The Sound of Toronto Might be NQ Arbuckle
As I ruminate on leaving Toronto, a city I’ve lived in for over 10 years, NQ Arbuckle finally releases a new album. Fitting, because their music has bracketed – and structured – my time in this city like nobody else’s.
My first introduction to the band, one that has a long-term residency on Toronto’s Six Shooter label, was around 2004. Toronto boyfriend #1 brought over The Last Supper in a Cheap Town for one of our first dates. I have no idea what we talked about that night, because that was the best music I’d heard since Queen’s “Somebody to Love”. That boyfriend and I filled downtown outings with trips to see the band at bars like the Horseshoe, only getting those tiny 40-minute sets during events like NXNE. And when he dumped me a couple years later, I put on the same album and discovered all the hopeless, heartbroken lyrics that had previously passed me by.
Fast forward to another ill-fated relationship that was in the midst of chaos when XOK came out in 2007. Tracks like “Huntsville Affair” and “Mincing Words” characterized the dark and desperate period I spent brooding in my basement apartment.
When the band partnered with Carolyn Mark for 2010’s Let’s Just Stay Here, her light-hearted lyrics and nonchalant delivery matched my changed circumstances. I was in an apartment that actually let the sun in. I, like Mark, spent Canada Day on my own while my friends wandered around in drunken stupors at various festivities. When it came time to plan my wedding, I considered using “Officer Down” as our song, and then settled on “Passing Dream” instead. And of course I asked NQ to play the wedding, but my family and husband vetoed my request and spent the money on flowers or place cards or something. I wasn’t really paying a lot of attention to planning that thing.
While the whole scenario makes me seem oddly obsessed with the band, I should clarify that I’m not. How can you be obsessed with a band that casually releases an album once every four years? You’d have to have a lot of time on your hands. But I do love them for Neville Quinlan’s quirky and heartfelt lyrics. He’s one of the few songwriters that produces engaging enough words to make me notice them; normally they just pass me by. Combine that with the talents of Mark and Peter Kesper and John Dinsmore, plus a staggering rotation of local guest stars in both records and live shows, and you’ve got, well, music that could become your obsession. I also have a soft spot for NQ’s voice: simultaneously rough, vulnerable, and sweet, he adds an edge to the romantic tunes and softens the rockers.
But look, here’s the really awesome thing about NQ Arbuckle: their music=Toronto. Maybe you’re getting the lyrical references to Roncesvalles and walking in the dark after a night out at the bar with your friends in the middle of summer; the constant reminders of Toronto’s heat and old houses on side streets where the girls he longs for curl up on soft sofas and slowly yield to his shy charm; the verses that place you in the close quarters of downtown apartments like this:
Walls are so thin
I can hear her stomach grumbling
I bet I can tell you
What she had for dinner
Or are those my mice
Down the hall
I can hear them playing behind the walls
French inhale each other
or all of the other things that make the band Toronto. Not Torontonian, Toronto. Their busy textures that give way to quiet, eerie spaces, much like Toronto’s streets as night falls. The party atmosphere of crowded bars and good pals that drift into the moments of longing and loneliness that can only be produced by urban life. Or maybe it’s just that they play teeny little festivals like Roncy Rocks, to crowds of families and running toddlers, maybe only 50 people total, and then two months later rock out to a capacity room at the Dakota.
I hate to advertise the band like this, when I’ll be heading to their CD release this Friday at the Horseshoe and I want to make sure I get a seat, but apparently these events only happen once every four years. I just hope they start thinking about taking Toronto out west a bit more in the future.
NQ Arbuckle release their new album, The Future Happens Anyway, on April 29. Check out the Six Shooter website for more info. Meantime, check out “Hospitals” and two new tracks streaming on soundcloud.