Jonny’s Jams: Local Listening

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This week we focus on two very different local acts: Cousins and Thomas McCallum.

Cousins: The Halls of Wickwire – Badabing Records, 2014

The Halls Of Wickwire sounds like it was born from sludge — like the guitars were left to soak in a particularly grimy part of Halifax Harbour for a few hours, and hauled up before recording the record.

That’s not a bad thing— underneath the dirt and the sea brine, a record full of pop power comes bubbling up.

Cousins, a two-piece Halifax garage rock band, has long skirted comparison: the band’s music has been described as pop-grunge, underground folk and even grunge folk.

Classifications don’t matter. What matters is that, over the course of The Halls of Wickwire, Cousins consistently sound like they’re about to explode.

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From the opening track, “Phone,” the listener is hit with an unrelenting, pounding drum beat and an almost hypnotic guitar riff thundering in and out of fuzz. We’re talking like early Iggy Pop, “I Wanna Be Your Dog” — type power — just a bit happier, shimmering with psych-pop jingles.

“I am the death man,” lead singer Aaron Mangle sing-screams in the opening to “Death Man.”

“I am the death man,” he asserts, “and I have no choice/but to kill you,” he continues.

It’s a bit melodramatic, but it gets the point across. This record is full of slime, danger and power, even if it is polished with some glimmering sparkles.

Thomas McCallum: Crocus Song, 2014

Listening to Crocus Song is a bit like walking into an old, dusty chapel and taking a deep breath: the air is rustic, woolen, and full of some transcendent beauty.

Crocus Song has all the comfort of a childhood home. McCallum has a remarkable warmth and sincerity to his voice, inviting you into his world of quiet introspection and prayer.

Crocus Song is the debut album of McCallum, a native of Pictou County, and like the best debut albums, it doesn’t sound like one. Written and recorded over a five-year period, the five-track album is remarkably confident.

“Some people say/ my mind is prone to wander/ what I’m thinking now/ only God can say,” McCallum sings in “I Only Dream of You.”

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“But rest assured/ my mind is still with my body/ I only dream you because I think of you all day,” McCallum continues as the cello sings a low, melancholy drive. It’s a moment of quiet beauty, the kind of beauty McCallum seems to summon effortlessly throughout Crocus Song.

Most of the powerful moments in this record are embedded within the intricate harmonies woven in through singers Karis Tees’ careful, clear, ringing tone.

The last half of “True Icon” is something beautiful — a deeply layered, technically impressive vocal segment over a guitar picking reminiscent of folk legend Nick Drake.

It’s hard to compare McCallum to others, or to pin down his influences. He harnesses the melodic power of harmonica like Neil Young, and explodes into careful crescendos with understated beauty like Bill Callahan.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. With Crocus Songs, McCallum is welcoming you in, offering you a seat by the fireplace, and offering you a glass of wine.

You’d do well to take him up on the offer.