I am writing this Bombnivores review from Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island situated on the far reaches of eastern Canada. Charlottetown is the capital of Canada’s smallest province and is 4 time zones away from my home in Vancouver. I’m back in this pastoral setting where I lived for four years as a child to attend a family reunion—something that occurs about once every ten years.
The Maritimes are an insulated area of Canada where the long frigid winters break briefly for 3 months of glorious summer sun. Bombinores are centered in Halifax, Nova Scotia, the province just across the straight that cuts Prince Edward Island from the mainland so it’s fitting that I’m writing this review from this vantage point. To know one’s subject it’s important to know its environment. The truth is Bombnivores are a geographical anomaly. In an area that is known more for its Celtic roots or the 90’s indie pop influences of Sloan or Eric’s Trip, Bombnivores venture into less conventional territory. Core members Jamie Larade and Sheldon Kelly experiment with sound texture using live instrumentation and digital technologies to create deep and moving pieces of music. The songs on Metamorphonic hit their grooves faster than on their last album In Tension. In a recent message to me Sheldon explained,
“Metamorphonic” was an embrace of our new found creative process, the live performance & layered post-production—after “In Tension” being in a living room cocoon full of instruments, mics and wires. Rather than scratch our heads, we dove headfirst into the unknown through a catalogue of tracks more like blank canvasses.
Metamorphonic opens with “Initiator” a building tidal surge driven by a military snare that sets the tone for the subsequent tracks. It plays through shadows of later Amon Tobin like an exercise in grief—a palpable longing for what has been proven impossible. Jamie and Sheldon have studied their Radiohead albums carefully and the Thom York influence is a heavy presence over the live beats and carefully layered synths.
The second song “Sunset Spiller” cuts in with a heavy bass riff and reflects the album’s bent towards more standard song structures than on their previous releases. Even with this leaning to conventional song writing Bombnivores subvert the classic template with inventive sonic twists and rhythmic anomalies. The drums are mixed close to the surface and Jamie’s talent on the kit is undeniable. He swings these songs in a perfectly organic meter and shifts from straight beats to syncopation effortlessly with exacting precession.
Metamorphonic plays out as a series of personal and emotionally driven vignettes that hit like quick fever dreams. Emotions run close to the surface on most of these tracks—even on the songs where the vocals are purposefully buried and disguised the mournful tone is escapable.
In the song “Uplift” the vocals lay just below the surface and rise for the refrain of “Don’t want you, Don’t need to. Don’t want to. Don’t need you. Don’t need this at all in my head. Until I’m dead” The fatalistic nature of these lyrics counter the song title with a sense of urgency as if Sheldon is trying convince himself of something he knows to be false but wants desperately to believe. The Blazing Arrow era Blackilicious flavoured trumpet sweetens the sadness and illuminates Bombnivores’ inclination for Bay Area hip hop subtleties.
As the album progresses Bombnivores continue to mix tempos and grooves. The first single, “F+”, is a particularly powerful and danceable track with an unshakeable groove that feels like a warehouse party at 2 am just before the drugs start to turn and the atmosphere gets irretrievably dark. The low end pulses under a piano hook that sticks in the subconscious days after listening. They mix things up further with the song “Hallucinascent” that features guest singer Dan Jardine and merges Sujfan Stevens style vocals and Mr. Scruff jazz turntablism—a combination that works undeniably well.
Whether it’s the mournful instrumentation on “Melamin” or the simple descending notes that fall like single drops of water into a still pond on the outro track “Watching The Heat Curve” these songs convey the inventive heart of Bombnivores. Perhaps it’s the geographical isolation that propels Bombnivores creative drive or it could be simply that Sheldon and Jamie create because as artists they have no other choice. The why of it is irrelevant—what’s important is that they continue to produce innovative and imaginative music that forces us to pay attention.
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Bruce Wilson was born in the American south and after innumerable global relocations he now resides in Vancouver, British Columbia. Bruce grew up listening to his parents’ copy of The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat and quickly moved on to The Stooges, David Bowie, and The Dead Boys. These days he is a writer and sings for the Vancouver based band “Sunday Morning” who released their epymonious debut album in early 2017. He’d like to have a dog but his apartment is too small.