Review – “Sans mer” – Reliefs

by Eleni Armenakis a1509104481_2

There are bouts in an avid listener’s life when everything begins to sound the same—generic drips from your tongue like the critic you swore you wouldn’t be, but that desperate urgency to hear something innovative keeps clambering until it’s finally met with something that defies expectation. It’s a times like that when bands like Montreal’s Reliefs make themselves most welcome.

Describing themselves as post-rock and indie rock, trio David Lévesque, Alexandre McGraw and Maxime Sollier don’t initially seem like they fit the bill. As the guitar kicks up a jaunty rhythm and the drums march in on the first track of their debut EP, Sans mer, it isn’t immediately obvious what about the band has moved past the genre. And yet as the ears continue to await the long-expected next step, Reliefs holds off—there’s no first verse, or a second. The instrumental music instead continues to build to its first crescendo.

It’s a simple change, but one that makes the band stand out for their ability to so easily divert expectations. The rarity of an instrumental indie rock album immediately sets the young band apart—even as jazz infusions into rock, pop and even electric are making the resurgence more common elsewhere. Instead, Reliefs explain in their bio that their intent is to poetically evoke the spaces and landscapes that inspire them—the kind of mission that forces the listener to pay attention to what so easily becomes background noise as we pick up the lyrics.

Opener “L’espoir renaît dans la mégapole” tracks this attempt as it journeys through the city, moving through the visionary streets with changing tempos. The slow notes of the intro are betrayed by the growing pace of the drums, from observation to exploration as everything comes together and crashes into the audible recreation of a place and time for a new, shared experience.

More inwardly gazing is “Il neige à Montreal.” From the muffled, subdued first notes it’s a personal experience of isolation—beautifully rendered in the band’s video for the song. From bursts of energy to moments of near-silence to a flurry of activity, it transitions through those internal changes with a sense of unity, ending on a single, upward note of optimism.

The final and third act isn’t as tied to space as much as it is with time. The darkly tinted “Le début de la fin” adds gravity with its pattern of reverb, cold breaks and building intensity. It stands in contrast to the previous eight minutes, stripped of the playfulness that encapsulated both those soundscapes. Instead, there’s a sense of urgency as it moves into the final minute of the EP, trying to squeeze every last note out of the time that has been given.

Top track: “L’espoir renaît dans la mégapole”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

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