The Backstays Hold the Mast Up with Their Debut EP

The Backstays are releasing their self-titled debut EP on the 2nd of August. Whether you find yourself getting out of this damning heat by hanging around the harbour or trying to turn the ac dial in the car past max, this may be what you’ve been wanting to find your ears.

The group (composed of Pete Johnston, Keith Whipple, Serenna Chapman, Derek Hilchie, and Lorne Kirkpatrick) are recent entries to Saint John’s music scene, with their Facebook only going as far back as May 17th of this year. The Backstays debut effort is level-handed, bluesy, and infused with, arguably too much, reverb.

The lone single, Dreams, opens up the EP. The track is a sun shower- bright and refreshing, but still allows for some introspection. It familiarizes the listener with the group’s sound, letting them know what to expect for the rest of the release. It also prepares the listener for the class-based undertones of the lyrics, with lines like “Met on the boardwalk / You commie sympathizer”. The song charted on CFMH’s !earshot 30 and currently sits in the 21st spot above Mac DeMarco and below Hey Rosetta!.

Dwellers is mellow, but with a push. The rhythm section keeps it tight and simple, cutting a groove, as guitars and keys feather overtop. The strings are also a welcome touch. The instrumentation puts Johnston and Chapman’s vocals into perspective, with their straight, effective, delivery.

Following Dwellers, Far From Uptown, opens with swelling chords and builds itself into a foggy howl about escaping industry. On the refrain, the tails of Johnston’s vocals bury themselves in the echo as they fade into Hilchie’s droning keys.

Some twang comes through on Groundhog Gale ’76. That said, it is far from something you would find playing on Country 94, the band still maintains their alternative sound. The vocal harmonies and guitar, in particular, give off this country tinge to the track. The lyrics are industrial, and while they are in part about the Groundhog Day Gale, they also blatantly reference labour unions and port workers.

Must be Heavy has an 80’s power ballad vibe to it – chord heavy piano, twinkling keyboard, has that one beat the drummer does with the bell of his ride … you know what I’m getting at. Chapman’s given an opportunity to showcase her vocal ability as she takes the lead. With its drier production, Must be Heavy feels stripped back compared to other songs on the track list.

While Must be Heavy has its differences, the closer – Company Town – is where the winds change. The song is recorded to sound tinnier, almost as if it was recorded on a laptop or cell phone, and is a live duet between Johnston and Chapman accompanied by a mandolin, acoustic guitar, violin, and the rustle of what sounds like tables being served.

Overall, if you’re looking for music to celebrate summer in Saint John with your friends while enjoying your locally brewed beer of choice, The Backstays EP is for you. Some may find the reverb is dreamy in certain instances but a little overbearing in others. You may also find a few lyrical cliches, but besides that, these tunes will pair well with the sunsets that make you dread the sunrise. You may even get to flex some of the Marx you learned in school.

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Since discovering Saint John’s music scene when he was in tenth grade, Alec has done anything possible to become more and more involved. As he is attending King’s College for journalism, he sees music writing as another avenue to immerse himself in local music, while also being able to gain some journalistic experience along the way.

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