With the first EP in his Tragicalia series, Michael C. Duguay coins his own term to describe the difficult but ultimately cathartic experience of songwriting.
After a few listens of Michael C. Duguay’s Tragicalia Pt. I, the first installment of a planned four part Tragicalia EPseries, I finally Googled the word “tragicalia”. I thought maybe it was a word in a language I’m unfamiliar with or there was an already established definition. But no, upon Googling tragicalia, you will only find links to Duguay’s release and now, probably, to this review.
By my own definition, tragicalia is a hybrid word: it’s half tragic and half tropicalia. The latter is a Brazilian artistic movement from the 1960s whose music occupies psychedelic-pop/rock realms and more often makes you want to dance. The two songs of Duguay’s Tragicalia Pt. I definitely don’t sound much like typical tropicalia music but Duguay (with Owen Davies by his side) is curious about exploring different corners of sound in a way that feels similar to the avant-garde sensibilities of tropicalia.
Duguay slices through the opening tender tones of “Caesura” with a squealing guitar riff and a vocoder-bent voice. From there, “Caesura” falls in multiple directions: there’s a glitchy pop groove, a playful piano melody, layers of guitars and electronic effects are in constant motion. At one point a group of vocalists appear through the instrumental thicket and join Duguay as he sings “cut the whole limb off.” On the flip side is “Tragicalia,” a soft instrumental tune that Duguay calls a “meditative, reflective obbligato.” A guitar melody that sounds like it’s on a loop floats alongside the pastel notes of Michael e. Casteels’ violin as Jen Yakamovich’s percussion pushes the song forward.
The tragedy of Tragicalia Pt. I lies at its foundation. Duguay returned to making music in 2018 after nearly a decade away— during which time he suffered a series of mental breakdowns, was institutionalized, struggled with addiction, and experienced homelessness. Duguay will explore his comeback to music in the Tragicalia EP series. On “Caesura” he touches on the difficult but ultimately cathartic experience of songwriting: “The saddest story ever told is too trivial to behold until you’ve told it right,” he sings.
Perhaps a more accurate definition of tragicalia then is, simply, healing.