Happy New Year, indeed. Many lessons were learned from the previous 365-day span … but most importantly, it is the music that shall continue to help see us through. So here we go, giving you the skinny, the business, and the 415 about what is good and on the horizon this year. Good Things!
BERNICE, GROOVE ELATION
I’m going on four years of being oh-so-deep in the bag for Bernice, the Toronto-based project of vocalist and songwriter Robin Dann, so much so that I’ve even drummed up comparisons between the group’s work and that of Joni Mitchell. Those correlations may be a bit overstated—Bernice is a tad funkier version of Laurie Anderson. I’ve actually gone out of my way to play the group’s uncanny songs—that’s their vibe—to a friend who in turn looked me dead in the pupil, while writing down a trustworthy weed connect, and then walked away briskly, in silence.
I don’t care.
Dann and her longtime collaborators Thom Gill on keyboard and guitar, Philippe Melanson on e-percussion and drums, Daniel Fortin on bass, and Felicity Williams on the dreamy vocals, continue making tiny Technicolor motion pictures with their compositions. Austere, R&B-adjacent, and most def quirky, this group floats out new pathways, shuffling arrangements on the pop song idea. Together and apart, they have performed with Martha Wainwright, Andy Shauf, Lido Pimienta, Bahamas, KNOWER, and Beverly Glenn Copeland, among many others, which led to them being referred to in the press as “Toronto’s ever-evolving backing band.”
When I saw Dann sing the praises of R&B experimentalist and all-around Queen Georgia Anne Muldrow in the NPR special series Play It Forward, my adoration for this one-of-a-kind outfit grew exponentially.
“Groove Elation,” the first single from an upcoming March album Eau De Bonjourno, is precisely what you want from a pop experimentalist. Something smooth, marching the sanded-down edges up-front. Dann and Felicity Williams bring those ASMR vocals between tripped-up pockets of beats flipping to and fro between eccentric jostling pauses. Giggle at the lyrics “bougie staycation,” but remain focused on the inspiring nature visuals and the alluring tenacity of bears. This is the glorious weirdness Bernice brings, just the type of odd beauty with which I wanna kick off the year.
AARON FRAZER, IF I GOT IT (YOUR LOVE BROUGHT IT)
So Aaron Frazer (of Durand Jones & The Indications) has a debut album named Introducing… dropping this Fri/8 and it’s gonna hit all the bells and whistles that a proper retro-soul album should.
Yes, I understand artists who make retro-soul do not like to reference their music as retro-soul, but that’s the Faustian bargain they signed up for. It is what it is. However, this video, loaded to the teeth with brown ffolkes playing records, tatted up, on roller skates … Holding out Dr. Buzzards Original Savannah Band (such a righteous flex!), Bruce Springsteen, Earth Wind & Fire vintage LP’s dancing to Frazer, and his go-for-broke falsetto. Listen, I’m a sucker for seeing DJ crews—especially rad Brown ladies, no less—holding down the decks, getting it done properly. Frazer made that wrinkle intentional and it adds weight, a certain type of authenticity, to this entire project. Introducing… is worthy of your attention.
HORSEGIRL, BALLROOM DANCE SCENE
Shooting out of the persistently-active and competitive Chicago garage noise scene is Horsegirl, a trio consisting of Penelope Lowenstein, Nora Cheng, and Gigi Reece. Aged 16 to 18, these strident young women draw inspiration from shoegaze and post-punk. Let just call it for what it is. Their track “Sea Life Sandwich Boy” off of their EP Ballroom Dance Scene put me on my ass with the Sonic Youth jitters. It’s uncanny to think such a mature-sounding band that meshes jangly arrangements to squirrelly power trio poise has yet to finish high school. More like scary, in fact. Playing together for just over a year, Horsegirl has gigged at museums, all-ages venues, open mics, house parties, and is currently working on a debut album due this calendar year. They don’t even have a video yet, and ffolkes can’t stop talking about them. Serious drip.
“Sea Life Sandwich Boy” is equal parts sumptuous melodies and indie rock buzzsaw, and I’m here for it. Lock onto this promising trio now.