Graham Nicholas returns with a collection of character portraits, his penchant for cutting directly to the core of his characters on full display and a strong backing band propping up his compositions.
Pleasantly, Nicholas revists some old tunes, fleshes them out with the distinctive swell of an Aaron Comeau-produced backing band. “Penny” acquires a driving force, an energy hurtling the narrator’s weak and straining heart toward its ending. “Wandering Angel” evolves from soft-spoken duet to contender for song of the year, evoking open highways even as the lyrics cut to the bone and draw blood: mother and father casting a mold for a molten son.
Indeed, Nicholas’ characters are on full display here. His lyrics are a surgeon’s scalpel, spreading open the motivations and fears of his characters with a challenging clarity. Even when his tracks acquire an upbeat drive, as in “Sunday Kinda Love,” even then the song’s sense of humour and unabashed eroticism displays the honesty and intimacy of Nicholas’ songwriting. In this track in particular, the backing band flexes its muscles and provides a well-timed reprieve from a tracklist in danger of becoming ballad-heavy. How welcome it is to find a folk singer with a talent for balancing clear songwriting and the need for pace and variety.
Sit on the front porch, pour a cup of black coffee, and listen through.
Imagine yourself treading water in a Bermuda triangle of Guided by Voices, Joanna Gruesome and the Pains of Being Pure At Heart. That’s where you’ll find Woolworm, beloved Vancouver pop-shoegaze-punk-hardcore-whatever stalwarts. You swim over as they begin playing “Heathen Too”, the first tune off their latest split with Grown-Ups. You wonder how such frenetic drumming and spirited hooks, played with such reckless abandon, would be of any use in such an absurd situation. Then they turn to you and croon “I would never run from you / honey, I’m a heathen, too.” Suddenly, nothing matters — you’re in this together. You lay back, let the bitter ocean wash over you, and all you want is to listen to Woolworm play forever.
J. Eygenraam’s Brutal Love opens on a lone tambourine, frothing for a tick like an anxious bottle of champagne before its cork pops on the irresistible cascade of guitar trickery that is ‘What’s Hip?’ It’s the kind of song and album opener that people are shushed for talking over, as the volume knob strikes six o’clock and eyes close in appreciation. It’s the only possible way to introduce the world to a songwriter as brave as Eygenraam and his collection of fun and daring songs.
Immediately thereafter lands the helpful and hilarious ‘Don’t Be Sad’, a dead-on New Wave therapy session where we’re told plainly that “pain is lame…” and that “…feeling bad is dumb.”
From that point Eygenraam and his band – whose own contributions are confident and lucid throughout – expand over hills of ripped denim rock and contract through keyholes into intimate places of tenderness and hurt.
It’s when these threads meet and run through the title track that J. is at his most eviscerating. ‘Brutal Love’ bursts through the batwing doors, a staggering, bruised piece, stabbing the organ cathartically on the 8ths, stumbling to regain its footing at the ends of phrases. Our bloodied narrator stomps through the song’s whirling mood, stopping only to ask “was my love not worth more than sex and dirt?” only to satisfy the hanging query when, as a refrain, he confesses: “I’ve been played the fool by brutal love.”
It’s a perfect and poignant climax to a tidy album whose short span you won’t need prompting to spin again and again.
Immediately swooping us into its pastoral gallop, ‘Visitor’ is an instant nostalgic injection. A rabble of breathy violins weave over a bone-dry bed of bass and ticking, spare drums. It’s a heartbreak mixtape side A opener, spooled languidly across a pensive prairie drive through Drag Cities and Dream Rivers. Singer Zuzia Juszkiewicz meets us at each verse with her ethereal creak before ushering us into the refrain, a cool and cascading hook: “I’ve come but I won’t be around for long.” Another trip around the circuit brings us to the bridge, a gorgeous plateau of soaring slide guitar that guides us back into a final refrain which revs and cycles pleasingly before – not even finishing her stanza – Juszkiewicz disappears abruptly. We’re stopped dead on the final syllable. The ride is over.
Pay attention for Vancouver’s Teenagre’s next trip to your town.
Lexander James is the newest name of Castledrum Records electronica producer Rob Ross. You can hear the prettiness of Flora and the knuckle-cracking chaos of itsagamble! in there, but there’s really whole a new emotion I haven’t heard in his music until now. A cooling resolution. A hymn for doing the hard thing. That song that plays in someone’s car as they calmly drive themselves and a hundred thou’ in drug money off the bridge and into the river.
Music for people who want to feel totally BA while running errands.