Our nation is coming down from a torrid two-week love affair hashtaged #WeAreWinter, but in the independent music world, a new infatuation is taking hold. Tag this obsession what you want–#WeLoveWHOOP-Szo, #WeAreArctic, or #WeAreInWonderAndAwe–just be sure you can tag yourself as someone who’s heard, and/or owns WHOOP-Szo‘s double album Qallunaat/Odemin.
WHOOP-Szo is a Guelph, ON-based music making society with a history of growing ears of folk-noise and stocks of guitar-buzz in their experimental sound garden. Their latest project is so far a two-album collection called Qallunaat/Odemin (word has it there’s a third part coming). It was recorded in the arctic village of Salluit, QC, where the band collaborated with young Inuits in a silk-screening programme that turned out Qallunaat/Odemin‘s cover art, in addition to original artwork commissioned by artists on WHOOP-Szo’s label, Out of Sound Records, and a legacy silk-screening studio for the Salluit community that continues to be operated by the young people WHOOP-Szo mentored.
The music on Qallunaat/Odemin is as warm and fuzzy as its origin story. Recorded during the band’s time in Salluit, Qallunaat/Odemin manifests the challenges of adapting to living in an environment where diminishing daylight and dial-up internet access are modern realities. Having been pretty much relegated as antiquities in the south, these obstacles, along with heaping spoonfuls of patience and ingenuity, have borne a remarkable document of the WHOOP-Szo’s experience, and that of the young people in their adopted home. In their digital format, when you don’t have to flip sides and change discs, the two albums have a natural flow into each other, but as you get deeper into disc two (Odemin), some subtle shifts in tone and intensity begin to show themselves. “Whale Songs” funnels the band’s experimentation into a more traditional sounding song structure that intensifies the diversity of WHOOP-Szo’s songwriting and style. The album is sprinkled with backing vocals by the young people involved in the project, giving this extended collection punctuation: moments for pause and reflection (“Dark Light”), splashes of exclamation and joy (“Amaruq”), and questions about where the whole thing may go with the next song.
As two sides of the same coin, Qallunaat/Odemin is a study in contrasts. It finds the balance between living in community while simultaneously being in isolation. It is music that’s at turns as icy and unforgiving as the pop-up blizzards that sometimes stalled its recordings, and at others balmy enough to melt the permafrost beneath WHOOP-Szo’s feet. It is north meets south, somewhere in space and time. It is distinctly Canadian, with all of the variances and that our nationality implies. #NorthernPride, indeed.
Qallunaat/Odemin is available now from Out of Sound Records.
Tags: Guelph ON, Ontario, WHOOP-Szo