by Laura Stanley and Michael Thomas
Shortly after it arrived in our inbox, Michael and Laura both fell in love with Faith Healer’s record Cosmic Troubles. What soon followed was an exchange of various messages about their favourite lyrics, album moments, and general fan-girling/boying. To settle the question of who would get to review the record, they decided to both do it. Like Grayowl’s previous double reviews, this will be in an AV Club Crosstalk-esque format.
“You can have my acid, I don’t want it on my tongue.” With this, the first line of Cosmic Troubles, I was sold. Faith Healer’s (Jessica Jalbert) opening statement as heard in “Acid,” is incredibly powerful. Following a weird psychedelic sounding guitar intro, Jalbert’s sweet vocals unexpectedly delivers this punch to the gut. It’s so emotional and filled with this frustration that builds from that seemingly never-ending sadness. And “Acid”‘s poetic moments don’t end there. Later Jalbert sings, “If I need a feeling, I’ll just get it from myself.” It’s all incredibly moving and we’re barely two minutes into the record.
For me, it’s these lyrical moments that drive the record. They’re raw and vulnerable yet wrapped in a warm and comforting hazy embrace of guitar riffs, a touch of synth work and these vivid ancillary noises.
In under three minutes, “Again” does well to pack in the various sides of Faith Healer for an impressive little number. Highlighted by another great lyric – “It’s a pain to stretch yourself out after being through the wash but being wrung through often makes the fibres soft” – the majority of the song is bright and poppy, letting off a Camera Obscura vibe. It eventually gains weight in the form of additional vocals and cloudier guitar parts until finally ramming its new-found strength into the next song, “Canonized.”
Another standout “No Car” jumps from your speakers/earbuds/whatever you happen to be listening from. Building from a few bass notes, Jalbert immediately delivers this powerhouse of a line in – “We were being lovers when you got me round my neck. I can feel your fingers still, they’re bruised into my flesh.” It’s graphic, heartbreaking, and an incredibly important song to hear.
After our early listens of the record, you told me that you got an Alvvays vibe from some of Cosmic Troubles. I know that while you like Alvvays, you don’t quite understand the sudden mass popularity of the band. How does Faith Healer’s brand of psychedelic-pop differ from Alvvays or any other band currently echoing this popular sound?
For me, the number one ingredient in excellent music is surprises. The reason I can’t wholly get on board the Alvvays train is that, while Molly Rankin’s lyrics are wonderful, there’s not much of a sense of excitement to the music because it’s by and large straightforward hazy pop.
But this isn’t about Alvvays, damnit! Yes, Cosmic Troubles did remind me a bit of that band here and there, but when I gave this record a super-close listen not too long ago, it became very clear that this album is far more layered than I even initially thought it was. “Canonized” is a nice example of the kind of surprises I like. Then name of the song will make listeners think of religion, and the way Jalbert sings these first few notes it’s like she’s reciting a hymn.
But that doesn’t last long—the fuzzy guitars eventually give way to a heavier chorus as the guitars and bass go into overdrive, and the song reaches the same kind of intensity of a heavier Chad VanGaalen number. And even beyond that, there’ still a layer of “aahs” that could have come straight out of a 60s Motown number.
Another number that continues to surprise me is “Was, Is and Is to Come.” Besides the echoing of guitars at the beginning of the song, it’s almost entirely dependent on synthesizers, and though the song is less than three minutes long, it continues to shapeshift, sounding at parts like it could turn into a Doomsquad-esque jam or something more along the lines of Holy Fuck. And there’s barely any lyrics, just a couple of lines Jalbert sings. The line “Love, love, love, that’s all there is” would be 100 percent cheesy anywhere, but the uneasy feeling created by the synthesizers make it work.
You’ve talked a bit already about the song’s subject matter—what do you think Jalbert’s main thematic message of this album is?
As all album titles should (call me old-fashioned), I feel that the title Cosmic Troubles captures much of what the album’s theme is. Jalbert allows us to witness only a small amount of the great cosmic (vast) troubles that are at play here. With the line, “I don’t know why I get so hideously angry but believe me I could keep it to myself if it were not for your embrace,” the title track suggests that a point has been reached where some things need to be spoken aloud, acknowledged, and dealt with. While the amount of problems and pain seems to be limitless, perhaps the album acts as a source of expression and is therefore healing. Even looking at the cover, the open mouth looks like it’s screaming out with, hopefully, some relief.
Back to the music, you mentioned to me earlier that you “love the weird instrumental left turns it takes.” Where do you feel this is done most effectively?
Apologies for not immediately getting back to the music, and I will answer your question in a minute, but your point about looking for release is an interesting one—I think Jalbert may be talking at length about the ultimate release. Doug Hoyer pointed this out last month talking about “Universe,” but death comes up a hell of a lot elsewhere. “Fools Rush In” makes a point of repeating the phrase “Living just tears us apart.” And one of my favourite tracks, “Until the World Lets Me Go,” is more poppy goodness with depressing lyrics: “I could walk all night and fall down in the snow/I could sleep until the world lets me go…”
Anyways, my previous bit talked about some of the best moments of pure surprise, but I also like the moments when a song decides it wants to abandon all semblance of being straightforward pop. “Was, Is and Is to Come” is the most extreme example of this and I love the inward journey it takes, but the guitar solos really make them shine. The aforementioned “Fools Rush In” is already great thanks to its killer bass line, but it sweetens the cake with an unexpected psych-rock-flavoured guitar solo. “Universe” carries that same sense of the song being a journey thanks to the adventurous guitar.
And then there’s “Angel Eyes,” which starts out on a really dark note with quickly strummed guitars, before lightening up a little instrumentally and Jalbert delivers vocals that could make this song a downtempo Alvvays song. But then Faith Healer decides that’s not enough, and the sudden switch into an increased tempo turns it into something really excited.
If it’s not clear by now, Cosmic Troubles is the type of album that should get you excited about where pop music can go and what it can be. It’s also another argument for why you should really, really, pay attention to Edmonton’s diverse and hypercreative musical community. Feel the release.
Michael’s Top Tracks: “Acid”; “No Car”; “Until the World Lets Me Go”
Michael’s Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good) +*swoop*
Laura’s Top Tracks: “Acid”; “Again”; “No Car”
Laura’s Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good) + *swoop*
Cosmic Troubles will be out tomorrow, March 31, on Mint Records.