I don’t know if it’s my American ignorance or the channels I get my music info from, but it seems most of the bands blowing up outta Canada in recent years are from the incestuous, like-minded Montreal scene that birthed the liked of Arcade Fire, Islands and Wolf Parade. These are what come across my radar, with the occasional Toronto band like Broken Social Scene and Fucked Up. And while I like all of those bands, I know there is so much more produced by my northern neighbors that I am missing.
Regina, Saskatchewan’s Sylvie rock in more proggy/mathy and spacey realms, drawing frequent aural comparisons to former tourmates Minus the Bear while also pulling from older influences like Hum and No Knife. Trees and Shade Are Our Only Fences is the quintet’s second album.
“Satellites,” with its slow groove, twinkly reverbed-to-hell guitars and Erin Passmore’s swirling keys, is where I first drew the Hum comparison from. The chorus gets dark as Jeff Romanyk rides the bell and vocalist/guitarist Chris Notenboom drearily croons “I gave up for a satellite." Sylvie never rely so heavily on the ultra-fuzz pedals like Hum did, but it’s still apt. No Knife comes to mind when “Instruments of War” comes bustin’ out at me with Joel Passmore palm-muting his guitar line at light speed. J. Robbins produced Trees, so obviously it sounds awesome and he helps the rhythm section of bassist Riva Farrell Racette and Romanyk cement a solid foundation underneath the fray.
They get sassy on my favorite, “Dark Ages,” and flex their vocal muscles. We get male/female harmonies in the funky verses (something kinda odd along the lines of "Build a stock portfolio and kiss my ass / 'cause this politics isn’t gonna last") and the group pulls off a call-and-response in the chorus, possibly employing four of their five members singing. The way the rhythm section and the guitars/keys play off each other while maintaining separate important roles keeps making me think of Circa Survive (check out “Mallets”), though Sylvie is not as blatantly heavy of an act. And never mind the dumb title -- “She Sells Sea Shells” has a top-notch vocal line in both the pounding pre-chorus and the dancey chorus, and the little staccato melody in the breakdown is a fun lull until the dance kicks back in. One of the ladies takes lead vox on “When We Were Young” and does a swell job, adding to the album’s variety, though they mixed her too low.
I am amazed by the musicianship of this band -- interesting moving basslines, thoughtful yet powerful drums, sweet keyboard textures -- but most of all, I’m drawn to the guitars. “Listen Up” seemingly floats on a wave of harmonics and “Notes on Counters” has more angular noodling adding weight to those Pretty Girls Make Graves comparisons I keep reading about.
Sylvie plays music that is meticulously constructed and well-executed. While it’s not my personal choice of indie rock strains, I can appreciate it and enjoy it. I suspect many of you would enjoy it as well.