Strands / Ducks Unlimited / Colin Roy Gillespie The Central, Toronto ON, January 19

Strands / Ducks Unlimited / Colin Roy Gillespie The Central, Toronto ON, January 19
Photo: Rick Clifford
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Toronto's Mirvish Village and resident hubs like Markham Street's the Central are disappearing as we know them, but as new acts from artists in the Buzz Records family played the Markham Street dive last night (January 19), there wasn't any nostalgia shared onstage. Instead, crowds turned out to find a group of established Toronto voices testing dreamy new projects.
 
Opening the night, and joined by fellow Greys member Braeden Craig and projectionist Rachelle Walker, Colin Roy Gillespie traded out his knotty post-punk bass for a set of electronically propelled post-rock ballads. Stationed behind a table tending a miniature analogue synth, Omnichord, mixer, looper and a sampler, he strung together arpeggiated synth lines while Craig peppered the starry atmosphere with tight-wristed drum explosions and Walker cued up ghostly video clips of vintage pinup models.
 
Colouring over all with an emotionally charged vocal drawl, Gillespie worked more immediacy and magnetism out of the far-out instrumentals, but the dynamic worked best when, halfway through, Jesse Crowe (Beliefs) joined the group to lend some smouldering guest vocals in place.
 
Tom Avis's conservation authority-named Ducks Unlimited suggested a certain twee-ness at first, but any gentle atmosphere woven together by the duelling guitar jangle was also smoothly undercut with brooding lines like "If you're ever in the mood to dissociate, baby, give me a call," that gave the music teeth.
 
Strands pushed off into decidedly zanier waters. Relying heavily on hypnotically live-looped vocals and packaged with crafty overhead projections from collaborator Rosalie H. Maheux, the project drove the wacked out, arty pop of singer Jasmyn Burke's Weaves into even weirder, messier, more avant-garde territory, and for the most part, it worked.
 
As Burke's bent vocal melodies coiled across minimal beat samples, her abstract, wandering vocals charted a hilarious dissonance in emotional juxtaposition — especially when, late in the set, Burke transitioned promptly from her "saddest song ever" to a percolating dance beat and cartoonishly urged everyone, "Come on, get up everybody, come on and dance with us!"
 
But even with a mandate for twisted absurdity and informality, it wasn't without its foils. Early on, Burke got lost in the swirling loop soup and had to break character a couple of times to reel things back in. But for all its snags and obstacles, Burke unpacked an enthralling garden of sound over the course of the set, and by the end she was out prowling the tight room like a deranged wrestler revelling in the feverish confusion of it all.