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.