Having already written albums that are hypnosis-induced tribal rituals and hip-hop parodies/love letters, the next choice for Toronto duo Valued Customer was to provide a glimpse into their own psyche. At this point, their music has become so uncategorizable that their Bandcamp tags refer to a mathematician, a work of comic prose, a Roman politician and an eccentric inventor.
The album title does give a clue into some of the influence on the album, however. Kalpa refers to either “ritual,” one of the six disciplines of Vedanga in Hinduism, or the Sanskrit word for “eon,” or a very long time. The album centrepiece “Beatrice” most heavily channels this, with parts of the song sounding like a Hindu chant.
Valued Customer has also thrown the idea of short song lengths right out the window, with most songs being around six minutes long, and one song being a little over 14 minutes, the total album running time is a few minutes over an hour. As might be inferred so far, these guys aren’t fans of conventional song structures, and each song is filled with so many twists and turns that it’s not easy to keep tabs on what’s going where.
The duo of Patrick Power and Justus once again bring two very different sides of music to the table. Justus doesn’t come in on vocals quite as often as Power does on this album, but when Justus comes in it’s easy to notice. He brings an often fast-paced hip-hop delivery, forcing the instrumentals to speed up along with him. Power, on the other hand, often prefers his vocals long and drawn-out. The accompanying instrumentals are often much more toned-down, and some are even downright beautiful, like in “Room/Bed/Fathers.” The track is reminiscent of earlier Black Walls stuff, with a sinister presence lurking behind innocuous-sounding acoustic guitar chords.
The album is really like two different dreams overlapping. Power’s presence is the ever-morphing lighter side of dreams. “Joni” is a great example of a track that is more or less completely Power’s. It’s got a killer tropical beat, later incorporating congo-esque percussion and vocalizations to match the atmosphere. Often the backing instruments for Power will be a picked guitar or warm electronics.
Justus, then, represents nightmares. His vocals are often distorted, and his musical backup is often frenzied and dense, with layers of sounds, both musical and extramusical. Closer “Double Brahma” is the only song that begins with Justus making an appearance, and his casting away of Power’s warm, ethereal landscapes is a jarring but interesting change of pace.
Of course, when the two come together in a single song, the results are electrifying. “Second Moon” begins as though it could be six minutes of warm ambiance as Power sings about girl troubles. Justus’ appearance at around the three-minute mark totally obliterates that feeling, and even once his vocals are gone, the song’s mood is permanently darkened, with Power singing lines like “This one’s fucked, can’t be unfucked.”
The 14-minute “New Jerusalem” is a trip of a song, starting (lyrically) as a depraved journey into Northern Ontario (it specifically mentions Timmins or Moosonee as possible destinations) before it takes a turn for the surreal (and the tropical) with biblical references aplenty. It gets crazed around halfway through, which is naturally when Justus makes his appearance, before ending more calmly and gracefully.
Kalpa is by far the most dense piece of work Valued Customer has released thus far but is still highly idiosyncratic—it doesn’t take long, once familiar, to recognize a Valued Customer tune. And chance are the tune will challenge you on its tenth listen as much as it does on the first.
Top Tracks: “Second Moon”; “Beatrice”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)