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Keep on poppin’ with POP Montreal

The Daily reviews highlights from the annual music and art festival

Stay a while with Eskimeaux

Despite Eskimeaux being a solo recording project, Gabrielle Smith exudes a sense of welcoming collaboration through her indie-pop music. The singer/songwriter played at Bar Le Ritz on September 21. Eskimeaux began in 2007, and in nine years has seen many members come and go, but has always been Smith’s creation. The current ensemble is made up of Gabrielle Smith, Felix Walworth, Jack Greenleaf, and Oliver Kalb. Smith’s musical stylings are comparable to a cross between early Tegan and Sarah and Beach House; she captivates audiences with her angelic voice, and delicate synth melodies to match, balanced out by a full robust drumbeat and a steady simple guitar to pull it all together. The evening unexpectedly evolved into a sort of instrumental musical chairs as all the collective members played the supporting instruments for each other. First Kalb lead, then a change of arrangement brought Smith to centre stage, and finally hauling his massive bass drum to the front, Walworth closed the show.

When Smith performs, she moves carefree with a certain childlike sincerity, tapping her feet and knocking her knees as though everything is fresh and new, making the stage feel like home. She is not jaded. Perhaps it’s a combination of her youthful familiarity and respectful structure of the collective which leads music review websites such as Pitchfork to remark, “somehow it feels as if Smith is lending her ear to you, rather than the other way around.” When I approached her after the show, this opinion was validated. My introduction was immediately met with a variety of enthusiastic questions that came from Smith rather than myself. Despite her melancholic melodies, off-stage Smith radiates excitement giving the impression that she is exactly where she should be. Her music features a unique synth/folk crossover, matched with piercing lyrics that articulate the pains of heartbreak and growing up, which, given Smith’s child-like demeanour, creates a new level of believability. It is no surprise Smith’s lyricism is so poignant. When asked about her musical inspiration, she told The Daily, “I feel like I’m influenced by everything, as a lot of my music is made up of reactions to tiny moments that I can’t let go of from my day.”

In terms of her writing process, Smith begins with poetry. “Usually I write poems that then get turned into songs,” she told The Daily, “the music usually has to fit around what’s being said in the poem. Then the poem gets edited to fit into the music.” This is when her creative supports come in; while she retains songwriting as a completely independent aspect of her music, calling it “super private.” However, the instrumental is a group effort. She “bring[s] the band in for arrangements, a stage at which the song tends to change a lot. I rely on my band to help me trim the fat, both arrangement-wise and structurally, and hopefully to record the next record together.” The mutual respect and understanding between Smith, Walworth, Greenleaf, and Kalb undoubtedly comes through in their recorded music, but even more so in their collective performance. Together, they effortlessly establish an atmosphere of welcoming comfort, which invites audiences to come listen and stay a while.

— Anya Kowalchuk

Groovy Groenland

As Groenland’s concert begins, Sabrina Halde proves her enthusiasm by bouncing across the stage, with her long blonde hair flyng behind her. Simon Gosselin, the bassist, is bouncing too. In fact, we’re all bouncing. Club Soda is springing from its foundation to happily bump into the sky. Montreal indie band Groenland is just that groovy.
After having launched their second album, A Wider Space, on September 16, Groenland presented a concert on September 22. Led by Sabrina Halde and Jean-Vivier Levesque, the band weaves electronic elements with stringed instruments and vocals to create a cheerful pop sound with a lot of rhythm and a great deal of heart.

“With all of this space that we’re not using, I thought we could make something out of it,” sings Halde in “Distractions”. Like children building improvised blanket forts in the corners of a room, Groenland builds spontaneous, fantastical songs with instruments that are less often used in the pop genre. For example, Vivier plays a mouth accordion – think a miniature keyboard connected to a saxophone-like mouthpiece with a long springy tube. Then there’s the violin, the cello, and the horn section, which are not often seen in pop but really shine in Groenland.

Groenland appeals to a wide range of ages – from small children, to twenty-somethings, to middle-aged adults – because they make indie pop that combines the best of both worlds: the creativity and experimental nature of indie, and the catchy energy of pop music. But don’t assume that pop implies simplicity; these are complex, masterfully woven pieces. Most songs are a perfect balanced triangle of sound. There are the plinky electronic rhythms, then the smoothly soaring strings section, and it’s all brought together by Halde’s velvety powerful voice. Compared to Groenland’s previous album, The Chase, it’s easy to see how the band has matured. Songs on The Chase are much more electronic, with less integration of the different instruments. In A Wider Space, it seems like the songs have a more complex narrative structure, with an introduction, middle, and conclusion

— Maya Keshav

The Kills stay loyal

Alison Mosshart’s voice soared over Montreal’s Metropolis on September 21, making forays with scruffy-sounding old hits and hypnotic fresh ones. Playing from their new album Ash & Ice, The Kills rocked the stage alongside 60’s garage-band L.A. Witch. The POP Montreal website describes The Kills as “bluesy-punk,” though they are often referred to as “indie rock.” However, their delivery on the Metropolis stage transcended genre. From explosive garage-rock beats and intense visuals, the unceasing energy in the room promised to turn the inebriated audience into at least one half of the record’s premise by the end of the night: Ash.

To set the stage for the night, an image of a volcano was revealed. This motif represented one half of Ash & Ice’s enigmatic album cover, and accurately depicted the electrifying nature of the show. A crowd of teenagers and adults gathered by the bar, eager to grab drinks before the drums kicked in. Red lights signaled the volcano’s eruption, alerting the crowd. They sprang to the main floor, while Mosshart was ushered on-stage by the beginning guitar riffs of “Heart of a Dog,” played by Jamie Hince. During the opener, the duo professed their devotion to the night’s audience as they sang “I’m loyal, I’ve got the heart of a dog.”

When the punk song “Hard Habit to Break” commenced, band and audience alike clapped along rapturously. Two minutes in, however, the yellow glow of the stage and the initially playful tone of the song were gone, replaced by an extended version of the hard instrumental bridge. Lights pulsated to reveal the indie rock star’s slicing body movements and hair flips. The audience followed her every move, a testament to Mosshat’s hypnotic ability.

The dynamism of this first set was created by the duo’s fiery presence and theatrics. Mosshart jumped and prowled through the stage, and was in full control. At one point, she commanded the crowd to stretch their hands toward the ceiling with a theatrical swish of her own, leading to a full-on wave. The contrasting voices of the duo worked their magic best when Mosshart rose with force and a certain huskiness above Hince, whose deep-toned vocals in turn added softness and texture to the songs. The two created an ambiance that rests comfortably in the indie corners of rock between knockout garage and a soothing blues.

The energy at Metropolis came to a lull when a few analog ballads ensued, which reset the ambience as if to evoke Ice, the second component of the show. Accordingly, the backdrop changed colour to a cold, apathetic blue as Mosshart murmured the lyrics to “That Love” into the microphone, concluding that “it’s over now […] that love you are in is all fucked up.” This set integrated some older tracks like “Pots and Pans” and “Baby Says,” the drowsiness of which precluded Mosshart’s propensity for theatrics.
The Kills shared sentimental moments with the audience. If anything, their performance seemed tailored to a group of friends nostalgic for the past, creating an intimate atmosphere that allowed for a deeper understanding of the musicians. As Hince played a solo interlude, Mosshart leaned in for a kiss with a blissful smile, bobbing her head in gratitude.

The concert was a concoction of versatility and familiarity. The Kills venture off into new sonic avenues with Ash & Ice, introducing fresh electronic sounds to their established sledgehammering rock. This played off exceedingly well live, demonstrated by the intoxicating way the audience grooved along to the elating ‘O-Ohs’ of “Doing It To Death,” the album’s lead single. The Kills concluded the narrative they constructed throughout the concert by finishing the way they started – with a volcano exploding behind their backs. The band had lived up to their name: they killed it.

— Panayot Gaidov

Smoky Leif Vollebekk

A small group of devoted fans climbed the narrow staircase to the Rialto Theatre’s rooftop on September 24th to hear Leif Vollebekk’s last performance of a sold-out concert series, featuring respectfulchild. With a balcony stage framed with edison bulb string lights and vintage lamps and only the Outremont streets and sunset sky as a backdrop, the rooftop was converted into a quirky and easygoing concert venue that suited the performances that it would hold.

The opening act, respectfulchild, started off the evening on a contemplative note. A mysterious figure in a hooded cape, the solo artist seemed to cast a spell over the audience, using unusual violin pieces that innovated beyond traditional violin techniques and whispering vocals layered together in an interesting fusion of live instrumentals and on-the-spot sound editing and live looping. The resulting effect hovered at the border of hypnotic tranquility and unnerving eeriness. The Treaty 6, Saskatoon artist who rightly describes their sound as “ambient underwater fairy music” on their website, is a musician to check out for fans of experimental instrumental artists like Hungry Ghosts.

The second performer was one of my favorite artists, Montreal-based singer Leif Vollebekk. Leif’s style is so evocative that it can be difficult to express it properly, except to say that it is a wandering style. This is the kind of music that belongs on misty-morning road trips or hazy railroad station platforms – it expresses the bittersweet sentiment of watching travellers pass and feeling that you can go anywhere in the world, but knowing that the price of being a wanderer is living with “could-have-beens” whenever you leave.

In a show composed of mostly new songs, his signature style was still in full force. He is one of those rare artists who sound better live, as the extent of his emotional connectivity cannot be contained on a record and his vocal talent is not one that needs the recording studio to refine or enhance its sound. When he started playing, he seemed to lose himself in the song. The resulting performance was full of energy and enthusiasm for the nomadic stories his songs held. His new lyrics, filled with a sense of wanderlust, love, joy and regret, found a perfect dynamic with his sound that alternates from smoky to clear, and from intense to soothing and dreamy seamlessly. Unassuming and honest in his interactions and banter with his fans between sets, he created an intimate and homey atmosphere, even offering sweaters to shivering audience members in between acts.

What impressed me most about POP is how, despite the fact that this is a quickly growing event, still manages to create an intimate, friendly setting. At their events, musicians relax and watch the performances of the other musicians of the evening in the crowd and hang around after the show, chatting with fans in an unrushed ambiance and models and designers mingle with fans and Instabloggers. The boundaries between artist and audience become blurred as a new understanding of these diverse, enigmatic artists is discovered.

—Octavia M. Dancu

Florals and fur at Fashion POP

Confession time: despite being a lifelong Montrealer, I have never been to POP Montreal. In honour of their 15th edition, however, I was able to make up for it by attending the POP Fashion show, held at the Rialto Theatre. While many view POP as primarily a music festival, it offers a variety of events for everyone to enjoy – including record fairs, art workshops and exhibits, film screenings, and fashion events.

The evening air buzzed with camera flashes and anticipation as Montreal’s fashion set gathered for what was sure to be an interesting and inspiring night. People from all strata of the fashion world could be seen at the pre-show cocktail party: first-time fashion show attendees trying to take discreet Snapchat shots of impossibly tall models lounging by the bar, fashion photographers and high-profile local Instabloggers flitting through the crowd to catch the perfect candid shots and designers explaining their inspirations and fashion muses. It was a kaleidoscopic visual treat, even before the show began. Wherever you would turn, a new intriguing choice would present itself; a flash of sequin, an intricate lace design, a bold hair colour or lipstick shade.

Fashion POP showcased pieces from up-and-coming designers A MAN x Cholo 58, Laugh, Markantoine, Onlookers, S3ttl3r47 and Whitewalls Worldwide, exploring the struggle between different ideas on the direction of fashion: should high fashion be wearable or aspirational? Should clothes seamlessly reflect our lives, or aspire to be art?

The first designers, A MAN x Cholo 58 and Laugh, worked primarily in Yeezy-esque neutrals, showing oversized coats in beige and grey which gave the model dramatic, bulky, larger-than-life silhouettes and comfortable-looking textures. This set the tone for the rest of the evening, with oversized looks appearing in almost all of the other collections.

One standout piece was a distressed denim dress paired with a chunky gold chain necklace and a brazen pink fur slouched across designed by Markantoine. The look combined luxury with grunge in a bold yet jarring statement. Markantoine continued this study in contrasts by pairing a brown fur coat with a black hoodie underneath, continuing the theme of exaggerated opulance juxtaposing street-style staples. This collection came across almost as social commentary on the conflicted ideals of this New Americana vision that is still struggling to define itself: a covetousness for status and a desire for true authenticity and experience. The collection closed with a statement coat and dress that departed from the previous juxtaposition with their matching scarlet color, ending off on a cohesive note.

The next collection was designed by Onlookers; their pieces were minimalist and streamlined, with sleek blue and grey dresses, and tailored coats. The elegant shapes, subtle colors and lines of the garments created a thoughtful palate-cleanser from the busier and sometimes jarring collections that preceded it. This collection seemed one of the most versatile in the whole show —I could easily see one of those dresses being a good choice for a cocktail hour or a networking event.

The winner of Fashion POP 2016 was S3ttl3r47’s dreamy romantic collection, where soft, flowing florals and lace met whimsical tailoring in an aesthetic that could be described as Wes Anderson meets dark urban fairytale. This collection spoke to me as haute couture more than the rest because some of the outfits blurred the boundary of art and clothing.

Crowd-favorite Whitewalls Worldwide closed the show in a roar of applause with accessible urban streetwear, channeling the current athleisure and 90s revival trends into a collection that seemed current yet approachable. With these last two collections, the struggle between the two fashion ideals is thrown into sharp relief – should haute couture remain engaged in the pursuit of art, or should it seek to please the general public that experiences it and work towards enhancing wearability instead?

—Octavia M. Dancu