In this 411 column I lead you down the windy trail of Calgary’s underground music scene. Come with me; I will reveal to you some of the odd noises and odder people that lurk just beyond the tree line. You may have noticed the column before, but in keeping with my unwavering urge to bring some of the under-sung creative minds of this town into the light, you’ll see more extensive coverage on specific bands, regular updates on previously mentioned artists, and heck, you might even see it pop up a little more frequently.
Anyone that had an opportunity to give the 2009 debut disc from melancholic fuzz-pop project extra happy ghost!!! a spin likely found themselves overtaken by waves of pillowy hooks, murmuring guitar noise and the understated melodies of principal songwriter Matt Swann. How the Beach Boys Sound to Those with No Feelings was the anthem for the melancholy masses, not to mention hands-down best album title of the year. Now, the man behind the bum-out is a releasing split 7’’ single with no-frills psych-pop project Labcoast.
Calgary’s own Saved By Radio will issue the split in the next couple of weeks, and since 2002, it’s a label that has devoted its time to releasing some of the city’s most notable alternative music. Some of the standouts include Key To The City (and its previous incarnation as Vailhalen), quirky power-pop savant Ryan Bourne and eccentric blues-rockers Ghostkeeper.
“This is probably the first in a series of 7-inches they’re going to be putting out,” says Swann. “Dawn (Loucks) from Saved By Radio always does things on her own terms, and it’s always interesting.”
Effectively bridging the gap between Beach Boys and Swann’s upcoming second full-length — which he’s laying down with Chad Van Gaalen, longtime local sorcerer of sound and vision and Women-collaborator — the two songs Swann brings the table are impeccable representations of the two sides of his lo-fi, bedroom style: At times, they’re sadly sweet, at others, bubbly and fun.
The first track, “1990s Brain Damage,” is perfectly pared-down pop, shuffling along at a Charlie Brown pace with minimal instrumentation with just a simple, but effective, vocal melody that keeps the tune bobbing along wonderfully. The second track, “Mechanical 111,” is a more ramshackle affair, but it’s no less effective at transmitting Swann’s impeccable wit and knack for catchiness. It’s a warbly, textured lo-fi stomper; filled with distorted organ, tinny-sounding programmed beats and a bubbly synth line, it’s a song that, in the end, is a pure sugar rush.
“(“Mechanical 111”) was an experiment in using super-unabashed cheap hooks,” Swann says. “It’s really dirty, really lo-fi. But it’s how it should be, for what the song is. I played the drumbeat on a cheap Casio keyboard, super distorted. It sounds like a loop, but it’s my fingers.”
“(‘1990s Brain Damage’) was the first song that I wrote after the first album,” he continues. “It’s kind of written for my friends in high school.… They just feel like two pop songs. ‘Mechanical 111’ is kind of a ridiculous song, (but) ‘Brain Damage’ is a more important song to me.”
On the flipside, Labcoast compliments Swann’s songs perfectly, with its brand of equally minimal, but no less catchy, hazed-out indie-pop. The four-piece happens to feature some of the city’s most talented musicians, including the dynamic duo of Chris Dadge and Scott Munro, whose mark on the Calgary’s alternative music scene has been nothing short of prolific. The end result, however, isn’t so much of a showcase of each member’s technical abilities; rather, it’s a demonstration of their ability to craft impeccably trim jangly power-pop.
“What’s rad about Labcoast is they nail it in a really timeless way,” says Swann. “It doesn’t feel dated at all. It’s like the best of Bee Thousand-era Guided By Voices or Sebadoh records, with mad ’60s hooks. It’s just awesome pop songs that are unpretentious and uncontrived.”
Thursday, October 14 — Labcoast, Raleigh, Heart Failure Research Unit at the Marquee Room. Labcoast plays with Raleigh, the dark-folk project featuring rising star-songwrtiter Brock Geiger, cellist Clea Anias and This City Defects drummer Matt Doherty. Up-and-coming alt-country crooners Heart Failure Research Unit support.
October 16 and 17 — The Tranzmitors with Occupied Europe, The Throaways and The Crescent Heights. At Broken City on October 16, the amazing garage-rock crunch of Vancouver’s Tranzmitors will be supported by the Occupied Europe — the new post-punk project from Sharp Ends’ lead singer, Chris Zajko — and the irrepressible power-pop of all-girl three-piece The Throwaways. The following day, ex-Gaye Rage guitarist and local garage rock stalwart Darren Booreham’s blistering new project, The Crescent Heights, will support the ’Mitors at Tubby Dog.
Thursday, October 21 — Magnetic North, Foonyap and the Roar, Lorrie Matheson. Paul van Kampen — one of the minds that propelled epic indie-rock band Beija Flor — releases a very autumnal EP of emotionally warm, sometimes haunting, piano-based soft-pop songs. Primal, weirdo post-punk project Foonyap and the Roar and immutably talented local songwriter Lorrie Matheson both open.