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Stereo Freeze 3.02

March 2, 2010

Hey, the column returneth! Stereo Freeze was put on hold back in the fall while I finished composing an MA thesis, and now that that’s done, it’s time to get rambling on the internet again. Various topics for coming weeks are starting to emerge, but the main reason for returning at this point is to present a piece on a pretty amazing event that recently took place in Montréal. I was sadly unable to attend, but I can say that if there was ever a show I wished I could’ve been at, it was February 27th at the Il Motore.

When Montréal label/promoter Blue Skies Turn Black announced a while back that they were putting together some shows in celebration of their tenth anniversary, one in particular presented some remarkable news. It was posted well in advance: North of America and Rockets Red Glare were reuniting for a special show, accompanied by Spengler and Thundrah, who were also emerging from inactivity for the event. Sitting reading this news overseas, I knew there was no way I’d be able to be there, and that was crappy because these four groups made some of my favourite records of the passed decade. It wasn’t just the fact that Blue Skies Turn Black was celebrating their tenth anniversary, because that was awesome enough in its own right (and the other shows they had lined up looked good, too), but the fact that all four of these bands were getting back together again at the same show still kind of blows my mind. Anyway, obviously I have nothing to say about the actual show itself, but I’d like to throw some words about the bands out there. Stay tuned though, Mary went and has a story to tell.

First, North of America. While they never had a record out on the label, they were nonetheless a regular fixture of the show scene BSTB fostered in the early 2000s. Likely the best-known group of the four mentioned here, they’ve never completely disappeared, having reformed a number of times since they stopped playing full-time in 2003. They actually played a night in Toronto just before this Montréal show, which you can see some footage of here. One of the era’s best and still totally dope. Take your pick of their records, each is a treasure. Or, track down their latest: a cassette release entitled 12345678910 that compiles some rarities and unreleased songs.

Remember Spengler? Maybe not, but their 2000 LP We Need a Miracle is one of the finest releases on BSTB. The early 2000s were an exciting time for Canadian music, and BSTB played a really valuable role therein. It has to be kept in mind that  they were not only putting on shows and getting bands that nobody else was, but they were also handling some of the most crucial sounds of the time in their role as a label. Spengler, though always pretty underrated, were a fun band with a great sound, but apart from the aforementioned LP and a split 45 with Kiss Me Deadly, not much of what these guys did ever saw the light of day. Their myspace mentions other records: one entitled Go Forth and Rock that was done in 2003, which you can apparently get directly from the band, and a 10″ that, as of May 2006, was supposed to be out “soon.” Whatever they’ve been up to, it was good to see that they were part of these recent festivities.

How about Thundrah? A great new band that called it quits just as they were really getting it together. While their La Cité Swallows the Sparrow EP on BSTB is good, they recorded it early on and were already ahead of it by the time it came out. Their live performances were always fun, and a second record was in the works but it was aborted and eventually just made available for free after they’d broken up. It’s a shame it was never completed though (or even given a proper release as-is) because it’s super.

And then there’s Rockets Red Glare. I’d thought of writing something about this band many times, but never really had the right angle to do so. And then, kind of out of nowhere, they come back, only to disappear again, in all likelihood. It’s going on seven years since they broke up, and what can be said? Nobody was playing like that back then and nobody does now. Take any one of their songs and just listen to it, they were something else, completely. Their two LPs, Rockets Red Glare from 2002, and Moonlight Desires from 2003, along with an earlier self-titled 45, comprise a brief but dense collection of music that went beyond what anyone else was doing at the time.

Of all the bands mentioned here, Rockets Red Glare is the one most removed from the present context, and the biggest event, as it were. North of America have been around off and on for the last few years, Spengler might still (?) be around, and it’s still not that long ago that Thundrah broke up, but Rockets Red Glare just stopped playing and that was it, there had been no news of them until these shows. Anyway, I’ll assume their recent performances were excellent, based on what little I’ve heard about them, but what’s nice to see concerning their reunion gigs is the response (well, at least in this video from the first of the two they did) because these guys worked exceptionally hard throughout their brief run, and were really unappreciated.

There’s more to say about Rockets Red Glare, but it’ll have to wait for another time. Ultimately, though, what this show made me think about was just how exciting a time the early 2000s were, and how fantastic it was to be part of it. There were a lot of new sounds happening at that time, and new potential, too. The Blue Skies Turn Black catalogue is an excellent archive of it, and the fact that they got these bands together again must say something about how esteemed their work over the last decade is.

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