It's impossible to ignore the 1970s while watching Washington, D.C.'s Canyon perform or listening to their new album, "Empty Rooms" (Gern Blandsten Records). But underneath the '70s sound is a group of much more modern cult influences.
It’s impossible to ignore the 1970s while watching Washington, D.C.’s Canyon perform or listening to their new album, “Empty Rooms” (Gern Blandsten Records). Guitarist Joe Winkle, especially, sounds like a product of Pink Floyd and looks like a Humble Pie dropout, a cigarette dangling precariously from the thin lips masked by his unkempt, shaggy hair. Coupled with singer Brandon Butler’s “Harvest”-era Neil Young fixation and Derry de Borja’s ever-present Rhodes keyboard roil, you’d think this band was making music in the wrong decade.
But underneath the ’70s sound is a group of much more modern cult influences. Some of the bands’ songs are filled with the melodic twang of Uncle Tupelo’s country-rock, while others reflect the soupy, atmospheric mood of Mazzy Star. The most relevant modern influence, though, is that of R.E.M.’s underappreciated “New Adventures in Hi-Fi.” Like that 1996 album, many of Canyon’s songs reflect America in dark, focused acoustic rock that doesn’t really rock, music that prefers the idea of intensity to distortion-driven bluntness.
Since Butler was in punk band Boy’s Life before forming Canyon, that’s something of a surprise. Though it’s clear he’s left behind the rowdy sounds of his past, it’s also apparent he hasn’t forgotten punk’s greatest strengths: His songs are honest but indirect and open to interpretation, giving this show’s small audience ample reason to lean in and listen.