26 is the second EP from Birthday Bitch, their first being a two track demo. The latest release from the Vancouver trio captures nuanced melodies that emerge alongside lo-fi guitar work.
Birthday Bitch’s sound varies across the four tracks of 26. Though each song differs from the next, all are in a style reminiscent of something I have heard before. On my first listen, I tried to put my finger on which bands Birthday Bitch evokes or which vocalists the singing of Dorothy Marshall brings to mind. To say that Birthday Bitch works in several reminiscent styles is not to suggest a lack of uniqueness. Instead, the similarities make their music all the more moving because their sound is recognizably evocative.
26’s opening track “Nocturne,” for instance, recalls the driving percussion and impassioned vocals of “Maps” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The dissonant guitar and pronounced bass on “Nocturne” are in contrast with Marshall’s shaded vocals. Softly melodic at the song’s start, her voice rises to match the heavy distortion of the chorus.
“Too Close,” on the other hand, builds slowly around Marshall’s whispered, breathy vocals. Hanna Fazio’s percussion and the mounting force of Shelby Vredik’s guitar make the track an instrumental standout. With a sultry sound that recalls Angelo Badalamenti’s score for Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, “Too Close” could make an apt addition to a David Lynch film. Marshall’s vocals crescendo in shouts before “Too Close” fades into silence.
The slow burning sound on the EP’s first half is in contrast with the near-frantic pace of the latter half of 26. “Teeth” and “Harwitch” are more in keeping with sound of Birthday Bitch’s late 2016 demos. Marshall speak-sings on the chorus of “Teeth,” in a predominantly monotone style that differs from her breathy delivery on “Too Close.” Uptempo closing track “Harwitch” is danceable lo-fi rock that would make a well-received addition to a Birthday Bitch live show.
Though they have only released six songs so far, Birthday Bitch is already making music that stakes its claim within the West Coast lo-fi scene. While there is certainly a market for their upbeat tracks, they have the ability to make an impact with their moody, multifaceted brand of rock.
To define Jericho with a single adjective is to risk oversimplifying the band’s complex sound, which is both at odds and in keeping with their penchant for theatricality. The Vancouver band is as well known for their brooding psychedelic sound as they are for wearing funny hats on stage. In both their recordings and their live performances, Pasang Galay says, “[We] try to make space for all of that.”
Jericho has existed in several iterations – one of which played under the moniker the Sandra Bullocks – before settling on the line-up they have today. The band is currently comprised of Galay on lead vocals and bass, Luke Tancredi on guitar, Liam Doherty on keys and synth, Nigel Ching on cello, and Eli Teed on drums. Of Jericho’s early iterations, Galay says, “We were kind of always in a mode of development. We weren’t completely satisfied with the makeup of the band. It wasn’t until we got our five members that we kind of felt satisfied with being a full band.” Teed joined the band in September 2015 followed shortly by Doherty, who joined as the band’s fifth member.
Galay refers to Jericho’s dynamic as a relationship. He admits, “Trying to manage five people in any relationship is hard, especially one that is creative … Not everyone is on the same page at every moment, but I like what each person brings to [the band].”
Jericho’s multifaceted sound is as much a stylistic choice as it is a function of their band line up. Teed says, “It’s part of having five people in the band with their own musical preferences and backgrounds … All [of us] see a song a different way.”
When it comes to writing music, differences in taste among band members is one of Jericho’s greatest strengths. “There’s a general cohesion, especially when we’re all together in a room,” says Teed. They take a collaborative approach to songwriting. Teed continues, “It is kind of a building block by building block [process], and everyone contributes their distinct musical quality to that.”
To start the writing process, Tancredi often contributes a rhythm or a melody. Galay adds a bassline as a way of “laying the scene or figuring out what the atmosphere of the song is,” says Teed, explaining that the rest of the band “take[s] that as a cue to how the song is going to look and how it’s going to sound overall. We’ll try to match whatever thematic or tonal quality it has.” While Tancredi approaches songwriting from a traditional rock development, Ching contributes what Galay describes as a more progressive dark quality. The result is dark experimental rock interwoven with atmospheric cello and moody bass.
After several months hiatus from recording and performing, Jericho are releasing their debut EP Vanitas in May. Long has an EP been in the works for the band. Teed says, “We’ve tried a couple times to do it with different people and in different spaces. This one is finally working out. It’s been nice to kind of jump back into things and have them go fairly swimmingly.” Galay agrees: “[We] finally have material that we feel is adequately recorded, as well as adequately played.”
While most of the EP recording took place four months ago, its tracks were written between eight months to two years ago. Teed says, “Of the four or five songs that are on there, some were [made by] all five of us … Others were Pasang and Nigel in years past. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge of different times and places coming together.”
In April, Jericho released a video for the first track off Vanitas, “Catching Fire.” It is a testament to the creativity of Jericho’s individual members, rich with stylized imagery against a backdrop of East Vancouver. Galay says the video is the band’s “theatricality to the [highest] degree.” While costume changes and humorous bits between songs have long had their place in Jericho’s live shows, the band finds this performance style hasn’t been as well-received now that they are playing to larger audiences. “The theatricality and the way we manage that has to be addressed,” Teed admits. “That element will still remain but we are going to be reworking how that will look … Maybe we won’t have literally so many hats on over the course of the show.”
With the release of Vanitas slated for May 12, Jericho is thinking of the future of the band. Teed says, “Everyone really enjoys playing together and being able to put out music that we all enjoy playing and listening to. I think that’s definitely kept things going, and will continue to keep things going.”
The debut EP from Toronto-based R&B singer Liza is decidedly without winter’s chill. Clocking in at 13 minutes, February 29 is an effective presentation of Liza’s warm vocals and her ability to move effortlessly through pitch perfect melodies. February 29 showcases her technical precision rather than her range, favouring simple arrangements sung with mastery. As a result, the production emphasizes her voice. Absent are heavy synths and bass drops, as there is no need to compensate for vocal shortcomings. Instead, the listener is left in intimate reach of Liza.
Album opener “Let You Know What” is a mellow piano and synth track about desire. Liza’s mellow vocals are at odds with the intensity of the language she uses to express this lust. “I’ve been fiending for you,” she sings smoothly, quite unlike a woman who is actually fiending for her lover. On “You,” she sounds her longing in scales, articulating desire through both her words and a mounting crescendo.
In contrast with the EP’s first two tracks, which focus on Liza’s feelings in relation to her would-be lover, “All Alone” is introspective. Synth-forward “All Alone” is the EP’s lyrical standout. On this track, Liza describes feeling alone in a crowded room by using the month of February as a metaphor for her loneliness. Though this moment is the only explicit reference to the EP’s title, Liza does not extend the metaphor. In the second half of the song, she relates this alienation to the pressures felt in school and at home: to do better and to meet the demands of others. Despite the song title, Liza is not alone in her feelings of isolation; “All Alone” is equally relatable and personal.
On the album outro “Ride,” Liza returns to the theme of desire from the EP’s opening tracks. But this time, she no longer seeks the lustful relationship she describes on “You;” instead, she seeks a relationship built upon the slow bloom of love. “Ride” is the most instrumentally complex track on the album. Its style differs from the other three tracks and their predominantly electronic production. Quiet guitars and layers of percussion float through the song. As the best showcase of Liza’s vocal range, “Ride” is a fitting outro to the EP.
With one EP under her belt, Liza is on her way to establishing herself as a highly regarded singer-songwriter. She writes with commendable frankness and honesty. However, her style is overly simplistically at times, which lessens the intimacy of her expression. Creative production and further development of her writing style will push her vocals even further and encourage a deeper connection between the artist and her listeners.
The first thing to note about Chapel Sound is that sound does not solely refer to music. Founder Sean Oh says, “When I was saying Chapel Sound, ‘sound’ was not the music. It was something that is around. Wherever you are, there is no place [without] sound. It is a ubiquitous dimension … A lot of people misinterpret that [Chapel Sound] is a musical group.” Instead, Nancy Lee adds, “It’s a frequency, it’s a vibe, it’s an energy.”
To call Chapel Sound a vibe or an energy is an effective summation of the mindset at work within the collective. More concretely, Chapel Sound is a multi-disciplinary art collective with as many as forty contributors. At their regular meeting space I meet with four of them: Oh and Lee, along with Laine Butler and Eli Muro. They are all fully immersed in the visual, sonic and curatorial aspects of the collective, which is to say they each use many verbs to describe their roles within Chapel Sound. Lee says that since Chapel Sound’s outset, “We didn’t want to have music only. We wanted to have the disciplines interact … Everyone is quite interdisciplinary.”
The members of Chapel Sound are known for throwing parties at alternative spaces throughout Vancouver. While the parties are often remembered for the DJ sets, Chapel Sound is as much about curating the vibe of a space and creating an immersive experience as they are about playing music. Chapel Sound first gained attention in September 2012 when Oh live-streamed a party he hosted in his living room, complete with visual projections and a live painting installation. The first event was an “index of what we’re interested in,” says Oh.
The subsequent parties offered a platform for artists to experiment with different mediums and to bring their artistic practices to the table. Butler performed his first live DJ set during a broadcasted party. He adds, “Chapel is kind of why I became a VJ … There was a need for it.” Similarly, Lee says that her new media practice developed as she created installations and immersive spaces for Chapel Sound events.
Lee says that the aim from the start was to offer “an alternative space so we could get together and jam and be weird and be comfortable being weird.” Muro says of the early parties, “It was a strange sort of vibe but it worked.” They moved the parties to a larger underground space to increase the reach of the events so more people could contribute. Through their events, Chapel Sound offered a platform for DJs and producers who aren’t being booked for mainstream venues, often because their styles differ from mainstream electronic music.
Chapel Sound started hosting events in the first place because Oh “like[s] to [bring] people together.” He has aimed to bring artists together since he arrived in Vancouver. He is happy to encourage the talents of local artists in what he refers to as a “dad-type” of role within the scene. Butler adds that with Chapel Sound, “It [is] all about being inclusive.”
Inclusivity continues to be a focus for Chapel Sound, whether it means embracing a range of genres or ensuring that hosted events showcase the diversity of the collective’s members. Lee says, “Chapel Sound is a very racially diverse electronic music collective.” Muro continues, “I know that some other collectives have been criticized for being predominantly white men. I think we can be kind of proud that we’re not that.” All members I meet with agree that there isn’t a single sound that defines Chapel Sound. “People come from lots of different backgrounds, so that affects people’s styles,” says Muro. Chapel Sound’s two compilation albums effectively represent the range of styles in which its members work.
What connects the members’ work is a common vibe. Oh attributes the vibe to the Vancouver music scene and to the impact of the city’s geography and climate. Muro agrees: “Any city’s musical sound [is] influenced by the environment.” So too is a music scene influenced by its city’s history. In Vancouver, this includes a history of colonialism and of economic division. Chapel Sound aims to initiate conversations around these topics. Chapel Sound does more than offer a platform for artistic experimentation; it offers a platform for critical engagement.
In May 2016, the collective hosted its inaugural Chapel Sound Festival. In addition to parties, the festival included workshops and panels, notably a panel discussion on women in electronic music and creative technology. The women on the panel shared their experiences of discrimination in the music industry and their differing experiences based on sexual orientation, race and class. The audience was made up of more men than women, many of whom asked questions. Muro says, “We created a space that allowed for that kind of transferring of understanding.”
Now that Chapel Sound is in its fifth year and has gained acclaim beyond Vancouver, its members are able to take on new endeavours, develop their artistic practices and initiate conversation. With future events, they intend to push the conversational aspect. By offering a forum for discussion Lee says, “We can actually reflect critically on our positionality in society: to [become] more self-aware and conscious of who we are and why we make art, why we make music, why we have to go through this process to do things in Vancouver and reflect on, maybe, class divide, housing issues.” On a closing note, Lee emphasizes that the doors are open to anyone who wants to contribute to Chapel Sound. As for future goals Oh says, “I still dream about this perfect 360 experience where all of your senses are stimulated.”
One day after the release of New World Alphabet, Ashley Buchholz of USS(Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker) feels so buoyant he’s at risk of floating away.
“I’ve been having to wear steel-toed shoes to make sure that I stay on the ground,” says Buchholz. “I’m in quite an ethereal [state]. This is the byproduct of catharsis, this lightness.”
Even though New World Alphabet is USS’s fifth album, the excitement Buchholz feels differs from their previous releases. His excitement is a testament to the work he and his bandmate Jason Parsons put into New World Alphabet. Now that the album is complete, Buchholz describes his emotions with metaphors of air and water. His predominant feeling is awe: “Now life is just floating.”
New World Alphabet represents a creative turning point for the Toronto-based duo. The album’s sound is the fusion of two-step, acoustic rock, and hip hop that is USS’s signature. The theme is a departure from the predominantly inward focus of their previous albums (the self-destructive mentality on their 2014 single “This Is The Best” comes to mind). Instead, the focus on New World Alphabet is external, with a goal of fostering connection. “Who’s With Me” is USS’s anthem for togetherness.
Conceptually, New World Alphabet begins after one resolves to make a change. Buchholz says, “[The album] boils down to the statement that precludes any great, true change in one’s life: ‘I’ve had enough’… All of a sudden you start acting differently, and you start talking differently, and you start being around different people and your life starts to change.” From there, says Buchholz, one starts to use language differently to communicate a changed perspective. This new language is a new world alphabet.
The shift from an inward to outward focus is indicative of Buchholz’s changed mindset. In USS’s 2008 single “Hollow Point Sniper Hyperbole,” Buchholz needs someone to save him from his sinking ship. Almost ten years later, he wants to act like a lighthouse for those who are feeling isolated by their depression and anxiety. “I want to be a lighthouse instead of lost at sea,” he says. “I’m tired of being the one who’s lost at sea.”
Buchholz is a self-professed introvert who, for a time, isolated himself because he felt uncomfortable around other people. Eventually he realized, “We get so sick when it’s just about us.” He made a decision to change his mindset and in so doing, he felt an energy that became the catalyst for his desire to connect. He says, “There’s this point in the process when it stops being so much about you… [It changes] to ‘How can I make you feel better? How can I help you?’ This whole album is informed by that momentum.”
A few dates into a Canadian tour that will take them across the country, Buchholz already knows what he hopes USS will accomplish in their performances: he wants to foster the maximum connection. For Buchholz and Parsons, the tour is an “opportunity to be able to connect with people.” When he performs, whether he is playing older USS material or songs from New World Alphabet, “I’m singing those songs to people that need that vibration, that comforting vibration.” His hope is that everyone – himself and Parsons included – come away from the show with feelings of togetherness and joy.