Sophomore, mathematics and economics
Often in the pursuit of new music it seems like we’ve heard it all. The radio recycles the same clichés (and often the same chords), a decade between the 1920s and ‘90s bubbles back into style, a mellow folkster plucks over his guitar—it all feels said and done before. Then an artist comes along and completely shreds expectation and precedent, making original music that seems to blast off from nowhere like a rocket over the horizon. For me, this year that artist is Montreal-based Pat Jordache on his phenomenal sophomore release, Steps. The set of eight tracks contains a wild ride from start to finish, a cosmic maze of an album that leaves the listener perplexedly grooving along.
It’s no surprise he’s rubbed shoulders with Tune-Yards frontwoman Merrill Garbus; they both exhibit an unusual mad-genius creative angle. But even Tune-Yards feels grounded and tame in comparison. Jordache flaunts his disregard for constrictive ideas like genre, era, or traditional instrumentation. He does crucially hold onto rhythm, though, and the result is an album that is frantic but never erratic. The vocals, guitars, and synths form a dense ball around a pure, driving core of percussion. In this way, Steps carries an unconventional interpretation of a conventional formula, and the result is like a mathematical breakthrough. Jordache is the magician who pulls it all off, yanking the cape away to reveal that processed, played-out music has disappeared. The closest comparison the album approaches is to some sort of new wave hyper-wave played by a mall band in an ‘80s movie set on Neptune in the year 3150. Maybe that’s what it’s like living in Montreal.
Jordache puts an imaginative spin on every element on the album, sending the whole magnificently into orbit. On “Migration,” it sounds as if he has simultaneously down-pitched and up-pitched the vocals then played them layered over each other. “Anonymous Woman” contains probably the slowest (and perhaps most effective) cowbell I’ve ever heard. Is that an electric digeridoo on “Hunger”? The total effect of these bizarre yet blended touches is an album that sounds like nothing you’ve heard before but isn’t wholly unfamiliar. Throughout, the sounds are so packed and complex but somehow bound together, much like a great chunk of crystal that appears frozen mid-explosion. Lyrically, Jordache weaves together imagery both cosmic and earthly, comparing someone to the “Morning Sun” and, in the next track, “Fields Laying Fallow.” The songs are oddly unspecific, and it’s often hard to tell who he is referring to when he says “you,” leaving a layer of generality and mystery. He even sums up the ethos of the album succinctly: “I was only trying to be myself.” Unapologetic nonconformity is Steps’ lyrical and sonic statement.
Ultimately, the album’s appeal lies in its treatment of weirdness: it’s not just for its own sake. Behind the wildly frayed ends is an accessible album that’s surprisingly fun to listen to. The quirkiness is well thought-out, and the result is a rewarding and unconventional album that separates itself from the predictable pack this year.