Friday, February 08, 2013

This Hisses

I woke up an hour or so before dawn, lifted the blind and looked outside. Everything was blanketed with two feet of snow, including the streets. The plough crews had all been called out to the highways beyond the village. Pitch black, murky white, nothing moving — except for the sidewalk cleaner.

He's an old chap, lived in this village forever. When weather like this hits, he gets up at 4:00, puts on the overalls and boots and winter cap, and clears the walks. A little red vehicle with a pope-mobile booth and a blue flashing light, towing a tiny trailer of sand — the only thing moving in the darkness, looking like a dinky toy in a tray full of flour.

Paging Tim Burton — or, better yet, Guy Maddin.

I've heard Guy lives in Toronto now. The collective force of Winnipeg's ghosts were getting to be too much for the man. Good luck with that, dude — these places are all haunted. If you're attuned to it in one spot, you catch on pretty quickly everywhere you go.

But then again, maybe Winnipeg is unique. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle certainly thought so. If Sherlock Holmes was a determined materialist, his creator was anything but. It's incredible to me that Doyle, who penetrated the zeitgeist more deeply than any of his contemporaries (including Dickens), visited, and was greatly excited by, Winnipeg.

It seems to me you have to be of Doyle's mentality to be greatly excited by Winnipeg. Certainly it's a city with the usual tourist traps: shopping destinations, pro sports, casinos, character neighbourhoods. But the stuff that really excites a Winnipeg visitor — or resident — is almost inevitably just a little disturbing.

Enter This Hisses, a Winnipeg operatic-goth-punk trio who claim inspiration from the films of David Lynch and (surprise!) Guy Maddin.

I bought Anhedonia, their new release, earlier this week and gave it a first spin while putting winter tires on the car. I have to admit that, in the early bars of every song, there was a moment when I thought, “Maybe this is a little too much.” But inevitably, from way out of left field, came some absolutely batshit astonishment — fuzz, crunch or a vicious guitar hook; an unexpected fill; a catch or shriek in Julia Ryckman's vocal delivery — that rendered me in complete thrall.

This sort of “Mm, not really” to “Whoa, hell yes!” conversion doesn't happen very often, but I've noticed that when it does, it's usually with a group that's reaching back — not Happy Days back, but way, way back, as with Jason & The Scorchers. Some critics sniffed at Jason's “Hiccuping Hank” vocals, but when leading his pack of Scorchers, that sound tore open the fabric of the universe. Similarly, This Hisses have got the full package: ennui, foreboding, humour, and the sense that none of our ancestors are finished yet with this scene — or us.

I'm willing to bet if my sidewalk cleaner is looking sleep-deprived, it's not because he's getting up so early — it's because the music he hears when he lies down again is getting louder with age. This Hisses is that music.

This Hisses' official site.

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