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

Matthew Cardinal
Asterisms
Arts & Crafts
Edmonton, AB
RIYL: Boards of Canada; Aphex Twin; slow shutter speed on evening light photography

Matthew Cardinal’s recent diversion from his work with nêhiyawak and Slow Girl Walking has resulted in the profound effort that is Asterisms. His debut solo full-length album, and a self-described audio journal, Asterisms is a warm, hopeful soundtrack for blazing into the 1970s at rocket speed, or walking through a flower field at sunrise. 

Drawing us into his alter-world of ambient electronic music, Cardinal’s Asterisms is an excellent example of contemplative, retro-futurism that possesses an inherent grace. Several tracks were the result of real-time improvisations, recorded as they were played for the first time. All this, and still managing to bend and shift in all the right places. Asterisms allows the listener to bear sonic witness to Cardinal’s candid, organic metamorphosis as an artist, as he drifts galaxies away from his other projects, where he is completely at home.

— Lenore Maier

Clara May – Moth Picnic

Clara May
Moth Picnic
Mangled Tapes
Edmonton, AB
RIYL: Julie Doiron’s Loneliest in the Morning; Adrianne Lenker; moths

My favourite meme right now is the one where, most often, a picture of something cute is paired with the phrase “oh to be [whatever the picture is of].” “Oh to be a fluffy Japanese pancake,” for example. On Moth Picnic’s “The Reincarnation Song,” Clara May ponders life after death and vocalises this wholesome meme. “Oh to be a whale as big and blue as the water that you swim in,” May sings while strumming a banjo.

Like “The Reincarnation Song,” Moth Picnic is charming while also capturing relatable anxieties and a contemporary disillusionment. It’s a quiet bedroom-folk-pop record that features a love-ish song to May’s home (“Edmonton”), a breezy ode to connection (“I Hope So”), and a list of the things May likes and doesn’t like (“I Like What I Like”). Moth Picnic is a comforting companion when the world feels too loud and it also may inspire you to pick up your guitar again and record a song in your bedroom.

Laura Stanley

Khotin – Finds You Well

Khotin
Finds You Well
Ghostly International
Edmonton, AB
RIYL: Patrick Holland; D. Tiffany; LNRDCROY

Pleasantries have a double-edge of ringing hollow, and with much of the world not doing well during the pandemic, phrases like “Hope this email finds you well” ring with a serious undertone. Dylan Khotin-Foote aimed to capture this duality on Finds You Well, but I find the album thoroughly soothing.

As if by osmosis, Khotin has always floated freely between therapeutic ambience and understated but lively beats. Hitting play on Finds You Well is like choosing the deluxe spa package that comes with the best of both. It’s not pure synthesis, though; the album’s first half is like a bubble bath, but its second half enters calm waters, disturbed only by the spooky “WEM Lagoon Jump.” Voice clips appear on this track like ripples from an invisible distant source. Whether accompanied by these voices or still with my own thoughts, Finds You Well genuinely finds me well.

Leslie Ken Chu