Sean Nicholas Savage – Heartless (from the album Bermuda Waterfall, Arbutus Records)

I haven’t had my eye on Montreal I realised. Sometimes happens, says you. Then I got an e-mail from the lovely Plugd Events people about upcoming shows at Triskel Arts Centre here in Cork.

Among the Amen Dunes and Girl Band listings was the unknown-to-me Sean Nicholas Savage. “Once a staple of Montreal's all-night illegal party scene” ran the tag. Intriguing already, wouldn’t you agree? (And by the way shouldn’t every city worth its salt have an all-night illegal party scene?)

I did a bit of digging and found a beguiling brand of bedroom soul, a concoction of home-made beats, gentle guitar picks and trashy synths, with the coup de grace of Mr Savage’s yearning high register vocal.

I arrived at this year’s album Bermuda Waterfall which has a series of memorable underground (all-night/illegal) pop tunes. But I’m highlighting ‘Heartless’, it really is the most beautiful and poignant thing.

I suppose because it has such potentially cheesy elements – drum pads rescued from the 1980s, backing vocals bordering on the edge of autotune – and yet it comes out as so heartfelt and just plain emotional.

Among the range of backing vocals is a gorgeous soft falsetto on the chorus refrain, a couple of layers of which rise and swamp the even softer, lower lead voice. The latter is uncertain, tentative, reflective even.

And behind, just a recurring acoustic pattern, a pitter-patter bassline, a go-ahead drum machine.

Reading that back makes it sound pretty unpromising, I realise. It is the most heartbreaking paean to beauty, like the Mona Lisa but painted on the wall of some back alley.

Towards the end, this line seems to stick out and fuse with the musical backing to sum up the song -

“I blame your beauty
For my obsessive jungle pride”

I notice Sean Nicholas Savage has cited The Bee Gees as an influence, which would make sense – white soul laced with a certain fragility. It also reminded me of Donnie & Joe Emerson in its intimacy.

To repeat, it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing in this dirty world.


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