POP Montreal: BUFFLO, Kurvi Tasch and Nancy Pants

Photo Philip Fortin

The most ambitious POP show I've ever seen wasn't even on a stage — it was in the back of a cafe with tables and pillars in the middle.  

At Le Cagibi, BUFFLO was clad in black and 10 feet tall. Standing in near darkness, he took us through the sounds that will appear on the follow-up to his 2014 record Unseam'd.

But this was no simple listening party.

Some soulless creature was in the middle of the room, conjuring nightmarish, industrial passages blended with singing and spoken word. With a mic to his cowl, he would uncover beauty for brief instants — a beast making pop music — only to be again washed into blackness.

His troupe lurked in the crowd, shouting, leading puppets or wrapping themselves in red twine.

For BUFFLO, the question of how a producer can turn his music into a performance was beside the point. Instead he created an environment for his sounds to live in, letting the music become the room. BUFFLO's night enveloped the venue, leaving us in fearful awe as his spindle limbs conducted this captured symphony.

The set ended with him disrobing under a strobe light, then grabbing an acoustic guitar with the whole room singing along. And just like that, the trip was resolved.

Kurvi Tasch. Photo Sean Vadaru.

Kurvi Tasch. Photo Sean Vadaru.

Kurvi Tasch have fleshed out their sound as a four-piece, allowing singer Alex Nicol to drop the guitar when they bring things down. At Divan Orange they played cuts off their self-titled full-length from last year, plus some new stuff with synth in place of the four-string.

For a band driven by guitars, it only makes sense they now have two of them. Second guitarist Ouss (who also plays in Pool Boy with bassist Mike) added another dimension to their melancholic tunes, still giving Alex's voice room to lead.

Nancy Pants. Photo Sean Vadaru.

Nancy Pants. Photo Sean Vadaru.

Then Nancy Pants took the energy up a notch, subbing Kurvi Tasch's introspective indie groove for sheer excitement, lead by singer/guitarist Ohara Hale.

Like an indie take on the music from Grease, their hook-heavy tunes are made to be sung along to. A relatively new band (though none of the three are new to Montreal music), they exuded pure, silly joy as they played stuff off their debut, last year's Total Nancy Pants.

That joy was picked up by the crowd, dancing and swaying along as the band goofed around onstage.

POP Montreal: Un Blonde, Big Brave, Technical Kidman and Saxsyndrum

Photo Ashutosh Gupta

I don't think the early crowd for Arto Lindsay knew what they were in for, but given that they were there for an experimental headliner with an expansive career, they had the good taste to get it.

Un Blonde's madman music is like nothing else you'd hear at POP, or likely anywhere else. Jean-Sebastien Audet mashes the smoothness of R&B with jarring guitar clangs, and you get the feeling the song only exists for as long as Audet and his bandmates stay on the same psychic wavelength.

His voice naked as can be, Audet did more with his singing than most singers can with a pile of pedals in front of them. 

It took a couple songs for the crowd to get past the 'what the fuck is going on' feeling, but by the end everyone was loud, cheering on the musical mania. Un Blonde's prolific output is required listening for anyone seeking new sounds. 

Bathed in red light, Big Brave played a few tracks off their crushing new LP Au De La ("On the By and By and Thereon", "And as the Waters Go") at Quai des Brumes. It was a mini-set since they had just played their release show a week earlier. The small show felt like POP's best-kept secret, though given the stacked lineup Friday, crowds felt splintered across venues all night.

Feedback is an instrument for this trio; Robin Faye's barks and screams punctuating waves of distortion and steady, heavy percussive blasts. Everyday is doomsday when you're listening to Big Brave.

At the Passovah showcase, Technical Kidman turned l'Esco into an esoteric dance party. Singer Mathieu Arsenault sucked everyone into the band's electronic world, even if it took wandering into the crowd to get the attention of a dedicated texter (she eventually noticed). It's clear they're now familiar with their new, sample-driven tools. Now we just need a follow-up to last summer's A Stranger Voice EP. 

Saxsyndrum's members were pulling (a minimum) of double-duty on Friday, the lineup under command of falsetto-man Alexandre Bergeron for a Year of Glad set earlier at Théâtre Fairmount. But headlining the Art Not Love showcase at La Vitrola, it was Dave Switchenko and Nick Schofield's turn to lead things, Bergeron and cellist Justin Wright growing out Saxsyndrum's dancey, psychedelic groove. 

"Maceonectar" became a whole different, and darker, lumbering beast with the four-man lineup. The electronic minimalism of "Zonko" became a whole lot jazzier. And to end things (maybe a bit too early, but blame festival scheduling for that), they paid tribute to legendary disco producer Giorgio Moroder — who had played his first-ever Montreal DJ set earlier that night at Église St-Jean Baptiste.

POP Montreal: Ought, Homeshake, Empress Of and Braids

Photo Louis Longpre

Playing the Ukrainian Federation must have been a new kind of challenge for Ought. Not just because of the heat — though singer Tim Beeler Darcy did say this was the most he had sweated in his life — but because a band known for their ability to go from pensive to frenetic on a dime and Beeler's flamboyant dancing might be better suited for a rock club than this seated, mostly-full hall.

But while the growing audience was in their seats for the distant shoegaze of Nennen and Tasseomancy's Solid-Gold exotic pop, once Ought took the stage the crowd took to their feet at Beeler's request and it instantly felt like a show again.

The songs on the band's latest LP Sun Coming Down make their earlier stuff, like the set-closing breakdown of "Gemini" seem almost ordinary. This was a set of mostly new material (after all, it was their release show), and while the Sun Coming Down cuts didn't get the same instant cheers, the record's strongest moments (the furious drum buildup on "Passionate Turn", the eerie sing-along halfway through the title track) held up live.

With Sun Coming Down the band pushes their sound further, maybe not straying much further from that heady side of CBGB that always gets associated with band but exploring it more deeply, leaving things more tense and unpredictable than ever.

Braids. Photo Beatrice Flynn.

Braids. Photo Beatrice Flynn.

From the art-punk to the abstract, Last Lizard worked through loops of free jazz at La Vitrola for the Fixture Records showcase. Alex Zhang Hungtai has disowned the moniker Dirty Beaches, and armed with a sax and loop pedal, his sound was nothing like the lo-fi rockabilly that got him the (perhaps overwhelming) blog buzz with Badlands.

The headliner for the packed venue was Homeshake, and the band totally exceeded my expectations. They were tight when they needed to be and oh-so-smooth. Peter Sagar's white-boy funk meets bedroom pop held up live, and his band of misfits were locked in all night. The bass player held down the groove with superb tone, chewing bubble gum.

Like his former bandmate Mac DeMarco, Homeshake's sedated tunes still made the crowd rowdy, huge cheers came when they started "Heat" and "Making a Fool of You." Sagar started the set by thanking Fixture (they put out his first tape) and asking us to buy his new record Midnight Snack. But he also said he'd never play POP Montreal again. Not sure what was up with that.

Empress Of. Photo Beatrice Flynn.

Empress Of. Photo Beatrice Flynn.

The last time I saw Empress Of At POP was two years ago, but this year there was a whole new Lorely Rodriguez onstage. With a trimmed-down band and her debut LP in tow, she had total command of the crowd. While she smiled and danced in an awkward, endearing way in 2013 at Sala Rossa, at the Piccolo Rialto she was totally out of her shell, pulling in the crowd with her dancey pop tunes and powerful voice.

She almost got as much love as Braids, who of course stole the show. Ending a set of material off their latest LP of textured electronic pop Deep in the Iris with anti-rape culture anthem "Miniskirt", Raphaelle Standell gave us chills as we danced, drummer Austin Tufts going mad behind the kit. Braids keep getting better live.

POP Montreal Day One coverage.

POP Montreal: Suuns and Jerusalem in My Heart, FET.NAT and Cheap Wig

Photo Louis Longpre

Radwan Ghazi Moumneh let us know right away that while this was a celebration of music, it was taking place in the context of a tragedy. All performers at the Rialto Theatre tonight would be donating their pay to charity Hand in Hand for Syria. But in the uncharacteristic few words to the crowd, he didn't get political — simply asking the crowd to show some humanity for the people suffering from war by giving their own donation on the way out.

In a suit jacket and shades, often the only thing lighting the Rialto during his audiovisual Jerusalem in My Heart performance were the projections. Radwan was a silhouette against images like children running on sand, before spinning into a kind of psychedelia. He brought out a band briefly, all seated and adding a pounding rhythm to his low drones and buzuq playing. 

He ended the solo portion singing off mic, and you could hear a pin drop at the Rialto.

Even though this was the release show for the latest Jerusalem in My Heart solo record If He Dies, If If If If If If, it was the combined act with Suuns that was headlining. The collaborative record has been out for months, this was the first time most hometown fans would see it done live.

So it wasn't a surprise that they played Suuns and Jerusalem in My Heart in its entirety, in just a slightly different order. The record evolved from unscripted jamming two years ago, the result is dense and often sprawling, combing Suuns' love of lurking, murky rhythms and Radwan's melodic depth and multimedia — and their shared love of low, loud synthesized bass.

The only exception is "Leyla", feeling more like a solo track from Ben Shemie and his guitar, with the band adding colour around him. On the other end of the spectrum is "3attam Babey", the gargantuan album-closer — nine minutes on the record — possibly longer live. It's layered, and heavy and makes you want to dance. In that sense it sounded like Suuns at their best, except with an added break of singing in Arabic.

But it was "Gazelles in Flight" that closed their set at the Rialto with Shemie and Liam O'Neil standing around a hi-hat, tapping out a steady stream of hits, elevating the song into a trance-like state as the synthesizers and Radwan's vocoded singing grew around them. It was a hypnotic experience.


A packed, sweaty l'Esco felt like FET.NAT's natural habitat. The venue was a temporary home for the Outaouais, with the Hull band sharing the stage with fellow Gatineau-ites The Hilotrons and Boyhood from Ottawa. Waving absurd signs like "The Earth is Flat!" and "Poule mange poule" they worked through their set in fits and spurts, the sax player never taking a moment to breathe. Even between songs he kept up his manic playing.

Part prog, part comedy, the nutso FET.NAT show might be the best way to get out of the Suuns+JIMH hypnosis. Stopping mid-song to have a ridiculous conversation, and getting the crowd to chant "Eh! Toé!", the band clearly doesn't take themselves too seriously, and that's what makes it work.

The final subtleties of that Rialto show were hammered out of my head by Cheap Wig at Brasserie Beaubien. They were headlining the Craft Singles showcase, with 15 minutes of short, fast punk rock. Enough time to finish a big bottle of 50 and do some headbanging.


Cheap Wig's Agoness is made of filth and fury

The local noise of Cheap Wig is back from tour, taking its physical form in their new record Agoness. Cutting no wave nihilism with punk rock violence, the band pounds all the filth and fury they can into the record's 10 minutes.

Recorded and mixed by Ought drummer Tim Keen, the guitar screams with feedback but it's no match for Ethel Eugene, her shouting, singing and stream-of-consciousness sex-positivity cutting through the most bludgeoning moments of Agoness. The mayhem finishes with repeated blows to the head on "Watch it Rot", but not before Ethel makes your blood curl on "Not Gonna". 

Cheap Wig are playing POP Montreal Sept. 19 at the Rialto with Babes in Toyland and Hand Cream.