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Sometimes the most startling new music is the stuff that sounds somehow familiar. With FLICKERING FLASHLIGHT, Montreal's ADAM & THE AMETHYSTS have lit up a box of homemade fireworks, firing psychedelic folk and pinwheeling pop, crowing for the love of all the old songs and all the young ones, too: the Beach Boys and Kurt Vile, Os Mutantes and Woods, George Harrison and Chad VanGaalen.
ADAM & THE AMETHYSTS are a band of scrappy kids and Adam Waito, their leader, is possibly the scrappiest. Raised in Thunder Bay, Ontario, he moved from the small town to the big city in 2003. That's the migration that still haunts his songs, but other changes stir there too: growing up, crashing down, losing friends, finding love, forgetting. While indie-rock chases chillwave, Adam is making a sibling hypnogogic pop - the whirrs of old VCRs, the gloss of old Polaroids, Sun Araw and Real Estate guesting on Paul McCartney's Ram.
"The songs are little time-capsules, hazy photographs," Adam says. "I'm trying to preserve memories the way I want to remember them." But whereas Adam's debut, 2008's AMETHYST AMULET, was a portrait of his hometown, FLICKERING FLASHLIGHT is also about challenging nostalgia, calling it out. "A song with an acoustic guitar and lots of spring reverb evokes my childhood even though my childhood was devoid of spring reverb," he admits. "The first cassette I ever bought was by 2 Unlimited."
FLICKERING FLASHLIGHT is also the highest-fi lo-fi record you'll hear this year. Much as it evokes Van Dyke Parks' ensembles and Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, this bold blushing sound was recorded in a single tiny room at the front of Adam's apartment; an office stuffed with guitars, amps, patch-cords, a giant vintage map of Lake Superior. No, it wasn't soundproofed; yes, you can "definitely hear some garbage truck". There are distant creaks, closing doors, moth-wings. "When you listen to the record it's kind of like sitting in my house and listening to my house, with music playing over it," Adam says. "I was trying to achieve sounds that on the one hand transcend the circumstances, grander and more interesting, but on the other hand remain true to what's going on: which is a guy making music in a 5' x 8' room, overlooking the street."
The result is extraordinary, at once inventive and humble. "Gitche Gumee Yeah Yeah" is goofball pop, farfisa organ, jumping into cold lakes. "Dreaming" is a north-country road trip, peerless soft-rock, full of Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel and some killer saxophone. "Adam Called Me Over Christmas," about the death of a friend from elementary school, will break your heart in two. And "Prophecy," with whoops and electric guitar, ends with "Auld Lang Syne", three-part harmony, magic nursery rhyme. Forget the Incredible String Band: this is loft-parties, bbqs, "riding bikes around Montreal and putting on shows".
For FLICKERING FLASHLIGHT, the Amethysts include musicians drawn from across Montreal's indie, weird-punk, folk and pop scenes, including members of Miracle Fortress, Sunset Rubdown, Mixylodian, Code Pie, Fuji Hakayito and North, My Love. Rebecca Lessard plays cello and sings back-up vocals. Scott Gailey plays bass. But listen for other things, too: campfire samples, beer bottles, analog synths, electric hand mixers. And a love for the Microphones, Carole King, the United States of America, Eric's Trip - not to mention Edgar Allan Poe, Jesus Christ Superstar and Judee Sill's "crazy cosmic thing."
"It's so easy to / fall into a rut," Adam sings on "Canadian Tired". Later, he changes the line: "It's so easy to / fall in love." FLICKERING FLASHLIGHT is about making that change, carping the diem. But it's also about the yesterdays, teenaged and rosy. There's a beauty to remembering, Adam says, "to remembering fondly, even kidding yourself in some sense."
Objects in the rear-view mirror may be closer than they appear.
L I N K S :
Select Praise for Flickering Flashlight (2011):
The best folk-rock album of 2011. (COVER STORY) - MONTREAL HOUR
With luck and justice, Waito could well be our next breakout artist. - MONTREAL GAZETTE
Adam Waito has emerged from his home studio brandishing a treasure. [...] There are people everywhere making folk music, making rock music, nursing nostalgias in low fidelity. Adam & the Amethysts' work is set apart, not just by geography - the Canadiana in these songs, the vast woods and great lakes, - but by its sound, weird and kind. [...] The Amethysts' music is splendid, fertile, new. - SAID THE GRAMOPHONE
A pensive pop record at its core, it’s the little stringed flourishes, delicate vocals and gradual landscape shifts that allow Flickering Flashlight to consistently shine so brightly. (ALBUM OF THE WEEK) - MONTREAL MIRROR
Picture the Beach Boys and the Beatles with a healthy dollop of Galaxie 500’s post-Velvet Underground college rock. There's a lot to love here. - NOW MAGAZINE
There's inevitability to falling in love with Adam & the Amethysts; it just seems to happen after listening to a few songs because they're so utterly charming. That was the case with their 2008 debut and there's no reason to believe that anything will change with its successor. Flickering Flashlight is a record that revels in its introspection. Adam Waito's songs are like sketches from a time gone by that are both instantly familiar and remarkably comforting. Their take on folk music has a wonderful dusting of psychedelic pop that suggests that Waito's time with Miracle Fortress has brushed off on him, or vice versa. The songs meander along quietly, with some lovely harmonies and warmth that are contagious. The only option is to succumb. - EXCLAIM!
Adam, Rebecca Lessard and Scott Johnson Gailey push themselves and challenge the conventions of home recording to the breaking point, leveraging the ghosts floating around the apartment, then filling it with strings, hand claps, keyboards and reverb. There are beautiful moments of psychedelia, but no adolescent drug filled meanders. There are traces of the folk foundation we pride ourselves on as Canadian music fans, but no institution is revisited or misused. - HEROHILL
Select Praise for Amethyst Amulet (2008):
The pop hit of the summer! -TORONTO STAR
Adam Waito has a high lonesome voice, a fondness for halos of reverb, and the understanding that melancholy and lightheartedness can coexist. Vintage-pop flashbacks suited to an open sky. -MONTREAL GAZETTE
While evincing the intimacy of an apartment recording, it is also brimming with overlapping instruments, tempo changes and ambitious arrangements. The result resembles the precarious balance between innocence and sophistication that Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks have been known to strike. -TORONTO STAR
I’ve fallen in love. -NATIONAL POST
We had heard about Adam many times. His album was recommended to us, deliciously retro psychedelic, the type of music you would have loved to discover one evening during the summer of 1969, that works just as well for this summer. -LA BLOGOTHEQUE
Montreal's newest shimmering gem. -SAID THE GRAMOPHONE
They meander quietly through ethereal psychedelic moments and a Neil Youngish understanding of the lyrical details that fill a songs with endearing personality. At 13 songs, Amulet could go on a while longer and still remain a beautiful piece of contemporary Canadiana. -NOW MAGAZINE
Intended as an aural love letter to Waito’s hometown of Thunder Bay, Amulet tempers a musical wanderlust with creative focus for a debut that’s playful, elegant and nostalgic and not at all averse to a well-placed burst of fuzz guitar. -CHROMEWAVES
The project has the pedigree, the creativity, and most importantly, the songs to make Amethyst Amulet the must have record for the summer. The songs are drenched in reverb, and sparkle like sun kissed water. Truthfully, I am not sure I've been as excited about a Canadian artist since I first heard Miracle Fortress. His understanding of what makes a pop song challenging and still enjoyable is incredible. -HEROHILL