Though it’s been a few years since my fantasy flag flew at full mast, there are still enough traces of nostalgia to make Ptarmigan’s upcoming second full-length release a giddy delight for me.
The Toronto-by-way-of-Peterborough quintet is upfront about their love of “epicness” and being “really inspired by fantasy and mythology,” And while they add they do like to keep things in good taste, the very first notes of “Magician of Sorts,” (a name that just about sums up the balance struck by the band) lead you down a path to adventure that’s both familiar—thanks to the slew of fantastical films in the past decade—and thrillingly new.
There’s no shortage of soaring bridges and trilling mandolins, but what makes Ptarmigan work in a magic-less world is the obvious folk leaning of the music. While the vocals and lyrics feel bardic at heart in the opening track, the song’s closing crescendo is a pure East Coast jig crashing in with some very non-traditional drums.
Other songs, like “Spirit Wakes,” feel rooted in Toronto’s indie scene as electric guitar riffs fuse with jazzy beats and an alt rock flavour. Meanwhile “Peaks” lives up to its name as it soars unabashedly towards “epic,” stirring as it rises, and even more so as it falls into a flurry of vocals and noise.
“The Sarus Cane” finds a unique balance between storytelling folk songs that roll on hypnotically, and youthful, quavering notes that dance their way through the solemn procession. “Stilts” is another surprising folk number, saturated in the kind of traditional folk I grew up with but undeniably modern at the same time.
Aside from boldly proclaiming their own geek status, the band also muses enthusiastically about the evolution of music and how it changes and reappears—which ultimately proves to be a better summary of their second, self-titled album. The eight songs borrow boldly and confidently from the past, fusing together traditions even as they’re liberally sprinkled with modern fashions. It’s almost impossible not to say that Ptarmigan are clearly building their own kind of magic.
Top Tracks: “Magician of Sorts”; “Stilts”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)