Picking for POP: Suggestions for a Sweet Sixteen

Pop Montreal sign. Mile End. Photo Rachel Levine Pop Montreal sign. Mile End. Photo Rachel Levine

POP Montreal is back! Summer and its hectic, love-every-minute, calendar-busting schedule is waved away. The nights are cooler, which makes going from venue to venue less of an energy-draining chore. Like the leaves that will soon turn into different colours, the range of bands are always internationally-mixed and the genres are never overly focused on a specific crowd. As always, the programme is more than just music. If music makes the world go round (they do say that, don’t they?), then POP Montreal is about what goes around music: art exhibitions, talks, fairs, films, and even workshops.

Covering it is a task as impossible as is going to everything, but this year, before the opening of the festival this coming Wednesday, I thought I’d share a personal list of highlights. Physics comes in the way of my seeing all these bands but may I hear them vicariously through readers*.

Pierre Kwenders (Centre Phi, $15, 13th September 8 p.m.)

Montreal darling who squeezes western dance music through a Congolese colander, Kwenders has just released his new album MAKANDA at the End of Space, the Beginning of Time. The groove needs no translating however, as Kwenders makes anyone of any origin at the very least bop their heads to his charged up rhythms. With his magnetic stage performance and within an intimate setting, this opening night show will be hard to miss.

Middle Kids (Petit Campus, $16.75, 13th September 8 p.m.)

They’ll have travelled far to get here so I feel Middle Kids deserve some love. Not that these Sydneysiders have any lack of it. Their first single ‘Edge of Town’ already garnered praise from Rolling Stone Australia and the tune showcases what the trio can do. Hannah Joy combines songwriting chops (check out how the syllables just bounce off the tongue on the single) with a strong sense of melody.

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Love Theme (Piccolo Little Burgundy, $15, 13th September 10:30 p.m)

A lot of people bemoaned the day Dirty Beaches ended. Ever since, Alex Zhang Hungtai has continued making music under different monikers. He’s back in Montreal under the name ‘Love Theme’ with an even more dronier approach, this time employing the saxophone as a centerpiece. It might not be for everyone but a thorough listening yields unsurprising rewards. Zhang has always had an ear for the experimental and his iconic chugging rhythms still pervade his work.

Juana Molina (Fédération Ukrainienne, $30, 14th September 8 p.m.)

The unclassifiable Juana Molina easily makes my list. On her latest album, Halo, her soundscapes are meant to be bathed in, employing elements such as fast-stepping drum patterns, a voice molded into machine-like transmissions, as well as skittish synths, while her melodies cause gentle ripples in the water. Things are moving, being pulled and pushed, and yet a sense of calm rules.

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Vagabon (Church of St. John the Evangelist, $16, 14th September 8:30 p.m.)

For those who prefer their rock old school, with guitars that don’t muck around with 2-foot long boards of pedals, Vagabon’s your best bet. A deft guitar player that can no doubt tear off the roof of the church on Thursday if she so wishes, Laetitia Tamko uses her voice and control of volume to manage bursts and restraint of emotion. She released her debut album Infinite Worlds this year to much acclaim. In these trying times, Vagabon’s lyrics deal with themes of community, which is a very refreshing take in indie rock circles.

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Ty Segall (Theatre Fairmount, $30, 14th September 9:30 p.m.)

Ty Segall is not going to be wearing a baby face mask and blow out your eardrums with one single chord this time round. Rather, he’s going back to his 2013’s Sleeper mode. That album really showcased Ty Segall’s ability to cater to a different crowd and do away with the idea that he was only a garage rocker. Playing solo and acoustic, his songwriting and lyrics will take the spotlight in what will be a unique night to appreciate one of the 21st century’s biggest indie rock personas.

Night Shop (Quai des Brumes, $12, 15th September 9:00 p.m.)

Breezy, happy, folk rock from Night Shop are my ‘new discovery’ pick of the year. As is my tradition around this time of year, I check out the bandcamp pages of bands I’ve never heard of on POP Montreal’s lineup. I’m a sucker for acoustic rhythm guitar combined with thick-toned guitars tracing arcs around it. A quick Google search for information about the band turns up nothing much. That sense of mystery only sweetens the deal.

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Po Lazarus (Le Belmont, $12, 15th September 10:00 p.m.)

Last year, I discovered Po Lazarus at POP Montreal and they very quickly became one my favourite bands from the city. Infectious melodies, a strong-voiced charismatic band leader in Joshua Carey, lyrics that touch on everything from body loving to demons and God’s fat head, the band plays feverish live shows that evoke both harbingers of doom and sexy time music. A unique combination if there ever was one.

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Trio Joubran featuring Youssef Hbeich (Théâtre Rialto, $30, 17th September 8:00 p.m.)

The Trio Joubran are a group of brothers from Palestine and they all play the oud. So much of our common cultural knowledge about the area is centred around conflict that it’s nice to just listen to music from the area and be transported to somewhere peaceful. Not that there isn’t a sense of tension in the brothers’ compositions (doubly so in the presence of percussionist Youssef Hbeich), but everything is always resolved. Life is not always so, but that’s what music is for.

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Hurray for the Riff Raff (Piccolo Little Burgundy, $20, 17th September 10:30 p.m.)

The first time I heard Hurray was on ‘Junebug Waltz’. Alynda Segarra’s voice took was very enchanting but her grasp of Americana was very inspiring when almost everywhere else on the pop charts a certain brand of country music was taking over. Instead, we heard slide guitars, banjos, bittersweet tales of losing and finding. Tracking her evolution as an artist has been rewarding, as this year’s The Navigator sees Segarra try a concept album while injecting more rock as well as other sounds (Puerto Rican, gospel, doo-wop, spoken word). Not a bad choice at all to bring down the curtains on the festival.

*Click on the individual links for tickets. Click here for more options on passes and packages.