Kathryn Calder- ‘Are You My Mother’ album review

Originally published on The Line of Best Fit September, 9

The Canadian music scene has to be the most exciting outside of Scandinavia, and just as varied. Take a look at this year’s Polaris prize; The Weeknd, Galaxie, Timbre Timbre and the entire list have all released exciting, innovative and musically different albums which will still be played when the next nominees are revealed. It puts Britain’s radio-friendly-unit-shifter Mercury list to shame. Basically, Canadians are cool, Scandinavians are cool, we suck.

It wasn’t always this way. Go back 15, even ten years, and people would joke: “Name five Canadian musicians.”

“No problem. Here we go, Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, Neil Young…. Rush….erm.… Alanis Morissette?”

Ask for a sixth and even grown musos would weep, promising to embrace new music technology like the Mini Disk providing no one learnt of their musical impotence. South Parks takes on Canada was seen as truthful.

As a reaction to Terrance and Phillip, Canada’s MOR pit was bridged over a decade ago when within six months The New Pornographers released their debut album, Mass Romantic  and another band called Something-or-another 41 shat onto MTV2- the latter deserving no place in history, so let us never talk of them again. With Mass Romantic there was suddenly a Cud-esque, alternative indie-pop record made by an alt-underground supergroup. But this was Canada, what alt-underground? Well one member was Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, and another was a country-noir siren named Neko Case.

Although an American, Case gave The New Pornographers a distinctive edge and arguable set the band up as unofficial godparents to Canada’s indie scene. However, she was more at home in a poppy country sound with a voice which is a bit to crisp for the indie scene. So in 2006, with a swelling solo career, and a lifetime ban from the Grand Ole Opry, Case handed her main vocal duties over to, Porno’s guitarist, Carl Newman’s niece, Kathryn Calder.

Calder is a far indier vocalist than Case, honed with lo fi indie-poppers Immaculate Machine, and has given The New Pornographers a twee folk element which they previously missed.  Are You My Mother? is Calder’s first solo album and sees her frame this twee orientation in her own brand of gentle fuzzy dream indie, but this is no saccharine affair. Each track’s vocal on Are You My Mother? is delicate with a dark sadness which provides a substance to the sometimes naïve melodies. Grief underlines the album, Calder was caring for her dying mother during its recording, and the emotion is intensely laid bare on opener ‘Slip Away’. Over the emptiest of piano and a building rim tap she sings “I’m holding onto something lost, I should just let go an move along / When I’m fast asleep it flutters by my pond, when I wake up it’s gone / Slip Away”. They are heartfelt simple lyrics but by no means maudlin, for suddenly the song breaks into a New Pornographers style hooky chorus which celebrates this grief rather than being consumed by it.

Continued here.

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