One part Broken Social Scene (Justin Peroff) and two parts The Stills (Dave Hamelin and Liam O’Neil) make the new band known as Eight and a Half. The trio of longtime friends has been sharing stages with their respective bands as far back as 2003. However, it wasn’t until the end of 2010, after The Stills disbanded, that the members found themselves residing in Toronto and able to collaborate. With Eight and a Half, each of the guys takes new and different approaches with their musical styles. Peroff deconstructs his drumming, and includes electronic programming and loops. O’Neil focuses on creating strange ambient sounds from synthesizers and samplers. And Hamelin, a secondary vocalist of The Stills, pushes his vocals to a higher register. The result of this mix of bands and sounds is Eight and a Half’s self-titled debut, released in April 2012.
Peanut butter, bananas and honey: three foods that are tasty enough on their own, but once combined they become an almost otherworldly explosion of deliciousness. Similarly, Toronto's Eight and a Half is made up of a trio of musicians who come from two incredible bands (drummer Justin Peroff from Broken Social Scene, and vocalist/guitarist Dave Hamelin and keyboardist Liam O'Neil from The Stills), but together make music that stands out even beyond their impressive musical resumes. After Broken Social Scene and The Stills spent some time sharing stages in North America, the former touring companions started jamming together for fun, recording music under the name Eight and a Half. In 2011, Broken Social Scene went on hiatus, and The Stills split up, leaving Hamelin, O'Neil and Peroff to turn Eight and a Half from a sideline project into their primary band. Considering their backgrounds, they could have easily slipped into a cheap rebranding of the anthemic indie rock that made each of their respective bands famous in the first place. Instead, their 2012 self-titled debut LP favors a more minimal electronic sound, driven by synths and looped beats. The album kicks off with the starry instrumental track, “When I Was 29,” which seamlessly transitions into “Scissors.” Hamelin isn't shy about letting his vocals slip into a higher register, creating a deep sense of yearning as he sings lines like, “If I cut you with these scissors/and make it go away/hold me like an old friend.” Moody synth textures only serve to enhance the darker feel—one that runs deep throughout much of the album. “Go Ego” starts with an acoustic guitar opening, leaning more towards an upbeat indie rock feel, but with undercurrents of electro beats and keys. Lyrically, it's almost as if Hamelin is putting a voice to the little boy on their album cover, who stands alone in a bathroom crying: “There goes my ego/my infant eye/and some painful memory when you were a child,” he sings. With what sounds like synthesized sitar meandering alongside acoustic guitars and electronic drum beats, “Took A Train To India” is one of the most cinematic moments on the album—made even more fitting, considering Eight and a Half took their name from Fellini's acclaimed 1963 film. But while the film's lead character, Italian director Guido Anselmi, struggles with the creative process of making a film, Eight and a Half doesn’t struggle to get their musical point across.