WHEN historians of future days come to write up the glowering all-round evils of 2020, they will, hopefully, take note of one glimmering shaft of light through the fog-plague; how great the sphere of quirky Canadian music has been this year.
There’s been another sonically luxuriant missive from Montreal’s Braids in the shape of Shadow Offering; singer Raphaelle has also been pursuing a more louche and loose deep house thing with Blue Hawaii, whose mixtape Under 1 House is also out this Friday. (Our review of Under 1 House also publishes today).
Then there’s the plain lovely one-man psych-folk-tronica vision of Toronto’s James Como, aka Sing Leaf, whose From Earth is also out this week; go to the albums reviews page to read our review.
Let’s turn now to Jean-Sébastien Audet, the artist who records as Yves Jarvis who, in a pseudo-Bill Callahanesque move, came out from behind his Un Blonde facemask after 2016’s excellent Good Will Come To You (according to his personal colour palette, it was bathed in yellow, for optimism), reborn with a new name.
2019’s The Same But By Different Means – self-referencing the change in name, perhaps? – was pretty, hallucinatory and flecked with little miniatures; 22 tracks ranging from 14 seconds to eight minutes, a kind of Money Mark approach if you like; not losing the genius of the moment of creation, giving to the world as arisen. It was a more contemplative work, as signified by its midnight blue cast.
As this autumn swings round, like a visually presenting Ken Nordine, Jean-Sébastien has shifted across the colour spectrum once more and into green for his latest and his second for Anti-, the seductive one-man folk-psych vision of Sundry Rock Song Stock.
The green signifier works on a number of levels. It indicates the pastoral verdancy of folk and the UK Canterbury scene and other progressive forms, which seemed to really hanker for the countryside.
Jean-Sébastien also notes it’s the color he most closely connects to his personality, moving beyond an aesthetic attraction into feelings of wildness, boundless energy, and an anti-establishment streak.
There’s also a keystone here to the recording process at work on Sundry Rock Song Stock; as a busker beginning in his pre-teen years (he’s still only 23 – there’s so much creativity to come), he’s down with music as an outdoors notion. To this end, he returned to an open-air environment for this album’s creation, setting up a makeshift studio to lay down its foundation of guitar, Nord synth, and Rhodes electric piano, all recorded on reel-to-reel tape.
“I want my recordings to be naturalist, so from that sense I am ideally making them outside,” he notes.
“More than a musician or a singer, I’m a producer, and any studio I’m in will become my bedroom. Creation is my life and I don’t compartmentalise it at all.”
There he is below, lying on the grass with his tools of creation – in the ‘studio’. You’ve gotta love that.
OK, but what of it, you may counter. He talks a brilliant game. Nope, sayeth I. Put the needle carefully on the wax (metaphorically speaking; it’s a digital release for now – we’ll come back to that later, vinyl heads, patience) – he sings, he plays, he conjures an absolutely great game. You’ll see.
Sundry Rock Song Stock is a comparatively normal ten tracks instead of the 22 of The Same But By Different Means. Let that not kid you into thinking Yves is making a break for the conventionality of the middle ground. He has far prettier things to show you.
The album whirrs into being on lofi retrotronics with “Epitome”, bells tingle and drums scatter as the synth unsteadily hums. It’s trippy, there’s no denying it; and then Yves comes in singing in this breathy, multi-tracked West Coast-style close harmony, an acoustic taking the tiller while all the other instrumentation plays freely in the skies above. The greater proportion of the song is given over to the prettiness of sound in free play, but that small oasis of full-song resolution in the middle makes it all a delight.
“In Every Mountain” plays with the same textures. As soon as it builds into full being it breaks itself down quite happily, only to lap and surge once more. The synth and guitar marry and run along together in melody. It’s as if Harpers Bizarre were absolutely and effortlessly cool, maybe hung out at Golden Gate Park being completely immersed in the scene and didn’t bend for commercial propositions. Cracking.
We took a look at the single drop, “For Props” a few weeks back; and are happy to reproduce the YouTube video at the very end of this review. It’s a lyric video, self-filmed as Jean-Sébastien cycles through the Tree Museum in Gravenhurst, Ontario. More direct, less abstracted than the opening brace of tunes, it’s just as charming; it’s a sideways salvo at those with wealth and privilege also coming looking for kudos as some means of self-justification despite the fact they “can’t empathize or reciprocate,” alongside others in his social circles “pandering for props”. It rattles to an end in homespun knocking after a real shut-your-eyes smile of a song.
“Ambrosia” – the food of the gods, we’re dealing with here – is a different shade of the palette – maybe olive? Which springs and rattles along with diversionary jollity like electronica pioneers Raymond Scott or Pierre Henry. It tees things up for “Emerald”, which flourishes into being from similar abstract planes, with a more Broadcast-like space-age melodiousness.
Jean-Sébastien-as-Yves himself is whisper-deep in the swoop and weft of space-chime and whirr, just ever so gradually creeping to the foreground of the retro-synthesis as the song so slowly morphs to a buried acoustic pop, lyrical snatches themed around precious stones audible here and there. There’s squeaks and pops of a Berlin-scene nature, and a sweeping organ to conclude.
Musically, “Victim” is just utterly seductive. He’s as breathy and blissed as elsewhere – at least musically. But listen deeper. The lyrics address inter-generational racism and violence; he sings “I’m a victim of the same old stuff my father was” before warning, “I’m a vitriolic mass of dynamite just bound to ignite.” It’s the very epitome of the granite fist in a velvet glove; cunning, heart-stealing, pretty and experimental all inside five minutes.
“Semula” is very upfront vocally; soulful, close harmonising with himself, a choral iteration, he seems more than a little stung by the person he’s addressing. Witness that opening couplet: “It’s your aim to shame me / Just please spare me your sanctimony.” There’s plenty of room for eerily beguiling synth harmonies to bubble up through, as in a lava lamp; another luxurious tune with a razor edge if you delve further.
“Notch In Your Belt” is built from a very British folk guitar, all stately winding and pausing, with added quirky percussive shuffle; all kinds of little ringing, clicking nuances of objects pressed into musical life, you’d wager, the open hiss of the recording breaking in at the end.
At 105 seconds, “Emblem” is the closest Sundry Rock Song Stock comes to its predecessor for little sketches. It has something of early Iron & Wine pushed into a more surreal room, phased vocals, drums that stumble and stutter, glimmering bell tones and little rockets of synth leaving their contrails as they fire off into the stratosphere.
The album concludes with a low-key potency in the acoustic gospel of “Fact Almighty”, in which the depth of feeling comes through all the stronger for the hush. It’s a tribute to his romantic partner: “I depend on you and you on me / From insular growth one will bloom.” The organ and open-string guitar riffs just underline the grace.
At once wholly singular of vision – he recorded every instrument, mixed it, painted the self-portrait used on its cover – it’s also an album which looks outward, is wholly open to the world, even occasionally big-P politically didactic. It’s playful, oddball, deeply engaging and beautifully melodic.
Of course, being the hardened old hack I am, my caveats are thus … well, nothing really. At. All. I’m of the suspicion that Jean-Sébastien is actually quietly a genius. It’s absolutely a contender for one of my albums of the year, sitting in that excellent zone of music wherein you can find acts as abstruse as The Olivia Tremor Control, The Books, Broadcast, the Jack Rose of Raag Manifestos; that being, so, so pretty, and also a bit weird.
If you’re of an indie maverick bent, and you’ve got cash to invest in just two albums this Friday, it’s gotta be the Canadian one-two of this and Sing Leaf’s latest. The two together will bring you a hell of a lot of fun.
Round these parts, everything’s gone green.
Yves Jarvis’s Sundry Rock Song Stock will be released by Anti- on digital on September 25th, with the vinyl pressing following on November 13th. Order yours now here or from the Yves Jarvis website, here.