Music to Your Ears: Five EPs You Simply Must Hear

Reviews by Mark Anthony Brennan

‘In Mind’ by TRUTH

Singer-songwriter Monica McGregor weaves dark, poetic magic in the guise of the artist TRUTH. Her music is subdued, even muted, and yet delivered with such raw emotion that the impact is powerful nevertheless.

As evidenced on tracks like “Will’s Song”, her basic motif is to lay melodic folk on a bed of droning bass, much like a female version of early Leonard Cohen. This approach sheds surprisingly fresh light on classics like “White Rabbit” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, with drastically alternate melodies and tones. It also gives the dreamy, whimsical tracks “Go On” and “Shadow Work” their engaging psych-folk edge, enhancing the evocative nature of the lyrics. 

‘In Mind’ is so intimate and introspective that you would expect it to be inaccessible, but McGregor’s deft touch makes it all wholly appealing.

‘My Bestfriend’s House’ by Blue Hawaii

Blue Hawaii brings together the lush, danceable production of Alex “Agor” Kerby and the songwriting/vocal skills of Raphaelle Standell-Preston (of BRAIDS). 

The pair had intended to record darker, down-tempo music , but the euphoria of coming out of COVID lock-down resulted in a much sunnier, bubbly affair. Lucky for us. On the opener “L.O.V.E.”, Kerby provides finger-snapping 70s disco vibes, while Standell-Preston channels an enthused Donna Summer. “Butterfly”, on the other hand, has a more 80s feel, with burbling synths and coy, poppy vocals. Kerby completes the project with house and trance variations on the EP’s offerings.

It is surprising that an ocean separates these two (Kerby lives in Berlin, Standell-Preston in Montreal) given that they complement and complete each other so well.

‘Human Response’ by AUS!Funkt

If you think of The B-52’s doing kosmische with a dash of euro-disco then you might have some idea of the madness that is Toronto’s AUS!Funkt. 

“Set yourself free” starts the EP off with a motorik beat, but then a funky bass-line lends a more organic feel. Add layers of guitars and you get a swirl of dizzying propulsion, while the vocals are chanted repetitively in soapbox preacher fashion. “Where’s my empathy” continues the same manic pace, this time with churning electronic rhythms. “Socialized” slows down the tempo but certainly not the intensity, as “humans, not networks” is barked over a choppy beat. 

The EP is rounded off with a couple of remixes. “Set yourself free” sounds even more bizarre in acid surf form, and “Where’s my empathy” gets a rousing revamp with gospel stylings and vocals by Jen Simpson.

‘Rains Too Loud for T​.​V.’ by r. mason

r. mason is the musical persona of Victoria singer-songwriter Rebecca Barritt, with guitar accompaniment by Jonathan Blokmanis. Barritt’s forte is her soulful, thoughtful songwriting, that entertains without resorting to pop hooks and predictable paths of song construction.

The EP opens with the somewhat slinky vibes of “ L.A. Wannabe”. The tone is down-beat, almost mournful, but is buoyed by swoops of melody carried on a beautifully clear voice. Elsewhere, things are more earthy, such as on “Painted” with its slightly country feel. Here the pretty vocals are counter-balanced by the Blokmanis’s pedal-steel guitar that paints a sad back-wash. Perhaps the finest moments come in “Things I Say”, where a fuzzed-out guitar provides a grungy base for some truly inspired vocal harmonies.

‘Rains Too Hard for T.V.’ provides an expressive outlet for Barritt’s worldly observations unadorned by flowery embellishments, resulting in works of grim beauty.

‘Visibly Choked’ by Visibly Choked

Montreal band Visibly Choked are far from predictable, as the tracks on their self-titled EP take various approaches to the punk genre.

“Mother Tongue” is rhythmically wonky, putting a quirky face on a things, even though they clearly take the topic of forced ethnic assimilation seriously. Singer Gabrielle Domingue is abrasive, if somewhat languid while stating, “You tried to hide all that the white hegemony hated in you/So your kids and grandkids could live a life free of prejudice”. Her languor dissipates at the end as the lyrics spew out of her in a frantic flurry. 

“Uneven Keel”, a song about distrust and needing to build a protective shell, is more hard-core driving punk, as is “Shit Lord”, which is essentially a fast-paced explosion of expletives. “A Snake Called Ean”, on the other hand, is laid-back and down-beat. It also features a fascinating variety of vocal styles from Domingue as she expresses apathy, confusion and anger, to name just a few. 

‘Visibly Choked’ is a truly satisfying experience, not just because the band takes on different stylings but also because they excel at them all.