By Jason Herring with photos by Jarrett Edmund — June 24, 2106
We kicked off the second day of Sled Island at the annual East Village Block Party, where crowds took the street to enjoy a variety of free electronic music. The party relocated to Inglewood this year, making it the festival’s only event in the historic neighbourhood.
Local acts warmed up the audience. Chuurch — whose ominous dance beats got the crowd’s feet moving — was followed by UK producer T. Williams with a set full of sultry house beats. Local electronic mainstays Smalltown DJs hosted the party that extended late into the evening.
The music at Theatre Junction Grand provided as sharp a contrast as possible from the Block Party’s pulsing beats. Merganzer — the solo project of Mika Posen — was up first, pairing slow-burning string arrangements with whispered vocals to craft enigmatic pop songs. Posen primarily played a “mikatron,” an instrument she invented that combines aspects of a mellatron and a violin.
Previously performing as half of the R&B duo Shaani Cage, Calgary’s Aleem Khan returned to Sled Island with music of his own. Khan sung and played the piano alongside a seven-piece ensemble featuring saxophones, drums, bass and a vocalist. His jazzy compositions also contained soul and avant-garde elements, creating an enthralling and unpredictable performance. The only complaint was that his set was over so soon, concluding after a handful of songs.
Saskatoon’s Melissa Gan provided another change of pace with her respectfulchild project, taking stage with only a violin and a looping pedal with her face shrouded. An air of mystery surrounded the performance, as Gan plucked her violin to create layers of melodies before adding vocal affectations and bowing overtop. The music played like a more pleasant version of Owen Pallett’s violin experiments, capturing the strange childhood feeling of curiosity.
Theatre Junction Grand filled to capacity as baroque California musician Julia Holter took stage. The songwriter has changed a lot in the four years since she last visited Calgary, with her latest album consisting mostly of art-pop earworms driven by beautiful harpsichord and viola melodies. But Holter embraced her avant-garde past during the set, giving recent tracks extended jam breaks and playing older cuts with a fiery intensity. Holter capped off her enrapturing set with an electrifying cover of the jazz standard “Don’t Make Me Over.”
Our neighbours to the north house many incredible bands, and Faith Healer might be one of the best in the province. Edmonton native Jessica Jalbert and her band played a set presented by CJSR, giving a dreamy performance that included a Dire Straits cover as well as songs off their latest album Cosmic Troubles. Fuzzy, hypnotizing guitar harmonies are lifted by Jalbert’s effortless vocals. For those who missed the performance, Faith Healer will play another set Friday night at Commonwealth at 5:15 p.m.
Montreal dream pop four-piece TOPS finished up the night at Broken City with a surprisingly raucous performance. The band’s music often feels cheesy, but it remains charming because there’s never a doubt of TOPS’ sincerity. Guitarist David Carriere managed to squeeze an extended guitar solo into nearly every track, even breaking one of his guitars before the set was over. The crowd fed into TOPS’s energy, singing along with a few tracks and dancing wildly to the band’s dreamy tunes.