The microtonal debut from long-distance duo Body Breaks is a carnivalesque collection of musical curiosities tuned in to new spaces and sounds.
Just so you know, in case we ever meet in person at some point in the future and you want to engage me in a conversation about microtonal guitar tuning, I do not have a clue what the forthcoming musical jargon even means. Zero. Though I might not get that microtonal music uses intervals smaller than a semitone that are not typically part of the twelve-interval tuning of Western music, I get that it’s fucking with my ears and my mind when listening to Bad Trouble by remotely-working duo Body Breaks. At times dizzying and disorientating, Montreal-based multi-instrumentalist Matt LeGroulx’s bedrock microtonal instrumentals serve as funhouse mirrors reflecting Toronto-based vocalist and lyricist Julie Reich’s equally impressive ability to find meaning and melody between LeGroulx’s notes.
Friends for years who connected when LeGroulx (best known for his prolific solo project Expwy) played a gig in Toronto with his electro-pop project Galaxius Mons, he and Reich (she of her solo project Bile Sister) discovered a mutual appreciation for microtonal music during their online conversations. As luck would have it, LeGroulx had recorded a microtonal instrumental album in 2013 and offered it to Reich to finish it with lyrics a few years after that. The duo held onto the completed Bad Trouble record until finding the perfect home for its idiosyncratic indie sound: We Are Time, a new label founded by Chandra Oppenheim and Jesse Locke (Reich and Locke are both members of Oppenheim’s band).
Bad Trouble is a dizzying, delightful affair. Still, it’s not without a deeply personal and serious side. Reich’s lyrics extrapolate the unconventionality of LeGroulx’s music, exploring “themes of aging as a woman and artist, environmental devastation, and feeling like an outsider in her own generation.” “Between The Heart And The Mind” is based on a relationship that ended in infidelity, which she describes as a song about finding the balance between the jarring conclusion of a relationship and the realization that, given the circumstances, the break-up is likely for the best. The stellar “Eyes to Brightness” is incorrigibly dissonant and delicious, blending Reich’s sweeping, gauzy vocals with LeGroulx’s gritty interpretation of a garage-rock standard.
That it sounds like a defective pressing of White Light/White Heat played at the wrong rpm only makes Bad Trouble a more engaging and intriguing affair. That it can switch gears between sugary-sweet pop melodies of “Reality” to the raggedness of “Anthem for Artists” — all the while messing with Western music conventions — makes it a fresh and fun listen. You don’t need to appreciate the musical theory behind Body Breaks’ microtonal tunings (but it helps) to recognize that LeGroulx and Reich have hit upon a goldmine with Bad Trouble, a carnivalesque collection of musical curiosities tuned in to new spaces and sounds.