Canada

VIDEO PREMIERE

Best Fern - When I Die

Gerard Marcus

I first encountered Best Fern last September when ThrdCoast went up to the 2017 POP Montreal festival and filmed a live session with them (if you dig their vibes, check out the video here). The dream-pop duo, consisting of Alexia Avina and Nick Schofield, immediately intrigued me with their ethereal sound and use of ambiance. Their music had a real since of place, albeit a place comfortably nestled between the realms of reality and fantasy. 

The new video for their latest single, ‘When I Die,’ is a fitting visual counterpart to Best Fern’s sound. Filmed and edited by Luke Orlando, the collection of super8 footage flickers like the last images of someone fading away into a peaceful eternity. It's a contemplative setting perfect for pondering the track's themes of longing and existence. The video also enhances a certain element of timelessness that’s present in the song. At two minutes and 32 seconds it's certainly not the longest song in the world, but watching the video I feel almost suspended in time, like I suddenly found myself walking from a gaseous environment into a liquid. This might be my favorite part about both the track and the video–they offer a brief respite from the world around me.

REVIEW: Isaac Vallentin - Amateur

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Will Shenton

There's a timelessness to Isaac Vallentin's new LP, Amateur, that gives its melodies, narratives, and vignettes a sense of hard-to-place familiarity. At times this is because it draws from recognizable influences, but largely it's a result of Vallentin's own stylistic touches. From the psudeo-'70s aesthetic of "Loudest In The Universe" to the more modern folk-rock of a song like "Carol," each is replete with intricacies that give a new impression on every listen.

Vallentin's distinctive baritone and knack for folksy storytelling are occasionally reminiscent of fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf ("Flying Pigeon" would feel right at home on The Bearer of Bad News). But Vallentin's eclectic background seems to imply greater depth to his artistic goals. How does one go from the minimal, experimental synths of 2015's Hedera to the rich, cozy folk-pop of Amateur without some sort of intricate conceptual map?

Maybe it's because he lists "anti-folk" among his genre tags on Bandcamp, but it's hard not to hear a hint of parody in Vallentin's occasionally over-the-top sincerity. "They said you shouldn’t be a dancer / You’ll be eaten by the dog," he sings on the penultimate track. "I wish I’d gone to college / And forgotten dreams of dancing / As the dog is lacking appetite / For those holding accreditation." It's an invitation to laugh, and it's unclear whether this is just Vallentin letting his sense of humor shine through or whether it's meant to be a broader dig at the tropes of sad-sack narrative folk.

Regardless, Amateur's only obvious irony comes in the form of its title. Vallentin is clearly an accomplished songwriter, and each layer of instrumentation feels effortlessly refined. Lush but never overwrought (except perhaps where it wants to be), this album is truly a joy to listen to, as it must have been to create.

REVIEW: Bernice - Puff LP: In the air without a shape

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Raquel Dalarossa

When we listen to music, we typically respond emotionally. We talk about how it feels to listen to a certain song—or, perhaps more accurately, how the sounds communicate those feelings to us. 

Bernice, on the other hand, create music that communicates on an entirely different sensory level. It travels through space, it seems to have dimension and body, and it's much more easily imagined or seen than it is felt. The Toronto-based band, led by songwriter and vocalist Robin Dann, treat sounds like shapes and songs like spatial playgrounds. In their new Puff LP (subtitled In the air without a shape), out today via Arts & Crafts, they take a minimalist approach to their sound design that draws attention to the negative space, creating a boundless and playful atmosphere for us to revel in.

Many of the songs on this seven-track album (yes, they are minimalists in the volume of their output, too) have been around for a while—“Puff” was, after all, originally the name of an EP released nearly a year ago. But there are new additions as well as new imaginings of older work, proving that the experimental group are always up to try things just a little differently. Where previously, on the EP, the songs were largely produced by Shawn Everett (best known for his Grammy-award winning work on Alabama Shakes' Sound & Color), now we find Bernice themselves at the helm, alongside engineer Matt Smith. The resulting differences are striking, and very telling of the band's tastes.

Though they've been compared to Sade in the past, their R&B leanings are on full display in this album with a re-recorded version of the smooth, reverberating "David" and richly sensual "One Garden." But things get especially interesting when they pick up the pace just a little, as in the LP's single "Glue." It juxtaposes soulful interludes with catchy, electronic-leaning verses, similar to how the lyrics juxtapose Dann with the person she's addressing: "I am rubber and you are glue." Another favorite of mine is "St. Lucia," which has been cast in an entirely new light for this release. Doing away with the song's dense, industrial character when it appeared on the Puff EP, Bernice transform it into something much lighter on its feet yet simultaneously more ominous.

There's something at once aqueous and stark about the album as a whole. It can feel like being submerged at the deepest depths of the ocean, or floating through the vacuum of space. Closing song "Boat" showcases this effect perfectly. An endearing vocal melody sits front and center, while a cacophony of ornamental sounds buzz by or float softly beside us, creating a sort of aural parallax effect. You get the sense that our attention is always exactly where the band wants it to be, which goes to show how well constructed Puff really is.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Isaac Vallentin (and Trails) - Loudest in the Universe

Will Shenton

At first glance, the understated folk of Canadian art-pop musician Isaac Vallentin's "Loudest in the Universe" might seem better-trod territory than his usual brand of inventive, experimental synths. But with the interplay of Trails' wistful croon and Vallentin's own resonant baritone, the restrained bandstand setup, and the short but captivating songwriting itself, it's clear that this track is rife with his creative touches.

The second single from his forthcoming LP, Amateur, "Loudest in the Universe" is an achingly beautiful entreaty—seemingly to humanity itself—to calm our innermost fears and conflicts. Avoiding the saccharine pitfalls common to that sort of theme, Vallentin couches the lyrics in the intimate language of love songs: Trails' voice soars into the first cloud-parting chorus, "I love you / Stop crying / There's nothing to fear about dying / Everything is all that you are and ever will be."

The latter half of the song takes on a bleaker tone, and the second chorus seems to reprimand the listener ("Good riddance / Be silent / There's nothing inside you but violence"), but concludes with an offer of forgiveness ("Everything that you're fighting is a part of you and a part of me / But I love you babe / So stop crying for a second"). Coupled with the neutral expressions of Vallentin, Trails, and drummer Pascal Delaquis throughout, the resulting tone is thoroughly unique. At once eminently familiar and just a touch alien in its delivery, "Loudest in the Universe" is a song that will haunt you long after its two-minute runtime.

REVIEW: Jaunt - Cue

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Phillipe Roberts

With Cue, Jaunt exploits the EP format to its fullest, sampling caught-from-the-air melodies liberally while exercising tasteful restraint, knowing when each elegant idea has run its course. Tirelessly catchy with an expert ear for the seemingly nonsensical oddball songwriting twist, the band leaves you hanging on every note, riding a constant wave of discovery as each song refuses to wear out its welcome. From top to bottom, ambient outro included, Cue unfolds like a singles collection; a Now That’s What I Call Experimental Pop hit parade with replay value galore.

No matter how you slice it, the dominant mode of Cue, the roots and rhythm of the project, is R&B. Whether it’s the depth of the pocket on “Best Case” or the sultry choral vocals on “Faster Interactions," the Isley Brothers-style shuffle of “Machined” or the detailed backing harmonies of “Intimate Sunset,” Jaunt keep it grounded in the groove, even as they push it into left field. Fans of Hundred Waters or Dirty Projectors will feel right at home here, though the beats on Cue are funkier than anything Longstreth and Co. have put out in more than a few years.

Jaunt’s take on the genre chases melodies into a corner and lets them fight their way out. Ideas rarely loop more than once before mutating into inviting new forms. The penultimate track, “Faster Interactions,” bends its riffs to the breaking point, sometimes abandoning them altogether for stranger pastures. Group vocals jarringly glide down into a lower register before landing on a cushion of electric organ. Video game sounds double up the drum hits in a segue towards a rumbling bass synth outro, a kaleidoscopic whirlwind of rhythm reminiscent of the best of Stereolab on Dots and Loops. It’s truly boggling how many transformations occur, but even more stunning given the track’s three-minute runtime.

These slight runtimes—“Faster Interactions” is the only track to even crack the three-minute ceiling—will have you dragging the dial back again and again. And although none of the songs feel “incomplete” per se, Jaunt’s tendency to French exit just as your mind latches onto the hook will absolutely leave you wanting more, launching you into a bit of an addictive cycle. The almost-title track “Cued” is the record’s main offender, a gorgeous bit of digital vocal riffing dancing atop a hauntingly beautiful layer of swooning cinematic synthesizers. As it floats to a one-minute finish, you can’t help but feel a sense of helplessness at having been teased so perfectly. Putting a picture-perfect slow jam banger intro at the end of a record is malicious, cruel, and utterly brilliant—the kind of move that will have you scrambling to pre-order the next episode.

In the midst of this double-edged generosity, there’s “Intimate Sunset,” perhaps the one track on Cue where Jaunt’s contemporary sensibilities take a back seat to cozy nostalgia. A gentle, '60s-inspired folk tune, the track gives up the misdirection and sticks to wringing every drop of romance out of those chords. It’s a patch of firm ground, tucked between the shifting fault lines and earth-quaking juxtapositions before and after, but it really shows off just how flexible Jaunt are becoming in their stylistic evolution, exposing that their quirky turns aren’t simple ignorance, but calculated leaps away from the intuitive “right” way. Cue is a real treat of a record, a delightful adventure in opening up the senses. Comfort food spiced to perfection.