Posts Tagged ‘Shehzaad Jiwani’

The Toronto punk quartet takes a giant leap forward on their second album, crafting noise rock that’s not just aggressive, but keenly self-aware. With an album in constant conflict with itself, Outer Heaven pairs the manic energy of punk with a probing intellect that reaches beyond the genre. Vocalist-guitarist Shehzaad Jiwani described the band’s sophomore effort as an attempt “to make the noise more melodic and the melodies more dissonant.” Over the course of just 10 songs, Greys oscillate between hard and soft, anxious and acerbic, but they never sound anything less than fully engaged.

Four years ago, I probably wouldn’t have included Toronto punk band Greys as a band I like. There were experimental inklings in their two 2016 releases, Warm Shadow and Outer Heaven, but they finally threw out the rulebook on their 2019 album Age Hasn’t Spoiled You. You’ll find noise-punk, post-rock, electronic and psychedelic drone wrapped up in a beautiful and shadowy package, but it’s not without moments of accessible anthemics either (“These Things Happen,” “Arc Light”).

It’s a dense listen that draws on everything from punk, noise and psych-pop to jazz, trip-hop and industrial. They sneak in unconventional influences in a way that doesn’t seem disjointed or immediately jarring. There’s a magnetic sprawl to this album, and each musical tangent is a new, charming landscape along a picturesque, spontaneous drive to nowhere in particular. Though that’s not to say this album is directionless. The driving seven-minute centerpiece, “Aphantasia,” holds the album together and seamlessly swings like a pendulum from one idea to the next.

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Maybe it’s obtuse to include a genre-defying album like this in a genre-specific list, but if the point of punk is to push boundaries and question conventional wisdom, then Age Hasn’t Spoiled You seems like a noble inclusion. Greys traverse new frontiers, musical guile that make this album an immensely stimulating one.

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The ten-song, 39-minute long player delivers on the promises the Toronto quartet made on 2015’s Repulsion EP, placing the band in more spacious environments and letting them build upon their noise rock foundation by incorporating new textures and dynamics to temper their trademark onslaught of discordance, which was already perfected on their debut record, 2014’s If Anything. Where their formative material saw them paying homage to their heroes, the new album sees Greys making a concentrated effort to realize their own sound. Whether that means employing tape drones, drum machines and synthesizers as noise-making tools on “Sorcerer,” or breaking into a three-part harmony adorned with sleigh bells in the middle of the hardcore intensity found on “In For A Penny,” these four young men prove that they are more than up for a challenge.

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In a very literal way, singer/guitarist Shehzaad Jiwani has made it clear on this record that he wants his voice to be heard. Each song contains a sweet-and-sour earworm that brings his characteristically self-aware, often satirical lyrics to the forefront, and his serrated shout is almost entirely swapped for a more tuneful approach. Almost. Lyrically, his focus has sharpened, moving from inward to outward. This is best evident on first single “No Star,” wherein Jiwani addresses the aftermath of the shootings at Bataclan in Paris by declaring, “Don’t shoot/I’m not the enemy.”

“It’s difficult to feel like you have a voice in these situations when you’ve grown up in a predominantly white community and don’t identify with either side,” explains Jiwani. “On the one hand, some people are attacking anyone who looks remotely like you, but on the other hand, the people who are trying to defend you are also speaking on your behalf, taking away your voice. It’s like I had nowhere to turn because no one was listening to me, like I wasn’t able to speak for myself.”

Each song filters its subject matter through Jiwani’s wryly incisive perception of those topics, from a news story about a group of teens barbarically murdering their classmate on album opener “Cruelty,” to the advent of technological singularity on closer “My Life As A Cloud.” Elsewhere, on “Blown Out,” the frontman confronts his own mental health by painting it in the context of a relationship with a partner who doesn’t fully understand the unrelenting complexities of depression. The climax of the song sees him wailing, “I want you to see/There’s something wrong with me,” which would be a harrowing moment if it wasn’t the single catchiest song Greys have ever written.

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With their intense live show documented admirably on their previous releases – and honed alongside bands like Death From Above 1979, Viet Cong, Speedy Ortiz, Cloud Nothings, Perfect Pussy and their Buzz Records brethren Dilly Dally – the four piece sought to explore their more atmospheric tendencies on Outer Heaven. Produced by longtime collaborator Mike Rocha at the hallowed Hotel 2 Tango studio in Montreal (Arcade Fire, Godspeed You! Black Emperor), the record displays unprecedented depth and range for Greys, calling to mind groups as disparate as Sonic Youth, Swell Maps and The Swirlies without ever losing sight of what defines the band – a distinct mixture of melody and dissonance, order and chaos, volume and substance.