I spent a week in Toronto this spring, fittingly, during Canadian Music Week. At first, I was determined to do that thing where you post a few times a day about all the awesome stuff you’re doing and the cool new bands you’ve heard. It was a good idea and I managed to keep it up for a whole 45 minutes before I realized I had more important things to do like seeing cool new bands. I think I’m starting to understand why most blogs and media outlets send multiple correspondents to these things. It’s just too much for one person to take in.
Even now, six months later, there are still at least a dozen incredible sets that I have yet to cover, which, I think, surprised even me. I can still remember puzzling over how they’d managed to keep so much talent hidden for so long. So, how it is that a band comes to be voted best undiscovered band in Canada is beyond me. I’m just glad I don’t have to vote in that particular competition because I’d likely be crushed under the weight of all those zip files and Spotify playlists long before I ever came to any sort of conclusion.
It’s a title Vancouver quartet The British Columbians took in 2009 (not bad for a band that got together to “just [play] around without any big ambition”). Listening to them, you could easily mistake their brand of filthy blues rock for the work of a band from the Deep South. And their sophomore release Made for Darker Things is no different. From the wailing opener “Evil in the Pines”, Darker Things conjures up images of balmy summer nights and dodgy dive bars where hard living old men on rickety three-legged bar stools play Delta blues behind a haze of stale cigarette smoke and cheap beer. Made for Darker Things is an album that lives up to it’s name. Dirty, dingy, with moments of arena-ready grandeur, this is the music your grandmother warned you about.*
Made for Darker Things is out 13th September. For those in the Vancouver area, there’s a release show on the 9th.
You probably know by now that I like a band that know who they are—I’m very much like a cliché personals ad in that sense—but it’s true. It makes the whole first impression thing that much easier. So, when I stumbled out of the cold and into Bread & Circus late on the last night of Canadian Music Week perfectly unwilling to think critically about anything, I was thankful to find a band like Little City onstage. And I realise that, from the way I’ve just phrased that, it could be inferred that the band play some kind of mass produced autotuned tripe, but nothing could be farther from the truth. It takes a special degree of care and attention to navigate a band setup with as many potential timbral pitfalls as theirs includes, but the Toronto area natives clearly have their route mapped out (pop band + banjo + lap steel + French horn = brilliance, apparently).
The truth is, Little City are the kind of band it’s really hard not to love which will be made abundantly clear to anyone who has 21 minutes to listen to their debut EP The Going and the Gone. While the lead track, “Bright Glow” with its prominent harmonica and lap steel parts betray some country roots, Little City are first and foremost a band with an innate pop sensibility and indie rock attitude. Just check out the infectious “Rise Up” or the closer “Lincoln Learning French” to see what I mean. (And, if that’s not enough, well, when was the last time you saw someone do this with a banjo?) With Frances Miller’s lush, cool vocals the perfect complement to the richness of the band’s instrumentation, Little City’s performances are marked by a sort of luxurious sincerity reminiscent of Laura Marling** or 40 Acres era Caedmon’s Call that is absolutely irresistible.
*…if your grandmother ever warned you about music. Mine never did. Mostly, we just hung out at her house, watching Oprah and General Hospital until my mom got off work.
**Special thanks to Mishkin from Birdeatsbaby for talking me through my writer’s block on this one. And for the Laura Marling reference.