A few weeks ago I reviewed the debut EP of pop punk group Triggers. While pop punk is typically not my cup of tea, I quite enjoyed the Winnipeg quartet’s upbeat, fast-paced brand of Propaghandi worship. I hope it was clear in that review that the focus I placed on the clear influence Triggers draw from Manitoba’s greatest musical export was not meant to be disparaging. Quite the opposite; as sources of inspiration go punk bands, especially pop punk bands, could do FAR WORSE than Propaghandi.
After my review of the Triggers record was published, Liz contacted me to say that Union Stockyards, another Winnipeg punk group and supposed buds / scene-mates with the dudes in Triggers, had read it and asked I review their record as well. Chuffed!
Not to spend too much time dwelling on the Triggers review, but in it I posited that it must be difficult to start a punk band in Winnipeg without drawing at least some inspiration from Chris Hannah & Co., and after listening to Union Stockyards excellent debut EP Tracks, I feel I am able to make a fairly educated conclusion:the Winnipeg punk scene is some sort of bizarre cult dedicated to Veganism and harmonic, complex guitar riffs. Acolytes hold ritualistic chicken fights in front of shrines built out of unopened copies of Where Quality is Job No. 1 for the right to possess a lock of Jord Samolesky’s hair. There is complete and almost fanatical consensus that ska does in fact suck.
Okay, enough with the silliness; While the influences on Tracks are clear, the musicianship and songwriting chops on display throughout this collection of songs is very strong and denote a band capable of effectively internalizing their influences in order to create a unique sound.
Opening track “Garbage Hill” sets a cracking pace for the record that continues throughout; The drums maintain a crisp, high tempo gallop and the guitars have just the right amount of distortion to lend the music a classic HC punk energy without detracting from the more subtle melodic elements. There is a similar quality to lead singer Tony Beaudoin’s voice; the snarl and the urgency is there but tempered with a level of restraint. However, it would be great to see Beaudoin use this to display a wider vocal range, or introduce more vocal harmonies from guitarist Ryan Nash and bassist Dave Bellis. It may seem weird to criticize a punk band for a lack of pretty singing (Believe me, I’m as surprised as you are), but Union Stockyards so effectively employ complexity and layers throughout the rest of the instrumentation that the limited vocal range creates an odd incongruence.
Lyrically, there is a wonderful mix of subject matter across the album with songs like “Garbage Hill” and “Sunday Matinee” taking a reverential look at important Winnipeg punk locales while tracks such as “The Great Silence” and “Mother of Exiles” showcase artful use of language in their explanation of why humanity is fucked / “The System” is generally a bad thing that should be dismantled. While the language in their more political songs is more simplistic than the incredibly dense lexicon employed by Propaghandi, lines such as “Skulls caved in by falling prices, gave their lives to feed our vices” are certainly more creative than the usual, incredibly boring “Fuck Society / A.C.A.B” stuff that lesser bands trot out to seem hip and/or with it.
Tracks is a great debut release from a group that does a good job blending punk energy with solid musicianship. I look forward to hearing more from Union Stockyards in the future…..wait….Tracks…..Stockyards…… OH YOU GUYS!
Written by Jesse Gainer