A glimpse into Canada’s underground, through Sean Nicholas Savage songs

Over the past couple of years, Montreal's Arbutus Records has developed a well-earned reputation as one of the most interesting young record labels around, releasing music by Grimes, Doldrums, Braids, and more. Their last release of 2012, the Majical Cloudz Turns Turns Turns EP, has become one of my most-played 12-inches in recent memory. The recently Arbutus-released Blue Hawaii single was mesmerizing; the TOPS tape Tender Opposite was included on our list of 2012's most-overlooked records. But before releasing music by any of those names, the young label first released music by Sean Nicholas Savage.

Savage is a prolific avant-pop singer-songwriter, with a lengthy and diverse discography of at least nine records over the past five years, ranging from synth-oriented disco-pop to 60s-inspired folk ballads, some marked by tape hiss, some crystal-clear, sometimes so poppy they seem to be sung tongue-in-cheek. Each release is strange and stunning in its own way. Since 2008, he’s completed Summer 5000, Little Submarine, Sunshine Melodies/Weird Daze, Spread Free Like A Butterfly, Movin Up in Society, Original Feelings, Tripple Midnight Karma, Won Ton Jazz, and Flamingo. If there’s more I'm missing, I wouldn’t be surprised.

But if you’ve never heard of him, you’re not alone. Savage is perhaps the most unsung artist of the Arbutus family; his songs and his influence seem to have resonated mostly within the Canadian underground music community at this point. Originally from Edmonton, Alberta, Savage has been described as “paramount in Montreal’s after-party scene for captivating and inspirational solo performances.” He was a sporadic resident at the Lab Synthese, the physical DIY show-space in Montreal that planted the seeds for what would eventually give birth to Arbutus Records in 2008. Savage co-wrote and sang on many songs for the debut album by Silly Kissers, whose band members eventually became TOPS. (He's said that writing and performing with that band is what inspired him to start recording albums of his own.)

Now, this week, Arbutus is offering a glimpse into Savage’s songs through a 17-track tribute album, Taste Of Savage: His Pupils Sing His Music, featuring covers by Savage’s friends from Canada and beyond like Mac DeMarco, Doldrums, Majical Cloudz, Eola, and more, Listening through this compilation, the collection of songs tells the more than just the story of Savage’s songs; it plays out like distillation of the entire community surrounding the label. (It's also an introduction to some excellent underground experimental pop songwriters who I assume are still hiding in their bedrooms in Canada.) Stream the comp here:

The collection leads with a version of “Chin Chin” by Edmonton's Calvin Love, a cover of the third track on Flamingo, Savage’s December 2011 record for Arbutus, and the record to start with if you're intrigued enough to delve into Savage's discography. That’s followed by Captured Tracks singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco’s take on “Bye Bye Bye”, a song that appeared on the second-ever Arbutus release, a CD-R titled Summer 5000. The CD-R was recorded and hand-duplicated by Savage by himself in Edmonton in the early summer of 2008 on a digital four track with a built-in CD burner.

Elsewhere on the comp, Airick Woodhead a/k/a Doldrums (whose debut full-length is available right now to stream in full via P4K Advance) offers his take on “Giant In The Sky”, from Savage’s May 2010 record for Arbutus, Movin Up in Society. Here, Airick takes a classic-sounding 60s-inspired pop song and spaces it out with skittering percussion and floating pitched-up vocals, slowly building it up into a mid-tempo dance song with some heavier beats. Savage’s version is much more subdued; it was recorded on a reel-2-reel machine with Sebastian Cowan, the founder of Arbutus Records.

“The Laughter Of Bad Men” comes from the same 2010 Savage album; here it’s covered by Matt Perri, a Montreal songwriter I’d never heard of until now, who has a whole album of slow-tempo avant-pop on his Bandcamp. “Someone’s Got A Secret” is done by Eola, a/k/a the side project of Brooklyn-via-Montreal vocalist/Tonstartsbandit member Edwin White. It comes from March 2011's Tripple Midnight Karma, recorded in Savage’s bedroom studio. (Eola’s own recordings are well worth checking out, too, if you haven’t heard them. Start with his most recent, Deo Gracis, a 6-song EP, embedded below. It was released orginally in 2011 by the Curatorial Club, then re-issued in July 2012 by Arbutus imprint Movie Star – the imprint I'm guessing is named after this Savage song.)

“Heart Wish” (from Spread Free Like a Butterfly, a December 2009 vinyl 12”) is covered by Quiet Hooves, an Athens band who have been playing the experimental/psych-leaning house-show circuit for years; I'm fairly certain have played the Whitehaus a few times. “You Changed Me” is a hypnotic pop earworm from Flamingo, re-worked by Brooklyn's Cloud Becomes Your Hand (one of the bands who were playing at Whitehaus the night they got raided by cops.) “She Left Me A Note” is done by Agor ft. Bob Lamont, a tribute to one of Savage’s earliest recordings -- it comes from the first Arbutus release ever, Little Submarine, a now out-of-print CD-R recorded in autumn of 2008, a record of mostly just vocal and guitar tracks that were recorded within four hours on the first day of recording. (Speaking of firsts, a Sean Nicholas Savage review was also apparently the first-ever review on the rad music blog Weird Canada. That’s pretty cool.)

Another highlight of A Taste of Savage is the version of “Kisses Like A Girl” by Majical Cloudz. Savage’s version sounds like a 60s-tinged folk ballad, all acoustic guitar. It makes sense that Devon Welsh of Majical Cloudz would take on this sort of track to re-imagine. As I wrote in my review of his Turns Turns Turns EP, there is something about his music that seems to accomplish what previously would have been the work of poignant acoustic singer-songwriters; Majical Cloudz songs are personal and expressive, and sung directly, telling stories.

Last month, I had a fairly long conversation with my friend Shane Butler from Quilt about Sean Nicholas Savage, on a Saturday night, when were having a show at my house with some bands from Philly. Between sets we were in my packed kitchen talking about the Majical Cloudz show we had a week earlier (it was beautiful) when Shane asked if I'd ever heard of Sean Nicholas Savage, and we talked about what an incredible songwriter he is for probably like 15 minutes. The next morning I woke up to a text from Mike who books shows as Sippy Cup Everything, saying that Sebastian from Arbutus had hit him up about booking a show for Sean Nicholas Savage in Boston. I guess it's not that weird of a story, but at the time it seemed -- not unlike most of Savage's records -- like a legitimately mystical coincidence.

The show happens this Saturday night at Aviary Gallery in JP. Here's a flyer made by Shane a/k/a Olden Yolk, plus tracks by all artists performing:

| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
OTD Categories
VIDEO: Arctic Monkeys at the House of Blues
Rare Frequencies: Trouble and treble
Lady Lee's Lion's Den Playlist
HOMEWORK: Assignment #2: D-Tension
Ticket On-Sale Alert: Muse, Mariah Carey, Black Eyed...
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Bradley’s Almanac -
Band in Boston -
Wayne & Wax -
Aurgasm -
Anti-Gravity Bunny -
Clicky Clicky -
Soul Clap -
Lemmingtrail -
Jump the Turnstyle -
Loaded Gun -
Vanyaland -
Ryan's Smashing Life -
Boston Band Crush -
Sleepover Shows -
Boston Accents -
Pilgrims of Sound -
Allston Rat City -
Playground Boston -
I Heart Noise -
On The Download Archives