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L to R: Zoe Towne, Charles Hoppner, Sabrina Madore. Photo supplied by the artists.

Talking Albums: Valois

By John McDonald on May 20, 2020

There’s a party at Leia’s place!

Oops, social distancing.

But Leia’s place is where we’re headed with the new song from Valois.

The band is known for its eclectic glam rock, built around three-part harmonies, jangly guitar, and layered synths, and for their high-energy live shows. They’ve performed at Megaphono and Marvest and opened for Dent May, Monowhales, and Nyssa.

But for now, there’s no party and no live gigs. That said, the members of Valois have been busy. There’s garden time, Gilmore Girls, and alter egos on this edition of Talking Albums.

Charles Hoppner:

Before the pandemic happened, Valois had taken a three-month hiatus from playing live to record a new full-band record in my living room. We finished the single “2009: A Teenage Oddysey.” It’s a playful kind of tribute to the music we listened to as teens. We were set to do a release show at LIVE! on Elgin with Bleach Day from Vermont, but social distancing put the brakes on that and on finishing the rest of the record.

I had also put out a solo EP under the name Lady Charles. I’d always wanted to explore making music through an alter ego, and so Lady Charles is a shapeshifting being who doesn’t have a set gender or corporeal form. I’ve yet to play an in-person show as Lady Charles due to the pandemic, but the goal is going to be to create an anything-goes atmosphere of chaos and creation with the message of living authentically.

Since the pandemic started, I’ve tried to keep busy with art. I’ve been doing live streams around the solo set I’d prepared, recording new music, playing piano every morning, revisiting old records, working out a lot, and working on a video for Valois’ “2009.” Doing a video entirely under lockdown and filming our roles separately was an interesting and fulfilling experience because it forced me to throw the rulebook out the window. The editing style is a lot sillier, stranger, and more full of movement than if we’d been able to sit down and plan out scenes with multiple people—the result is actually pretty fun and upbeat.

Now, albums…

Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Genesis was a band I never really heard much growing up, even though I love pretty much every other ’70s rock band. When I took a chance on The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway at the record store on Eddy Street, and a few other Genesis records from The Record Centre on Wellington, I was really struck. Here was this band doing a lot of stuff that was familiar to me but with a grandeur and chemistry that’s totally unique.

The record follows a very ’60s/’70s format—a concept album about a metaphysical journey through different fantastical settings. The album’s protagonist is Rael, a Puerto Rican youth who spends his days tagging walls, starting fires, and getting involved in gangs.

A lot of the album’s best moments reflect the decaying grandeur of ’70s NYC—a time when New York had more in common with modern Detroit.

It’s a very, very long record that demands patience—a dying breed nowadays as streaming replaces physical copies and albums become less necessary—but it’s a rewarding listen with a lot of power.

Wyclef Jean – The Ecleftic (2 Sides II A Book)

At 10 years old I was almost entirely into rock music. I remember watching MuchMusic with my parents when Wyclef was playing a live set. Seeing a rapper performing with a full band and playing guitar solos was the perfect gateway experience for me to get into hip hop. My parents bought the CD that week and I’ve come back to it periodically ever since.

The record is true to its name—eclectic. It features everything from straightforward hip hop and R&B to reggae, ska, rock, country, various Caribbean styles, and folk. The album even features a duet with Kenny Rogers, 20 years before Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus linked up. Despite all this, it never feels disjointed.

Every time I return to this record it feels just as vibrant and powerful as it did on first listen, even though I can understand it much better now than when I was 10. If it has an equivalent in modern hip hop, it would probably be Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly which has a similar anything-goes mentality towards genre and doesn’t hold back with its social commentary.

Zoe Towne:

Before all this hit, I was working full-time as a cake decorator and doing vocals for Valois, as well as my other band, Jumpin’ Joel Flash and the Magic Machine. I was also in rehearsals for a play to be put on at the Ottawa Fringe Festival before that got shut down.

So things definitely went from 100 to zero fast.

I’m doing what I can from my own little tower here. I decided to release my first single under my own name—that’s coming out May 22. It’s called “Every Day,” and it’s actually ended up feeling a lot more relevant now that I’m separated from the people I love. Sabrina and I had recorded it back in January, and I finally decided it was ready to see the light of day.

Fortunately I’ve been able to do some more songwriting on my own. It was something I was putting more focus on this year. This time alone has sort of forced me to sit down and pay attention to it! I got a little USB mic and for the first time I’m experimenting with recording things at home. There’s a learning curve, but if I can get the hang of it, it will certainly make continuing to record our album during isolation a possibility!

I’ve also been watching a lot of Gilmore Girls, annoying my pet rabbit Molly, and drinking copious amounts of coffee. And the baking. Oh, the baking! I feel like I’m the only person not making sourdough right now, but I have been making a lot of cakes. Gotta have cake and tea in a crisis.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Dizzy lately. Their album Baby Teeth from 2018 is fantastic, and they’ve released two singles from their upcoming album The Sun and Her Scorch. Their music always calms me, and I find their lyrics always grab me. Their new stuff has been especially upbeat, which I need right now.

 I’ve also pretty consistently returned to Sidney Gish’s No Dogs Allowed. She’s so tongue in cheek, it’s fantastic. There’s something really beautiful in her bluntness. That, and I’m amazed that she recorded it all on her own at home. I’m finding that very inspiring and almost comforting right now.

 

Sabrina Madore:

My life before the shutdown was a mad dash towards the end of my second year studying graphic design at Algonquin College. I was lucky enough to have a smooth transition to online learning for my final weeks, and the semester has since mercifully wrapped up.

Prior to the pandemic, I was ramping up to spend my summer getting back into the Ottawa arts communities that I’d been dearly missing during the school year through local life-drawing groups and LIVE! On Elgin’s ridiculously fun open mics.

Although I work for the government doing UI and web design these days, my working background and formal training has actually been in the culinary field for the last seven years. So it’s been wonderful to spend more time in my own kitchen lately and putting those skills to use.

The last month and a half of social distancing has been an exercise in balance and patience for me. Aside from spending a little much-needed time in the garden to get some sun, I’ve been at my piano more often and more regularly than I’ve been in years. I’ve been learning and re-learning pieces I might not have otherwise made time for. I’ve been picking up Javascript with a classmate, and indulging the nerdier corners of my heart with little watch parties to catch up on recent anime and old Japanese shows and films. Other activities have included recording for collaborative music projects, solo songwriting for the first time in a long while, painting tasteful nudes (as usual), and trying to get to sleep before the sun comes up.

These days I’ve been reconnecting with Owen Pallett’s He Poos Clouds, which I’ve listened to in concentrated month-or-two long bursts over the last 10 years. It’s a really unique album packed with incredibly powerful orchestral arrangements, and haunting riffs and narratives that edge on the creepy. I’ll be honest, weird music like that really does it for me. Whenever I’m feeling a little overwhelmed I put on “Song Song Song” and it has a wonderful way of knocking me back to centre. The power of nostalgia and music as a tool to transport us to an array of different memories is something that we explore in the new single, and He Poos Clouds has been my unusual anchor of choice for some of my most unusual experiences.

I’ve also recently been listening to Good Kid’s self-titled EP. It’s great cooking music, and a supremely effective pick-me-up for slow days. Good Kid’s music, from its slick guitar riffs to their raw and at times coarse vocal delivery, throws me back to teenage days immersed in Asian Kung-Fu Generation’s punctuated sound. It appears a lot of people right now are shaving their heads and growing out beards, so this EP is pretty apropos for the times. We all went to high school with their front man, so it’s been awesome to follow their development and success out in Toronto over the last few years. They’re a super talented bunch, and I can’t wait to see what they do next.


About Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway

The sixth Genesis album, and the last studio album with frontman Peter Gabriel, Lamb initially received mixed critical reception. It has since received critical acclaim and amassed something of a cult following. The album holds the ninth spot on Rolling Stone’s “50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time” list.

About Wyclef Jean’s The Ecleftic (2 Sides II A Book)

Rolling Stone called Wyclef “hip-hop’s P.T. Barnum, gathering disparate elements under his big top to entertain one and all.” With guest appearances by Mary J. Blige, Youssou N’Dour, and Kenny Rogers, AV Club said that on this second solo album, Wyclef was “pushing himself to create the most outlandish and seemingly incompatible juxtapositions imaginable.”

About Dizzy’s Baby Teeth

NME said that the “rising Canadian popsters” had delivered an album with “plenty to chew on,” while Exclaim said that the band was “making delicate pop that wraps around listeners like sticky summer heat.”

About Sidney Gish’s No Dogs Allowed

Pitchfork wrote that Gish had collected “a treasure trove of self-deprecating wit, melodic complexity, and endearingly anxious energy.” The Guardian gave the album a full 5 stars and called it “mordant, charming indie pop.”

About Owen Pallett / Final Fantasy’s He Poos Clouds

Pitchfork called this 2006 Polaris Music Prize winner a “combination of pop idiom and classical practice.” Alpentine, the Owen Pallett fan site, writes that the album “took $8,000 to make, funded mostly by Arcade Fire” with whom he has been a touring musician.

About Good Kid’s EP

UK Bandcamp supporter whizzer0 calls this 2018 release “a fast-paced, bright and rocking debut that launches you into the summer and leaves you standing around, wondering where you can get some more.”


More from Valois:

Official website

Twitter

Facebook

Bandcamp

Lady Charles

Jumpin’ Joel Flash and the Magic Machine