Unless you were willingly off-the-grid and/or living under a rock for most of 2022, you may recall just how excited I was about a pair of single releases from Vancouver, BC-based indie band Hyaenas – an all-new, all-female, all-queer four-piece guitars n synths rock act who burst onto the BC scene in an explosive sold-out performance alongside the iconic rock duo, The Pack AD. News about this band (and recommendations from west-coast friends) travelled quickly to us over here on the east coast – but never did I expect to encounter something that would dominate my playlists for the remainder of the year.
Dropping their debut single, “Little Trophy,” back in early June, I was hooked from the opening cymbal crash and subsequent riffs alone – and quickly bookmarked for a GDW feature. This tune was (and remains) a true, time-tested and date-stamped retro blast from the 80s synth-pop past. Of course, the revival of this sound is not necessarily a new phenomenon. We have witnessed several Canadian acts delve into this world with considerable success over the years – both Dear Rouge (BC) and Alvvays (ON) in particular picking up JUNO-Awards along the way – and more recently, with ON experimental-pop band Ellevator making waves with an outstanding full-length album that landed on my own 2022 Top Albums list.
Choosing to stay true to my instincts, I did not lose track of Hyaenas, charting their progress through the single releases that followed – from the ringing tones of “For the Birds” to the Brit-synth presence of “It’s Not Up to Me,” each track subsequently blew my expectations away. And if there were a track to rival that initial euphoria of “Little Trophy,” the wow-factor of “Another Level” in October proved itself an aptly titled anthem for the ages: “You take my time, you take my money / Careful, careful, another level / You take my money and you take my time / You hold the key to all my crimes / Careful there’s another level.” This single not only found Sophie Heppell (guitars/vocals), Luvia Petersen (synths/vocals), Jesse Robertson (bass/vocals), and Jen Foster (drums/vocals) firing on all cylinders, but demonstrating a purposeful ability to raise their own game to another level in the process.
Produced by Elisa Pangsaeng (Yukon Blonde) and Jesse Gander (The Pack AD) in Vancouver, the long-awaited arrival of this debut EP landed on streaming platforms on February 2nd, and if I am brutally honest, has already earned enough presses of the repeat button at GDW HQ to destroy all algorithms and data measuring metrics. Collectively, the EP binds many socially relevant topics to the underlying theme of the singles released thus far (the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), delivering lyrics through their queer, matriarchal narrative, and backed by some era-appropriate sonic sound waves. “We were really excited to work with Elisa for a few tunes. Her ability to achieve a certain emotion and pocket off the floor and into the final mix is so impressive,” the band share. “And recording with Jesse is an absolute dream. He gave our songs such a great shimmer and really allowed us to capture a hint of those post-punk ‘The Cure’-esque tones and also really made things punch.”
Revisiting these singles in chronological order as the EP plays out, thanks to the deliberate track placement, the song structure is pretty much perfect. Equally perfect is the chemistry of the musicians, leaving us listeners to question whether Hyaenas truly are an emerging act, or secretly a well-established quartet raring to take the music world by storm. Once the swirling effects of “White Rabbit” fade to a close, the seamless progression into the all-new track, “Written in the Stars,” provides one final hurrah, sending us out on an emotional high, and hungry for much, much more than these six tunes.
“Watch the bright stars, see the moon / Watch the bright stars, make you move / Stayed with you ‘til early morning / Must’ve missed the sailor’s warning / Polaroid for instant delight / But Polar winds, they bring the ice.” This closing number begins so delicately, Sophie’s raw and exposed vocals offering so much vulnerability against a shimmering synth backdrop, adding layer upon layer of a swirling atmospheric wall of sound as the clock ticks away. “Just when you think it can’t possibly get any bigger, it kicks it up another notch and continues to grow and swell like the ever-expanding universe,” the band share. “It’s an ode for those who’ve experienced uncertainty to reclaim their power and inner light.”
Lest I fall into a void of continuously repeating myself here, I’ll close with an affirmative statement – that Hyaenas are in no way simply another also-ran contender in this high populated retro synth-rock genre. Boasting stellar musicianship, meaningful songwriting, incredible talent, and a unique sound that excels – thanks to the vision and experience of the seasoned veterans behind the consoles – Hyaenas have very quickly earned their stripes. Bands such as Alvvays, Dear Rouge, and Metric may dominate this scene, but they best watch out – Hyaenas are poised to stake a legitimate claim up there with the best of them.
Already receiving plenty of positive press and coverage out on the west coast, this band impressed us enough last year to leave “Little Trophy” as the recipient of my 2022 Canadian Single of the Year, before slapping a franchise tag on Hyaenas as the GDW 2022 Emerging Band of the Year too. We’ve never given consideration to EPs in our year-end honors – but with “Little Trophy,” we have a recording here that may just correct that previous oversight. Just one thing left to do – give it a spin, and CRANK IT!
“Don’t touch / Don’t look / Give back / What you took / Don’t look / Don’t touch / You take up / Too much / I’m not your badge of honour / I’m not your accolade / Not a soul for you to save / Oh, oh, oh, no.”
Photo Credit: Paul Aurora