blueberry lemon – The Blue-Winged Warbler

blueberry lemon
The Blue-Winged Warbler
Self Released
Halifax, NS
RIYL: John Fahey; Vashti Bunyan; migration season

Gloom presides over the eight ambient, folky guitar instrumentals on blueberry lemon’s The Blue-Winged Warbler. “Northern Cardinal, Flightless” namechecks a species that nests in shrubs, but why is this one flightless? What ran through blueberry lemon’s head or heart while writing “Crow’s Tears?” Did blueberry lemon witness the literal “Death of an Osprey”?

“Blue Jay, Where Have You Gone?” and “Blue Jay and the Hawk” prompt less grim questions, about the colourful bird’s mysterious migration patterns and penchant for mimicking hawk calls.

Like birding, listening to instrumental music is an exercise in patience and a way to lose yourself in thought. Sightings aren’t guaranteed, and neither are revelations about your deepest questions; they might flicker past you, if they come to you at all. “I spend hours trying to spot tiny distant creatures that don’t give a shit if I see them or not,” musician Jack Breakfast told Kyo Maclear in her book, Birds Art Life. “I spend most of my time loving something that won’t ever love me back. Talk about a lesson in insignificance.” 

Don’t get hung up on your smalless, though. Get lost in wonder about the world around you with The Blue-Winged Warbler.

Leslie Ken Chu

Moshe Fisher-Rozenberg Creates Healing Through Music

A portrait of Moshe Fisher-Rozenberg, Memory Pearl
A portrait of Moshe Fisher-Rozenberg, Memory Pearl

MOSHE FISHER-ROZENBERG CREATES HEALING THROUGH MUSIC

HOW THE ABSOLUTELY FREE DRUMMER’S EVOLVING CREATIVITY LED HIM TO MUSIC THERAPY

By: Leslie Ken Chu | Photo by: Colin Medley

“In terms of the music industry, I definitely have had to rejig my relationship with that whole pursuit of success. I’ve kind of abandoned that.”

Whether drumming with experimental rock trio Absolutely Free, making ambient electronic music as Memory Pearl, DJing, remixing, or dabbling in criticism, Moshe Fisher-Rozenberg’s relationship with music is constantly evolving. “I go a little crazy if I feel that I’m not going forward in certain ways,” he tells me over Zoom. This curiosity and restlessness has led him to his current vocation, music therapy.

Fisher-Rozenberg is in the second and final year of his master’s degree in music therapy at Wilfrid Laurier University. “I’ve been touched by so many people who have had difficulties navigating their mental health,” he says, before adding that he has faced similar obstacles. “Music therapy is not just for addressing mental health,” he points out, “but that was the draw for me… I wanted to deepen that relationship [with music], and music therapy seemed to be a good direction.”

Music therapy can treat an array of cognitive, communicative, and motor symptoms related to dementia, schizophrenia, autism, depression, aphasia, Parkinson’s, and more. Exercises like clapping hands, tapping feet, and singing can improve breathing, heart rate, and blood flow. “It’s pretty all-encompassing,” Fisher-Rozenberg says. “The important thing is it’s not a one-size-fits-all. You have your patient, together you create goals, and then the music therapist will approach the music therapy sessions in a way that is specific for those goals.”

Prior to his studies, Fisher-Rozenberg volunteered for two years at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. There, he worked with individuals with schizophrenia. “My intention was to help them feel a little bit of control. They’re so powerless in so many ways, so to create an atmosphere where they can feel empowered was really important, and then also to create that sense of community, because it’s a fine line between feeling you’re at a hospital and feeling that you’re maybe being held prisoner.” To achieve this, he led interactive group sessions that mostly involved group drumming, but also individual singing and poetry. “Depending on the approach, a lot of verbal processing can really help to digest some of the things that come up in the music.”

Although he used music therapy techniques in his volunteer work, Fisher-Rozenberg clarifies that his practice was informal. “I was kind of just feeling it out and experimenting, whereas now I’m reading a lot of literature and learning a lot of official approaches.” Without certification, one cannot call their practice music therapy. “They’re not going to get as deep,” he says, “but they can still use songwriting or music listening, for instance, with patients.”

To this point, he notes that we use music therapeutically every day. “Even just going dancing can manipulate your emotions, or it can give you energy.” But what’s the difference between casual conversation and psychotherapy, he asks? “Speaking with a psychotherapist is going to be very different, because it’s going to be guided; there’s going to be clinical goals associated with those conversations. And there’s a potential for things to really deepen and for unconscious material to come to the surface in a way that’s not going to happen necessarily if you’re chatting with a friend over a beer. It might not have that same safety.”

That lack of distinction between formal and informal practice isn’t the only misconception about music therapy. “The whole fuckin’ field is built upon misconceptions,” Fisher-Rozenberg replies without missing a beat when I ask for examples. “Some of the misconceptions that are bothersome would be that music therapy is showing up with a guitar and playing tunes, like entertaining. If you Google music therapy, probably the first thing that comes up is somebody with a big smile on their face playing acoustic guitar to a group of elderly people or a group of children,” he presumes accurately. But he states firmly: “It’s not about entertainment at all. It’s about collaborative and interactive experiences.”

“I do group sessions, and my biggest fear is that I will be expected to be an entertainer. But in those instances, you come up with group goals.” Referring back to his work with individuals with schizophrenia, who can feel particularly isolated in a long-term care facility, he explains his approach: “I’m gonna be trying to create engagement and relationships between them so they can feel a sense of home in an atmosphere where they do not feel that they’re at home… So me just standing in front of them and playing Elvis is not gonna do that. All that’s gonna do is entertain them for five minutes.”

Fisher-Rozenberg also takes exception to the conflation of music therapy and the wellness industry. “A lot of people claim that they can heal you with vibey music. I think maybe they call it sound therapy. But from what I know, that’s a little rogue, because so far in my studies, I haven’t read much about using drone music to heal a person.” He does acknowledge that every person responds differently to music. “The cliché, corny relaxation music is not gonna work for everybody. It may be relaxing for one person, but for another, it can be extremely aggravating,” he says, reiterating his point that one size does not fit all. “For music to actually help a person, it has to be their preferred music. For one person to relax, yeah, okay, maybe [it’s] the sounds of the rainforest and some harp, like you’d hear at a spa. For another person maybe it’s Black Sabbath, which is counter-intuitive.”

Misconceptions exist among music therapists, too. Although he’s relatively new to the field, he’s observed a spectrum of thought. “On the left side is expressive therapies, so that’s your catharsis, like getting out emotions and things like that. And then on the right side is brain stuff, like, what does music actually do to your brain? How do you use music to rehabilitate somebody’s speech? How do you use music to rehabilitate somebody’s fine motor skills? And those two sides don’t seem to get along very well.” Fisher-Rozenberg straddles the middle. “If you’re a therapist, you gotta be able to hold both [views]. That’s the whole beauty of therapy: it allows people to hold two totally disparate thoughts or feelings at the same time and then integrate them. So as therapists, we should be doing that.”

Music therapists work out of various settings. In private practice, patients go to the therapist. Contracted therapists move between facilities, like clinics, hospitals, and group homes. In-house therapists are stationed in one facility. Fisher-Rozenberg is currently limited to Zoom sessions from his home, but in a way, they’ve expanded the possibilities of his practice. “It’s actually good for me because I have a lot of electronic leanings. I like to use lots of electronic music technologies, and I can integrate all of those. I don’t know if you can see behind me” – he points to a collection of consoles in his background – “there’s some big, old synths. I can’t bring those with me, but now I’m able to use them.”

Lee Krasner – Untitled, 1948

He’s also been using electronic technology to explore his possibilities as a musician. Over the last two years, Fisher-Rozenberg worked on his debut solo album as Memory Pearl, Music for 7 Paintings. Its seven electronic instrumentals cascade between calming, luminous ambience, with sweeping sonic immersions and cosmic journeys built upon percolating, comet-tailed synths. The compositions incite the sort of astral projection that might occur when gazing at the Abstract Expressionist paintings each track is named after. These references include Jackson Pollock (Number 28, 1950), Lee Krasner (Untitled, 1948), Helen Frankenthaler (Natural Answer, 1976; Red and Brown Scene, 1961), Joan Mitchell (Sunflower, 1969), Franz Kline (Cupola, 1958-1960), and Robert Ryman (Untitled #17, 1958).

“It was very personal,” Fisher-Rozenberg says of Music for 7 Paintings. “There’s some music therapy theory that would apply to my process.” He began by observing a painting, then journaling and translating that writing into compositions. “By going from one modality to another to another, a lot of unconscious material surfaced. And that’s one way that people use music therapy: they go from drawing to writing to singing to talking, and jumping between all those different modalities helps them to uncover this top secret unconscious information about themselves that helps them to be a more integrated individual.”

The album’s electronic aesthetic was straightforward, though, derived from music he enjoyed, like Laurie Spiegel, Tim Hecker, Wolfgang Voigt, and obvious minimalist touchstones Brian Eno and Steve Reich. “It’s so basic,” he laughs. “I cannot help but be influenced by the music I love, and especially as this is my first substantial work as a solo artist, I felt I needed to honour and represent this aesthetic that I’ve had brewing for so long… This was like a freedom where I was really trying to honour this vibe that is so important to me, but I’ve never had a project where I could express that aesthetic.”

Fisher-Rozenberg’s work as Memory Pearl echoes what he loves about abstract art. “It allows for interpretation, which is a beautiful thing, because the last thing you want is to listen to a piece of music and to be told exactly how to listen to it, exactly what it means. I think it’s much more important for a viewer or a listener to be able to insert themselves and insert their own history into a work.”

Helen Frankenthaler – Red and Brown Scene, 1961

However music is experienced or applied, Fisher-Rozenberg marvels at its mystical power to evoke memories and emotions. “If you’re sad and you’re listening to sad music, that’s because the music is validating your feelings… But then on the flip side, we use music all the time to manipulate our feelings: maybe I’m feeling sad, but I don’t want to feel sad, so I’ll put on some kind of sunshine record.” Moreover, music can provide a safe distance from one’s own trauma, a baby step towards being able to confront that trauma. “If I have trauma in my life, maybe I’m not quite ready to confront that trauma. But if I hear something similar in a song, I can just talk about the song. I don’t have to talk about myself.”

Though we’ve all been using music in these ways our whole lives, “It’s a little chaotic, and we can’t quite put the words to it,” Fisher-Rozenberg says. “We don’t even think about this stuff. We just do it because intuitively, it feels safe, and it feels right.” Music therapy, he summarizes, is “making a science of it and then using those tools to help people reach [rehabilitation] goals in an organized way.”

If we all take a moment to think about how we use and experience music every day – how safe and right it makes us feel – then like Fisher-Rozenberg, our relationship with this mystical force will deepen, too.

Music for 7 Paintings is out now via Idée Fixe Records.

SBDC
The Feeling of Winning
Kingfisher Bluez
Vancouver, BC
RIYL: Best Coast; WUT; pre-Warning Green Day

Booze and regrets flow on SBDC’s rollicking new album, The Feeling of Winning. Multi-voice choruses slam you like waves, knocking you under surfing riffs and rolling rhythms, before bungee basslines pull you back up. Getting back on your feet is what The Feeling of Winning is all about. 

“How did I make it through the night?” they ask on “Acid Brains,” after declaring “I don’t want to live this life anymore” on “Every Drunk in the World.” Small victories like shedding your vices and dropping the dead weight of underachievers and directionless, troublemaking boyfriends from your life fill the album’s 21-and-a-half minutes. But doing so comes with mixed emotions: SBDC want zero commitment on “Casual Friends,” yet they seek validation on “Date Me.” 

Such conflicts make for a crashing emotional mess, but they also make The Feeling of Winning one of the year’s best garage pop gems, and that’s no small victory.

– Leslie Ken Chu

Allyson Blush – Disappearing Act

Allyson Blush
Disappearing Act
Self Released
Charlottetown, PEI
RIYL: Chelsea Wolfe; Angel Olsen on solo guitar; Mount Eerie

Despite the title of Allyson Blush’s Disappearing Act EP, the stirring songwriter makes a lasting impression. Cocooned in nothing but an acoustic guitar and ambient hiss, her spellbinding, vibrating voice has plenty of space in which to thrive as she sings of abandonment. 

A magician vanishes from the stage on the title track, leaving his audience and assistant bewildered and in tears. “Does it feel good to be out there with the debt and the noise? / With the tuition and the neighbors screaming back at your poise? / … / Are you happy to have an empty kitchen and no more me?” she asks whoever has left her for the city on “Heart Degree.” Like that song, “Trigger” feels urgent, as she fears she’s running out of time: “If there’s a reason that you’re not here, well, honey, I ain’t waiting, so there’s not much time to spare.” 

With minimalistic, haunted folk arrangements that hang like cobwebs in her scenes of abandonment, listening to Disappearing Act is an arrestingly isolating experience.

– Leslie Ken Chu

Nature Walk – King of Wands

Nature Walk
King of Wands
Self-Released
Victoria, BC
RIYL: Magnetic Fields; Camera Obscura, tweed

The four tracks on Nature Walk’s King of Wands span fizzy dream pop and electronic folk as light as a pile of leaves. In her sole appearance on the EP, a singer identified only as Fox on Bandcamp lends her melancholy-tinged voice to “Real One.” Wandering finger-picked acoustic guitar lines weave together like twigs in a bird’s nest on the leisurely “Sun Bath.” The song appeals to the senses, with references to “sweet hummingbird mint,” “flowers breaking through cement,” “drinking from the moon midday,” and breezes that chill you out of your daydreams.

Distant bird calls and children’s shouts inhabit the dewy, lilting, and otherwise instrumental “Sun Shower,” evoking parting clouds after a heavy rainfall. “Tranquility” brings a more internal peace over misty keys. Here, Nature Walk sings of frozen, timeless contentedness with a special someone named Ricky Jane. “I’m never lost, and though I may wander / I pray that distance will make / The heart grow fonder.” 

Don’t roll the dice on distance – queue up King of Wands for your next amble and find serenity with Nature Walk.

Leslie Ken Chu

Hermitess – Celestial

Hermitess
Celestial
Self-Released
Calgary, AB
RIYL: Weyes Blood; Wallgrin; staring at the night sky and feeling like something’s staring back

Jennifer Crighton wraps existential questions in viscous harp melodies on Celestial, her second EP as Hermitess. Like last year’s Tower, these four songs are loosely based on one of the Major Arcana, the trump cards in tarot. This time, she’s chosen the Star, a harbinger of despair and disappointment, but also inspiration, hope, and opportunity.

Celestial finds Crighton feeling small on Earth while contemplating the vastness of the universe. You can feel her anxiety rise on “Artificial Stars,” where Aria Janzen’s synthesizer effects blow like milk across the sky. Pedal steel is widely considered an earthy instrument, due to its prevalence in country music, but Wayne Garrett uses it to push the lonely, ponderous instrumental “Spacewalk I : Spooky Action At a Distance” farther up towards the infinite. “Celestial Bodies” offers tranquility, as Crighton’s harp melody pools around Melissa McWilliams’ percussive raps.

Like the Tower EP, Crighton has expanded her creative universe on Celestial – fed up with abusive treatment from male producers, she sought femme collaborators she’d never worked with before, specifically sound engineers. Although the big questions about life and existence still swirl in her head, she can find comfort among the new collaborators she’s pulled into her orbit; finding her footing in an unpredictable, mysterious world has become less lonely, more inspiring, and more opportune. This star is just beginning to shine.

– Leslie Ken Chu

Sadé Awele
Time Love Journey
Self-Released
Vancouver, BC
RIYL: Jamila Woods; Aquakultre; Natalie Slade

Self-care takes time and love. For some people, it’s a journey. Nigerian-born singer Sadé Awele maps her path to self-preservation on her groovy, nocturnal EP, Time Love Journey. “You have to walk that road on your own / … / Are you even willing to try?” she asks on “Care.” Along with committing your own emotional labour, you have to be open to critical reflection: “How can you be so guarded? / I don’t understand it,” her interrogation continues.

Awele commands a breathless cool on the self-assured “No Love Lost.” Faint background horns mingle with pattering percussive brushes, creating a restrained energy on “Peak.” “These are my emotions,” she sings on this humid song, baring her vulnerability as she tries to conquer her anxiety and stay on top of her game.

“Take it easy, take it slow / We’ve got so far to go,” she repeats as thick bass, overhanging brass, and warm, smooth keys propel “Take It Easy” towards a crescendo. Sadé Awele proves self-care is worth the labour. She’s playing the long game, and I have a feeling she’s going to stick it out.

Leslie Ken Chu

FSHKLL – Sashimi Shoreline EP

FSHKLL
Sashimi Shoreline EP
Independent
Charlottetown, PEI
RIYL: Cold Warps; Terry Malts; Tacocat

FSHKLL are goofy and playful, but don’t call them egg punk. They let you know how much they hate the versatile shelled viand on lurching Sashimi Shoreline track “Eggman”: “No eggs in potatoes, no eggs over easy, no eggs in a bun,” singer Brad Deighan decries. 

Elsewhere, the five-song EP is relentlessly catchy, like on the positive mental attitude anthem “Dark Thoughts.” “Let’s do something great and focus on the positive,” he encourages. The soda shop punch of power-pop bottle rocket “Run-Out” makes it the most fun song you’ll hear about beating up Nazis. FSHKLL can pack a wallop, too. They come in hot with snarling EP opener “NYST,” on which Colin MacIsaac’s bass lines swing like a sledgehammer. 

Sashimi Shoreline ends in similarly hard-hitting fashion with the sarcastic “Canadian Dream.” “We comin’ for you,” Deighan warns on “Run-Out.” FSHKLL aren’t coming for me, though, so I’ll gladly chase them for more.

– Leslie Ken Chu

Squidney the Dude
Ben | Habits 
Independent
Halifax, NS
RIYL: The Microphones; Akron/Family; Grouper’s Dragging a Dead Deer up a Hill 

Squidney the Dude appears bundled up in a heavy fall jacket on the cover of Ben | Habits. You might feel like reaching for yours when listening to the two eponymous singles. Their lingering, low-hanging chords dangle timelessly. “Ben” thrums with plinking guitar and robust bass before a toasted guitar solo breaks up the sense of hibernation, as does the chirping of birds. “Picked up a couple of habits along the way / temporary as coffee stains,” Squidney mutters on the next track. Habits tend to stick, but the song feels as faint as a fingerprint on a window that’s fogging back up. Here’s hoping Squidney the Dude makes a habit of releasing more songs soon.

– Leslie Ken Chu