Sometimes Canada feels like the world’s biggest small country. On one hand, our population is spread across the second largest nation in the world. On the other, our provincialism, both regional and cultural, often makes us feel as though no pair of us has a Bacon Number above two. Stereotypes about Canadians knowing each other are stereotypes for a reason, and especially when it comes to niche musical genres our instinct is often to assume that we have a solid handle on what our countryfolk are up to. Being found derelict in those duties can often lead to that other hackneyed Canadian impulse, apology, which nicely sets up the guilt I felt at seeing Cygnets play at Terminus. Playing tightly wound electro-rock five years into their career, the Edmonton trio felt like something I should’ve hooked into far earlier.
Third LP Isolator breezily whisks through the modes and sounds which put Cygnets over live, namely a mix of glammy vocals which speak to a youth spent hunting out Suede and Bowie records with equal aplomb, along with a quick interplay of synth and guitar which kicks between post-punk and synthpop and the odd touch of funk. Singer Logan Turner can’t help but sit front and center of Isolator‘s arrangements and mixes, turning from the skippy gender-mash of “Girlfriends” to the far more tragically romantic “Modern Youth” (with its serious “Doesn’t Really Matter” feels) on a dime.
Though less assuming, the musical structures underneath the vocals speak to a solid understanding of building grooves and tension in classic new wave fashion, with the walking rhythm of “The Passerby” and the dance-punk fury of “Human” standing as strong testaments to the band’s musical as well as lyrical versatility. Little hints of fellow Edmontonians The Floor (RIP) surface around the pointier edges of tunes where Logan’s hushed coos defer to the guitars and arpeggios, as on frantic closer “Haunt You”.
Like I said at the outset, Cygnets came onto my radar fully-formed, and while I’ll be sure to dig into their back catalog, it’s a treat to have something like Isolator, replete with high-drama showstoppers like personal highlight “Gallows” fall into my lap essentially without precedent. In just under four minutes “Gallows” shifts back and forth between slowly churning Cold Cave-style night moves and a clarion, operatic chorus that is completely arresting. Would it have been nice to have been able to trace the evolution of a track like that from the foundations of a band’s roots? Maybe, but discoveries like Isolator are what we should all be hoping for: reminders that we can’t ever keep tabs on everything, and that those blind spots can yield very pleasant surprises indeed. Recommended.