of the bunch. They brought their pop jams to a cramped room of fifteen or twenty, sweating it out as something more heavier and grungier prepared to play in the next room over, and as a total experience it was pretty underwhelming. A few weeks later I saw the band again, but this time it was on a spacious outdoor stage at the Ottawa Bluesfest, where they were opening for Land of Talk and Mother Mother. This, certainly, was more fitting: the Balconies are built for festivals and stadiums, not basements and bedrooms. Their indie rock is anthemic and enormous, and on stage they carry themselves like they’re already as famous as I have no doubt they’ll soon be. The bulk of the material they played for the swelling crowd of Bluefest attendees comes from The Balconies, and if the crowd’s enthusiasm for that set is any indication, this record should have no trouble finding its audience.