reviewed by Chris Matei
Not long ago, I had the chance to review Snowday’s As We Travel EP here at Grayowl: it piqued my attention for its commitment to detail and to a balance between spacious ambience and intimate clarity. An electro-minimal pastoral scene set with nods to such artists as Tycho and Bonobo, As We Travel felt warm and light, like a downy covering on a cold day.
Now, the Toronto duo’s follow-up has arrived in the form of Evoke, released this week on Hybridity Music. This time around, Cam Sloan and Chad Skinner have opened their creative doors to a wider palette of sounds and themes, embracing a darker and more melodically complex side of their musical personalities in a suite of five new electronic groove experiments, each of which embraces particular instruments and sonic motifs.
Opener “Ceremony” builds a thrumming, round, overtone-rich synth pulse over faraway cymbal washes, gradually pushing up the amplitude in a fashion reminiscent of their now- label mates Humans. This build ends up almost teasing the introduction of a smooth and fluttering Rhodes solo line. There’s a definitely sensual element to the whole thing: growing, cresting and fading again, with hints and suggestions, brief revelations, and subtle movement.
“Detour” starts out similarly shrouded in metallic drones, as a haunting violin line swirls. With thumping tribal drum patterns and that echoing string part, the song is something not unlike the sound of fellow Toronto electronauts Speaker Face and their single “Vertical”, though Snowday lingers amid a dense forest of grooves and deep piano rather than going in that group’s more outright future-pop/dance direction.
That piano is left alone in a stark spotlight on the title track, which is so sparse that it comes as a genuine surprise after the complexity of “Detour.” As a tonal exercise, it’s textbook melancholia: dark, modulated reverb washes over each scale run like a cold wave. It’s certainly evocative (if you’ll pardon the pun) and atmospheric, but as a song it doesn’t offer as much as its predecessors in the appeal of Snowday’s deft building and unbuilding of textural structures.
There’s that Rhodes again in “Patterns”, joined by a lilting Spanish guitar this time around: there’s a flavour of Jesse Cook to the proceedings, but the groove is smooth and inviting, backed by a body-pushing bass line and subtle phaser envelopes swishing back and forth across the track. A piano flourish in the final moments gives the song a vital, immediate burst of character.
“Her Day Ended Slowly” caps off Evoke by using tumbling guitar lines as drone instruments in their own right, fusing wide bass, yawning vocals and pads into smearing orchestral crescendoes marked by the clatter of cymbals. The soft, bloomy expanse of the track is only pierced by a few reverb-drenched piano notes.
Snowday’s move away from the bedroom-electro, sample-driven minimalism of their debut toward a much darker and orchestral kind of ambience is a definite sea change for the band. Evoke shows maturity and ambition in its arrangements and sonic choices, but it sacrifices some of the brightness, clarity and musical expression of delight that went into As We Travel.
Top Tracks: “Ceremony”; “Detour”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)