The Duke Spirit and Common Holly

duke spirit common hollyI don’t write a lot about rock music. Early in my career, I covered the indie scene for exclaim!*@#, Chart and a number of other magazines, and I hosted a radio program on the subject for Toronto’s ckln-fm. I met some great people and heard a ton of incredible alt-rock. But it’s not an overstatement to say that by the mid-1990s, the sound of an electric guitar set my teeth on edge.

My goal with BADD PRESS is to present avant-garde music with the respect I believe it deserves. That’s easy to do in the electronic, new classical and jazz genres. Less so with rock-based music. Because its writers are working within such a popular, conventional musical form, it’s more difficult to create something genuinely innovative. Aside from post-rock artists like Sigur Rós, I would argue that little has been recorded since the turn of the century that really qualifies as groundbreaking. (Feel free to challenge me on that; I’ve grown pretty grumpy in my old age.)

That all said, there are albums that come my way that I find genuinely impressive. The Duke Spirit’s Sky is Mine landed in August. Common Holly’s Playing House is due out Oct. 23.

The Duke Spirit is a five-piece from England that features Liela Moss on vocals, harmonica, piano and percussion; Luke Ford on guitar, piano, organ, farfisa and vocals; Toby Butler on guitar, bass, organ and piano; Olly ‘The Kid’ Betts on drums, percussion and vocals; and Marc Sallis on bass. The band has seven discs to its credit, including a live album and a mini-album. Their debut Roll, Spirit, Roll dates back to 2003.

Moss has a gorgeous voice that is suitably recorded front and centre. She would have been right at home on the celebrated 4AD label in the mid-1980s. Her delivery is crystal clear and full of teenage angst (even if she’s no longer an official member of that club).

“Houses” is the standout track for me.

Common Holly is Brigitte Naggar – a moody folk artist from Montreal, Quebec who can be compared favourably to The Breeders’ Kim Deal – and Devon Bate.

The work is packed with soul and a disarming playfulness. There is a real integrity to Naggar’s songwriting and an attention to detail that makes this album’s quieter moments beautiful.

“Lullaby” is a good example. It features Arts & Crafts’ rising star Jean-Michel Blais on piano. Paired with Bate’s acoustic guitar and Naggar’s tender vocals, the result is first rate.

“If After All” received its premier spin this summer on NPR’s All Songs Considered. My favourite is “Nothing.”

Kevin Press

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