Katie Stelmanis Join Us

One of the best things about Katie Stelmanis’s debut is how it doesn’t sound like Toronto. Not to disparage my beloved home (or Blocks Recording Club), but sometimes it’s impossible to approach a new Toronto release without trepidation — are they a band or a "fun-with-roommates” project that too many people encouraged? Luckily, Stelmanis’s debut is far from self-indulgent. Equipped with strong pipes, she has more in common with Elizabeth Fraser or Kate Bush than the bands she’s liable to share bills with. Following in the footsteps of other "esoteric” singer-songwriters, Stelmanis did the album on her own — writing, performing and recording — and she can handle the weight. While firmly rooted in the ’80s (sinister synth lines, dramatic, chant-like vocals), Join Us suggests more contemporary influences. It seems that Stelmanis, who played in the Heavens to Betsy-like band Galaxy, is (or was) a fan of Sleater-Kinney and the Organ. There’s a bit of Corin Tucker in her vocals and she takes the Organ’s simple, bittersweet retro style a few shades darker. These influences are subtle but they help to map out the musical routes that Stelmanis has taken from the old greats to now. For a debut, Join Us is surprisingly strong, and for a self-made record, it’s very nicely put together. This is one release that should make it beyond the cushy confines of the GTA. (Blocks)