British Columbia

REVIEW: Kai Basanta - earth

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Will Shenton

As we noted in his recent video premiere, Kai Basanta has a penchant for blurring the line between digital and organic. Every facet of his new EP, earth, seems determined to draw both elements into the liminal space that divides them, blending jazz instrumentals with synths, samples, and drum-machine beats. The result is an artful take on jazz-hop that feels more intentional and dynamic than the bounds of the genre usually dictate.

From the summery grooves of "sunlight" to the off-kilter mashup of a Kendrick Lamar interview and an Olivier Messiaen quartet that is "love," earth isn't afraid to show off Basanta's impressive range. The album feels like an ascent into unrestrained creativity, as we move from more recognizable tropes into the simmering soundscape of "shadows," its beats resolving slowly out of an ominous ether before closing the EP.

At first glance, earth feels familiar, and perhaps that's the point. It's only by delving deeper into its textures and homages that we can see Basanta's sound evolve right before our eyes.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Kai Basanta - sunlight

Will Shenton

Kai Basanta's new video, "sunlight," is a stunning exploration of texture and movement. Directed by Derek Branscombe, Basanta's undulating beats are matched with a patchwork kaleidoscope of mesmerizing, uncannily organic shapes and patterns that unfold with languid serenity. This is a video you can truly melt into, letting the rays of titular sunlight wash over you in waves.

The opening track on Basanta's new EP, earth, "sunlight" uses a beautiful combination of atmospheric synths and acoustic instruments, with the percussion (his specialty) seemingly a blend of both. This is reflected in Branscombe's video, as the line between CGI and the natural world is blurred; it's often hard to tell which images were created from scratch and which were captured in the wild.

It raises the question of whether the distinction between "natural" and "artificial" is really a meaningful one. If anything, it's their synthesis that makes "sunlight" so impactful, and such an alluring landscape to get lost in.

REVIEW: Jons - At Work On Several Things

Kelly Kirwan

After listening to Jons' previous album, Serfs of Today, back in May, I noted that their sound was awash in psych-revival haze, a “shoulder-shrug” rock that drifted along with loose limbs and an easy grin. This was a band that preferred their shimmering guitars front and center, as echoing, lazy vocals acted as a current to guide the melody. It was clear that Jons was a band that enjoyed on-the-brink fuzz, like an electrical wire humming with wasp-nest apprehension.

The band’s follow-up album, At Work On Several Things, is a 13-track opus that blends psychedelia with brassy jazz influences. These boys from British Columbia have never been afraid to revel in instrumentals, and this style is especially poignant when a lingering saxophone drapes a slinky mood over their melodies. Where Serfs of Today had song titles rife with grand, religious references, At Work On Several Things sports names that elevate the everyday—"In the Yard," "Gutter Master," "Hotel," and "Retirement." They evoke images of mundane yardwork and banal weekend getaways, but imbue them with the grandeur of psychedelia. 

"Retirement" is an inconspicuous stream of consciousness laid across a leisurely, twangy beat. The guitars meander beside occasional dots of wobbly, spacey synths as humdrum thoughts drift in and out, like twirling wisps of smoke from an extinguished candle. “What would you give to feel young again? / What percentage is your favorite drink … What’s the age when life begins? / What’s the worst job you’ve had?” It’s a slew of questions that have no urgency, some fleeting curiosity to fill a quiet moment—but there’s something achingly sad buried beneath the sunny atmosphere.

"Everything Happens to You" is their longest track by a landslide, clocking in at just over nine minutes. It’s a repetitive, undulating sort of riff that feels evocative of a clocktower’s chimes, building tension towards some abstract breaking point. The saxophone slinks it’s way into the fold, adding a few fluttering notes and a sultry offset to the underlying sense of urgency. In fact, this dynamic seems subtly sprinkled throughout the album in it's entirety.

On At Work On Several Things, Jons manage to combine a love of psych’s languid, distorted air with an exploration of the pressures of day-to-day life. But the album transforms these heavy realities into drifting beats so effortlessly that it's easy to keep floating forward, suspended in a sea of psychedelic haze, and realize that maybe those pressures aren't as bad as you thought.

REVIEW: Jons - Serfs Of Today

Kelly Kirwan

Jons is the four-piece, Victoria, BC import that’s mixed psych-revival with shoulder-shrug rock, gifting us meandering guitar riffs that have a tangy twinge and tracks that have deep cultural and religious references. Jons is like the stoned prodigy that would raise their hand in your college philosophy lecture, and shock the room with their insights (it takes skill to pull that off without being insufferable). Their latest 12-track album, Serfs of Today, was written and recorded entirely by the four bandmates—on an 8-track tape machine, rumor has it—and has been garnering comparisons to classic and modern greats like Harry Nilson, Mac DeMarco, and Kurt Vile.

Their sound is refined, but also has a sense of intimacy. A track like "Feta Morgana," for instance, feels as if your ear is practically pressed to the side of the guitar—it's almost an ode to jam-band sessions, without a single lyric throughout. The song is also (as you may have guessed) a play on Fata Morgana, mirages that appear on the edge of the horizon. It’s like a reference made during a spell of serious munchies, which also plays into Jons’ lackadaisical spirit (and apparent affinity for cheese).

"I Haven’t Heard" is certainly one of the album's standouts, with an acoustic vibe and vocals that have a vague, echoing quality. The overdubs that are gradually introduced after the song's halfway mark were improvised, and the track unfolds in both a contemplative and almost eerie manner. I suppose it makes sense, considering the subject matter: original sin, Eve’s brush with the devil and his disguise, “the inevitable misstep of free will.” For all the intensity of material, Jons still manage to roll out the track with a pondering air—their biblical imagery doesn’t come with the undertones of doom you'd usually expect.

Then there’s "Sugarfree," which has emerged as a cymbal-lined fan favorite. The vocals are easy, practically floating on a cloud of good kush (last drug reference, scout's honor). Again, the guitar interludes are impressively on point, and Jons definitely plays with classic psych tropes, which enjoyed long lapses of instrumentals for some closed-eyed head-bobbing. Jons' tracks are blends of mild distortion and go-with-the-flow harmonies, and definitely do the trick when it comes to getting the audience to tune in and tune out.

Serfs of Today is lo-fi pop that’s more than just a hazy distraction. Jons are as interested in depth as they are in magnetic chord progressions, and I highly recommend a dose of their easygoing rock.

REVIEW: Ashley Shadow - Ashley Shadow

Laura Kerry

It’s always exciting when the backup singers and instrumentalists of good bands do their own projects—like when a lovable supporting actor in a TV show gets his own spin-off. Unlike the TV shows, though, the music projects are often successful (sorry Joey). This is the case with Ashley Webber, who has spent her career in Vancouver’s music scene singing on albums for Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Pink Mountaintops, and the Cave Singers, among others, and playing bass in the now-defunct post-punk band The Organ. Now, she is stepping onto her own stage with a self-titled debut album under the name Ashley Shadow. 

As Ashley Shadow, Webber creates music with the pop bleakness of Lana Del Rey, the folk rawness of Sharon van Etten, and the sad country twang of Angel Olsen. Her voice shares a lot with the latter two, particularly Olsen (so much so that Olsen subbed in for Webber singing backups for Bonnie “Prince” Billy)—which is a good indication of its expressiveness and ability to betray heartbreak.

Despite Ashley Shadow’s sonic similarities with those folk songstresses, much of the album feels more distant than the music of van Etten and Olsen. Some of that is a result of the production; while her lush singing is the most important sound in the mix, it also blends with the others—acoustic guitar strumming, warbling electric guitar, occasional synths, and swinging bass lines that reveal where her real instrumental affinities lie. In her single, “Tonight,” for example, her doubled voice echoes in a chant-like melody, combining with the fuzzy, country guitar sound to create a dreamy filter over the emotionally-fraught lyrics,  “Can’t settle down into this feeling / Afraid I might stop breathing / I don’t feel it ‘cause I want to.”

Lyrically, too, Ashley Shadow remains at an enchanting distance. Much of the album features songs of a keen observer who turns her lens toward her work with Vancouver’s marginalized populations, her relationships, and her personal obstacles. Even in the case of the last subject, she injects her heartache with a critical distance. On “Way It Should,” one of the rawest tracks, she sings, “It’s going nowhere / The way it should / I tried it your way / The best I could.” While it’s a sad song, Webber is resolute in her retrospection, without regret.

Elsewhere, though, she performs with more immediacy. On “Laws,” where the expressive palette of her voice is on full display, she sings, achingly and desperately, “How did I once find life here / And how did it pull me down… / Can’t find the way out.” But even when the writing lacks this kind of urgency, it always possesses an impressive degree of clarity. Even when intertwined with a bass line or hazy with reverb, Ashley Shadow's voice—both the sound and the perspective it narrates—are unfaltering. Despite its name, Ashley Shadow’s debut album sees the backup singer and bassist stepping out of the dark wings of the stage into the clear glow that a spotlight a brings.