Montreal music label Constellation Records has announced its fall releases. Since its inception in 1997, the label has become a pillar of independent music-making in Montreal across rock, punk, and ambient genres, representing such anti-corporate groups as Polaris Music Prize winners (and subsequent Polaris Music Prize denouncers) Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Constellation’s releases have consistently challenged mainstream music with honesty and experimentation, and this fall’s lineup promises to be no exception.
The label is previewing its three upcoming releases with a sampler mixtape that features one song from each LP or EP. The first song on the mixtape is the debut of Last Ex, a new project from Simon Trottier and Olivier Fairfield, who also happen to make up half of the Canadian quartet Timber Timbre. While the two groups are far from identical, Last Ex makes sense as a side project: take away Timber Timbre’s bluesy vocals, add some more dissonant synths, and you’ll arrive at the eerie instrumental rock of Last Ex.
The track featured on the sampler is taken from the 15-minute- long “Hotel Blues.” This excerpt is propelled by its syncopated percussion and sinister synth hook. The ambient effect is captivating for the first three minutes, but the excerpt’s lacklustre conclusion leaves the impression that the song is somewhat directionless. That said, sometimes no direction can be the best way to go.
“Hotel Blues” swiftly transitions into a piece from another debuting band, this time the Montreal ‘supergroup’ Avec le soleil sortant de sa bouche. Avec le soleil’s members have a decade of experience in the Montreal experimental rock scene, as graduates from five other local groups.
Their debut LP, Zubberdust, will feature two twenty-minute pieces, five minutes of which have been excerpted for the mixtape. The edited excerpt, “Face a l’instant (part 2),” takes the listener through several grooves in its first minute, evolving from funky off-beat bass drum, to relaxed half-time, to a steady drive. The following four minutes layer various dreamy guitars and swirling synths over top of the steady bassline to create an almost dance-y trance.
The only outlier in the soundscape is the addition of vocals around the three-minute mark, where the harsher timbre of the male chorus feels a bit out of place. It’s hard to say whether the repetitiveness will be able to sustain an entire twenty-minute track, or forty-minute album, but so far the subtle variety in electronic overlays is enough to keep listeners hypnotized.
Closing the mixtape is a more-rocky, less-ambient track than the first two, from post-punk band Ought. Ought released their first LP this spring, More than Any Other Day, and has since gained popularity for their adrenaline-charged live shows and distinctly raw, yet crafted, sound.
The song on the sampler, “Pill,” is taken from their upcoming EP, Once More With Feeling…. The EP is a collection of songs that were actually written before the ones on Any Other Day – and, even in this sampler, it shows. Ought’s LP sounds like it came straight from the heart of New York in the early eighties. “Pill,” on the other hand, is a ballad that misses some of that classic punk irony. The poignant lyricism present on the LP is still there, however, and as far as ballads go, “Pill” manages to remain earnest without going over the top. If the sound on Once More is not as distinct as on Ought’s LP, the EP may be worth checking out just to experience another side of the band – particularly lead singer Tim Beeler’s vocals, which are uncharacteristically and quite beautifully restrained on this track.
These groups may be new, but they feature members who have been around the Montreal scene for a while, and thus face the interesting challenge of distinguishing their music from both past endeavours, and all of the other punk, rock, and ambient collectives out there. The sampler mixtape is 15 minutes of well-crafted soundscapes and songs that flow together remarkably well; this may perhaps indicate a lack of diversity present in Constellation’s lineup of fall releases. Hopefully, once separated and extended, each of these sounds will still be able to stand out.
Zubberdust comes out September 30, Last Ex comes October 14, and Once More With Feeling… comes out October 28. All are available for preorder online. The mixtape sampler is available for listening on Constellation’s Soundcloud.