When I was 18, I lived in Halifax, Nova Scotia for a year while attending the University of King’s College.
Back when I was deciding where to go for school, I knew I wasn’t going to leave Toronto for a city with a lame music scene. But Halifax’s scene was legit. I’d be alright there. Not only did the city have a history of producing greats like Eric’s Trip and Sloan, but it was still impressing the rest of Canada with Joel Plaskett, Dog Day, and especially Wintersleep. The latter had just released 2007’s Welcome To The Night Sky, their third release but first to really break them out. Some of the album’s songs, like “Archeologist” and “Weighty Ghosts”, have since become minor Canada indie classics.
Wintersleep followed …Night Sky with 2010’s New Inheritors. Apparently it was a critical and commercial success, but I don’t remember hearing about it at the time, and still haven’t really gotten into it. In 2012 they released Hello Hum. I was still in Toronto when it came out but I can’t remember hearing about its release then either. One day this year though, after listening to …Night Sky again, I realized that the band no doubt had other albums that I hadn’t heard, so I searched them up on Spotify and saw the newer two (though their first two weren’t there).
I was drawn to Hello Hum from the get go because of its glacial cover. And then when I pressed play on opener “Hum”, rising out of the silence I heard the eerie, phasing sound of a synth, followed by cavernous, ramshackle drums and cold maritime guitars. Musically, it sounded like the album’s cover: glacial. You could find elements of “Weight Ghost”‘s charming campfire sing-along vibe in “Unzipper”, “Nothing Is Anything (Without You)”, and the chorus of “Resuscitate”. “Archeologist”‘s pin-point ambient attack had lived on in “Rapture”‘s stuttering beat. And then there were the beautiful comes downs: the lonely last call of “Saving Song”; the floating “Someone Somewhere”. “In Came The Flood” is also a great song.
“Hello Hum” may not feel as classic and emblematic of its time and place as “Welcome To The Night Sky”, but overall it’s probably the better album. It’s more interesting and in some way more consistent. But whatever, they’re both great. Listening to it, I remember when I was 18 and my mom and I went to visit Halifax to check the city out before I decided to move there. I remember loving its cold, pleasant seaside feel. The celtic bars with wooden floors. The sloping roads around its antiquated harbour, seemingly unchanged since the time of the great Halifax Explosion. And the city’s odd, sometimes desolate small-town feel, despite being the biggest population hub in the maritime.
After a couple months, I couldn’t stand that desolate feeling anymore and longed to return to the bustle of Toronto. But in the beginning, the cold quiet of the city felt like a promise to me of new beginning, as I left my home to begin the next phase of my life. For that, I’ll always have a soft-spot for Halifax and its bands.