It would be easy to take the name tuques as an acerbic tribute to the winter that smothers this band’s subzero wastescape of a hometown, Edmonton, Alberta, for eight months a year. Too easy to start scratching parallels between the rich squalls of guitar washing around inside their short-playing debut, slushpuppie, and the numbing chill of said city’s long-playing winter that had barely begun as of the EP’s October 2014 release date. Too easy to apply easily qualifiers like frozen, stolid, ominous, bleak — to place easy genre tags or invoke the names of the architects whose halls these excellent songs echo around inside of.
What’s far from easy, though, is what tuques accomplish with greater and greater success on each of slushpuppie’s six movements.
Give opener ‘no cops’ exactly two seconds to tower far beyond sight and shower down onto you broken shards of category and expectation. Let second track ‘stay with me’ remind you that the human voice, divorced from lyric or intellect, is as an effective instrument as any. The uncluttered romance of ‘alone’ illustrates best what a band wielding this much fire is capable of: clearing out, with each new turn, wider and wider patches of territory previously thought subdued. A song as simple as ‘together’ fascinates with its plodding floor tom majesty and near-wordless moaning glory. Equal credit here goes to the immaculate engineering and production on this short collection that allows tuques to spirit an angry gale through their amplifiers and to conjure melody from stone.
What’s also far from easy is capturing a release like slushpuppie in words on a screen. So listen.
To the attuned listener, Samantha Savage Smith’s songs will conjure a picture of sureness amid chaos, of stability within motion. They’re stones skittering across the pond, rocketing but rocks nonetheless, and ones sure of their course. When the Twin Reverb spires of guitar moan and the snare cracks, she conducts always and with confidence, less than an inch from the microphone. Examples of this competence – this intricate skill – crop up with uncanny frequency as Fine Lines, the singer’s second full length, whirls past.
The title track is sonic hopscotch, pure and easy. The drum pattern – that drum pattern – runs along like the bratty, insistent counterpoint chant to Smith’s skipping, daggering melody. That control she’s capable of maintaining in the swirl of instrumentation is doubly present here, weaving a needlepoint melody over and through the fabric of the tune.
The best execution of this ability, however, lands with ‘Til We Are Found. It’s a cosmic prom anthem. Propelled by affectionately strummed eighth notes and a pocketful-of-change-tambourine, its melody is the stoic face that masks a hammering heart. Stillness and motion.
This collection crests with the undeniable Habit Forming. Here Savage Smith finds an almost uncharacteristically tender nook of her timbre and, for a perfect three minutes, coos a lament that could and should easily transcend the barrier between a Calgary basement and primetime placement – an increasingly fine line when we’re messing with a talent of this stature.
The Hours’ Miss Emerald Green is at first shy – electing for her entire first minute to bubble under a placid top of self-effacing ephemera. Before even her first word she instead takes up a guitar and plucks out a lone few lines of spaghetti – once, and then twice for surer footing. Finally she clears her throat over the rising chromatic motif you’ll soon learn to love like a sign post in dense wood, and introduces herself. Your heart breaks immediately.
Hers is a sorry, languid yarn. A super 8 reel of lazy pain unspooling along the length of a wasted Sunday, cell by cell of hurtful recollections exposed and gone.
The band, here on only their third song available to anyone outside a Winnipeg bar, has only grown stronger. They ebb and swell in sympathy, unafraid to lean into one another for steadiness as they together paint a vista equally stark, equally inviting – one that all or any justice will see them commended and widely recognized for as they continue to introduce us to the wan characters who people it – characters like Miss Emerald Green who will devastate you but whom you won’t soon forget.
J. Eygenraam’s Brutal Love opens on a lone tambourine, frothing for a tick like an anxious bottle of champagne before its cork pops on the irresistible cascade of guitar trickery that is ‘What’s Hip?’ It’s the kind of song and album opener that people are shushed for talking over, as the volume knob strikes six o’clock and eyes close in appreciation. It’s the only possible way to introduce the world to a songwriter as brave as Eygenraam and his collection of fun and daring songs.
Immediately thereafter lands the helpful and hilarious ‘Don’t Be Sad’, a dead-on New Wave therapy session where we’re told plainly that “pain is lame…” and that “…feeling bad is dumb.”
From that point Eygenraam and his band – whose own contributions are confident and lucid throughout – expand over hills of ripped denim rock and contract through keyholes into intimate places of tenderness and hurt.
It’s when these threads meet and run through the title track that J. is at his most eviscerating. ‘Brutal Love’ bursts through the batwing doors, a staggering, bruised piece, stabbing the organ cathartically on the 8ths, stumbling to regain its footing at the ends of phrases. Our bloodied narrator stomps through the song’s whirling mood, stopping only to ask “was my love not worth more than sex and dirt?” only to satisfy the hanging query when, as a refrain, he confesses: “I’ve been played the fool by brutal love.”
It’s a perfect and poignant climax to a tidy album whose short span you won’t need prompting to spin again and again.
Immediately swooping us into its pastoral gallop, ‘Visitor’ is an instant nostalgic injection. A rabble of breathy violins weave over a bone-dry bed of bass and ticking, spare drums. It’s a heartbreak mixtape side A opener, spooled languidly across a pensive prairie drive through Drag Cities and Dream Rivers. Singer Zuzia Juszkiewicz meets us at each verse with her ethereal creak before ushering us into the refrain, a cool and cascading hook: “I’ve come but I won’t be around for long.” Another trip around the circuit brings us to the bridge, a gorgeous plateau of soaring slide guitar that guides us back into a final refrain which revs and cycles pleasingly before – not even finishing her stanza – Juszkiewicz disappears abruptly. We’re stopped dead on the final syllable. The ride is over.
Pay attention for Vancouver’s Teenagre’s next trip to your town.