I was trying to describe St. Catharines to my mum while I was at home over the break (home, for me, being the United Kingdom). The closest I was able to come was ‘the city of something different’; there’s a lot going on in this town and, if you know where to look, you’re always going to find something you’ve never seen before. The city’s thriving theatre, visual arts and music communities are a testament to the willingness of everyone here to try something new.
One of the latest offerings from St. Catharines’ music scene is Sweets, the first full length album from The Midwife Crisis, released towards the end of November. The Midwife Crisis is the stage name of Andrew Lisson, a veteran of Mahtay Cafe’s open mic night scene. Sweets, as he describes on his Bandcamp page, is an album that deals with everything from anxiety to a love of candy. It’s quite a mixture of themes and topics, which is reflected in the music, which covers surprisingly large ground in spite of mostly being Lisson, his acoustic guitar and an occasional guest vocalist.
Indeed, while this a deeply personal album it’s also a collaborative one, with several other members of the local scene contributing everything from accordion to scream-vocals. Amongst those is Lux, a personal favourite singer-songwriter, who contributes vocals to the eerie opening (a short and wonderfully strange version of one of Lisson’s first songs) as well as the track ‘Jesse Cutter’, in which her voice is distorted, and is layered on top of the song like a broken radio as though a horror movie is intruding upon this deceptively innocent folk song.
That’s a huge part of the charm of this album: its simplicity is cunning, almost a distraction. There’s more going on than meets the eye (or rather, the ear). Lisson’s galloping acoustic rhythms and Front Bottoms-esque vocals might impart a sense of fun, but even songs titled ‘Sweets Episode 1: The Phantom Mentos’ are laced with darkness. Listening to this album is like peeling away brightly coloured candy wrapper to reveal a dung beetle covered in liquorice, and I promise that’s a compliment. Lisson’s musical mannerisms are welcoming, which means that the darkness of his lyrics throws you for a loop. The twisted strangeness of the music works perfectly in this regard.
There is method to the supposed madness though: the albums flows like a collective story. Aside from the title track ‘Sweets’ being split into two episodes, the album is booked-ended cleverly: ‘Candy is Dandy’ is the first full song and the closing track ‘Liquor is Quicker’ is a reprise thereof. In between the two we learn a lot about Lisson’s anxieties, vices and misgivings (some with the people around him, but many with religion). It’s earnest and full of personality; it also contains a sample from and reference to Bojack Horseman, so bonus points for that. One of the biggest through-lines of this album is mental health, but it’s approached from an interesting perspective. It’s not about mental health as much as it’s about discussions of mental health: Lisson takes issue with people using mental health as an excuse for their terrible treatment of the people around him.
This album, to me, summarizes my own words about St. Catharines. Sweets is truly a product of The City of Something Different; you’ve never heard anything like this and you’d do well to give it a go.