Deux Trois lap bands that have multiple years, fans, and followers behind them with their debut.
It’s rare that an album, or band for that matter, comes out of nowhere and gives you exactly what you need even though you didn’t know you needed it. In the case of Deux Trois, the nowhere they come from is Kingston, Ontario and their debut, Health, is as refreshing and strong as the wind that turns the litter of turbines scattered across Wolfe Island.
Having lived in the first Capital of the United Province of Canada as a tourist for four years and participating in its small music and arts community, I suppose it’s a bit disingenuous to say they came out of nowhere for me. Bass player Benjamin Nelson, during the time I was living there, was in the city’s most happening band, PS I Love You. Guitar player Ben Webb was — along with myself, to my great pleasure — in Carvings, perhaps the least happening band in Kingston, but certainly the most confrontational. So one member is very rockignizable and another is a good friend. The true “nowhere” for me was the band’s drummer, singer, and leader, Nadia Pacey.
I had never met Pacey, but from the moment I witnessed Deux Trois playing live I knew that she was an artist with vision, passion, and that she was from Kingston. Now, how did know? I knew because I knew, but there is this very particular, nearly indescribable vibe that comes from musicians from Kingston and she has it in droves: part confidence, part attitude, part earnestness and utterly unpretentious weirdness. Kingston is smack dab in the middle of Montreal and Toronto, the country’s two most notorious artistic hubs. As a result, there is a unique sense of isolation that comes from living there. It’s by no means total isolation, but it’s enough to allow its artists the freedom to ignore the ever-shifting, meaningless dance of what’s cool and what’s not cool that plagues so much music coming out of the self-proclaimed bastions of art and culture. Being unconcerned with sounding cool, to my ears, is the coolest thing a band can do. Deux Trois undoubtedly have hints of pastgreats (though it’s almost entirely on an aesthetic level) but it in no way feels shoved down your throat or exhaustingly obvious.
The songs on Health were born from Pacey’s own solo demos that, from my understanding, were mostly electronic. Nelson entered the fold on bass, an instrument he had little experience with (he was the drummer in PS I Love You) and the two fleshed out the songs further. Not long before putting the record’s eight songs to tape, Webb joined the group, adding another integral piece to the puzzle. The sound that the three musicians have created is one that is unique and varied. It is minimal EDM played by a rock band, fleshed out by a bass player who is really a drummer and a guitar player with a tear-your-heart-out melodic sense strong enough to keep up with Pacey’s. It’s Deux Trois’ willingness to exercise restraint that makes Health so solid, warm, and inviting despite its darker corners. Pacey lays the foundation with her drum beats, always crafted with the vocals and melody in mind, and creates electricity with her presence and poetry. Nelson’s bass is the insulation; Webb decorates the walls. The house the trio constructs is not some modern build the tourists in Kingston compete to lease each September. It’s a classic, with character, some caked on grime, and an eclectic layout.
Health’s first song, “Don’t (Be Good To Us)”, is its least memorable, which is not to say it’s a weak track — far from it — but it is absolutely the front hallway in this house metaphor. It’s followed by “Salt”, the album’s most full throated rocker, peppered with thrilling noise from Webb and Pacey. From then on out, Health is a hit-parade, each song more emotionally gutting and infectious than the last. Thematically, the album is a journey towards self-love. Its front half is filled with visions of bad romance devoid of sweetness, sad, late-night masturbation, and desperate yearning displayed so vividly on “Caves in My Cheeks: “People know I’m starving by the caves in my cheeks/Every time you see me I look a little more weak”. Pacey sings these lines between verses that question whether a lover is as smitten as she, even though there is a sense her affection might have less to do with this other person and more to do with the protagonist’s own loneliness and need for affection, physical or otherwise.
Everything turns around on the back half, though, beginning with the unforgettable title track. “Health” is as minimal as nearly any song on the record, yet it looms the largest. It still features the darkness of the first half sonically, but it’s as if Pacey has found some sliver of light in a dingy basement which she follows up and out of her perceived worthlessness. As she croons “It feels so good for my health, good for your health, good for our health”, you need to believe her. From there, we get “Dave” — an absolutely gutting tune about Pacey’s first love that breaks the album’s darkness for good. Pacey shows off a wisdom and a sense of humor not heard on the album’s first half, while still capturing the painful nostalgia of young heartache. “Roy” is the album’s most tender track that celebrates the same kind of love found on “Health” and expresses a want to give back to the person who makes you feel loved day in and day out. The record is capped off by the hopeful “Blur”, which perfectly captures the uneasy, but blissful feeling of finally feeling okay, but worrying that feeling may go to your head and the cycle will start all over.
Health is a debut album that is fully realized, full of memorable moments and melodies that most bands could only dream of creating. There is a clear and satisfying arc that feels honest, varied, and considered. To think these three musicians haven’t even written an album as a unit yet leaves me genuinely excited for what’s next. While the pulse of what is “cool” may not be placed firmly on Kingston, the freedom that Deux Trois have found from the dog and pony show lends itself to a true sense of authenticity and depth. Deux Trois have come out of “nowhere” to lap bands that have multiple years, fans, and followers behind them. Now we wait and see if any of them can catch up.