In Era

In Era embraces the void in all of its cavernous glory as it clings to nothing.

Across three albums, Toronto art-pop combo Vallens has mastered the subtle art of remaining in flux. Never content resting on their laurels, vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist/songwriter Robyn Phillips and her co-conspirators, bassist/multi-instrumentalist Devon Henderson and drummer Colin J. Morgan, continue to contort their sound in new and increasingly intriguing ways. Their most recent full-length LP, In Era, truly is the standout among the bunch. It is a far more hallucinatory and concave affair,  embracing the void in all of its cavernous glory as it clings to nothing.

Like their previous two efforts, In Era is being released by respected Toronto indie label Hand Drawn Dracula. A fitting home, given those familiar with their roster. Those strictly expecting another exercise in pedal-worship need not apply, for Vallens are no longer the “guitar band” you once knew. In Era’s ominous blend of downtempo, electronic, post-punk and shoegaze is otherworldly. It finds Phillips at her mysterious, enigmatic best as she returns to her initial instrument: her voice. 

Album opener and title track, “In Era,” is a smouldering statement of intent that brilliantly sets the tone for what is to come. Phillips’s coolly detached voice takes center stage, manifesting itself someplace deep in your subconscious. Layers of nostalgia-inducing electronics swirl above a mechanical heartbeat before swallowing Phillips’s voice in a swathe of static.

Moments later, the second single, “While You Are Still Waiting,” casts a sideways glance as it enters the frame. “While you are still waiting / Commiserating / In your mind,” laments Phillips over a nocturnal rhythm fit for nightclubbing in purgatory. The title itself is a play on “While You Wait” from their Consent LP. Perhaps Vallens was foreshadowing what was to come for anyone willing to follow the breadcrumb trail, as it was the only electronic song on that album.

“Ingrid” follows with its lithe exposition of unrequited love as illusory desire before giving way to the pulsing patterns of “Sheer,” a trip-hop symphony that allows Phillips to reveal the breadth of her spellbinding voice. Rolling basslines and eerily familiar synth tumble into your eardrums on “Difference Repeating,” as Morgan locks into a narcotic haze version of the amen break. 

“Come Home” crackles like blown speakers before Phillips’s voice appears like a specter. “Echoes who I used to be / Like a worn-out page of a diary / The five o’clock shadow of my regret,” she sings. Ushering in two minutes of languid bass and drums prior to her reminding us that she can still let loose with a controlled cacophony of guitar discordance when the situation calls for it. 

Rightfully chosen as the album’s first single, “If I Don’t” is a showstopper. It skillfully winds its way through deserted lamp-lit streets as if it were the score for an as-yet-unreleased art-horror film. “Is there anyone else / That does what I do / To you?” asks Phillips, her voice weightlessly adrift. Pleading to be heard. To be understood. To be.

In Era tiptoes along the edge of your imagination like a daydream, daring you to dive in.

Isaac Vallentin