Toronto native Airick Woodhead of Doldrums comes from the same Montreal DIY art-pop scene as Grimes’ Claire Boucher and D’Eon and draws from a similar source to craft the sound on his debut, Lesser Evil. Like Boucher, Woodhead twists and manipulates his voice until it becomes an instrument, blending in with the synths and distortion.
After a short track simply titled “Intro”, the album’s tone is set by “Anomaly”, which fuses static synths, whimsical vocals, and—if I’m correct—that noise MacBooks make when you change the volume. “Anomaly” resembles the experimentation of Boucher, but also the sound of Gang Gang Dance, Animal Collective, and Kate Bush’s The Dreaming—that is, if Bush had had access to GarageBand and the influence of the Internet when she recorded that album.
In fact, Woodhead carefully merges technology into every aspect of his debut, right down to the dead pixels on the album cover. Woodhead’s production makes use of the quintessential bleeps and bloops of current electronic music, but with an innovative and experimental manic sense to each whoosh, crunch, and grind. Sometimes, Woodhead’s voice screeches and yelps at levels that may leave you on the verge of irritation.
Evil features an intricate and complicated arrangement that requires a few listens to be appreciated. On this album, you can recognize that there’s a core melody in each song yet find it difficult to pinpoint.
A skilled waiter can pull the tablecloth off the table without disturbing the glassware. Listening to Lesser Evil, I sometimes feel like the glassware: just as I begin to recognize a consistency in each song, it’s pulled out from under me and I can only wobble until I regain my balance.
It’s only on replaying it that Evil becomes rewarding. The screechy, buzzing synths start to make sense, and the melody we suspected was there becomes clearer. This is especially true in the tracks “Sunrise” and “Egypt”, two standout songs that show that Woodhead isn’t trying to exhaust us, but rather that there’s a method to the apparent madness.
This contrast between the admirable skill and detail of Woodhead’s production and the feeling that this complexity is shutting you out is fascinating. It’s what makes it both so difficult and so rewarding to listen to Lesser Evil. Each track sounds different from the one before it, yet they all appear to have been designed out of a fixation on a marrying music with technology. It builds on a sound popular in current independent music, apparently with the intent to overload and challenge the listener’s senses.
Overall, Woodhead created an impressive debut, with each of the 11 tracks complementing each other enough to justify the phrase “concept album”. The album is initially intriguing enough to pull you in, but only reveals its underlying beauty after multiple listens. Just stick with it—I promise it will pay off. MMMM