Vancouver

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.

PREMIERE: Maarten Bayliss - People Are Patterns

Kelly Kirwan

Vancouver native and electro-psych-rock producer Maarten Bayliss knows first and foremost how to lay down a beat. He’s dabbled in remixes, the occasional film score, and most recently has released the titular track, "People Are Patterns," off his first full-length LP. It begins in a swarm of percussion—a hollow pattering you would associate with a speaker throbbing, soon joined by a soft idiophone rattling. The effect is hypnotic and ominous, like a growl of thunder in the distance. There’s a build here, and we can quite literally feel it. The video is centered around a rocky, man-made jetty stretching out into the water—the sky overcast, with just a glimmer of red sunlight on the horizon. Bayliss’ voice is imbued with a sort of swirling strain, “How can you move on / When you’re staying in one place?” he asks, in a slight rasp, never looking at the camera. He’s focused, intently striding towards the water, as he continues, “It’s not okay / ‘Cause I don’t make change.”

What is he going to do? We wonder, as he continues seaward, stepping out of frame after climbing an elevated platform at the precipice. The camera lingers on the ripples in the water, a landscape sans Bayliss, and we wonder if he jumped—cast himself into the ocean, as the ultimate reaction to a rut. But then he casually strides back into view, past the camera lens, returning to where he started. We're left as voyeurs, watching him go as his snappy arrangement fades. People are patterns. Yes, biologically, mere strands of double helix. Also sociologically—our patterns of behavior. Whatever grand scheme Bayliss is referencing, he leaves us with a striking melody and stunning visuals, certainly hoping for more.

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.

REVIEW: Old Man Canyon - Delirium

Laura Kerry

If you go see the early work of any abstract or experimental painter, odds are that you'll find some well-rendered and stylistically indistinctive drawings of faces and bodies. All the greats—from Picasso to de Kooning—started with the pared-down, no-frills basics.

The same often goes for music. Traditionally, people opt for a guitar, often acoustic, before they go for the loop pedal or synth, mastering at least few simple strums on G, C, and D chords or a folky ditty before venturing into the realms of the experimental. Of course, many artists opt out of that track, particularly with today’s availability of cheap technology—and sometimes that works well. For the most part, though, I tend to put more faith in those who start from the basics and work their way up.

Old Man Canyon is one of those. The moniker of Vancouver’s Jett Pace, Old Man Canyon released a debut EP in 2013, Phantoms & Friends, in a singer-songwriter style (at least one song boasts a banjo and a few have harmonies that sound somewhere between Fleet Foxes and The Lumineers). The songs hit all of the markers of good folk: solid structure, well-crafted lyrics, and melodies to grab onto.

From that foundation, Pace has now moved onto his more experimental phase. In his debut full-length, Delirium, he takes his brush and carves out lines of vintage-sounding synths, washes the canvas in spaced-out reverb, and splatters it with drops of percussion. The resulting songs are lush and vibrant compositions, richly layered with texture and warm colors. Largely a blend of dream-pop and psych-rock, the songs flow through the soaring, dazzling choruses of “Learn to Forget” and “Back to the Start,” the quiet funk of “Always Love,” and the electric dirge of “Sugar City,” all propelled by a swirling, trippy motion. Merging the electronic and the organic, the pop and the weird, Old Man Canyon creates an exuberant hallucinatory space akin to that of Tame Impala (Pace has named both that band and Unknown Mortal Orchestra as bands he admires).

But underneath all that psychedelic reverie Pace’s origins are apparent. Though he’s added band members for tours, he still writes and records as a one-man operation (an impressive feat considering how filled-in Delirium is), a process that results in the hitting of the same successful song markers as his last EP. Songs such as “In My Head” bear out what’s in the title—that it all stems from the reflections of a single artist.

Even among dreamy imagery, his roots keep coming back. “Oh my got me floating on the moonlight / Always glow just like sunlight,” Pace begins on the chorus of “Hollow Tree,” lyrics that place us in a celestial headspace—but he continues, “We’ve got all we’d ever need / Hollow trees underneath my feet,” an image much more at home in folk music. With solid songwriting chops underneath his own feet, Old Man Canyon has all he needs to takes to take off.