Review: Chung & Cotola – Chung Shui II

Chung & Cotola
Chung Shui II
Montréal, QC
RIYL: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib; Cities Aviv; lounging in a smokey basement

The follow up to 2021’s Chung Shui, Chung Shui II is a masterclass in collaboration, featuring two artists whose distinct styles bring out the very best in one another. 

Across the record, rapper Chung’s savvy lyrical street sense meshes incredibly well with producer Cotola’s dusty throwback digs. Cotola’s heavily sample-based instrumentals place little-to-no emphasis on percussion, a small but significant decision that is felt as the resulting music snakes like a puff of smoke and hangs in the air, permeating everything (“You Know I Gotta”). This choice has a staggering effect, giving each song a relaxed feel that lets Chung bask in a loose flow that beams cool, collected confidence (especially on “Set the Tone”). It’s a kind of confidence built on trust between the artists, and one that’s evinced in the freedom and playfulness of the material.  

– Michael Rancic

Review: Lune Très Belle – Ovale

Lune Très Belle
Boiled Records
Montréal, QC
RIYL: Bernice, Claire Rousay, bells of many sorts

While writing the song “Moisissure,” Lune Très Belle’s Frédérique Roy listened to church bells ringing near her home in Montreal. The bells maintain implicit and explicit presence throughout Roy’s hypnotic second record, Ovale, which is an experimental collaboration that feels guided by the repetitive rhythm of a clock striking or the dissonant resonance of a wind chime. 

Ovale’s jazz-inflected soundscapes feature collaborators including Robin Dann and Phil Melanson (both of the Toronto band Bernice), and the album shares Bernice’s playful pop sensibility, as well as the intricate intentionality of Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden. The compositions often foreground guitar, keys, and Roy’s clear vocal, all woven together with electronic textures, scattered percussion, and found sound. The result is a style both organic and otherworldly. On “Maison,” a synth that sounds like a voice speaks to a flute that sounds like a loon. On “La Mite,” Roy apologizes to a moth she didn’t see, as guitar and piano imitate each other’s phrases. Ovale moves between the meditative and the jarring: soothing harmonies slip into discord and back out again. Listening to it feels like arriving at a clearing in a wood, sitting down and crossing your legs, and tuning into the life around.

Rosie Long Decter

Ouri – Frame of a Fauna

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.

Dave MacIntyre

Secret Witness – Volume I

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. 

– Michael Rancic

Soul Boner – Liliana’s Divorce

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.

– Dave MacIntyre

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.

– Yara El-Soueidi

Efy Hecks – Somnifère

Efy Hecks
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.

– Yara El-Soueidi

Cedric Noel – Hang Time

Cedric Noel
Hang Time
Joyful Noise Recordings
Montréal, QC
RIYL: Pedro the Lion; Low; late night conversations that go deep

Cedric Noel’s music has a striking sense of intimacy, like he’s performing several feet away or whispering his lyrics into your ear. I first fell under his spell when I heard the heartrending single “Nighttime (Skin)” in summer 2020. Though Noel has worked in many sounds and musical styles, that song’s tender approach to slowcore indie-rock with understated instrumental arrangements punctuated by swaying choruses is carried throughout the 13 tracks of his latest album, Hang Time

On “Dove,” Noel’s rich baritone is doubled by the lilting voice of Common Holly‘s Brigitte Nagar as they tackle the weighty task of caring about “trivial things like love.” He is joined once again by Squirrel Flower‘s Ella Williams on “Bass Song,” trading off lines against a backdrop of gentle octave chords. As a mellotron swells, their voices come together to sing about the difficulty of sharing honest thoughts: “I don’t get to say the truth / When I want to / But I want to.” By using the least words possible, each one has weight.

The album’s duets are undoubtedly standouts, but Noel is most powerful when he sings on his own. On “Allies,” he repeatedly asks a simple question: “Are you on my side?” The other voice here comes from Malcolm X’s speech “The Ballot or the Bullet,” delivered at a Detroit Baptist church in 1964, one year before his death. When the song reaches one of Malcolm’s most famous quotes (“We must understand the politics of our community and we must know what politics is supposed to produce”), it is subsumed into a coda of shouts and clattering, lo-fi drums. Noel’s music might be intimate, but there’s a passionate flame blazing just below the surface.

– Jesse Locke 

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