On an unassuming Tuesday night in a dimly lit bar, its wood-panelled walls lined with candles and its ceiling with festive light bulbs emitting a soft, golden-brown hue, a familiar tune drifted over to me from the stage. Some songs lodge themselves deep in your psyche and dissipate with each successive listen; others dig deeper and become one with the white noise of your daily existence, where every so often, to your great and fond surprise, you may once again pick up on its signal, as I did during soundcheck when Toronto up-and-comers Maddee and Young Clancy rehearsed their cover of Donnie & Joe Emerson’s “Baby”.
The original “Baby” is something of an online legend, demonstrating with magical profundity the Internet’s power to resurrect relics from the grave and make phenomenons out of phantoms — things which were once dead or utterly invisible. In 2008, when vintage record collector Jack Fleischer first blogged about a song off a rare LP he’d stumbled onto in an antique shop, not even he could have foreseen the life it would continue to take on: a cover by lo-fi genius Ariel Pink, a complete re-issue by Light in the Attic Records, a major plug by Nardwuar, and most recently, an appearance on BADBADNOTGOOD’s Late Night Tales compilation. In the past decade, Donnie & Joe Emerson have gone from complete obscurity to retroactive cult sensations, and “Baby” from commercial catastrophe to quintessential love song.
What makes stories like these so incredible is that they play out against the incomprehensible vastness of the Internet. There is so much music out there, and the towering majority will never find an audience beyond the ears of its creators and their immediate social circle. But somehow, against all odds, two kids with a proclivity for genre-blending managed to breach that threshold and find tremendous admiration, thirty years after their only eight songs were released and promptly overlooked by the public. As I saw it, Maddee’s and Young Clancy’s affinity for “Baby” was perhaps indicative of a broader kinship with (or at least awareness of) its history, but intentional or not, certain parallels do exist.
Among those familiar with their output, Maddee and Young Clancy stand out as two of Toronto’s best kept secrets, precisely because what little of theirs exists online is so unlike anything else coming out of the city. The young duo’s collective catalogue consists of just seven songs, and is remarkable in its brevity for being a smorgasbord of soul, dance, and chillwave that’s simultaneously invigorating and melancholic; music for the hazy hours between Saturday nights at the disco and Sunday afternoons on the couch, or that transition from flashing lights and fun with friends to the natural sadness that follows when looking forward becomes looking back. It’s an extremely compelling space that both artists explore in their own way — just compare Maddee’s more solemn and operatic “Weight” to the topsy-turvy self-deprecation on Young Clancy’s “Bawdy”. That dynamic is precisely why their recent concert at The Burdock was so exciting to me.The first set belonged to Maddee, who assumed centre stage with a casual “Hey” before launching into a stunning vocal showcase. Amid the competing drum patterns, warm strings, and ethereal tones, Maddee’s voice remained the commanding instrument in her music, the unequivocal force that compelled the crowd to match her own gentle swaying on stage. That particular concoction of sounds culminated with the premiere of a new single entitled “Dry”, fascinating for its lyrical openness as escalating horns accompanied Maddee’s heartfelt confession that she’s either no longer capable or willing to run from her fears. She then concluded her time on stage by switching gears to a more upbeat party tune. “Please feel free to dance” — dance, in this case, enunciated as dawn-ce — Maddee requested. And so, everyone did.
When it came time for Young Clancy to perform, his penchant for dry humour instantly revealed itself. “I don’t know if you’re familiar with my repertoire…” He trailed off. “It’s four songs on the Internet.” Later on, having restored the synth track after an abrupt, mid-song disappearance, Clancy replayed the missing segment on its own. “If you remember the rest of the song, just try and put them together I guess.” He remarked with a sly grin. By stitching together his set with small doses of comedy, Clancy reframed for me the playfulness that already exists in his work; it’s a sucker punch. Though he often deals with themes of codependency, addiction, and heartbreak, you become so caught up in the veneer of “fun” — the melodies, the hooks, the bouncy soundscapes — that when you finally discover the pain underneath, it strikes you tenfold.
The night’s emotional climax was heralded by Maddee and Young Clancy’s long-awaited (at least by me) duet rendition of “Baby”, its idyllic imagery of a night spent under the stars with loved ones appropriately warm and fuzzy given both the cabin-esque coziness of The Burdock and the inherent intimacy of seeing two burgeoning artists and close friends absolutely perform their hearts out, driven not by some hard promise of widespread fame, but by a desire to make this moment, spent in the company of those for whom their music is truly a treasure, last forever. Beyond their musical idiosyncrasies, what the two offer is an endearing manner of self-expression that’s just as likely to keep you dancing as it is induce spells of deep, personal contemplation.
Have you listened to Maddee and Young Clancy? What about their music stands out to you? Have you ever listened to a cover that re-contextualized the career(s) of the cover artist(s)? Reply to the tweet below and join the conversation: