Montreal duo People Pretend find moments of bliss in barely restrained childhood excess.
The album art for Sounds of Kids Babbling is the quintessential photo of childhood nostalgia: two kids sitting in what I just learned is called a dome climber, with smiles on their faces, lit by unbearably bright lighting — perhaps to simulate the rose-coloured glasses we use to look back on what we loved when we were younger. Eventually, childhood ends, of course, but adulthood doesn’t just happen when you turn 18. Hell, it took me several years after I got a bachelor’s degree before I felt like I was capable of doing adult things consistently and well (I refuse to use the word adulting). As People Pretend, Justin Lazarus (Look Vibrant) and Max T dive headfirst into the fleeting moment in time — probably all in our subconscious — when we decide whether or not to accept the responsibilities that come with growing up.
As individual acts, Look Vibrant and Max T are nearly unmatched in raw energy. I saw Look Vibrant perform once at a Wavelength Festival in Toronto years ago. Despite playing at 1 a.m. (after the night’s headliner), they quickly whipped up a frenzied mosh pit with their unbridled wildness. Max T’s brand of technicolour pop feels like such a sugar rush that I literally ended a review of his EPPalm Isle with a GIF from Adventure Time. Putting these two together feels like a successful smashing of atoms in the Large Hadron Collider: something far greater than its individual pieces.
Sounds of Kids Babbling is a kaleidoscope at war with another kaleidoscope. Though the EP is five songs, it contains at least 10 songs worth of ideas. It can be a little overwhelming on the first listen with all of the ideas floating around, but underneath it’s a coherent collection of songs about moving from childhood to adulthood. “I’ve got my grown-up shit” is a line from opener “Poor Sufferin’ in the Mornin’ Time” that perfectly captures that transition: I’m older now, and also fuck you. Both that song and “Gonna Find a Boy” find homes in a realm where pop music is slowly deconstructed by glitches. “Gonna Find a Boy” in particular is like a top 40 song pushed through a meat grinder, complete with autotune and seemingly endless variations on a line that starts with “Gonna find a boy who can…”
“Unsew” is comparatively slow and heavy, acting as a transition into the EP’s more “tranquil,” but no less irrepressible, back half. “Who Can Say” seemingly cycles through multiple musical ideas in the first ten seconds before settling on twinkling synths and heavy staccato percussion. Closer “Dirt Eater” conjures images of the one weird kid in your class that people rarely associate with, but this time from the perspective of that kid. “Notice that I still sink into earth/I find my relief deep in the dirt” acts as the song’s refrain; it’s sung with a mixture of fondness and mournfulness. The warm synths and fingerpicked guitar make the song feel like a lullaby.
Mining our childhood memories can be a double-edged sword; for every DuckTales reboot there’s a ReBoot: The Guardian Code. Max T and Justin Lazarus take childhood excess and rein it in just enough to prevent utter chaos. It’s in that almost-losing-control instant where Sounds of Kids Babbling finds its serenity.