Transistor Sound and Lighting Co.
Transistor Sound & Lighting Co.
By Scott Reid | 9 February 2003
I’m going back a good four-and-a-half years to review this album, but seeing as how the rest of the world seems content in ignoring this indie rock masterpiece, I’ll take it upon myself to sum up why I’ve loved this record for so many years for the vast internet universe and any who happen to find their way upon this site or, more importantly, this review. The band, which was based out of Winnipeg and featured the extreme talent of Jason Churko, Dino D’Ottavio and sound engineer Marty Kinack, lasted a relatively short while (even for the world of indie rock), releasing only one full length, 7" and EP (all self-titled and featuring basically the same songs, save a few on the 7").
Like most other great Canadian independent acts that have reached the same fate (think:Inbreds, Zumpano, Thrush Hermit, Super Friendz, Rheostatics), Transistor Sound& Lighting Co. were instantly forgotten by pretty much everyone except the lucky few who had picked up their album — either because they saw them live (they opened for Treble Charger a couple of times — or at least once that I’m sure of, so that must’ve been some decent publicity), or saw the "Anyways/ Mayonnaise" video on Much Music (good on ‘em for playing the video semi-regularly). After the album, they parted ways and decided to work on other projects, (which rarely ever go anywhere; seriously, where is Paul Jago these days and why is Jason writing children’s songs?), further condemning their past greatness to be eternally forgotten and lost in the greater scheme of the indie rock "cannon" (if Canadian indie rock can have such a thing).
What Transistor Sound & Lighting Co. had done with their debut full length was the perfecting of their Canadian lo-fi indie rock/pop sound, combining miniscule elements of bands like Archers of Loaf, Pavement and Guided By Voices with a unique and varied lo-fi (yet remarkably clear and detailed) production to create a sound that was all their own, extrapolating it over 16 tracks of the best indie rock this country never heard. Powered by excellent singles ("Prince Vince" and "Anyways / Mayonnaise" — "Proletariat Rant" and/or "Jaded & Elated"would’ve made excellent singles as well), the album had a chance at gaining some recognition at one point. Even if they didn’t exactly have a single as instantly loveable as "The First Day of Spring" (though,really, the Gandharvas weren’t any better off in the end because of it), it’d be nice to think that the constant plays of "Anyways / Mayonnaise"in 1998 was more to with its quality and appeal than CanCon regulations (which,cruelly, helped launch the careers of Pluto and Choclair).
From the muddled distortion and irresistible melodies of opener "Coffee Song," it becomes obvious that this is a band that loves a great hook as much as a clever production trick or well-controlled feedback. At the first the production may be off-putting to some used to slick compression, but as the record goes on it becomes clear that it’s as important to the impact of the songs as the vocals or guitar lines; the band understood, amongst other things, that production can be used to set a mood more effectively than any other aspect, an immediate and visceral mask over a song. For this reason, production values range from song to song — so while the guitar seems muddled in "Coffee Song"and "Anyways / Mayonnaise," it’s clear as bell in "House of Sleep" and "Three Chords."
What you begin to notice with the album due to aspects such as the use of production as another important instrument is that the band, and the songs, just seem to get it. They understood how to make a melody extra affecting; they understood how to layer instruments to create layered harmonies and not to thicken the sound or double-track to make it louder; they understood how to masterfully piece together a song like "Elegy for Peaches," with its abstract lyrics,sporadic synth lines and fantastic coda over a simple series of three guitar chords and a pulsing synth line composed of just two notes; they knew when to keep a song extremely short as to keep its terrific melody unspoiled with unnecessary filler (as is the case with the absolutely gorgeous "Planet Sweetness" and the raucous "Good Egg").
The album’s lone instrumental, "Fly the Trike, A Faster Bike," an extremely upbeat and simple number propelled by some distorted guitar and screaming feedback,manages to not only create a great hook with its relatively sparse arrangement,but one which is undoubtedly amongst the best on the album. The song is also able to perfectly bridge the mood between the solemn "The Trampoline Delay" (one of my personal favorite tracks) and the "Drown"-riff borrowing (yeah, the Pumpkins tune) but nevertheless excellent "Jaded& Elated" (with the easily quotable "I thought rock guitar could save my generation"). They understood how to do all of this and make it all sound ridiculously easy.
It’s consistent,it’s well written, creatively produced, original, challenging and, well, Canadian. So when asking why the album was completely ignored and well on its way to being forgotten except for a few of us, only one of those aspects can go towards explaining it. It’s one of those scene-making releases that could and should have been huge in the underground had more people had the chance to hear of the damn thing. Instead, they’re dropped by ViK and replaced with the likes of (no, I’m not kidding) Shawn Desman, Love Inc. and McMaster & James.
For now, the sad state of affairs doesn’t mean our great albums need to be ignored or passed over. So while the album may be out of print and extremely difficult to find,if you happen to come across it in some used record store or (even rarer,though perhaps not in larger Canadian centres where big chains may still have copies left over from when people didn’t buy it the first time around) just laying around new in an HMV (good luck), don’t pass it up. Search the internet for it,even. Buy it. Love it. Tell some friends. Get your pal in Vancouver or Toronto to check out the local used places (for instance, Sonic Boom in Toronto regularly has copies for dirt cheap). Let the artists know we appreciate albums as fantastic as this even if no one else will. If you’re rich, take some money from your wiping pile and re-release the thing for wonderful people like us.For sure it’s a difficult album to find these days, but like all great things,it’s well worth the trouble.