Deconstructing Vancouver's Mode Moderne, one of Canada's hottest new bands
Yes, they will remind you of The Smiths. Yes, they sing about electrocution and tea. And yes, Mode Moderne is one of Canada's hottest new bands, at least according to CHARTattack—and probably most people who listened to their latest EP, Strange Bruises.
Much of what’s been written about the post-post-punk media darlings is true—but not everything. It’s fitting that VO's interview started with comments about a misinformed newspaper clipping, which described the band as a “dream-pop combo”. I noticed it laying on a coffee table being used for anything but coffee, after my eyes had adjusted to the dark of their hazy, but quite spacious Hastings studio.
They aren’t dream-pop. And considering the five members—Philip Intilé on vocals, Felix Fung on guitar, bassist Clint Loftkrantz, drummer Sean Gilhooly and Rebecca Gray on keyboards—they’re certainly not a combo.
Music journalism loves to name-call, and Mode knows that better than many bands in the Vancouver scene. You’d be hard-pressed to find a single Mode Moderne article without the word “goth” in it (this one now included).
Like a mother’s reaction to her goth daughter, Mode is both irritated and amused at the constant association.
“It’s not a dirty word,” said Fung, although he added, “It’s a shortcut to thinking.”
“I prefer that to dream-pop,” said Intilé. They do invite the term somewhat—on Halloween, they performed in capes, which they said they would wear again if it didn’t get so hot. The capes are still hoarded somewhere in the halflit studio—Gray had this reporter wearing one in about 10 minutes.
What’s haunted the band worse than the “goth” label is the incessant specific comparisons to past goth favourites, like Joy Division.
“If Joy Division wasn’t around, they would call us The Cure,” Loftkrantz pointed out.
“And they always get it wrong. I don’t think anyone ever mentions Echo & The Bunnymen, which I think is closer,” said Fung.
The quintet understand the need to compare. After all, it’s not the worst thing in the world to be placed into a box as long as it’s with some of music history’s most treasured figures. But as Gray put it, sometimes people are “clutching at straws to make that reference.”
“Anybody who copies and pastes the same review that was written before is guilty of what they’re accusing us of,” said Intilé. “Laziness.”
“Anyway, you sound more like a rip-off band when you do it badly,” said Loftkrantz.
Once, a fan put Mode Moderne records on eBay, trying to convince shoppers that they were from the 80’s.
“She wrote, ‘Rare Canadian synth-pop classic,’” said Intilé. “Forty bucks.”
Rare Canadian synth-pop
It isn’t surprising people could believe Mode’s music came from the cassette era. Their newest album, Strange Bruises, will resonate with any listener who wishes they were around while Robert Smith was still cute, as well as with those that were.
As hook-laden as a barbed fence and as spirited as a necropolis, Strange Bruises is grade-A mope rock. Its machine-perfect beats, layers of reverb—more chillwave than new wave—and effortlessly harmonious guitar and basslines keep it referential, but still fresh.
Mode Moderne displays a balance between sincere emotion and self-irony, something that carries them into the 21st century. A lot of it has to do with the lyrics.
“You gotta have some self-deprecation, otherwise it wouldn’t be real,” Intilé said.
The lyrics have their best effect live. With a classical face and an insomniac's dark circles under his eyes, Intilé resembles a ghost from the past. He sells lines like “I wanna die, I apologize,” and “Real goths don't dance, we just sulk to circumstance,” with no more than a flick of the wrist.
When asked about his writing on Strange Bruises, Intilé was quick to speak, citing Anaïs Nin as an influence. And his bandmates were quick to mock him—“Nobody knows who that is...”
But, though Loftkrantz literally facepalmed at Intilé's answer, it's the bassist himself who eventually said, “It’s art, what we’re trying to do.”
“I just want to be able to put the records we make in with the other records we own and feel like it belongs there,” Fung added. “It’s not some vanity project. We’ve been doing it for too long.”