James Irwin
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James Irwin

Montréal, Quebec, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2006 | INDIE

Montréal, Quebec, Canada | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2006
Band Pop Alternative




"Review of Feye by Herohill"

Last year, I was blown away by a little EP from Montreal’s My People Sleeping. The songs seared with an intensity and torment I never expected. The standout track, Seahorse, painted a vivid picture using beautiful, slow, moving three-part harmonies and terrific strings, but there was an underlying man vs. machine frigidness that made parts of the song chilling. The tension and beauty of the release was something that hit me hard and stuck with me for weeks, so when the new record ended up in my inbox this weekend, I pulled a Cappadonna and “put all other LPs back on the shelf.”

Feye - released in Montreal on Dec 11th - is an epic collection of songs suited for grandiose cinematic sweeps. MPS still deliver the same intensity, but the effort seems to be more controlled as the quartet allows the listener to settle into long, beautiful instrumental sections and often relies on understated vocals (just listen to Cortes or the last few minutes of the strong opener Pope). Oddly enough, feye means destined to die, but the heartbeat of this record is strong and defiant. Each of the seven songs is moody and pain filled at times, but surprisingly determined. You succumb to the nostalgic beats and chords as you looking back to happier times but somehow still find a surprising comfort in your modern melancholy.

At times the band sounds a bit like Beach House, which is always a good thing, but the recordings are far from a simple “sounds like” ode to a popular sound. They change pace more successfully, keeping the listeners ever so slightly off-balance. The shuffling percussion of Bloodhounds finds the band stretching their legs and the frantic energy of Yes No No mirrors the chaos of an ocean storm and shows the band is willing to push the boundaries of what most would find comfortable. Ruby Kato’s falsetto moves alongside the organ on the powerful Take Anything, but the band finds inspiration as they slowly build to an optimistic crescendo.

But at the end of the day, it's the icy tones the the Montreal band uses that captivates you. For the most part, the compositions are often made from crystalline winter textures, the type you search for as you huddle in cold rooms hoping to see an all too brief appearance of sun during the coldest months. You can almost see your breath when you listen to Sounding Pitch and sometimes it's that snap of cold that makes you feel alive and sends a warmth coursing through your veins. - Herohill

"Northern Exposure"

If your knowledge of the Montreal music scene begins and ends with Arcade Fire, it's about time to turn your attention to the depth of talent emerging from la belle province. Thanks to the city's artist-friendly milieu and well-established institutions such as the Pop Montreal festival, the independent scene continues to birth refreshingly experimental acts that don't all stick to a predictable pop/rock formula.

Montreal quartet My People Sleeping is one such discovery -- after releasing a well-received eponymous EP in 2008, they recently returned with follow-up full-length 'Feye,' a collection of hazy, psychedelic tracks that sounds like the score to a particularly melodramatic film.

'Take Anything' embodies the band's self-described "dark and dreamy" sound, anchored by an expressive pipe organ melody that admittedly invites comparisons to a certain other Montreal band. Singer Ruby Kato Attwood's almost-operatic soprano even echoes Regine Chassagne's unique delivery at first, but she's soon joined by bandmates James Irwin and Katherine Peacock (who has since left the group) in some interesting vocal interplay as the beat kicks in and shifts the initial elegiac tone to something a little more urgent.

'Feye' was produced by David Bryant of Montreal underground heroes Godspeed You! Black Emperor -- whose cinematic scope and uncompromising approach to their sonic aesthetic can clearly be felt as an influence on tracks like 'Take Anything', which sound all the more precise thanks to being painstakingly recorded to analog tape.

That's not to say My People Sleeping are simply an amalgam of influences, implicit or otherwise -- while their intriguingly narcotic psych-pop bears shades of the familiar, what makes their music catch the ear isn't everything you've heard before -- it's the small, exacting details you haven't, like the staccato vocal repetition on 'Take Anything,' or the song's gauzy melody that builds to something insistent rather than remaining merely ornamental.

The band claims their music "moves slow, visits the demons... and tells stories." It's tough to beat that explanation for their sound, but the allure of a track like 'Take Anything' is that its ethereal quality also compels listeners to conjure up their very own narrative.
- Spinner.com

"Said the Gramophone"

My People Sleeping - "Seahorse". It shouldn't happen, not knowing. Not knowing if something is perfect, right, good, rising; or if it's flawed, wrong, rotten, collapsing. You should be able to tell. Like you can tell if a jar is empty or full... like you can tell if a lamp is off or if it's on. But I remember (and My People Sleeping remember, I think), that there were times when I couldn't tell. When I didn't know. When I was squinting at the fucking stars and trying to figure out if I recognised them. If I knew what I was doing or who I was standing beside.

[My People Sleeping's debut EP is certain, deft, weird and truly wonderful. (It is also Montréalaise.) Listen to more songs at their MySpace and write them for a copy, do.] - Said The Gramophone

"Feye Review by Montreal Mirror"

Like pop music filtered through an opium den, this local quartet’s beautiful debut LP lets listeners drift along to its soft vocals, reverb-swathed guitars and cooing keys. Sinister undercurrents haunt this tranquil scene, influenced, they say, by “horrors we have not seen.” But “Take Anything” lightens the mood, with punchy guitars and Cocteau Twins vocals care of keyboardist/singer Ruby Kato Attwood. 8/10 Trial Track: “Bloodhounds” (Lorraine Carpenter) - Montreal Mirror

"Scene Locale: Le Voir"

Sur scène, on pourrait croire à un indie-pop émotif à la Arts & Crafts, mais sur ce (bref) premier album, le discret quatuor local déploie des tendances shoegaze qui le rapprochent plus des Besnard Lakes, Slowdive ou Galaxie 500. Sur fond de guitares et de claviers flottants, la combinaison du chant mou de James Irwin et de celui, plus stylisé et lyrique, de Ruby Kato Atwood apporte des teintes variées, tandis que les rythmes étonnamment entraînants (pour le genre) apportent un certain dynamisme. Bien que le groupe surcharge un peu sur The Pope, Cortes et Take Anything sont de parfaits exemples de space-pop enveloppante, aspirante. Un refuge invitant contre la morosité pré-hivernale. - Le Voir

"Midnight Poutine Show Review"

There is nothing that breaks the spirit of a Montréaler like the
inevitable snowstorm following our first blush of spring. Nevertheless,
in the heart of a snowstorm, I found myself shoulder to shoulder with a
packed house of my rugged compatriots who braved the blizzard for a
triple-bill of ghostly folk at Le Cagibi. Ghost Bees
were the obvious draw for the show, once again bringing their brand of
spooky songwriting to our fair city. The east-coast duo first emerged
as a blip on the scene during this year’s Pop Montreal where they
played to an enthusiastic crowd at Casa del Popolo.

This time around they’re bidding adieu to our belle ville before heading off
to the European wilds for a tour that will have them hit France,
Germany and the UK. For opening bands they picked wisely, choosing two
local groups with a strong following. They complimented the Bees
delicate sound with rockier riffs on the same themes. Although the
Ghost Bees played a nice atmospheric set, the real stand out
performance of the night was by Montreal’s own My People Sleeping.

Beginning dreamily, they build over time into a surprisingly driving and at times
even epic sound. Songs like “Yes, No, No, No, No” and “Tom, Tom”
demonstrate the band’s potential, coming to a fever pitch of carefully
orchestrated chaos. The slinky “RR Hood” got the crowd moving –as much
as they could in the cramped space—and steamed up the windows of Cagibi
like a couple of high-schoolers making dirty in a parked car.

I’d like to see what these kids can do with a bit more space, Cagibi
was a great choice for the intimate Ghost Bees—who played their
breathless ballads in near darkness—and opener Valleys,
but it felt a little constrained for My People Sleeping. Something like
Sala might give them enough space to explore some of the energy we felt
a frisson of last night. Attwood told me that the band are wrapping up
their album over the weekend so doubtless we’ll be hearing more from
them in the coming months. - Midnight Poutine

"The Gleeful Doom Pop of My People Sleeping"

My People Sleeping recently emerged from a studio in the crumbling area of Montreal called Griffintown with still-warm reels of magnetic tape tucked under their arms. In the 19th century, Griffintown was a residential neighborhood occupied by Irish settlers; now, it's mostly factories—operational or otherwise—with sporadically-placed horse stables that you wistfully catch on your nose when the wind blows right. Apparently, it's also haunted by a number of ghosts from the neighborhood's pre-war glory days, including a decapitated prostitute who returns year after year, searching for her head.

It wouldn't be far fetched to guess that this neighborhood, with its decrepitude, headless ghosts, and decaying residual whimsy continues to haunt those reels of tape, and will gleefully break free through the iPod headphones of the scores of folks that are likely to be all over My People Sleeping's new record, called Feye. The slow, sad, psych of My People Sleeping has been haunting my brain since I heard their new album (coming out this fall). What makes it so great is that it's as jubilant as it is dreary, as shiny as it is dark, as anthemic as it is crumbling.

Some notes on the songs of My People Sleeping. The predominantly-slow-tempo simple heart-and-soul chord progressions are tangled in mostly-sparse and fantastical arrangements of electric guitar, organ, piano, synthesizer, drums, and lots of less-recognizable sounds. Themes of survival and restlessness, feelings of longing and joy, are communicated through expressionistic lyrics. In the swirl of reverb, the voices of James Irwin, Ruby Attwood, and Katherine Peacock (the latter of which has since left the group) weave about one another in whispers and shouts that are heartfelt, preposterous, and completely convincing.

Ruby's proclamation, that upon entering a cave she "fucked all the stalagmites and had their babies," makes melancholic sense within the context of the song. Ultimately, their songs suck you into a vortex of gloom and gleeful absurdity, and then leave your brain with the indelible mark of an infectious pop song. And you want more. Their new record, Feye, was produced in Griffintown, Montreal, by David Bryant of Godspeed You! Black Emperor. You're really going to want to check it out when it's released.
- Ajisignal.com

"Four Songs You Need To Hear"

Occasionally a concert feels like an ending, a passage from one time to another. Last Sunday, all of a particular Montreal gathered at a bizarre, beautiful, veiled bar called Snack & Blues and passed from one era to the next. James Irwin, singer, songwriter, collaborator, poet, writer, gang leader, clubhouse founder, is moving to Toronto and this was his goodbye. He played old songs with old friends and new songs with newer friends and his whole scene was there: a scene just on the verge, the doorstep, about to blur away. A musician can have many kinds of talent – performing, composing, singing perfect harmony. As a maker of weird folk songs and prismatic, experimental pop, Irwin gave us many great, small songs, many great, small shows. But his greatest gift was as a rallier and inspirer. Every season he would give new evidence of the work to do and still worth doing. This is how he became my friend – by drawing a new circle on the ground, inviting all his neighbours inside. Without Irwin, one particular Mile End will never be the same. It’s over and gone; it’s yesterday.

James, come back soon. Toronto, heed what you’ve received. - Globe & Mail

"James Irwin Shabbytown Album Stream"

James Irwin took his folksy roots in a lo-fi electro direction for 2015's Unreal, and now he's ready to release a follow-up titled Shabbytown. Before the new LP lands next week, Exclaim! is giving you an exclusive listen to the upcoming album in its entirety.

Shabbytown hears the singer lamenting the end of the Montreal he knows and loves. He details the changing and disappearing neighbourhoods of Griffintown and Mile End to the tune of "mystified melancholy."

Like its predecessor, Shabbytown plays on the tension between Irwin's involvement in both the folk singer and art-rock worlds, taking the listener on a journey that poses questions like: "Are we moonlight meditating?" "Are we trying and failing to party?" and "Are we enraged and spilling feelings?"

The answers, it seems, are ever-changing. Below, listen in as Irwin navigates his way through the shape-shifting streets of Montreal on Shabbytown.

The album is officially released on May 12.

Tour dates:

05/18 Quebec City, QC – TBA
05/19 Montreal, QC - Bar le Ritz PDB
05/20 Ottawa, ON - Bar Robo
05/23 Peterborough, ON - Garnet
05/25 Guelph, ON - TBA
05/26 Toronto, ON - Burdock
05/27 Waterloo, ON - TBA
05/28 Hamilton, ON - This Ain't Hollywood - Exclaim!

"James Irwin Natural Feeling"

It’s been a couple of years since we last heard from Montreal sometimes-electronic troubador James Irwin, when he released his endlessly impressive second album Unreal. And now that its successor Shabbytown is upon us, we needn’t be Irwinless any longer. A fantastically strong collection of new tunes, it contains many memorable electronic songs too, with the synths and vocoders on “Natural Feeling” standing out for their subtle genius. We love!

James Irwin is on tour now in Ontario and Montreal, check the dates on his site, where you can also buy Shabbytown. - Silent Shout


Shabbytown (Sainte Cecile, 2017)

Unreal (Sainte Cecile, 2015)

Western Transport (Independent, 2012)

My People Sleeping (EP, Independent, 2012)



James Irwin writes songs and lives in Toronto. He’s played in bands The Moment, My People Sleeping, Paradise, Poor William, The Coal Choir and performed solo since 2006.His new album Shabbytown, his third, about living in and leaving Montreal was released on Montreal label Sainte Cecile on May 12, 2017. 

Band Members