Sauna’s full-length debut is pure sweat: funky, weird, catchy and high energy.
There was a moment in the late 2010s in Toronto where Buzz Records had positioned itself as the dark successor to Arts & Crafts. A label home to bands that would define a generation of Toronto indie rock. Enough internet digging shows that darkness was more than just aesthetic, and in the last handful of years, most of the bands associated with the label have moved on, fizzled out or disappeared entirely. The days of black and white colour schemes, flower outfits, and exhaustingly listing off your influences are gone, along with any illusions of grandeur.
In the pandemic’s very short shadow, a new generation of bands and artists are beginning to emerge in Toronto. There are fewer places to play, the promise of fame (let alone any sustainable longevity) is non-existent, and a new crop of young people stuck inside for two years are ready to lap up whatever is on offer. And so, like Beyonce and Drake, Sauna — a trio of Buzz alumni — has made the calculation that the kids want, nay, NEED, to dance.
Their debut full-length, Dose Yourself, is pure sweat. Funky, weird, catchy and high energy. All notions of cool are left at the door – Dose Yourself is quite simply a great time. “I just want some change. I wanna give in, I wanna get strange,” goes the album’s penultimate track, “Get Strange”. It’s the album’s thesis and could be plausibly remade by a powerhouse pop artist (get the Whitney Houston estate on the phone pronto!). Michael Le Riche puts on his best eighties croon, sounding debonair but unpretentious on tracks like “Only Luck” and “Fortune Teller.” Sauna’s rhythm section puts in the work too. Braeden Craig proves his versatility behind the kit on this record, trading the thunder deployed in his previous band for something closer to electricity crackling at the end of a broken powerline. In this metaphor, Zach Bines’ bass, distorted and crisp, is the puddle that ignites an electrical fire.
Adding to the album’s propulsion is the geekery that clearly went into its sonic tapestry. Synths flood the mix on tracks like “Float”, ping-ponging from ear to ear. The mid-tempo groove makes this track sound equal parts Supertramp and Kraftwerk. The dramatic opening chord progression on the title track gives way to a skronking, morphing sax solo to a nearly-techno climax, buoyed by a bass line lifted from the 70s’ most danceable pop music. This is arty music, clearly made with care, thought and a fair amount of toil. But it is not challenging. On Dose Yourself, it’s evident the members of Sauna have come a long way, and they invite you to dance into the future with them, a place where there are lots of things to worry about, but the music is not one of them.