The songs on Arielle Soucy’s Unresolved Collection are carefully crafted to undermine expectations rather than to follow rules.
In both big and small ways, most of us have found a way to make something out of nothing during this static year. Whether it’s learning a new skill, changing career paths, or just taking time to rest, the world coming to a screeching halt hasn’t meant that we have as well (despite it sometimes feeling that way). For Arielle Soucy, her pandemic autumn was spent recording and producing Unresolved Collection, all from her trailer in rural Brébeuf. The Montreal-based singer-songwriter, composer, and multi-instrumentalist’s latest EP is an exercise in catharsis, tracking Soucy as she relives and ultimately accepts loss, heartbreak, and the things she cannot change.
Soucy creates a closed sonic ecosystem on this EP, striking in its simplicity. Polyphonic, plucked guitar and wispy, layered vocals are the basis of Soucy’s soundworld, but it is the risks she takes within this space that leave an impression. The opening track, “Restaurant,” sees Soucy meditating on the imminent loss of a parent. With a melody that seems to walk forward, lost in thought, I am captivated by how much this music sounds like it is from another time. Soucy cites baroque music as an influence, and that is very apparent here. “Now you might disappear and I don’t even know who you are,” she sings, followed by highly expressive, melismatic writing that momentarily made me wonder if Soucy was actually plucking a lute. Soucy’s songs are carefully crafted, but this is more clearly illustrated in how she undermines expectations than how she follows rules. Following this melismatic outpouring, she stops all momentum by pausing mid-line: “Father and daughter what a strange—” and then, as if collecting herself, she continues “Blend of admiration and disdain.”
Soucy so clearly establishes her sound in the first two tracks of Unresolved Collections, that snaps, a shaker, and another voice on “Multispecies Storytelling” feel like outsiders. Or perhaps welcome visitors; the added instrumentation makes this song a natural centrepiece, as does the universality of its message. A meditation on human ego and impact, Soucy claims, “Neither hope, neither despair/will teach us or repair/only the will to be small again.” While I usually resent the narrative that saving the planet is in the hands of the individual (as opposed to the corporate and government entities that cause the most harm), Soucy’s call for a smaller, kinder way of life feels refreshingly unheroic. Instead of a sweeping call for revolution, Soucy suggests that maybe it is intuitive, simple (but nonetheless dedicated) change that is the most noble.
While Soucy’s cold and direct approach is compelling, it is the moments of sensitivity that have stuck with me days after my first listen. Soucy is an artist of minimal means: stripped-down instrumentation, refined songwriting, and lyrics that seem harmless until they’re not. For instance, on “Leave it There,” the refrain “I guess I’ll keep this to myself/I guess I’ll just leave it there,” builds until it nearly breaks, and then it’s gone. In this moment, Soucy accesses that specific kind of unspoken sadness that is felt at the end of a relationship. Hopelessness, failure, disappointment all wrapped in wishing things were different — in one wonderfully ambiguous line of text, Soucy says it all.