May 9, 2012
By Greg West
Every once and a while, Vancouverites like to whine about having a “no fun city,” but this lament is belied by a thriving underground scene, where DJs organize word of mouth shows in public parks, punk bands pack community halls—and most of all—where a never ending circuit of house parties sees countless indie-scenester tchotchkes rocked off the walls (munnies, thrift store paintings with monsters painted in, stacks of old cameras and post it notes with cocks drawn on). On any given summer’s night, countless genres of music leak into the air from basement apartment and abandoned warehouse windows, or whisper over the water from beach to beach.
I have a theory that if you were to gather up and distill all of these strange sounds, the result would sound a lot like Humans’ new EP Traps.
A collaboration between Vancouver folk singer Robbie Slade and Montreal expatriate Peter Ricq, Traps is a house-party in a box, full of slow groove electronica somewhere in between trance and pop, with both chill-out grooves and moments of revelry.
The two have been active on the Vancouver scene for a while—their debut EP Avec Mes Mecs made waves a couple of summers ago. And with its “who knew all we had to do was party?” slogan and its police as puppets video about biking home (a quintessentially Vancouver ritual), it was absolutely everywhere. But where, in retrospect, Avec Mes Mecs perhaps suffered from sounding a lot like a lot of other things (swinging one moment from MGMT style mash-up to Hot Chip style spare groove)—Traps defines and puts forward a totally new and more sophisticated sound.
The album opens, for example, with Hell Me, a simple combination of synths, bass and chords that loops up in volume and tempo to a break that meshes seamlessly with the albums breakout track De Ciel. A sonic sky-scape where driven bass slams propels an introspective melody that’s made plangent by humming vocals, distant sirens and episodes of simplicity where it all peels back to Slade’s sudden vocals: I will never know/ just where I get my thoughts. And it captures perfectly that three whiskeys in moment, where party conversation takes a turn toward philosophical and your whole room full of friends seems suddenly brilliant.
But of course, that quietude doesn’t last and the next track, Possession, kicks things into high gear before they get sombre. All intricate driving afro-beat inspired rhythm and falsetto vocals, the track slides things effortlessly into high gear torrents of dance. More indie-pop than dubstep, it’s the duos beery romance with their influences all grown up, things get loud, but never inchoate and inspired takes the place of imitative.
In fact, if I was to sum up the feeling of the album as a whole, I might turn to a superlative like inspired—and it’s not a word I throw around lightly. On Pagaie features a dubstep bass-line that walks across a soundscape of sampled world music, with a house bridge and a banging climax—it’s a mess of elements that shouldn’t work together and a uniquely west coast construction of appropriated elements that reflects our remixed culture. As it fades out, it morphs into Horizons, where things get introspective all over again, in perhaps the most indie pop-esque song on the album where Slade tells us to hold onto what you do / because it loves you. And where steel drums, synths, hi-hats and electric drums rub up against each other until a conflagration of sound wipes the song out, only for Plus Rien (Nothing), the penultimate song on the album to rise from its ashes. Plus Rien echoes back the album’s sonic themes over a downtempo beat—with strained low vocals whispering of leaving and loss. Traps, the albums title track, comes as an epilogue, a straight up electronica number full of UFO sounds, whispers and high range chords that whispers the party to sleep.
It’s a brilliant album and it is especially delicious for it’s cohesion. Listen to it with headphones as you run beside the ocean, the great lakes or your local stream. Let Humans DJ your next house party, or remix any track into a house anthem (Humans throw in two remixes of De Ciel at the end of the album to get your started). In whatever event, you’re sure to enjoy it.
Have a release I should check out? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet me @worldsbestvegan