For all the time I spend scouring the Internet for all kinds of neat tunes from halfway across the world, I often forget that living in Toronto means that there is some utterly brilliant music being made right here, in my very own town. Having this realization every now and then has always begun with some strange sense of guilt, yet consistently ends in me finding a stellar band/artist or two, so I have no complaints there. One of these discoveries occurred about two years ago, when an local rock band named July Talk made their way into my consciousness.
Before I go any further, I have to confess that I really don’t know enough artists in the realm of indie/alternative to describe their sound by comparison to what else is out there. But I have a feeling that that would be a difficult task either way, since the band’s two-vocalist approach makes them quite unlike anything else I’ve ever heard.
I know what you might be thinking: two primary vocalists? How is that novel in any way? All kinds of bands have been doing that since time immemorial: hell, one could argue that Mastodon have three primary vocalists. Sort of.
But I digress. Now, the interesting thing about July Talk is not just that they have two vocalists — it’s that that the two vocalists in question, Leah Fay and Peter Dreimanis, have voices that couldn’t possibly be more different. This is something the band absolutely uses to their advantage. Fay’s vocal style is the more straightforward of the two, tossing out memorable hooks left and right with a frequently sultry touch, but staying within familiar territory for the most part. But Dreimanis’ harsh voice is at complete odds with hers, as he counters her smooth vocal lines with roars and bellows that would make Tom Waits proud.
With this duality in place, the band’s music generally involves them telling some kind of story (ostensibly themed around relationships), but with Dreimanis and Fay playing completely different roles within the context of that. Their vocal lines constantly bounce off and counter each other, forming two halves of a musical whole that seem to almost constantly be caught in an intense lyrical tug-of-war. And it works: it’s the same formula almost all the way through, but it works just so goddamn well, and never seems to wear out its welcome.
And now, after reaching hometown heroes status with their excellent debut July Talk, the band have released sophomore album Touch as of last week, ramping up their sound with even more refined melodic sensibilities and somehow further improved songwriting.
Opener “Picturing Love”, for instance, is a fantastically catchy tune about the perils of voyeurism that builds beautifully over a deceptively straightforward keyboard motif, while “Now I Know” shows off a bit more of the band’s pop side. Album highlight “Strange Habit”, on the other hand, is a gorgeous piano-driven ballad, while the closing title track has Dreimanis and Fay temporarily abandoning the usual call-and-response style — only to have their intertwined vocals coming together beautifully over what ends up being a stunning quasi-prog rock epic.
Touch is out as of September 9th, and can be bought from July Talk’s website.