Vince the Messenger – Trustfall

Vince the Messenger
Charlottetown, PEI
RIYL: LXVNDR; Chong Wizard; Da Grassroots

I think I learned about the risks of trust falls before I ever took part in one. By the time it came up in elementary school as a team-building exercise, I was already well aware of the chance that whoever I was paired with might choose comedy or cruelty over actually catching me. 

Whether those lessons actually help to engender trust amongst a group of people remains to be seen, but maybe the deepest truth they offer is that the nagging fear of misplacing your trust in someone never quite goes away. With Trustfall, Charlottetown’s preeminent emcee Vince the Messenger explores what happens when that trust is betrayed. 

The album art depicts Vince plummeting solo through the sky—leaving it open-ended as to whether he’s waiting to be caught—or falling because someone he’s relied upon has already let him down. 

“La Vie En Noir” suggests that regardless, Vince is persevering. Over a murky boom-bap beat, courtesy of local phenom niimo (who has been Vince’s primary collaborator, and who also produced LXVNDR’s killer Warmth EP), he finds renewed clarity and drive, rapping “Still the same Black boy, but now the wind in my sails / Momma told me go get ’em, so I’ma give ’em hell / They might wanna see me fail, but they fake when I prevail.” Elsewhere, a syrupy Smokey Robinson sample is the soundtrack to Vince outlining that the root of his power lies in his outsider status on album highlight “Black Sheep.” 

Though it’s made clear across the album’s 31 minutes that he’s been let down by others, the overlying message isn’t “trust no one” as much as it is “trust yourself”—as having that faith in your own abilities is key to picking yourself back up any time you fall. 

Michael Rancic

Three Headed Elephant – Queer Magic

Three Headed Elephant
Queer Magic
Montréal, QC
RIYL: Elevium/Doiron/Squire; Isaac Vallentin; Cedric Noel

Three Headed Elephant’s sophomore album is a study in doing a lot with very little. Songwriter Wolfgang Barbosa-Rocha is both a skilled vocalist and guitar player, and both talents are on full display on this collection of minimal songs. 

Barbosa-Rocha sings “I break so easily” on the album’s opening track, “Fantasia,” a fragility that is clearly communicated via the spare guitar and vocal arrangement. This no-frills approach pulls focus to the subtle changes that happen in each song and fosters a kind of intimacy, rather than lulling into a kind of sameness over time. 

Even at its most repetitive, as in the sprawling album highlight “Sunshine,” Barbosa-Rocha achieves a kind of beautiful hypnosis of wandering electric guitar and lyrical mantras that wax, flourish, and never outstay their welcome. The song clocks in at seven minutes but it could easily stretch twice the length and be just as divine. 

The minimal arrangements of the first half make the introduction of percussion on “Wild Thing” hit like a shock, giving an arc and shape to the album’s structure as the second side contains more performances with a full band. These nuances collectively affirm how thoroughly Barbosa-Rocha understands how even the slightest details make the world of difference, and make Queer Magic a truly affecting record. 

– Michael Rancic

Mustafa Rafiq – If I Were A Dance

Mustafa Rafiq
If I Were A Dance
Pseudo Laboratories
Edmonton, AB
RIYL: Lichen; Blume; Brandon Wint

A mainstay of Edmonton’s scene, experimental guitarist Mustafa Rafiq’s latest is a deeply contemplative and personal effort. 

The album takes its title from British-Somali author Diriye Osman’s short story of the same name (Osman’s art also serves as the album cover), which explores an intricate weaving of queer desire, domesticity, intimacy, performance, and intertextuality through layered narratives, making this a thrilling and rewarding project to dig into.

The first side of the album includes Rafiq’s collaboration with spoken word poet Dwennimmen, split across four tracks. Dwennimmen’s diction and delivery is careful and deliberate, letting every word hang in the air to be felt and imagined. Rafiq’s guitar work also looms but wavers in intensity like ichorous blots of marginalia in a text, adding emphasis in sweeping lines, asterisks of percussion, and strokes of inspiration. 

The entirety of side B contains Rafiq’s collaboration with Nepalese folk musician and multi-instrumentalist Bhuyash Neupane, a live recording taken from Rafiq’s first performance after an injury caused a months-long absence. Stretched over 15 minutes, Rafiq is given the opportunity here to exercise a kind of patient restraint, playing off of Neupane’s tabla and voice with their own guitar and vocal musings. 

When juxtaposed in this collection, these songs from two distinct projects create something wholly new and unique from anything we might have heard before from Rafiq in previous projects like Pyramid//Indigo, and hopefully just the beginning of the kind of thoughtful work we can expect in the future. 

– Michael Rancic

Gene Tellem – Mind Reader

Gene Tellem
Mind Reader
WOLF Music
Montréal, QC
RIYL: D. Tiffany; DJ Dial-On; Gabriel Rei

Seeing Gene Tellem at MUTEK in 2019 was both a highlight of the festival, and without question a highlight of my music writing career. The Montréal-based producer lit up the room over the course of her set opening for Chicago luminary Jlin. My notes from that night recount the experience in point form: “superb,” “fluid rhythms,” and “transcendent.”

Her second release with the U.K.-based label WOLF Music brings much of those same danceable instincts, and the intuition in regard to energy and atmosphere that I found so enthralling that night two years ago. Lead track “Ain’t Got Everything” grooves steadily right out the gate, with shimmering synths creating a counterpoint of treacly stasis to the driving beat, irresistible bassline, and vocal earworm. Connecticut-based veteran producer Jenifa Mayanja homes in on the track’s atmospheric tension for her remix on side B, letting it build before cutting it with some grounded acoustic percussion. 

The EP’s two other tracks also bring the heat, with the chopped vocals and urgent tempo of ‘Mind Readers’ challenging the compelling bassline to keep up, while the victory lap of “2nd Time Around” closes out the minor-key introspection of the three prior tracks with an all-out party. Though it’ll be a while still before we can all hear these songs properly in a club, this cerebral mix of four great tunes gives listeners plenty to get lost in. 

– Michael Rancic 

Bleu Kérosène – L’artifice de l’aube

Bleu Kérosène
L’artifice de l’aube
Quebec City, QC
RIYL: Patrick Watson; Daniel Bélanger; Half Moon Run

Bleu Kérosène’s origins stem from a gift pianist Jérémie Hagen-Veilleux gave to his sister, Erika Hagen-Veilleux, in the form of piano instrumentals written to support her spoken word poetry. It’s surprising then to hear how much this project has developed into a cohesive band, doing more than just acting as window-dressing for someone else’s songs or ideas.

If anything, Erika’s confidence and range give the band permission to also be as open and exploratory with their own parts which are complementary but never get lost in the mix. “Le fracas” is a bold and jaunty EP opener that feels jazzy with its choice of clean guitar, brushed snare, lively bass, and climbing woodwind parts (c/o guest Antoine Bourque). “Child,” the only song sung in English on the EP, follows, and also feels like the moment where the material really hits its stride—it’s complex but also unremittingly gorgeous. Its juxtaposition with the previous song makes the band’s sound difficult to pin down. The ensuing songs don’t make that challenge any easier as they flirt with styles across a continuum of post-rock, baroque, and jazz pop. 

While there’s nothing here as explosive as the album title, L’artifice de l’aube (the fireworks of dawn), might suggest, what Bleu Kérosène have accomplished is less about the bombast of a pyrotechnics show and more closely resembles the careful choreography of colours, shapes, and contours that are at play.

Michael Rancic

Vagina Witchcraft
Vagina Witchcraft
Winnipeg, MB
RIYL: Vile Creature; WAKE; Fuck The Facts

I challenge anyone to find a more impassioned four minutes and twenty three seconds to be put to record this year than the introduction to Vagina Witchcraft’s debut— and that happens before even a note of music is played. Taken from vocalist Kayla Fernandes’ speech at a Winnipeg Black Lives Matter rally in June, which was in response to the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Winnipeg’s own Machuar Madut, the intro unequivocally positions the band and their music as anti-racist and anti-oppressive. It’s a bold but important distinction in the realm of metal where many fans and musicians alike either strive for an “apolitical” stance of ignorance and cowardice or are outright white supremacist scum. 

This context helps set the stage for when Fernandes sings the words “fear me, I am the fucking devil” on the album’s first musical track, “Mercury.” Its anguished bass, drums, and guitar punctuate Fernandes’ bellows and emphasize their fury before the group locks into a double speed doomy torrent that sends the song into a groovy spiral. With each subsequent song Vagina Witchcraft deftly deploy some trademark occult themes and depressive soundscapes of true doom aficionados, that alongside their strong political sensibilities make their music a truly vital expression. 

Michael Rancic

Robin Hatch – Noise

Robin Hatch
Toronto, ON
RIYL: Kate Bush; Austra; Kelly Moran

Robin Hatch is perched atop a silver Ford Focus in a black vinyl jumpsuit and high heeled boots. It’s a commanding image, recalling a sword-wielding Neko Case from her 2009 album, Middle Cyclone. Just like the album art, Noise marks a significant departure for the multitalented Hatch, who’s known primarily as a classical pianist, frequent podcast guest, as well as her work playing in Sheezer, Dwayne Gretzky, the Rural Alberta Advantage, and Our Lady Peace. 

Hatch has experimented with synths previously on 2019’s Hatch, which featured the artist’s improvised explorations on a Jupiter-8 that sounded chilly and Cronenbergian. That album was a marked left turn from her first solo album released earlier that year, Works for Solo Piano, and now Noise is another such unexpected leap in both form and style. Here, Hatch’s talents are applied to a more overtly pop context, even taking on vocal duties. 

Across its eight tracks, Noise sounds like a revelation. Album highlights like the wandering odyssey “Hivemind” (featuring Blood Ceremony/Badge Epoque Ensemble’s Alia O’Brien), the shimmering assuredness of “Heatstroke” and the eerily desolate “The Mirror” all represent a culmination of everything Hatch has  done up until this point. Her classical background emboldens this synth pop with a sense of fearless experimentation.

Michael Rancic

La Fièvre – La Fièvre

La Fièvre
La Fièvre
Montréal, QC
RIYL: Noise Unit; Peaches; the ending of The VVitch

“Empowering” is a word that shows up a lot when talking about music with a feminist fire at its centre and its over usage can suggest “empowering” music grants something within the listener that wasn’t there before. In the case of Montréal’s La Fièvre, this electronic duo are neither giving nor asking for authority, simply locating it in the ways it already manifests within themselves and those in the margins. 

Ominous electronics introduce the album before Zéa and Ma-Au (Joséane Beaulieu-April and Marie-Audrey Leclerc) declare that their music is broadly for people in the peripheries of society, a fiery commitment that engulfs the record’s entire 32 minutes: “Faudra faire mieux” is a demand for change and repudiation of being silenced that invokes the natural world; “La Marge” pairs their anti-athoritarian intensity with sirens and buzzing synths to call out the violence against marginalized people, and finds hope in resistance; “Écofeminites” links cultivation and working with the land with further resistance, and its slinking, danceable beat hints at the growing sexual innuendo that also pervades the song. 

The music of La Fièvre’s self-titled debut album unapologetically reveres the power of femininity, and does so by rooting that power in another constant and enduring force: nature. They approach this work enthusiastically, artfully, and resist falling into the trappings of any gender essentialism in the process by situating these themes within a deeper set of radical politics. 

Michael Rancic

crisis sigil – small towns

crisis sigil 
small towns.
Self Released
Hamilton, ON
RIYL: Ada Rook; Fuck The Facts; Cloud Rat

From the stunning flameout of Black Dresses’ swan song, Peaceful As Hell, to slaying the guitar solos on Backxwash’s now Polaris Prize winning album God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It, to the glammy pop-punk opus that is 2,020 Knives, Ada Rook has had quite the year. 

Clocking in at 13 minutes, the breakneck tempos and blown out riffs on crisis sigil’s small towns. might seem like a momentary blip in comparison, but it’s a smart, focused distillation of what makes Rook such a compelling artist in the first place. The album opens with a brief collage of sampled screams for help, urgent digital percussion giving way to blasts of Rook’s bludgeoning, rhythmic guitarwork, raw, guttural vocals, and frenetic live drums. The first four minute-long songs on the record are sharp and precise grindcore studies, and proof that as maximal as things got on 2,020 Knives, Rook is just as capable when it comes to restraint.

And right when you think you have the record’s sound pinned down, Rook flips it with “shape.”, a major-key pop-punk workout that retains the unpolished quality of the previous songs while introducing a new ingredient to the bare bones grind recipe. It’s an interesting formal shift that hits like a wave through the rest of the record, which finds Rook incorporating spoken word elements and breakbeats in ways that both serve the songs but also affirm her as a stylistic polymath and omnivore.

Michael Rancic