Montreal outfit Traces’ Imaginary Life takes familiar shoegaze hallmarks – thickly layered, hazy guitars, reverb-cloaked vocals, shrieks of aggressive feedback tamed by gauzy introspection – and gives them a truly fresh look infused with pop and psych energies. By trading off vocal duties between band members, the trio is able to cover a lot of sonic ground on the six-track release without losing the core elements that make their sound stand out.
The album opens strong with “Just Pretend”: an early squall foams its way up into a decidedly poppy, bright riff and sections that could have whirled around in the indie-rock a la-Nada-Surf playbook if not for the dense, athletic drumwork and high gain swells in the choruses. The feeling here is of the band hitting the start line at full gallop: a welcome sign in a scene full of bands willing to bide their time before grand guitar moments tear loose from the tethers.
“Cross Over” is similarly nimble-footed and energetic: it’s almost a mirror of the previous track in some melodic and conceptual ways. Subbing in Landry’s sweetly lifted vocals and opting to double down on the wicked chorus shredding allows us to see a different side of Traces’ personality as a band.
The title track stretches the six-and-a-half minute mark: par for the course among post-rockers everywhere, but the longest cut on Imaginary Life – I’ll note that the relative brevity of most of the songs here certainly lends them punch and focus. The song (and the album at large) blends the kind of walloping density we often associate with post-metallers Whirr or Nothing with a unique shot of laid-back, sunny psych-pop cruise vibes: it’s a strange animal for sure, but one that offers a lot to dig into for fans of fantastic voyages down tunnels of reverb/overdrive love.
“Verlainer,” too, appears to be pushing the pedal down toward full on roar-crush-roar territory in the early going, but backs off after its first few bars to settle into Traces’ preferred pop-spangled wavelength of the guitar-music spectrum, displaying a fondness for close-bunched and shifty vocal harmonizing tricks that really make the chorus sections stand out.
Though closing cut “Explain” feels just a little bit looser than its brethren (space-rocket delay tricks and ripping drum sections notwithstanding), it’s the cap on an album with a lot of high points. Imaginary Life is, all told, an exercise in remapping the same-same-but-different fuzz pedal atmospherics of post-rock and shoegaze with a compass pointed straight at hooky song construction, pushing stone-faced cinematic flourishes into the margins in favour of genuine energy.
Top Tracks: “Imaginary Life,” “Verlainer”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)