Published May 02, 2019Montreal singer-songwriter Jesse Mac Cormack took the long, gradual and likely rewarding path to the pivotal point he's reached today. A well-travelled performer, collaborator and producer, he gained a foothold as a soloist, with three EPs in a three-year span between 2014 and 2016, before laying out plans for his full-length debut.
That initial body of work sounded like it was conceived not in his northern, metropolitan home in Quebec, but somewhere in the deepest deserts of Nevada. Sparse, minimal, bluesy folk songs with a smoky Southern flavour, faraway echoes and tons of open space, they sketched scenes of isolation, like there was no other soul to be found for miles in either direction.
Now mostly takes place in that same setting, but much of that isolation and open space has been filled in with sounds that evoke the kind of woozy, hallucinatory sights and sensations you might expect from a peyote trip or the bending rays of a mirage.
With a beat based on an "African ternary rhythm" and a bed of cyclical, metronomic keyboards, "Give a Chance" makes it clear that Mac Cormack is going for something. He seems no longer predisposed to a steel-string approach to songwriting; the guitar is still a prominent instrument on the album — songs like the dusty, roguish "Now" and the Bedouin Soundclash-y "To the End" demonstrate that — but it's the many layers of phosphorescent synths and complex, purposed percussion that set it more among the works of MGMT and Talk Talk.
Some fine examples are the the groovy, exotic "No Love Go," the rousing rocker "Stay," the huge, heavenly interlude "Passageway," and the slow-burning, lyrically ensnaring Death Valley rambler "Nothing Lasts." With help from UK producer Matt Wiggins (Lorde, U2, Adele), Mac Cormack has still largely kept his established style, but he's also built it into a force of multitudes.
Now is an adventurous outing that may even be a little too ambitious for its own good; with exceptions, the vastness of it all can make it challenging to feel a sense of closeness to it. The biggest test is likely in finding the right audience, which likely lies somewhere between the Tame Impala and Arcade Fire set and the Sam Roberts and Matt Mays types. Jesse Mac Cormack has a high-minded, mesmerizing and meticulously mapped sound that demands a large locale — now it's just a matter of getting there. (Secret City)