Montreal has a reputation for art music – for post-rock, for jazz, for the wild & woolier side of indie rock. But the city also has a long tradition of folk music, of the tufted Canadian songstuff that’s still a part of almost everyone’s upbringing. These musicians have made a clutch of outstanding folk, folk-rock and roots records over the past few years, often collaboratively. People like Angela Desveaux, Katie Moore, and certainly Orilla Opry. This last group’s second album, Lighthouse for Stragglers’ Eyes, is released on October 30th by Ships at Night Records.
It’s a thing of slow, straining, incandescent beauty – dusted-off guitars, dusted-up pianos, brushed drums and twined vocals. Daniel Noble and Emma Baxter are at the centre of the group, and most of Orillia Opry’s power is in the way their voices mingle. They don’t quite sound like siblings, or lovers; rather like two lamps flickering in the same dark room. It’s a harmony that’s as suited to plaintive rockers like “Shadow Shadow”, recalling early Neil Young, as to the softer, ivy-covered “You Shouldn’t Tell Me So” or “I Lied”. At the same time, this isn’t standard Canadian singer-songwriter fare, either sleepy-snoozy or hoarse and over-earnest. These songs show a remarkable sense of dynamics, an ambivalence of form. The emphasis is not on prettiness, or jams, but on the breathing spirit of the song, on filling in all its colours. Horns appear from behind a grove of birches, lap-teel from a rabbit-hole, a whole band emerges from the moss – and then recedes, before even the end of the song, when its role has been fulfilled.
“Shadow Shadow” opens the album with a long fade in, like a friend returning after a long absence. The nursery-rhyme lyrics lend it a timelessness, like it’s something already familiar; and when Daniel and Emma’s vocals diverge, the harmonies gleaming, it feels thrillingly new. It’s a brave move, to open an album like this with a track as bristling as this, but I love the effect of the gambit, the way it primes you and warms you for everything that follows. “I Lied” is much gentler in its approach, just muted guitar, soft drums, the smallest licks of a bass guitar. But it’s equally disarming, the defences of the listener stripped away until they seem to be looking straight into your eyes, singing through a sunbeam straight to your heart.
Lighthouse for Stragglers’ Eyes is launched in a show at La Sala Rossa on October 30th, where Daniel and Emma will perform alongside members of Plants and Animals, Ideal Lovers, and others.
La Sala Rossa
4848 Boulevard St-Laurent
Montreal, QC H2T 1R6
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