Ouri Frame of a Fauna Born Twice / Lighter Than Air Montréal, QC RIYL: Aphex Twin; Arca; Oneohtrix Point Never
When you go from local scene fixture to full-fledged artist, you’ll want to make a strong artistic statement right from the jump. After dropping two excellent EPs (Maze and We Share Our Blood), frequently performing alongside producer CRi, and collaborating with fellow Montréal artist Helena Deland on their joint project, Hildegard, Ouri (born Ourielle Auvé) has emerged with her debut solo album, Frame of a Fauna. Made while travelling between London, Berlin, and Brazil, this LP encapsulates her frenetic-yet-expansive sound that has become her trademark, while tracing the marks life experience leaves behind.
Meshing punchy industrial beats with ethereal synths and orchestral atmospheres (no doubt influenced by her background in classical music, studying both harp and piano), the Montréal-via-France producer/singer/composer combines her lush, forward-thinking production with her own breathy, soothing singing voice. With fellow Montréal artists Mind Bath and Antony Carle offering guest vocals to “Odd or God” and “Felicity” respectively, Frame of a Fauna‘s intoxicating take on trip-hop, ambient, and experimental electronic music sees Ouri making a hypnotic, dreamlike body of work that can be both danceable and experimental—often at the same time.
Secret Witness Volume I Bienvenue Recordings Montréal, QC RIYL: DIANA; late night rideshares across town; Everything But the Girl
Four artists at the top of their game—house producers Gabriel Rei and Gene Tellem, pop singer/songwriter Laroie, and percussionist Pascal Deaudelin—join forces for this fruitful collaboration that sees each stretching their abilities creatively under a veil of darkness.
The bubbly bass of “Endless Nights” pulls focus quickly, letting the introspective keys establish the nocturnal mood of the quartet’s debut EP. The sustained notes give a sense of the enduring shadow that the song title alludes to and which envelops the entire record, while Laroie’s voice is chopped and looped, stuck in time.
As the material progresses, the band gels and moves away from comfort zones. The song that gives the group their name feels less rooted in house music and more in line with ’80s sophistipop, with the hand-percussion and laid back keys feeling lush and dramatic. Laroie delivers her self-reflective lyrics with a cool restraint that verges on a whisper. For a song that’s about being subsumed by feelings of jealousy, the group keeps things remarkably on the level, but in doing so they emphasize the subtle shifts in Laroie’s voice, and the way the song rises in tension as she reaches the chorus.
For only six songs, what’s exceptional and exciting about this record is hearing how well everyone connects. Whether it’s on the instrumental “Refuge,” which with its glowing keys, insistent drums, and phasing electronics, leans in to the romance of the night, or EP highlight “Influence,” which features an excellent call-and-response vocal part from Laroie and guest Kris Guilty, Volume I is brimming with sharp songwriting talent and is enough to make any listener to never want the night to end.
Soul Boner Liliana’s Divorce Vain Mina Montréal, QC RIYL: Wasteland; WLMRT; 100 gecs
For the sake of full transparency, I selected this project to review because of the band’s name. That said, what I got when I pressed play was equally eyebrow-raising. Montréal-based duo Soul Boner’s debut EP, Liliana’s Divorce, is a five-minute, 13-second sonic caffeine rush that is short and sweet, but still packs a hefty punch. Feverish, blistering lo-fi noise punk meets hyper-pop à la 100 gecs, topped off with rapid-fire, deadpan spoken word monologues from front person Nara Wriggs—including one about refusing extra bread at McDonald’s to save money for fries, even if they’re “weird, dry, [and] soggy.” While any project at such a short length is difficult to properly analyze, it’s nonetheless a dizzying and sometimes eerie listen that serves as a memorable, in-your-face introduction to this duo’s raw, chaotic tunes.
Tush Fantast Do Right! Music Toronto, ON RIYL: Love Touch Records; Escort; Lisa Shaw
Some 40 years after it was pronounced “dead,” disco endures and is just as relevant today thanks to artists who understand the style’s transformative power. The opulence of the typically rich vocals, basslines, and arrangements can alter any regular checkerboard dance floor into a lavish and unforgettable dream. Toronto’s Tush draw on this power with their modern take on the sound, wielding it with an aspirational and motivational point of view.
With its encouraging bass and drums, “Don’t Be Afraid” anchors the record through both its original version and as a reprise on the second half. “There’s always time,” vocalist Kamilah Apong assures early on, as buzzing electronics offer an unsettling counterpoint, like drifting doubt. But her voice cuts through the uncertainty, and the live instrumentation (led by Tush’s other half, Jamie Kidd) rises in supportive response. Layer after layer the song builds to a decadent crescendo, as a chorus of voices repeat the song’s title, urging Apong to vamp it up and show off her vocal range.
The record is full of moments like these, where irresistible grooves meet thoughtful lyrical affirmation. Those highs are made all the more impactful by recordings Apong made of family members in Black River, Jamaica speaking to the way the songs encourage listeners to confront their challenges head-on. These interludes of personal conversation add a feeling of intimacy, strengthen the thematic backbone of the record, and give the album peaks and valleys that make it an exceptional listen.
zouz Vertiges Lazy At Work Montréal, QC RIYL: Karkwa; Malajube; the sound of the early ‘00s
After their two EPs in 2017 and 2018, Montréal’s zouz have finally released their first album Vertiges with local rock label Lazy At Work. Well known for their powerful indie rock that resembles major bands like Interpol or, closer geographically, Malajube and Karkwa, this new offering sends listeners down a trip to memory lane.
From the first 10 seconds of “Vertiges,” the opening title track of the album, it’s hard to ignore their resemblance to older indie rock bands from Québec, bands that are now defunct. Every song opens up with the same sound that defined those bands, down to the delivery of the lyrics on “Nager.” It feels like zouz are still stuck in an era that doesn’t exist anymore, one that was left behind for greener pastures. This being said, the album holds up and transports us through the colder season upon us. Lead singer David Marchand’s voice is a lullaby for the soul.
Efy Hecks Somnifère Bonbonbon Records Montréal, QC RIYL: Drugdealer; Harmonium; Plantasia; a good psych drug trip
From the first notes of Efy Hecks’ Somnifère, his newest album, it’s hard to ignore the influence of ’70s psych rock, Americana, and Mort Garson’s Plantasia. Opening with two instrumental tracks that set the tone to this release, Vincent Lemay (a.k.a. Efy Hecks) brings us with him through what seems to be an experimental drug trip turned very creative.
There aren’t any limits to what Lemay explores with his album. While rooted in the signature psychedelic rock sound that is found in all of Bonbonbon’s artists, he still manages to keep us wanting more of his particular voice, one that feels like a warm musical blanket. This album won’t put you to sleep, as his name suggests. It will make you dream of unexpected and colourful sights that only Efy Hecks can create through his music.
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.
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 Independent 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.