I get kinda depressed during the school year (who doesn't?). I live away from my real home (Toronto) in the town where my university is and it's not exactly a town of hope. Besides students, everyone you'll find here is either a senior citizen or physically/mentally disabled. The landscape could definitely be weighed as a positive (we've got a large river, tons of forrest), but this picturesque setting can have the opposite effect. The vast natural landscap can often seem gloomy and make you feel pretty isolated. I guess this really isn't all that different from living in the suburbs, or in the anonymous chaos that is a cities downtown core. These environments can begin to weigh heavily on you if it becomes continuously harder to find yourself fitting in somewhere in the landscape. On the surface I see the student residences, the pizza shops, the autumn leaves, cases of beer, city buses, blue jeans and the occasional band on stage - but in reality I know how temporary this town is and how all things are just patch work. I get an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness sometimes.
So I wake up one morning, gloomy as usual, and sift through the piles of CD's on my floor. I find one that has been unopened and having recalled seeing the cover somewhere, I put it into my bag and head out. After a few classes later that day I listen to the album while waiting for the bus, and instantly, I start to develop this feeling of hope. My favourite things about rock and roll coalesce into these cohesive, linear alterna-rock songs. The gratifying climaxes of Sonic Youth, the knowing drawel of The Walkmen's Hamilton Leithauser, the sweet pop you find buried beneth the noise of shoegaze. The album was huge. Everything rang with the utmost presence. Of course there's a lot of melancholy here but Sybris triumph in it. I also felt a little guilty loving a record like this so much (the sharp, neurotic music critic in me won't stand for anything that dips into certain touchstones from the past). Fuck it. I know what whole hearted scamming sounds like and this ain't it. One of the biggest saving graces is singer Angela Mullenhour's vocal delivery. She delivers volleys of hope, regret and pessimism all in one breath. I especially don't mean to discredit the players either. Phil Naumann's guitar swells to the amount of hugeness that puts a smile on any face while Shawn Podgurski's bass provides the perfect accompaniment to all of the musical acrobatics.
Check the desperate wails in "Breath Like You're Dancing" or the nearly operatic levels of slacker dissillutionment in "Blame it On the Baseball." Mullenhour sings "it's always between what you love and the ones that you love;" her voice continues to twist and turn in dejection around every word, but with great aplomb. The high point on the record for me is definitely "Hobo Detail Shop." It is a perfect summary of this bands talent. Please excuse the following: Joy Division bass, My Bloody Valentine-ish guitars and a vocalist who can (and does) sommersault over half of the other singers I've been listening to all year. The song builds to a fantastic - that is the word - ending, and you remember how great rock and roll can be. In a way I kind of want to put Sybris beside the Walkmen on my shelf. Neither band is really mining new territory but both are utilizing the elements of their adoptive style's with finesse and consideration, besides sprinkling on something new (gotta love that old piano). In the end it just makes sense. Of course we love so many bands from the past, but that's not to say we'd love an imitation; imitation is totally false. Here's to those few who breath a little more life into the real thing.
- Andrew Iliadis