Ontario

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.

REVIEW: LUKA - What Kind of Animal

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Phillipe Roberts

For an album recorded and mixed live-to-tape in a single day, What Kind of Animal plays like a study in stillness. On his third full-length, Toronto-based musician LUKA capitalizes on his greatest asset, the bleak intimacy of his vocals, surrounding it with arrangements that are content to simmer in the background until called forth to add a touch of chaos. But these outbursts are exceptions to the rule, momentary squalls rippling across otherwise placid waters. An observational songwriter with a keen eye for bleak imagery, LUKA crafts shadowy folk that slithers its way into your heart. What Kind of Animal is a perfect soundtrack to existential dread, a predawn whisper that hangs over you long after sunrise.

LUKA’s tunes sleepwalk down a lineage of somber, close-mic’d pop stretching from The Velvet Underground’s self-titled record up to Yo La Tengo’s groundbreaking And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out. The sonic focus is squarely on the vocals in the style of Lou Reed’s “closet mixes,” with the supporting instrumentation pushed up and away to emphasize the loneliness of LUKA’s delivery; he sounds truly isolated in the mix, as if he’s singing along to the decaying memory of a song. The softly brushed drums, twinkling guitars, and warm bass hum along dutifully, breaking the reflective mood in only two moments—the ascendant guitar solo on “Animal” and the collective noise-scape that closes out “Happy”—where the cohesion of LUKA’s live band strategically lets off a little steam, bucking you awake after a particularly sleepy stretch.

To be sure, the mood on What Kind of Animal is predominantly overcast. On opener “Near Collision,” LUKA wastes all of two bars before spilling his lonesome guts. “She cried last night / So I held her / She read his poetry in tears,” he confesses, following it up with what might be the album’s finest lyric and thesis statement: “I cannot help but be dazzled by debris.” Indeed, many songs on the record come across like an examination of his own emotional wreckage. The surrealist imagery of standout track “Realize” reads like prelude to a broken relationship, peppered with fortune-cookie distillations of 4 a.m. post-fight wisdom. “Love is but a voice / That calls on you,” he sings, helpless against the tide of emotion sweeping him away as “Everything I feel about you / Moves inward.”

The singular moment of sunlight on the record, “Quick Reflex”, is also its shortest, and can’t help but be tainted by an escapist need for retreat into an idealized past. “Quick reflex / Flex and you’ll be in the past / Quick reflex / Flex and you’ll be home at last,” goes the chorus, sounding absolutely positive that if he can crack open the meaning of objects from an earlier time, he can disappear into it again. This kind of twisted, self-effacing optimism is LUKA’s sweet spot, and the swaying track coasts into the sunset with sprays of shimmering guitar. It serves as a pleasant and welcome counterpoint to the creeping fear that haunts the rest of What Kind of Animal, a masterful rendering of LUKA’s nocturnal sympathies.

VIDEO PREMIERE: LUKA - Realize

Phillipe Roberts

“Did I have a face or an empty smile?”

On “Realize,” nylon-string crooner Luke Kuplowsky, aka LUKA, doesn’t so much decode the cryptic language of dreams as marvel at them. With a bleary-eyed whisper of a voice, so hushed you might feel a phantom breath drifting across your neck, his serene meditations on dreams and push-pull intimacy recall Yo La Tengo at their coziest. The microphone picks up every creak in his inflections, and smoke-filled lines like “For everything I say and do / Gets turned backwards / And everything I feel about you / Turns inwards” pour into the cascading guitar lines with the careful restraint of words left unsaid for far too long. Brushed drums skip along behind, swaying in the aquatic shimmer of pitch-shifted electric guitar to accentuate the sinister undertones of realizing the personal cost, in empathy and compassion, of sustaining love.

The accompanying video, directed by Pierce Desrochers O'Sullivan, plays up the gentle isolation of the song, casting a black-clad LUKA against sparse oceanic backgrounds. Aiming for a kind of DIY surrealism, the VHS-style video shows his form, often reduced to a distant outline, fixed and frozen while gusts, grainy seagulls, and sloshing waves clash around him. Escape in the form of jump-cut vanishings and a mysterious levitation comes slowly, before a soft fade lifts him from a partially submerged jetty, softly erasing him just as the trance-like tune comes to a close. There’s an unobtrusive but quietly psychedelic quality to entire affair; an additional layer of fantasy that complements the original’s haunting closeness.

REVIEW: Bernice - Puff EP

Kelly Kirwan

Bernice plays electric, soulful grooves that unfold like the tendrils of an ivy plant, spreading serpentine across the surrounding landscape in a downright hypnotic germination. The six-piece band hails from Toronto, their moniker serving as a proverbial Russian nesting doll, packing in all the facets of experimental pop each bandmate brings to the table. Spearheaded by Robin Dann, the group’s most recent release, Puff, is a deep dive into curious and unpredictable arrangements, which gleam with rhythm & blues influences and offer garnishes of synth to maintain a sense of the avant-garde. Bernice's songs are cerebral and immersive, grown in the maze of the mind where imagination and philosophical musings mingle and evolve in tandem.

Their single, "St. Lucia," is paired with an animated video that features richly-colored sketches against a black canvas. A thumping percussion and undulating bass line reverberate deeply across the track, as Dann sings, “Hey, your name is mine / To feel,” her voice climbing in decibels as she reaches the final word, while simultaneously possessing the airy quality of a whisper. The video follows the sketches of women as they shift between purple and blue hues, diving into pools of water and then trying to hold the liquid between cupped hands. The song is mesmerizing, as is the animation, which focuses on the women in Dann’s family that came before her. Between generations they would pass down traits and names, silent links ingrained in our DNA, but without ever truly knowing the person that passed them on. It’s a phenomenon that Dann plays with in a mesmerizing fashion. 

Then there’s "David," whose lyrics could crack even a stone-cold heart. The song is slower burn, with warbled synths wobbling across the surface. “David / Sedated / Lying on the floor … Can’t lift his eyes anymore,” Dann sings, painting a picture of a protagonist riddled with the lethargy of defeat and depression. Her vocals are layered with a second satiny, songbird pitch, and their pairing feels both earnest and heartbreaking. It’s a beautiful, gut-wrenchingly subdued ballad. “Everything feels awfully empty for David … He wasn’t ready back then / Just give him something to believe in…” Dann continues, her voice wispy and slightly strained over the words. The song plays out like a glass fixture wobbling on the edge, crystalline and on the cusp of shattering into a million glittering pieces.

Puff is gem of an EP, a whirlwind of thought-provoking themes and funk-laden melodies. I highly recommend listening for yourself.

REVIEW: Hooded Fang - Dynasty House

Kelly Kirwan

Dynasty House is a title you might expect to find on a thick, leather-bound book of epic poetry, its pages filled with far-off adventures and intertwined lineages. Instead, it’s stamped across the new EP from Toronto-based outfit Hooded Fang, a pairing of six tracks that feature ever-expanding melodies, jangly guitars, and vivid lyrics that return to a theme of exploration time and again.

Take the opener, "Queen of Agusan," with its murmuring vocals and bouquet of sharp, tangy notes that spiral in tandem, evoking a somewhat uneasy feeling—a countdown of dark inclinations. “She was nursed by spellbound waves / A seaside gem / She was raised by a monsoon matron / Becoming a stone’s stone,” we hear in a deep croon, as this mythic imagery sinks its hooks into us, leaving us enraptured by a story with a legendary strut.

"Nene Of The Light" has more of a bop to its step, a whistle-like note wafting its way across the melody. It’s a song that has an air of shrugged shoulders, with repeated lines like “I ain’t that holy” and “I like to pretend,” interspersed in a mood that’s somewhere between nonchalance and pessimism (“Drown in an hourglass / Build a castle instead”). It’s laid-back grunge with rolling percussion, lulling us into an almost meditative state even with its grit. It seems Hooded Fang don’t need thousands of words or pages to create an opus that conveys a world without limits. They’ve crafted a far-reaching canvas in under 30 minutes.