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Arts and Culture

Hello Masterpiece

Priestess frontman retires to the garage with new band UBT, talent intact.

Adrian Mack 16 May

Adrian Mack contributes a regular music column to The Tyee and frequently sits behind Rich Hope.

Priestess should have been massive. For a little while in the mid-2000s it even looked like they would be, after a bunch of music industry weasels from RCA clapped their ears around the Montreal four-piece's indie debut album, Hello Master (2005) -- a breathtaking marriage of hard rock and pop hooks -- and promptly signed the band to one of those big label deals that always goes horribly, horribly wrong.

The band's next album, Prior to the Fire (2009), indulged their muso side a lot more than Hello Master. Musically, it was impressive as all hell, but not nearly as engaging. And then the band disappeared and I never gave Priestess another thought for four years, until the UBT album Ego Orientation ended up on my desk last week.

Led by Priestess frontman Mikey Heppner, and joined by "main squeeze" (according to the bio) Kathryn McCaughey and drummer Gabe Rosseau, UBT is a side-project gone horribly, horribly right. With Ego Orientation, Heppner has taken his miraculous melodic gifts and general musicality back to the garage and produced a proudly sloppy masterwork in the process.

Opener "Follow the Waves to the Coastline" makes the strategy clear: smart lyrics, hyperactive drumming, the kind of imaginative and accomplished guitar work that doesn't belong anywhere near this kind of thing, and barrels of snot in the vocal department. And flutes, weirdly enough, rescued from the decades long hell that was Jethro Tull and stuck in the middle of the Yardbirds-meets-Dickies madness of "Gypsy Woman" and "John the Painter." Even weirder is the woodwind and oscilloscope hybrid (or whatever it is) in "I Feel Like I'm Alive."

I feel like I'm alive when I hear something this good, where reckless brilliance seems to become a pure force in and of itself. The album goes on sale on June 3, but label Psychic Handshake has made a whole bunch of previews available at Soundcloud. As for Priestess, the website hasn't been updated for three years and the long-awaited third album has apparently been scrapped. Meanwhile, drummer Vince Nuno has been sitting in with Kurt Vile's Violators. Maybe there's been a little ego re-orientation going on behind the scenes?  [Tyee]

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