Surf Dads, Summer Vacation

Surf Dads, Summer Vacation, Regina SK

Too soon to start thinking about summer? Premature to pine for perma-patio weather? Not if you’re Gage McGuire and Chris Dimas of Regina’s Surf Dads. Every day is a summer day when this duo gears up and lets the guitar-driven beach rock rip the way they do on Summer Vacation, a four-song EP released in the heady heat of July 2016.

Opener “Found Yourself in Thailand” is a sharply rendered shredder, so potent it should require legalization legislation. The song’s brilliantly observed, cutting lyrics about clichéd spiritual quests that end in personal tragedy clearly signals that Surf Dads have the full package of skills: songwriting, storytelling, and style.

Amidst all the garage rocking gruffness, McGuire and Dimas have a tender side, too. I would love to sit down and hear about the full story behind “Yesterday’s Clothes” (“Take some time to get to know me / I promise that I’m not that bad / Maybe a bit hard to understand”), but maybe I’m better off not knowing. Knowledge would likely break the spell the song spins with its circling guitars and sombre mood; I’d rather let my imagination run where Surd Dads want to take me.

Plan the perfect getaway: add Surf Dads’ Summer Vacation to your itinerary, and let this duo do all the driving.

Alex Bent + the Emptiness, Dead, In The Water

Alex Bent + the Emptiness, Dead, In The Water

On the surface they seem like polar opposites, but the oceans and the prairies are alike on so many levels. Flat and smooth one moment; prone to devastating meteorological disturbances the next. They are both places of loneliness, desolation, and danger. Both are easy to get lost in.

So is Dead, In The Water, the second full-length record from Saskatoon-born singer-songwriter Alex Bent + the Emptiness. Bent is open and honest about the difficult period in his personal life that influenced the dark pall that hangs over Dead, In The Water. In interviews, he offers resigned introspection about that time, much of it spent in his home working on music, this music. There are moments when Bent comes within a hair’s width of crossing the line between confession and embarrassment, but that’s the whole point. He feels so out of his skin, so creepy, displaced, and he wants us to feel it, too.

Psychologists could write essays and volumes on opener “Paper Mask ‘16” alone. As a statement of intent, it lays all Bent’s cards on the table early while holding back the tricks up his sleeve until later. Influences as diverse as Nine Inch Nails, Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, Johnny Cash, and Loverboy (you read that right) are everywhere, but so is Bent’s distinctive, velvety croon. He is a captivating vocalist–one of the best I’ve ever heard–so it’s hard not to get drawn into the emotional abyss of “Voicemail” and “In The Morning”. If there’s a criticism to make against Dead, In The Water it’s that its level of intensity throughout might be too much to take in one sitting.

Dead, In The Water is not the kind of album I’d love by default. In all honesty, it doesn’t check any boxes on my musical score card. If it were made by any other artist, I know I wouldn’t be interested, but Bent is not like any other artist. I see myself in him, in his sincerity, his vulnerability. I identify with his self-imposed, loner status. I know what it’s like to walk side by side with the Emptiness, his dark musical companion. Together, they are searching out kindred spirits and other wounded souls, looking to make a connection. Dead, In The Water is a beacon through a dark night of the soul, looking to save those who don’t even realize they’re lost.

Oiseaux, The Hanged King

Oiseaux, the Hanged King

Have you ever been to Regina? I spent about five days there as a young teenager. My opinion on the place is not well formed as I obviously didn’t spend enough time there during that visit to understand or appreciate the nuances that makes the city a nice place to live for many people.

What I did deduce at my young age was that if I lived in Regina, and more specifically grew up in Regina, I would be very bored. During my stay, I visited the bird museum, cut my aunt and uncle’s lawn, helped assemble their trampoline. I even trimmed some trees in their yard all in exchange for top quality room and board. I assume the choice of leisure activities for any young Reginian is either sports or music, and it seems the young lions of Regina have felt more compelled to pick up a guitar than a football in recent years.

Oiseaux are band from Regina made up of members from several other bands from the area and they prove the old adage that great music often comes from the basements of the most boring places on earth. Their tunes are loose and unpretentious. Some sweet mash up of early 70’s Stones and the most raucous moments of the Constantines discography. On The Hanged KingOiseaux manage to convey a lo-fi, don’t-give-a-fuck feel while still sounding like their music is everything to them.

Songs are coloured with fuzzy malcontent thanks to the turbulence and trouble of the world around them. Perhaps for their own safety and peace of mind, you will not find them on social media. It could be the modern day equivalent of Fugazi not selling t-shirts. These days, you make more on t-shirts than the music itself, but avoiding all social media elevates the already sky high middle fingers the band sends out on The Hanged King. Oiseaux are not the first band to do this but it adds intrigue to their music and politics. They engage with the world through sound, not tweets.

The EP is perfectly formed, starting with the declarative and punchy “What You Need”. The second track, “The Hanged King” fits the earlier Stones/Cons comparison best. The refrain of “I was depraved / Don’t shine that light on me!” acknowledges the band’s influences and with a simple negative change, shows how different the world is now than it was in the early seventies and early aughts. “Rubacava” is the EP’s catchiest tune, building slowly and tactfully towards a glorious guitar explosion and some essential “woo hoo hoo”’s.  “Holy Roller” is the comedown and finds Oiseaux exploring a more downtrodden and droney punk rock than its predecessors. It’s the sad, dark crown on top of The Hanged King’s head.

Oiseaux are one of a few exciting bands coming out of Regina at the moment and hopefully they manage to change the outsider’s perspective of their city from boring prairie town to rock and roll holy land.

Snake River, Sun Will Rise

Snake River, Sun Will Rise

Ah the electric guitar. I remember as if it were yesterday, this holy human invention being the coolest possible accessory an earthling could brandish. Nothing could convey emotion, vulnerability, rage and chaos like a great guitarist making sweet love to their axe.

Maybe it’s too much for the modern human to take – the fire and brimstone of pure unadulterated guitar rock. While Earth’s temperature rises, the human race retreats inward, the masses embracing a chillier aesthetic of synths and icy beats; a sound bestowed upon us by the 6ix God himself.

The press would like us to believe the flame has been suffocated. A pile of embers without enough oxygen to ever ignite again.

Somewhere in that pile, Uncle Neil is singing something about burning out and fading away while seemingly doing both at the same time. Huddled around that campfire are all the kids who weren’t born for these times, guitars in hand doing whatever they can to fan the flames.

Many attempt to nurse this sad pile back to life with quintessential three, four, five chord rock and roll. The kind that was the last truly flammable version of rock – flannel shirts, self-depreciation and all.

Alas, these revivalists failed to fill their lungs with enough oxygen to reignite that ancient flame. They failed to acknowledge that what made rock truly burn was the unknown. The search for some feeling, some hair-raising sequence of frequency that sends us into outer space and yet distinctly plants us on terra firma.

Snake River are explorers in search of guitar-rock nirvana. The type Uncle Neil surely stumbled across once or twice while exploring the unknown with Crazy Horse. Like any great explorer, Snake River had to first get lost to find new land, so they created Snake River Mountain; a town full of characters similar to the ones in your town, but more cosmic and little more old fashion.

Now on their third full-length exploration, Sun Will Rise, Snake River has gone deeper than they ever before. Album opener, “Don’t Believe In Yourself” perfectly sets the tone for this expedition. Two quick snare hits immediately announce the wall of psychedelic, shoegazed guitar power that persists throughout the album. The refrain “Don’t believe in yourself / You’re just like everyone else”, a philosophy suited for true cosmic seekers stuck on planet earth, sets us up for the well-arranged and catchy vocals that add depth to the colour created by music. Both “I Was Very Drunk Jeannie” and “Something/Nothing?” are anchored by vocal hooks that you won’t be able to shake despite the woozy wizardry happening on the guitar front.

One surefire way to ignite the dwindling guitar rock fire is the gasoline of all classic rock – the guitar solo. Snake River recklessly, thrillingly pour it on. Most bands would be scared to feature so much solo but most bands are not Snake River, and that is refreshing and exciting for any guitar enthusiast. Take one run through of the epic “Mr. McKruski Walks Down Absalom Street” and you’ll be longing for the days when extended solos were greeted with vigorously excitement and wonder.

Sun Will Rise is one of the most exciting Canadian rock albums of the year and positions Snake River as the obvious masters of the psychedelic highway. I wouldn’t be surprised if Uncle Neil finds himself living in Snake River Mountain one day to be honest. The sheer ambition of this record is reason enough to pay attention to this colossal sounding band, but Snake River manage to be more than just ambitious. They reach for the stars and often touch them. That little fire that so many believe is extinguished still burns brightly in Regina, Saskatchewan and has nothing to but room to spread.

Andy Shauf, The Party

Andy Shauf - The Party

We’ve all been to “the party”. A special occasion (or no occasion at all), with friends (or a bunch of strangers), mini ecosystems where anything and everything can happen. Any gathering where a gaggle of people Reach varying levels of intoxication has the potential for ugliness or beauty, but one universal truth about parties is that, even at their dullest, most boring moments, there’s always an interesting story unfolding. As Andy Shauf puts it, in “a city the size of a dinner plate,” over the course of one night, the whole spectrum of human emotion can occur; while many may gather in one little, drunken bubble, each person leaves with a totally different experience. Shauf’s new album, The Party, revolves around his keen observations and feelings. As he sits at the centre of the dinner plate, guests spin around him, feeling love, feeling lonely, dancing, being laughed at, dying and eventually go home.

Everyone is there: Jimmy, Sherry, Alex, Martha, and ever observant Andy. Shauf’s music perfectly encapsulates the party feeling–euphoric, fun and a little sad–and creates vivid pictures of the chaotic goings-on happening around him. “Everybody’s laughing at me, I wished I’d just stayed home”, laments one guest on “Twist My Ankle”, Shauf perfectly capturing their embarrassment. Jimmy’s best friend says “You know I’ve never really met someone like you,” to Sherry, and she says the same back to him on “Quite Like You”, and though it’s hard to tell if either one really means it, the fog of the night rolling on makes whole scene feel real.

Along with being easy on the ears, all of the stories/songs on The Party are infinitely relatable. Who hasn’t listened to the “half-wit spilling his guts over a bottle of wine”, or scoured a house party in pursuit of a friend who may or may not be “running around or running away” from you? Heading home at the end of the night, you’re relieved the drama is over, but you can’t help but wonder what the next party will have in store. You’ll feel much the same way at the close of The Party, one of the year’s most vivid and relatable albums. At the end of heartbreaking closer “Martha Sways,” you’ll hope to be invited back to Shauf’s party over and over again.

Originally posted on Quick Before It Melts 16 May 2016