Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Saulnier Sings About Death Dreams

Any time Paul Saulnier and Benjamin Nelson play together is a good thing. This time out, the garage rock duo from Kingston, Ontario, takes on a more ominous tone with the album they wrote on the road.

Instead of being about life in Kingston like their critically acclaimed debut, P.S. I Love You pulls back the curtain on Saulnier's subconscious away from home. During the tour, he had reoccurring dreams about his own mortality and the slow burn instrumental that opens the album is described as a death march.

The remaining ten tracks are not as downbeat. Saulnier has a way about himself. Even as his voice cracks over "I wish this summer was my last summer" in Future Dontcare, he still sets it against a bigger, upbeat sonic sound. And bigger sound is the direction he wants the band to go.

Enigmatic noise makes up most of Death Dreams. 

Much of it seems to do with how music shaped Saulnier. The soft-spoken singer originally fell in love with music because of metal. But then he stumbled into freewheeling improvisational jazz before finding himself making garage rock, lo-fi, and pop noise.

Many of his riffs are written down during long sessions of free play. He just plays on and then when he or Nelson hears something they like, he writes it down and eventually locks it into a song. Once it's locked, he sticks with it onstage, but only because improvisation would throw off his bass pedal work.

That might change sooner or later. While the band doesn't have any intention of adding new members for now, they have brought in a part-time player to occasionally cover guitar (but never the 12-string) or keyboards, depending on the song. With a third player, the best track is likely to sound even bigger, especially if Saulnier asks their touring member to play keys like a bass organ.

Don't Go thrills every step of the way as an introspective epic. It has a big beat, with Nelson (who also sings backup on this song) playing off Saulnier's need to play loud. This is also the one track where the vocal cracks suit the song as Saulnier bleats out that he was having the worst weekend of his life.

The energy here is electrifying, obviously driven in part by Saulnier's fear and awe of being on the road for the first tour. The same feeling comes across when he sings Toronto. He calls it a pretty city, even if it pushed his paranoia buttons.

Saulnier is a brilliantly raw lyricist who delivers soul shaky vocals.

The riffs and hooks inside Toronto are also among the best, even if the voice doesn't feel as fitting after Don't Go. Right, the vocals are something you have to become accustomed to. Saulnier doesn't consider himself a singer, and the cracking can sometimes be hit or miss despite the volatility of it.

For me, it distracts on Red Quarter and First Contact, but works brilliantly on Sentimental Dreams and Princess Towers. Yet, after watching him perform a few times, the vocals seem to come from someplace deep that can't be duplicated by someone else. He doesn't sing as much as he makes sounds that happen to form words to fit with the music. It's like his pipes are an extension of the guitar.

To make it work more often than not, producer Matt Rogalsky deserves some props. It's his arrangements that Saulnier credits with making the album sound bigger and more complex. That makes sense.

What doesn't make sense is how much Saulnier trusts Rogalsky to master the music because trust doesn't come easy for him. The impassioned compositions and lyrics that make up most of the P.S. I Love You music belong to him.

Saulnier originally launched a a solo career in 2006. His friend Nelson (who was a former bandmate in a band that went bust) lent some artwork for the album cover. It wasn't until Saulnier decided a touring drummer would be better than a drum kit that they began to form a duo. And it seemed methodically slow and steady before Nelson began collaborating on drum compositions.

Death Dreams By P.S. I Love You Unnerves At 6.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Death Dreams is definitely a progression for this sometimes paradoxical frontman with a deeply entrenched desire to capture compositions as he hears them in his head. He even call himself obsessive compulsive in his approach to composing P.S. I Love You music. And somehow I think that makes everything he does work all the more.

Death Dreams by P.S. I Love You is out on iTunes under the Paper Bag Records label. You can also pick up the CD at Barnes & Noble. You can order or download Death Dreams from Amazon. They have a growing list of tour dates on their Facebook page.
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