Every Tuesday, Torontoist scours record store shelves in search of the city’s most notable new releases and brings you the best—or sometimes just the biggest—of what we’ve heard in Sound Advice.
Why is Jonas Bonnetta so damn disarming? His debut full length as Evening Hymns—essentially a fleshed-out version of his real-monikered earlier release—oozes a level of granola that could cause discomfort for hyper-aware, self-conscious indie rock fans; the album is called Spirit Guides and much of the lyrical content is about the forest and there’s a full track just of a rain storm and have you seen that eerie, foggy mountain on the cover? Somehow, though, there isn’t a pretentious note on this record.
Releasing his album on Out of this Spark makes perfect sense for Bonnetta since he’s long been embraced by the associated Bellwoods crew; he has appeared on both Friends in Bellwoods compilations and frequently shares the stage with these pals; Spirit Guides‘ backing band is made up of members of Forest City Lovers, the D’Urbervilles, and the Wooden Sky; and it was recorded back-and-forth between Peterborough and Toronto by Ohbijou’s drummer, James Bunton. A lo-fi aesthetic permeates the record, and although things sound a little too loose sometimes, close mics and soft rooms aren’t needed to preserve the underlying warmth in even the most chilling songs. The Appalachian-inspired “Mountain Song,” with its wall-banging percussion and swelling, distant choir, recalls the grandiose of fellow woodsy locals Bruce Peninsula if they were a bit more tuneful, and “Dead Deer” is a perfect example of some of the simplest yet most effective dynamics on the record, throwing a soft confessional verse into a perfectly smudged guitar chorus that’s startlingly huge, and just as quickly shifting back into a verse that’s lush with instruments but tired-voiced and shuffling. A highlight among highlights would be “Broken Rifle” (streaming above, listen!), a cheerful-sounding indie rock romp whose lyrics are deceptively desperate but sing-along-worthy nonetheless (and sure to be a highlight in Bonnetta’s charismatic live set). The hushed bedroom folk of “History Books” that meekly closes Spirit Guides strips Bonnetta to his barest moment on the disc and is a perfect end to a satisfying set of songs that are genuine, tangible, and truly, ahem, spirited.
All throughout, the surprising guitars, the understated Arcade Fire intensity of the string, horn, and organ arrangements, and the enviable pop instincts give Spirit Guides an unassuming sophistication that is rare, infectious, and refreshing. Add all of that to his irresistible Joel Plaskett likeability factor, and Jonas Bonnetta could very quickly become one of the most talked-about dudes in local music.