Rising from the remains of more conventional rock bands, Toronto’s FemBots came together after longtime friends Dave MacKinnon and Brian Poirier started writing music on their own. Working at their own laidback pace, the pair released “Mucho Cuidado” in 2000, an edgy record that was also a true home recording with power tools, childrens’ toys and dime-store instruments accompanying the pair’s grainy vocals. The album reached a good level of local success, but the novelty of their use of tape loops and trashcan technology was getting the group more attention than their actual music. The tendency towards collaboration is especially strong in the Canadian music scene, and the duo invited a few friends and aimed for a bigger sound on their 2003 sophomore release, entitled Small Town Murder. If that LP was a slight departure from their electronic formula, their latest record, The City, is a complete about-face.
MacKinnon and Poirier took one more big step towards full-stage band status with this 2005 release—including over a dozen extra players—to help realize the pair’s tribute album to their hometown. What started years ago as a home-studio pastime between two friends ultimately evolved into an engaging album of ten highly textured alt-country tracks that still feature the duo’s usual quirkiness, but is subdued by all the greatest elements of rock, folk and country. While everything and the kitchen sink didn’t find itself on this record as with past projects, it’s still nice to see that there’s a place to appreciate typewriters and garbage can lids as musical instruments. The FemBots still have a penchant for quirky sounds and atypical uses, and it’s interesting without being kitschy.
MacKinnon and Poirier musical history in Toronto is long, and while the new generation of scenesters is passing them by, it’s all the more appropriate for the duo to be offering up this commentary on their hometown on The City. Toronto is a city overflowing with inner conflict: prideful of what it is and what it’s become, but still always longing to be something better. It’s a city in one big self-image crisis. Of course, that sort of cathartic environment will inevitably produce some wonderful art and artists, and in rare cases like these, artists that speak to their environment. The FemBots’ latest offering is an eloquent ode to Toronto, ripe with references to local haunts and legends, and fully immersed in the fact that the rich history of the city is being paved over with each new condo building that gets erected to fill the skyline. It’s poignant and sometimes straight-out heartbreaking stuff. So even if you don’t have enough local knowledge to pick up the specific references to Toronto history in “History Remade”, you will certainly relate to the lines that follow: “Here’s where the factories were razed and no memory remains”; “No street signs remind you that a neighborhood died here before”. The bulldozer of gentrification has leveled many of the best parts of most major cities, time passes and many of the best things around us and about us are lost as well. The violin-infused “Demolition Waltz” features a chorus of voices that sadly but sweetly captures the song’s requiem for a lost neighborhood. Besides the engaging tribute to Toronto, it’s this idea of memoriam and gratitude to all that has come before us that lies at the core of this record. So no, you don’t actually have to know anything about Toronto to appreciate this wonderful piece of work.