Denise Benson’s monthly round-up of Toronto talents making big moves in the weeks ahead. Here’s a look at who’s currently creating buzz, and why.
Who: Electric Youth
What: Sweet synth-pop duo releases new single, sign to Last Gang Records
Why: Romance seeps out of the songs crafted by producer Austin Garrick and vocalist Bronwyn Griffin, together known as Electric Youth.*
The Toronto-based twosome have been sweethearts since the age of 12, and emerged as a musical duo in 2010. Early demos containing sweet, starry-eyed synth-pop and cinematic disco, all heavily influenced by a shared love of film, caught the attention of media outlets like Britain’s The Guardian, who dubbed the duo “new band of the day” that September. In 2011, “A Real Hero,” Electric Youth’s collaboration track with French producer and friend David Grellier a.k.a. College, took a turn from independent slow-burner to an iTunes chart-topper after it was featured in the film Drive. Electric Youth has been largely silent since, sharing only a remix EP, series of DJ mixes and song “The Best Thing,” but loyal fans remain tuned in. Their patience was rewarded last month when Electric Youth premiered new single “Innocence” via Stereogum, and announced they’d signed with Last Gang Records to release a debut album in 2014. Responding to questions via reps for their new label, Griffin and Garrick tell me the album is “predominantly self produced,” will feature guest contributors including producers Vince Clarke (Yazoo, Depeche Mode, Erasure) and Peter Mayes (PNAU, Empire of the Sun), and is expected by late spring or early summer. Although they share a name with Debbie Gibson’s sophomore album of 1989 and tend to be seen as a 1980s revivalist project, Electric Youth want to set that record straight. “There’s no intention to recreate the past in our music. We have no interest in making music of the ‘80s; we’re about making music for now and the future. The album is that; it’s modern synth-pop, it’s us crafting the best songs we can using synthesizers, timeless pop structures, and the heart.” A video for “Innocence” is currently in production. Electric Youth will tour in support of their album come 2014.
What: Drone-metal duo unleashes sophisticated sonics, tours with Gates and thisquietarmy
Why: Formed in late 2011 by Jim Field and Dorian Williamson, both former members of ambient post-rock band Holoscene, Northumbria finds the pair exploring the outer reaches of improvisational drone metal while employing only guitar and bass. Multi-instrumentalist Field is known for his work as leader of inventive goth band Rhea’s Obsession; while the music of Northumbria is equally haunting, it is much less linear. Northumbria’s self-titled debut CD of 2012, released through Montreal’s TQA Records, was an epic five-song, 53-minute journey through dystopian soundscapes. Subsequent singles were equally ambitious, as is the band’s video for “Black Sea of Trees.” Inspired by the mythology of Aokigahara, the legendary haunted forest of Japan, the video was directed by Marc Forand, and is the amalgam of a year’s worth of time-lapse photography shot in Northumberland County. Similarly, Northumbria’s own layered, experimental approach to dark ambient music holds up nicely in new contexts, as recent remix project All Days Begin as Night illustrates. Here, the opening title song, a new original, gives way to a range of impressive reinterpretations as artists Aidan Baker, Witxes, Famine, Theologian and Cory Strand deftly reimagine tracks from Northumbria’s debut album. The album, out on American noise label Altar of Waste Records, garnered a 9/10 review in Exclaim and found favour on the Echoes and Dust blog. Early next year, Northumbria will follow with a split CD (with Toronto-based North Atlantic Drift) on Germany’s Oxide Tones and a full sophomore album on New York’s Broken Limbs Recordings.
Where & When: Northumbria performs three live dates this month alongside friends Gates and thisquietarmy. This Thursday’s (Dec. 5) Music Gallery show at 197 John will be headlined by Gates, in an expanded lineup, while Montreal’s Eric Quach a.k.a. thisquietarmy opens. The entire evening will be filmed for a future DVD release. Advance tickets are available for $8 at Soundscapes, $10 at the door. The mini-tour also takes the three experimental acts to Guelph (Dec. 6) and Montreal (Dec. 16).
Who: Philly Moves
What: Playful hip-hop duo evolves, readies new video and opens for Blackalicious
Why: Originally from Ottawa, but calling Toronto home since 2012, Philly Moves is the upbeat, positive, and playful hip-hop duo of MC Tragic and producer Rockwell. Since 2010, Philly Moves has made moves on club stages across North America, played high-profile festivals (including NXNE, Bluesfest and House of Paint), and performed alongside the likes of Mac Miller, ASAP Rocky, Smif N’ Wessun, Action Bronson, Lupe Fiasco, and Raekwon. Three albums in, Philly Moves has matured with each release. Last year’s How to Drink Yourself Famous helped them top readers’ polls, climb the Canadian and American college radio charts, and gain a dedicated university following, but it’s with this year’s Creators of The Lost Art that the duo really showed their depth. Tragic reveals that a new full-length, tentatively titled Olga, is now in the works. “This will be our first album with all original, sample-free production,” he writes. “This has had a corresponding change in song content and musical philosophy. The songs on this record, for the most part, have more of a ‘real’ or ‘honest’ take on things, with what some might see as a darker result. The overall sound will still be us, though. We aren’t making one of those pretentious, artsy records that acts make when they think they’ve made it; it’s just a little more grown up in tone and mood. So far, the results are extremely exciting; from an artistic standpoint, it is by far our strongest work to date.” The first single from this next album is set to drop come spring, but first Philly Moves will release a video for “Old As Fuck,” directed by illVibe. Watch for a corresponding remix contest as well.
Where & When: Philly Moves opens for legendary California hip-hop duo Blackalicious, this Saturday (Dec. 7) at Adelaide Hall (250 Adelaide St. W.). Advance tickets are on sale for $25 at Rotate This, Soundscapes and online.
Who: Sing Leaf
What: Electro-folk artist solidifies band, plays Silent Shout & debuts new music
Why: At the heart of Sing Leaf is singer-songwriter David Como, who has worked since 2007 to blend electronic and acoustic instrumentation on a series of beautifully textured, pop-and-folk-infused singles and EPs. The releases earned Como and band opening spots for the likes of Beach House, Tunng, Timber Timbre, and Foxes in Fiction. This past May, Sing Leaf’s debut full-length, Watery Moon, was released by Los Angeles’ Chill Mega Chill Records. Absolutely hypnotic and sorely overlooked, the album has been a slow-burner, but deserves to be heard by more. Recognition and props have come in recent months from the likes of Weird Canada and No Fear Of Pop, with Sing Leaf’s loving remix of Sandro Perri’s “How Will I” adding to the attention. This comes at an ideal time as Como has solidified Sing Leaf as a four-piece, now working consistently with Pat Bramm (drums), Justin Castator (synth/keys), and Shane Fester (bass). “It’s the first time I’ve really felt like I’ve had a ‘band,’ as opposed to just people backing me up,” writes Como. “They’ve really shaped the way the live show is now, and the new songs I’m recording, I’m doing with them in mind. They’re contributing to this as well, helping track some instruments and vocals.” To that end, Como is at work on the Lonely Star EP (slated for release by year’s end, it will contain remixes of songs from Watery Moon and two new originals), as well as a sophomore full-length, tentatively titled Tracing (we debut a song from it below).
Where & When: Both Sing Leaf and Ice Cream open for Montreal-based rising star Sean Nicholas Savage (Arbutus Records) at next Monday’s (Dec. 9) Silent Shout at Double Double Land (209 Augusta). $10. Como will sing, play guitar, and man samplers as he’s joined by all three bandmates to play Sing Leaf material both brand new and old. “I’m really psyched to be playing with these guys; the live incarnation of these tracks is way more spacey and heavy than the recordings.” Sing Leaf will close out 2013 on the Tranzac Club stage as part of their New Year’s Eve special.
What: Electronic composer reveals forceful sophomore album and multi-media collaboration
Why: In just over four years, Toronto’s David Psutka a.k.a. Egyptrixx has turned any and all preconceived notions of who he is as a producer on their head. He emerged in the late 2000s out of the shadows of “bass music,” but has never really been an artist focussed on the dancefloor. Bible Eyes, Egyptrixx’ acclaimed debut album of 2011, stretched the sensibility and reach of U.K. imprint Night Slugs (the label to which he was signed), and Psutka hasn’t looked back since. Sure, he can bend beats and serve up the thickest of bass with the best of them, but Psutka is far more focused on creating immersive sonic environments, which tend to be as dark as they are precise. The emergence in 2012 of Hiawatha, Psutka’s collaborative side-project, also highlighted the producer’s love of psychedelia, noise, and black metal, while his work on the recent debut EP by Anamai (solo project of HSY’s Anna Mayberry), shows yet another sensibility. It’s all related of course, as Egyptrixx’ new album, A/B Til Infinity, makes clear. Released last week on Night Slugs/Last Gang, the album is intense and perfectly disorienting, revealing more of itself with each listen. Praise has come from the likes of FACT, Pitchfork, and Dummy, which dubbed it “Album of the Week” last week. He also spoke to the latter publication extensively about his rethink of Egyptrixx and approach to A/B Til Infinity. The album is a multi-media collaboration with Berlin-based visual artist Andreas Nicolas Fischer a.k.a. A N F; while the two have worked together previously, it’s never been to such a degree. “Andreas and I worked on the entire album from start to finish,” says Psutka. “The content of the collaboration is the Ax//s video, a series of video clips (which will be online this week), the album artwork and the A/V performance. It’s a slightly nebulous body of work, but this way made the most sense to us.” Fischer speaks about his contributions here, while his visuals will also be on display during Egyptrixx’ 2014 world tour, with dates to be announced early in the year. A Toronto show is set to be among them.
CORRECTION, DEC. 4, 2013: The original version of this article stated that Austin Garrick was a Hamilton native, which is not the case.