Review: Classic Rock Meets the Millennials with Northern Lies

sun k sun k

Classic rock is a term that annoys as much as it covers. While naturally synonymous with greatness and timelessness, I’m always flustered by the image of greying hair, big buckled belts, and leather pants. There are alcohol-fueled orgies, way too much dope, and shards of glass tearing up a blood-stained bedsheet. None of these are necessarily cool, not once you’re past a certain age anyway.

sun k

sun k. northern lies

But what about the millennial newcomers? What about Toronto’s Sun K? Why did I associate it with ‘classic rock’ from the first song Teaser Pt II? It’s a swashbuckler of a song that starts up with a guitar squeal, a three-four count by a strained voice that brings in the riffs and drums, and a smart hip-hop-worthy line break, “I knew a girl who kissed the world / war poppies in her hair and a diamond stare.” The chorus is sure-fire sing-along-with-beer-glasses-in-the-air “I’m okay, I’m doing fine” complete with wo-ahs. The next song Sweet Marie is a marriage proposition with the touted reward a “a sunny state / a drive for miles where we can escape for a day.” It all makes you want to buy a Harley for a road trip across a continent, the back seat passenger waving a handkerchief in the air.

Yet, Sun K doesn’t only stand flat-footed while delivering uppercuts and hooks. Every boxer needs good footwork. Produced by Sum 41’s Cone McCaslin, their debut album Northern Lies is replete with instrumental subtleties that keep you guessing at the character that lead singer Kristian Montano resides in. Let It Grow tones it all back down and not just in tempo: a charming whistled tune doodling around the edges of the verses; vibrato strings underpinning the verses; Stuart Retallack’s trumpet adding treble punch. The latter also plays the keyboards and it’s his swelling chords on The Road that really drowns the song in sadness, giving reason to Montano’s lament: “How many times must a man’s heart break? / How many souls can one girl take?” I’m positive Montano’s listened to Bob Dylan and that’s no bad thing.

Montano’s voice channels a lot of classic rock greats, lung deep delivery, slightly grainy, like polished mahogany wood. It lends itself well to the driving guitar rock that permeates most of the album, but in songs like New York City Blues and Hymn For The Living, the soothing vocal harmonies with Retallack and Kevin Michael Butler (strings/guitars) move away from the bluesy bars of gritty NYC to instead find themselves floating through the wintry forests of Canada. There’s very mature restraint on this album, an acknowledgment that the dial doesn’t necessarily need to point to 11 all the time. Northern Lies showcases a band that took the time to develop a broad repertoire, using a blend of Montano’s folksy roots and the instrumental savvy of the band rounded up by bassist JuHang Sin and drummer Aaron Bravener. In Sun K, classic rock has found a new way to be interesting and cool again.

Sun K play O Patro Vys on March 7. Their debut album Northern Lies comes out via MapleMusic Recordings on March 10.

2 Comments on Review: Classic Rock Meets the Millennials with Northern Lies

  1. If Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger had a kid, it would be Kristian Montano.

  2. We opened for these guys last Thursday night and they were awesome.

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