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.
Tamara Lindeman returns with a soft-spoken reflection on maturity and on love.
When do we become conscious of the passing of time? The first signs of autumn: the stiffness of cold creeping into the fingertips. Even the most careless passing actions form habits: potential becomes kinetic, dreams become narrative, actions define us, form the lines on our skin and hands.
Lindeman writes with a casual openness, a comfortable intimacy. “What am I going to do with everything I know?” she asks. The firmness of her intonation here is a sharp contrast to the whispered tailings of her singing, the plaintive moan of steel strings longing for simplicity. Even as we tip on this fulcrum we are still more dream than reality.
Indeed, we find depicted here the realization of a fascinating and mature relationship. Lindeman provides a strong and concise character who falls in love with a vulnerable man. The adult-ness of their communication is a refreshing deviation from any more dramatic proclamation of love; the non-speak and mind-read and casual touches of a live-in partner define their relationship. Even the proposal that seals their direction is a casual word from the side of the mouth, a gentle toss to a knowing receiver: soft enough not to bruise, firm enough to be caught.
Endings are the cost of direction, beginnings are the function of maturity. We choose to control our directions or find ourselves adrift. We are all moving.
This is a record to savour and to internalize: stare into its surface until you recognize a reflection.
Graham Nicholas returns with a collection of portraits, his penchant for cutting directly to the core of his characters on full display and a strong backing band propping up his compositions.
Pleasantly, Nicholas revists some old tunes, fleshes them out with the distinctive swell of an Aaron Comeau-produced backing band. “Penny” acquires a driving force, an energy hurtling the narrator’s weak and straining heart toward its ending. “Wandering Angel” evolves from soft-spoken duet to contender for song of the year, evoking open highways even as the lyrics cut to the bone and draw blood: mother and father casting a mold for a molten son.
Indeed, Nicholas’ characters are on full display here. His lyrics are a surgeon’s scalpel, spreading open the motivations and fears of his characters with a challenging clarity. Even when his tracks acquire an upbeat drive, as in “Sunday Kinda Love,” even then the song’s sense of humour and unabashed eroticism displays the honesty and intimacy of Nicholas’ songwriting. In this track in particular, the backing band flexes its muscles and provides a well-timed reprieve from a tracklist in danger of becoming ballad-heavy. How welcome it is to find a folk singer with a talent for balancing clear songwriting and the need for pace and variety.
Sit on the front porch, pour a cup of black coffee, and listen through.