LULLABYE ARKESTRA with JON-RAE & THE RIVER and NIKKEI FIGHTS in a benefit for Casa Canadiense at the Boat (158 Augusta), Saturday (February 4), doors 9 pm. $8. 416-593-9218. Rating: NNNNN
Katia Taylor and Justin Small have moved beyond the power of two.
Half a decade ago, the punk rock power couple founded Lullabye Arkestra, their hardcore soul attack force, as a celebration of their love.
And while 2002's independently released, lo-fi Bzaster (Amp Grave) disc was based on pure passion, with heart-spangled handmade cover art encasing bass-and-drum-based metallic scorchers about romance, fucking and destruction, anyone who's seen the expanded Arkestra live knows that Taylor and Small are even more electrifying when they're backed up by additional bandmates.
But now, with the imminent release of their upcoming, as-yet-untitled album, the two core Arkestra members have thrown themselves into collective collaboration. Yeah, track titles like Nation Of Two might throw you off course, but 30 seconds of listening to the newly fleshed-out orchestration (featuring a bonanza of horns and killer violin bits from Canadian indie scene MVP Julie Penner) or call to arms Gentle Hearts Unite, and you can tell Lullabye Arkestra have opened their hearts to the world.
"We don't want to get pigeonholed into this couple-rocker mould," explains a groggy Small (still reeling from the impact of the previous night's Deadly Snakes/Constantines throwdown) over midday coffee at the Beaver Café.
Adds Taylor, "We can talk about more than just how much we love each other. That's not what we do."
One reason it's taken Small and Taylor such a long time to record and release the new material is because they got so invested in expanding their basic shake-rattle-and-roar arrangements into full-on distorted soul epics.
Ohad Benchetrit, Small's Do Make Say Think bandmate, generously volunteered to assist the pair in their noble mission, offering up his basement studio and his production skills for free.
Having no time or money constraints, and having to schedule things around their own and Benchetrit's other projects (he was busy trying to record Broken Social Scene's non-Dave Newfeld album, and has been touring with the Broken crew) became its own mixed blessing.
"We kept writing new songs," Small groans. "The record has eight tunes on it and is 30 minutes long, but we recorded at least 15 songs, scrapped a bunch and wrote more. I think the most difficult thing is that it doesn't feel really consistent."
Curiously, the disc actually does have a beautifully rough narrative flow. It's definitely a step forward for the Arkestra - one particular heartbreaker is a full-on ballad, featuring distortion-free bass, wheezy organ and only a floor tom as percussion - but the body-slamming hardcore backbone that's always been a staple of their sound runs throughout.
Since the material on the disc stretches back through the Arkestra's five-year existence, both Small and Taylor say they became increasingly aware of the shifts in their writing. For the new stuff, the two challenged themselves by taking inspiration from odd places: apparently, studying Slayer's oeuvre taught them to reach new levels of songwriting sophistication.
Another track, they claim, is a direct homage to a tune by Swedish Viking metal outfit Enslaved.
"You wouldn't know it, though," Taylor laughs. "When you throw in horns and shit, it doesn't quite come off as Viking metal."
"It sounds like more of a Spanish cavalry number," Small insists.
After they spread the love at this week's benefit for Casa Canadiense, a cool community-based volunteer-run education centre/grassroots travellers' project centred in Managua, Nicaragua, you can catch Lullabye Arkestra getting more collaborative with their satellite project, LAND - in which they team up with pals No Dynamics for mass mayhem - February 10 as part of next week's Wavelength anniversary.
That's the only way you'll get to hear their new material for now, since the details surrounding the release of their new album are still up in the air.
"Who wants to hire on a band with two people who don't drive, whose record has no marketable value, it's not radio-friendly, and we're drunks and a couple?" Small asks. "We're like the model of people not to sign. They should have a picture of us with a caption that reads, 'Do not ever give these people money. '"
"So we might be putting it out ourselves," sighs Taylor.
"Yeah," Small agrees, "we might be the only people idiotic enough to put it out."