Sick Boss
Sick Boss

(Drip Audio)

Hidden under one of the ugliest covers I've seen in recent times - you should (not) see the image on the back! - readers won't find the proverbial "album of the year", nor "one of the most interesting discoveries of the last few months", just a lot of very fine music.

I'll immediately say that while "variety" would be at the top of my list of useful words when describing this album, "coherence" would not even chart. With (not really) surprising consequences: distracted by a clear blue summer sky, I suddenly noticed that the album I was listening to, so different from the one by Sick Boss I had previously listened to, was still the Sick Boss album!

The first few tracks - best specimen being track #1, which at almost 8' is the longest here - showcase musical climates that reminded me of a few Rock In Opposition groups: while the combination of cello and accordion reminded me of Skeleton Crew, the presence of organ and clarinet (and cello) reminded me of Aksaq Maboul; of course, it's entirely possible that the core members of this line-up (names to come in a moment) have never listened to them.

Then, things do really change, with some "pop-sounding" moments; some "spiky" attacks from the guitar and a passion for electronic-sounding colours made me think that US 90s "indie rock" groups on such labels as Quarterstick and Thrill Jockey may be among the group's favourites.

Let's have a look at "who played what". Cole Schmidt on guitar, effects. James Meger on bass, effects. Dan Gaucher on drums, effects. Peggy Lee on cello. JP Carter on trumpet, effects. Tyson Naylor on synthesizer, organ, piano, accordion, effects. Jeremy Page on clarinet.

Provided I understood correctly, Schmidt, Meger, and Gaucher are the group "core trio", Schmidt writing most of the music; the others are not, however, merely "reading the dots". While Peggy Lee  - and JP Carter - are familiar figures by now, the memory of Meger and Naylor performing on Ron Samworth's beautiful album Dogs Do Dream is still fresh in my mind.

Then, there are the "guest players", but their roles - though limited - prove to be no less important: Tony Wilson on guitar, Ted Crosby on clarinet and bass clarinet, Debra-Jean Creelman and Molly Guildemond on vocals, Malcom Jack on (for me, the quite mysterious) MFB-502 drum computer. Wilson's style, so different from Schmidt's, adds colour to three tracks, while Crosby's clarinets widen the palette. I'm afraid I've never listened to the featured female vocalists, who I see now are quite well-known artists. Here, they make for a more varied album.

The music on the album was carefully "built", with lots of overdubbing, montages, and editing, something that I'm sure took a lot of time and care. The album liner notes, presented as a kind of "semantic labyrinth", don't make one's life easier when it comes to credits. Here's what I understood. Recorded by Eric Mosher at the Warehouse Studios in Vancouver, BC. Extra additional recording, editing, radical reconstructive surgery, effects, and processing by James Meger at Slug Bait. Mixed by Sandro Perri in Toronto. Mastered by Jesse Zubot at the Britannia Beach Bunker in BC, Canada.

Amadman starts the album with effects, loops, a bass ostinato, percussion, a melodic line for guitars, clarinet, drums, cello, electronics, in crescendo. Cut at 1' 44". The theme again, now sounding more "open", then organ, clarinet, trumpet playing the melody, then accordion. Again, a "cut", at 3' 14". Then the composition gets wider orchestrally, with a fine crescendo from the drums. At 4' 52" the mood changes again, with electronics in the background, "tiny sounds", guitars, clarinet, keyboards, drums playing tempo, this is a "slowed-down" episode that gradually grows in intensity. Fade, cut.

Bad Buddhist opens with a guitar figure, tiny percussion, then the cello, then the whole group in ¾, guitar, trumpet, keyboards, bass clarinet; the electric bass contributes to the creation of the mood, then it's back to the melody, now played by organ and winds. At 2' 30" the track goes towards a trumpet solo with fine backing by a vivacious snare and fine cymbals, and a rich background. At 4' 18" cut, guitar arpeggio, and a fast coda with keyboards, accordion, and clarinet.

Ruthless Waltz opens with a lazy acoustic guitar chord, then a melody for trumpet and guitar, then cello, piano, fine cymbals. Piano and drums come to the fore, then cello. At about 2' the mood gets more "free", highlighting the trumpet, then at 3' 08" the whole changes to cello and piano in rubato. In closing, it's back to the lazy acoustic guitar.

Bug Ya! (pt. 1) starts with electronics, drum computer, and various sounds. A mid-tempo which showcases a vocal melody that reminded me of Ruby circa Salt Peter, but the sound here is quite far from Lesley Rankine's pungent vocality. Definitely more similar to Petra Haden performing Yuka Honda's music. Strange mood change, it all ends "cacophonically".

They've Got Tombstones In Their Eyes starts with piano, acoustic guitar, then a theme performed on the cello, electronics, effected cymbals, drums playing tempo, definitely a Floyd-sounding moment, there's a guitar played with an e-bow - or is it a plug-in? Then, the music gets "lost in space".

See You Out There is a strange c&w in 3/4, fine vocals, la Petra Haden-Yuka Honda, fine snare drum played brushes, electric bass, arpeggiated guitar, organ with "percussion" effect, a vivacious trumpet solo, close.

Mona starts with electric guitar playing arpeggio, then a theme for cello, a fine accordion making the theme sound more beautiful, an agile rhythm section. At 2' 38" cut, and on a "lunar" background, with organ, effects, vocals, echoes, the clarinet playing single notes, we have the rhythm section, guitar, and organ "sweeps". At 5' 45" cut, and with the entrance of a "white noise" synth we're back to the theme for cello and trumpet, with arpeggiated guitar.

Bug Ya! (pt. 2) fades in, with a figure for bass and drums, two guitars, then at 1' 22" a strong rhythmic figure, then it's organ and synth, and a close that sounds quite in a "space rock" style.

Troubled is a surprise ending if there ever was one, and even if its presence proves to be the proverbial last blow to any hope of coherence, well... it's a fine moment just the same. A cover of a song written and sung by Elizabeth Powell - of course, I've never heard of either - it starts with two vocal lines that had me check the liner notes for Ani DiFranco (she's not featured), whose "trembling" interpretation is definitely echoed here in the words "taste", "chasin'", and "here". Then the song gets orchestrally richer, taking this strange, peculiar album to its fine close.

Beppe Colli

Beppe Colli 2017 | Aug. 29, 2017