It is quite fitting that Ryan Kamstra, the leader and songwriter of the expansive Toronto art-rock outfit Tomboyfriend, bares such a striking vocal resemblance to one Frank Black, and it has nothing to do with any explicit stylistic debt that his band owes to the Pixies. Far more theatrical in their approach than that legendary band’s direct, abrasive pop, what Tomboyfriend shares with the Pixies is a refreshing lack of reverence for rules and decorum, a rejection, on Kamstra’s part, of modern indie’s current tendencies towards the politeness of Arcade Fire, the ornate psychedelia of Animal Collective or the move towards ironic bubblegum that many a celebrated 2010 newcomer embraced. Kamstra takes obvious delight in complicating things, though mercifully without sacrificing the directness of his music, allowing even something like the eight-minute standout track “Goldfinch Goospoo” to wind and twist through a perverse narrative (delivered as an unsteady boy/girl duet against a climbing piano refrain that is genuinely lovely) to remain melodically satisfying. This is most likely due to the fact that, even with his tendency to colour well outside the lines, Kamstra is no snide pop hater, as evident in his liberal, loving sprinklings of lyrical references to everyone from Elvis Presley to Patti Smith to Sinead O’Connor to Nelly (yes, Nelly!) throughout. If Kamstra’s wildly erratic muse cannot help but lead him into some questionable directions from time to time (the mangled electro-rap pastiche “Big in Afghanistan” is a garish mess), his ambitious musical voyages are still a pleasure to listen to play out far more often than not.
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// Notes from the Road
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