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Monday April 18th, 2011 at Record Bar in Kansas City, MO
Parallels, London Transit, & South Sea Island Magic
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When I walked into Record Bar at 6:45, Holly Dodson and Cameron Findlay of Parallels were seated at the bar eating dinner. After introducing myself to the duo, I asked if we could forgo the formal interview set up by their publicist, and instead invited them to join my team for Sonic Spectrum's music trivia game. I figured I could learn a lot more about the band over the course of a stimulating trivia match than I could in any formal interview. The band said they'd be honoured.

Ultimately the duo was only able to join me for twenty minutes, and what can you learn about someone in twenty minutes? Well drummer Cameron Findlay has a fetish for ambient Brian Eno and David Bowie. He knows all of Vince Clarke's musical projects, and all the hits by Heaven 17. But none of this can be surprising information for a band that fetishises the synthpop of the early '80s. Vocalist and keyboardist Holly Dodson however confesses to knowing the birthdays of various Backsteet Boys members, and a host of general pop culture tidbits. And that's exactly how Parallels came into being – Dodson's pop sensibilities reshaping the electronic minimalism Findlay initially set out to explore. Before any further revelations could be uncovered, the band rushed off, and my trivia trio was left to dig itself out of an early deficit.

Two hours later, the white boards and markers were collected and my team had fallen one question short of a second place payoff. While I nursed my wounds and cursed the American record-buying public for not sending Pink Floyd's "A Momentary Lapse of Reason" to number 1, the members of South Sea Island Magic set up their equipment.

South Sea Island Magic is an area duo led by vocalist/guitarist Gavin Snider and keyboardist/guitarist Jacob Simanowitz. The band's sound is built upon brutish 4/4 electronic drum beats augmented by sequenced synthesised bass and chiming processed electronic guitar leads. In some moments the band recalls the disco remnants of '80s synthpop a la Pet Shop Boys; other times the guitar tells the story of early U2 and the birth of the alternative genre. Snider's vocals are high, and often almost whispered, though in several tracks ("Sleepwalk" and "Waves Will Crash") he switches to a spoken delivery that is simultaneously wonderful and corny. For this set the band was joined by drummer Rusty Smith who generally stuck to the kit's snare and high hat.

The band played a curiously long set (nearly 45 minutes) to a mostly-passive audience and an empty dance floor. The twenty-or-so people in the club must have had a case of the Mondays because the band's song "On a Saturday Night" should have brought everyone out to the floor. Unlike most of the songs performed, this one will not be included on the band's debut album due out in June. Let's hope it makes its way to a single shortly afterwards.

Long-time fans of Too Much Rock will recall "The Faint Game." This is a contest where a band attempts to perform for a longer period of time than it took it to set up. It is so named because The Faint always failed at this endeavour. On this night, the local trio of London Transit would fail this game by such a spectacular margin (45 minutes of set up time, twenty minutes of performance) that I should consider renaming the game after them.

If local press is to be believed, London Transit was once considered the future of the Kansas City music scene. But something happened along the way – the lineup changed, and the band dropped off the radar. This was the trio's first performance in a year and a half, and I have to wonder if it was their first time playing together in just as long.

The first three songs were a muddied mess of synthesizers, deep bass lines, buried guitar, disco drums, and lost vocals. The band performed on a dark stage with only three weak spotlights that served as safety indicators rather than actually illuminating the performers. Thankfully the band began to find its stride in the final two songs, producing an edgy, danceable post-punk, but by that point it was too late. The sound man had already let the band slide five minutes past its allotted time. Despite the protests of a late-arriving fan, the set ended there at 11:50.

A back-lined band isn't eligible to play The Faint Game, but Parallels was determined to win regardless. Fifteen minutes after London Transit finished its set, Parallels had already begun its first number. Now that's what I'm talking about.

For better or worse, the music of Toronto's Parallels is best described by comparison. The band plays danceable and dense synthpop that was popularised in the early-to-mid '80s by New Order, Berlin and countless others. There are touches of '90s euro dance pop (by names too embarrassing to mention), but nothing too modern. Dodson's vocals are high and breathy, recalling Kate Bush or the mid-'80s output of Madonna. She plays keyboard leads live while additional synthesizer, bass lines, and some auxiliary percussion are pre-programmed. Findlay's drumming is tight and surprisingly powerful. He provides highly-processed backing vocals that blend into the compositions (much like they do on the album), but between songs he is silent. Dodson fronts the band; her vocals are featured prominently in the mix, her dancing (or more aptly prancing) behind the keyboards provides the entire stage show, and she is the one who communicates with the audience between songs. While she was gracious and personable (even unexpectedly goofy in a charming way), the duo was focused on its tight 35-minute set. So focused, in fact, that Dodson neglected to mention the band's merchandise for sale. I guess those things get missed when there is no time to kill while guitarists tune.

Parallels played four or five cuts from its 2010 album "Visionaries", as well as "Salome" from its just-released single, and then closed with its oldest song, the airy "Ultralight." The song's pulsing bass line is infectious, and its chorus is an earworm. After their set, the Dodson and Findlay stuck around to talk to fans before returning to the stage a bit after 1am to begin packing up. For Parallels it would be ten hours on the road for a show in Denver the next night. For me, well, I had to brush up on my knowledge of the blues for next week's trivia.

Too Much Rock / 4027 Locust Street / KCMO 64110