Why Baby Labour Rules by Will Wellington (2015)
I love watching Dan Loughrin at concerts. Catch him at a Fet.Nat or Badminton Racquet show. He’ll be right there in front and he’ll be loving it, almost as familiar with the material as the bands are, bobbing his head, T-Rexing an air guitar, rolling his eyes, and contorting his face in time to the music. Better yet, check out his math rock group, Baby Labour, where his antics are front and centre. Neck craned, mouth agape, tongue lolling, and eyes turned skyward, Dan wrangles his guitar like a bucking bronco while drummer, Jake Cadieux, looks slightly bashful pounding the skins, evidently amused by his partner’s behaviour.
Jake’s shy demeanour grounds Dan’s mugging in the same way that Jake’s confident stick-work grounds Dan’s whiplash-inducing axe-gymnastics. Along with new guitarist, Troy LaFontaine, they form the duo-cum-trio that is Baby Labour, a group that always sounds bigger, bolder, more beautiful than they have any right to be. Chalk it up to their winning formula. Step 1: Introduce simple, irresistible hook, dangling it in front of audience like carrot. Step 2: Proceed to twist, interrupt, truncate, mutate, and otherwise fuck with hook for two to four minutes, leaving audience baffled and exhilarated. Step 3: Repeat. Take a track like “Stay Drunk.” In lockstep with Jake, Dan starts the hook the same way every time but continually flips the ending, creating the aural equivalent of slipping on a banana peel over and over. Each phrase alternates between sliding slabs of distorted guitar and intricate, glistening arpeggios that threaten to topple before collapsing, gloriously, into a huge, bone-rattling riff, in case you needed a reminder that music doesn’t need to be dumb to be fun as fuck. Then, in another song, just when you least expect it, the sonic shell game pauses for the most shatteringly beautiful melodic interlude as warm, welcoming chords wash the grime off you and suggest the sunrise poking through smog-choked skies. Like those of the best comedians, Baby Labour’s pranks are laced with poignance and melancholia.
I’ve seen the same twenty-minute Baby Labour set more times than I care to count and it still feels like a roller coaster ride. Some music sounds great right away, some takes a hundred listens to click. Baby Labour grabs you immediately with the simple pleasures of crunchy guitars and breakneck beats and keeps you around with the subtle pleasures of becoming gradually attuned to an intricate new language. I remember watching Badminton Racquet guitarist Kyle Coveny at a Baby Labour gig at the Jimmy Jazz in Guelph. Standing inches from the band, thick glasses almost flying off his face, he gesticulated like a mad conductor, his outstretched arms swooping in perfect unison with every spasming lick and rollicking fill. As the tune ended, he turned to shout, to anyone who would listen, the thing we were all thinking: “It’s so good every time!”