Charlottetown a Canadian music hotbed

The only time Alec O’Hanley’s East Coast humility fails him is, oddly enough, when he’s talking about his hometown.

Two Hours Traffic from left: Alec O’Hanley

Two Hours Traffic from left: Alec O’Hanley

TORONTO — The only time Alec O’Hanley’s East Coast humility fails him is, oddly enough, when he’s talking about his hometown.

“I think, per capita, Charlottetown is the most talented scene in the country, far and away,” said O’Hanley, who plays in two of the cities’ bands: Two Hours Traffic and the Danks.

“It’s a burgeoning scene, if you want to call it that. It’s nice to be around people who really bleed music.”

Six of those people comprise Two Hours Traffic and the Danks, who begin an extensive Canadian tour together in Saint John, N.B., on Friday.

Both bands have albums out this year, with Two Hours Traffic having just released Territory — the follow-up to their Polaris-nominated sophomore record, Little Jabs — on Tuesday.

They are the most visible of a rising group of buzzworthy Charlottetown rock bands, and — luckily for the other fledgling groups in town — they aren’t shy about endorsing their hometown scene.

“We like to spread the word about the bands in our region,” said Two Hours Traffic guitarist and lead vocalist Liam Corcoran.

“We’ve been across the country three or four times now, and I know we can compete with other cities. There’s a lot of great music coming out of here, but it’s far away from the bigger cities, so people might not know about it. But Charlottetown is really kind of booming right now for music.”

Right now, much of the rock activity in the city orbits around these two bands in particular. O’Hanley co-founded Collagen Rock Records, a label that includes his bands as well as Smothered in Hugs and Mardeen, who hail from Cape Breton, N.S.

Corcoran calls the label “a collective of friends who play together.”

Comparisons between Two Hours Traffic and the Danks have been persistent, which doesn’t bother Corcoran — he figures they’re probably inevitable.

“Brohan (Moore), who sings in the Danks, he’s played in a number of bands, but we’ve basically always played with whatever band he was in,” Corcoran said.

“We learned to play in a band together. We watched each other play for six or seven years now. … If you take the six people who make the Danks and Two Hours Traffic, we hang out most every night we have free. So I have no problem with people comparing the two bands. It’d be strange if we weren’t similar.”

For all their similarities, each band has a distinct sound.

On Territory, which was produced again by Joel Plaskett, Two Hours Traffic continues to ply a brand of hook-laden power-pop rarely attempted anymore, bearing the influence of bands such as Big Star and Teenage Fanclub.

Corcoran and O’Hanley say they aimed to limit the sweetness on their new record, after worrying that some of their past lyrics might have bordered on cloying.

“We really decided we didn’t want to go that far (lyrically) this time around, and explore some other not as happy themes,” Corcoran said.

The Danks, meanwhile, released their debut, “Are You Afraid of the Danks?” earlier this summer. The album is a breathless rush, clocking in at just over 30 minutes of full-tilt guitar-pop anthems.

The Strokes are an oft-cited hallmark, but the urgent onslaught of hooks also calls to mind pop-punk progenitors the Buzzcocks, whom O’Hanley cites as an influence.

“It’s not background music,” he said in dryly summing up the album.

In addition to sharing two members (Andrew MacDonald also plays in both bands), the Danks and Two Hours Traffic also have a keen eye for melody in common, as well as an unpretentious predilection for delivering three-minute guitar pop tunes.

That many of the Maritimes’ greatest rock exports over the last decade share that appreciation for melodic pop is not necessarily a coincidence, O’Hanley says.

“I think maybe it’s the Celtic thing here in the Maritimes, where the traditional sense of melody creeps into a lot of people’s ears,” he said. “It’s pretty pervasive. And there’s no escaping a good pop song, and I think a lot people realize that around here.”

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