The RGM inbox is visited daily by up-and-coming Canadian acts trying to spread the word about their new records here on this side of the water. We love nothing more than to hear all this fantastic new music but, unfortunately, we can’t possibly cover it all. However, two recent (and very different) releases that mustn’t pass without a mention have come in from Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Dom Fricot and the artful five-piece Oh Geronimo.
Having released an EP in 2012 and debut LP in 2014, Dominique Fricot has clearly taken some time to consider his next move. Determined to try something a little different, Fricot has returned in 2018 with Deserts, an album without any guitars or live drums. Its bones consist of little more than Rhodes, looped beats and some chamber strings, allowing Fricot’s warm and emotional vocal (which sits somewhere between Justin Furstenfeld and Dave Matthews) to take centre stage.
By Fricot’s own admission, So-era Peter Gabriel was a big influence on the record’s sound. The accuracy with which he’s recreated this vibe will prove a little uncomfortable for some but nevertheless the results are quite remarkable. Opening tracks ‘Echoes’ and current single ‘Help Is Needed’ both employ the world-music flavours that Gabriel popularised but thankfully have enough weight and merit of their own to stand up to further scrutiny. ‘Echoes’ explores the power of childhood memories while ‘Help Is Needed’ is possibly the most positive anti-war song these troubled times could hope for. These two songs alone build a picture of a thoughtful and mature songwriter who has interesting things to say.
Both ‘Time Flies’ and ‘Measure Up’ are moving reflections for the 32-year-old songwriter who lost his father at the age of 16. Themes of loss, depression and making peace are, unsurprisingly then, threaded through Fricot’s work but rather than being wallowsome they are approached with hope and optimism. Indeed, ‘Home’ warns against the dangers of being trapped by self-pity. Its chorus-soaked vocal and gated reverb is a definite nod to ‘80s Phil Collins but the strings and impassioned vocal make the song very much Fricot’s own.
The stuttering reversed beats of ‘Meredith Clark’ are much darker and more modern; its string section - flirting with dissonance - jars with the song’s sub-bass beats. Then, the lighter ‘Hold You’ is particularly beautiful and pits more Gabriel-esque backing vocals against a contemporary drum loop before the album comes to a close with the trippy ‘Slippery Slope’.
If you feel a little tired of strummed guitars and wall-to-wall love songs then Dom Fricot is here to help you. Deserts is serious, without being over-earnest and its deceptive sonic simplicity is a real breath of fresh air.
Oh Geronimo’s new record The Sled crashes open with ‘No More Stones’, led by splashy drums, howling guitar and acerbic wit, with lines like “I could cut the tension with a knife / But I’d rather put it in your back” cutting to the quick. The verse has a tight, controlled feel, with piano and sprinkles of delayed guitar before the chorus clatters down in all its layers of kitchen-sink glory. Barely a minute in, I find myself in the rare position of being rather excited by a new rock band.
The inventive guitar work and wry cynicism continues with ‘Hope Is A Gateway Drug’ which features an exquisitely grandiose instrumental mid-section. The tragically romantic ‘VHS Cassette’ shuffles forward with a slightly shoegazing feel and is so absorbing I almost don’t notice the saxophone solo trying to sneak past me. The single ‘Mountains’ is an ego-checking cautionary tale, awash with noodly guitars, brass and strings before title track ‘The Sled’ is ushered in via a short, atmospheric instrumental. Starting with raw vocal against solo guitar; drums, guitar and bass then ease in over the wonderful strings (courtesy of Saskia Tomkins) to form the song’s shattering climaxes. It somehow manages - in a little over four minutes - to feel like a sprawling stadium epic worthy of Roddy Hart or Biffy Clyro. It’s a track I’d love to experience live… any plans to come to the UK, chaps?
Closer ‘Souvenir’ is a bittersweet look at the fraternity and complexity of being in bands. This is obviously subject matter that is close to Oh Geronimo’s heart as they had to rebuild themselves after losing half their members just eighteen months ago. If nothing else, The Sled shows that all that heartache and perseverance can pay serious dividends. The Sled is a significant achievement and Oh Geronimo are a band worthy of some serious attention.
Reviews by Rich Barnard.