Under Review

Pugs and Crows & Tony Wilson

Everyone Knows Everyone 1 & 2

Self-Released; 17/12/2015

According to their Bandcamp page, Pugs and Crows’ Everyone Knows Everyone is “Dedicated to everyone that plays or has played a part in contributing to this Vancouver music scene.” With all five members of the band — pianist Cat Toren, violinist Meredith Bates, guitarist Cole Schmidt, bassist Russell Sholberg, and drummer Ben Brown — collaborating with musicians across the city and beyond, it’s no wonder they acknowledge the community of music-makers and lovers that surround them. And if the dedication wasn’t enough to convince you of their collaborative zeal, Pugs and Crows brings on board Tony Wilson, one of the West Coast’s most prolific and innovative guitarists and composers, for the entirety of their latest release.

Despite the two parts of the double-LP being released six months apart, Everyone Knows Everyone 1 & 2 are meant to be experienced together. With sixteen tracks spanning almost two hours, the Juno-winning band’s latest release is not only a demonstration of the sextet’s musical ingenuity and endurance, but a display of their sonic diversity.

Pugs and Crows blend careful orchestration and free improvisation, with each musician commanding their instrument with near overwhelming skill and restraint. Despite having twice as many guitarists on the record than any other instrument, Schmidt and Wilson do not crowd each other, nor do their guitars overwhelm the rest of the band. In fact, the instrumentation throughout the entire double album is balanced to perfection, highlighting various aspects of each musician’s unique and advanced skill sets.

“Long Walk,” the first of the sixteen tracks, begins with a ghostly, paranoid guitar, shivering behind sporadic drums. The soundscape slowly builds in tension and volume, morphing seamlessly into a full band groove with an evasive time signature, only to fade away, leaving behind just a plucked violin.

Careful not to assault the listener with musical intricacy right off the bat, Pugs and Crows often opt for a slow and careful construction of songs. Starting simple, soft, and sparse, new layers are added into the mix, bit by bit, until the composition is complete and robust. Sometimes this happens in less than three minutes, sometimes in more than ten.

Just as they are not afraid to dive deep into dissonant, intricate, and aggressive free improvisations, the band isn’t afraid of silence either. Leaving ample amounts of space around each other, individual melodies, rhythms, and textures are given the chance to stand out from one another.

Of all the tracks, “Waltz for Two” seems the most out of place; not because it’s any worse or less interesting than the rest, but because it is not strictly instrumental. Debra-Jean Creelman adds her voice to the nostalgic waltz that could easily slip into Fiona Apple’s repertoire, circa Extraordinary Machine.

Aside from the one cover, “Run That Body Down” off Paul Simon’s 1972 self-titled record, the fifteen original compositions are inextricably linked to one another. “Long Walk”, “GOYA BABY!”, and “Slowpoke” are each given reprises, bringing back elements of their melody or structure, adding to it, altering it, and making a previously heard song sound new again.

It’s easy to get caught up in examining every detail of the album, with each track offering a goldmine in compositional nuance and prodigious playing, but sometimes it’s best to let the music just wash over you. After two records’ worth of captivating, genre-bending music, the final song, “Everyone Knows Everyone” acts as a microcosm of the double-LP. It plays like a wave, starting out as something small, building up to a breaking point, and receding back, resting on one musical idea just long enough to swell into something powerful, before tumbling down again, making room for another beautiful wave to begin.