The Summer 2021 Music Room
Anything Can’t Happen
Anything Can’t Happen (Telephone Explosion), the debut album from Toronto’s Dorothea Paas, begins and ends with the same affirmation. “I’m not lonely now,” Paas sings, reassuring the listener and speaker at once. What unfolds between these two lines is a stunning half-hour of music, a series of songs that pushes forward the tradition of confessional songwriting. Armed with her guitar and a backing band on drums and bass, Paas sings of love and its misfortunes: the difficulty of loving oneself and others at the same time; the desire to be fully open and immersed in someone else, while keeping your own body and mind safe. “It’s so hard to trust again / when you don’t even trust yourself,” Paas sings on the title track, which begins with a relaxed beat and builds to a wall of gorgeous layered vocals. The harmonies recall Joni Mitchell, but, unlike other contemporary singer-songwriters, Paas never sounds like she’s doing a pastiche. Her work feels fresh, marked by expertly designed arrangements and vocal lines that could land anywhere, at any time. On “Closer to Mine,” Paas plays with momentum, stopping and starting, keeping us on our toes. On “Container,” a strong contender for song of the year, she asks: “Love should be effortless, shouldn’t it?” It’s never that easy, Paas knows—but hope keeps loneliness at bay, at least while the sound lasts.
Musicians Romy Lightman and Yves Jarvis are both known for their idiosyncrasies, and their first album together as Lightman Jarvis Ecstatic Band is exactly as unpredictable as you would hope. Banned (Flemish Eye) melds Jarvis’s avant-folk songwriting with the psychedelia of Lightman’s band, Tasseomancy, for a journey through their combined subconscious. Made during a two-week period spent in the countryside at Ontario’s Tree Museum, the album has an improvisatory spirit, and finds Lightman and Jarvis spinning ideas together into a warped web of sound. The fifteen tracks meander and propel themselves forward via chaotic percussion, jittering bass and woozy textures. Lightman and Jarvis sing together throughout, their delayed and distorted vocals both beautiful and unsettling. “Ancient Chain” approaches a kind of ominous dirge; “Bone Of a Hound” is closer to a rock song, with moments of bliss peaking around the edges. The lyrics emphasize angels and demons and interiority: “toxic femininity / sacred femininity / and everything that’s in between, deep within me,” Lightman intones on “Trillium.” Ultimately, Banned feels like an opportunity to hang out in the woods with two experts in the uncanny. It’s a trip worth taking.
Les grandes solitudes des femmes sauvages
Montreal saxophonist Elyze Venne-Deshaies has played in a long list of projects over the years, but she finally steps into the spotlight on her solo debut Les grandes solitudes des femmes sauvages (Small Scale). The album, whose title translates roughly to “the great solitudes of wild women,” is a captivating collection of improvised compositions, which features Venne-Deshaies on clarinet, flute and synth, as well as her tenor sax. These jazz-informed experimentations are interspersed with spoken-word interludes, the music and poetry linked by a mutual interest in restraint and liberation. “My body is not certain it exists,” Venne-Deshaies recites in French. “I liberate myself from your weight.” Opener “Pied-de-vent” finds layers of saxophones working around each other, sometimes lining up in harmony, sometimes clashing in dissonance. “Ressacs” lets a pulsing synth steal the show while other instruments fray in the background, sounding almost like cries for help. On the ten-minute album standout “Moon Child,” a single saxophone is eventually joined by a chorus of other instruments, riffing together on the same theme. Around minute nine of the track, Venne-Deshaies’s saxophone bursts through the cacophony, pushing the limits of loudness. The saxophone sounds both painful and ecstatic—like something set mournfully free.
1, 2, 3, 4, 500 Years
Though only five tracks long, 1, 2, 3, 4, 500 Years (You’ve Changed) announces a major transition. The London, Ontario rockers formerly known as WHOOP-Szo have changed their name to Status/Non-Status, releasing a new EP to mark the occasion. The name change speaks to the colonial definitions of Indigeneity in Canada, and bandleader Adam Sturgeon’s lack of status, despite his Anishinaabe heritage. The EP, accordingly, deals with themes of violence and displacement. The first track, “Find A Home,” is a smooth ride, anchored by acoustic guitar and a driving beat. Sturgeon searches for a sense of stability: “I find myself / further from the answers / closer to the truth,” he sings. “Genocidio,” while still propulsive, is more furious: a wailing whistle opens the song, which becomes a fuzzed-out call for outrage. “Genocide is alive here / right in our back door / next to the garbage and the kiddie pool!” Sturgeon yells. Recorded while the band was touring Mexico, the EP concludes with a voice recording of Alvaro Moreno, the band’s Guadalajara guide. He describes a segregated city, divided by race and class: “Five hundred years passed for nothing …The situation is the same.” 1, 2, 3, 4, 500 Years may mark a personal change for the band, but it also points to historical inertia: the oppressions that refuse to transform, and the resistance that continues to fight back.