by Mark Hodgman
There are two sides of modern music. One side is the initial attraction; the icing on the cake or butter and salt on the steak. I place the tone of a guitar, the crack of a snare drum and the catchy hook of a course melody on this side of the sonic equation. The other side of music today is the acquired taste and more complex flavours of umami that occur in medium rare, well marbled red meat. Here we find the rhythmic relationship between drums and bass, song structure, dynamics and chord progressions. Saskatoon's post-hardcore outfit Yarbo locked into an ideal balance of these sides while writing and recording their sophomore release, Talk Less, last March. Here we explore how this EP came to be.
Yarbo, formed in 2018, was founded by Andrew Magwood-Dufour, Robbie Hynes and Declan Hills. Robbie quickly left the band, but not before helping write some songs that would become Yarbo's first album Y.S.P. This initial effort by the young band captured all the raw energy and angst of punk rock that you could expect. Also, as a DIY project, it was entirely self recorded by then bassist, now drummer Brayden Grieve. What this release may have lacked in refined sonic quality it made up for as a learning experience for things to come.
After some line up changes and live performances under their belts, Yarbo began work on 2020's Talk Less, a blend of heavy post-hardcore, metal and punk rock with noise influences and pop sensibilities. Vocalist and guitarist Magwood-Dufour and drummer Grieve took the helm of the song writing with the support of now former guitarist James Wojak. The initial process of writing a song can be summed up pretty quickly.
“I usually bring a couple riffs and Brayden and I just jam them out and move them around until a structure is formed.” recounts Magwood-Dufour.
It's a simple notion, a guitarist and a drummer playing around with a riff. However, this is where the magic happens, this is where the spices are first worked into the fibers of the meat, where congeniality and experimentation begin to work together. Magwood-Dufour and Grieve, however, are not musical chefs who throw ketchup all over an ill prepped entree.
Grieve is interested in what sounds crisp and accessible, what grooves, what makes you move your head. When asked about earlier influences Grieve responded “I really loved listening A Day to Remember in high school... the tight drumming and melodic choruses... I love that stuff.”
You can really hear this throughout Talk Less. The drums and bass (which Grieve also tracked) are a perfect guide through the EP. While emphasizing the chunky and noisy riffs from Andrew's guitar and frantic, rage filled vocal delivery, they keep the songs grounded and focused.
Magwood-Dufour brings a sense of angst and chaos to Yarbo. “I love noise music... I love weird, experimental stuff.” The guitar tracks are full of fuzz, scratches and moments of feedback, notes bending in and out of chords. They are also full of catchy riffs with the perfect amount of breathing room to bring balance to the songs. There's a juxtaposition throughout Talk Less that highlights the strange and the familiar, bedlam and order, without leaving the listener in a sonic uncanny valley. Talk Less is equal parts challenging and inviting.
This also includes the lyrical aspect of this release. “Lyrics are usually last in the (songwriting)
process. "These songs aren't vehicles for the words.” says Magwood-Dufour.
In spite of perhaps being last on the list of things to do when writing an album for Yarbo, the lyrics do not come off as weakness at all for Talk Less. “It's all just angsty nihilism and then a basic anti-fascist rant.” Magwood-Dufour reports.
I think this is obviously humility. Ironically, Magwood-Dufour sings in the person on the first track entitled "You Should Know":
Peel it back
Vain, whenever asked
Conscience, there's a lack
You're aware of that
Yarbo is using their art and presence as a band to direct our eyes also to the wrongs they see in our society and our music scene. On their Facebook and Bandcamp pages you won't have to scroll too far to see them acknowledging that they reside on Treaty 6 territory and that we (performers and audience) need to make shows safe for women. The lyrics to the last song on Talk Less, "Kids Bleed" are a scathing critique of Canada's history and continuing of systemic racism towards Indigenous peoples.
Talk Less was recorded in March of 2020 by Mike Lefebvre at the Sweate Shoppe in Saskatoon right before lockdowns began. It was mixed and mastered by Chris Dismas of Surf Dads and Yarbo is still pretty excited with how it turned out a full year later.
“The drums sound like cannons!” Grieve excitedly relays.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic Talk Less never got the release that Yarbo had hoped. Talk Less is available on websites such as Spotify and Bandcamp, but is not available on a physical formats. Yarbo also did not have the chance to perform a release show. “We're gonna have that show as soon as we're able to... I'd love to have Talk Less released physically, but having music streaming is really convenient for right now.” says Magwood-Dufour hopefully. “We are working on new music and hope to have some songs to record when we can again.”
You can (and should) stream Talk Less pretty much anywhere online and is available to download on Bandcamp.
Yarbo is Declan Hills, Andrew Magwood-Dufour, Brayden Grieve and Darius Simonot.