Kathryn Calder and Woodpigeon Are an Immaculate Machine on Frontperson's 'Parade'

BY Alan RantaPublished Apr 29, 2022

Kathryn Calder and Mark Andrew Hamilton met in a hallway, and got a room. No, not like that. They are simply nice people and respected musicians who happened to bump into each other at a studio and decided to form a band. In their latest act of generosity, they have gifted the world with a second helping of their unique Frontperson collaboration, a sophomore full-length released on Calder's own Oscar St. Records called Parade.

Having famously provided resonant vocals and uplifting keyboards to the New Pornographers and Immaculate Machine, Calder is so nice that, as Victoria's artist-in-residence during the pandemic doldrums of 2021, she set up a toll-free number where callers could hear pleasant sounds like killer whale calls or babies laughing at whoopee cushions. Meanwhile, Hamilton is the guiding force behind Woodpigeon, a collaborative indie-folk effort that debuted in 2006.
While the pair's 2018 debut Frontrunner was recorded at the incredible National Music Centre synth museum in Calgary, Parade has a more intimate, at-home feel, having been recorded at Hive Studios, the Vancouver Island base of producer Colin Stewart, who is also Calder's husband and her and Woodpigeon's longtime collaborator. If their debut felt a little experimental as we heard new creative partners mingling their voices for the first time in an overstimulating setting, Parade feels as comfortable as a seasoned baseball cap.

It's easy to put this album on and drift away as if receiving a gentle aural massage. To hear that shuffling rhythm, pillowy duet, fuzzy guitar and sweet strings come together on "I Fall Out" is to experience a moment of subtle elation, frozen yet fleeting. Everything comes together there. "Calgary '88" has the pluck of an '80s synth-pop banger, with its surfy backing vocals, bright keys and gated drums, yet it feels vaguely haunted with Hamilton's airy vocals tracing a love affair gone wrong. As time has passed, the optimism of the track's titular Olympic event seems to hang like a spectre over the city in a way like Expo '86 has to Vancouver, a sense of mourning for a vision of a brighter future all-too-quickly turned into a dim memory with lingering reminders of what could have been.

The depth and quality of Hamilton's voice on "Tattoo Boy" brings to mind Sufjan Stevens in his more depressed moments or Elliott Smith in some of his more uplifting. It sounds full Woodpigeon as plaintive acoustic guitar picking explodes into a full-blown indie-rock orchestral head-nodder with soaring guitars and angelic supporting harmonies. Calder shines on "Table of Contents," which echoes that woozy, dream-pop vibe of "One Two Three" from her 2011 album Bright and Vivid, while the warm lyrics and gently ambient outro of "Reach Out" brings to mind later career Beverly Glenn-Copeland. She sounds fully present on synth-driven ditties like "Fastest" and the breezy self-titled opening track, with their exhilarating headphone harmonies.

Though their individual styles may cut through stronger at times, Calder and Hamilton never feel like they are competing. They play nice together, their voices and instruments humbly framing each other's best attributes. As such, Parade comes off less like a blusterous public spectacle than a selective invitation to a reserved evening among supportive, nurturing friends.
(Oscar St. Records)

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