Co-op’s eponymous album opens a few drum beats from cacophony. At its outset, the dissonance in “What Is Said” is jarring. However, subsequent iterations of the refrain reveal a surprising tunefulness amid the instrumental discord. For all the tonal variation between the refrain and verses, the song is surprisingly cohesive with greater depth than the cacophony I first heard. Co-op is a complex and engaging album — all the more because its depth isn’t fully revealed on first listen.
On Co-op, the three-piece post-punk band out of Vancouver plays with discordant sounds that make for an intriguingly incongruent first listen. Evan Gray’s monotone vocals are indistinct throughout the album, echoing behind his guitar and Liam Shiveral’s bass. For lack of distinct vocal verses and choruses, the album’s progress is marked by its instrumental patterns and variations.
The band is at their best when they deviate from the pattern at the core of their songs. The plodding pace and off-note melody of “Dont Turn the Page” is disrupted by tighter guitar and accelerated drumming from Stefen Ursulan. The shift in the song’s final minute makes the rhythmic regularity that surrounds it all the more interesting. “Golden Hand” is structurally similar to “Dont Turn the Page,” albeit not so atonal. The song moves between minimalist guitar and bass sequences and darkly melodic choruses, all the while accompanied by Gray’s distant vocals and his bandmates’ quiet harmonization.
“The Last Time” is the quintessential Co-op track. The band is at its most instrumentally cohesive, guided by Shiveral’s steady bass. Gray’s unaccompanied voice and guitar make exchanges before he launches into some of his most impressive guitar work on the album. Only the guitar on “No Witness” is more distinct, with heavy distortion spiraling through the track.
Despite its EP runtime, Co-op has the depth of a realized album. On the whole, the album is a sum of disparate elements that come together in unexpected harmony. Co-op is a testament to the strength of the burgeoning post-punk scene in Vancouver, as well as to the intricacy of the releases coming out of the city’s independent music scene.
Even before it reached its capacity, the Biltmore was filled with the Friday night energy of a crowd determined to have a great night. From opening sets by Vancouver bands jo passed and Dead Soft to Bully’s classic punk encore, the audience’s energy was matched and amplified by the show’s stellar line-up.
Jo passed played to an attentive crowd that grew as their set progressed. They were as compelling to watch as they were to hear, with the band headbanging in time to the percussion and distorted guitar of “Singular.”
Dead Soft followed with a solid rock set, played with contagious enthusiasm. By the end of their set, the woman in front of me was whipping her hair so forcefully that the people around her grew alarmed. It’s rare to see an audience react so intensely to an opening act but Dead Soft’s set was so passionate, I damn near whipped my hair, too.
The level of intensity was magnified when Bully came onstage. The crowd rushed towards the front as the band played “Milkman,” working itself into a frenzied mosh pit by the song’s end. Bully performed almost the entirety of Feels Like with a forcefulness that exceeded their otherwise excellent record. The power of Alicia Bognanno’s vocals was unabated through the entire show. As I watched the show from the edge of the mosh pit, I absorbed the energy exchanged between the band and its audience. The audience moved to Stewart Copeland’s percussion and shouted along to the sound of Bognanno’s emotion on the chorus of “Trash.”
The show reached its synergetic peak when Bully played their best-known song “Trying.” Even those who had stayed back from the crush of the mosh pit jumped into the fray. The band closed their set with “I Remember,” Bognanno’s rawest vocal performance of the album and of the night before they returned for a highly demanded encore.
For their encore, Bully covered “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” by X-Ray Spex, complete with a saxophone solo. The original version of the song opens with “Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard.” As a commanding talent in a male-dominated genre, Bognanno is the furthest thing from a silent woman. Bully’s music demands to be heard; the audience at the Biltmore was eager to shout their support.
Song of the Day: Trying by Bully
This review was originally posted on BeatRoute Magazine‘s website.
We Are the Halluci Nation is the most ambitious and cohesive album from A Tribe Called Red (or, ATCR) to date. The album is also their most explicitly political. On previous releases, their medium was their message: ATCR amalgamated traditional and contemporary culture to force their audience to rethink their perceptions of Indigenous Canadians. On We Are the Halluci Nation, they explicitly address the damages caused by colonialism.
The album is centered upon the concept of the Halluci Nation, a concept which activist John Trudell explains during the album’s titular and opening track. The Halluci Nation challenges the system into which Indigenous people have been forced. They oppose the Alie Nation, the system created by colonizers in attempts to force assimilation. The dichotomy between the two nations is reinforced by author Joseph Boyden’s interludes. He speaks as a prisoner incarcerated in the Alie Nation Correctional Facility, ruminating on the trauma caused by residential schools and colonial projects.
Halluci Nation is also a term for the collective of artists and activists ATCR brought together on their album. The DJ trio reunited with their frequent collaborators Northern Voice and Black Bear to create the fusion of electronic and pow wow dance music for which they are renowned. Tanya Tagaq is featured on “Sila,” in a track that melds electronic reverbs with Inuit throat singing. The Halluci Nation also includes Indigenous artists from around the world. Australian beatmakers OKA lend their reggae-infused didgeridoo to “Maima Koopi.” Swedish-Sami artist Maxida Märak’s joik-singing takes centre stage on laidback track “Eanan.” Colombian artist Lido Pimienta’s soaring vocals make “The Light” haunting, especially after the bass drops and her voice become dissonant.
With the support of the Halluci Nation, ATCR articulates their mission to eradicate the legacy of colonialism and the damages it has caused. On “The Virus,” MC and poet Saul Williams speaks to the many shapes that the virus of colonialism takes, and the diverse people the virus impacts as colonialism attempts to impose divisions. The Halluci Nation, however, does not recognize the limitations of borders.
Album single “R.E.D.” exemplifies the best of We Are the Halluci Nation. The track features Yasiin Bey, Narcy and Black Bear in a combination of hip-hop, pow wow and electronic dance music. With A Tribe Called Red as the producers, the Halluci Nation proposes a vision for a new society. Bey says of the shared vision, “[I]t was a dream / Now it’s a living thing.”
Song of the Day: “R.E.D.” by A Tribe Called Red feat. Yasiin Bey, Narcy and Black Bear