KYRA & TULLY with BELLVUE at Mitzi's Sister (1554 Queen West), tonight (Thursday, February 22), 9 pm. Pwyc. 416-532-2570. Rating: NNNNN
One of the more pleasant surprises of this past year was that the sweetly melancholic outsider folk sound of Kingston's Kyra & Tully actually lived up to the promise of the exquisite letterpress packaging of their self-titled debut disc for Buster Records. When that much time is spent on presentation, it can be an attempt to compensate for a recording's shortcomings, but that's definitely not the case with Kyra & Tully. In the wooded world outside of Kingston inhabited by Kyra Walker Pearson and partner Michael "Tully" Pearson, anything worth doing is worth doing in a painstakingly meticulous way, without the slightest concern for how long it might take. That goes for restoring stained glass in ancient churches or recording music.
So while the tastefully spare recordings of Kyra & Tully's six-song EP have the effortless flow of a kitchen guitar pull with some multi-instrumentalist pals that might've been recorded over weekend tea, the closer you listen to what's really going on, the more you realize the complexity of the production. It just sounds simple because everything is so well orchestrated. But that's just part of the reason it made my year-end top-10 list. Kyra & Tully's insidiously hooky songs, much like the gently seductive numbers Sam Beam writes for Iron & Wine, have a way of sticking with you long after the disc stops spinning.
"We really did take our time on every level," concedes Kyra over the phone. "We didn't have any reason to rush. At the time, we were living in a one-room A-frame cabin in the woods outside of Kingston, and our son Kezyan, who's now three, was still a baby, so we couldn't spend a whole week in a studio recording.
"Instead, we'd drive over to Leopard Frog Studio, this magical place over-looking two lakes in Battersea, and record one song at a time over the course of a whole year. We'd both been playing on our own and together for years and felt we should document our music. We really weren't trying to please anyone but ourselves, but we had to do things right. At the same time, we knew other people would hear it so we wanted the music to have a love vibe and convey a good feeling."
It should come as no great shock that Kyra & Tully's engaging pastoral sound has earned them a freak folk rep since they started playing shows outside of the Kingston area, although Kyra seems puzzled by the descriptor and confesses to being unaware of the popular trend characterized by the public display of facial hair and harps. Yet she's intrigued enough by the concept to check out the music of Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom and jots down their names as I spell them out for her.
Actually, the fact that Kyra isn't aware that Thurston Moore has momentarily stopped releasing crappy punk records on his Ecstatic Peace! boutique label and is now signing considerably hairier backwoods fuds like MV & EE with the Bummer Road and Wooden Wand instead is a point in her favour.
Kyra & Tully certainly aren't using weird tunings because someone from Sonic Youth thinks it's profitable. They do it because it feels right.
"When I saw a photo of us in the paper with the caption describing us as 'gently freaky,' I wondered how the person knew we were freaky. At first I went beet-red with embarrassment, but then I thought it makes us sound a lot more interesting than just your average old folk duo. But now I see where you're coming from."
At the moment, three songs by Kyra & Tully, along with their new composition A New Frontier, are being used in Coming Out Again, a documentary about lesbians with breast cancer by Kingston filmmaker Rowan Ramsay.
They also have 20 new songs written and ready to be recorded, but as with the first EP, there's no need to rush. Time has been booked at Leopard Frog Studio in July, when Kevin Bowers, who added some sweet guitar parts to the first recording, and cellist Melinda Richka will be back in Kingston and available to contribute to the next album. "Our feeling is do it right or don't do it at all. So we're thinking it'll be done by the spring of 2008."
Of course,Kyra & Tully didn’t invent the freak-folk duo concept – it’s beenaround for ages, as greying fans of Tyrannosaurus Rex and Fresh Maggots willpoint out. But lately there’s been a resurgence in the compact formation,with trippy tag teams turning up everywhere.
AMBITIOUS LOVERS No, not the Arto Lindsay band, but a Brisbane,Australia,team of Joel Saunders and his ukulele-strumming sidekick Miriam, who makegood use of pots and pans on their Stranger, Can I Touch You? (Warren StreetYouth) album. www.myspace.com/ambitiouslovers.
NAGISA NI TE Those emo-loving folks at Jagjaguwar wereso enamoured with the fragile folk-psych of ShinjiShibayama and partner Masako Takeda that they’ve reissuedtwo of their most fabulously florid discs, Feel andOn The Love Beach. www.jagjaguwar.com/nagisanite.
MV & EE Just because Thurston Moore signed MattValentine and Erika Elder, that’s no reason to hate onMV & EE and their hippie-dippy Bummer Road buddiesfrom the forest. www.yod.com/mvee.html.
BRIGHTBLACK MORNING LIGHT Though they’ve expanded beyondtheir original two-person format, childhood pals Nathan “Nabob”Shineywater and Rachael “Rabob”Hughes are more than just freakyrecording artists – they founded their own freak-folk festival, QuietQuiet, in Bolinas, California. BYO wineskin. www.thebrightblackmorninglight.com.