Ladies and gentlemen, I’m here bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to present to you the monolithic brand new full-length from Toronto’s Find The Others. A project led by singer-songwriter Andy Sheppard, a producer at CBC’s The Signal, who left the conventions of a more regular musical world in his quest for a more vivid audio experience, Find The Others pierce the veil of limitation and offer up a breathtaking journey that treads the borderlands between ethereal trip and mainstream hook. I got the lead on the record, Empire of Time, from an ultra reliable source and immediately marked this project as something worthy of great mention.
I beseech you, reader, press play. Unleash the first song, “We Stared at the World.” The resulting payoff is one that I would seriously consider one of the best I have heard in my time writing for publications, and perhaps in my time spent listening to records in general. The tune begins with a swelling tract of beautifully effected guitar that leads into ethereal verses made up of such gorgeous male/female vocals that I guarantee will immediately capture the attention of all but the most stubborn of listeners. The androgyny of Sheppard’s vocals make it so that male and female are but one entity, singing some of the most fascinating lyrics I’ve heard from this kind of voice. An airy chorus marks a dynamic shift from wist to subtle celebration. Fripp-like guitartronic swells creep up in the second verse, providing an early example of this dude’s ability to layer and to make his music pay off with slow developments. The second chorus introduces an unconventional rhythm and a small string section. The biggest payoff comes after this chorus, when the arrangement finally opens up. The scope is doubled the moment the astounding percussion kicks in and the guitar and strings are allowed to take flight. The tune ends on a pleasingly minimalist note, which blew me away more than the grandest of climaxes ever could.
The second tune, “Night Owl,” takes a different path, playing out in a more chipper fashion, much like some of my favourite Marcy Playground tunes. It’s a very basic arrangement that captures with its youthful play, again like the aforementioned band, and the masterful instrumental highlights that will surprise listeners who would normally write off such a simple tune. “Light in a Bottle” takes the Eno approach, using repetition, piano-underlined melody, and bouncy ambient soundscapes to describe Sheppard’s fascination with mankind’s trapping of a pulsar.
The most notable song on the record, after “We Stared at the World,” is the soul-clenching masterpiece “Empire of Time.” Plaintive lyrics, which float effortlessly along on a grippingly gorgeous current of a melody, seem to describe different ages of war, and call for it all to stop — for peace, good will, brotherhood, and charity to prevail. A simple and nonetheless powerful chorus that is backed by sweetly ethereal female vocals ties everything together and provides a hook that should help more impatient listeners overcome the minimalist nature of the arrangement. There are no fireworks in the song, but it stands as punchy hit material. Such is the gift of Sheppard and his cadre of talented associates. Holy crap, dude.
“The Things You Want” is a pretty, wistful little gem. The captivating female vocals and woodwinds are the highlight on this one, with fantastic percussion, majestic strings, and jittery acoustic guitar further selling the picture. A glitchy, Peter Gabriel-like groove marks the oddball “This Vampire Has Seen Better Nights” as something very intriguing. Using vampire imagery to meditate on addiction, Sheppard further exposes his genius.
Whereas “This Vampire” presents a more ensemble band approach, “A Fine Line” conversely shows off the solo artist approach, with Sheppard’s vocal accompanying only his own guitar for much of the song. Some woodwinds pop up briefly, but this is, by and large, his very quiet show. “Meant For This” is the last song (see definition of ‘song’) on the record, and features more astoundingly subtle-yet-driving percussion. Some brilliant melodic percussion makes for a memorable bridge, while very sweet and stunning female backing vocals and a very impressive and easily cherishable melody make the rest of the song more than a winner.
The album concludes with a beautiful instrumental piece, “Lost Boys Choir,” which smacks of the best of Fripp & Eno. To the producer Valgeir Sigurðsson’s (who has worked with such notable names as Tim Hecker, Feist, Sigur Rós, and Björk) credit, even hiss is used brilliantly on this track. There is one final instrumental swell as the album fades out in true minimalist fashion.
I was invited to attend the Empire of Time album release, which went down this past Wednesday at the lovely Burdock Music Hall. I was awestruck by how captivated the audience was. Despite the band’s presentation sounding quite thin (From The Others performed as a three-piece — guitar/vocal, drums/percussion, and female backing vocal — and much of the ensemble edge of the album was lost, in this writer’s opinion) and the visual not quite living up to expectation (video projected at the stage are synced with the music to add depth to the show, but I felt they could have been used to greater effect by having less light on the band — having the projections playing out on their very surfaces instead of being relegated to the background where silhouettes tended to distract), I was quite impressed with the show. What Sheppard does with one guitar is astounding, and he was joined by percussionist extraordinaire Mark Mariash, and the lovely vocals of the very talented Robin Dann.
Staging the release at Burdock was another very wise decision. It is a very small but very classy venue. The atmosphere is one that is very intimate, setting a stage similar to that found on Empire of Time itself, and the sound was also incredible. I have never seen an audience so captivated by such subtle music. Not a sound was made during the songs, and everyone waited until the last note had rung out entirely before applauding respectfully. It was a most incredible experience for this fusspot — one I shall never forget.
In closing, Empire of Time is such a powerful record for me… I felt parts of it brush off during my initial listen that have stayed with me. I walked away from Empire of Time feeling like I had become better and more complete having simply heard it. One can’t honestly ask for more than that from a record. With such an exceptional record as a showcase, and with backing from a fantastic label (Forward Music Group), I can see Andy Sheppard and Find The Others being the ones to bring the minimalist message to the mainstream, and reshaping the musical landscape accordingly.
I don’t care who the hell you are, listen to this record.
RYAN SMITH spends a great deal of his time under troll bridges shaking his fist and hollering obscenities at the mainstream, but occasionally finds himself on the side of a pop act that the underground has disowned. A schizoid fan for the 21st century? Although he has a diverse musical taste that runs the gamut from black metal to country to most forms of jazz, Ryan’s first love will always be progressive music.