Twin River with Invisible Ray & Failing
November 10, 2015 @ The Fox Cabaret
By Chloe Sjuberg
Instead of getting caught up in a drunken haze of ‘80s alternative hits, like I usually do under the Fox’s red lights, I was swept up in a different kind of crazy soundscape of psych-garage-noise by three talented Vancouver bands. Prepare for an onslaught of weird metaphors, because the intense sounds created some pretty wild atmospheres and imagery for me.
Besides the crazy energy, each of the bands were a great team, clearly close friends, and they were all fun, gentle and charming when chatting in between songs. The acts complemented and reflected each other while still treating us to a great, subtle mix of moods between them.
The first of the opening acts, Invisible Ray, immediately unleashed their huge, weird energy on us. Guitarist and vocalist Bernie Joe is simultaneously a lichen-draped tree in a freaky forest at night, and the frantic chainsaw cutting the whole thing down. He’s a lightning rod in the storm that is Penny Jo’s furious and relentless drumming. She has such a huge presence as a drummer, legitimately making up half of the duo’s sound. We were constantly surrounded by noise, from the swampy, visceral buzz of Bernie’s simple but effective minor-chord guitar riffs, to his raw, growling, layered voice and Penny’s aforementioned drum-storm. Bernie sang about appropriately weird and angry subjects for Invisible Ray’s garage/punk/“mystery rock” sound, from bestiality to overbreeding and the difficulty of “self-regulation.” Although the vocals are often indistinct and some of the songs sounded very similar, the raucous energy Bernie and Penny put in is a lot of fun to watch; not to mention that they both have a lot of hair that they shake all over the place. Distortion pedals lent a full-moon howl to Bernie’s warped, twangy psych solo. Invisible Ray was a thoroughly fun, raw vortex of noise to get caught up in, with an authentic, get-your-hands-dirty feel.
Next, three-piece Failing immediately pulled us into an intense, dark landscape of sound. The set started off with a moody, mounting roar of feedback that was deep, dark and high, and deliciously dangerous and anticipatory. I found myself under moonbeams and staticky floodlights on an empty road at night. Guitarist and vocalist Shaunn Watt stalked the stage wildly as he yelped at the ceiling in a voice full of triumphant desperation, shaking his cord out of the way like a snake or a whip and slicing high through the air with the neck of his guitar. Sometimes his lyrics were almost spoken or exclaimed – vaguely Talking Heads-style à la Once in a Lifetime. Shades of chimy chords and more melodic lines came through the shrieking guitar strings.
I love unexpected cover songs recreated in very different tones and genres, and Failing’s take on Neil Young’s See the Sky About to Rain was no exception. This dark, raw and desperate take on the song was a far cry from Young’s original soft, gentle tones, although I can see the parallels between both singers’ high, keening voices. Drawing on Young’s melody created a lovely, clear dark shadow against the rough tarmac of Watt’s voice.
Failing brings interesting, irregular rhythms laid down by drummer Will Kendrick, studious and furious licks by the band’s other guitarist, Lindsey Hampton, and a variety of distortion noises and techniques with deep quavering thrums of feedback and guitar tremolos. This was an intense, atmospheric trip.
After weathering the electrical storm of Failing, Twin River took the stage to round off the night. They bring in poppier elements, like “woo-hoo” choruses, shiny cool-toned bass, and a higher, dreamier motion in their sound than the other two bands. Their clear, bright poppy awareness mixed perfectly with the dozy psych tones. Strange visuals played behind them that I couldn’t quite interpret: scrolling waves of red and green evoked water droplets, the irises of an eye, or the striations on feathers or butterfly wings.
Lead singer and guitarist Courtney Ewan has an absolutely beautiful voice. Seriously, I’ll never be able to say enough about it. It’s fresh, clear and very soulful, high and low at the same time. Her wise childlike voice singing distant, sad, matter-of-fact lines, but combined with the band’s upbeat psych-pop tone, reminds me of one of my favourite artists – Toronto’s Alvvays and its lead singer Molly Rankin. Dark-eyed, moody and complex, she also evokes other classic female folk voices like Stevie Nicks or Bonnie Raitt - dreamy and lilting but with powerful rough edges.
Ewan is calm and happy on stage, smiling infectiously at individual members of the audience with her hair, glowing purple under the lights, swept over one eye. Like the feeling of loneliness in a crowd, her voice is singled out as it shines through the great cloud bank of sound around her.
Dynamite guitarist Andy Bishop, cofounder of the band with Ewan, took a turn singing lead, and he has a great, high and rich voice of his own. Lindsey Hampton of Failing also joined Twin River on keys and occasional tambourine.
The five-piece band creates a tightly layered, pieced and fractured soundscape that all fits together so well. They have a level of comfort, control and professionalism on stage that really makes a show stand out. Their controlled, rounded sound, close and faraway at the same time, is like a halo of light around a lamp. Each song was unique and interesting melodically; I was always looking forward to hearing what would come next, instrumentally and vocally, as each song started up. Twin River was an exciting musical discovery for me – they’re definitely going straight to the ranks of my newest favourite artists.