Peter Van Helvoort has been an unlikely musical constant in my life since I was a teen, as he surely has been for many other Southern Ontario rock people. When I was in high school, he led the highly underrated Cain & Abel. One year, they played at my high school’s Relay for Life event, and Van Helvoort kept getting shocked by the mic, and the drummer threw his drum sticks across the field out of frustration. It ruled! By the time I graduated to my university years, he emerged as the leader of Teenage Kicks, whose sound dropped the vague-emoness of Cain & Abel and beefed up the rock. Both of these bands meant a lot to me, and the best songs from eachholdupincrediblywell.
Peter has always struck me as a bit of an underdog, dedicated to his craft but never quite breaking through in the biz the way he perhaps strived to. Teenage Kicks’ only full-length while they were active was a reworked version of an album that was quietly released last year, appropriately called After Death. On it, Van Helvoort sings like he has nothing to lose. He sounds hungry to finally reach that next level and to make something great. I’ve heard on good authority that he was literally hungry as well, rationing himself to one $5 footlong from Subway a day to get by while making the record in L.A. The reworked version of the L.A. album, Spoils of Youth, was released in 2014 and soon after, Teenage Kicks dissolved. Van Helvoort quietly released a solo album in 2017 and then, musically, went dark.
But recently he has reemerged, playing bass in the Glorious Sons, producing a new EP by London, Ontario rock guys Texas King, and — most excitingly — he has debuted a new band called Darling Congress. The group’s two singles find Van Helvoort sounding a little less hungry and a little more comfortable and it sounds fantastic on him. “Your Dog Don’t Like You” is a strummy earworm, fantastically mixed with a big chorus about sparring with your dog (I think); imagine Oasis if they were from Southern Ontario. “Always on the Edge” is an anthem for the nearly-theres, the B-characters, the artists, not the stars. And ironically, it sounds like it would fit comfortably on any number of modern rock and indie stations or tucked onto an indie chill playlist. “The Beatles already did it so I might as well get stoned,” Van Helvoort sang on the Teenage Kicks jam “Digging Up Old Bones”, and judging from our first taste of Darling Congress, he’s taken his own advice and it’s paying off. Welcome back, Peter.
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