What would it take to make you give it all up? And by ‘it,’ I mean everything. All of it. All you hold dear and precious in your life. Would it be a person? A feeling? A moment in time?
Halifax-based / Fredericton-born Kurtis Eugene makes me want to know what that ‘it’ is for him when he wails “For what it’s worth/ I’d give it all away / To be with you / Someday,” at the close of the achingly poignant “For What It’s Worth”. I would give everything away to experience the level of intense emotion and connection Eugene invests in song. His muse must be great to elicit such heartfelt, plain-spoken poetry.
Eugene opens “For What It’s Worth” with the lines “Mama always told me / Use what you got for good”. I’m profoundly grateful he heeded her advice. The song (and all of his 2016 release Old Rooms New Light) employs his musical and storytelling gifts for the greater good.
In between listening to your prog-ur-doom orchestra and your improvised bagpipe solo albums, try Chik White’s Malform as a palette cleanser. Hailing from the rural seascape of West Chezzetcook, Nova Scotia, Chik White sounds exactly like someone simultaneously playing a variety of jaw harps with intensity and tenacity, using contact mics to amplify the sounds of the player’s movements, all with a very thick low-end and some kind of overdriven distortion or compression. Nothing about this album is normal. But it’s totally of the moment, and a very meaningful contribution to the recorded arts of sonic meditation.
We all harbour a secret desire to be in a band. Admit it. Even if you’ve never successfully played a bar of music in your life, you’ve basked in the adoration of an imaginary stadium of fans boisterously losing their shit over your blisteringly hot tennis racket solo or leave-it-all-on-the-bedroom floor lip sync into a hairbrush.
Slow Man Tofu brilliantly bottles the cacophonic energy that comes when one person turns to another and says, “Hey, you wanna start a band?” on the aptly named “Starting Bands”. It’s about music as therapy, music as release, music as a way of life. It’s finding kindred spirits whose first reaction to such a question isn’t to laugh, but to dream. An eruption of guitars mid-way through is the sound of potential and possibility rushing to the surface, finally free to be voiced and shared with another. You’re never alone when you’re in a band. It’s more than having safety in numbers; it’s having a sense of purpose and value.
It’s that feeling you get when you know, truly know, there’s a connection between you and another. A transcendent connection beyond physical and emotional love. It’s the connection that comes when you’re keeping time with another. Like “Starting Bands” itself, the feeling is fleeting, but in the moment there’s nothing better.
Is a history lesson in order? Am I acting like a dowdy old professor, wearing chalk dusty robes, branding a ruler in my hand, standing in front of a class of whippersnappers and lecturing on the origins of Kestrels’ “No Alternative”?
“You young people of the new millennium! Listen to me! I have wisdom and knowledge from before the dawn of Google!”
I know, I know. No one is listening. The kids, they’re listening to Chad Peck’s barely there, velvety vocals and fuzzed-up guitar work, cascading like waterfalls over his brother Devin Peck’s pummeling bass while it sparrs with drummer Paul Brown’s dynamic one-two rhythmic punch. The kids don’t give a shit about the title’s pedigree, or how it perfectly dovetails into the swirling guitar whirlpool Kestrels have been stirring up in the studio.
Rock is full of instances where history repeats itself, and while “No Alternative” has me coming back to yesteryear, the song finds the Halifax based trio on a frenzied trajectory forward, with no time for lazing about. Lesson learned: whether it’s 1996 or 2016, there’s no alternative to a perfectly crafted hook filtered through a battalion of guitar pedals.
Halifax’s Sarah Denim‘s “Lights On” is a watercolour painting inked over with crisp dark lines. Squiggly synth lines highlight and accent the vivid palette she uses in broad brush strokes as the base of her minimalist work of art. About 40 seconds in, the slightest of pauses–pregnant with anticipation–bursts forward, animating the song and bringing it to glorious life. It’s a moment of cautious hesitation immediately scrapped in favour of ‘fuck it, you only live once’ attitude. It’s details like this, and a myriad others, that make “Lights On” (and “It Goes”, released to SoundCloud around the same time) endlessly enjoyable.