reviewed by Chris Matei
Ottawa’s Charles Hoppner has evolved Valois from what began as a minimalist songwriting project into a full-band effort featuring Shannon Murray and Dan KL, with production and co-writing from And The Kids’ Megan Miller. The resulting full-length, Love Dies But You Won’t, explores heart-on-sleeve songs delivered in a proto-Napoleon-Dynamite croon, a sort of Violent Femmes folk-punk exercise undercut with simple drum patterns of the kind you’d find built into an Omnichord or vintage Korg Mini Pops unit, toylike blips, blops and loopy electro-zazzle flourishes.
There’s a surfeit of super-quirky vintage glammed-out space capsule pop on hand here, streaked through with a black humour reminiscent of the work of world-weary and wry lyrical output of B.C.’s Prarie Cat. Off-kilter boy-girl harmonies pull the boppy verse grooves of “Ça Sera” and “Lone Wolf” in eccentric, wobbling patterns – the vocal interplay on the latter song splices the deep bassy pads of the instrumentation into satisfying patterns before breaking down into a distorted, affected pseudo-rap section and howling, treble-fuzzy outro. It’s downright weird, for lack of a better word, displaying a madcap combination of obviously exaggerated tinfoil-and-pipe-cleaner aesthetics and straight-arrow, unironic delivery.
“Impasse” mixes distorted squelches and 70s-style sci fi throwback pad washes in what is at first a melancholic drone, accelerating to a swarm of digital insects pulsing and oscillating like some giant Death Star control panel as it whines its way toward full power. You can practically picture Hoppner scrambling at the controls of a massive multi-timbral modular system with patch cords snaking out like nerve cells on every surface. “Hero Dog” morphs a heartbreakingly earnest ballad structure about a faithful companion into a sequence of velour-lined glam punk tapestries in its choruses, all trashy cymbals and high gain soloing.
“Ottawa Love Song” is a cutting, if hilariously adoring, portrait of arrested development and yearning in the artist’s hometown: “I’m from the city that fun forgot / the lost child of the indie scene / bureaucracy is the economy / we don’t have jet planes, we have balconies.” The vintage girl group handclaps, scrawny falsetto, and Moonage Daydream style guitar vamping all tread a deliciously fun pop-camp line. The title track goes for an even more emphatic strike at a Bowie-esque aesthetic, with its reverberating short-gated snare and swishing old-school organ warbles. In the later going of the album, “Elation” works brilliantly as a strung out New Wave pop anthem.
Love Dies But You Won’t may be a love-or-hate listen, depending on your tolerance for the skew of a particular ratio of moments of unbridled digital experimentation to those built on lovingly Frankensteined retro-pop structures. It’s raw and rough around the majority of its edges, but lends itself well to the scratching of a certain, hard-to-reach musical itch.
Top Tracks: “Elation,” “Ottawa Love Song,” “Lone Wolf”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)