Release Date: Feb 17, 2014
Record label: Function
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
The prevailing wisdom about Toronto’s Picastro (to the extent that there is one) seems to be that they’re ‘spooky’. It’s an understandable take: Liz Hysen is comfortable taking her sombre-hued voice from melodic to atonal whenever the music calls for it; the lyrical content certainly doesn’t shy away from the dimmer end of things (in either subject matter or its view of human nature); and the band has described its own sound as “quiet and aggressive”, not a combination many people find comforting. But I think the key to understanding why You is so wonderful lies not just in the possible spookiness, but the combination of it with something else Hysen’s said about Picastro: “It’s music that is meant for human connection and empathy.
Toronto's Picastro are criminally underrated. Despite existing since the balmy halcyon days of '98, back when the world was a simpler place and we still feared the Internet like cavemen scattering at the sight of flames, the folkgaze/shoe-rock collective (who counted Owen Pallett in their ranks at one stage) have never achieved the same global glory that, say, Arcade Fire have. Their sounds aren't furlongs apart, and though one boasts something like a thousand members (that's a rough estimate) and the other only - currently - three, they both share a propensity for titanic, operatic, action-packed melodrama of the highest grade.
Picastro have always been a band with a penchant for both the dramatic and the grave. Led by vocalist Liz Hysen, the gender-bending outfit has established itself as a welcome addition to the incestual and theatrical Canadian music scene, whose bands are chock full of talented string musicians and singers with, above all, heart, and whose musicians themselves often hop from project to project. Picastro, a Toronto-based band, has remained small, but their collaborators, from Owen Pallett to Sandro Perri, have gone on to do bigger things.
If Sonic Youth had ever been thrust a selection of instruments belonging to a beleaguered secondary school orchestra, they’d have probably sounded a little like Picastro. Formed in Toronto, the long-running group are perhaps best known for once hiding Oscar-nominated violin dude Owen Pallett among their glum ranks. Their latest album ‘You’ is very much an acquired taste, a wonky clatter that eight fellas with wayward Warren Ellis beards and DIY instrument workshops in their sheds will surely jizz themselves silly over.
Picastro — You (Function Records)Picastro has been making its overcast music since the late ’90s: rhythmically sparse, acoustic without being woodsy. Any band that has a dedicated slot for cello isn’t interested in sunshine. Those long sepia notes lend a conservatory seriousness to leader Liz Hysen’s songs.On “Endlessly,” Hysen bobs through octave notes on her guitar, the sort of motivated lick that puts bounce in a bass line.
Since 2002’s Red Your Blues, Toronto’s Picastro have developed a line in guitar and cello driven shoegaze-with-menace music, alternately alluring and impressionistically disturbing in sound and subject matter. Vocalist and guitarist Liz Hysen is joined by cellist Nick Storring and drummer Brandon Valdivia to form the current line up. For You, their fifth album they also call on the talents of Tony Dekker, Alex Lukashevsky, Caleb Mulkerin, Colleen Kinsella and Angela Hysen to add to the core band.