Canadian act Circle The Wolves have delivered a beguiling mix of styles and moods with their new, self-titled album. Despite clearly being seasoned veterans, they’ve come up with a very ‘now’ sound on this record, thanks largely to the vocal performance of enigmatic frontwoman Michelle Johnson.
Actually, that’s not entirely fair to the rest of the band, especially guitarist Steven Johnson, whose contributions are consistently thoughtful and well executed – his playing on Black Masses is especially impactful – but over the course of the album you can’t help but be drawn back to the vocals of Johnson.
Remember I mentioned that ‘now’ sound? Most of it comes through the singer, who happens to be blessed with the sort of voice currently being heard on the theme tunes of seemingly every crime drama currently being made in the UK. Tender, vulnerable, yet possessed of the sort of latent menace that point to the possible evisceration of your soul at the drop of a hat, this lady clearly has it all, and doesn’t mind proving it again and again.
On Queen the jazzy undertones of her voice clash against the skittish, alt.rockisms of the musical backing; In another world the blessed Alanis might have wrenched the mic from Shirley Manson and Garbage might have sounded like this, although the fragile violins that enter midway through might give older listeners a quick frisson of Quarterflash. Whatever, it’s pretty good stuff, especially when Johnson (Steven) unleashes a pretty nifty solo.
The project has been co-ordinated by Corey Johnson – that’s three Johnsons for the price of one, though I have no idea whether they are related or not – who also owns the band’s label, so a more self-contained unit you couldn’t hope to find; however, there’s nothing inward-looking about the noise they’ve cooked up, which offers expansive, ambitious thrills and spills wherever you care to drop the needle. Michelle Johnson is clearly a new rock heroine in waiting, but that shouldn’t detract from the worthy efforts of everybody else that’s lent a hand in the construction of this impressive slice of modern rock. Well worth a listen.
Circle The Wolves is out now.