The landscape of Northwestern Ontario has a weight to it; from the ancient mass of the Canadian Shield underfoot to the ponderous silence of the boreal forest, there’s something about this region that naturally conveys a sense of heaviness.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the area’s music scene reflects that quality. For years, N.W.O. has been home to a vibrant punk, metal, and rock’n’roll scene, but one that is rarely noticed beyond the microcosm of small towns and cities that call the northwest home. 1971, a trio from Kenora, Ontario, seem about to break through that cloak of invisibility with the recent release of their self-titled EP.
“Where the HELL is Kenora, ON?!?” is the slogan emblazoned across one of my all-time favourite t-shirts featuring three moose dressed in plaid shirts and Sorel boots clutching steins of frothing beer (yes, they have hands…) as they ‘cheers’ each other and generally look like they’re having a great time. It’s a fantastic conversation starter, but it also poses a fair question. Kenora is pretty isolated. Unless you’re from around there or prone to taking coast to coast road trips, you’ve probably never heard of it. Yet that isolation has clearly worked in favour of 1971 who, like many other kids with nothing to do in the depths of a Boreal winter, channeled their energy into learning how to rock.
Their music is infused with what I can only describe as typical northwestern classic rock influences. They’ve layered over those essential foundations of loudness with a variety of heavy styles, ranging from post-punk and frenetic hardcore-like riffs to an almost indie-rock-esque sensitivity. (Remember Moneen?) It’s hard to label with a precise genre, but who needs labels?
First and foremost, 1971 have created a six-song EP that is perfect driving music. You can easily picture cruising down long stretches of highway, banging your hand in time on the wheel, gazing ahead at the rugged landscape during the quieter moments, occasionally singing along.
At the time of writing, my favourite track was a tie between songs two and three. “True Grit” is characterized by defiant lyrics, cool dynamic changes, and sweet heavy riffage that contains all the best of punk and rock together. But “Gentlemen Wash Their Hands,” possibly the most straight-up punk song of the six, has an irresistible nostalgic quality that doesn’t ride the coattails of the past too hard, yet still evokes the mosh pits of the all-ages community centers of my youth.
The fifth song “White Lies” is also great, from the banging guitars in the intro and bridge to the flatter vocal style vaguely reminiscent of Hot Snakes. The lyrics are thought-provoking, seemingly rooted in the issues of contemporary N.W. Ontario; it’s interesting to hear the edge of politics come through in the music.
At first the slower pace of the closing track “The Movement” threw me off, but it grew on me after a few listens. I can’t deny my classic rock roots any more than these guys can, and the end of this track is pure jean jacket cock rock.
Honorable mentions go to tracks one and four. All of the songs have a couple of enjoyable moments, but these two didn’t especially razzle dazzle me.
Overall, despite questionable production quality and an order of songs that made the O.C.D.-mix-tape-maker in me cringe a little, 1971 have nailed a great EP that seems set to launch them out of the small town orbit. At the very least, their musical efforts will put Kenora on the map, a service that will hopefully prove beneficial to a lot of other up-and-coming acts from N.W.O..
Written by Kate Erickson