Rock. Cinematic. Female vocals. Garage rock. Post-punk rock. Winnipeg.
We live in a hash-tag, give-it-to-me-in-a-word-or-three-at-the-most world. The above descriptors are listed on the Bandcamp page (thishisses.bandcamp.com) of This Hisses, who are a … well, you know who (and what and where) they are.
What you don’t know is why. I’ll venture a guess that the trio (fronted by Julia Ryckman – she of the steely, operatically trained voice) exists as a reaction to outrageous coldness and unreasonable darkness. The sound is hardly old-fashioned, but there is something deeply elemental to the lyrical themes: solitude, healing, hunting, fear, despair and acute cravings for warmth.
In other words, #JustAnotherDayInManitoba.
The band’s second album, out Feb. 5, begins with the title track, an ominous (perhaps autobiographical) brooder. “I used my voice to crawl out of my loneliness,” sings Ryckman, dripping with heavy drama about a hook-up. “He acted like he was frightened of me – like I was a widow with a curse upon me.”
A medical text book would describe “anhedonia” as the inability to experience joy from activities usually found enjoyable. But let’s not paint things as all doom, gloom and lithium. The Rock Lobster dance would work fine for the surf-rocking Blacksmith.
Farm Boy Lovin rocks like the Who and Blitzkrieg Bop, and is sweet and upbeat, even with its lovelorn sentiment. The needy protagonist requires a poetic lover from the outskirts – one imagines any of the Weakerthans would do.
Icelandic Blue has a melodramatic, retro-rock grip to it, with a touch of twang again. Trapper’s Lake is a fairly frightening blues – all tension, spine-tingling slide-guitar riff and titanium-plated Sister Rosetta Tharpe vibe.
The album has overwhelming and underwhelming moments. Ryckman’s presence is major, but without a lot of charisma. And there is no one, significant track to draw attention. Myself, I prefer Erika Wennerstrom and her Heartless Bastards when it comes to big-voiced, sling-blade guitar rock.
Chances are, however, that This Hisses gets no namesake jeers or boos for its live performances. My advice is to get out and see this band on stage, where they can receive love, heat and company. They sound like they need it – don’t we all.
This Hisses launches Anhedonia on Feb. 9, at the West End Cultural Centre, Winnipeg.
- Love Me Deeply
- Joanna Chapman-Smith
Two things about the cool-breeze singer-songwriter Joanna Chapman-Smith: One, her type does not sweat, it perspires. Two, she does not actually perspire. The Vancouver-based songstress makes it look effortless, but there’s nothing simple at play. She sings cleanly, with a gentle confidence and sometimes with playfulness about lost love and even a lost voice (her own throat issues). Her music is adult contemporary with an elegant, dancerly flair, recalling a softer Shelby Lynne here or a lounge-set Amos Lee there. String and woodwind arrangements are neither ornamental nor lavish – rather, they serve as a sort of duet partner. She wants a lift on the easily melodic Pick Me Up, although she’s the one with the quiet strength.
- BLack On BLonde
Despite being a double album – historically an invitation for artists to indulge – k-os’ fifth album BLack On BLonde is a focused pitch for a return to relevance. The singing, rapping and guitar-playing wunderkind has stepped up his songwriting game and mastered styles from the driving new-wave of Put Down Your Phone! to the pop cheese of C.L.A., slamming rivals and lamenting lost loves with confident ease. And yet, though I nod my head to BLack On BLonde when it’s on, I can hardly recall any single hook or lyric afterward. Righteous couplets like “computer screens swallow us/ look at all my followers” feel slight, like a fountain soft-drink with more ice than soda. Skills to pay the bills, sure, but who stole the soul?
- Gavin Bryars: The Sinking of the Titanic
- Aventa Ensemble, with Gavin Bryars, double bass; and Phil Dwyer, saxophone
- Aventa Productions
Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking of the Titanic forces us to contemplate one of the most powerful images from that catastrophe: the band that kept playing as the ship sank. We don’t just consider the image and move on; we’re locked into it, into the harmonies of the old hymn, the groaning ship and the sound waves resonating under water into eternity. It’s initially cooler than the celebrated Crepuscule release from 1990; there’s less bass and we don’t hear the bows scrape against the strings, although the reminiscences of the two survivors are more prominent. Aventa also replaces the original bass clarinet – its dark, straight tone gives an eerie depth to the ambient sound – with a saxophone, but it pays off. The sax sounds almost human in the final lament.
- Richard Thompson
- New West
Despite the prominence of his Stratocaster, it’s tempting to take the title as referring to Thompson himself, who after 45 years of record making still sparks like a live wire. It helps that his current trio, with bassist Taras Prodaniuk and drummer Michael Jerome, is his best in years. On Stuck on the Treadmill and Sally B they do to English folk what Led Zeppelin did to American blues. But it’s not all thump and snarl, as Thompson is by turns sentimental (Saltford), wryly satiric (Stoney Ground) and unabashedly romantic (Saving the Good Stuff for You). Classic Thompson, in other words, and well worth plugging into.