[27 August 2008]
In the last 30 years, Canada’s sonic landscape has changed dramatically.
Historically, the uppermost country of North America has been primarily known for producing such classic rock radio giants as Neil Young, the Band, Steppenwolf, the Guess Who, Rush and Triumph, as well as the underrated protest rockers Five Man Electrical Band. This was before transcending into purveyors of bleeding edge abstract hip-hop in the ‘90s through the rise of the Ninja Tune label, not to mention assisting in the birth of commercially-viable angry-chick rock in the advent of Alanis Morrissette.
But over the course of this first decade of the 21st century, Canada has flooded the college radio market with a swarm of hipster-friendly indie acts like Broken Social Scene, Hot Hot Heat, the Stills, Stars, Feist, the Constantines, Apostle of Hustle, the Dears and Los Campensinos!, just to name but a few. All great bands, if you are into that kind of stuff. And just about anybody with a ¼ oz. of good taste in music would take any of them over Canada’s most successful current musical export, mullet rockers Nickelback, who really need to return that phone call from 1994 demanding their sound back.
However, if you aren’t all that up on the whole Tiny Mix Tapes/Pitchfork indie rock scene, chances are you either are unaware of or just plain couldn’t be bothered by the majority of those aforementioned acts—with the possible exception of Feist, who for about 15 minutes was inescapable via her incredibly-annoying “1234” single/iPod jingle. Or, if you are a total hater of the Tiny/Pitchfork axis’ “imperialistic hipster” ways, you most likely can’t stand that whole Arts & Crafts scene up there on the principle that you would never fall prey to another one of their bogus recommendations again after being suckered into buying that Rapture album a couple of years back.
Or maybe sugar-coma-inducing twee pop is just not your thing, and you prefer something a bit more primal and raw. Well, for those of you who subscribe to the concept that the Canadian music scene has become the epicenter for everything annoying and twee about modern indie rock, Montreal’s Duchess Says is out to prove your notions wrong.
Annie-C and company blast through 13 tracks of caustic, confrontational alt-punk in the grand tradition of Loose Screw-era Black Flag that gratuitously delves into the realms of electronic rhythms like the way Six Finger Satellite used to do back in the Sub Pop days on their debut full-length, Anthologie des 3 Perchoirs. So much, in fact, that they actually named one of their songs “Black Flag”—which is, in actuality, more Big Black than Black Flag—and blast through a cover of Six Finger’s indelible anthem “Rabies (Baby’s Got The)” off the defunct group’s 1993 masterpiece The Pigeon Is the Most Popular Bird. Elsewhere, the influence of Juju-era Souixsie & The Banshees appears on tracks like “A Century Old” and “I’ve Got The Flu”, two of the tamer songs on Anthologie. Meanwhile, tracks like “Ccut Up” and “Les Résidents” roar as though Kathleen Hanna dropkicked Kim Gordon out of the picture during her cameo on Sonic Youth’s “Bull in the Heather” video and forced Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley to return to their SST roots. If this is “Moog rock”, as the band has called their sound, then someone should call the ACS of analog synths for the abuse they levy on that poor, poor instrument.
Given the overtly sweet nature of the majority of indie rock coming out of Canada, Duchess Says is an incredible breath of fresh air that delivers the kind of four-on-the-floor, fire-on-all-cylinders post-punk that NYC used to hand out as its calling card before Vice culture made its way into the neighborhood and started raising the property value of the Bowery.