Chatham, Ontario is not exactly known as being a musical mecca in Canada. It probably wouldn’t get a mention even in Ontario’s Top 10. But one of Canada’s finest purveyors of psychedelic pop music over the past 18 years, Square Root of Margaret, have steadfastly called the small agricultural and automotive city home-base since their inception, with no foreseeable plan of relocating to any of the Torontos or Montreals of their home country.
Born out of Chatham’s notorious House of Bleen (also briefly known as the Briscotheque), a house that bore many of Chatham’s finest bands out of the early 1990’s, SROM began as an instrumental jam band, but a succession of new members quickly turned them into one of the area’s finest psychedelic pop bands, lead by the songwriting eccentricities of Po Kadot and his band of merry men, bassist Dennis Reissner, guitarist Joshua Brisco, keyboardist Jason McFadden and drummer Todd Clarke, SROM carved out an extensive catalogue of self-made cassettes, full length CDs, cross country tours and not one, not two, but three box sets featuring even more unreleased goodness.
Following the release of 2007’s Teragram Photeur (which was initially written and recorded as a solo album by Po Kadot, but then repackaged last minute as the next SROM album), SROM’s evolution continued and long time members McFadden and Clarke left the family, replaced by Chatham indie musician and producer Ben Srokosz on drums and former Chathamite (and Windsor music scene favourite) Eric Welton on keyboards. The new collective began working on new material and on October 15th at Phog Lounge, they will unveil the fruits of their labour, with the release of WYSiWYG, their strongest and most encompassing release yet.
SROM has managed to do something that not many bands have ever managed to encapsulate – evoke every great musical format from the 1960’s (and to a degree the 1970’s) and combine them together into a sensory overload akin to taking a particularly pleasing hallucinogenic drug for the first time. It’s like King Crimson meets The Flaming Lips, a band that would have been just as comfortable playing at Annette Funicello’s Beach Blanket Bingo as they would have Andy Warhol’s Factory. Just last month I was in attendance at their hometown Chatham launch for the CD at the Elephant’s Nest, and the floor was littered with dancers of all ilk and appreciation, twirling in varying combinations of the Twist and the Go-Go, their sweaty delight impossible to withhold. A similar experience followed during their limited set at this year’s Harvesting The FAM Festival in Windsor, and I’m sure their showcase Friday October 15th at Windsor’s Phog Lounge will be nothing short of a the year’s most inspired dance parties.
WYSiWYG, produced (like most of their releases) by SROM themselves, opens with it’s title track, a nearly ten-minute jam opus that harkens back to their early days of inception, while still looking far enough ahead to realize that they are the sum of the parts of who they are now. It doesn’t feel old or sound old. It’s a jam instrumental that thunders along with gorgeous keyboard melodies over-top heavy guitar riffs, beautiful breakdowns and head-bobbing rhythms, like the soundtrack to a 60’s spy movie. “WYSiWYG” (which for the unknowning stands for “What You See Is What You Get”) segways into the first pop gem of the album, “Hallucinate Your Holiday”, an infectious rock-diddy that speeds up and slows down in perfect time to pogo and sway under the neon lights. Don’t let the Flaming Lips ambitious title of the third track, “Attack of the Giant Problem vs. The Creature from the Planet of the Incredible Shrinking Solution” scare you away from the music it represents. One of their live favourites right now, “Attack…” is another (mostly) instrumental jam session that is more structured than your average jam. This is more Gary Numan than Allman Brothers, that’s for sure. Intelligently laid out like a Lewis Carroll lullaby, “Attack…” is the centre point of the album. “Deep Dark Atmosphere” follows “Attack..” perfectly, with an almost Grapes of Wrath meets Secret Machines air about it that soothes, despite its agitated poppiness (not that that’s a bad thing). “So Far Gone”, the simplest and perhaps most beautiful song on the record, was recorded solely by Po in his bedroom…but it’s limited production works well and is a great piece of (slight) downtime amidst the beautiful chaos of the entire album. “Turn It On Tonight” is another spacey pop gem – picture Brian Molko from Placebo fronting The Cars. The closer, “The Cream of Dreams” is like the third part to a psychedelic prog opera that began with “WYSiWYG” and continued through “Attack…” – it clocks just over eight minutes but never feels prolonged on purpose. Every point and counterpoint has been thoroughly thought out and inserted for full maximum effect. An effect that is pulled off with the usual SROM master precision.
In this internet day and age where many bands will spend a lifetime trying to craft a perfect pop song and neglect the rest of the album with filler or half completions, it’s refreshing to see that SROM has held steady to the mandate of creating an album that stands on its own as, well, an album. From start to finish, WYSiWYG is a perfect family trip. It gets rocky at times, but by the end, you’re glad for every bump on the road of the journey. In fact, you can’t wait to go on another one.
Square Root of Margaret WYSiWYG CD Release Party, with special guests The Eric Welton Band at Phog Lounge (157 University Ave. West) on Friday October 15th. Doors at 9pm.