Minimal Violence – Phase Two

Minimal Violence
Phase Two
Tresor Records 
Vancouver, BC 
RIYL: Listening to techno at home; music on the cusp of scary; the ’90s

In May 2020, Minimal Violence released Phase One to kick off a three-part series titled DESTROY —->[physical] REALITY [psychic] <—- TRUST with Berlin’s iconic Tresor Records. Enter Phase Two. Both EPs are at home on the rave-ready label, simulating, at a distance, the claustrophobic (in a good way), mysterious, and dark aesthetics of the club. 

On Phase Two, Vancouver’s Ash Luk and Lida P. race through techno, industrial breakbeat, and other electronic experiments. The duo switches things up just when you think you have ahold of them, shopping in their encyclopedic influences not only across tracks but within them. The EBM sounds and screams of “Mankind” linger into neighbouring track “Hard Delivery,” while complementing its gabber style. EP opener “Dreams for Sale” may share breakbeat moments with closer “1992,” yet both tracks offer different soundscapes and visual imagery. Where the former is fit to soundtrack your worst nightmare, the latter is fit for a Matrix-style throwdown. (Don’t worry, you’re Neo, and you’re doing very well.)

We can expect Phase Three soon, although it looks like Minimal Violence will be a one-person act going forward with Lida stepping away from the duo. While we’ll surely still be barred from dancing en masse when it’s released, Minimal Violence will bring the club to us yet again. 

– Katerina Stamadianos

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

OBUXUM – Bravery Network Online Soundtrack

Bravery Network Online Soundtrack
Toronto, ON
RIYL: J Dilla; Flying Lotus; RPGs

OBUXUM made a splash in 2019 with her album Re-Birth, injecting elements of spacey ambient music, twitchy footwork, and head-nodding hip-hop into a dazzling collection of instrumental beats. The Somali-Canadian producer’s songs shift and mutate, occasionally introducing spoken word samples such as Viola Davis’s politically charged Golden Globes speech. In an interview with The FADER, OBUXUM explained how “each track on that particular album tells its own stories, and they have their own feel and their own pace.”

For its follow-up, the soundtrack to the fighting strategy game Bravery Network Online, OBUXUM’s approach is far more cohesive. Each track clocks in at two minutes or less and is named for the location where players will hear it (“The Stadium,” “Sparring Room,” “Main Menu”). Her musical palette initially feels limited to shimmering synths pushed forward by boom-bap drums and auxiliary percussion, until she departs from this formula with the moody pianos of “Locker Room” and jazzy thump of “Deep House.” While not quite as expansive or exploratory as OBUXUM’s previous work, the soundtrack stands alone as a highly enjoyable listen worth reaching for the replay button.

– Jesse Locke   

Simon Provencher – Mesures EP

Simon Provencher
Mesures EP
Michel Records
Gatineau, QC
RIYL: Flaming Tunes; Golden Retriever; “jazz”

As the guitarist of supercharged post-punk band VICTIME, Simon Provencher drenches his shark-toothed riffs in an array of effects until they’re nearly unrecognizable. The trio’s abrasive sound stands in stark contrast to Provencher’s solo debut, an understated diversion into left-field jazz where every element can be clearly identified.

On the EP’s three opening songs, Provencher welcomed clarinetist Elyze Venne-Deshaies and percussionist Olivier Fairfield (FET.NAT, Last Ex, Album) to freely improvise. For his own oblique strategy, the guitarist replaced his effects pedals with twine tied to strings and metal objects wedged into the instrument’s body. The woodwinds provide a melodious foundation as Fairfield crashes and clatters, while Provencher wanders freely across the frets.

Mesures concludes with a trio of songs that emerged as happy accidents. When Provencher mistakenly pressed play on multiple clarinet tracks simultaneously, he was struck by the eerie polyphony these sounds created. Keeping the horns exactly as he heard them, Provencher added sparse strains of feedback, transforming the EP’s back half into a buoyant electro-acoustic collage. Emphasizing results over intention, the proof is in the pudding with this playfully experimental release. 

– Jesse Locke

Deep Digs: The Poppy Family – Which Way You Goin’ Billy? (London Recordings, 1969)

Deep Digs: The Poppy Family – Which Way You Goin’ Billy? (London Recordings, 1969)

By: Kaelen Bell | Art by: Michael Rancic

In Deep Digs we take a look at significant albums from Canadian history, with an emphasis on music that might have been overlooked the first time around. This month writer Kaelen Bell revisits the radio pop-warping psychedelia of the Poppy Family’s Which Way You Goin’ Billy?

Thumbing through thrift shop stacks or your stoner uncle’s record crates, coming across Which Way You Goin’ Billy? might not elicit much interest. At first glance, the Poppy Family’s 1969 debut is another piece of dusty basement ephemera, a camp record from a camp band lost to the winds of time. Pull the vinyl from the sleeve, however, and you’ll find a piece of Canadian music history, a rare and fundamental record whose memory still sprouts quietly in the small, strange cracks of the world.

Born in Saskatoon and raised in the Fraser Valley, Susan Pesklevits was 17 when she met Terry Jacks in 1966 on the set of teen program Let’s Go, the Vancouver spinoff of Toronto’s Alex Trebek-hosted Music Hop. The two had already found small success individually, Pesklevits as a teen performer on national programs and with her trio the Eternal Triangle, and Jacks with his high school band the Chessmen, who scored a handful of Vancouver-area hits in the early ’60s. It would be a year after their on-set meeting that Pesklevits recruited Jacks for a performance in Hope, BC. Eventually the one-off became a string of shows, Pesklevits married Terry and became Susan Jacks, and the duo recruited lead guitarist Craig McCaw and started writing songs as Powerline.

The trio would start going by the name the Poppy Family sometime in late 1967. As a symbol of wartime remembrance, pharmaceutical destruction, and eternal sleep, the technicolour dream world flower was a fittingly complicated name for a band that bent radio pop innocence to the plane of eerie psychedelia. But they wouldn’t truly become the Poppy Family until the arrival of tabla player Satwant Singh. A student of Hindustani classical legend Alla Rakha with an interest in exploring Western music, Singh was the group’s secret weapon, elevating their folk-pop sound to a realm of coruscating fantasy.

Produced and primarily written by Terry Jacks and released on London Recordings in 1969, Which Way You Goin’ Billy? oscillates between pop heartache and hallucination. Its songs are driven by innocent fixations on love, clouds, shadows, and the mind that seems always on the verge of curdling into a bad trip. When it finally does, on side A closer “There’s No Blood in Bone,” it feels a bit put-on. Four introspective flower children peering eyes half-closed into the abyss, “There’s No Blood in Bone” is a fascinating detour: a band typically lit in gentle white now suddenly cast in buzzing red. The song emits a metallic heat—Susan’s hand-manipulated vocal introduction gives way to corrosive organ and guitar tones that swarm like gnats.

Released two years after 1967’s Summer of Love, Which Way You Goin’ Billy? glistens with some of Haight-Ashbury’s anti-establishment, revolutionary fervor. “What Can the Matter Be” grapples with race, industrialism, pre-war-on-drugs criminalization, and puritanism. Yet the band sound more at home in the space just before the shadows, where Terry’s sunny melodies and Susan’s luminous voice keep their intrinsic darkness at arm’s length. It’s the trick of the creepy doll or overly polite child, an unnerving sense of spoil beneath the pleasant veneer. 

Sonically, the record feels delightfully in flux. Horn-dotted country-pop opener “That’s Where I Went Wrong” is a world away from the creeping delirium of “Shadows on My Walls,” the sound of a band figuring themselves out in real time. The black heart of Which Way You Goin’ Billy? pumps in “You Took My Moonlight Away,” where the foursome’s brew of ’60s pop and Hindustani-inspired psychedelia concentrates into something briefly, subtly transcendent. Cascades of strings, McCaw’s hazy sitar, and Singh’s rolling tabla are cast like twinkling stars, pulled and stretched across an expanse of inky black. “You Took My Moonlight Away” is the record’s sleeper hit, but Which Way You Goin’ Billy? had real ones too. The band’s weird little star gradually expanded as the album’s title track went #1 in Canada and Ireland, spending several weeks on the charts. But with nascent fame came complication.

At a time when modern thresholds for appropriation were crossed with wide-eyed abandon, Susan’s occasional saris or fringed moccasin boots were worn in stark contrast with her reassuring whiteness. The foursome’s music sounded something like genuine cultural synergy. But the collaborative magic the Poppy Family uncovered on their debut would soon curdle; Terry gradually phased out Singh and McCaw, and the two were relegated to side-players before eventually leaving in 1970. Of the band’s various televised performances still available on YouTube, McCaw is featured only three times and Singh just twice. The band’s second and final record, 1971’s Poppy Seeds, was recorded by Susan and Terry with a revolving door of session players, a muted outing compared to the twisted majesty of their debut.

After effectively dismantling the band, Terry Jacks went #1 again in 1973 with his treacly rendition of “Seasons in the Sun,” an English adaptation of Jacques Brel’s “Le Moribond” that was originally intended for the Beach Boys. Susan would garner a string of modest hits with her solo records, including the timeless road-song “Anna Marie,” from 1975’s Dream; the single stands tall alongside the Poppy Family’s best work. Singh went on to teach tabla and play with McCaw long after the Family’s dissolution, and the band’s four-year run eventually became a hazy footnote.

Which Way You Goin’ Billy? remains out of print in its original form, but the Poppy Family still cross over to our side from time to time, reuniting briefly in 2014 for a series of festival performances and interviews without Terry. “Of Cities and Escape” and “What Can the Matter Be” are sampled prominently on Deltron 3030’s “Madness” and “Things You Can Do,” respectively, while 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog sees Jim Carrey dancing through his laboratory to Poppy Seeds‘ “Where Evil Grows.” The physical legacy of Which Way You Goin’ Billy? may now be relegated to dusty basement relic and crate-digger collectable, but it always felt incorporeal anyway, a blur of pollen or a red star’s distant glow, a small and strange record whose power lives beyond the things we can touch.

special delivery – 人生的配樂 vol. 1

special delivery
人生的配樂 vol. 1
Montréal, QC
RIYL: sitting outside a recital hall during practice; stumbling through language lessons; home appliances

Montréal composer special delivery uses found sound and spoken recordings to draw attention to the musicality of everyday life. The nine tracks on 人生的配樂 vol. 1 (which means Soundtrack of a Lifetime) are exercises in patience and focus, for listeners and herself. She hones her harp skills for five minutes on “practicing repetition” and fumbles and stumbles through Mandarin lessons on “am i saying it right?.”

人生的配樂 vol. 1 is a sensory experience beyond the ears. The scent of flowers rises as birds chirp on “nature and machinerie.” And whatever is being pried apart on “breaking pranks,” you can feel thin pieces of wood splintering in your hands.

On “fridge musich,” special delivery realizes her fridge is an orchestra. She imitates its droning, oscillating noises in a croaking voice. “I wish I had recorded it, but if I went to get my phone, I would have missed the whole thing,” she laments.

The fleeting nature of her fridge’s music sums up 人生的配樂 vol. 1‘s emphasis on the present moment. She captures snippets of subtle time as they occur or recounts them because they’ve eluded her. Concentrate on 人生的配樂 vol. 1 as diligently as special delivery practices harp and Mandarin, and revelation will be your reward.

Leslie Ken Chu

Afternoon Bike Ride – Skipping Stones

Afternoon Bike Ride
Skipping Stones
Friends of Friends Music
Montréal, QC
RIYL: Teen Daze; Khotin; bike rides

Here is an incomplete list of what causes immense joy as found in Afternoon Bike Ride’s Skipping Stones:

  • Sunrises
  • Whatever or whoever you define as home
  • A cup of tea
  • Long, meaningful conversations on a couch that you can sink into
  • Skipping stones
  • Afternoon bike rides

The Montréal trio’s EP is a blissed-out array of blinking electronics, hushed guitar-picking, synth melodies, and LIA‘s balmy vocals. In tandem with a crackling lo-fi homespun quality, Afternoon Bike Ride infuse a thoughtfulness into every note that helps it pair nicely with your “stupid little daily walk” and any/all of the above list items. 

There’s a familiarity to Skipping Stones that’s hard to dispute. If you frequent any of the lo-fi study or chill music streams and playlists on YouTube or Spotify, these songs sound like the majority of what you hear on those. But if you have found tranquility in these songs when it feels like the world is in short supply of calm, does it matter? On “Couch Party,” LIA sings, “I’m okay. Are you okay?” and you want to shake your head in the affirmative. Skipping Stones is a pocket-sized paradise.

– Laura Stanley

Thierry Larose – Cantalou

Thierry Larose
Bravo musique
Montréal, QC
RIYL: Gab Bouchard; Joel Plaskett Emergency; the smell of popcorn

On occasion, I will become obsessed with a small detail in a song. Often the delivery of a word or phrase is the cause of my fixation, but when it comes to the self-titled track of Thierry Larose’s debut LP Cantalou, I am obsessed with a noise. It’s a high-pitch whiney sound that arrives a few seconds into the song. I think it’s a squealing guitar coming to life, but it sounds like a balloon when you slowly let the air out. It’s a weird and funny moment, and it’s probably a very annoying noise if it stood alone, but it doesn’t; it acts as the welcoming committee for the rest of the band to arrive and pulverize their instruments to emphasize the word “Cantalou.”

The pleasure that this sonic detail gives me aligns with the delightfulness of Cantalou as a whole. It’s a playful pop-rock record full of drama and unexpected moments. “Chanson pour Bérénice Einberg” is a moody love letter to the main character of the novel L’Avalée des avalés, and the raw energy of “Rachel” and the nostalgia-fueled “Club vidéo” make me long to hear Larose play these songs live and to move in unison with a sweaty crowd. But for now, I will sway in my increasingly worn-out desk chair to the lively guitar melody of “De la perspective d’un vieil homme” and dream of a brighter tomorrow.

– Laura Stanley

Air Creature – Every Emotion

Air Creature
Every Emotion
Vancouver, BC
RIYL: engine failure; broken propellers; electrical storms

Spencer Schoening might be best known as the former drummer in JUNO Award-winning indie rock band Said the Whale, but few people know that within him lies a different beast. He himself didn’t know, until he heard Pulse Demon by harsh noise legend Merzbow. Roused by the demon’s call, what once lay dormant has now reared its head, and Schoening has given it a name: Air Creature.

The four pulverizing tracks on Air Creature’s Every Emotion crackle with electrical buzz. The churning “Hiddenness” will make you seasick on land. The distorted “Wilderness Pup” screeches and thrashes like T-1000 meeting its demise. “Poorest in the Forest” sputters and never lifts off, like a helicopter shooting smoke from its engine. When Air Creature pulls the plug on livewire shocker “Massive Aggressive,” the abrupt ending leaves you reeling.

You won’t find the bright, melodic sounds typically associated with ecstatic joy on Every Emotion—in fact, you might not be able to pinpoint what you feel. But disorientation elicits a peculiar bliss, perhaps one of numbness. Listening to Every Emotion, you will feel something, and sometimes, it’s better to wonder than to know for sure.

Leslie Ken Chu