What I’m listening to: Oncle Jazz by Men I Trust

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Ever since it was released in September, I’ve been listening to Oncle Jazz on repeat. Men I Trust has the perfect balance of relaxing and upbeat sounds to make this album great background listening for all occasions. There’s a certain level of pop brightness, simmered down to a laid-back and atmospheric Montreal sound, that makes this album appeal to all kinds of listeners while still maintaining its own dreamy D.I.Y. sensibilities.

The album compiles eight of the singles the band has released since 2017, along with sixteen new tracks for a substantial 71 minute runtime. While the original singles are still the catchiest tracks, the new music takes us deeper into the soundscape, drawing the listener into a world of synthy riffs and laid-back beats. The songs of the past two years have already secured the band a strong place as rising stars of the Canadian indie scene, with many of the music videos garnering two or three million views, but the album fills out their sound in a way we haven’t seen since 2015’s Headroom, with more consistency and confidence than in the more experimental angles of that album.

I’ve grown quite fond of the album art as well, and the cassette comes with the special treat of a lyric booklet that, while you might need a magnifying glass to actually read it, contains several bonus doodles of the charming little fellow from the cover. The cassette also emphasizes the symmetry of the album: the second side starts with “Fiero GT”, a shorter track with a spoken sample towards the end that mirrors the opening track, “Oncle Jazz”; and the penultimate track is an instrumental reprise of “Tailwhip”, which appears early in the album. The album is available on CD and vinyl as well, and whatever your medium of choice, this is a polished, feel-good album well worth diving into.

Listen or buy on Bandcamp

Stream the full album on Youtube

What I’m listening to: Parallel Person by VARSITY

listen here: varsity.bandcamp.com/album/parallel-person

Listening to VARSITY on repeat has become a summer tradition for me. I first discovered the band in summer 2016, and spent long bus rides to work shuffling through Cult of Personality/So Sad, So Sad and the self-titled album; last summer I dug into the older, more rock-y EPs and learned all the words to Still Apart while trying to hold onto long-distance relationships and friendships. So I was eagerly awaiting Parallel Person, and it’s begun to worm its way into my seasonal consciousness just as its predecessors did.

On first listen, the album is both what you would expect from the progression of VARSITY’s previous work, and maybe also a bit lacklustre, with a mellower and cleaner sound, and a slower pace that lacks some of the earlier albums’ more punk-y edge. But after a few more listens, especially with a decent-quality stereo, the subtleties become increasingly intoxicating. And while a sunshiney sound is one thing that keeps me coming back to VARSITY each summer, the true hook is the quirky and honest portrayals of interpersonal relationships, specific in story but universal in the underlying emotions; this album takes the space to dive into this aspect, with a number of characters being introduced.

“Settle Down” didn’t excite me all that much as a single; while the video, with its ever-growing procession of kooky characters, is endearing and fun, art about making art runs the risk of being too self-reflexive, and maybe a bit lacking in emotional intensity. But “Must Be Nice” adds a more driving energy, with rock refrains more reminiscent of the band’s earlier work. This song, along with ones like “Isolation” and “Lied for You” emerge as the higher-energy and catchier pieces of the album. But what becomes increasingly intriguing in even the mellower tracks is the push and pull; there’s a delicacy to the lighter pieces, with sunny pop sounds moving in and out of minor-key dissonance and lyrics that trace the complicated territory of changing relationships.

The most new and exciting aspects of the album appear in some of the later songs, where experiments with instrumental aspects emerge; “Discipline” has a haunting quality, fading out almost completely before returning to a final refrain. The final track, “Alone in My Principles,” runs a confident eight and a half minutes, and feels like a conclusion to both the lyrical and musical themes of the album — speaking of both loneliness and growth, and building through echoey repetitions that let you really sink into the synthy sounds. This track is a personal favourite of mine — I have a predictable weakness for “songs about leaving,” and this is certainly one; what starts as driving away weaves itself into a more complex exploration of the process of trying to re-create yourself, with the hollow backdrop of loneliness and impermanence. But ultimately the refrain is “I will go on;” ultimately the track is both haunting and strangely uplifting.

Parallel Person has the finesse that comes from being a more mature album, with layers well worth digging into. As always, VARSITY captures the complicated realities that come with growing older, but always with a sense of catharsis or lightness; and as my own life gets more uncertain, the message to carry seems to be this optimism — to accept and even celebrate the complications, and keep moving forward.