From Iceland — Oh Oh Oh Canada

Oh Oh Oh Canada

Published October 28, 2010

The Ring Lounge at Hressó played host to a bevy of Canadian musical marvels on Saturday for the most highly anticipated (at least for this reviewer) off-venue of the Airwaves calendar. Presented by the fine folks at the Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA), the lineup featured some semi-known and up and coming Canadian acts offering up lo-fi electronics, brooding vocals, yelps, harmonies and autoharp.
If a tree falls in the woods
First up is Timber Timbre, a bluesy fold rock three-piece off the famed Arts and Crafts label. This was the one act that I was thoroughly familiar with ahead of Airwaves, with their self-titled 2009 album enjoying heavy rotation on my iPod. The density of the crowd under the noisily crinkling tent on the Hressó patio hinted that others had been enjoying the darkly-tinged and oft twangy folk act as well.
I’m not going to dance around the verdict, people. The first word that made it onto my notepad: phenomenal.
The album is a solid piece of work, but to see front man Taylor Kirk and friends hammer out elongated reincarnations of their tunes, breathing vibrant new life into every one of them was a real spectacle. Kirk yelped and screamed when not belting out his Nick Cave-like vocals, beating on his kick drum and plucking haunting melodies on his guitar. This was, by far, the most impressive live act I have been privy to in a long while, showcasing the artist as a true creative talent through his ability to deliver something original and attention grabbing while still maintaining the essence of the commercial offering.
Seriously. Phenomenal.
Sparkle Sparkle
Next up was Toronto, Ontario’s Diamond Rings, a one-man act that at first appeared to confuse the crowd. After such a darkly intricate set as Timber Timbre delivered to see a tall, thin young man in skinny jeans, a pink wife-beater, leather jacket, a full face of makeup and an undercut, with the remains of his curly blonde locks flopping leftward, was a tough transition. His peacock strutting and erratically craning neck movements helped to build the visual oddity – is this guy for real?
His music first verged on cheesy, combining some tinny low-fi beats with electric guitar, keyboards and low, and LCD Soundsystem vocals, but it was the cheese that won the crowd over. But with banter that ranged from a dryly delivered “don’t be afraid to bust a move” to a deadpan “this song is loosely based on the concept of gardening” and rounding off the set with an uninhibited dance solo that left the crowd cheering wildly, the spirit and energy of the live performance beefed up any thin musical moments. Diamond Rings really shone when this undeniably talented kid rounded out his set with “You And Me”, which had him alternating between pounding on his electronic drum pads, fingering his keyboard and waling on his guitar. And the dance solo. Oh the dance solo.
Snailhouse Rock
Having the word “snail” in your band name says a lot of things. Snails are slow, they’re understated, they taste delicious with garlic. While I’m not sure how the three self-proclaimed “professional entertainers” taste broiled in rich garlic butter, I am sure that their music is both slow and understated. But that’s not a bad thing.
The unassuming front man represented his motherland in plaid flannel and serenaded a receptive crowd with his Magic Numbers-esque vocals, often harmonized gorgeously by the well-stached bass player and the non-stached drummer. There are bands similar to this on regular rotation in Reykjavík, but Snailhouse had me smiling from ear to ear. Rather than sticking with tunes that are most suitable in a pub, Snailhouse alternates between slow ballads, like ‘Who We Are’, and kickier ditties, like ‘Dollar Signs’, that elevate them well above “house band” quality.
Howling and Laughing
Set the scene. The petit blonde singer/songwriter takes centre stage, flanked by her violinist and ukulele-ist, opens her mouth and lets out long, undulating, rich notes with a country tinge. It appears effortless, her talent. While Basia stretches and plays with the final syllable of “it’s not you”, as though yodeling, a group of young Icelanders take their position at the opposite end of the patio. On of them begins to howl like a dog. A poor injured dog. A dog possibly with a vocal chord infection. It’s not pretty.
While this obnoxious asshole manages to kill the atmosphere momentarily the resilient songstress works a retort into her lyrics without skipping a beat, turning a melodic assertion of “it’s not you”, which in the story of the song speaks to a would-be lover, into a hilarious call for the heckler to cease and desist, insisting that it’s not him who should be singing as he clearly cannot hold a tune. My retelling of the events fail to capture the genius of the moment in which others might have turned red faced, but Basia handled it with a smile on her face, eliciting cheers and applause from the appreciative crowd.
The female singer/songwriter with a ukulele accompaniment is kinda overdone, but at Basia has got the chops to make up for it. There is a reason she is being hailed as the second coming on the Canadian folk scene. I’m just not a full convert yet.
It’s a Miracle!
First thought when I saw one-man act Miracle Fortress take the stage: hey, I ate lunch beside that guy. Second thought: he doesn’t have the greatest stage presence. He’s kinda mousy. Kinda shy. Of the entire Canadian Blast lineup Miracle Fortress was the only act to only be playing an off-venue. He was also the only act to be playing for a sparsely populated patio, having gone on around the time when people were headed home to prepare for Robyn and the like.
What this mousy, shy man did up on stage was something really cool, though, kicking things off by repeating the same vocal line, each time in a different tune, and then sampling and layering his own vocals on the spot to create a one-man choir. He continued to play around with sampling as he plucked individual strings on his guitar that then looped repeatedly and played a snippet of a beat on his drum pads that when built the beat of the entire song. Miracle Fortress could stand to develop his stage presence, but he’s doing some pretty interesting stuff musically that should pique some interest.
Think about Think About Life
OK. I had to get off to a main venue review that started simultaneously to Think About Life. I’m sorry. But hey, The Grapevine reviewed their show at Nasa on Friday so, uh, check that out.

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