Kyla Charter—Edible Flowers
Edible Flowers (Independent) sounds like a summer fading. Kyla Charter’s debut album conjures the feeling of a sun going down. Across seven tracks, the Toronto soul singer repeats vocal motifs in a kind of loose chant, eschewing straightforward songwriting for a delicate, deconstructed R&B. Meditative and moving, the album is a quiet assertion of beauty on the horizon. Collaborating with the production trio Safe Spaceship, Charter wrote these songs in summer 2020 as an attempt to make sense of the world around her. They carry a distinct sense of grief. “You’ve been saving me since the day that I was born,” Charter sings to her sister on “Qwyn.” Mostly, she conveys emotion through wordless vocalizations and her heavenly vibrato, paired with jazzy bass lines, sweet keys and shuffling beats. The songs amble forward and circle back, occasionally sounding like one long, flowing composition. Album closer “Another Name” is both a departure and a conclusion, a seven-minute reflection on death and police violence. “I wonder if she knew / someone would take her life,” Charter sings, while harmonies loop below her. The repetition becomes a means of paying tribute, a chorus that continues on.
Mitch Davis—The Haunt
Mitch Davis is a one-man band. On The Haunt (Arbutus), the Montreal-based multi-instrumentalist sounds like a full stage despite playing everything on the album himself. The album’s ten tracks are a callback to the best of seventies soft pop, recorded largely on equipment built by Davis himself. It’s hard to believe that these songs weren’t jammed out by a band, given how well the instruments gel, locking into rhythms that glide. The bass licks and saxophone solos are standouts, but all of Davis’s instrumentation is smart and compelling. He sings with an easy cool, recounting his experiences trying to date in the big (or mid-sized) city. “It’s gone before we even tried / but I can’t be surprised,” he sings on “My City Life,” sounding resigned but not despairing. He chronicles fleeting moments of connection and more frequent experiences of separation. But while The Haunt might prompt introspection, Davis loves a breakdown too much to truly bum you out. Even on your own, he suggests, you can find a good groove.
Joyful Joyful—Joyful Joyful
Joyful Joyful (Idée Fixe) begins with the sound of birds chirping. A hum fades in from below, made up of many voices that are actually the same voice, collecting and adding up. This vocal drone forms the bedrock of the debut album by Cormac Culkeen and Dave Grenon, who record as Joyful Joyful. The album’s five compositions feel both ancient and contemporary, as the duo draws on hymns and folklore to create their own vision of something holy. At the centre of this vision is Culkeen’s voice, shining like a lighthouse in the night. After spending their teens intensely involved in the church, Culkeen was exiled because of their queer identity. Drawing on this past, the album gives new depth and breadth to devotion. Their voice, distorted, doubled and pitched down, invokes the beauty of multiplicity, while Grenon’s field recordings and samples situate Culkeen within a vibrating world of organics and synthetics. Culkeen’s lyrics address a spirituality that is both grounded and otherworldly. “Our physician has reached heaven’s heart / through magnetic pull,” they sing on “Oh Jubilation,” before repeating in a glorious belt: “I know! I know!” The twelve-minute opus “Sebaldus” finds their autotuned vocals describing the harshness of winter. “We swallowed you up in our song,” they sing in the track’s conclusion, invoking the sacred pleasure of giving yourself over to a sound.
Vancouver’s Kamikaze Nurse have built a strong reputation on the west coast for their particular brand of raucous indie. Stimuloso (Mint Records), their second full-length album, more than earns its name. The record is a rush, proving that a four-piece rock band can still invigorate. The ten tracks call to mind early nineties shoegaze and alt-rock, from Lush to the Pixies, veering between the former’s delicate noise and the latter’s abrasive dissonance. The title track is pure thrill, made up of screeching guitars, pounding drums and singer KC Wei’s throttling wail. On “Aileen,” written for a friend who passed away, Wei’s scream morphs into cool spoken-word and a warbling gasp. “Do you live in my dreams?” she asks. The band’s songwriting is frenetic, not content with obvious choices or any loss of momentum. “Never Better” begins as a classic dream pop track and escalates into a chaotic frenzy, before pulling back again to let Wei’s vocal hang. The intensity occasionally threatens to overwhelm the songwriting, but the few moments of calm are consistently beautiful—before the storm rages again.