A MEETING of delicate pop like minds: musician-producers David Tanton (aka Rhoda/Tender Spring), Éloi Le Blanc-Ringuette (aka Thomas White), and Lia Kurihara (aka LIA) met on the fertile Montréalais music scene in 2018, began to share and mesh ideas, and formed Afternoon Bike Ride – and listen up, friends; they’re an absolute delight of hazy, wonky, electronic pop.
They released a seven-track EP, Skipping Stones, back in March, which you may or may not have caught wind of; you so should, because it was a lovely thing, the celestial folk intimacy of a Vashti Bunyan or early Iron & Wine spliced with hazy indie-electronica à la Hot Chip, a less metropolitan Jockstrap, and gorgeous, playful, ambience, for which think The Boats, Chihei Hatakeyama, Iceland’s múm. Gorgeous, cute, dreamy, warm, weird, spangly, futuristic and rootsy all at once; frankly, they got it. Future ambient pop? Yes please.
Originally intended as a collaborative aside to their own solo projects, the three-headed and pretty beast they created soon took on an insistent and luscious life of its own, with vocals taking more of a centre stage than had been originally conceived.
Their self-titled debut album is almost upon us, featuring 15 tracks cooked up in a post-genre place by the trio with guests sprinkled liberally; the collection as a whole is intended to convey kindness, hope, and community, which isn’t always a collective advocated by pop music, even of the most deliciously odd kind. The vocal tracks come interspersed with wordless neo-instrumentals and instrumentals designed as little sonic oases of time out to wrap yourself in.
David Tanton, Éloi and Lia say: “We each felt like it was a space [in which] to experiment with different sounds than we were typically used to making.
“As we crafted our songs, we realised that our sound progressed into a more refined and intricate version of our beginnings, letting vocals take centre stage on some tracks, involving different instrumentalists, spending more time on sound design, incorporating facets of unexpected genres wherever we can.”
For the album, the three friends convened at David’s Montreal apartment and headed for the roof, wrapping up against the Québec winter; that proved an overarching aesthetic starting point – music to warm up inside, to get the soul toasty, to bring lie back to an iced heart.
The guests who pop by for a track give the album the feel of a salon, where a welcome is always assured; they include producer and DJ Ryan Hemsworth, lo-fi hip-hop artist Sleepy Fish, Vancouver minimalist soundscaper Kogane, violinist and mandolinist Eli Bishop – also the current record holder for the world’s fastest clapper – and sweetly offbeat tunesmith Park Bird. A proper collective. And of the process of collaborative selection, Afternoon Bike Ride say, simply: “All of the guests on our album are friends of ours.”
In a way I feel unfairly privileged because I’ve been living with and swooning for this record a while, now; I know how properly lovable it is. But in a way I’m jealous of you, too, because you’re getting that wide-eyed first discovery. Let me be your guide; I think, if you don’t get this album, our friendship may be in doubt.
A little note; this album can also be likened to the best Willy Wonka, penny chew pick ‘n’ mix you ever did wish for; not many tracks hit four minutes, and plenty hit the two mark or less. The songs come, delight and cast a spell, and never belabour a point; never fall for that one-last-time reprise. They’re candyfloss delicate and melt away.
The 15 tracks begin with “Dog Years”, a collaboration with Middle School, on which mellifluous, even angelic vocals drip deliciously down over chiming guitars seemingly being played right beside you, cute synth squeaks and a lyric that features the couplet “Every heart beat like new, we finally found our truth, that everyone is part of you”. Awww, now. You’re in lovely hands, kind hands, clever hands here.
The Ryan Hemsworth-guesting “Before The Fall” is chamber-folk from a sparkly near-future, swing-time honey with the perfect dosage of post-production weird bringing out the glow, processed backing vocals lullaby from off-world and whimsical synths flicker. “It’s Alright” is a starker folk duet with Bath’s Imagiro, strings garland around the boy-girl vocal and the guitars have an early Bon Iver winter chill; Imagiro’s voice cracked and intimate, Lia bringing the balm. “It’s alright / The place we live is in sight” is the hook. It’s so the sort of song you can hide in.
“Sunday Sketch”, wow; it takes some of the moves and the gloss of à la mode future soul, the groove, the heavenly vocal, the gleam, and subverts it into a wonky pop bliss. Written as a cathartic release from viral lockdown claustrophobia, it dovetails with the following pocket odyssey “I Can Only Imagine”, a butterfly-wing fragile bonbon of offbeat synth drizzle, aquatic melodies, found sound, wordless vocals, ideas packed into every bar. I could listen to an album-length rendition of this, me.
“Terrace Rain” continues with the longing for another place, Lia laying out a smooth lyric balmed in crackle and subtle piano and an entirely congruent percussive clacking. “Sometimes I like to let my mind lead me to places far away,” she sings, and there’s these little wonderful caves of sound to explore within the song, where it just eddies off and laps at some electronic-psychedelic shore for a few seconds, hints at other microcosmic places they know which they’re just twitching back the curtain on. Aural riches.
“Grid Search” sees hip-hop artist Sleepy Fish bring a blissed out lope of a break, over which piano hums and electronica glows; it’s jazz breaks ambient and too short, only cos I’m greedy.
Kogane brings his blurry ambient-pop styles to another yearning to be free, “If I Was A Bird”, a woodwind-style break setting the scene for pastoral ambient pop, Lia flying free above the filter-sweeping chime and breaks. Kogane delivers a detached, dreamy spoken word incantation in counterpoint; he’s seemingly on the ground while Lia’s up in the sky. Think, maybe, if Morcheeba had grown up steeped in glitchtronica. At once simple bliss pop and complex texturally.
The band’s Québécois roots are given flight on the bright Francophone shuffle of “C’était”, yé-yé for the 21st century, a duet verdant with birdsong and Americana guitars, the warmest of vocal harmonies anchoring around that six-string chime, the drums brushed. There’s a little melodic yaw sideways in the middle, a chuckling pixieish trip to keep you on your toes. At all times the songs sound not quite of this world, even on straighter folksy numbers such as this and “Before The Fall”; and indeed the following, almost Appalachian shiver of “It’s OK, I’m Here”, which sounds like the ripple of a pond is travelling across its melodic surface as the sound trembles and birdsong cuts through; it’s by-golly gorgeous, a breathy mountain music beamed back from the 22nd century. This is one of the most inspiring tracks I’ve heard this year, maybe along with Llyr and Cheval Sombre; it makes the future sound like a lovely place to be, and I haven’t thought like that for a long time.
“Summer Plums” stays gossamer-delicate, begins as the very best of ethereal folk, quickly gains electronic texture and pretty soon beats chatter with a turntablist feel, layered vocals genuinely skirting the orbit of Cocteau Twins. Wow.
Sydney-based, Dutch-born Santpoort brings toybox sparkle to the splashing, interstitial coo of “Sprinkler Oasis”, a miniature of hummed vocals and pure ASMR sonic design. Splash, splosh, sploosh. And another quirky hip-hop producer comes aboard the slow jam of “Tomorrow”, a tired-horse, muted blues guitar finding itself commandeered for a track that plays out way beyond the asteroid belt of 21st-century R’n’B.
Seoul’s Park Bird has a gorgeous folktronica aesthetic of his own, and it’s plays out just so when meshed with the ABR thing on “I’m Glad You’re Happy”, a proper glow of a song for the campfire as the dusk gathers, eyes getting sleepy; and it remains only for “Rise Again” to sing us out, the simplest of folk charmers on which Lia properly blooms. It’s a fittingly simple closer, directly connecting, full of hope, and even has an almost shoegaze guitar as it gently waltzes through into a more colourful world.
Afternoon Bike Ride’s debut album is so much more than the sum of its parts. There’s so many bands out there who wear their eclecticism somewhat heavily – “yah, we’re post-future-folk-soul-grime” – but Afternoon Bike Ride tiptoe anywhere and everywhere they wish like ethereal sprites and don’t seem to care to shout just how multivalent they are.
The album, with its global host of guest artists from the leftfield of melody, is also such a salon, in much in the same way James Lavelle’s UNKLE was, but shorn of the boisterousness and the grandstanding; the ideas, the approach, the whole aesthetic is so airy and bright, and I’m seduced lock, stock and barrel.
It’s pop, but pop as it could be, as it should be, maybe as it will be; a bit (a lot) weird and otherworldly and maybe too good for this world. You can try and net it, like a butterfly, but it’ll flutter away; enjoy the beauty of of creation as it is, and wonder and delight in it. And I think that fulfils all the criteria of magical, right?
Do you know what? It’s tomorrow already, the future done got here, and this is what it sounds like.
Afternoon Bike Ride’s self-titled album will be released digitally and on limited transparent crystal vinyl, which sounds the ideal choice, by Friends of Friends Music on September 24th; it’s available to pre-order like now, already, over at Bandcamp.