Monday, December 20th, 2010
Memoryhouse, Foxes In Fiction, Volcano Playground, Ostrich Tuning and Heartbeat Hotel at Twist Gallery in Toronto
Frank YangThat I’m a fan of the once-celebreated, then-maligned, now-celebrated-again genre of indie rock called “shoegaze” is no secret (if this is news, then welcome – you’re new around here). But if you think that gives me a soft spot for bands who invest more than is reasonable in effects pedals, you’d be right but also wrong.
Sonic architecture was only part of what those British bands in the early ’90s incredible – they also wrote fantastic songs and that’s something that some of their followers either forget or unable to replicate. Far too often I’ll come across bands that seem promising on paper with all the right RIYLs and while there’s plenty of sturm and/or drang, there’s a woeful lack of hooks or, live, they’ve made the mistake of going so far as to emulate their forebears’ onstage social anxiety disorder.
So Thursday night’s “Wintergaze” mini-festival out at the Twist Gallery in Parkdale was met with both anticipation and trepidation; here we had five acts who were ostensibly among the top new dream-pop purveyors in the greater Toronto area with only a couple sort-of known to me and the rest total unknown quantities. Never been to the venue before, either. A night of mysteries awaited!
Lead-off hitters Heartbeat Hotel weren’t quite a mystery – I’d written up them and their debut album Fetus Dreams back in July but had never seen them live. Most of the pros of the record were present live – songs with a good balance of catchiness and atmospherics and equal dexterity at poppers and drifters. None of the songs were immediately memorable but they had a good sound that good things will come of it.
Ostrich Tuning come by their name, attributed to Lou Reed circa the Velvet Underground, legitimately. Their music utilized a tidal approach, with VU-styled dirges building, cresting and ebbing with the occasional melodic or chordal shift to keep you on your toes. There were vocals but they were buried – probably deliberately so – and while I would like to see their melodic side attended to, their sense of dynamics was impressive.
Volcano Playground‘s set may not have been the most polished but they more than made up for it with an impressive mix that melded synthetic tones, danceable rhythms, emotive vocals and an innate pop sensibility. There was still the sense that there were maybe too many ideas in play for them to juggle effectively but the potential contained in what they’re doing is immense.
Warren Hildebrand, who operates under the name Foxes In Fiction, apparently hails from my own hometown and it seems I have to reconsider my long-held notion that Oakville is a artistic black hole from which nothing of value can emerge. The one-man band, who looked as though he’d been plucked straight out of his bedroom and onto the stage (not that there was a stage), was armed with a guitar, sampler and array of pedals and used the tools on hand to deliver a well-orchestrated if dynamically-limited set of slow-motion dreampop that has more than a little Deerhunter-ish value. It wasn’t hard to see why his debut Swung From The Branches has put him in the radar of sites like Pitchfork.
By the time Memoryhouse came to close things out, things had run well behind schedule and in addition to general exhaustion, the attached dance club was in full swing and the gallery was resonating to the obnoxious dance beat from downstairs. Not the best situation to immerse oneself in their hazy, nostalgic pop but having waited for some time to see them live, it had to be endured. And dance leakage and bouts of feedback aside, they did not disappoint. Performing as a three-piece with an extra guitar augmenting Evan Abeele’s piano and guitar and Denise Nouvion’s vocals, their crisp, clean textures and country-tinged vocals weren’t the standard sonic implements of shoegazing but the net effect of their approach was just as dreamy. They mentioned that this was an unusually stripped-down show for them, and while I’d like to see/hear/feel them in a presumably louder configuration, this was pretty nice. And while on the topic of “wants”, a full album would also be welcome – I suspect that as good as they are with singles, a complete song cycle would be even more impressive.
In the end, any fears of being disappointed by those who’d claim to be worshipping at the alter of Creation were wholly misplaced. None of the bands on the bill were trying to be the second coming of Ride – even the labelling of them as “shoegaze” seemed inaccurate and not giving them nearly enough credit. They’re making new and interesting, atmospheric rock music and if you feel inclined to look at your feet while you listen to it, then that’s your business. Just make sure you listen.
eye was also on hand and has a review.
Photos: Memoryhouse, Foxes In Fiction, Volcano Playground, Ostrich Tuning, Heartbeat Hotel @ Twist Gallery – December 16, 2010
MP3: Memoryhouse – “Lately (Deuxieme)”
MP3: Memoryhouse – “Lately (Troisieme)”
MP3: Memoryhouse – “Gian Lorenzo Bernini”
MP3: Foxes In Fiction – “School Night”
MP3: Foxes In Fiction – “Lately (Deuxieme)”
MP3: Foxes In Fiction – “Flashing Lights Have Ended Now”
MP3: Foxes In Fiction – “15 Ativan (Song For Erika)”
MP3: Volcano Playground – “Anywhere”
MP3: Heartbeat Hotel – “Fins Of A Shark”
MP3: Heartbeat Hotel – “Walls Of Dry Clouds”
MP3: Heartbeat Hotel – “The Hello Barrel”
Video: Memoryhouse – “Heirloom”
Video: Memoryhouse – “Bonfire”
Video: Memoryhouse – “Lately (Deuxieme)”
Video: Volcano Playground – “Waiting”
MySpace: Heartbeat Hotel
Their sold-out show at Lee’s Palace last week now in the books, it can be announced that The Rural Alberta Advantage will be playing the New Year’s Eve party at The Tranzac alongside the likes of Hooded Fang, Laura Barrett, The Wilderness Of Manitoba and more. Tickets $15 in advance.