TUSKS with BRUCE PENINSULA and SNAILHOUSE at the Tranzac (292 Brunswick), Wednesday (September 5), 9 pm. $6. 416-923-8137. Rating: NNNNN
There was a time - call it the Canadian indie Cretaceous period - when droves of nomadic rockers roamed the highways and byways of southern Ontario.
Bathed in an aura of flannel and testosterone, these valiant foot soldiers journeyed in groups of four or five (this was before the advent of the sprawling orchestral collective) between cramped outposts from Babylon to Ted's Wrecking Yard, armed only with their guitars, bass amps, drum kits and effects pedals.
It was this era, the late-90s heyday of local thunder gods Pecola and Canadian indie icons the Wooden Stars, that saw the birth of Ottawa-based slowcore crew Kepler, whose hushed, glacial anthems kept up a perpetual simmering slow burn.
Even if you never saw Kepler before they finally folded early last year, you're likely a fan of some of its former members: multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Gara is behind Arcade Fire's kit; Mike Feuerstack plays guitar in Snailhouse; and Samir Khan has moved forward with his great new Tusks crew.
In many ways, Tusks is a natural evolutionary step from the fuller sound and energized melodies of tracks like Thoroughbred Gin off Kepler's Attic Salt (Troubleman) swan song. Khan admits he's adapted some of the more upbeat tunes he was writing for his former band near the end for his new project.
"The original stuff we were doing with Kepler? It was fun for a while," he begins. "But then you start touring around and trying to muster that bummed-out vibe at every show. It's not necessarily who I, or we, felt like being as a band.
"I can't explain the change in my songwriting except that I'm made of different molecules now and have had different experiences. And the things I'm listening to have gotten poppier."
The music Tusks makes, though, is far from the Big Dumb Pop Songs you'll hear in Zellers ads. Khan claims his motive is to try to write pop music that "doesn't pander."
The band still seems in flux - the tracks on their MySpace page (www.myspace.com/tusksonline) signal a shift from the more conventionally melodic, twangier incarnation that played the Drake last winter. But the sound of the current lineup, which includes Shaw-han Liem, Robin Buckley and Wooden Star Julien Beillard, is an addictive combination of driving, locked-in drums, textured cymbal fills, Khan's restrained vocals and spectacular, pristine guitar tones.
Beillard's immediately identifiable guitar work, which helped define the Wooden Stars sound, helps give Tusks' songs their power. Khan is uncensored in his admiration of the man's talent, claiming he's been a fan since their days as a "sorta sibling band" to Kepler in the Ottawa scene.
"I don't think people realize how much the Wooden Stars influenced so much of what we're hearing now. They always seemed to be on a different wavelength. I don't know what they were drinking, but very few bands were playing in such a non-rote way.
"I like hearing things that are catchy and memorable but don't just give you what you want," Khan explains, citing the Wooden Stars, early XTC and Fleetwood Mac, "whom we vaguely took our name from" as examples.
Tusks make the types of songs you want to load on your iPod and listen to while wandering around Toronto's rail lines and ravines. At this rate, though, it might be a while before that's an option - Khan and his bandmates are moving at their own meticulous pace, though they expect to release material by the winter.
Considering that all four of them have already experienced the crapshoot that is trying to make it as an indie act in Canada, it's not surprising that no Tusk is in a rush to drop everything for the band.
"I'd like to tour a bit," says Khan, "and I'd like to play music and have people come to the show and clap. But I'm 32 years old. We're all a bit older, and we're not so impressed with ourselves that we feel like we need to jump into this. Robin just had a kid!
"I have friends who are successful musicians, and I'm mildly envious. Then I hear about the shit they have to deal with and I realize I get to come home every night and pet my cats."
Music from Tusks
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