This past September, Death From Above 1979, the Toronto two-piece consisting of drummer/vocalist Sebastien Grainger and bass guitarist Jesse Keeler, unveiled three new songs, something they haven’t done since their 2004 debut, You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine.
On their website, Grainger wrote that the new songs were missing something, so they wanted to test them out on the road. “We tried just jumping into the studio, but the songs lacked spirit. They lacked life. So this tour is song CPR,” he wrote.
The plan worked, with the results being exactly as you would expect from DFA 1979: loud, distorted, abrasive and, with Grainger’s shrill vocals, powerful enough to incite a riot.
DFA 1979 are often cited as pioneers in their genre — proof that two musicians can create as much energy as a whole collective — but they weren’t the only Canadian two-piece veterans getting back on the road this year. The Inbreds, another short-lived (1993–1998) but influential duo consisting of a bass guitar player (Mike O'Neill) and drummer (Dave Ullrich), got together to play one-off concerts in Toronto and St. John’s early in the year.
In terms of timing, DFA 1979 and the Inbreds couldn’t have picked a better year to hit the road, as a number of young Canadian bands are now following that same "less is more" approach. From the guitar-driven noise rock of Japandroids and PS I Love You to the “indietronica” of Purity Ring and Crystal Castles, Canadian two-pieces made a lot of noise, both in the studio and on the road, in 2012.
ListenListen to a playlist of Canadian two-piece bands from 2012
Vancouver’s Japandroids, consisting of Brian King (guitar, vocals) and David Prowse (drums, vocals), released their sophomore record, Celebration Rock, in May, an anthemic, shout-out-loud garage punk paean that is turning out to be one of the most hyped records of the year. Not only did the album go Top 40 in the U.S., but it was shortlisted for the 2012 Polaris Music Prize, named CBC Music’s best rock album of the year, Spin’s third best (the U.S. mag also named Japandroids band of the year), with Stereogum, Paste and Rolling Stone placing Celebration Rock seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively.
“We just don't do quiet very well,” Prowse told Pitchfork, which is an approach that seems to be working for many Canadian two-pieces this year, especially when it comes to their live shows.
Kingston’s PS I Love You, who released the Polaris-nominated Death Dreams in May, play so loud that you feel the live show as much as you hear it, the wall of sound attack rattling your inner organs. Paul Saulnier, who plays guitar and bass pedals while yelping incomprehensible lyrics, has also been known to break out his double-necked guitar — all the more entertaining when he starts into the '80s hair-metal solos (a skill that led Spin to name him the 99th-best guitarist of all time).
Alice Glass of Crystal Castles, who released their third self-titled album this year, always makes sure the chaos of their live shows matches their electro-goth sound, and seems to spend as much time engulfed by the crowd on the floor as she does onstage. Recent concerts may have been a little lower on the Crystal Castles crazy scale, but to be fair, when you almost get shut down at Glastonbury for “extreme onstage antics,” as Glass did in 2008, you’re setting the bar pretty high.
Purity Ring, who debuted this year with Shrines, immerses the crowd in an entirely different way. While Megan James sings her haunting vocals, Corin Roddick plays an instrument that can be best described as a tree strung with patio lanterns. Not only does his custom instrument create the sound, but it also controls an extensive network of lighting.
Whether they’re playing guitars or computers, drums or drum machines, all of these two-pieces feel the need to bring something more to the stage, as if they’re making up for the fact that there are just two of them. The result is not only a more energized live show, but it seems to have a way of breathing more life into the songs coming out of the studio, resulting in some of the best records of the year.
Let's just call it "song CPR."
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on Dec 18, 2012