A Cel­e­bra­tion

Exclaim! - - REVIEWS - SARAH GREENE MATTHEW MCKEAN LAURA STAN­LEY

Mo Ken­ney

The De­tails

Mo Ken­ney’s can­did third record, The De­tails, fol­lows her through a pe­riod of de­pres­sion to even­tual sta­bil­ity. The songs are short and the de­tails con­cise, rolling ef­fort­lessly from one to the next like the days do when you’re not pay­ing at­ten­tion. De­spite the brevity, Ken­ney fills them with sharp wit and bru­tal hon­esty that make you hang on ev­ery de­tail. The De­tails is rougher than Ken­ney’s pre­vi­ous two re­leases, and the coarse gui­tar and punchy per­cus­sion match her scrappy re­siliency. On “I Can’t Wait,” she be­gins to stand up­right, and the muted and me­thod­i­cal gui­tar strums echo Ken­ney’s steady com­mit­ment to heal: “I can’t wait to get out of my head,” she sings. The closer, “Feelin’ Good,” is a sparse track and the most sub­tle song on the al­bum, but it’s filled with a star­tling light. To open, Ken­ney sings, “I’m feel­ing good for the very first time”; what fol­lows is a cel­e­bra­tion of self and an up­lift­ing end to an emo­tional jour­ney. (Pheromone,

from Klezmer, rock and Euro­pean folk. Berner in­cludes some old songs here (“Phony Drawl”) and is up to his old tricks — namely, mak­ing scathing po­lit­i­cal points with a side of sar­cas­tic wit, while keep­ing things dance­able. What’s of­ten most sur­pris­ing and mem­o­rable on a Ge­off Berner al­bum, how­ever — and Cana­di­ana Grotesquica is no ex­cep­tion — is when he lays aside his funny provo­ca­teur hat for a mo­ment to sing some­thing more straight up and heart­felt: “Prairie Wind” and Klezmer-y “Trick You” are good ex­am­ples. (Coax, coaxrecords.com) pheromonere­cord­ings.com)

The De­tails is more rock. Was this a nat­u­ral tran­si­tion?

Yeah, it was nat­u­ral. I co-pro­duced this record with Joel [Plas­kett], so I was record­ing and demo­ing a bunch be­fore we went into the stu­dio. I was in a high school band and ex­clu­sively played elec­tric gui­tar. So me playing acous­tic when I first started was some­thing I’d never re­ally done be­fore. I re­ally love rock mu­sic and I re­ally like playing elec­tric gui­tar a lot, so it feels nat­u­ral to veer in that di­rec­tion.

How do you keep cre­ative dur­ing darker pe­ri­ods?

It is a strug­gle. If I’m re­ally feel­ing aw­ful, I can’t write. I think it’s in the pe­riod af­ter I’ve started feel­ing a lit­tle bit bet­ter and I can re­flect on what hap­pened, that’s when I can write about it. When I can step back and look at it af­ter it’s al­ready hap­pened, that’s when I can turn it into some­thing pro­duc­tive like a song or a draw­ing.

ance of songs de­serve special at­ten­tion: “Au­tumn in New Brunswick,” with Olenka Krakus (Olenka and the Au­tumn Lovers), is a lovely hymn to travel; “Young in Love (At the End of the World),” with Abi­gail Lapell; and “You’re Lonely, Too,” with Merival on vo­cals and Christine Bougie on gui­tar. They’re all lyri­cal sketches of ev­ery­day life, love and lone­li­ness. Lyri­cally, the re­cur­ring theme on TOPAZ is ex­plor­ing un­charted emo­tional and ge­o­graph­i­cal ter­ri­tory. Mu­si­cally, though, it’s all about col­lab­o­ra­tion, and the phe­nom­e­nal women who el­e­vate and il­lu­mi­nate the mu­sic. The vo­cal matchups alone are ir­re­sistible. Clarke’s elec­tric gui­tar is a wel­come ad­di­tion, as are film com­poser Alexis Marsh’s wood­wind ar­range­ments through­out. Clarke is a mas­ter of nu­ance, sim­pli­fied use of in­stru­men­ta­tion and lu­mi­nos­ity through sto­ry­telling. (shawn­william­clarke.com) river twice, af­ter all. But be­yond its clear stylis­tic changes, Fool’s Par­adise

feels more like a no­table tran­si­tion point, one that sees artist Ladan Hus­sein step­ping away from ob­scure pseu­do­nyms to adopt a more ex­pe­ri­en­tial ap­proach. Largely ab­sent are the or­gans, gui­tars and other rock-ori­ented in­stru­ments that made the last Cold Specks re­lease so tem­pes­tu­ous. In­stead, spare, del­i­cate syn­the­siz­ers and skit­ter­ing beats un­der­pin Fool’s Par­adise.

Un­for­tu­nately, this change in di­rec­tion doesn’t al­ways suit Cold Specks’ es­tab­lished tal­ents. While Hus­sein’s voice is as strong as ever, many of the tracks on Fool’s Par­adise lack mem­o­rable hooks, creat­ing a sense of sta­sis on tracks like “New Moon,” where verses sim­ply drift into one an­other with lit­tle build or re­lease. Many songs feel re­strained and muted, even when the pro­duc­tion lends a lit­tle ex­tra heft. “Void” cre­ates in­ter­est­ing tex­tures with its dis­torted, me­chan­i­cal beat and ethe­real synths, while the ti­tle track fea­tures strong ar­range­ments. Yet too of­ten, Hus­sein seems to let tracks sim­mer when they could boil. “Ex­ile” closes Fool’s Par­adise

by rec­on­cil­ing the fore­bod­ing or­gans of Hus­sein’s pre­vi­ous work with her

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