Friday, November 27, 2009

Elder Schoolhouse - Dog Day

Elder Schoolhouse

Dog Day
Divorce Records.

SCQ Rating: 72%

The morning after Dog Day’s blistering set at Horseshoe Tavern, I sat down and counted myself one of the lucky 400 people to own Elder Schoolhouse, the Halifax quartet’s ultra-limited, vinyl-only, mini-album. Having prepped myself a bit by reading a Chart Attack interview with bassist/vocalist Nancy Urich, I thought I was ready for the band’s “spooky” direction. I wasn’t. Slopping out of my speakers like compost sludge, ‘Ritual’ sounded like a lost track off The Cure’s Pornography, all doom-laden bass and eerie keys, with vocalist/guitarist Seth Smith singing through some sort of thunderous mic effect. Was Smith being sarcastic when he described Elder Schoolhouse as “lively and bright”? Was this the result of Urich’s quoted affinity for noise-bands? Nah, it was just my record player – which had somehow changed speeds without me knowing – and by the end of the first chorus, I rectified the problem.

The message of that story isn’t that I’m pretty dim-witted (I can translate that in less than a paragraph), but that Dog Day’s sound is rooted as firmly in pop music as it is in gloomier, noisier genres, and I wouldn’t have been terribly shocked had their record not been playing at half-speed. Luckily, Elder Schoolhouse at its intended speed is way cooler and finds them toiling in progressively noisier arrangements. If you’ve checked out the sample ‘Synastry’, you’ve also just heard the brightest of these tracks, one that wouldn’t sound out of place on Concentration. More menacing but no less enjoyable are ‘Ritual’, with its harsh guitars revving like a pack of hungry motorcycles, and ‘Dark Day’, which was written specifically for the band by Rick (Eric’s Trip) White. With claustrophobic melodies and frightening song-breakdowns, Elder Schoolhouse could’ve been the devious little brother to Concentration’s accomplished nuances but no… Dog Day take it a few steps further. What might’ve been a title track becomes the black psychedelia of ‘Concentration’, a falling off point where Dog Day revels in the echoed incoherence of lost lyrics and near-goth guitar riffs.

If Dog Day’s direction on the record’s first side sounds vicious, side two – a looming ten-minute onslaught of distorted guitars - is downright sadistic. The song in question, ‘New Beginning’, sets out like a controlled, if surprisingly raw, slow-burner before distortion stretches through verse and chorus, percussion fades in and falls out, amps start crinkling and six-strings become band-saws waging war. As unrehearsed and messy as it sounds, the whole spectacle of it is pretty marvelous, no different than how Smith and Urich battle their instruments against each-other to close each live show in deafening fashion. This mini-album isn’t for everyone (i.e. my neighbours) but Elder Schoolhouse is more than a few new songs recorded at Rick White’s studio; it’s a descent into madness that will either mark Dog Day’s discography as a bizarre hiccup or crucial turning point.

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