A few years ago, PS I Love You and Apollo Ghosts kicked off a
Saturday Thursday evening at Gus’ Pub. For those not from Halifax, Gus’ is one of the few venues that keeps its head above water, mostly by balancing a slew of shows that cater to kids looking for cheap drinks and loud sounds, with a consistent clientele of middle aged drinkers that couldn’t care less about the band lugging gear through the front door.
The stage at Gus’ occupies the front corner and in the back is a glassed in room of video lotto terminals. It’s like a fish tank, except instead of purple tangs and sea corral, you see an ecosystem of abuse, resolute sadness and infinite hope. It’s a collection of drinkers with a gambling problem (or some combination other combination of those two things) and honestly, the dichotomy could be the subject of endless anthropological investigations about the population of Halifax.
As we waited for Paul to set up his arsenal of pedals, a patron from the back room sat beside us and asked us a simple question. “What’s up with the music guys, is it awesome??!”
I looked at Paul as he set up his gear, with his beard and function-over-fashion plaid shirt draped over his shoulders, and I didn’t know how to answer.
Obviously, the guitar theatrics, yelpy vocals and thumping percussion sounded great to me, but I’m not sure it transferred to the back room as well. Saulnier looked like the type of guy that would pen a song called “Butterflies & Boners” and be dismissed as such. What people couldn’t tell from a casual glance was he had the guitar and song writing chops to make adolescent ideas seem mature and even sophisticated.
With the release of their sophomore LP, Death Dreams, Saulnier and drummer Benjamin Nelson expand of the college rock sound they showcased on Meet Me At The Muster Station. The energy, guitar work and Saulnier’s vocal stylings are still there, but the album explores more delicate and nuanced pop and prog. Songs like “Saskatoon” show the type of rapid growth that would leave a pubescent teen uncoordinated and alienated. For PS I Love You, it’s a launching pad for a record that explodes into the stratosphere. Death Dreams comes full throttle, playing much shorter than the 40-minute run time, with each song seemingly better than the one it follows.
That said, the standout moment for me is the 5-minute closer. “First Contact” hints at adolescent awkwardness, paranoid conspiracies and other worldly visitors, in a way that makes you think it could have written decades ago when flared pants, long hair and political rebellion were the norm. In fact, if you replaced Saulnier’s vocals with a more polished voice, this song could have been playing in the 8-track of Randall Pink’s El Camino.
The remarkable thing is in years passed, those sounds required five-man acoustical jams, endless guitar players and huge, spinning thirty piece kits. Benjamin and Paul pull it off with just two people. The drums are assaulting, even if Nelson looked as disinterested as Neo in his first fight after mastering the Matrix, and Saulnier toes the line between guitar wizardry and melody with surprising precision. They ignore pyrotechnics and rooster like struts (by the setup of his rig, Saulnier often stands statuesque, moving just fingers and feet) and opt for workmanlike skill.
The song is huge; the guitar solo flames and the drums crash but First Contact feels more like Summer vacation than slacker noise. It’s five-minutes and closes a record that most will love, but First Contact means more to me than the rest. So, Mr. Gus’ Pub. Is the music awesome? It sure fucking is… and for the first time I think we can both agree on that.
First Contact by Paper Bag Records