Talkin’ Tim Hortons with Teenanger and Holy Fuck

Steve Sidoli and Brian Borcherdt dive deep into the history and culture of the Canadian institution.

Steve Sidoli is a member of the Toronto-based DIY band Teenanger; Brian Borcherdt is a solo artist and a member of the influential alt-electronic Toronto band Holy Fuck. To celebrate Teenanger’s new album Good Time (out today via Telephone Explosion), the friends embarked on a deep dive into the history and culture of a storied Canadian institution: Tim Hortons. 
— Annie Fell, Talkhouse Senior Editor

Steve Sidoli: So basically with this discussion, I wanted to talk about Tim Hortons. I wanted to approach it from a whole bunch of different angles, because I think that somehow in this post- or during-pandemic world that we’re in right now, it seems to be weirdly relevant in a lot of ways. I want to preface everything by saying that, before I came here to do this discussion with you, I stopped at Tim Hortons myself. I thought that the best way to kind of get the vibe going for this was to get, obviously a huge coffee, and then I had some food from there as well — I had an egg and sausage English muffin with a side of potato wedges. Now, it wasn’t very good, but the coffee certainly did the trick. 

There’s something — for lack of a better word — naughty about eating breakfast at night. I think it’s because it’s something that we traditionally were not allowed to do, but I think Tim Hortons was really the pioneer in getting people to be able to have a breakfast sandwich at all hours of the day. But anyway, I had that, so I’m feeling fairly salted — lotta sodium — and very caffeinated. But, I wanna know when the last time you had anything from Tim Hortons was. 

Brian Borcherdt: I had Tim Hortons just two days ago. In fact, now that you got me thinking about it, I should run out to the car and get the half-drank cup of Tim Hortons — it would be two days old, and there’s cream in it, so I don’t know if that would be recommended, but I could do that. I don’t want to interrupt our call, but I’m wishing I did that. I wish I’d prepared and had it in front of me.

Steve: We can reconvene post-caffeine if you’d like, but I don’t know how long my high is gonna stay.

Brian: You might crash.

Steve: That’s the thing about caffeine in Tim Hortons coffee: It hits you hard, but it leaves a lot quicker than any other caffeine. I don’t know what it is. Something in there.

Brian: Something in the water, as they say. 

Steve: I would like to give off the impression that this was the first time I had Tim Hortons in a long time, and that I was doing it ceremoniously for the sake of this interview, but actually I had it a week prior, and it was almost the exact same meal that I ate. And I didn’t enjoy it the last time, and I certainly didn’t enjoy it this time, so it begs the question: Why do I keep going back? And the world knows that it’s not good, so why do they keep going back? Maybe it’s a larger question, like why do people continue to digest things, whether it be coffee or anything, that’s not good? 

Brian: Yeah. Is it a patriotic thing? Does it make you feel more Canadian? The thing that I’m wondering about — you’re in Toronto, right? 

Steve: I’m in Toronto, yep. East End Toronto. 

Brian: Well, the East End is like Little Hamilton, or Little Ajax or something. But I found that I never went to Tim Hortons in the city, so it’s almost, like, nostalgic these days that I’m not touring. Tim Hortons for me means that I’m on the highway. It’s not usually my downtown Toronto experience, so is it for lack of other cafes being open? I guess at this hour, you’re not gonna get your breakfast anywhere else. 

Steve: Yeah, but you know, what I like about it is that it’s one of the few places that you can go in the city in present day Toronto that’s just no-frills. If you want to go somewhere and get a coffee that tastes kind of like coffee, but is certainly not good, but it’s not bad, and you wanna pay less than two dollars for it like the way the world used to work, you can do it at a Tim Hortons. You’re not necessarily gonna enjoy it, but it will do the things to you that coffee does, and you will walk away without having had a weird panic attack in front of a barista, or spent more money than you wanted to, or gotten a dirty look for using a non-biodegradable take out cup. Sometimes you want something that just goes right in the garbage. 

Brian: [Laughs.] And you can get that, of course, from Coffee Time, but you might be paying with a little bit more of your dignity.

Steve: I would argue that the coffee at Coffee Time is actually superior to the coffee at Tim Hortons. Toronto artist Jesse Harris — famous for the “You’ve Changed” sign next to CAMH in Queen West — is a huge, huge proponent of Coffee Time and turned me on to it. 

I think that disappearing Coffee Times and the emergence of thousands of Tim Hortons is really reflective of where the city is going in a lot of ways. Coffee Time, even though it operates under a corporate structure, one to another they’re kind of similar, but there’s a difference in each one you go to. Whereas every Tim Hortons is pretty much exactly the same. But maybe it’s different when you get into small town Nova Scotia. 

Brian: Well, you know what we have here in my town is Robins. You probably don’t know about Robins Donuts.

Steve: Oh, I’ve heard of it!

Brian: I used to know the heiress to the Robins Donuts fortune. She was cool, she offered me a job but I didn’t wanna work there. But I could have gotten one, I had an in! It’s kind of like if you couldn’t afford your Tim Hortons franchise, but you’re building a little convenience store/gas station thing. It’s probably a similar process, but a little more affordable.

Steve: If I had to describe the East Coast Maritimes to people that weren’t from there — and I’m not from there, so take what I say with a grain of salt — I’d say that it’s the last place in the world where dynasties still rule everything. You’ve got the McCains, the Irving, and now you’re telling me about the heir to the Robins Donuts fortune? That’s three dynasties in three provinces with not a huge population — that’s a lot of dynasties. There’s no dynasties in Quebec. Maybe the Vachon snack cake people, but I feel like they’re probably just a large corporation. I don’t know if the Vachon family has got a lot of torrid affairs happening, whereas on the East Coast, it’s like something out of the actual [TV show] Dynasty. 

Brian: I went to a karaoke beach party a couple weeks ago with one of the main dynasties you overlooked: The Sobeys family, as in the grocery store. I have friends who grew up among the Sobeys, and there are some good folks in there. Same with the McCains. There’s no dynasties where I’m from — there’s some secretly wealthy lobster fisherman, but that’s it.

Steve: You’d have to get to a sizeable town to get to a Tim Hortons, right? The Robins might be a little more prevalent, but it’s not just a given when you see somebody walking down the street that they’ve had Tim Hortons in the last little while. Maybe they went to town and got a little double-double while they were there, but chances are they just stayed in their center with Robins Donuts, or made coffee or tea at home. I feel like tea is probably pretty big there too.

Brian: Yeah, there’s definitely some wigged-out youth in Kentville, which is like two towns over from me. There’s a Tim Hortons there, and they’ll often be in their head-to-toe jogging pant attire, their fleeces, with a big double-double, and walking quite erratically like they’ve got something going on. Whispering to each other, walking with a kind of exuberant, bouncy stride…

Steve: A stride that can only be imposed by the consummation of an extra large double-double — a size, I might add, that did not exist when I was a teenager. You could get an extra large, but it was what a large is now. Everything’s just up-sized one. 

Brian: So do you miss the old sizes? 

Steve: I do, I don’t understand why we needed to upsize. I don’t understand why the general populace needed that extra jump in caffeine. I understand it from a marketing standpoint, right? They probably did some kind of jack in prices that wasn’t in line with the volume you were getting in your drink. But really, we don’t need that. And most people who are consuming an extra large double-double, or an extra large triple-triple — and I mean, I’ve seen people get things like quad-quad before, just crazy stuff — most of those people, and I going to be a bit stereotypical here, I think they’re driving. I think they’re buying those and then they’re driving. And we live in a world where it’s stressful enough; we don’t need to have all that extra caffeine, especially when road rage is so prevalent. It doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s borderline evil.

Brian: Yeah. And I’m making a judgement here: When I see someone buying something like that, I assume they’re the same people that don’t drink any water. Like, none. So that’s their all day drink. It makes me hurt inside when I think of that.

Steve: My parents [drink] coffee — Tim Hortons is their treat once or twice a week, but it’s generally Maxwell House coffee — diet Coke, and maybe one glass of water per day.

Brian: Isn’t that crazy?

Steve: They’re in their 70s and this has been their routine for the last 25 years, I’d imagine. It’s seems to work, so, I don’t know. There’s water in coffee, right?

I feel like I should give everyone a bit of a history lesson. To you, I imagine this is second nature in terms of your compendium of knowledge, but we’ll just kind of go back a little bit and talk about Tim Hortons. Everyone knows Tim Hortons was started in the ‘70s, and [Tim Horton] was an actual hockey player — I believe he either played for Toronto or Buffalo. He opened this small chain of donut shops regionally in Ontario, and then it started to grow nationally as the ‘80s went on. Then in the mid-’90s, when I guess it was at the peak of its quality and popularity, it got bought out by Wendy’s. When that happened, there was an uproar. There were articles written in the Toronto Star, there were people talking about how it was a hostile takeover and Canada was losing a bit of its identity. But it continued on, although that was at a point where I think in a lot of ways, people started to see the quality drop off just ever-so slightly.

Then it bought itself back. I don’t know the ins and outs of it, but it became independent again. Then in 2010 or 2011, it got sold again, to Burger King, who was owned by some big multinational Brazilian company. I don’t think people were as up in arms when that happened — I think globalization was a bit more of a thing at that point, and people were used to hostile takeovers and big corporate mergers and stuff. But, people really started to notice at that point that the quality of the foods and the beverages just started to drop off.

So that’s where we are today. Have you, as a consumer of Tim Hortons, noticed that it’s gotten a lot worse over the years? 

Brian: That’s interesting. Short answer is, I have not. But I think it’s because, as you’re rhyming off these stats, they kind of go in tandem with growing up for us. At some point, you’re bound to sort of lose the luster — or maybe not, like you say, your parents still see it as a treat. But I do find that I think inevitably, I probably would have been at a point where I’d be like, Nyah, it’s not so great. I’m not gonna go get a dozen donuts, so much. So part of me thinks it’s just the way  remember it — I remember it being better, but I’m remembering what it was like to be 10 years old and get a box of donuts. That’s a pretty exciting thing. Now, you get one donut and you hate it before you even eat it, like fuck this donut. You’re not excited about it, it just feels like an unnecessary evil.

Steve: Time goes so quickly now, because we’re used to the passage of time, so you eat a donut now and it’s like a heartbeat, right? 

Brian: Yeah, you just inhale it. It’s something to go along with the coffee so you don’t get gut rot because you’ve got a long ways to go, you wanna get something light. It’s kind of a metaphor for growing old, it’s just not what it used to be. But maybe there is an alternate dimension where none of these things happened and we’re still able to eat and drink the goods from Tim Hortons as they once were. And maybe it’s heavenly, I just wouldn’t know. 

Steve: Yeah, it almost makes me think the golden years of Tim Hortons were lost on us because we were too young to truly appreciate what was offered to us at that point. Because they had their own bakers, everything was made in house, so I’d imagine that those were really good donuts. They were the kind you’d get at an artisanal donut shop now, but it was just readily available to people. But we didn’t know because we were just kids, and you could have given us 12 donuts from whatever your local grocery was, and we would have enjoyed them just the same because they were full of sugar and we were undiscerning children.

Brian: Yeah. I remember there being things about Tim Hortons I was really quite fascinated by, because we didn’t have one anywhere close to Yarmouth at the time. That mascot — it was like a little Timbit or something, but it looked like a cartoon fly with the big googly eyes. I thought that was really crazy. 

Someone would go to the big city, and they’d come back with Tim Hortons donuts. I remember it was located on Quinpool in Halifax, and you’d drive by and be like, “That’s the place they brought those donuts from!” So something about it was really intriguing. 

I also remember they had those cookies. I don’t know how they got away with the trademarking of it, because they’d make these icing faces on ‘em, basically like gingerbread men or whatever, and it’d be, like, Kermit and Miss Piggy and Disney characters. I’m sure they didn’t have the rights to use any of those images, so they just brazenly did it, I assume. 

Steve: And that was beauty of the time — you just didn’t need that.

Brian: Maybe it just looked shitty enough that no one from the Muppets franchise was gonna come down on this Tim Hortons in Edmundston, New Brunswick.

Steve: I’ve been to that one — [Edmundston] probably has more than one, but I’ve been to the one on the Trans-Canada Highway. I remember sitting in that parking lot drinking a Tim Hortons coffee, and a new blast came on the radio that in Edmundston, there was a man living in a second floor apartment who kept exotic pets, and he had a boa constrictor that somehow crawled out his window down to the first floor apartment and killed a child.

Brian: Oh, my lord, that’s awful!

Steve: It was insane because it had just happened, and it just happened to be the time I was driving through Edmundston. And Edmundston is not a big town — I probably could have walked to where that happened. But anyway, it’s the type of thing that sticks in your mind. 

Brian: Yeah, it’s sticking in my mind now, thanks. 

Steve: Speaking of the Trans-Canada Highway, I feel like there’s this intrinsic bond between Canadian musicians — especially ones that travel and tour — and Tim Hortons. Because you get to certain points where you’re in between point A and point B, and there really is no other option in terms of what you can eat or drink at that point. Do you have any memories of being stranded somewhere and Tim Hortons being the only thing you can eat?

Brian: Well, two thoughts come to mind. First, as much as we can love-hate [Tim Hortons], when I do cross the border into the States, depending on the time of day, there’s a bit of a lamentation that it’s going to be harder to get coffee. It’s a strange thing about American highways. Coffee is not as readily available after, I don’t know, a more socially acceptable coffee hour. My American bandmates would actually kind of remember different spots like, “If you take this exit somewhere in Pennsylvania, there’s gonna be a coffee place we can go to.” So you have to be a bit more strategic in planning your stopes. Whereas in Canada, it’s a given that if you’re on the highway, you can go to a Tim Hortons. Coffee’s always available.

The other thing is, speaking of American bandmates — our drummer is from Ohio originally and lives in New York City, so he wasn’t as familiar with Tim Hortons. We got into this habit as a band of slang-ily calling things stupid names, like McDonalds would be “Micky Dicks,” or whatever — like you just can’t think of the word, so you make up something silly. We were always calling Tim Hortons “Dick Dogs” for some reason. We didn’t think much of it, but our American drummer would get in the van with us and, A. He’s not familiar with Tim Hortons, and B. Because he’s not familiar with Tim Hortons, it really had an effect on him that we were calling it “Dick Dogs.” So since then, internally in our band, Tim Hortons is called “Dick Dogs.” Like, “Hey, is anyone tired? Should we go get Dick Dogs?”

Steve: Yeah, I feel like a chain is not a chain until you’ve bastardized its name. 

Brian: Yeah, and I think there’s usually a process. I don’t think it went straight to “Dick Dogs,” though maybe it did. I don’t know if it had something to do with McDonalds, because that’s an easier jump to “Mickey Dicks.” Hopefully that wasn’t a waste of everyone’s time to tell that story. Maybe you can take a bit of it with you, and you too can start calling it “Dick Dogs.” 

Steve: It almost reminds me of the UK, where everyone gets a nickname. 

It’s funny you’re talking about traveling in the States and the difference in coffee culture there. I think when Holy Fuck first started, I don’t feel like the US had quite been Starbucks-ified to the point that it is now. In the States, Starbucks is almost what Tim Hortons is here, except it’s way more expensive and it’s, like, fake fancy. You’re getting a product that’s not much better than what you would get at Tim Hortons, but you’re paying double for it. There might be one or two more accoutrements that they put on it, like a piece of baby spinach or something, but it’s not really worth the extra amount you’re paying for it.

I think some Tim Hortons are even creeping up into the northern states as well, but they’ve gone and done their own customized menus, which have nothing to do with what Canadian Tim Hortons is.

Brian: I don’t know if Tim Hortons knows what it wants to be that far down in the States. More north, it can just be what it is, and everyone understands, because if they’re Americans they’re often traveling to Canada and vice verse. But it definitely fits this weird place between Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks.

Steve: Yeah, exactly, it’s really trying to hold the middle ground between Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks. Whereas, in Canada, it is Dunkin Donuts. They’re the same thing. Except in the States, they know their role a little more — Dunkin Donuts is superior in the States to what Tim Hortons is in Canada because they know exactly what they’re there for. They’re like, “OK, we’re Dunkin Donuts, we’re gonna attract the person who doesn’t want to go to Starbucks for whatever reason — it’s too expensive, or it’s too fancy, or they just don’t see the point of the stuff they offer.” You go to a Dunkin Donuts and you’ve got your basic coffee, your Moolatte, which is basically your iced cappuccino that you get at Tim Hortons, and it’s got a basic variety of food that is not donuts, and then it’s got your donuts and a few other sweets. They’ll branch out here and there, but really they know their market and they do it well, and I feel like in some places they’re way more popular than Starbucks, and in others they compete or are slightly less [popular]. But across the board, they’re pretty good. 

Whereas, Tim Hortons — if you were to look at a menu at Tim Hortons, they’ve got these ones in Toronto now that are fancy, like they’re trying to be a Canadian Starbucks or something. You go in and there’s a fireplace and leather seats, but the food is just ridiculous. None of it makes any sense. You can get a grilled cheese sandwich, which sounds normal, but then they’ll slather the grilled cheese sandwich in mustard and throw in a bunch of red onions that aren’t really cooked. And then you get that with a side of chili or a side of wedges, and that’s it. It doesn’t make any sense to me when I think about that meal. Who is that trying to appeal to? It’s like, the person who sits at home and makes a grilled cheese sandwich and is like, “It’s just not disgusting enough. I gotta throw in some things that don’t make sense with it, like mustard and raw onions, and I wanna have that with chili.” 

Brian: “And I wanna sit next to a fireplace with a bunch of strangers.”

Steve: That person doesn’t exist, I don’t think. 

Brian: That’s an odd thing. 

Steve: Every single item that’s not a breakfast sandwich on the Tim Hortons menu has honey mustard on it. Every single one.

Brian: I can taste it now. There was a while where I definitely ate a lot of those sandwiches and now I can’t, and it’s the honey mustard. That’s the thing that you like at first, and then you get sick of it and then you’re done. Like, “I can’t eat these anymore.”

Steve: It’s an antiquated condiment. It came in in the late-’80s, early-’90s when people were like, “I want something different with my mustard.”

Brian: Mustard was really popular. 

Steve: It’s like mustard but a little sweeter, a little less mustard-y, it works with some stuff. But it’s been going and going and going for 15 years, and people don’t have the palate for it anymore. If you’re going to put mustard on something, they want a grainy mustard or a spicy mustard, something you’d get in the UK or something like that.

Brian: Or just flat-out yellow mustard. That’s been almost a craving lately. I’m in a small town and there’s not a lot here — there’s one grocery store, there’s restaurant that no one goes to, and there’s the Robins Donuts. And there’s one coffee shop that’s quite nice actually, so there’s probably where I’ll go. But there’s a butcher shop too, and that’s where I get food from because there’s not a lot of places to get food. They have these subs and they’re perfect. I’m not a big sub guy, but the bread is soft — and this is a proper submarine sandwich, not to be confused with a Quiznos or something. It has all the classic things about it, and that’s what makes it great: That puffy, fluffy bread, which is not artisanal but it’s perfect, and that bright yellow stain-your-lips mustard. I try not to eat too many of them, because I don’t want to eat too much meat, but it’s there and I’ve eaten my share of them. That’s the new fancy. It’s rustic. 

Steve: Yeah, you’re basically living the life there that people want to live here. 

Brian: It sounds like what you wanted with the simplicity of the Tim Hortons experience tonight, something that’s no-frills. Toronto doesn’t have a lot of simple sandwich shops. The bodegas in New York are amazing, and we’re not quite at that level here with our little butcher shop in terms of options, but it’s still a pretty good sandwich. 

Steve: That’s one thing Toronto is behind the ball on, the watch-the-sandwich-be-made-in-front-of-you-at-the-deli spot. I haven’t really been to one in my entire time here, whereas in Ottawa, there were at least two that I could tell you about. And every other major city in the States, there’s alway someone like, “You gotta go here and try this sandwich,” and it’s the same thing: It’s a giant sandwich that a guy makes in front of you at the deli. It’s good!

Brian: That’s my new favorite thing. When I’m in New York City, it used to always be about the cheese slice, and maybe that’s because you’re excited and in a hurry and you’ve got maybe not a whole lot of money in your pocket, so pizza kind of fills the pace. But lately it’s all about the bodega sandwich, especially when I’m leaving, I’ll pop by any given one. Sometimes they’ll cut a banana in half and throw it in your little clamshell pack for free. They’re so cheap and they make ‘em right in front of you, and there’s a thousand different options. It’s usually that Boar’s Head, which seems to kind of have the monopoly there. Those are great! I look forward to that more than the classic cheese slice now.

Steve: You gotta watch, though, with those places, because if you let them just keep going with the sandwich, they’ll basically throw everything they have on there, and it’s just a mixture of flavors that don’t necessarily go together. Like now I’ve got the turkey, I’ve got the prosciutto, I’ve got the salami, and three different kinds of cheese, and then there’s all these different condiments and these picked vegetables on there, and everything kinda tastes like oregano a little bit. By the time you get to the end of it, you’re like, I don’t know if my stomach’s gonna be able to take this.

Brian: What’s the name of that sandwich? They’ve always got a cool name that they make up there, like an actor’s name or a movie. I just get option anxiety. There’s a thousand choices, and you’ve gotta read all the different names — some have sundried tomatoes, or feta, you’ve really gotta be careful. You wanna keep it simple.

Steve: There’s this place in Cleveland called the Happy Dog, and they have live music and stuff, but basically you go in and they give you a sheet of paper that’s just got condiments — like three pages of condiments — and you choose what goes on the hot dog. To me, that was way too stressful, to have to actually choose that much stuff. I want them to do the choosing — I want you to tell me what’s gonna taste good on this. Tell me what it is, of course, I don’t want it to be a surprise, but I want to look at it and be like, “Yeah, that tastes good, I’ll have that one.” You don’t go to a fancy restaurant and they give you a menu and say, “Here’s 18 things, put ‘em together.”

Brian: Yeah, they don’t just give you a list of their fine ingredients. 

Steve: It’s a salad bar mentality. I’m anti-salad bar, I think.

Brian: I don’t mind salad bar, because you’re not choosing ingredients from a list, you’re just doling them out. But I wouldn’t want to order a salad bar off a menu, I’d get it all wrong. 

Steve: So what do you think about Tim Hortons on the international scale? I do know there are quite a few Tim Hortons strewn about internationally, and that tends to be where the Canadians go to conglomerate. Like, “Oh, I’m in Oslo for the Olympics, and I’m gonna go get my picture taken with a double-double at the Tim Hortons kiosk.” What do you think is inherently Canadian about Tim Hortons, other than the fact that it started in Canada and started with a hockey player? I can’t figure it out.

Brian: I can’t either. Maybe it appeals to this weird inferiority complex, where we think we don’t deserve anything better. It’s just perfectly shitty enough for someone who’s gonna be — I don’t wanna sound too harsh, but it’s boring enough for the person who’s boring enough to go get it and take a picture with it in front of the Eiffel Tower or something like that. If it was any better, it would require some kind of good taste to discover it in the first place, and then they wouldn’t do it. It’s mediocrity, is what I’m trying to describe. [Laughs.]

Steve: What you’re saying has made me shift my viewpoint a little — I think what is so Canadian about Tim Hortons is, it came from a lack of options. If there’s one thing that every Canadian has to deal with is a bit of a lack of options, right? Telecom service — we’ve only got a couple providers, it’s pretty much a monopoly. We don’t get the same cable channels people get in the States. You name it, there’s pretty much less choice. There’s less artists, less musicians, there’s not as big of a pool of people to sell your art or whatever you’re making to; you’ve got to make due with a smaller amount of everything. Tim Hortons is something you can count on wherever you go. It’s here and it’s ours and other people know about it, so we might as well just give in and say, “OK, well, Tim Hortons is Canadian.” 

Brian: You’re absolutely right. I think, because it has to represent everybody coast-to-coast, small towns and big cities — it somehow has to endear itself upon people — it has to have this universal appeal. I guess I was a bit harsh on it — I was basically implying that it can’t be too good, because if it was too good it would lose its appeal. It can’t be too fancy or idiosyncratic, or it can’t be too specialized. You can’t survive under the conditions you just mentioned, it has to appeal to everyone because that’s all you get. So nuts to that. No one’s gonna go all the way to Europe and then buy a cellphone plan from Halifax because they miss home. 

Steve: “I’m repping Cogeco out here in Singapore.”

Brian: [Laughs.] Yeah exactly. 

Steve: Well, I think we’ve covered every single corner that we could get into with Tim Hortons. Do you have anything else you want to say before we end this discussion?

Brian: I think we hit a lot of different things that I think of when I think of Tim Hortons. We touched on some of the frustrations, and the problems that need solving. We didn’t solve them, but we brought them to light. In a way, I think we figured out a lot about Tim Hortons. I kind of crave Tim Hortons at this very moment right now — I’m not gonna have it, it’s my bedtime here almost, but tomorrow morning… I might start with Robins because it’s what’s here, but I’ll be thinking of Tim.

(Photo Credit: left, Jake Sherman; right, Norman Wong)

Teenanger — the Toronto DIY scene innovators, who count among their members the founders and operators of the increasingly influential record label Telephone Explosion — released their sprawling, diverse and pseudo-self-titled album Teenager in 2017.

Their latest album, Good Time, is Teenanger boiled down to its very essence. A lean and muscular eight-song album that is the sound of a band who simultaneously has everything and nothing to prove. It’s what happens when seasoned songwriters flex their chops in an environment that fosters boundless creativity.  It is also Teenanger’s most fun album. Choruses soar to previously unattained heights, descending to a rhythmically fertile ground to pull earworms that will stick inside listeners’ heads for days. If its songs were citizens, they would reside in a diplomatically neutral city-state, melting pots of art rock, pop, dub, post-punk and new wave. 

The music of Good Time certainly elicits pleasure, but lyrically things are more weighty. The band does not shy away from its commentary on contemporary issues. There are calls to reject societal norms, ruminations on humanity’s obsession with technology and warnings about our impact on the environment. Teenanger never gets too earnest, delivering everything with an irreverence that has been there since day one.

Mixed by Sandro Perri, Good Time is out now via Telephone Explosion.