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Black Canary EP harks back to classic ’80s releases
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Black Canary EP harks back to classic ’80s releases

by Stephen Charlton2016/03/13

Comic book character Black Canary, ala Dinah Drake, now has a real-life band. The DC Comics character had a recent story arc which saw her form a four-piece rock band named, fittingly, Black Canary. Earlier this month the band released a three-track self-titled EP, available for purchase on Bandcamp for $3.50. Surprisingly for a comic book promotional tie-in, the EP is really quite an impressive musical statement.

Black Canary writer features on EP

The Black Canary EP cover art.

The Black Canary EP cover art.

The release features two original songs and a Bauhaus cover, The Man with the X-ray Eyes. The Black Canary band features vocalist Michelle Bensimon, Joseph Donovan and Black Canary writer Brenden Fletcher. Donovan recorded, mixed and produced the EP at Mountain City Studio, Montreal, while Fletcher wrote the two original songs. The fictional Black Canary band is an all-female affair, so it’s a little disappointing the sole female member in the band is the mandatory female singer. The music is spot on though, so it’s hard to remain too concerned about the line-up.

Black Canary EP channels the dark side

The Black Canary EP is a non-stop ride from start to finish. The release sits somewhere between goth rock and post-punk. The band’s music has drawn comparisons to Siouxsie & the Banshees and even contemporary bands Savages and Metric. Perhaps the latter is due to D.D.’s more than passing resemblance to Metric singer Emily Haines. To my ears the band sounds definitively retro, some modern production touches notwithstanding. The darkest era of The Cure and The Sisters of Mercy come to mind. From the artwork and descriptions of the band in the comic, I expected Black Canary to be somewhat more abrasive and punk rock. That said, I’m not complaining. The material that the band produced is absolutely down my alley.

Bensimon impresses with vocal delivery

Black Canary vocalist Michelle Bensimon (centre) with her main band Caveboy.

Black Canary vocalist Michelle Bensimon (centre) with her main band Caveboy.

Michelle Bensimon takes centre stage, with her seductive vocals leading proceedings. When she’s not singing in a fictional band, Bensimon fronts Montreal dream-pop act Caveboy. Her contributions are much more sinister in Black Canary than her regular gig. The first line of the EP is “sixty seconds and the lungs will collapse”, setting the tone for the release. I’ve never heard of Bensimon before the Black Canary EP, but I’m quickly becoming a huge fan. She channels the mood required for the material perfectly, and her vocals are flawless.

Fish out of Water is a brooding post-punk track driven by a hypnotic bass line. Synths and sparse electric guitar mix in with the bass guitar. In the comic D.D. is adapting to the unfamiliar role of frontwoman for a band, and the lyrics reference this process. Bensimon’s performance is bombastic and holds the listener’s attention effortlessly. When not singing in Black Canary, her vocals are much more restrained. You get the impression she is hamming it up for the EP. D.D.’s vocals would surely be delivered with plenty of attitude and personality so it works with the material.

The second song, Old World is a dark take on 80s pop. Effects-laden bass guitar pushes the track forward as lush synths and clean guitars are layered and then stripped back for each verse. The vocals are delivered with a pop sensibility although the overall feel remains haunting. The chorus features some unconventional lyrics:

“New song with the same old chorus,

Gets worse if you sing along.

Four words: things are getting scary,

And oh, these days are dragging on.”

Like the first track, the lyrics to Old World clearly reference the events in the comic, although they remain cryptic. They also seem ironic given the song is the most conventional-sounding track on the EP, at least with regard to the music.

The Man with the X-ray Eyes is based on a relentless synth bass line and a danceable beat. The track opens with discordant guitar, which later drops in and out to add texture. The track has quite interesting lyrics, although personally I didn’t find Peter Murphy’s original delivery all that inspiring. Bensimon’s vocals raises the song to a new level. The bizarre yet highly memorable vocal refrain (“My eyes”) which closes the song is one of the highpoints of the EP.

Black Canary EP mixes old and new

Michelle Bensimon teased at a second Black Canary EP with this photo on Twitter.

Michelle Bensimon teased at a second Black Canary EP with this photo on Twitter.

The Black Canary EP is an impressive mix of contemporary and retro sounds. It combines deft performances, thought-provoking lyrics and outstanding vocals. Earlier this month Bensimon posted a picture of a recording studio on her Twitter with the caption “EP 2?!” I for one can’t wait for some new material. I’ve had the first EP on repeat since I got it and I haven’t tired of it yet. If you’re interested in reading the source material, you can pick it up on Amazon.

 

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About The Author
Stephen Charlton
Stephen Charlton is a musician, journalist and editor.

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