Nature Of “Bottom Line”

Nature Of
Dale Bailey

Is it chance or design? A universal question without an easy answer. Are differences in philosophy and ideology an inconvenient truth or a manufactured disaster? When you say you love me but treat me like the dirt under your feet, should I take your words or your actions at face value? I could abandon my cat alone in the house for days (I would never) and still get unconditional love when I return (for about five minutes before he’s totally over me). The human heart, sadly, is more fickle than a feline.

Edmonton’s Nature Of steadfastly explore the nature of human relationships. They won my heart in 2014 with their debut LP and have returned in 2017 with “Bottom Line” to melt it into a gelatinous mess. Its rhythm is a casual, confident strut; its winsome folk melody conveys hope and disappointment in the same breath and the sense that even after misunderstandings and missed opportunities, two parties can build connections and find common ground. Personally speaking, a more affecting song couldn’t have come my way at a better time. Was it chance or design? That’s an answer only the universe knows, but either way, I’ll take it.


Tropic Harbour “New Life”

Levi Manchak

Do you feel it? It’s time for another spring awakening. Earth is itching with new growth and the sun’s getting ready to show off its buffed up, super hot summer body. Edmonton’s Mark Berg is ready to move on, too. “New Life”—the newest song from Berg’s recording project Tropic Harbour—is an ode to starting over that blossoms with a radiant positivity.

Berg’s blissful synthpop melodies can thaw the coldest of hearts. “New Life” is a smooth blend of looking backward and forward all at one time. Berg’s lyrics reflect an understanding that the past informs the present and future. The song springs from the dissolution of a relationship but never dwells in depression and self-pity. Tropic Harbour’s naturally sunny musical disposition impresses “New Life” with healthy optimism about how even the most difficult situations in life can lead to growth.


100 Mile House, Hiraeth

100 Mile House, Hiraeth

Listening to Hiraeth is like leaving your front door open in the middle of the night. You won’t see what’s coming in until it comes across the threshold. Haunted memories. Long-lost loves. The dearly departed. In the dark of night, our familiars cast alien shadows and cloud our memories. Like the Welsh word it’s named for, Hiraeth is a record of reminiscence for a time, place, and people who may never have been. It’s a word with no English equivalent, and it perfectly captures the mood and feel of this record.

It’s in the way 100 Mile House play out these songs of vulnerability, drawing back gauzy veils to reveal the truth at the music’s core. They keep things as simple as a pair of voices and some strings (“Brighton Beach”), and frame poignant lyrics in unadorned, poetic arrangements (“Last Branch”). At every musical turn, though, Denise McKay and Peter Stone offer listeners an entry point into their world.

“If all we have is each other” they harmonize on “All We Have”, “then that’s enough.” It’s more than enough, though, isn’t it? Having someone there to sit with you through the cold nights, and warmest days, and the bleakest seasons; that’s everything.


J Blissette “Love Letter”

J Blissette, Alberta
Meghan MacWhirter

There really was a Deathbridge in Lethbridge in 2016. A much beloved venue called The Slice closed its doors concurrent with a number of local bands folding, including The Ruby Plumes, the former outfit of J Blissette (aka Jackson Tiefenbach). From the outside, the seismic shift in Lethbridge’s music scene may have seemed like the end of an era, but for Blissette, the end of one band afforded an opportunity for resolutions and renewal.

Backed by a band of music scene veterans (guitarist Cory Fischer is formerly of bands Participation and Internet Love; drummer Matthew Rederburg is also formerly of Internet Love and Saint Street; bassist Arnaud Sparks is currently of Bummer Club and formerly of Saint Street), J Blissette set about sobering up, inventing a new musical persona, and investing all their energy into learning how to “…to be a bit more of a frontman, and make better music.”

“Love Letter” is the first dispatch from a reinvigorated J Blissette. Its glammy, trashy, snarling punk attitude is spiked with charisma and spirited playing.  Blissette and bandmates take themselves seriously enough to infuse their music with passion while maintaining punk’s jocular attitude. It is the fresh start Blissette was aiming for, fuelled by the free-spirited fun of the city’s musical heritage, and setting a high bar for Lethbridge’s music scene to aspire to.


Various Artists, Taking It To Heart Volume One

Various Artists, Taking It To Heart Volume 1

As fans, we get a lot from music. Solace. Sympathy. Support. Strength. It’s heartwarming to hear stories about fans being able to return the favour, or as in the case of Treeline RecordingsTaking It To Heart compilation, paying that kindness forward. Label owner Ryan Montemurro recently released Treeline’s first album, a collection of new and unreleased original music by various Canadian artists, on both digital and vinyl platforms, with 100% of its net proceeds going to the Heart & Stroke Foundation.

For Montemurro, it’s all about creating win/win scenarios. As a Canadian music enthusiast, he’s approached artists he respects and admires to contribute their work to the project, a fanboy approach I totally appreciate. Any chance to share new music alongside other musicians gives artists the opportunity to reach new listeners (and for fans to discover new favourites). That the whole endeavour is designed to do some good in our world is the cherry on top.

There’s sweet treats from the likes of Operators, Kevin Drew, The Besnard Lakes, and Nap Eyes on Taking It To Heart, but I’ve taken a shine to Trapper’s remix of Woodpigeon’s “Devastating” (a song originally from this year’s T R O U B L E album). It’s an intimate, homey reworking of the original; more an enhancement than the typical exaggeration remixing implies. I suspect that on 180 gram coloured vinyl, the Trapper remix of “Devastating” will sound even warmer and lush than it does digitally.

There’s a lesson to be learned from Treeline’s Taking It To Heart project, one that we’ll be sure to mull over as the DOMINIONATED team starts thinking about where our own compilation project goes next. It’s a #CanadianMusicConvo worth having. We welcome any input you may have, and are sure that Treeline Recordings would welcome any financial input you’d like to make to Taking It To Heart as well.


Preoccupations, Preoccupations

Preoccupations, Preoccupations

We have to talk about Preoccupations. We have to talk about preoccupations, too, but first we have to talk about Preoccupations.

With uncompromising focus, mildly unsettling moments of tension and angst, and wildly exhilarating catharsis, Preoccupations is the kind of debut album any band would die to release. Most bands, though, wouldn’t have the opportunity to release a second (or even third) first record the way Preoccupations has. To trace the record’s creative arc, you need only look to its first four song titles in sequence: “Anxiety”, “Monotony”, “Zodiac”, and “Memory”.

All that Matt Flegel, Danny Christiansen, Scott Munro and Mike Wallace knew and believed about being in a band together fell away and threatened to break them apart as they worked on what started life as the second Viet Cong album. Doing what any good band would do in similar circumstances, they circled the wagons, blocked out the noise, and found a new sense of normal for themselves. The best course through a shitstorm is to plow straight through it. You have to go through the tediousness and repetition in order to find signs that mark your way out of the past and into the future.

The “sense of urgency and unease” of “Anxiety” is only heightened by the cyclical feeling that “Everybody’s waiting, cautiously optimistic” for “Monotony” to break the tension. It’s not until the band pummel their way through “Zodiac,” “Thrashing so weakly, so close to exhaustion, While hopelessly holding our breath,” that there’s even a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel. Those familiar with the Women/Viet Cong/Preoccupations story know that Flegel and Wallace have been down this road once before. Like a lesson learned from the past, “Memory” tells them “You don’t have to say sorry for all the things you failed to do, You don’t have to say sorry for all the times when everything fell through”; you just have to take your licks, own your shit, and decide how to move forward.

Maybe it’s reading more into Preoccupations than the band wants us to. Maybe not. The fact of the matter is you can only separate artist from art in the case of Preoccupations if you’ve no idea who Preoccupations are or who they were. Even then, the allegory of this album’s first half will be evident to anyone who listens all the way through. With that soon-to-be-iconic opening line, Matt Flegel (singing with more unease than urgency), Danny Christiansen, Scott Munro and Mike Wallace take listeners on an intense journey, one that truly starts with the siren-like whistle that kicks off “Degraded”, an alarm waking Preoccupations up to a new reality.

From there, they move through the last half of the record in creative leaps and bounds, with a brilliant new clarity and vision. “Sense” burns briefly, but hauntingly so. “Sense”, together with the schizophrenia of the equally short “Forbidden”, mirrors “Memory”’s multi-movement structure from the first side. But it’s “Stimulation”an epic, post-punk/prog-rock mindfuck that does what minutes earlier seemed all but impossible: stealing the title of ‘best moment’ on Preoccupations from the Dan Boeckner-sung, middle third, new wave movement of “Memory”.

We have to talk about Preoccupations the art because it’s uncompromising, emotionally unrelenting, and expertly rendered. We have to talk about Preoccupations the artists, who set about disassembling themselves, deconstructing their method, discarding ideas and concepts that were no longer relevant, in turn re-discovering themselves. We have to talk about our preoccupations as music listeners, as consumers of art. We have to go to where discomfort lives within us. Like Preoccupations the artists have done with Preoccupations the art, we have to sit with our preoccupations, know them, and then decide what we’re going to do with them. We have to do all of this all at the same time it seems, but first, we just have to start talking.


Joni Mitchell, Hejira

Joni Mitchell, Hejira

The very first time I heard Joni Mitchell I was watching The Last Waltz in my living room.  I just discovered The Band and knew that their 1976 concert, featuring everyone from Neil Diamond to Bob Dylan, was going to change my life.  Joni Mitchell was the first woman to take the stage.  When she did, she kissed the Band’s front person, Robbie Roberson, then cupped his face with her long fingers, before picking up her guitar to play.

At first I noticed her unique strumming style.  It was rhythmic and percussive.  The chords felt like the beat and the bass carried a kind of melody.  Mitchell was playing “Coyote,” the lead track off her latest album Hejira.

Hejira came out in November of 1976, the same month as the Band’s famous concert and in between the releases of the experimental The Hissing of Summer Lawns and the jazzy Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter.  Hejira featured nine tracks and was a departure from Mitchell’s folk style which catapulted her to success in the late 60s.  Instead of taking a similar road, this time she journeyed into the world of jazz; ‘hejira’ is an Arabic word meaning exodus, after all.

“Coyote” is an upbeat lament about a womanizer Mitchell knows too well, where “Song for Sharon” picks at the conflict between marriage and freedom. “Strange Boy” channels the droning of sitars, a unique addition to Hejira’s already distinctive sound. The album ends with Mitchell’s signature strumming punctuated with rhythmic slaps in “Refuge of the Roads.” Mitchell takes her lived experiences and turns them into songs where each instrument is heard making its point.

Mitchell is as much a musician as she is a poet and painter.  The artistry of her work extends far beyond the musical composition.  The lyrics on Hejira are beautifully crafted and explore the ways in which loneliness and feminism can often intersect.  Mitchell is never didactic but always a storyteller, painting poignant pictures with her songs that still reflect our landscape.

Hejira is easily missed sitting in the shadows of Mitchell’s mainstream success with albums like Blue and Court and Spark, but it’s one that marks a turning point in her career and is as relevant as ever.


Un Blonde, Good Will Come To You

Un Blonde, Good Will Come To You

Un Blonde is the musical moniker of Montreal-via-Calgary visionary Jean-Sebastien Audet. I say visionary because Audet has made a record that is singular, unique and distinctly his own style. It is nearly genreless, in the most liberating and powerful way.  

With artists reluctant to put themselves in a box and over sixty short years of popular music at each of our finger tips everyday, it has become common practice for critics and journalists to throw a math equation on every band you can’t quite place into a genre (i.e. a + b – c = x). So here I am, about to do a great disservice to one of the most unusual and moving albums I’ve heard in quite some time: Good Will Come To You by Un Blonde sounds like D’Angelo singing Joni Mitchell on a Sunday in 2016. Simple math!

Despite that easy equation, Good Will Come To You is an album that slowly reveals itself. It is a detailed painting of the sun rising on a small town, or a neighbourhood in a big city. There is a church beginning to fill up, people drinking coffee, lovers lying together quietly. There’s a suspended sense that everything’s alright, at least for a bit. Audet paints his picture with layered vocal flourishes, sparse piano, keys and guitars and most strikingly, wild sound. This combination gives the album a warm distance like the sounds you would hear walking through the town in the aforementioned painting. 

Subtle spirituality sprinkled throughout the album heightens that sense of relative solace, but it’s not specifically religious like the “devotional” tag on his Bandcamp page suggests. There is a universality to the sounds and words Audet crafts. “I’m free, like the sun rises and leaves: that’s me”. His sentiments are calming, empowering. He expresses a love of life that is so often missing from popular music. It’s powerful and effective, making you feel that life is worth it and can be good and humane.

In times like these, when the world and our own country needs to look itself in the mirror and recognize and fix the problems it faces, we look to art to help express our distresses. We often look to music to medicate that distress and latch onto hollow and hung over sentiments to mask how bad the world can be. Un Blonde skips both these musical antidotes and acknowledges the failings that will occur in our lives and societies but also celebrates the beauty and mysticism that comes along with human existence and all its strange imperfections. Good Will Come To You  appeals to anyone in need of a deep exhale and showcases a worldview that is distinctly indistinct. How appropriate that genre lines get blurred, crossed and erased so compellingly in Canada. Hopefully one day, we’ll achieve the level of liberation Jean-Sebastien Audet seems to have reached.


Rae Spoon “I Hear Them Calling”

There’s a battle brewing over bidets and basins. Surely this is a sign we’re slipping into a bizzaro parallel universe where common sense has gone the way of the woolly mammoth. Those supporting transphobic bathroom bills say they’re taking a moral high ground; I say that’s a bunch of malarky.

The only thing that needs rushing to extinction is the concept of gender-defined spaces for heeding mother nature’s call. Last week I had a chance to tour my old university residence, where a five-year, multi-million dollar construction project will soon be finished and ready to welcome a new group of undergrads into a modern facility that is not only sensitive to those outside the gender binary, but is ready to give them a safe space to live, learn, and do their business.

It’s a far cry from when I moved in some tw@!#$% years ago. Mildly confused about my orientation, crippled by debilitating negative body image, and nervous as hell about being away from home for the first time, I stood paralyzed with fear when I first saw the six-person open concept shower room I now shared with 30 guys.

Rae Spoon and filmmaker Chelsea McMullan, who together created the magnificent My Prairie Home, have come together once again, this time joined by a group of LGBTQ2 and ally youth to dance this absurd abuse of political power mess around. The video for “I Hear Them Calling” recently won funding through Storyhive, a community-powered funding program that’s voted on by the public. Donning homemade costumes and taking the party vibe to an inclusive powder room, Spoon, McMullan and the revelers not only reclaim the basic human right of dignity and respect, but are working to reverse this irrational backward slide into insanity.

“I want to live like this all the time,” Spoon says, echoing a desire and sentiment that transcends any gender divide. Who among us, male, female, gay, straight or other wouldn’t want to live with dignity and respect?


Preoccupations “Anxiety”

Preoccupations

I get it. Preoccupations’ previous name sucked, in a pretty big way. It made people angry, made them call for action, and demanded some kind of recognition of wrong.

I can also get how fraught the prospect of starting over can be, and how destructive that process can be on the individuals involved, and the band as a whole. Spin doctors will counsel that ‘no comment’ is the best comment publicly, but just because there’s no outward sign of inner turmoil doesn’t mean it’s not actually happening.

I’m not suggesting we take pity on Preoccupations. As a band, they freely chose to put themselves forward in the public eye under their previous name; in doing so, they assumed responsibility for the consequence of that choice. But me, I am forever a giver of the benefit of the doubt, an eternal optimist. In making choices in life, both positive and negatives ones, we earn opportunities to learn.

I make no assumptions about what it is exactly that Preoccupations learned from the consequences of their previous band name. They don’t owe me or anyone else a rationale behind their original name and its change. And yet, with just its title, let alone the first few lines of “Anxiety”, there’s enough suggestion: “With a sense of urgency and unease / second guessing just about everything / recollections of a nightmare / So cryptic and incomprehensible / Encompassing anxiety”.

“We ripped songs down to the studs, taking one piece we liked and building something new around it. It was pretty cannibalistic,” explains Preoccupations’ Scott Munro about the process that’s brought about their forthcoming self-titled album. “Anxiety” is the product of a band eating itself in order to start over again, a process some of its members are all too familiar with after their band Women disbanded. So while the title and taut, rigid rhythm of “Anxiety” suggest unease at its outset, the song settles into a contemplative, familiar refrain of angular guitar drone, industrial moodiness, and Matt Flegel’s unflinchingly frank vocal delivery. Ending far from where it began as a minutes-worth of shapeless noise, you get the sense that “Anxiety” is just but one small step along the evolutionary line Preoccupations are on.

Their journey boiled down to three possible routes: keep the name and stay the course; disband and discontinue making music together; or change their name and proceed onwards. Preoccupations made their choice. How you respond is yours. I’ve made mine.

Originally posted on Quick Before It Melts 14 June 2016.