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Band Folk Avant-garde




"Album Review: Ptarmigan - Eliak and the Dream"

Eliak and the Dream, the debut LP of Guelph/Toronto band Ptarmigan, is a gorgeous record that seems at once classical and contemporary. The group looks to the past for inspiration but is not anchored by it, and finds a comfortable and much needed niche within folk music narratives.

The record was born out of Peterborough, ON, and maintains an aura of yearning for the great outdoors throughout. In particular, the name Eliak and the Dream stems from the group’s original moniker, and in turn stems from a Dungeons and Dragons character created by the band. The timbre of Aaron Hoffman’s mandolin/accordion apparently came out of necessity, as he was to play a concert with a keyboard, but the venue had an accordion handy; thus, a large part of Ptarmigan’s distinct sound was born, complimenting Sam Whillans’s rich acoustic bass, Brandon Munro’s locomotive drum patterns, and Peter McMurty’s cutting banjo and soft-spoken vocal style.

Tunes like “Clifftop” and “Fiefdom” illustrate instrumental fluency by the band as a whole, but virtuosity is not the end goal here. Case in point, Sam Gleason’s succulent electric guitar wizardry throughout the album’s runtime could easily feel out of place, awkward, or overdone, but he utilizes the potentially ill-fitting instrument as a textural tool as opposed to a method of “look how fast I can play!”

The key to the album’s accomplishment is the group’s devotion to melody. The record’s second cut, “Sanctuary,” for example, could fit comfortably on any college or modern rock radio station. Through crafting strong hooks, immersive atmospheres, and self-reflective lyrics, the record has plenty of room to breathe and plenty of room for its audience to immerse themselves in it. The crystal clear mixing/mastering job also puts focus on the band unit, with superb volume leveling and production value throughout.

Also of note is the record’s syntactic structure; it seems like the songs are exactly where they need to be to offer an exciting and immersive listening experience. The album’s penultimate piece, the near seven-minute “True Colour,” works perfectly in its spot as the second last song, precluding “Eliak.” These two tunes seem to give a heartfelt “goodbye and thanks for listening” to the audience, simply in how they are structured in contrast to the remainder of the record. This careful structuring of the songs is a testament to Ptarmigan’s production sensibilities – they have an acute ear for how songs work in relation to another, and how sounds and words blend into an effective song.

All in all, Eliak and the Dream surpasses expectations from a group of 20-somethings. The writing and production displays wisdom beyond their years, and is one of the most listenable records of the year, major label or not. - Guelph Ontarion


Eliak and the Dream - Full Length Album released Jan. 2013

Sanctuary - Single streamed on Bandcamp released Nov. 2012



Ptarmigan is an indie-folk band based in Toronto and Guelph. Formed in 2010 as a collaboration between old friends, the members of Ptarmigan craft dynamic and highly melodic songs inspired in equal measure by the organic and the fantastic. Emphasizing musicality, inventive songcraft, and creative dialogue between members, their music is at once experimental and familiar. Innovative use of sound and musical form is grounded in the textures and sensibilities of traditional folk music, including a focus on melody, lyrical storytelling, and skillful songwriting.

Ptarmigan was formed in Peterborough, Ontario in 2010 as a new collaboration between old friends. While all of the band members have previously worked together on various musical projects, songs penned over the course of a year by Peter McMurtry (banjo, guitar) became the catalyst for an entirely new sound and direction. The band brings together a diverse range of musical influences, from bluegrass and folk to modern indie rock, jazz, and experimental music. It is the group's skillful and creative use of instruments typically relegated to traditional genres (banjo, accordion, mandolin and upright bass) that sets them apart from their contemporaries. Ptarmigan is now based in Toronto and Guelph, and has a significant and growing following in both cities. The release of their debut album 'Eliak and the Dream' in January 2013 was accompanied by a successful mini-release tour of Southern Ontario. The band has plans for a more extensive tour of eastern Canada in the summer, and has already begun putting together material for their second release.

Ptarmigan’s debut album, ‘Eliak and the Dream’, was released in January 2013. Recorded in Toronto with the help of some amazing and talented friends, it marks the culmination of more than two years of writing and arranging. The result is a songbook which is highly inventive, melodic, and poetic, and which explores the shifting boundaries between the human, the natural, and the surreal.