Toronto Blessings – Big Wins (Serial Bowl Records, 2023)

This is one of those occasions where people that you know do something cool. The people, or rather, person in question is one Rik Whitehead. A longstanding acquaintance of some 20-odd years from my old hometown of Barnsley. He’d previously been in PSP (formerly known as Purple Sticky Punch… verily…), who started life mainly playing Deftones covers. And more recently, The Lock and Keys (who he’s still with), alongside Neil from DRail (remember them?) and Stu from Send More Paramedics; they play something more along the lines of melodic punk rock like The Loved Ones and early Get Up Kids.

Anyways, I’ve previously reviewed a couple of singles by Toronto Blessings, and I’ve been suitably impressed by what I’d heard up to now. I’d been wondering how this might pan out in long player format, so I jumped at the chance to review the LP, kindly provided to me by Serial Bowl Records…

Previous releases, I’d felt, leant quite hard into that angular post hardcore sound that At The Drive-In foregrounded to a much wider audience with their major label debut Relationship of Command in 2000, of which I was a big fan. Pleasingly, on their debut album, Big Wins, we see Toronto Blessings pushing the envelope somewhat.

The sound here feels quite a bit more abstract, but rather than spiraling out of control into some kind of tedious mess, like say the Mars Volta, for example, form is kept tightly wound and coherently structured. Whilst listening through the album the other day, I mentioned to him that people are going to make lazy comparisons to Refused. This based on the acceptance that the fare being dished up here is going to be somewhat exotic to your typical listener, although it retains a surprising amount of accessibility. I bleedin’ hate Refused, me. Loads of people like them though, so what do I know?

photo credit to Wes Foster

Certain acquaintances and I like to refer to Refused as “the ‘Nu Metal’ Nation of Ulysses”. I only mention this as there is a passing similarity to Nation of Ulysses in evidence here. Think then, if you will, of an angry baby hammering said band through a shape sorter of various noise rock bands of note. The whole record here is underpinned by the relentless and irresistible rhythms and groove of Girls Against Boys (or Girls Vs Boys if you’d rather).

Sonic textures abound throughout the album. This takes the form of anything from My Bloody Valentine-esque shoegaze to sludgy breaks you’d expect from Pissed Jeans for example. You can even hear elements of classic Helmet heard through a filter of Unwound, before unexpectedly being taken into a 1980s style vision of the near future (think Vangelis’ soundtrack to Bladerunner or the Romero-esque synth doom of Zombi). There’s also sections that hint at the spazzy screamo influenced hardcore of bands like Hot Cross and The Blood Brothers in there to keep things extra spicy.

There’s quite the bouquet of, erm, stuff to keep you interested through repeated listens, all the while picking out new elements to have a right old marvel over. I’d weirdly like to draw attention to the running order of the LP, which flows incredibly well. Whoever sorted that out, well, hats off mate. Job well done. I’d hope to be seeing this in people’s end of year best of lists, as it assuredly deserves to be there, innit.

Tony of Nurgle rating: 9/10

You can cop this from Serial Bowl Records on orange vinyl, CD or digital download. Or of course go to a gig and buy one from the band and that if you have a pensioner style fear of internet shopping…

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