Self-Cut Bangs – Self-Cut Bangs

Self-Cut Bangs
Self-Cut Bangs
Calgary, AB
RIYL: Swearin’; Wares; Crayola zig-zag scissors

2020 may have been filled with a lot of regrettable at-home haircuts but you won’t regret listening to Self-CutBangs. The debut LP from Calgary duo Cayley O’Neill (Dark Time) and Shawn Petsche (Napalmpom) overflows with fun rock tunes, delicious guitar riffs, and a sweaty energy that will make you crave seeing these songs performed at a basement show with a bunch of your pals.

The joy that fueled the making of Self-Cut Bangs thrums consistently on each track but there are a few specific moments that make me grin with every listen: O’Neill’s inspiring line on the Friday night anthem “Perfect Posture,” which reads like a positive Co-Star notification: “Chin up, chin up, it’s time to stand tall”; the howling guitar solo on the baseball-filled tune “Ace”; the playful vocal layering in the repeated line “You can’t (catch me, baby).” But my biggest grin happens during “After All” when O’Neill tells us what Self-Cut Bangs is all about: “Gonna make it. After all we got rock and roll.”

Laura Stanley

Patient Hands – There Are No Graves Here

Patient Hands
There Are No Graves Here
Saskatoon, SK
RIYL: Ernest Hood; Adrianne Lenker’s instrumentals; borscht

There Are No Graves Here maps the sounds of grief and familial bonds. Patient Hands’  Alexander Stooshinoff was in “a wretched juxtaposition” while composing the album’s hushed, field recording-punctuated, ambient pieces, grieving the end of a long term romantic relationship and caring for his ill mother. 

You can feel the emotional intensity immediately, on “Opening,” when Stooshinoff unleashes a flood of coarse synth sounds which, a few pieces later, on the brief “On Hiatus,” gets rougher and sinister sounding. Overtop the misty drone-scape of the goosebump-inducing “No Graves,” Stooshinoff speaks to us, reflecting on the day’s events and accompanying emotions. He breathes deeply and is lost in these reflections and the uncertainty of everything.

But in spite of all of this, there’s an unexpected warmth to There Are No Graves Here. Stooshinoff’s improvised acoustic guitar melodies are often coupled with the affable sounds of a family gathering: they assemble for dinner to eat borscht and talk about their day. They toast “to health!” A quiet knock on the door is heard and another family member enters the scene like a character does in a family sitcom. While the heaviness of uncertainty is always present, Stooshinoff makes clear that family – however you define it – is a constant. 

Laura Stanley

Jazz Codrington – K.O.

Jazz Codrington
Halifax, NS
RIYL: the lo-fi hip-hop radio stream on YouTube; Street Fighter II for Game Boy

I guess it’s too easy to say that Jazz Codrington’s K.O. is a knock-out EP but there, I’ve said it anyway. Made on a PO-33 Knockout – a vocal synthesizer and sequencer – K.O. is six compact trip-hop tracks that hypnotically bob and weave from your ears into your chest. In under 12 minutes, Codrington pays tribute to Muhammad Ali and creates glitchy sound worlds that can act as either background music or places to get lost. If you choose the latter, you will find delight in small details like the ringside bell on “Heavy Weight Champion” and the slinky guitar riff on “Soul of a Butterfly.”

If you can’t get enough of K.O., the five other releases by Codrington from this year are also dazzling treats.

Laura Stanley 

Anda Zeng – Night Dress

Anda Zeng
Night Dress
Self Released
Toronto, ON
RIYL: Grouper; Teen Daze; a weighted blanket

The tranquility of sleep has been greatly exaggerated. Falling asleep has always been difficult for me. I first have to obsess over every single detail of the day, then worry about the next day and my purpose in life and then, maybe, I will fall asleep.

Anda Zeng’s Night Dress mirrors my anxious evening routine but she brilliantly disguises her songs with tranquil tones. Zeng softly plays the piano and the harp methodically as her hushed voice rolls through these relaxed sounds like a fluffy cloud moves across the sky. Night Dress is a beautiful sounding EP.

But under the covers, Zeng is far from placid, and she sings of loneliness and doubts. “Night falls heavy on me,” she admits on “Far Off, Night Falls.” On “Fever Dreamer,” she begs, “sleep right through this life for me.” Her words are abstract and hectic, like those panicked thoughts that fill my mind just as I am about to fall asleep. It is all best summarized on the closing track “Newborn,” a blissful and moody two minute power-nap, when Zeng sings, “I’ve been restless, dreaming of a perfect calm.”

Laura Stanley

You’ve Got a Friend in Michael C. Duguay

You’ve Got A Friend in Michael C. Duguay

His Ups, Downs, and new album, The Winter of Our Discotheque

By Laura Stanley| Photo by Dave Rideout

Over a nearly two-hour Zoom call, Kingston, Ontario-based singer-songwriter Michael C. Duguay shares his life story with me. He fervently recounts his ups and downs, clicking pieces of his life together and constructing himself like you would an intricately designed puzzle. His ups include his time playing in The Burning Hell, Evening Hymns, and Weird Lines and making his own music including this year’s cosmic-country record, The Winter of Our Discotheque. His downs: experiencing homelessness, battling addiction, spending time in jail, rehab facilities, and a psychiatric ward.

When I tell him that the theme for this issue is The Fear, Duguay admits, “I think that fear is probably what has characterized a lot of my life and what has influenced a lot of my decisions — I think it’s probably the same for a lot of people. As a kid I experienced some trauma and I think that is likely what led to me being a solitary adolescent and being apathetic about really engaging with other people. I can pinpoint me coming out of my shell with [the time] I took my first drink of rye whiskey when I was 13.”

Duguay was born in London, Ontario but his parents moved to Peterborough when he was a baby. When he was four years old, he had corrective eye surgery and wore patches over both of his eyes for a number of months. While recovering, Duguay’s grandfather, a singer, who can be heard on the final track of The Winter of Our Discotheque, gifted him a small plastic radio which Duguay vividly remembers clinging onto to hear whatever music the local stations played. “I think if I reflect on it in a mindful way, that was my indoctrination to music as a lifeline and music as not only as a vessel for entertainment but something that I could immerse myself in,” he says.

As a teenager, Duguay found his community in the local music scene. He played in various bands and learned about music history and theory. When he was 19, Duguay moved to Hornby Island, British Columbia for six months but he missed Peterborough so much that he went back. He moved into a house with Evening Hymns’ Jonas Bonnetta and singer-songwriter Nick Ferrio and was immersed in Peterborough’s vibrant music scene. But around this time his addiction issues started to have a significant presence in his life.

While on tour with The Burning Hell, Duguay witnessed a stage collapse at a festival in Slovakia and afterwards he began to experience frequent panic attacks. Once back in Peterborough, Duguay made his debut record Heavy On The Glory (2012) with help from his extensive network of friends and fellow musicians. But Duguay was struggling with his mental health and felt adrift in life. “I couldn’t work, I had no real way of making money, I was drinking like crazy, and I started getting into party drugs,” he recalls. “People in Peterborough are really nice — they tolerated me.”

In 2012, Duguay moved to Sackville, New Brunswick to start fresh and he became involved in a new community of musicians. He played with various artists connected to local label Killer Haze and in Julie Doiron and Jon McKiel’s grungy power-pop band Weird Lines. “Everything was amazing,” says Duguay. “And I just blew it.”

“Things got very, very bad. I was living in a state of constant fear and anxiety. I was conscious that all I really wanted was to fit in with these people and because I wasn’t fitting in, I was acting out. I spent some time in the psychiatric ward in Moncton. I went to the drunk tank one too many times and the RCMP said ‘no, you’re not leaving’ so I ended up going to jail in Shediac, New Brunswick. I got out and I decided that I had to leave Sackville so I called my Mom and I came home [to Peterborough]. I wish that I could tell you that things got better at that point but they continued to get worse and worse for about four more years.”

“It was my worst nightmare come true, if we want to talk about fear,” Duguay adds. “I wanted this second chance so bad and I screwed it up and I knew I screwed it up.”

During the subsequent four years, returning to making music was never Duguay’s intentional goal, but the idea was there, lingering in the background. “I’m a musician: I need to drink water, I need to eat, I need to sleep, I need to, every once in a while, pick up a guitar and write songs.” In one of many anecdotes about music’s steadfast significance in his life, Duguay recalls being homeless in Thunder Bay, in possession of a cell phone but with no data plan and no access to Wi-Fi. He had become completely detached from music — playing or listening — until one morning in 2014. That day he woke up to find U2’s Songs of Innocence — an album released in partnership with Apple that was available for free to any iTunes customer — downloaded onto his phone. “It’s funny that everybody else hated that so much but I literally cried tears of joy,” he says. “I wept because I was so grateful.”

The Winter of Our Discotheque is in many ways the culmination of Duguay’s life’s work so far. The eight twangy, full-bodied songs feel like epics as Duguay recounts many of the experiences he has shared with me. He wrote “Tithes” while he was a patient at Moncton General Hospital. The piano part of the title track was written on a piano in a shelter that he was living in. “Twenty-Five To Life,” a celebratory honky-tonk number, was written after reconnecting with Bonnetta and seeing Jeff Tweedy play in Kingston in 2018.

The album was recorded in various sessions starting in 2018 during which time Duguay reconnected with old friends and made new connections as well. He also had to press pause following a relapse. “I just had a moment when it was all laid out in front of me. I had this list which is like ‘happiness and my values and music and my family and health’ — everything that is important to me in the world — and the other list is like ‘drugs and alcohol.’ So I had to choose one, and it became very clear that playing music and drinking were going to be mutually exclusive occupations for me,” he explains.

Through our conversation, it becomes apparent that Duguay is happiest when he is making music with friends and collaborators by his side. He is effusive when he speaks about the making of The Winter of Our Discotheque and the artists (including Merival’s Anna Horvath, flutist Anh Phung, Pony Girl’s Julien Dussault and Yolande Laroche, and many more) who joined him. On the title track, he sings of the power of his community: “Who needs their fix when you’ve got friends like these.”

This week, Duguay announced The Winter of Our Discotheque (Reprise), a sonically wide-ranging compilation of remixes, interpretations, and covers by new and old friends such as Joyful Joyful, Sing Leaf, Andrew MacKelvie (New Hermitage), and Brave Moon (Alanna Gurr and Erin Tusa). Duguay speaks about the compilation with the same buoyant cadence as he does the making of The Winter of Our Discotheque, a wide grin spreading across his face as he describes how each contributor reimagined his songs. Life, it feels, isn’t as scary when you have friends by your side.

“I had a sense of tremendous release the day [The Winter of Our Discotheque] came out. I felt really, really good,” says Duguay. “I didn’t feel good because I was getting a bunch of spins on streaming services and I wasn’t feeling good because I got some amazing reviews, I was feeling good because I felt like I had purged myself of this stuff that I needed to get out in order to be back at the starting line as a working artist. I’m not suggesting that I made this record and it’s all gone and I’m good forever. Throughout making the record, I also went to a lot of therapy and a couple of thousand meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, so there’s a lot that contributed to that, but it felt to me like being back and doing what I’m called to do.” 

“Talking about fear — I’ve lived with this existential dread of being a misfit my whole life and the process of making this record has been incredibly cathartic,” he adds. “I can look at those liner notes and be reminded that I have friends. I’m grateful to have friends. I’m happy to have a community.” 

The Winter of Our Discotheque is out now via So Sorry Records

Rhododendron – La jachère

La jachère
Atondo Musique
Montreal, QC
RILY: Angel Olsen; Jessica Pratt; the perseverance of Spring

When winter arrives, it feels like somebody has taken a giant eraser and removed all of the colour from your surroundings. In place of green, red, and pink hues there are whites and greys. It seems impossible that anything colourful will ever surface again from the frozen ground or emerge on the bare trees that shiver in their snow coats and yet, every year, miraculously, vibrant colours do return. 

Rhododendron – Montreal-based singer-songwriter Marine Noël – writes, firmly, in her Bandcamp bio “Ceci n’est pas une plante!” But La jachère, Rhododendron’s debut EP, contains the same determined spirit that plants do. Across Noël’s songs – quiet, folky affairs – she sings of pushing through tough stuff and of renewal. The very last line of the EP is “Il faut repartir et resplendir” (“We must go back and shine”) and even the EP’s title nods to restoration and rebirth. La jachère takes its time unfolding, but oh how beautifully it blooms. 

– Laura Stanley

Kicksie – All My Friends

All My Friends
Bolton, ON
RIYL: Jay Som; Boniface; Snail Mail

Kicksie is poised to break out. The Bolton, Ontario-based artist’s emo-accented pop-rock record All My Friends overflows with love – “what would I do without my friends?” Kicksie sings on the glistening “Left Lane” – and compassion – “don’t tell me you’ve given up while you’re still young, sit back and let me remind you that you are enough” on “Half-Hearted.” The sunny guitar-based record isn’t without its fair share of clouds, but Kicksie is devoted to happiness and that makes her songs feel irresistible. Simply put, All My Friends is a joy to listen to. To echo the words of “A Message From Selina,” a vocoder love letter from a friend, go Kicksie!

– Laura Stanley

Baseball Hero – Salvation Mountain

Baseball Hero
Salvation Mountain
Winnipeg, MB
RIYL: Diet Cig; Palehound; Alex G

Baseball Hero’s Salvation Mountain is a scrappy and emotionally charged EP. The band – Allegra Chiarella (vocals/guitar), Mirella Villa (vocals/bass), and Lino D’Ottavio (vocals/guitar/drums/production) – are a tight team who make taught, lo-fi, grungy pop-rock tracks that sometimes whine as loud as the feedback from a baseball announcer’s microphone. On the rambunctious standout, “Emo Song,” Baseball Hero sound like they’re having an absolute blast, despite Chiarella cringing at the past: “think of all the stupid things you’ve done in front of everyone.”

If the self-described “slo-pitch slowcore” band had their own baseball card, the blurb on the back would probably read something like this: “The Winnipeg trio aren’t afraid to get their uniforms dirty and lead the league in sliding head first into other players. When not on the field kicking up dust, they can be found in the dugout helping teammates work through their emotions.”

– Laura Stanley 

Westelaken – The Golden Days are Hard

The Golden Days are Hard
Toronto, ON
RIYL: wearing a Shania Twain shirt to a punk show; Waxahatchee; The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife

Westelaken’s The Golden Days are Hard is both chaotic and patient. Led by Jordan Seccareccia’s trembling voice, the punk-edge of this “post-country” band is at its hardest on “Mercy, ‘milk-of-human-kindness’” which squeals and plods like a fang-toothed beast and on the frantic “Ghosts Explode,” a grungy song that clocks in at under a minute.

Elsewhere, Westelaken nestle their riotousness in softness and are willing to linger in a moment: over nine minutes, Westelaken move from a honky-tonk jam into a distorted frenzy on “The October Song” and opener “The January Song” starts the album off with a surge of energy before, on the latter half of the track, the band slow things down and Seccareccia is practically whispering.

On “Grace,” a piano-led highlight and the band at their most tender, contributing vocalist Rachel Bellone sings of life in the face of death and describes numbness with great precision: “I don’t hate anything anymore but I used to love the morning.” It’s one of many moments on The Golden Days are Hard that emphasizes the clarity Westelaken has when it comes to the stories they want to tell and how they want to tell them.

Laura Stanley