Album Reviews: Vallens, L’Impératrice, Les Shirley

Vallens — In Era (Toronto)

As they move further away from the guitar and punk-noise of their fellow Toronto artists, Vallens makes a startling leap on their latest album. Recalling late Bowie, a David Lynch mood, Sade, and some Warpaint here, this album is a dark dive that still drives you to move. This starts on a sonically pounding ride with "In Era" as you're yanked this way and that like waves on the ocean, and then bombarded with the deafening feedback. The more groove-driven attack of "While You Are Still Waiting" feels like a walk through a foreboding club with an exotic undercurrent and a bit of Talk Talk-like melodies. While "Sheer" will take you to Vallens' sparser roots, the immense crashing weight of "Come Home" brings out all their guitar energy with overwhelming intensity. However it 's the more genre-merging sound of "Difference Repeating" that elevates both sides of Vallens' sound into this singular, theatrical performance.

Halcyon Phase — Tendrils (Ottawa)

From project to project Frank Smith and Phillip Victor Bova can bring out an album with a sharp sound. The gritty, angry rock of "Emergency" burns like a flame, assuring that wherever you land on its rather overt political message, that the emotion rings truest of all.  Amidst the soothing tones of "From Straight Lines" the track finds these psychedelic string breaks that feel like a heady trip, and mesmerizing. "Time" swells with a amazing harmonies, taking its calm energy and revelling in its beauty. Meanwhile the collage of arrangements on "An Awful Refrain" blends so many of the strings, voices and hefty emotional notes of the record into this dazzling piece of music.

L’Impératrice — Tako Tsubo (Paris, France)

L'Impératrice have proved just how potent a sound you can carve out of an encyclopedia of retro influences, and sound all your own. Here, the group are both vintage and futuristic, and they've sharpened their voice into such a rich and punchy disco, club, pop and French New Wave blend that you'll be intoxicated simply hearing it. Those keyboard punches on "Anomalie Bleue" are powerfully rich, and the whole track sets you into the shimmer and strange, otherworldly funk glow of this record. There's such an effortless but perfectly infectious vibe to the bass and synth on "Fou" that it feels too exciting not to lose yourself in. The group also make startlingly potent melancholic dance track with "Submarine" using social isolation and the pandemic itself to infuse a song of heartbreak with a much more layered set of meanings. There's a sublime kick to the bass and guitars on "Peur des Filles," as the unbelievably catchy flow of the lyrics enhance how much the message will stick in your brain.

Mobley — Young and Dying in the Occident Supreme (Austin, TX)

There's such a stirring intent behind the force of Mobley's latest record that it makes the soaring feeling of all the music feel all the more powerful for it. High energy but lyrically succinct, this record can really feel like a way-homer in terms of delivery. Such is the life of "James Crow" in its utterly divine pop cut, while serves to dissect just how much something transfixing can embody evil itself. The abrasive hooks of "Nobody's Favourite" serve their own dual purpose, playing on a character's unique potential, but also their own distance from those around them. The dreamy bliss of "Mate" is always teetering on the edge of something nightmarish, in a fun kind of dance reminiscent of Mini Mansions and The Last Shadow Puppets. All this climaxes in the vocal breaks of "Lost Boys / Occidental Death" and its night-tinged riffs, though Mobley's sombre outro does a lot to show off his quiet talents too.

Les Shirley — Forever Is Now (Montreal)

To infuse the high melodic spirit of post-punk with the fleshed out production that other rock records get, Les Shirley get a sound that feels fresh. This loud and excited momentum is fun to sink into, and the band sound so enthralled by these songs that it's hard not to get caught up in the rush of it all. "Easy Target" constantly takes on new energy, booming into euphoric choruses and even this off-kilter back half that taps into that Runaways, heavy rock, stop and go mechanic. Though if you want a pure punk injection, it's hard to ignore the shouts of "Sadgirlsclub" as it just rolls at breakneck speeds, calling you to scream right back and thrash with reckless abandon. Even the more classic punk-pop core of "Courtney" is enhanced with the depth of colour the band infuses into their bridges as they really capture a full range of tones in a way that you wouldn't normally expect. Similarly the sunny riffs of "Pick Up the Phone" break up the emotion of the record with a different kind of frustration, with Pascale Picard's feature adding a kind of echoing feeling of how many people end up in this relationship dead-end.