In 1996, a city on the East Coast of Canada was the focal point of an indie music renaissance that saw numerous bands from the area rising to national prominence and garnering international attention. Dubbed “the Halifax Explosion,” the indie music scene in Halifax, Nova Scotia, fostered by live music venues such as The Double Deuce, the Club Flamingo and Birdland, drew music industry executives from around the world, flocking to hear – and sign – the “buzz bands” of the city.
One band that steadily built its audience in those clubs from its inception in 1992 to its dissolution in 1998 was Cool Blue Halo. Founded by singer/songwriters Paul Boudreau and Barry Walsh, by 1995 – after numerous personnel changes and a brief hiatus – the band found its firm footing with the arrival of bassist and vocalist Jason Ives and drummer Glenn MacCulloch. In 1996, with Halifax-based producer and engineer Laurence Currie behind the board, the band took to Idea of East Studios (where Currie was concurrently recording Sloan’s landmark “One Chord to Another” album) to record its first – and, to date, only – full-length album, Kangaroo, for Halifax indie label No Records.
Released in June of 1996, the album appeared in the top 20 charts of campus radio stations across Canada and generated glowing reviews, with AllMusicGuide’s Gina Boldman, in her four-star review, calling it “an album full of sparkling, smart and memorable power pop songs… one of the most refreshing power pop albums to surface in the past few years.” The University of Western Ontario’s Gazette praised it as “one of the greatest pop albums to come out of Canada in a long time,” and international power pop bible Amplifier heralded it as “utterly catchy.”
Videos for its effervescent singles, “Too Much Kathleen” and “Take It Back Now”, received considerable airplay on Canada’s music television cable network, MuchMusic, following the rapturous reception given to the band’s previous video effort, the evocative “Sweetie Said”, directed by James Parker (helmer of the videos for the Kangaroo singles) and Shannon Duhasky. That video was nominated for three MuchMusic Video Awards in 1996 and was a favourite of then-VJ Sook-Yin Lee.
Rare for an indie band without major label backing, the singles also received strong airplay on commercial radio across Canada, with “Too Much Kathleen” appearing on the top 15 of Toronto FM station Q107, as well as hometown FM station Q104 in Halifax.
Performing across Canada, the band would eventually sell close to 2,500 copies of Kangaroo before breaking up, with each member moving on to new musical projects, and various members moving away from Halifax. And as No Records ceased operations, the album would eventually go out of print.
But its influence would still be noted for years afterward. Prominent music blog Said the Gramophone, in posting an MP3 of “Too Much Kathleen” found somewhere in the recesses of the Internet, said of the song: “(“Too Much Kathleen” is) like the Fountains of Wayne, had the guys been Nova Scotia boys instead of New Jersey hooligans.” And in 2016, current Halifax-based indie favorites Monomyth name-checked the album and referenced the band in their song, “Cool Blue Hello.”
In 2012, the band was invited to reunite and perform at the 20th anniversary edition of the renowned indie music festival the Halifax Pop Explosion, sharing the Marquee stage in a sold-out show with other beloved acts from the mid-90s such as The Superfriendz, Hip Club Groove and The Stratejackets. It was Cool Blue Halo’s first performance in 14 years.
Now, just over 20 years after its initial release, Kangaroo is getting a new lease on life via Toronto-based DWRecordings. Home to Michelle McAdorey’s Polaris Prize long-listed solo album, Into Her Future, the label is releasing an anniversary edition of Kangaroo this fall on vinyl, on CD and through digital outlets, remastered by renowned engineer João Carvalho and complete with new artwork featuring never-before-seen photos from Toronto-based photographer Katherine Pittman. The digital and CD versions will also feature the original version of Cool Blue Halo’s “Sweetie Said,” first recorded in 1994 by Barry Walsh and producer Terry Pulliam, and issued on vinyl 45 by Pulliam’s Release Records. The song has never been officially available on CD or as a digital download.
“All of us in Cool Blue Halo are so happy that these songs are going to make their way out into the world again,” says Walsh. “We were very proud of the work that we had done with Laurence and Terry back then, and we are just as proud of it all now. We’re very grateful to DWR for giving us the chance to get the music out there once more, for those who appreciated it back in 1996, and for those who might discover it now.”
The remastered anniversary edition of Cool Blue Halo’s Kangaroo will be available on Oct. 27, 2017 in vinyl, CD and digital formats. You can pre-order it via the fine folk at DWR here.