By Mark Brathwaite
Structurally familiar as it may be, the melancholia-tinged analog pop of Montréal duo Freelove Fenner (Peter Woodford and Caitlin Loney, plus drummer Michael Wright) truly escapes any easy classification. Often toeing the line of 70s psychedelia, the band’s referential hues are mostly an accident of their particular equipment; the duo records straight-to-tape out of an extensively stocked analog recording studio (The Bottle Garden) housed in their Mile-End basement. This, in tandem with tight and effective songwriting, breeds in Freelove Fenner a musical character that perdures like a moth encased in amber: an eerily natural and present object that is indelibly tinged with traces of some dead and spectral (and pre-digital) era.
Freelove Fenner's debut LP, Do Not Affect a Breezy Manner, comprises eighteen short but intentionally crafted aural vignettes. Though certain stylistic tropes --the bone-dry tone, angular bass melodies, disorienting phrasing-- persist throughout the record, each track shifts specific idiosyncracies into focus. Album opener “In the Sound” tugs the listener along with its elbowy melody and well integrated percussion, while others, like title track “Do Not Affect A Breezy Manner,” tether shoegaze-y spaciousness to a shuffling and shifting drum beat.
DNABM showcases vocal contributions from both Woodford and Loney, which match well with the enigmatic and often bizarre subject matter of the lyrics. “Sad Emporia” offers a stream of consciousness conception of stock tips as received from a psychic. “Indoor Cat” counts the trials and tribulations of life as a domesticated feline. The songwriting is playful but never banal, and adds a thick layer of compassion for the listener to tracks that may otherwise seem dreary and aloof.
As the album title suggests, Rule 9 is in very strict observation on this record; the musical composition itself is endearingly concise and literal, and never feels indulgent or self-directed. Still, each song makes full use of its dynamic space, and is packed with subtleties and melodies that uncover themselves to the listener with each consecutive playback. Even the albums more avant-garde efforts sit comfortably within the tracklist. The 40-second “JoJo’s Xtal Set”, a coupling of lunar howls with rugged modulated bass frequencies, effectively splits the album between sides A and B, while album closer “Fire One” stays true to the esoteric and morbid humor of the records, looping a woman’s laugh in heavy reverb.
While this debut album has been over half a decade in the making, Freelove Fenner's painstakingly deliberate process of redrafting and fine-tuning has crystallized into a cohesive and self-sustaining sonic aesthetic. Here are some brief tips on activities to pursue while listening:
Taking still life polaroids of dead flowers in a wall-to-wall carpeted, faux-wood paneled basement; Sipping weak floral tea and viewing slides of butterfly wings on an overhead projector; Experiencing a moment of existential lucidity after wandering through an abandoned, brutalist park; Candlelight; Moths; Amber.
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