Arcade Fire, the late Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, Alvvays, U.S. Girls, Weaves, Bernice, Partner, the Weather Station, Daniel Caesar, Faith Healer, Propagandhi, and YAMANTAKA // SONIC TITAN are among the nominees on the long list for the 2018 Polaris Music Prize. The full list of 40 albums up for the honor was announced today … More »
Puff LP: In the air without a shape
[Arts & Crafts; 2018]
The sophomore album Puff LP: In the air without a shape by Toronto dream weavers Bernice deals in understated wonderment. Frontwoman Robin Dann’s lyrics often recall and indulge in the big, lush joys of childhood, while her tempered vocal delivery grounds those flights of fancy. With an unassuming demeanor, Dann will make reference to the amazement of a sun-bathed aircraft (“Passenger Plane”), frozen lemonade and bowls of watermelon (“One Garden”), or a lunar inamorato (“He’s the Moon”). Other times, she’ll simply repeat a phrase that’s inexorably associated with adolescence, like the bullshit affirmation “I am rubber and you are glue” that she touts on Puff’s opener “Glue.” This is the vivid, imaginative, sumptuous stuff of youth, but what keeps the album’s imagery from turning into sensory overload is Dann’s delicate singing, which floats so lightly over the music it sounds as if her words evaporate the moment they hit your eardrums. Bernice, on Puff, draw from a wellspring of hyper-specific experiences and images, juxtaposing Dann’s expressive lyrics with her even-keeled temperament.
And then there’s the music. Bernice underpin Dann’s and co-vocalist Felicity Williams’s featherweight singing with sedated keys and a start-and-stop rhythm section. Keyboardist Thom Gill shades the album with brushes of cool synths and spontaneous futurist zaps and buzzes. Phillippe Melanson’s drumming wanders in and out of each song, fashioning a stumbling drum loop on “St. Lucia” that seems to come and go independently of the rest of the band. Daniel Fortin’s bass playing is economical and uneasy: on “Glue,” he pivots between key signatures like twists on a Rubik’s cube. And guitarist Colin Fisher plays on a need-to-hear basis, turning away from indulgent noodling and needless soloing in service of the bigger picture. Together, the band creates beds of sound rather than grooves, ruminative layers of dreamy R&B plush that resist easy hooks and tedious musical excursions.
Bernice’s greatest asset is their discretion. Even when their alien keyboard sounds reach a fever pitch and the atmosphere grows all-consuming, they manage to keep an aloofness about them. Clocking in at just under 30 minutes and closing with “Boat,” the musical equivalent of an Irish goodbye, Puff doesn’t grab your attention directly. Rather, it occupies your subconscious, leaving vestiges of melodies and lyrics behind that lie dormant for stretches of time, resurfacing intermittently and maddeningly.
The roots of Bernice — an experimental pop group based in Toronto, led by vocalist/songwriter Robin Dann — already go back a while. They began playing together in the beginning of this decade and independently released a debut in 2011, followed by an EP in 2013. But a proper follow-up took some time to materialize. More »
At the end of the month, Toronto electronic pop experimentalists Bernice are following up last year’s great Puff EP with the full-length Puff LP: In the air without a shape. So far we’ve heard two tracks from it, “Glue” and “Passenger Plane.” And now they’ve shared a third, another new song called … More »
Bernice announced a new album, Puff LP: In the air without a shape, last month with “Glue,” an excellent song that landed the Toronto experimental group on our weekly 5 Best Songs list. The album itself is still a month off, but today they’ve shared another single from it, “Passenger Plane.” It’s placid … More »
Last year, Bernice put out their Puff EP, the latest in a lineage of experimental pop releases from the Robin Dann-led group. It landed on our Great EPs Of 2017 list, and today the Toronto project has announced that they’re following it up with a proper album, titled Puff LP: In … More »
Over the last couple years, we’ve seen the rise of the “mini-album,” an inexplicable term that is, I guess, supposed to signify some kind of intentionality and artistic vision that an EP simply cannot capture. It’s a designation that’s been rightfully met with ribbing derision, but it’s an interesting development that speaks to some larger … More »
We listen to music to feel like we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We listen to music to challenge our worldview. We listen to music to marvel at boundless talent. We listen to music to make sense of the senseless. We listen to music to be comforted. We listen to music to feel … More »
Bernice is the experimental pop alter ego of Toronto’s Robin Dann. She’s a professionally trained vocalist with an MA in music from Goldsmiths, and her band includes frequent Owen Pallett collaborator Thomas Gill. Following 2011’s What Was That and 2015’s One Garden Cassingle, Bernice is getting ready to release her third full-length. “St … More »