Next Stop Wonderland

Rich Aucoin


Haven Sounds, 2019

Reviewed by Kent Manthie                                                  WMP6bc7022d-57d7-45d9-a6e8-514d1e8397a1[1]

The new album, Release, from Halifax’s Rich Aucoin has just hit the streets. There are some fascinating things to hear on this thing. For starters, he opens the album with a 1:37 cut that is a spoken word message over some ethereal music. “The Base” has a very wise and uplifting theme which is basically that the only thing “real” in life is this moment; that the past is “a memory” and the future, “an anticipation; also a thought”. So the only thing one can be completely certain of, without any distortions or mere hopes that may or may not materialize, is the eternal “now”; that brief second that is the present. Of course, it never lasts; after this moment, another follows and then another and another and so on. This is, of course, what eventually makes the future concrete and simultaneously turns these singular moments from the “now” into the past. With its beautiful, airy backing music, the whole vibe of “The Base” comes across as something delightful; palatable and not heavy-handed or dogmatic.

Aucoin has a new video out now, too, for the song “The Other”, which incorporates this dystopian nightmare vignette which is ambitious, though the ingredients for it, unfortunately, are not the most original. This possible future scenario envisions a fascist state in which all the people are forced to wear various colored masks that marks their caste or class, etc. and, of course, no one is allowed to associate with anyone from any other class, or, as the video shows, anyone who wears a differently colored mask. As with all these dystopian fantasies (think: Logan’s Run; The Handmaid’s Tale; or a psychology class experiment in which the students participate by using the idea of wearing differently colored wristbands, t-shirts, masks, hats or whatever so as to stand in for race or class, etc. ) there’s always some sort of resistance that is either already at work or else someone – who turns out to be the hero of the story – who, up until the point has never stopped to give any thought to the smiling fascism “masked” by insidious, ominous creeps who, while not openly shooting people in the back of the head but do so where no one can see or hear, enact a fiction of being a helpful, secure, even democratic society when nothing could be further from the truth. But since this is only a video and not a two-and-a-half hour film there’s nothing wrong with using a formula that, though not original, still has a powerful message and will be easily picked up by those who see it.

Speaking of cinematic connections, Rich put together a great movie-music combo which works together fabulously: he took Disney’s classic animated feature, Alice in Wonderland, which, in itself, is a beautifully animated, very colorful work and in place of the dialogue and whatever incidental music was there (it’s been decades since I last saw any of Alice…) and overlaid Release, in its entirety, in its place. The result is the same beautiful eye candy of the Disney film mixed with Aucoin’s delicious, dreamy ear candy. If you’d like to check it out, here’s the link to it: hope you like it!

Moving on, there’s some individual tracks worth pointing out. Interesting material on Release as well. “The Dream” has a great hook to it, i.e., the keyboard riff in the beginning and which continues underneath the rest of the layered material. Rich’s singing on “The Dream” has a kind of dance-pop feel to it, not unlike the falsetto one recalls from some of Prince’s sexy cuts. But don’t let the small comparison to Prince influence you, one way or another because I’m not at all implying Aucoin is another Prince. I just thought his vocal on “The Dream” sounded a little like Prince did when he’d be singing something slow and sexy. Another thing about “The Dream”: it’s an apt title for the song; it is dreamy. There’s a thick atmospheric ethereality to it which can be infectious and keep on going in your head long after it’s ceased playing. “The Middle” continues in a similar vein but with a little more “beat” to it. Catchy, that’s not an out-of-place description. “The Past” is another wonderful song that really gets into your brain.

From the start, Release does have this infectious groove to it that captures your attention and, if in the right mood or mindset, can keep you hooked, waiting to hear what’s next. And Aucoin doesn’t let down. Of course, this isn’t for everybody so obviously there’s going to be variations on the reaction to this album but for those who are conscious of good production, sequential continuity and overall sensuousness, Release lives up to its name. There’s more to it than the parts I mention but to capture all its essence in one review would take up pages to convey the charm it exudes as well as that Pleasuredome aura. This one that you’ll just have to take my word for and immerse yourself into its fluffy folds to appreciate. -KM.

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