Spend the weekend with Just Friends

Go back to the future with the retro-inspired label and new releases from The Stance and The Pinecones.

All the best-of-decade lists have come and gone. It's time to just get on with it, the now sound. What that is, of course, is always up for debate.

At Just Friends Records, hosting a weekend of music releases, getting on with it means going back to a degree. Even looking at their releases reveals this.

"I guess it's no secret that we all like the look of the old stuff from the '50s, '60s and '70s," admits Mat Dunlap, who co-founded the label with musician/producer Dave Ewenson in 2003.

Dunlap, who does just about all the label's album photography and design, describes the in-house aesthetic as "fun and slightly kitschy." Within that, though, a BA Johnston album will differ visually from a Laura Peek, he points out. "It really depends on the band, of course," continues Dunlap, who collaborates with each band on the art. "It's our time to have a little bit of fun with the looks."

For The Pinecones' new one, Sage, Dunlap set headshots of the quartet against a background awash in psychedelic colour and floral forms (much like Ruth Minnikin's own art direction for her latest, Depend on This).

Even before you hear the bass note and guitar wail of "Sage," the title track opening the album, co-written by Dunlap and Brent Randall, the packaging signals what's to come. There's even a worn circular pattern visible on the cover, conjuring the memory of vinyl records.

On the phone from home in Toronto, Brent Randall, who dropped his name and the possessive pronoun (his) for The Pinecones' Sage, recalls the album cover evolved from a poster they'd used and that was inspired by a record from The Turtles. In that era, from Brian Wilson and Burt Bacharach on the pop side to Sly and the Family Stone and Bill Withers on the R&B side, Randall hears "a simplicity, a sense of adventure. And maybe people didn't take things too seriously."

Or at least, he adds, they didn't take themselves too seriously.

"I like the haircuts," jokes Mark Macaulay (vocals/guitar) of The Stance. They're releasing their first full-length album, I Left Love Behind A Long Time Ago, on Just Friends.

"Records don't sound like that anymore," adds Macaulay, who co-writes songs with his brother, James (guitars/vocals). "I like the sound of under-rehearsed, slightly shitty musicians in a room playing. No click tracks, no time, nothing. That was what our record deliberately intended to sound like."

Similarly, for Randall, he and his fellow Toronto-based bandmates had a revelation while working early on: "Maybe these aren't the demos, maybe this is the album."

When The Stance first emerged, the joke at the label was that they were the Stones to The Beatles, as embodied by Halifax's Their Majesties, now defunct. From that band, Brian O'Reilly also played guitar in the pop-orchestra format of Brent Randall and His Pinecones and on last year's We Were Strangers in Paddington Green.

On Sage, O'Reilly, who shares an apartment and has amassed a vinyl collection with Randall in Toronto, writes and sings a group of tunes (check out "Act a Gentleman"), as does drummer Paul Linklater ("Do It") and bassist Joel Goguen ("Never Seen the Likes"). "Tea Tonight" is vintage Randall, who's been playing more guitar than keys these days. (He just bought an Epiphone Casino, semi-hollow body, which The Beatles used in recording, he says.) With more guitar work The Pinecones seem bursting with the urge to kick out the jams.

Macaulay calls The Stance's I Left Love... a "really fun record, exuberant." If not a call to arms, the album shakes listeners awake to the fact they're alive. Musically, they deliver the message with MC5 or Stooges-sounding force. (The Pinecones do it with "Ardmore Jenny.")

"We stopped writing about girls as often. I like to think that's a sign of maturity, or maybe it's because I'm totally unsuccessful with girls these days," says Macaulay.

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