Innovative, yet unpretentious Canadian music has cast something of a high-profile spell this year. From the hushed simplicity of Tasseomancy, through to the enormity of Arcade Fire’s more recent critical success, as well as the likes of Austra, Braids and The Weeknd, the apparent renewed fascination placed upon the Canadian nation’s musical output this year is surely set to rise even more with the long-awaited release of New Look’s self-titled Future Pop debut.
Alongside the teasing unveilings of the wonderful ‘The Ballad’ in May, coupled with a debut full-length release through !K7 Records, New Look certainly know how to build up anticipation among their ever-expanding fan base. And the standard and vast variety of the music that they have created on New Look ensures that their electronic wares fit firmly alongside !K7 staples Apparat, Nightmares On Wax and When Saints Go Machine, albeit in a much subtler, minimal manner.
While on paper there’s much about New Look’s make up that could potentially read like a clichéd, cut-and-paste indie duo description – ridiculously good looking model/DJ couple meet and decide to make music together, recording in Berlin, Brooklyn and Toronto along the way – there’s nothing pretentious or indeed predictable about the music that Sarah Ruba and Adam Pavao create together. Rather, New Look is one of the most varied and joyful releases of the year so far, due in part to its range of inspirations and focal points.
From New Look’s opening synth-soaked introduction with ‘Nap On The Bow’, the album continues to transform throughout the record, with no two songs sounding the same. As an album that’s been almost three years in the making, this comes as no surprise, and even to unfamiliar ears the record exudes attention to detail, from every fuzz-filled reverberation in the background, down to barely audible drum pads. It is this sheer meticulousness that separates New Look from many of their peers, and it is an attribute that is sure to silence any critics certain to initially dismiss the duo as yet another buzz-worthy, boy/girl electronic entity.
With its looping melodies and weaving bass lines, each track contained within New Look follows a pattern that continually focuses around a single melody. It is this simplicity that allows them to be creative with the rest of their music. While sounding wholly modern, the pair like to hark back to 80s electro of old – think Visage, Soft Cell and Ultravox, not Human League – and their penchant for analogue equipment, MIDI gaps and double-tracked female vocals accentuates this to perfection.
Ruba’s vocals, ever transforming and consuming, are another nucleus for the band, while Pavao’s crisp production continually underpins and emphasises his partner’s melodies. Lyrically, New Look’s songs are both heartfelt and snappy: while ‘Numbers’ encompasses the latter – “The telephone is not a toy/ It has the power to destroy” – ‘Teen Need’ sums up adolescent angst and longing to perfection with Ruba’s semi chanted chorus of, “Hardcore metaphor, I just can’t wait no more” and “It makes me ache, this heartbreak/ I just can’t wait, there’s no escape” as well as her conflicting, breathy asides of “I love you” and “I hate you.”
In the very centrepiece of New Look is the enthralling ‘The Ballad’ – the starting point for countless fans’ love affairs with the band – a track that retains its initial captivating nature as Ruba soulfully sings, “This is the part when everybody says they love you so/ You know I love you so.” Yet wrapped around the lead single is firstly ‘A Light’ and consequently ‘Teen Need’. While there is not one weak song on the record, these three tracks in succession are particularly powerful, especially in their stark vocal and rhythmic differences, which in turn highlight the pair’s breadth of scope. For exactly where the duo’s success lies is in the fact that they tread the path perfectly between 80s eccentricity and future pop sounds: they are collectively current, retrospective and pioneering.
While the record’s ending is, admittedly, rather unusual – with final track ‘Everything’ closing in an uncharacteristically abrupt manner – the album as a whole is as diverse as it is thrilling. It’s to the band’s credit that while each track within New Look is completely distinctive – from the thundering, foreboding bass line in ‘Drive You Home’, the games console beeping of ‘Relax Your Mind’, ‘You & I’s single use of Pavao’s vocals, through to the many vocal leaps of ‘So Real’ – the record as a whole sounds entirely co-joined. This is an album that unfolds and reveals more after each and every listen, and one that truly deserves either a decent pair of headphones or a front-of-the-stage presence in order to retain every nuance of sound, each crisp vocal line and every echoing thud and bleep. One of the best debut releases of the year, without a doubt.