fj Introducing the Hylozoists. Show of hands: who’s heard of/heard the one-off record by post-rock conglomerate super-combo Valley Of The Giants? Okay, think less Monument Valley and more Everglade microbiological love story, but keep thinking sick Canadian line-up. Before I try to expound on the new sound of the summer, let me introduce the band. Between two records and a shape-shifting touring group, here are the contributors to the Hylozoist collective:

Paul Aucoin (The Sadies), Patrick Conan (Cuff the Duke, Tricky Woo), Jason Tait (Weakerthans, FemBots), Jason Ball (The Hopeful Monster), Owen Pallet (Final Fantasy, Arcade Fire, Les Mouches, Hidden Cameras…), Paul Lowman (Cuff the Duke), Wayne Petti (Cuff the Duke), Dale Murray (Cuff the Duke, Hopeful Monster), Matthew Faris (Cuff the Duke), Julie Penner (Broken Social Scene, Deadly Snakes, FemBots), Jeremy Strachan (Sea Snakes, Hopeful Monster), Monica Guenter (Christine Fellows), Nathan Lawr (Royal City, The Constantines, FemBots), Rob Gordon (Les Mouches), Dave Christensen (Hopeful Monster, Heavy Blinkers), Bryden Baird (Blue Rodeo), Dave Mackinnon (FemBots), Damian Moynihan (Hopeful Monster), Lukas Pearse (Rebecca West, Dusty Keeler), Michael Olsen (Arcade Fire, K-OS), Jonina Gibson (Hopeful Monster).

Since 2004, the band is pretty much Cuff the Duke + three vibraphones and the vision of writer (ex. Sadies) Paul Aucoin, but in no way does that describe the harmony of this exceptional group. Aucoin recruited a Halifax-centric assemblage of musicians to manifest his musical ideas in 2001 with La Nouvelle Gauche, but was forced to keep this project at bay when The Sadies asked him to join the band. When the Hylozoists returned in 2004, the group had changed almost entirely, and Aucoin had instead chosen Toronto for his inspiration. Thus, members of Cuff the Duke, the Weakerthans and the FemBots were invited along, but the result (La Fin Du Monde, to be released in the US next week) is not like anything these groups have composed before.

Their sound has been likened to vibraphone and glockenspiel-heavy post-rockers Tortoise and the Sea and Cake, which I guess I agree with, for that reason. And to say that “if you like Tortoise, you’d like the Hylozoists” is probably accurate, but the two evoke very different sides of rock music’s multiple personalities. I’d rather compare the Hylozoists’ composition tendencies with that of Do Make Say Think or Valley of the Giants, who mask inherent complexity with the energy of the pop-rock orchestra. Though, certain songs like, “The Fifty Minute Hour” and “If Only Your Heart Was A Major Sixth” tend to nod towards Tortoise’s brilliant TNT. Then again, the string section begins “Man Who Almost Was” like A Silver Mt. Zion and builds on a classical guitar theme until braided male and female vocals ride the song out on a chariot of clouds.

As I mentioned before, the Hylozoists are centered (both conceptually and spatially in their live set-up) around the sustained bell tones of the vibraphones, and the strings steer the vessel into daylight. Each song on La Fin Du Monde is evocatively powerful and emotionally encapsulating. Occasionally, the alt-country swing of Cuff the Duke’s drummer Matt Faris rears its goofy head out of the orchestral madness and lets you rest assured that this is still only a rock band, and not really ‘la fin du monde. Between the recent release of Final Fantasy’s He Poos Clouds, a song-cycle performed by a string quartet, and La Fin Du Monde, I think I’m falling for this merge between trained classical composition and the unpredictable sensibility of popular music.

Strait Is The Gate (mp3)

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