Backxwash
STIGMATA EP
Grimalkin Records
Montreal, QC
RIYL: JPEGMAFIA; Atrocity Exhibition-era Danny Brown; ditching Sunday School to listen to Black Sabbath

2020 has been a massive year for Backxwash. The Montreal-based, Zambia-born horrorcore rapper released her album God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It in May to widespread acclaim, and has now followed it with an equally exciting four song EP. The heavy sound of STIGMATA draws on Backxwash’s religious upbringing, sampling Christian metal bands Renascent, Antestor, and Saving Grace, while conjuring a nightmarish ambience that represents her artistry today. Continuing the collaborative approach of her last album, the EP includes contributions from various acts such as the (sadly defunct) Toronto noise-pop duo Black Dresses, Boston industrial rappers Camp Blood, and Montreal experimental artist Joni Void. Yet Backxwash’s voice is front and centre, spitting lyrics with a cathartic, emotionally-charged aggressiveness that has the power to heal all wounds.

Jesse Locke

Yves Jarvis
Sundry Rock Song Stock
Flemish Eye
Montréal, QC
RIYL: Moses Sumney; Sandro Perri; Mocky

Another chapter in Yves Jarvis’ colour-theory informed album series, the green Sundry Rock Song Stock, further refines the artist’s sound while artfully still nudging listeners to new places. 

Jarvis’ previous records Good Will Come To You (released under Un Blonde) and The Same But By Different Means were sprawling mosaics of short song snippets. On the former, the songs felt self-contained, but part of a larger whole, emphasising a sense of communion, whereas on the latter it seemed as though Jarvis intended to overwhelm, with some songs ending abruptly and creating a fractured mentality that was reinforced by the album’s lyrics. 

On this outing, the songs are notably longer affairs, and there’s fewer of them. While Jarvis hones in on some of the hallmarks of his lo-fi sound here (layered vocal parts, lean bass/drums/guitar/keys instrumentation, incorporating ambient sounds), every song save for “Ambrosia,” which is completely instrumental, ends with an instrumental coda. These are dreamlike, often synthesizer-led passages that aren’t framed as intrusions of Audet’s pastoral folk but extensions of it. By their nature, these sections allow Audet’s words to hang and be absorbed. On a record that focuses greatly on questioning others’ motivations, the artist not only provides the space for, but rewards that contemplation with kaleidoscopic dreamscapes.

Michael Rancic

New Hermitage
Unearth
Independent
Halifax, NS
RIYL: François Houle; John Zorn; Peggy Lee

A survey of the song titles from New Hermitage’s latest album, which include “Boiling Off, Collecting Vapour,” “Skeletons,” and “In Amber,” reveals a preoccupation with uncovering what lies beneath the earth – that which has been abandoned by, frozen in, or ravaged by time. New Hermitage reward patience, and Unearth is a demanding work. Saxophone, clarinet, cello, guitar, and harp respond to one another in the chamber quartet’s 11 crackling, reedy, mostly improvised compositions like organisms in an ecosystem. Unearth is weighty and tactile. “Light Through the Rubble” wedges you under the rockpile. “Moss | Rust” presses your cheek against a damp, grown-over surface. On Unearth‘s eeriest piece, “Stalkers,” distorted footsteps stir up an illusion of being pursued through a tunnel. Respite follows on “Desertification,” one of the album’s most desolate moments, like the predator has lost its prey. Stay alert when listening to Unearth, and it, too, will bring you relief.

Leslie Ken Chu

Thanya Iyer
KIND
Topshelf Records
Montréal, QC
RIYL: Bernice; early Maylee Todd; Laura Barrett

Though it might be hard to pin down Thanya Iyer’s sound — is it jazz? Is it pop? Is it folk? — there’s no mistaking that the band, named for its primary songwriter, has accomplished something truly rare with their latest album, KIND

In its expansive, expressive way, KIND addresses mental health, identity, and belonging, supported by an entire ecosystem of sounds that feed into and off of one another. Beginning with “I Woke Up (In The Water),” the group conjures the natural world with a field recording of a chorus of cricket chirps and bird calls, before it is enveloped in plucked and bowed strings, Iyer’s expressive vocals, glowing synths, supportive bass, and rolling percussion like a creeping shadow cast on a forest floor from the tree canopy above. Nature and Iyer’s proximity to it is a major theme of the album’s lyrics and the music shores up these themes through the sounds evoked. The band’s fearless exploratory disposition also helps them coax out rhythms and tone colours that make the entire listening experience feel fresh and immersive, in complete lock-step with Iyer on this journey of self-discovery.

Michael Rancic

Martyn Bootyspoon
Lickety Split
2 B Real
Montreal, QC
RIYL: being whispered to; not-so-serious techno 

Is that the ice cream truck? Shit – even better – it’s the “Ice Cream Mane” rolling through, here to “sample you some flavours/giving some taste of what you need.” Martyn Bootyspoon delivers on this promise of variety across Lickety Split’s five genre-traversing tracks, scooping and serving a parlour’s assortment of techno, grime, acid, and adult content. Despite Bootyspoon’s frequent association with camp and the Casanova, Lickety Split’s precision and playfulness solidifies the artist as a competent, bold producer. For another tasty treat, check out this impeccable mix Bootyspoon did for Crack Magazine – it’s one of the best sets I’ve heard this year.

Katerina Stamadianos

Jonathan Personne
Disparations
Michel Records/Citrus City
Montreal, QC
RIYL: The Dream Syndicate; The Long Ryders; Sergio Leone

Montreal’s Jonathan Personne brings a vivid, cinematic sound to his latest album. Best known as the guitarist of Sub Pop signed post-punk band Corridor, his solo recordings tie together strands of baroque psych-pop and chiming college rock with passionate vocals. The arrangements of these slyly hooky songs are fleshed out with moody mellotron, burbling bass, and 12-string arpeggios, which he lets breathe on extended instrumental passages. The rambling “Dernier Train” comes the closest to a sound he describes as “Spaghetti Western Rock.” Naming his lead single “Springsteen” at first feels like an unexpected reference, but Personne’s ambitions may one day promote him to the level of The Boss.

Jesse Locke

No Joy
Motherhood
Hand Drawn Dracula
Montréal, QC
RIYL: experimental shoegaze; A Sunny Day in Glasgow; being unsure

From projection to certainty, to questioning, to acceptance, back to indecision. The weight that others press onto a perceived biological imperative can and will cut deep into the strongest of resolves. Motherhood? What for? Hell no. Me? A mother? Maybe… in a couple of years. Never. Honestly? Maybe.

But Motherhood? Yes. No Joy’s ruminations on ageing, the expectations of others, and your own mutability swell on their first full-length since 2015. Jasamine White-Gluz, now a solo act under the No Joy moniker, melds the band’s well-loved indie-shoegaze roots with unexpected elements like trip hop breaks (“Four”), nu-metal freak-outs (“Happy Bleeding”), contrasting banjos (“Dream Rats”), and a well-timed slap bass or two. These surprises distinguish Motherhood from White-Gluz’s earlier efforts and combine with the album’s lyrical exploration as if to say, “I didn’t know this about myself, either.” And while No Joy’s stab at a concept album may not offer much in the way of answers, Motherhood provides a comforting soundtrack to these inevitable cycles of self-examination.

Katerina Stamadianos

Bleu kérosène
La Chaleur
Independent
Quebec City, QC
RIYL: Patrick Watson; Alexandra Streliski

Bleu kérosène’s La Chaleur reminds me of the glowing white embers of a fire that’s almost died down. The pop and jazz-inflected grooves of the three track EP smoulder, but don’t burn brightly. On “Brise-glace” and “Ta voix de saison,” the Quebec City band create dark and moody arrangements whose volume wax and wane and feel as long as winter. Sandwiched in between is the playful track “Run Forest Run.” Here, Bleu kérosène move sprightly to explore “the space between,” and its buoyancy is the highlight of the EP. Even though La Chaleur never transforms into a cracking fire, Bleu kérosène have curated a warm selection of sounds that is pleasing nevertheless. 

Laura Stanley