Our monthly round-up of Toronto talents making big moves. For our May edition, we look at locals who’ll bringing the buzz to this year’s Canadian Music Week.
Who: Ice Cream
What: Two Toronto freak-scene mainstays unite to produce austere yet mesmerizing post-punky pop.
Why: After entering the studio last year with Fucked Up’s Ben Cook and Actual Water’s Anthony Nemet behind the boards, this collaboration between Carlyn Bezic (also of local glam-pop armada Blonde Elvis) and Amanda Crist (formerly of avant-rock outfit Huckleberry Friends) debuted in January with the suitably frosty “Science,” whose contrast of bass/synth sputter and divine harmony suggested U.K. art-punk patriarchs Wire if they wrote more slow jams. Then, just in time to summon the spring, they delivered the glorious “Fired Up,” a polar-vortex-defying hit of tropical pop that’s like a deconstructive remix of Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” that breaks the song down to its most swoon-worthy bits. There’s apparently more where that came from, but, for the time being, the duo is limiting its releases to modest, single-scoop servings online—all Bezic can confirm at this point is that Ice Cream will have another track and accompanying video to melt your browser in the near future.
Where & When: May 9, 8 p.m., for the Diana-curated showcase happening at The Drake Hotel (1150 Queen St. W.).—Stuart Berman
Who: Petra Glynt
What: Electronic/operatic/noisy solo venture of visual artist/musician Alexandra Mackenzie.
Why: There’s no shortage of exceptional visual artists who also produce captivating music. In many cases, there’s an otherworldly quality to the music, as it’s often infused with an entirely different set of aesthetic ideas than those traditionally associated with rock or pop composition. (At the very least, the albums come with killer packaging.) Toronto’s Alexandra Mackenzie—a.k.a. Petra Glynt—has been transporting listeners to an entirely new sonic universe since she began pairing her powerful voice with looped tribal beats and swirling psychedelics a couple of years ago, establishing a sound that’s as intricate and overwhelming as the colourfully trippy drawings she makes under her own name. Mackenzie poses a double musical threat, with both both ridiculous chops—thanks to years of vocal training—and loads of avant-garde/noise cred, having played with local acts like Machetes, Romo Roto, and Wet Nurse. Fittingly, she was part of a recent bill with US Girls for the AGO First Thursday show to preview the current Francis Bacon/Henry Moore exhibit.
Where & When: A full-length follow-up to last June’s excellent Of This Land EP is in the works, but for now, Petra Glynt will serve as one of the more outsider acts amid the indie-rock deluge at CMW. Catch her at the Silver Dollar (486 Spadina Av.) on May 9 at 9 p.m.—Chris Bilton
Who: The Strumbellas
What: Fresh from a 2014 Juno win, the folk-pop sextet plays CMW before kicking off a country-spanning tour of summer music festivals.
Why: We admit we’re not the first ones to recommend keeping an eye on The Strumbellas. The ho-hey-ing, Toronto-via-Lindsay folk outfit has been steadily attracting attention since releasing their self-titled debut EP in 2009. Its follow-up, My Father and the Hunter, earned a 2013 Juno nomination for Roots and Traditional Album of the Year—the same award they snatched this year with We Still Move on Dance Floors. Though their latest album’s name might evoke images of a disco-country crossover, The Strumbellas’s sound is pure modern folk: Their harmony-filled songs are the stuff of Ontario tourism ads, tapping into the Mumfordian zeitgeist with a more cheerful, boisterous take on the string-centric, kick-and-clap aesthetic of The Lumineers, Of Monsters and Men, and The Head and the Heart. Whether you interpret that list of comparisons as a good omen or an instant turn-off, there’s a certain modest charm in the band’s ultra-accessible, high-energy sing-alongs. And if The Strumbellas indeed move on the dancefloor when they play CMW this month, they’ll more likely be foot stomping and line dancing than bumping and grinding.
Where & When: The Strumbellas play Sirius XM’s Indies awards showcase at the Kool Haus (132 Queens Quay St. E.) on May 10, 9 p.m., with Little Dragon, The Hidden Cameras, Hollerado, Born Ruffians, Mounties, Ponctuation, and more.—Luc Rinaldi
Who: Sean Leon
What: Singer/MC busts straight outta Ajax.
Why: We don’t talk much about the art that’s likely languishing due to the poor and banal cultural planning of Toronto’s suburbs. Millions are tucked away in the subdivisions that surround this city, making things that they can upload to the internet but can’t necessarily showcase offline. Of course, suburban ennui’s a common musical theme—we heard it on the last great Arcade Fire record—but it’s not often given the rap treatment. Sean Leon considers it part of his narrative, going so far as to dub himself “the dark prince of Ajax.” In the past year, the rapper/singer appears to have emerged from some quiet cul-de-sac a fully formed artist, with top-notch visuals and a crew (IXXI) to match. This is apparent when taking inNinelevenne, the tragedy and January’s multimedia project narcissus, the drowning of ego. (Jordan Evans—who has made beats for Drake, Tyga, Eminem, and Childish Gambino—worked on both.) Like ’Sauga’s PartyNextDoor and Toronto’s Jimmy Prime, Leon borrows the introspective lyricism and psychedelic melodies of Kid Cudi with a twist he’d likely attribute to a fascination with Jim Morrison and Pink Floyd. It’s the flamboyancy of Sa-Ra Creative Partners or The Cool Kids crossed with Death Grips. That energy, best observed in Leon’s “Black Punk Mutherfxcker”video, reminds me most of Travi$ Scott, who is also playing CMW, and who some consider the ideological progenitor of Kanye’s Yeezus project.
Where & When: May 10, at The Garrison (1197 Dundas St. W.), 10:30 pm.—Anupa Mistry
Who: For Esmé
What: Solo pop project (named after a J.D. Salinger story) from Martha Meredith previews songs from its upcoming second album at CMW.
Why: Think Fiona Apple and Regina Spektor—without the pretentiousness. Raised on a farm north of Peterborough, Meredith looks like one of those lovely blondes with flowers in their hair often seen strumming ukuleles in Trinity-Bellwoods on sunny days. Her 2013 indie debut channeled classic Canadian women in song from Sarah Harmer to Emily Haines, and demonstrated rather sophisticated pop stylings that balance earnest sweetness with a melancholic poetry. Now a fully transplanted downtowner, and just back from a trip to Hong Kong, she’s promising new sounds and more beats in the new material she’ll be showcasing Saturday. Expect more urban angst.
Where & When: May 10, 12:15 a.m., at The Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St. W.).—Liisa Ladouceur