Tuesday, August 18, 2009
If I had to be completely honest, I’d say there is a lot of apathy and hater-ism in Halifax's music scene. Musically we have a very tight knit community, but when push comes to shove I feel like a lot of bands hate other bands for being successful or even turning heads at a show. That’s why it was so encouraging to see local musicians walk up to Aaron Mangle after his set at the Company House simply to say how much they enjoyed his songs.
Now, at the time, he was billed as A Helpful Diagram and his fuzzy snippets of noise and melody were rough… very rough. Songs kind of just stopped, and he and his “band mate” often looked like they were playing together for the first or second time, but undoubtedly, there was something there. Considering that we were all there for The Weather Station and Polaris Long-Lister Timbre Timber, the fact that a local act generated such electricity as one of the openers was impressive.
But then A Helpful Diagram kind of disappeared. The myspace page was canceled and Mangle stopped showing up on show listings. I looked a few times to no avail and then lost interest. It’s how the fickle world of music blogging works, but thankfully, a few posters started mentioning a new band named Cousins. Google told me little, other than the fact Aaron was involved in this new project but I had no idea if it was an evolution of the songs I heard a month or two ago, or something completely different.
According to Aaron, “I used to play most of these songs solo under the name a helpful diagram, but I needed to play with others because they slowly became rock songs or just not sad anymore.” To help keep the integrity of the songs, he teamed up with Museum Pieces Andy March, Room Doom’s Pat Ryan and Crowd Power’s Dallin Ursenbach and for the first time in what seems like forever, a new Haligonian act displays the talent and potential to make a name for themselves outside of the city’s cozy borders.
Out on Town is a debut record – 10 songs, a few stumbles, but moments of brilliance that make bloggers and critics giddy – and it’s already one of my favorite local releases of the year. The folk scene here is producing some high quality acts. So is the noise scene, but Cousins is the only band I’ve stumbled on that combines the two. Aggressive, truncated strums and distorted notes give the songs life, but the melancholic, brooding pace and Mangle’s falsetto give the songs a warming glow. He manages to sound unique and interesting, but completely accessible at the exact same time.
I know that summer-inspired lo-fi jams are hotter than Hansel right now, but there is something genuine and encouraging about Mangle's work. I can't think that he started writing these songs when Animal Collective and Wavves started blowing up; I'm not even sure if he knows who those artists are. His process - at least to me - seems more like Chad Vangaalen's. I can't help but picture Mangle writing these songs trapped in his basement, far removed from the popular sounds of today's music scene. Instead of trying to build jams to make you move, Mangle opts to give you just enough warmth to help you digest the sadness. Starting with the album opener, Anxious Mangle grinds through moments of infectious melody and noise, but always manages to keep you interested with a soft touch and just the right moment.
It’s hard to imagine a fresh face cobbling together a track like John Schehr 32; the kiss of sunshine the keys give the song that transforms the simple guitar and vocals makes the three-minutes something you hold onto long after the notes fade to silence and isn’t something you’d expect from such a young band. Neither is the ear pleasing melody the vocals and harmonies give the slow grind of Out of Town, but Mangle (with help from Stacy Brown on the production side of things) shows he has the talent to surprise and impressive even the most skeptical listener. And in this city, that's exactly the challenge that most artists face.
MP3:: Cousins - Jon Schehr 32
MP3:: Cousins - Out on Town
The record release party is slated for August 28th @ the Khyber, and the band will be touring throughout the Maritimes and Ontario in the weeks following. I can't recommend the band or the record enough, so get out and go see them when they hit your town.