The band, all two of them, were dressed in black, grown-up and focussed. The audience was largely, though not exclusively, check-shirted, Doc Marten-booted, young and inebriated.
This was what I stumbled into about a year ago after deciding to check out the Sunparlour Players’ residency at Toronto’s Dakota Tavern.
Since then I’ve been gradually getting hold of their albums – 3 studio efforts to date and another due this April – and listening to them every so often, investigating the CD artwork and exploring their world.
It’s a world almost diametrically opposed to my own musical experience, a world of banjos, glockenspiels, thumping bass drums and dark lyrics. Songs often begin and end abruptly, themes are played on guitar over the drone of an open tuning, vocals are deliberately distorted, drums passionate yet precise.
Andrew’s vocals always seem to be bang in tune and he can sustain a note until the cows come home. His lyrics ask more questions than they answer and the questions always seem to be about what happened long ago on a dark night in rural south-western Ontario, where he hails from.
One or more young women were killed in a storm (‘Wall Sisters’); another time something was buried under the boundary between two properties (‘Battle of 77’); at one point agricultural labour is described and celebrated (‘If The Creeks Don’t Rise’).
This isn’t the usual boy-girl adolescent fare. Nor is the instrumentation or harmony your average four-chord electric guitar/keyboard pop. It’s actually more like one chord – a lingering major seventh, a bass drone and drums either totally in or totally out of your face.
‘Us Little Devils’, the band’s latest CD, broke new ground in songwriting and production, on the opener ‘Runner’ for example. ‘Green Thumb’ draws from family history in Ontario’s Sun Parlour and alludes to the nursery rhyme ‘Two Little Dickie Birds’. ‘Like an Animal’ seems like a cross between Nick Cave and Killing Joke.
Each recording seems to outdo its predecessor and further develop the group’s sound and image, which is more based on attractive arts-and-crafts designs and emptiness than what the guys look like or who says they’re great.
Add this to the primal qualities in the music and the rural experiences depicted in the lyrics and you’ve found out what’s exciting those check-shirted, Doc Marten-booted young folks, looking for an alternative to R & B, DJs, the E! network and the urban dream.