A promising debut
Archived Articles 17 Dec 2007  EWR
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The iSpies. In The Night. Independent release, 2007, 40:43

I admit to having had some trepidation when the maiden CD of The iSpies was thrust into my hands, with the suggestion that the first recording of the Toronto band merited at least a mention here, if not a review. (This due to the fact that 2 members of the quartet are Estonian-Canadians.)

Johnny Kay is the nom de music of Jaan Kittask. (The extra ‘n’ and ‘y’ chosen perhaps to avoid association with the famed John Kay of Steppenwolf, who, by the way, has a link to the Baltic littoral, having escaped from post-WWII East Germany as a child. That Kay was born Joachin Fritz Krauledat - more of a mouthful than Kittask - , his father was Lithuanian, Krauledat senior perished on the front one month before Joachin’s birth.) Johnny Kay handles lead vocals, keys and guitar; Markus Saks keeps the beat on drums and percussion. The other two Spies are James Robertson on lead guitar, vox and keys, and bassist Steve Payne.

The hesitancy was attributable to hearsay. When the band played on the last day of April in 2004 to an audience of [mostly older] Toronto Estonians at the gala event celebrating Estonia’s ascension to EU member nation status, comments then about their performance were more about ear-splitting volume than the quality of their material.

A pleasant surprise resulted, however, after interest triumphed over duty. The iSpies are for real. Their CD is a collection of tight, well-crafted tunes that owes a fair bit - at least to these ears – to the inspiration provided by British rock of the late 1970s and early ‘80s.

As an example, the second cut, “Sleepwalker” evokes comparison with the seminal work of Graham Parker. The British influence is also evident on the title track (listen to “In The Night” on their website, www.theispies.com ), “Spare Your Secrets” and “Stop Screaming.” Kay’s vocals are often quite sweet, making use of his range in the higher octaves, at other times edgy as required. The joejacksonesque “Blurring Dots/Fading Lines” is a fine example.

The layers of sound produced by the quartet never overwhelm. Laudably, The i Spies are well aware of the effects that can be created by tempo and intensity variations. As a result the album sounds up beat and fresh, no mean feat in today’s competitive music field. (Disclosure: I admit to having little familiarity with the alternative pop-rock/indie world, other than what I hear from the teenagers’ rooms and/or diffused through iPod earbuds…)

Although the official launch date has not yet been set, the CD is available at better indie record shops around the U of T campus and elsewhere. And, considering Kay’s lineage, it would be curious if it was not available through the Toronto Esto House retail outlet, the estore. (It is.) Many in the younger generation — who were not even born when Graham Parker broke new musical ground — would welcome this CD from their contemporaries as a suitable Christmas present.
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