A Northern Chorus
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A Northern Chorus


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The best kept secret in music


"Exclaim! 2005"

April 15, 2005

With their delicate instrumentation and ample number of musicians, the earlier songs found on the attention-grabbing Spirit Flags, were strong, but there was the feeling they were still finding their way and inspiration. That should all delightfully change with Bitter Hands Resign, as the songs here showcase an energised and confident band, seemingly at the top of their heart-melting best. The glorious noise of “Subject & Matter” sets the stage, as it rollicks back and forth between sweet floating vocals, cello, strong, fuzzy, bursts of ringing guitar and crashing cymbals, which makes for a breathtaking manifesto. This back and forth is prominent on most of the album, but it never tires as each song tweaks it just enough to hypnotise repeatedly. Particularly uplifting and strong is “Costa Del Sol,” with its breathy harmonies and perfect haze of guitars never overpowering the delicate strings. Patience is required, as most tracks easily surpass the five-minute mark, but never has a band better personified the saying, “Good things come to those who wait." Bitter Hands Resign won’t just put A Northern Chorus on the map; it’ll help them take over the world one dream at a time. - Chris Whibbs

"Pitchfork Media 2005"

A Northern Chorus
Bitter Hands Resign
[Sonic Unyon; 2005]
Rating: 6.0

There's cultural product you enjoy and cultural product you admire; either will suffice under the right circumstances, although the ideal is for both to be wrapped up in one package. Here's a basic exemplary schema: J.K. Rowling (enjoy), Jacques Derrida (admire), Elmore Leonard (both). Star Wars Episode III (enjoy), My Dinner with Andre (admire), Kung Fu Hustle (both). The schema breaks down vis-á-vis television, which lacks the patience for the (admire) category, but holds up against orchestral indie rock: Explosions in the Sky (enjoy), A Northern Chorus (admire), Godspeed You! Black Emperor (both).

What makes the (admire) category worthwhile is that you can learn from or be challenged by it-- in other words, while fun is, well, fun, it's not the only sensation we seek from our artistic diversions. We also crave to be provoked and disturbed and psychically reoriented. Since there's not much that Bitter Hands Resign has to teach me, and since its dramatic maneuvers are too soothing and commonplace (if competently executed) to challenge any of my assumptions or sensibilities, I can only admire it in an abstract way.

But if it's a musical massage you're after, and more to the point, if you like the idea of Coldplay's Chris Martin singing for Explosions in the Sky, this third LP from Ontario sextet A Northern Chorus will be the object of your pleasure and esteem. Resonating with Pink Floyd's cold and swirling qualities, EITS's delicate textural layers, Godspeed's epic thrust and Sigur Rós's inexorable freeze, A Northern Chorus has turned out the record that Death Cab for Cutie might make after taking an online classical composition course and a near-fatal overdose of tranquilizer cocktails. The long, dramatic arcs of languid guitar, weepy cello, silky organs, and lugubrious percussion are overstated in a necessary way, but grandiosity works better musically than lyrically, and I'd have preferred this album without the breathy, direly grave falsettos.

I'm saying: When you're taking an ice bath, the last thing you need is someone reminding you how cold it is, and lines like "Angels are on their way out/ They'll lead us through the darkness to the right place" (as warbled over the gentle, trebly percolation of "Subjects & Matter") seem to overstate a case for hope in the face of modern dread that the music tacitly makes on its own, that's already been made by similar musics many times over. But like I said in a recent Album Leaf review, it's really about headspace-- if you're in the right one, this sad-sack skygaze epic will trickle dazzling colors across your firmament.

-Brian Howe, June 6, 2005

- Brian Howe

"Leeds music scene (UK)"

Spirit Flags
Words by Gavin Miller
February 2004

I know this band. Well, sort of. I remember about a year ago, that someone was posting on the Sigur Rós message board talking about (because he was in) a band called 'A Northern Chorus'. And so here's their latest album, 'Spirit Flags' now in my CD player. It's a funny old world.

One thing that strikes you even before the CD has even entered the player is that these six Canadians obviously like post rock, or 'dream pop' as it's called on their press release. And here's me thinking that fellow Canadians Godspeed You! Black Emperor albums are hard to get hold of, but they seem to have studied them all. The track titles alone are subtle variations of Godspeed's, with 'Red Carpet Blues' to GY!BE's 'Dead Flag Blues', 'Mombassa' to 'Monheim', 'Louder Than Love' to 'Locks Of Love', and 'I Dreamt The World Had Ended' to 'She Dreamt She Was A Bulldozer...'. All of which feature on Godspeed's second album 'Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven' (which is very good, trust me). Maybe there's something in the water in Canada...

When the CD does start playing, however, it sounds as good as it looks. Much like 'Loveless' by My Bloody Valentine sounds exactly how it looks, so does this. It's all floaty, dreamy guitar based post rock, with the most gorgeous of melodies, and the most beautiful of vocal harmonies colliding together, it's hard not to like it. First track 'Song & I' is a hazy collection of some pretty guitar riffs, and some totally delayed-like-a-wind-tunnel drums. The vocals are equally as haunting as they are perfect for these tunes. GY!BE don't really do words and singing, so already this album is a lot more approachable. Well, that and the fact that their songs don't last for twenty minutes a piece. Imagine Jim from My Morning Jacket singing over Mogwai's greatest hits. The lyrics however, could do with some work, sounding decidedly 6th form poetry in nature; it does dampen the fire of the songs slightly, but thankfully not much.

Second track 'Red Carpet Blues' is an upbeat guitar exercise, which works very well, and album highlight 'Let The Parrots Speak For Themselves' is a sumptuous, laidback dream of a song. It's like you're constantly half awake, half asleep. Music for the unconscious you could say. 'Take Your Canvas Everywhere' is another dazed beauty, complete with soaring delayed guitars, warm vocals and some head swayingly beautiful dynamics and chord changes.

It's easy to see why they were posting on the Sigur Rós message board, as they too have the dreamy (I've been saying that word a lot) melancholia of the Icelandic quartet. In a word, it's as hazily beautiful as the front cover, which consists of some trees at night, with a burning red glow from the sky. Speaking of sky, it's also reminiscent of Texan newbies Explosions In The Sky, with its distinctive, twangy guitar sound, and its penchant for going all loud from when it was really quiet.

There are flutes, violins, guitars and cellos, but it feels like there's so much more - a massive wall of ambient noise fits into every song like a hand into a glove. 'Louder Than Love' is one of the finest examples of post rock and what it's all about that I can think of right now, and while the band may have influences that are fairly easy to locate, they inhabit a world all of their own. Halfway between pop and obscure post rock, they seem to have created (or just brought to the forefront) a new musical blueprint. Adjectives like 'dreamy' and 'hazy' seem to fit, so lets call it 'hazy- dreamy- post- pop'.

And while some of the genres most defining music is dramatically apocalyptic in the way it sounds, this is completely the opposite - a joyful celebration of all the things that can be done with a guitar and a delay pedal.

The world seems to be finally coming around to see what this genre is all about, with Channel 5 currently using Sigur Rós to advertise their American cop shows, Explosions In The Sky being namechecked left right and centre, and with Godspeed You! Black Emperor being featured on the soundtrack to zombie horror movie '28 Days Later', you can easily see this bunch of plucky Canadians make the big time. I'm certainly hoping so. - Gavin Miller

"NOW Magazine 2005"


The beautiful 20th-century Gothic prints wrapping the sophomore album from Hamilton's A Northern Chorus foreshadow the artistic accomplishment inside. Their awesome wordsmithing makes ANC stand out among their shoegazey peers, and the sleeve art here acts as a picture book of prints to complement their poignant lyrical narratives. The soothing soundscapes of dream-pop guitar and lush, meandering vocals make this follow-up to their Spirit Flags debut awe-inspiring, while Alex McMaster's throbbing cello adds texture. Although the eight tracks stretch to a whopping 45 minutes, that's more evidence of the masterful precision that went into this album than of any misguided wankery. - JESSICA RUSSELL

"CMJ 2003"


A Northern Chorus is definitely Northern — hailing from Ontario, Canada, the group provokes a sense of melancholy evocative of the murmuring chill of quiet Canadian winters. Rooted in atmospheric, shoegazer pop, this music is tempered at times by an edge reminiscent of whipping blizzards, giving structure to an album that seems vulnerable to straying into emotional wastelands; the band is smart enough to reel in the sadness just when it gets too heavy. For example, after “Let The Parrots Speak For Themselves” and “Take Your Canvas Everywhere”— both languid, yearning tracks — “Louder Than Love” rides in like an uplifting wave, replete with bubbly Smiths-ike guitars. Instrumentation has a great presence on Spirit Flags: the combination of wistful guitars, violins and flutes singlehandedly drives the mood. “Song And I” and “Moment Fit To Remind” are outfitted with lengthy instrumental introductions, and “Flag In Hand” is lyricfree. However, “Mombassa” is the defining track here — a song that represents both the despair and the hope inherent in A Northern Chorus.
- Jayanthi K. Daniel

"The Coast"

A Northern Chorus
Bitter Hands Resign
(Sonic Unyon)

Known as a hotbed for quality underground acts, Hamilton is arguably the home of some of the finest musicians in the country. A Northern Chorus, staples in the steel city scene, are renowned as one of the most underrated Canadian bands, but their new album should bring some attention to the veteran rockers. Recorded, produced and mixed by pianist/organist Graham Walsh, Bitter Hands Resign, the band’s third wistful, dreamy masterpiece is exactly what it needs to shine a light upon its musical mastery. ANC has finally emerged from its shell, taking a more passionate intellectual stance than on previous recordings. Vocalists Stu Livingstone, Pete Hall and Alex McMaster weave their respective ways through the band’s epics, providing everything from ample three-part harmonies to thoughtful solo muses, allowing for a more complete aural experience. Musically, A Northern Chorus’s careful, slowcore design tears a page from the book of In-Flight Safety, at times resembling Minnesotan Sub Pop rockers Low, with a touch of Coldplay and electronica-less modern Radiohead for good measure. The album kicks off with the melancholic ballad “The Shepherd and The Chauffeur,” and carefully sifts through eight colourful, weighty tracks, highlighted by the atmospheric “Costa Del Sol.” Concluding with the melodic “Winterize,” the song’s finale epitomizes the album: It begins with a lull and builds to a climax before veering off into a bridge and fading into oblivion. Despite the sparse number of tracks, Bitter Hands Resign clocks in around the 50-minute mark and is a complete musical experience, leaving little to be desired upon its completion.

- Jon Bruhm


Before we all go to pieces-Black Mountain Music, 2001
Spirit flags-Sonic Unyon, 2003
Bitter hands resign-Sonic Unyon,2005

"We could live in hope" A tribute to LOW-slide
"Reach for the rainbow" charity cd (other featured artists, Hawksley Workman, Hayden, Raising the Fawn)


Feeling a bit camera shy



Bitter Hands Resign, set for release on 19 April 2005 in Canada and 3 May 2005 in the USA, is the third full-length release from Ontario dream pop quintet A Northern Chorus.

In 2001, the band emerged from obscurity with their debut release, Before We All Go To Pieces, on micro-indie Black Mountain Music. After a quick two-week Western tour and positive media praise from the west coast, the band aligned with Sonic Unyon for future releases.

May 2003 saw the release of their Sonic Unyon debut spirit flags. The album helped pave major inroads for the band in North America, with strong media reaction, many positive reviews and exceptional support from college radio. In August, the album peaked on the CMJ Core album charts at number 21, making it the highest charting Sonic Unyon release stateside in seven years.

The group toured extensively in support of spirit flags, including two Canadian tours as well as US and UK jaunts. Foreign soil seemed delighted to welcome the band. Leeds Music Scene proudly stated the band was an instant hit live “complete with soaring delayed guitars, warm vocals and some head swayingly beautiful dynamics and chord changes,” adding that “while the band may have influences that are fairly easy to locate, they inhabit a world all of their own… they seem to have created a new musical blueprint.”

In 2004, the band contributed a version of Low’s ‘Slide’ to the We Could Live In Hope tribute album, released by Fractured Discs. Their rendition received a number of rave reviews in the press. Splendidezine says “A Northern Chorus’ ‘Slide’ is the disc’s most heart-snappingly gorgeous cut… it nails everything we love about Low, and comes as close to out-Lowing them as anything else here.”

The band headed back into the studio in 2004, recording at The Barn in rural Caistor Centre, Ontario with Graham Walsh sharing production duties. Between February and August the band tracked and recorded the eight songs that have become Bitter Hands Resign. It is the first recording to feature cellist/vocalist Alex McMaster, who joined the band shortly before their UK tour, and the last to feature outgoing drummer Marshall Bureau, who decided to leave shortly after the album was completed. Steve Hesselink has since joined the band and will assume drum duties for their upcoming tours.
Since the release of Bitter Hands Resign the band has toured North America making great in-roads to the U.S. and receiving rave reviews along the way. Pitchfork Media says "A Northern Chorus has turned out the record that Death Cab for Cutie might make after taking an online classical composition course and a near-fatal overdose of tranquilizer cocktails." The Coast (Halifax) says "ANC has finally emerged from its shell, taking a more passionate intellectual stance than on previous recordings." And Exclaim! Magazine predicts "Bitter Hands Resign won’t just put A Northern Chorus on the map; it’ll help them take over the world one dream at a time."
ANC have always been lovers of the road. This year the band will be touring relentlessly across Canada and the U.S. in support of their new album. So look out for a smokin' white van in your city, and if you see said vehicle chase it down and climb aboard.