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Music Picks

Vancouver's Hinterland Is 'Dreamo'

Music writing is a crazy game. How they're winning.

By Adrian Mack 20 Mar 2008 |

Adrian Mack writes a regular music column for The Tyee.

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Song named after the schizophrenia-treatment wing at UBC hospital.

We all have our crosses to bear. When you're in a band (and who isn't these days?) dealing with the classification of your music becomes a full-time pain in the arse. People, and journalists, and music journalists especially, require shortcuts in their thinking, and as the band member, you have to provide those for them.

That's not a complaint; it's just the way it is. When you're a journalist writing about music for a limited amount of print space or a limited amount of reader patience, the model is to apply a quick classification to your subject, whip up a good comparison or two (I tend to stick to the '70s), and then top it off with a bunch of hooey designed to persuade the reader that not only have you developed a profound sensitivity to the endless mysteries of popular music, but you are also on drugs.

An example: "'X' is a playful singer-songwriter in the vein of Gilbert O'Sullivan or perhaps a young, Cold Spring Harbour-era Billy Joel. His music is quiet yet forbidding, like a distant thunderstorm, and pregnant with unexpressed emotion, like a wise green turtle...Oh my Christ, why is there a little man on my shoulder, and why does he keep saying the world will end in 2012?"

When you're both musician and a music journalist, the strain of dealing with this nonsense really starts to show. With my own eyes, I've seen the furrowed brow on erstwhile Georgia Straight staffer John Lucas when the term "shoegazer" has been applied to his band, Hinterland. Of course, he has to swallow it, lazy journalese and all, because he knows that's how the game is played. But I'm impressed with Hinterland's attempted rope-a-dope: they're going around calling themselves "dreamo" these days.

I'm an actual living survivor of shoegaze. I saw Lush, Ride, Slowdive, the Catherine Wheel, Swervedriver, and a few other bands I've almost certainly forgotten, all of them here in Vancouver in the early '90s. I was also there for the full 20 minutes, sans-earplugs, of My Bloody Valentine's "Holocaust" section from "You Made Me Realise" at the Commodore in '92. (This was a feedback orgy that typically ended the show, and which also ended my ability to hear anything below a certain volume. It cleared the room.)

Hinterland's music is only tangentially related to any of the above. Listen to "Detwiller Pavilion," the opener from its third and newest album, Pan Pan Medico, and you'll hear a more strident Hinterland than before, with that hard-edged synth figure and drums that mean business right off the top. Add vocalist Michaela Galloway's impressive Kate Bush-impression, a bass line more attuned to the dynamics of early '80s post-punk, plus the fact that the song is named after the schizophrenia-treatment wing of UBC Hospital -- and you end up with a thing that deserves a unique label of its own. "Dreamo" maybe.

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