by Chris Matei
Anyone doubting the range and quality of the Canadian electronic scene would have been quickly silenced had they shown up at Vancouver’s Vogue Theatre on Monday night. Three of the best future-pop acts in the country shared a bill that spanned the sonic gamut from spazzy to serene, thunderous to tremulous.
There’s an interesting kinship at play here: Purity Ring’s Megan James and Corrin Roddick have a longstanding friendship with the members of Braids, and were once part of Gobble Gobble along with Born Gold’s Cecil Frena. The latter group set out to open the night, treating early arrivals to a burst of energy, sound and light.
The band blasted out their blend of frenetic pop through a synaesthetic landscape of illuminated pads, nicknack percussive esoterica, glitchy shredding and wild legging-clad dance moves. There’s a tinker-toying whimsy to Born Gold’s songs, each one a little nucleus of hyper-pop frisson. Frena’s charming stage presence and fondness for uptempo digital hodgepodge contrasts with his often introspective and complex approach to lyricism and songwriting, making for a fun and beguiling mix. While focused on material from their more recent LPs, the band’s set also took a trip back to 2011’s Bodysongs for an euphoric rendition of “Lawn Knives.”
Next up were Montreal (by way of Calgary)’s Braids. Their recently released Deep in the Iris LP was just long-listed for the 2015 Polaris Prize – a bit of recognition for which their debut full-length Native Speaker was also considered back in 2011. In light of the recent release, Braids’ entire set consisted of material from Deep in the Iris – not that I could complain, as is easily one of my favourite albums released so far this year! On both Native Speaker and its follow-up, Flourish // Perish, Braids produced dreamlike and ambient soundscapes that swirled and drifted around echo-laden lyrics to dizzying effect, conjuring both ethereal chills and intimate closeness with equal dexterity. Deep in the Iris has made a fundamental shift, pulling Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s dynamic vocals front and centre and letting them guide the emotional flow of each song. Deft live manipulations of reverb, reverse effects, sampling, grain-shifting and delay let the band ratchet up the complexity as needed, letting songs build from their fragile, whispery base structures into veritable skyscrapers of drums, vocals, chords and pads. Set highlights included some stellar work behind the drum kit during “Warm Like Summer” and a downright fierce performance of “Miniskirt.”
Much has been made in the musical press of Purity Ring’s sophomore album, another eternity, as an object on which to pin the band’s ability to progress beyond an expertly defined sonic niche. Could a band whose debut spawned a legion of imitators produce an innovative follow-up with as much depth and vibe as its predecessor? In a live setting, the band seemed not to care for the distinction between old material and new: they have refined their sound and live show from a hauntingly warped, vulnerable take on electro-R&B into a slick, multidimensional expression of synthetic pop. Moreover, they took the stage projecting more cool, confidence and crowd-capturing poise than I could have thought possible when I saw them play a dimly lit set at the comparatively poor-sounding Venue nightclub, just across the street from the Vogue, in the bygone days of 2012. More than any sonic differences, it was this new sense of dynamism and onstage power that really made this set a testament to Purity Ring’s progression as a band.
Framed by a forest of lights and a backlit moonscape which echoed the glowing bass drum that Megan James would often pound during the more emphatic moments of the band’s early live shows, along with the light-up drum/sampler/crystal pedestal that has become their trademark, the duo charged right into the speaker-swallowing bass groove of “stranger than earth.” Songs from another eternity were noticeable for their embrace of toothier-edged dance synths, bigger drums and a distinctly sweet crystallization of harmony-rich pop moments when matched with their Shrines-era counterparts. Even those, however, vibrated with dark intensity, veiled menace and not a hint of staleness (as well as their own colour scheme, leaning heavily on shifting greens and purples where eternity embraced beams of silver light and redder hues.) James even got up on a seriously high perch to deliver hammer blows to that big round moon-drum at the set’s apex.
All that was missing was a Danny Brown appearance.