Though it carries with it a mix of emotions, You Say Party’s XXXX is an album worth celebrating and remembering ten years on.
I cannot think of another album that’s as easy to listen to and yet so difficult to write about than XXXX. It lives in two worlds — two completely different eras that travel along the same timeline axis. It was released on September 29, 2009, as the third full-length album from Abbotsford, BC-based dance-punks You Say Party! We Say Die!; seven months later it became the last record they’d release under that name and with their original line-up. On April 18, 2010, drummer Devon Clifford died after suffering a brain hemorrhage while on stage two days earlier. By June of that year, they embarked on a new musical phase as You Say Party with new members Robert Andow on keyboards (replacing former member Krista Loewen) and drummer Al Boyle (who stepped behind the kit after Bobby Siadat did an interim stint with the band).
The third time was most definitely the charm for Clifford, Loewen, bassist Stephen O’Shea, guitarist Derek Adam, and vocalist Becky Ninkovic. Dance-punk was having its day in the aughts, but XXXX upped the ante. Over the course of a pair of LPs (2006’s Hit the Floor! and 2007’s Lose All Time) YSP!WSD! worked hard to get the party going. They brought their take-no-prisoner-attitude and delectable rhythms to the dancefloor in much the same way bands like Pylon and the B-52’s did in the late 70s and early 80s, but something was markedly different about XXXX. The attitude and groove were there, but so too was a profound seriousness, depth, and warmth that few expected. The “XXXX”’s in the album and song titles weren’t censoring out anything illicit; it was a stand-in for “love”.
They set the tone right off the top with “There is XXX (Within My Heart)”, a moody, minor-key thrummer. Always a singing force of nature to be reckoned with, Becky Ninkovic hones her voice to spine-chilling precision. Her delivery quivers through the verses before grounding itself to go full-throttle on the chorus, a trademark, shouty sing-along declaring “There is love within my heart, there is LOVE LOVE LOVE”. “Glory” and “Cosmic Warship Avengers” stick closest to the band’s previous playbook, but it’s on stand-out moments like “Laura Palmer’s Prom”, “Dark Days”, and the devastatingly beautiful closing balled “Heart of Gold” that YSP!WSD! evolved beyond dance-punk’s constraints and conventions. Each song carries emotional heft. It’s a weight that only comes with time, experience, and a broadening of one’s horizons beyond their own border (in the year leading up to XXXX, the band’s members each took time away from music in order to do volunteer work and explore other artistic pursuits).
That growth and emotional depth only grew stronger with Devon Clifford’s sudden, tragic passing. What were already heightened emotional songs took entirely new resonances (I for one tear up every time I hear the sombre opening notes and angelic harmonies of “Heart of Gold”). XXXX is a record forever frozen at a specific moment in time for both the band and its fans. Its lustre and shine haven’t dulled in the intervening decade, nor has its importance and place in the band’s history been diminished with time. If anything, it remains a definitive statement that captures the raw energy and spontaneity of the band’s live performance and marks a significant step forward in songwriting. The tenth anniversary of XXXX is likely a bittersweet milestone for You Say Party, their family and friends. Though it undoubtedly carries with it a mix of emotions, It is an album worth celebrating as a document of growth, as a lasting tribute to their friend and bandmate, and as a celebration of the common denominator that binds us all and makes us human: love.