Sofa's 'Source Crossfire' Retrospective Unearths Foundational Canadian Post-Punk
Published Sep 16, 2021Though Sofa bear the distinction of creating the first two releases to launch Constellation Records, the band's five-year run was as incandescent as a firecracker and similarly, seemed to vanish in the same moment it left witnesses awestruck.
Now, to correct the record within their own catalogue and also offer Sofa's works to those who missed them, Constellation presents Source Crossfire, the band's first-ever vinyl pressing (excluding their New Era Building single, a.k.a. CST 001), which showcases a truly powerful, yet rather obscure post-punk band immersed in a sound and tone that Montreal and hundreds of other cities' underground rock scenes had on the brain in the mid-to-late 1990s.
Sofa consisted of bassist Scott Clarkson, guitarist (and Constellation co-founder) Ian Ilavsky, drummer Keith Marchand, and singer and lyricist Brad Todd, who convened in Montreal and bonded over music they already loved or were exposed to by one another. Beyond the Birthday Party, the Bad Seeds and, for some members, art-y, pre-humongous R.E.M., other touchstones included Joy Division, Fugazi, Nomeansno, the Jesus Lizard, Drive Like Jehu, Slint, and Hoover among other American post-hardcore and noise-rock bands one might have encountered via labels like Touch and Go or Dischord at the time.
In spending time with Source Crossfire, which compiles music from Sofa's self-released cassettes recorded in 1995 and their compelling full-length album, 1997's Grey (CST 002; CD only), some of the aforementioned inspirations are apparent. But, between Todd's abstract lyricism and theatrical, buried-in-the mix yowl of a baritone, Clarkson and Marchand's airtight foundational chemistry, and Ilavsky's squalls of noise and melody, Sofa simply stand out as their own thing.
What is that thing? Well, for five years, it was a shadowy, yet roaring force, broke as shit, playing $3 shows, barely surviving, and yet helping forge an ecosystem for marginalized art in a city that also featured a nascent Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the much-needed establishment of artist-friendly venues and recording studios, and the first hints of the innovative work of Constellation Records.
Sofa was there for all of it, "paying dues," kicking against the pricks, and conjuring music that artfully confronted and reveled in its context. Whether thundering forth on pieces like "Ch2Chi" or "Comma" or moving bracingly, with the quiet menace of "Current" or "Just a Walk," the band and its singer are masters of tension and release. The music has its drama and flows with an off-kilter certainty — full-on, frantic sprints give way to alluring, gorgeous ballads — which is the bed Todd lays in, often dispatching his dark, introspective poetry in haunting speak-singing, which can recall David Yow one moment, Dave Gahan the next (with their patron saint, Nick Cave, lurking about the whole time).
Ultimately, as a retrospective Source Crossfire feels like a story we either all slept on, or should've been nudged to read more closely. Given that Sofa broke up about a year after releasing and touring behind the well-received Grey in 1997, it's not really a surprise that they've barely registered as a footnote in North American music over the past 25 years.
But in listening to how fearless, dynamic, and confidently they played together, Source Crossfire is indeed a surprising discovery, revealing one of Canada's most astounding bands and presenting their work with the majesty it deserves. (Constellation)