Check out our music reviewers’ thoughts on some fine recent local releases. Frankie Cankles returns to localfm.ca for his thoughts on Hand-drawn’s “party” and we welcome Jarred Leblanc to the team to share why he thinks Learning has the “potential to become one of Saint John’s most critically acclaimed bands.”
HAND-DRAWN – PARTY (http://hand-drawn.bandcamp.com/)
Local kids Hand-drawn bill themselves as “ambient indie space-rock” (my own rearrangement of their bandcamp tags). While that’s true of their sonic approach (delays, reverbs and lo-fi textures abound), the songwriting on two-track EP “party” seems to be rooted in early-aughts punk/emo, more Saves The Day than Spacemen 3. Opener “Go” is pure melancholic pop; “No Windows” (my personal favourite) gets a little freakier. Sounds to these ears like a record I’d have picked up from a touring band during that sweet spot where I was still regularly hitting both all-ages and bar shows. Worth a spin if that’s your scene.
LEARNING – CULKIN (http://learning.bandcamp.com/)
There are few albums in the local music scene that have had as much hype behind them as Learning’s debut. Ever since their formation a few years back, they have been building up their reputation as one of the scene’s most promising young bands, and on top of that nearly every member of the group has been involved in community radio in one way or another. Their names were out there, and people knew the name “Learning,” but nobody had the slightest clue what they were going to do with their sound.
On November 15, 2013, Learning finally released their long-awaited debut album on Sharktooth Records, entitled “Culkin”. The album had a sound that came from way out of left field while also remaining highly accessible, containing a sound that combined elements of indie rock, shoegaze and post-punk into one angsty, lo-fi package that is eclectic but never excessive. This is evident almost immediately from the opener “Time Of Quiet Reflection”, an instrumental track that is composed of layers of distinct, echoed instrumentation and vocal samples. Soon after the haunting atmosphere of the aforementioned track concludes, it fades almost seamlessly into the first non-instrumental track on the album, “Harper”, and this gives us a taste of what Learning is really about, with vocalist Caleb McKend’s discordant, passionate force proving to be the driving force behind the entire group. The instrumentals stand well enough on their own, but Caleb’s abstract lyricism and harsh vocal performance just adds to the juxtaposition of sound that is Learning.
For the most part, the album’s sound is consistent enough to provide a more than satisfying listen – which is why “Burth” is such a surprise. This is one of the few moments throughout the entire release where everything comes full circle and secures Learning’s place as one of the most unique bands our town has to offer. It is also the emotional peak of the album, with Caleb unleashing with some of his darkest lyrics through a vocal tone that can best be described as the sounds of despair. The instrumentation helps lay down the foreground for this emotional journey, bordering on post rock. It’s one of the few moments on the album where the group steps outside of their comfort zone, and it ultimately shows the potential they have to create a masterpiece at will.
As a whole, “Culkin” is a solid album, especially for a debut. Despite a few inconsistent moments here and there (“Orangcatanarang”), the album provides more then enough twists and turns to satisfy indie rock and post-punk fans alike. There is definitely room for improvement, but if they can find a way to create an album of tracks as consistent as “Burth”, there’s potential to become one of Saint John’s most critically acclaimed bands.