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Victoria’s Freak Heat Waves released their self-titled debut in 2012 to quiet acclaim, owing much of the angular guitar work of Women to their sound. These fellow Canadians extended far past proximate contemporaries however, as the late Christopher Reimer did in fact produce that first LP, playing somewhat of a culprit to a bit of indie rock insider trading. Having pressed those songs to wax, they pivoted on follow-up Bonnie’s State of Mind, incorporating synthesizers into their aural vocabulary, henceforth avoiding any comparison to the defunct Calgary foursome or mention of their formative years. The trio’s new release Beyond XXXL is a full about-face, embodying a niche that one could not predict would result from previous recordings.
What once factored out to be a fresh blend of post-punk, Krautrock, and synth pop has since devolved into a hellish vision of a lounge act. Sleaze and leisure suits permeate this acid trip of a night at the club, set somewhere in a disgusting part of the future where the martinis and cocaine of Studio 54 have been replaced with tranquilizers and other downers. “I won’t make that mistake again/But yeah, I want to,” singer Steven Lind drones early on, reaching lethargic depths thought to be unheard by the human ear. Tracking vocals must have been an arduous, painful experience, as his affect evokes the image of an anesthetized Ben Stein fronting Depeche Mode at their grimiest and most gothic.
Each song is packaged in a soundscape of dub bass, drum machines, and various electronic tinkering, all peppered heavily with Lind’s inescapable sing-speak, which—if you don’t pay too close of attention—could easily be mistaken for a Reverend Lovejoy sermon; enunciated drawl included (“What about baybay sisturrr?”). It slogs like this until its final quarter, where XXXL does at last pick up the slack. While wallowing in a repetitive, druggy haze indicative of Boroughs’ Interzone, “Toxic Talk Show” ramps up, stripping that scene and redressing it to suit the fast pace of Chiba City. An immediate outlier in both tempo and energy, the chaotic jam is a long-awaited break from the norm, largely due to the absence of vocals. Who could foresee that a pure instrumental of a system gone haywire was the gasp of surface air we’d seek on a Freak Heat Waves album? Closer “In the Dip of the Night” returns to the steady dub zombie march we’ve come to know so begrudgingly well up to this point, though it is redeemed by the addition of a truly awesome synth lead whose timbre is as slimy and malcontent as the album purports to be.
With all its talk of “prophet spiel” and “lucrative groove,” there is an unmistakable skepticism of music and its current digestion in regard to the consuming masses. In some ways, Beyond XXXL works as a protest/concept album, as the band paints a dystopic picture of music being fed to its mindless listeners by the drollest and numbest of circumstances. At face value, it’s made for those who love Iggy Pop’s The Idiot, but would specifically like a 45-minute reflection of “Nightclubbing.”
You may purchase the record here.
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