One of the characteristics of the Whitehorse music scene that I love is the amount of collaboration that goes on. Almost all artists have worked together in one form or another at some time.
I love the way they can combine completely different genres than they normally play, experiment and produce something absolutely amazing. Old Time Machine is such a group.
Formed about three years ago, Old Time Machine consists of Ryan McNally, the virtuoso blues musician best known as the singer/guitarist of Sasquatch Prom Date, and former Yukoner Kyle Cashen, known for high-energy screaming in Friend Called Five and his mellow lo-fi experimental music as Crash the Car.
They played a few gigs for about a year before Cashen left Whitehorse for Vancouver.
With McNally playing guitar, banjo or mandolin and accompanying himself simultaneously on kick-drum and high-hat, and Cashen playing drums, keyboards, pedals, knobs, loops and other effects, the result is something right in the middle of their styles – old time blues and heavy electronica.
It’s kind of like Lead Belly meets Holy F***.
Their self-titled CD was recorded last year during one of McNally’s trips to Vancouver. Despite the gap between playing gigs as a duo, McNally and Cashen fuse together seamlessly.
The songs build around McNally’s lyrics and riff, more stripped down than his solo work, to which Cashen adds a haunting background vocal and rhythms.
On Mountain Shack, there’s a simple banjo line, a heavy distorted bass and feedback rumbling under it, and a reverbed vocal echoing out lyrics about Whitehorse and Montreal:
“Give me an old pickup truck with a flat rusty grill, I’d lean on the fender, watch the people go by. Notice the girl that I love, she don’t show me her eye.”
With their willingness to experiment, the odd rhythms laid over the melodies and the distortion added to McNally’s voice, the album sounds like Broken Social Scene and Tom Waits.
This collaboration allows McNally and Cashen to go places musically where they wouldn’t normally stray on their own.
For McNally, it’s contemporary pop songs instead of blues and rockabilly. For Cashen, it’s simpler melody and rhythm rather than constructed soundscapes and moods.
This results in tracks like Where the Hell We Are, which rocks, and the softer Feel So Cold, with its haunting background vocal and whistling. The CD reaches a climax with Tearing Me Down, driven by fast mandolin and scratchy drum effects.
At their recent CD release party, Old Time Machine sold a limited run of 25 CDs with handmade cloth covers sown by their friends. Cashen and McNally will have a wider release and a tour in the fall.
Old Time Machine is too good to be a one-shot project. Combining the enormous talents of these two artists, the band shows what the cross-fertilization of Yukon musicians can achieve.
Outstanding Track: Tearing Me Down.