Montreal has become the collision point for North America’s exemplar cuts in electronica, noise and indie-rock, and the only people who think 2013’s musical torch belongs anywhere but Montreal are the city’s musicians. Ask and they’ll tell you: sometime between Purity Ring’s early blog-burblings and the total viral domination of Grimes’ Visions, the scene went stale. The ‘about-to-break’s broke. The sensations were sated. It seems trite and idealistic to beomoan the destruction inherent in fame and critical prestige, but when it comes to self-sufficient indie scenes buoyed on DIY integrity and underground unity, you can see the problem.
For what it’s worth, however, Montreal’s musicians are wrong. Montreal, in fact, is at fever pitch: so hot, so vibrant, so febrile. And it wants you to listen to Blue Hawaii. Take the word of Doldrums, Purity Ring, Grimes and Sean Nicholas Savage - all operating to the bizarre, brazenly intelligent standards we expect of the city’s inhabitants, all of them riding the Blue Hawaii wave. Four obsessive forward-thinking musicians simultaneously tuning in to the same band’s blissed-out frequency, like they’ve been slipped under the spell of a mad psychedelic dream-weaver.
Which in a way they have. There’s a reason Blue Hawaii are swimming in positive peer reviews, namely that Untogether, their first official full-length, sounds like Montreal in a way unlike anything else has sounded like Montreal. To listen to ‘In Two (pt II)’ and ‘Follow’ is to wend weightlessly through the alleys and parklands of a spiritual homeland you never knew you had. Singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston - best known as the singer-guitarist of Braids - sounds like she’s had an appalling winter nurturing her so-sweet, so-bruised ego, while Alex Cowan’s music long ago found shelter in nerdy loft parties. The best embodiment of this is closer ‘The Other Day’, which sees saxophonic synths flitting about the beaches like Phillip Glass getting bummed out on Beach Boys album tracks before performing an underwater set of Glassworks snippets.
This is not to say the duo lack vivacity. On songs like ‘Try To Be’ and ‘Flammarion’, there’s a muted urgency to Raphaelle’s voice, as pitchshifted murmurs clamour over sliding notes of R&B. ‘Yours to Keep’ burgeons in darkness, groans tangled in gasps, throbbing with some seriously sexy undertones even before you process lyrics about “making him go down south” and “snakes inside my mouth”.
While you might read the rampantly overlapping styles and fragmented vocal emissions as Blue Hawaii’s nod to a lack of monoculture, gut instinct suggests simpler motives: a sense of childish exploration within the boundaries of solipsism. The music Raph and Alex make is like a stripped-wall attic bedroom that provides solace from daylight insecurities - partly for the listener, but seemingly moreso the artist: “Love me,” Raph whispers on ‘Yours to Keep’, “Please don’t give up.” It might all come off disturbingly teen-Tumblr-gif on paper. But delivered with the stern warmth of a fondly-remembered childminder, Raph’s pleas resemble the poignant echoes of something strangely specific and personal.
This ultimately is Untogether’s crowning victory: despite being mapped by its lack of psychological surroundings, this firmly inward-looking record transports you head-first to Blue Hawaii’s special place, a serene vista where alien syllabic whimsy feels genuinely spiritual, and fuck-giving is most strictly forbidden. If this is the aftershock that chillwave wrought, you have to suspect the whole shazam was totally worthwhile.
8Jazz Monroe's Score