Spun: Vailhalen

Last year’s EP Becs D’Oiseaux set high expectations for Vailhalen’s full length debut, and Pop Violence does not disappoint. From the thundering intro of “Awake in Flight” through the piano refrain and odd chanting of closer “Love’s A Home,” the album maintains a delicate balance. It is artistic without being arty, vintage without being retro and above all else, plain solid.

Frontman and namesake Chris Vail has been a major player in the somewhat incestuous Calgary music scene for years now, and this experience has given him a knack for crafting unconventional pop songs with a truly unique melodic sense. It’s also helped him recruit a stunning line-up for Vailhalen. Along with members of XL Birdsuit, Reverie Sound Review, the Primrods and Hot Little Rocket, he’s found a sound clearly influenced by ’80s Post Punk and New Wave but isn’t derivative or fashion conscious. Instead, Pop Violence manages to capture bits and pieces. Echo and the Bunnymen’s melodic tension and the visceral presence of Joy Division are both here, but rather than serve as a template, the influences are used to add colour to the songs.

Not that it’s needed, as Pop Violence has personality to spare. Recorded in a high school, Vailhalen use every bit of sonic texture they can get their hands on. Glockenspiels and marimbas pop up on occasion, as does the school’s girls rugby team on “Girls Fight!,” a new version of the XL Birdsuit track. The song’s anthemic chorus, with Vail shouting “I’ve never been knocked down, I fell down” over razor-sharp guitars, is one of the album’s many highlights, and the rugby team’s shouting at the end just adds to the surreal atmosphere.

With all the admittedly well-deserved attention Toronto and Montreal have been receiving lately, it’s refreshing to see a Calgary act put out an album easily on par with the best those cities have to offer. Pop Violence solidifies Vail’s position as one of Calgary’s most vital musicians, and should bring about wider acclaim if it’s heard by the right people. Expect to hear about Vailhalen more and more often.

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