Sean Dunel sits behind the kit for Mausoleum and Moon King – already an impressive Canadian underground resume, but his solo creations as Sexy Merlin cement his place as a creative gem and accomplished musician. Normally, the phrase “dance music” conjures up images of thumping bass, high-pitched synth swirls and often dramatic pop vocals. Sexy Merlin’s newest EP, Heater, will turn your impression of the genre on its head. Replace synth bass with a kick drum, melodic instrumentals with an army of cowbells, bongos and the like, and soaring vocals with simple phrases and a dark atmosphere.
Side A of the record is completely filled with “Heater” – a sprawling nine and a half minute jammer that uses a myriad of percussion and dark, menacing synth to create a demonic, ritualistic and tribal-sounding dance party. “Take a chance, and dance” Dunel instructs in the first lyric, delivered after three minutes of instrumental grooving. The lyrics are simple and repetitive (in this case, the motifs of “dark”, “deep” and “phantom” pop up everywhere), effectively becoming a part of the nuanced percussive textures. Atmosphere is the full intention here, and the lyrics reflect exactly the feeling of the instrumentals.
The second half of the release continues the gloomy dance music with a few shorter selections (I was super excited to hear “See You in the Dark”, my live show favourite, translated into foreboding, hip-shaking glory). “What You Gonna Do” uses empty spaces and silence to ramp up the tension before diving back into more visceral dancing. Probably best listened to in a field at midnight with a full moon, but in your bedroom with the lights turned out is a pretty decent substitute.
The press release compares the record to experimental cellist Arthur Russell, and I can hear that most clearly on the final track, “Yes”, in terms of applying unusual instrumentation to dance music and bringing in disco influences. Just as Russell used his cello to create strange, creative compositions, Sexy Merlin uses his drumsticks to create sonic landscapes that stand out in peculiarity and inventiveness. The world wasn’t quite ready for Russell during his lifetime, but we’ve come a long way since then. We are now definitely ready for an innovator like Sexy Merlin – ready to embrace the experimental, hear traditional instruments used in new ways and, above all, ready to dance.
Top Tracks: “See You In the Dark”; “Yes”
Rating: Proud hoot (Really Good)