The bones of Boniface’s debut record were all present in 2016. Four years later what made Micah Visser special is still there, just more refined.
Subverting the entertainment industry trope that stars are formed by single life-changing events, singer-songwriter William Prince recently said, “It took me 20 years to be an overnight success.” I appreciate how Prince’s statement validates the incredibly hard work that goes on before the breakout successes: gruelling tours; crumpled lyric sheets; piano lessons from the age of five. At the same time, I wonder if maybe we can appreciate the formative experiences and dedication of artists while acknowledging the wheel of fate turning. These thoughts have been particularly present in my mind while enjoying the self-titled debut album from Boniface and pondering the trajectory of their band, or more specifically the trajectory of the Micah Visser Band.
I first had the pleasure of seeing Micah Visser perform when Visser played Regina with their band in late 2016 on the heels of releasing the Forward EP. It was an incredible live show and I gushed about it in my blog focused on music happening in Regina. The exact same day as my blog post,DOMINIONATED co-founder Jim posted his review of the Forward EP. We both highlighted Visser’s strong sense of melody and expected big things in their future. This isn’t to pat ourselves on the back as exceptional early prognosticators. Hell, we were ultimately late to the punch as current DOMINIONATED contributor Laura Stanley had already highlighted this all on Grayowl Point before us! All this is to say that, by 2016, Visser’s music was already noticed by a dedicated group of listeners for its strengths.
Fast-forward to Valentine’s Day 2020: Visser releases their full-length debut under the name Boniface to rave reviews and an eager international audience. It’s easy to understand why. Visser’s music perfectly encapsulates the dogged persistence of growing up while feeling at odds with the world around you. It’s probably the most common experience for any young adult, but in the moment, it feels like you’re the only one having to fight to be heard, seen, and understood.
This mix of general and specific is what I find most entrancing about Visser’s songwriting. “You’re the crutches that they gave to me / When I break my leg in middle school,” should mean nothing to me and my never-broken-bones, but damn if I don’t feel light-headed when I hear that lyric in the single “Oh My God”. I’ve never had a brother to borrow a car from, but the wistful chorus of the ballad “Your List” all too easily reminds me of times when I knew the moments I had left with another were sparse.
The instrumental elements of the record have a similar quality to Visser’s lyrics where they are so vaguely familiar and still wholly exciting and individual. There are moments of all-encompassing whimsy punctuated by Killers-esque flourishes (“Oh My God”) and then there are moments of dance-floor jubilance reminiscent of CHVRCHES (“Keeping Up”) and then there are moments of bare balladeering (bookends “Waking Up in Suburbia” and “Making Peace With Suburbia”) and then before you know it you are entirely swept up in everything and what exactly is this record anyways?
Flashback with me again a few weeks after I first saw the Micah Visser Band, to when they returned to Regina for BreakOut West. They were playing a pair of showcases, the second of which I made a concerted effort to catch. Even at this early stage of their career, the heart of what makes Boniface (the record) so exciting to me was all there in that live performance. Visser’s relatable specificity was there in “Keeping Up” when they told us “I just need you to calm me down like late-night CBC radio” before bursting into a triumphant instrumental hook. Visser’s skill in speaking to the hopeful optimism of youth was there in “I Will Not Return as a Tourist” as they guided us from low-voiced speak-singing to enthusiastic yelps. I can’t be certain if I’m willing a memory to exist, but I recall the earnest and urgent “Dear Megan” and the explosive and insistent “Wake Me Back Up” showing off a punk rock edge to the crowd too – though the latter 5/4 number (if it was the same) was titled “High Spirits” at the time.
I heard a full quarter of Boniface’s 2020 debut album in 2016 and the emotions that I felt were just as strong then as now: wonder; excitement, nostalgia; optimism. Whether in 2020 or 2016, these emotions were all driven by Visser’s skill in giving us irresistible melodies and poetic lyrics. Now, there’s no question that over the past three-or-so years Visser and the people behind Boniface have sharpened the musical production, further defined the visual aesthetic, and created an energy for the live show and the whole project that was not quite there in 2016 — they’ve put in hard work! Visser has grabbed opportunity by the horns and is showing off their incredible talent, drive, and maturity. But if Boniface never got to open for White Lies, and if Boniface never got signed to Transgressive Records, and if all I ever got was to see the Micah Visser Band, and all I ever had to go back to was the Forward EP (which I would love a copy of by the way), those songs and those performances would still be treasures. I’m so happy that thanks to the “overnight success” of Boniface, the hard work and skills of Micah Visser will be heard by many.