Friday, March 09, 2007

Patrick Watson "Giver" [MP3]

Patrick Watson is a Montreal-based art-rock quartet that carries the name of its chief songwriter and frontman. They exploded onto the Canadian and international scene alike at the end of 2006 following the release of Close to Paradise on Montreal's Secret City Records. From a packed record launch in September, to a series of late-night loft party/jam session at Pop Montreal, to their MVP performances at Iceland Airwaves in Reykjavik, Patrick Watson, along with bandmates Mishka Stein, Robbie Kuster, and Simon Angell, have proved in a short period of time that they deserve to be considered among the best on a growing list of Canada's promising musical exports.

The versatility of Patrick Watson's music can be traced through the man himself, who began his musical career at age seven singing in local churches on the West Island of Montreal. He grew up studying classical and jazz piano performance, arrangement, and composition, and to this day references Debussy and Satie as influences more readily than Jeff Buckley. Watson met guitarist Simon Angell in their hometown of Hudson, Quebec around this time, and the two have collaborated ever since-Angell's soundscapes and noise-influences having developed into the perfect complement to Watson's colourful melodic compositions and gut-wrenching falsetto.

By the time he was 16, Watson and Angell were attending high school in Montreal, and playing in the high-octane ska group, Gangster Politics. Never one to be satisfied by one musical genre, Patrick abandoned ska by the time he had finished school. He began focusing on engineering his own music with almost fanatical attention to details, incorporating genres and styles from contemporary classical to modern electronica, at once pop-oriented and improvisational.

Watson's music has been visually inspired and cinematic from the start. In 2001 he released Waterproof9-an experimental suite meant to accompany the underwater photography of long-time visual collaborator, Brigitte Henry (who also worked on the stunning art direction of Close to Paradise). Since then Watson performances have rarely been without wild projections and optical illusions, often incorporating large props (like fitting a band in a giant bubble) and film of all kinds.

While studying music at Vanier College in the late-nineties, Patrick had met Ukrainian-born Mishka Stein, and Swiss/British Columbia ex-pat Robbie Kuster, who were increasingly invited to fill out his rhythm section when performing live shows (with Angell having long-since become a permanent fixture). Though still Watson's project, an informal residency at the legendary Café Sarajevo and an eerie live chemistry between the four musicians quickly led to more group writing and a growing word-of-mouth fanbase.

fixture). Though still Watson's project, an informal residency at the legendary Café Sarajevo and an eerie live chemistry between the four musicians quickly led to more group writing and a growing word-of-mouth fanbase.

Just Another Ordinary Daywas released in 2003 as a result and stands as a kind of snapshot of an important band in formation, highlighting the bands penchant for dreamy soundscapes at once organic and electronic (echoing Sigur Ros, Bjork and Radiohead) behind Beatles-like pop, with Watson's voice as the centerpiece.

Through 2004 and 2005 buzz on the band's live shows lead to performances with huge international acts and rising Canadian stars alike, from Phillip Glass, Steve Reich and Feist to local friends the Dears and the Stills. Following a breakthrough performance at the Pop Montreal Festival in 2005, the band became the catalyst for the formation of Montreal's Secret City Records, and entered the studio late in the year to complete Close to Paradise, chunks of which had been recorded for up to two years prior, all over the world. In the summer of 2006, they were invited on a European tour with the late James Brown, a fitting last leg to the first chapter of their story. Close to Paradise was released immediately after, in September 2006.

The influence of Jeff Buckley's forlorn and angelic voice can be heard in everyone from Radiohead to a band playing in your town tonight, but not many musicians have been able to follow Buckley's musical template with as much aplomb as Patrick Watson does on this track. The vocal influence is obvious, but Watson also gets at the grandiose arrangements that Buckley, a noted Led Zeppelin fan, was so fond of. "Giver" shows that this hirsute Montrealer, who's already big in his homeland, spent just as much time with Buckley's brasher music as he did with the choirboy beauties like "Hallelujah." [MP3 here] [MySpace here].

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