Under Review

Blocktreat

After Dark

author
Doug Todd

Blocktreat is something of an anomaly — an electronic artist with roots in the rural interior British Columbia folk scene. This meeting of worlds leads to a very organic, acoustic electronica — a version of Boards of Canada that is more ‘feet in the dirt’ than ‘head in the clouds.’ His last album, 2016’s Exciting New Ventures in Fucking Up, was a sample-based instrumental album that emphasized Hoffman’s nuanced production skills.

After Dark is the first Blocktreat album to incorporate vocals, guitar solos and verse-chorus-verse style songwriting. Fittingly, after writing the nine songs for the record, Hoffman enlisted Daniel Ruiz (Leisure Club), Malcolm Biddle (Dada Plan) and Jessica Rampling (Heavy Days), to join him as a four-piece rock band for performing the album live. This shift in instrumentation is reflected in the overall sound of the record: while still as dense and layered as ever, the addition of vocals and chorus-laden guitars add a pop bent to the ambient psychedelia of it all.

Lyrically, Hoffman’s songs focus on the pitfalls of love using very specific anecdotes and, sometimes,- tongue in cheek humour. The song “One Horse Town” addresses the way relationships tend to overlap when one is raised rurally and the dating pool is small. It’s a catchy, lo-fi anthem for small towns everywhere.

Slow Burn,” situated at the centre of the album, is a standout — a propulsive, frenetic track with a driving beat. It’s the closest to indie rock that Blocktreat gets, as urgent as he gets on the whole album. Mirroring the song title, Hoffman takes his time building up the song and adding tension — the main rhythmic drop only happens two minutes into the song. Blocktreat has always been good at slowly and subtly unfolding a song by adding layers. On “Slow Burn,” that skill is used to create tension rather than imbue a sense of calm.

The song “Grief” is another standout, and one of the least dense on the album. A hummable guitar riff plays over a lazy, satisfying beat. “It can never just be easy,” sighs Hoffman, again addressing the way we tend to over-complicate relationships. Despite the lyrical theme, this song feels like a welcome exhale, as if the listener is getting on an empty highway after weeks of city driving. 

Blocktreat’s new territory has the potential to confuse fans of his previous instrumental tracks, music that could sit comfortably in the background of any given situation. Despite leaning closer to pop than ever before, After Dark requires more focus to appreciate. That being said, listeners who take time with this album (and a good pair of headphones) will be rewarded tenfold.

Malleus Trio

Play Nice

author
Lucas Lund

Tenor saxophone, upright bass and drums: that’s all there is to Play Nice, the latest full-length release from Vancouver’s Malleus Trio. While the ingredients might be simple, the versatility and musicianship with which Dominic Conway, Geordie Hart and Ben Brown play their instruments make for an all but simple collection of modern instrumental jazz songs.

It’s easy to imagine the tenor saxophone taking over the focus in this instrumentation, with the drums and bass relegated to play a supporting role. Yet Conway’s dynamic playing doesn’t fall into that trap. There are ample moments throughout the record where the sax is the star, overtaking the songs with incredibly dextrous solos and piercing wails — but more often than not, Conway steers the song’s focus away from his own playing, either towards the other two instruments, or to the trio’s collective sound. That being said, this review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the virtuosic sax soloing at the end of “Blade Runner Brown.” 

Geordie Hart’s bass playing matches Conway’s sax in it’s versatility and virtuosity. While Hart definitely firmly grounds the trio within every song they play, that doesn’t mean the upright bass misses it’s time in the spotlight. On tracks like “Tropical Currency” and “C Plus” the bass switches back and forth between relentlessly soloing and providing a solid base from which the other two instruments can explode outwards. 

And finally, the drum kit, expertly played by Ben Brown, is as exciting on Play Nice as it could possibly be. Whether it’s locking in with the bass and holding it down, like in the titular opening track “Play Nice” to adding atmosphere and ambience like in “Old Romantics” to the slow and deep groove, with almost trap-like hi-hats in “Foghorn Factory,” Brown’s drumming occupies just about every role the drums could play in a jazz record. 

Over the course of twelve songs, Malleus Trio shape-shift from one form of jazz to another, effortlessly pulling off quick-paced, groove-heavy hard bop of “Thereabouts,” to the amorphous free-improv sections of “5 to 9” and “Half Full.” But the way the three musicians play with one another — complementing each other’s styles, making space for each instrument and seamlessly locking back in together — is really what ties the record together. And if any one song that encompasses all the elements that make Play Nice such an engrossing record, the final track “Ritual” ticks all the boxes.