by Emily Strong
Montreal is an artistic beast. With no less than thirty well-known, prominent indie acts in the Setting the Scene section, I knew I was in trouble when I started doing research for this city. But what's bad for me is good for everyone else; when you have a city this heavy with such a wealth of art and creativity, good music comes in an overabundance. As it happened, I was unable to narrow it down to fifteen bands for Lay of the Land. So, now you have a bigger head start for your own trek across the face of such a musical mountain. And what a regal mountain she is! Montreal truly is the queen of the indie scene.
A Silver Mt. Zion tra-la-la-band.com
AIDS Wolf myspace.com/aidswolf
Amon Tobin amontobin.com
Amy Millan amymillan.com
Arcade Fire arcadefire.com
Auf der Maur aufdermaur.com
Bell Orchestre bellorchestre.com
The Besnard Lakes thebesnardlakes.com
The Dears thedears.org
Godspeed You Black Emperor! brainwashed.com/godspeed
Handsome Furs myspace.com/handsomefurs
The High Dials thehighdials.com
Kid Koala kidkoala.com
Land of Talk landoftalk.com
Les Breastfeeders lesbreastfeeders.ca
Lesbians On Ecstasy lezziesonx.com
Pony Up ponyup.ca
Shapes and Sizes shapesandsizes.ca
Sunset Rubdown myspace.com/spencerkrug
Tegan and Sara teganandsara.com
We Are Wolves wearewolves.net
Wolf Parade myspace.com/wolfparade
Young Galaxy younggalaxy.com
Below the Sea belowthesea.ca
When it comes to instrumental music, bands tend to fall into one of three categories: there is the ethereal, dreamy set, replete with washed out guitar melodies overlapping each other in a luminescent haze; then there are the dance bands, with driving beats and focused builds; and of course there are the more cerebral, math-rock bands, whose focus is technical proficiency and complex instrumentation. Below the Sea, however, isn't nearly so cliquish. Bringing the precision and intensity of a dance band's rhythm section and the craftsmanship of the math constituency into an ethereal aesthetic, Below the Sea transcends instrumental subgrouping and creates a new paradigm in their genre.
Bubblegum Phantom myspace.com/bubblegumphantom
One dude. Two hands. Three bajillion sounds coming at you all at once, like a tidal wave digital insanity. Succumb to the madness.
Sure, we've all heard it before. There are more dance bands born each day than stray puppies and kittens combined (a friendly side-note from your local SPCA: spay and neuter your pets!). But this particular creature is a horse of a different color. Combining elements of hip-hop, disco, and '80s synth dance rock, Creature comes together in a stunning display of creativity, vitality and synchronicity to wow audiences and lure them back for more. You know what they say: birds of a feather flock together!
Dianes In Danger dianesindanger.com
A sense of danger is indeed the underlying mood throughout all of Dianes In Danger's music. Composer Michèle Martin writes deliciously creepy melodies and embellishes each of them with various instrumental accoutrements that are seldom heard together, thereby enhancing the sense of unease. Nevertheless, Martin does not abandon her listeners to their fear; she provides just enough moments of release to provide catharsis, hope and the anticipation of her next musical transformation into the mistress of misery.
The Diskettes myspace.com/thediskettes
For those of you who have been reading this magazine since the Toronto edition of Hometown Heroes came out (Dec 06/Jan 07), you might remember The Awesomeness That Is Blocks Recording Club. The Diskettes are one of two Montreal bands who are members of BRC, and are hands down the cutest, most charming of the BRC set. With poppy harmonies and upbeat lyrics, it's impossible not to smile and tap your feet when giving them a listen.
A new, enchanting songstress following in the footsteps of Björk, Dido and Imogen Heap, Elsieanne Caplette is poised to win the hearts and ears of music fans everywhere with her emergence as the frontwoman of Elsiane. The duo, completed by drummer Stephane Sotto, has recently released their first full-length, Hybrid, in Canada and on iTunes. With their lush instrumentation and Caplette's silky-soft vocals, though, word is bound to spread across national boundaries. Elsiane is, without a doubt, on their way up.
Gutter Demons gutterdemons.com
By and large, I kind of feel that psychobilly has outlived its usefulness. The whole hick-punk facade just isn't all that shocking, or even interesting, anymore. Having said that, when a band can commit wholly to the guise and can write songs that keep even an uninterested observer totally absorbed, the kitsch somehow becomes culture. So play on, Gutter Demons, play on. For once, it's probably a good thing for people's minds to be in the gutter.
Hexes & Ohs hexesandohs.ca
When it comes to cute couples making music together, Hexes & Ohs is giving the more established duos a run for their money. Complete with perky electropop and charming boy-girl harmonies, all they lack is international recognition, and that, surely, isn't far behind.
Is That the Sound of My Voice? myspace.com/isthatthesoundofmyvoice
Gorgeous. Captivating. Mesmerizing. Addictive. Look for them in the next issue of Label Alert.
Karkwa's strength aside from the obviously seductive overtones of the French lyrics lies in the dizzying fullness of the instrumentation. Although the band utilizes only the standard rock foursome of guitars, bass, drums, and keys, the way these instruments interact and intertwine creates a sound as rich and enchanting as the language sung above it. The music, like the city from whence it comes, discloses new treasures and surprises upon each return visit. A must-hear for francophiles and rockophiles alike.
Nevermind chamber-pop or classically-influenced folk. Liederwolfe cuts straight to the chase: these professional musicians perform real opera and classical vocal arrangements in folk and rock club settings. I guess you could call them a classical cover band.
The Lovely Feathers lovelyfeathers.com
Their bio calls them part pterodactyl, part eccentric dream-puppy, and as strange as it may sound, I couldn't think of a more apt description. Equal parts ferocity, sweetness, and utter oddity, they creep under your skin with their catchy pop accessibility, then they hit you with their brooding and sometimes entirely outlandish lyrics. And now they've got you, and you can't escapenor do you want to.
Lucas Lanthier myspace.com/lucaslanthier
His penchant for anachronistic histrionics may be reminiscent of The Dresden Dolls, Faun Fables or Antony and the Johnsons, but Lucas Lanthier is very much on his own path. With three different musical groups through which he can explore the blurred lines between music and performance art, he covers quite an impressive amount of ground.
- Cinema Strange myspace.com/cinemastrange . Exactly what it says it is: cinematic and strange, but above all, haunting and lovely.
- Deadfly Ensemble myspace.com/thedeadflyensemble . Slightly less strange and slightly more rock, this is still very much unmistakably a Lanthier project, with all the same sense of adventure and idiosyncrasy.
- Shanghai Triad myspace.com/shanghaitriad . Unlike his other two bands, Lanthier's role in this trio is that of a participant rather than a leader, but perhaps that's because it is a WWII-era Chinese jazz band, sung in Chinese. Nevertheless, it is exactly the kind of musical project that befits him, and almost no one else.
Miracle Fortress myspace.com/miraclefortress
The moniker for Graham Van Pelt's solo project, Miracle Fortress showcases an impressive guest performer list when Van Pelt takes his show on the road, including Jordan Robson-Cramer from Sunset Rubdown, Adam Waito from Telefauna and Jessie Stein from S. S. Cardiacs. Regardless, the material is all his and his alone, which takes on a new significance upon listening. Weightless and heady, it feels like the landscape of a utopian dreamworld where fear and anger simply cannot entera miraculous fortress indeed.
I first fell in love with Antoine Bédard at SXSW '05, when he got on stage with a virtual smorgasbord of instruments and played them all by himself. It wasn't just the feat itself that left such a strong impression, but the way his music was able to wrap the restless audience up in a warm and calming light, bringing the room to a reverent silence with the lightest touch. Although he was incredibly busy up there, moving from one instrument to another, and sometimes singing, the performance didn't seem in the least bit hectic. There is a peace about Bédard that carries over to his musicpeace, but not sedation. Montag doesn't evoke the heaviness of sleep, nor the exertion of strenuous exercise, but the quiet energy you feel after yoga. It is music for the unification of mind, body and spirit.
Patrick Watson patrickwatson.net
Articulating the particulars of what makes Patrick Watson so damn special is an exercise in futility, but it has a little something to do with his achingly sweet voice, a little to do with his uncanny ability to write songs that stick in your head instantly and persistently, and a little to do with his magnetic personality. Whatever it is, Patrick Watson, like Nick Drake and Tim Buckley before him, is the kind of artist who might not be the most renowned songwriter during his career, but whom future generations will generally regard as one of the classic artists of his time.
S.S. Cardiacs sscardiacs.com
This is the second band from Montreal who is involved with Toronto's Blocks Recording Club, but it's mostly just one woman, Jessie Stein. Her voice is contradictory by nature, simultaneously sounding both frail and powerful, but the music is uncompromisingly raw and passionate. Avoiding all the degrading stereotypes of the female musician, she instead represents all that is good and effective about the female musician. Definitely a role model for young women everywhere.
Four witty and talented friends get together with a bunch of keyboards, synthesizers and a drum machine. Hilarity and general awesomeness ensues. People tell their friends who tell their friends who tell their friends. Then someday, the world explodes from all the dancing. And that, my dears, is how the apocalypse happens.
Think About Life thinkaboutlife.org
Nothing makes you think about life more than the vivacious busy-ness of Think About Life. And it sure beats thinking about death.
The Underwater Fight Scene myspace.com/theunderwaterfightscene
The Underwater Fight Scene is an indie rock band with a violin and two saxophones. Stop where you are! I know you read the words violin and two saxophones, envisioned a frat-boy infested Dave Matthews Band concert, and started running. But wait! It's nothing like that. Fight Scene isn't a jam band and they don't wear socks with Birkenstocks (that I know of, anyway). They're more like an underwater dance scene, but with the jazz element of saxophones and the chamberfolk element of the violin, and of course with indie sensibilities. And, you know, not actually under water. Now that sounds a little better, doesn't it?
There are countless other local bands from the Montreal area who are worth mentioning, and I regret not having the time, space or attention span to feature them all. However, the following resources will help you to go forth and discover more of what Montreal has to offer. I encourage you to do so.
Just like Toronto, resources about Montreal's art and music scene are already handily compiled and easily accessible at stillepost.ca. Just enter the site, scroll down to Quebec, click on Montreal, and all the advice and information you need is right at your fingertips. Happy hunting!