Land of Talk

City: Montreal
Country: Canada
Genre: Alternative
Styles: Indie Rock, Indie, Singer-Songwriter


Land of Talk is singer/songwriter/ guitarist, Elizabeth Powell.

The project of Elizabeth Powell, Land of Talk is defined by their intense guitar playing and keening, vibrato-heavy vocals. When Land of Talk emerged in 2006 with Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, their spiky, raucous sound evoked the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but their sound soon grew more nuanced; on 2008's Some Are Lakes, they gave equal time to the prettiness of their music as well as its bite. After a lengthy hiatus during which Powell considered quitting music altogether, Land of Talk experienced a creative rebirth with 2017's gently eclectic Life After Youth and Indistinct Conversations, both of which featured expansive sounds and clear-eyed, confessional songwriting.

Powell started writing and playing songs at age 14 while growing up in Guelph, Ontario. Later, she played with the Aaron Riches Nuclear Family Band and the Valentines and performed as a solo artist, releasing an album under the name ELE_K* in 2003. While enrolled in Concordia University's jazz program, she met bassist Blake Markle and drummer Mark "Bucky" Wheaton. They formed Land of Talk in 2006, taking inspiration from PJ Harvey, Dinosaur Jr., and Sonic Youth for the project's sound. By the time they recorded their debut album, April 2006's Applause Cheer Boo Hiss, Tim Kramer had taken over bass duties. More lineup changes followed in 2007, with Kramer and Wheaton leaving Land of Talk, and bassist Chris McCarron and drummer Eric Thibodeau joining.

Land of Talk moved to Saddle Creek for its second-full length, 2008's Some Are Lakes, a more eclectic, melodic album produced by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and featuring the Slip's Andrew Barr on drums. Around this time, Powell also became a touring member of Broken Social Scene. Following a tour with that band, McCarron left to play guitar with the Dears. Bassist Joe Yarmush joined soon after, and Land of Talk issued the Fun and Laughter EP in October 2009. While recuperating from a problem with her vocal cords, Powell wrote Land of Talk's third album Cloak and Cipher. Released in August 2010, it featured contributions from members of Stars, Arcade Fire, and the Besnard Lakes.

Following Cloak and Cipher's release, Land of Talk went on an extended break provoked by exhaustion, lost demos, and family illness. In April of 2015, Powell played her first show in four years at Orilla, Ontario's Roots North Music Festival. Several Land of Talk shows in 2016 led up to the May 2017 release of Life After Youth, an album inspired by the sounds that aided Powell's father's recovery from a stroke, including ambient, classical, and the tonkori, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument. Produced by John Agnello, the album found Wheaton and McCarron returning to the fold, and also counted Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, Sharon Van Etten, and the Besnard Lakes among its contributors. With Land of Talk back in the swing of things, Powell began writing songs for their next album in 2018. In 2019, she appeared on the American Football song "Every Wave to Ever Rise." After an early 2020 tour with Wolf Parade, Land of Talk returned that July with Indistinct Conversations, an intimate, acoustic-based set that the band co-produced and recorded in a studio McCarron built in Wheaton's basement. ~ Heather Phares & MacKenzie Wilson, Rovi

on HBN since August 03, 2020
Moment Feed


1. Moment Feed

Selected Reviews and Comments

“Calming Night Partner,” the title track of Land of Talk’s forthcoming EP, is a tender song full of violence. Elizabeth Powell’s fuzzy, ’90s-inflected guitar strums quietly over a starry blanket of noise while they sing a series of terrifying questions: “Was it a knife fight? Was it a lifetime? Did she wear you down, wear you in, sacrificial? Did she tear you right down the middle?”

That strange, dissociative marriage of sound and words sums up the alchemy of Calming Night Partner: the music creates a safe harbor where painful and traumatic experiences can be safely explored. It’s a familiar mood in the post-COVID era; Powell is using seclusion and privacy to build up a sense of self that the outside world seems intent on destroying.

“We were recording in the middle of the pandemic,” Powell says. “Everyone was struggling, and all we wanted to do when we were in the studio was just be friends and be there for each other. The studio wound up being our safe house.”

The EP was recorded with a familiar team — Mark “Bucky” Wheaton on drums; Chris McCarron, Pietro Amato and Erik Hove on brass, with Amato also on keys — on a Canadian pandemic assistance grant that required them to record five songs in ten days. (Powell wasn’t even initially sure the EP would be released: “I thought this was just going to be a secret release that the band never shared! I don’t know what I was thinking.”) The resulting “family reunion” buoys up the difficult emotions on Calming Night Partner with a palpable warmth.

The darkness on Calming Night Partner is never one-sided. The suicidal ideation that floats through pulsing, soaring opener “Leave Life Alone” could also be a graceful resolve: “I realized it could also be ‘I’m going to leave life alone and let it do its thing,’” Powell says. “Leave it alone and trust.” Standout track “Moment Feed,” driven by the resonance and urgency of Powell’s Farfisa organ, takes on toxic positivity (and name-checks Katrina & the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine”) with buzzing, frenetic rock that recalls Radiohead’s “National Anthem,” then opens up into a chorus of angelic peace.

Working with trusted collaborators enabled Powell to stretch Land of Talk’s sound in new directions, while the EP’s tight recording schedule forced them to loosen up: “I was trying not to be so perfectionist-minded, just going with the best I could do, and not further hurting myself with all the ways I tend to torture myself in the studio.” Increasingly, they left guitar for keyboards — “the glow! The harmonics!” — which blankets the songs in golden ambience. The use of brass across Calming Night Partner is subtle and unexpected: Powell recalls pelting their players with directions like “play like you’re falling down the stairs.”

Powell, who took on toxic relationships and a culture of gendered violence in their last album, has entered treatment for Complex-PTSD, a process that has meant grappling with their personal history of sexual assault and a childhood in which they were “groomed to be a people-pleasing performer.” They’ve also been navigating the world as an out non-binary person, a process which has made them keenly attuned to how everyday social interactions can cut people down: “I’ve had to push, and say, ‘just so you know, I am non-binary,’ and the other person just doubles down on their ignorance,” Powell says. “I’ve had to really practice speaking up for myself, in a lot of ways.”

Instead of turning away from the world or falling into navel-gazing, though, Powell finds their focus shifting, more and more, to community, and the ways that healing gives them the resilience they need to lift other people up — whether that be their bandmates or those who are forced to the margins in this white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy.

“Intersectionally, I know there’s so much else going on,” Powell says. “I don’t want to create trauma porn. I’m trying to heal myself. Everybody’s trying to heal, so that’s the theme: ‘Okay, we all have deep bags of shit, and we’re all trying to heal from it. Let’s do this.’”

Music is a way for Powell to approach painful experiences from a position of power. Sometimes it conveys things that are impossible to express through words alone — as with the end of “Something Will Be Said,” Calming Night Partner’s closing track, where a simple mantra of “seeing what I was not” floats out into a long, gorgeous instrumental, with Powell’s guitar melting into the soundscape created by their bandmates. Powell’s voice leaves the track so we can hear the full strength of the community they’ve built.

“I’m hoping so hard, and all of my hope goes into the music,” Powell says. In 2021, when hope and community are more essential than ever, Calming Night Partner is a balm and a proof of the resilience that arises in dark times. 

Moment Feed Single

Label: Saddle Creek
Release Date: October 12, 2021

Land of Talk releases