The Winter 2022 Music Room
The first Alvvays record came out the summer I was eighteen. It perfectly captured the sunny loneliness of youth, all jangly guitars and careful longing. Almost a decade later, their powerhouse third record Blue Rev (Polyvinyl) takes that precision of feeling and turns it into something massive. Wailing guitars and shimmering synths engulf the world while Molly Rankin tells a razor-sharp story about a brake light or a bad decision.
“Ever lay back and watch the sunrise? / Ever hear violins in your mind?” Rankin sings on what might be the first ever shoegaze karaoke classic, “Easy On Your Own?” She cites Alice Munro as an inspiration and the writer’s influence is keenly felt in Rankin’s short stories of fantasies fading. On the crystalline “Velveteen,” a lover gets in shape for someone else. On the unwieldy, enthralling “Belinda Says,” a pregnant woman waits tables in Nova Scotia, seeking something between heaven and hell. Everything sounds fantastic; the guitar solos are myriad, the vocals are wrenching, the textures pile on top of each other without drowning the whole thing out.
It’s a funny feeling to grow up alongside a band you love. I’m grateful to no longer be eighteen, listening to “Archie, Marry Me” on repeat and willing someone into walking me home. Instead I have lots of photos, and one or three regrets, and sometimes I watch the sunrise, though never often enough.
Born at Midnite—Alternity
Born at Midnite are the soundtrack for your lowkey dance party. They’re the music playing in the background at the function that makes you go, “Wait, this is cool, is it weird if I Shazam it?” The super-duo of Amery Sandford (Alpen Glow) and David Carriere (TOPS) released their first self-titled EP in 2020 and their latest, Alternity (Arbutus Records), doesn’t disappoint. The four tracks bring together eighties synths, lo-fi drums and aloof vocals into a charming pop project. The band’s signature is their playful approach to songwriting. “Don’t fuck with me,” whispers Carriere behind Sandford’s lead vocal on “Alternity,” while the breezy “Like Fire Like Ice” feels beamed in from a vintage MTV broadcast. “Rockstar Raver” recounts the woes of a rockstar and a raver who are tired of their late-night lifestyles. “Playing the same three chords to the same three boys in the same three bars,” Sandford sings, voicing every DIY musician’s inner monologue. The release comes complete with cartoon characters designed by Sandford, adding to the sense that Born at Midnite are just passing through from some other dimension. It’s nice of them to stop by.
On Attention Span (Independent), Edmonton’s hundredmillionthousand makes it hard to lose focus. Composer Noel Fanaeian created his new record using digitized field recordings of intimate moments between partners, all of whom met on dating apps. Fanaeian describes the result as an exploration of how technology mediates and informs our relationships, creating a “disposable cycle of intimacy.”
Opener “One” begins mournfully with what sounds like a metallic violin. The lyrical strings are accompanied by a digital choir, with all the melodrama of a movie climax. The title track, “Attention Span,” is structured around stuttering vocal samples, panned back and forth, emulating what could be a sexual exchange or just a complicated conversation. Fanaeian’s experimental, neoclassical works change tempo and rupture expectations, playing with the inscrutable space between sounds of the body and sounds from a computer. Whether or not the record provides insight into the “disposable cycle” of human intimacy feels somewhat irrelevant to the actual power of Fanaeian’s compositions, which are as strange and exciting as discovering someone new, in person or otherwise.
Quinton Barnes—For the Love of Drugs
Quinton Barnes had a different album written. In November 2021, he decided that record sounded too soft and started again, keeping only one song. This new approach yielded For the Love of Drugs (Grimalkin) the rapper’s third record, a dark and dynamic exploration of Barnes’s psyche.
The production is experimental and industrial, merging severe detuned synths with R&B vocal arrangements and dance beats, while Barnes raps with dexterity about what’s weighing him down. “I got voices in my head / telling me I’m better off dead,” he tells us, hinting at the pitch-shifted choir that sometimes drowns out his lead vocal. On “Jealousy,” over synths that sound like alarms, he raps: “Killer cop / say it’s so tragic / Black kid / say he’s overreacting.”
Though expressing pain and uncertainty, Barnes also frequently sounds confident and in control, particularly when examining the power of queer sexuality. Occasionally, the harsh instrumentals make space for gorgeous harmonies, as on album closer “Drugs.” Barnes may have made For the Love of Drugs with an aggressive sound in mind, but his greatest strength here is that he never feels the need to choose between hard and soft, holding them together as parts of the same whole. ⁂