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Jesse Mac Cormack SOLO LP

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Jesse Mac Cormack SOLO. Secret City Records

Montreal songwriter and producer Jesse Mac Cormack is back with new album SOLO.

An album about moving forwards, change and having the courage to love yourself, SOLO is the soundtrack of Jesse’s journey these past two years. A softer album than his debut LP NOW (2019), it is nonetheless riven by the fear and flood of disappointment that marked these recent years - and the singer’s childhood.

As on NOW, Mac Cormack plays almost every instrument himself, surrounded by a soundtrack of one. Across 10 tracks, the singer summons a sonic world that’s razor-edged and intimate, influenced by the textured electronics of James Blake, Little Dragon, Caribou and SUUNS. Drum machines stutter under blooms of synths; curses float below swirls of loving sound.

Multi-talented, Mac Cormack also produced all the volumes of Helena Deland’s acclaimed Altogether Unaccompanied, as well as several recordings for Rosie Valland, Philippe Brach, Sara-Danielle, Lonny and many others. A home-studio wizard and blazing guitarist, he was tapped to salute his love for Stevie Ray Vaughan and Muddy Waters at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Jesse has forged a solid background that has been influenced by notable encounters and collaborations with such bands as Patrick Watson, The Barr Brothers, Cat Power, Half Moon Run and Cri.

Review

‘Blue World’ opens the record in pensive and downbeat mode. Mac Cormack’s voice is childlike as an assertive rhythm beats out alongside waves of accompanying melodic electronic music. There’s a strong melody while the song reeks of originality and distinction. And it’s a song to listen to or dance to. In any event it’s rich in emotion and musicality. ‘Let It Go’ moved upbeat with a rocky edge and while it’s more pedestrian it still buzzes with excitement and danceable rhythm. ‘NHFN’ is dark and contemplative with a punctuated, distinctive electronic percussive backdrop. In just three songs I’m struck by the originality and skill of this young man. In short, he’s special.

‘A&E’ opens quietly before a louder tumbling rhythmic backdrop appears behind the gentle vocal. I’m reminded of music from Radiohead in the sounds and especially the almost desperate vocal. Beautiful. ‘Untitled’ follows again in Radiohead style (no doubt a strong influence in Cormack’s music) but more adventurous and uncompromising. ‘L.A. Sky’ is a stuttered tune that bleeds emotion and adventure in sound. It’s unique but like all that’s here is totally accessible. If I was to pick a favourite, this would be one of them.

‘LBTA’ is stunning in its originality and impact. First there’s the distant sharp instrumental sounds, then there’s arguably one of the most expressoive and moving vocals on the album. Frankly, I’m blown away. ‘All At Once’ is like a Pink Floyd ticking time-bomb as it gathers pace and the vocal gradually surfaces and floats over the instrumental sounds. That characteristic melody is present and correct while waves of massed instruments form a departing gift to the listener.

‘The Hills’ sounds like a heartbeat with more traditional sounds enveloping it. The vocal is deeper and quiet as another strong melody carries the song along on waves of emotion. ‘Pattern’ closes the record on a foggy rhythm - sounding life ebbing away. Mac Cormack has created something very special and precious here, and taken electronic music to a new level while creating a potential album of the year.

5/5

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Background

Jesse Mac Cormack’s at last beginning to see what his music is all about. His second studio album is piercing as a look, tender as a goodbye - a collection of electronic songs that lift and crash like waves upon a shore. After a recording process that was by turns nourishing and peaceful, lonely and anguished, the gifts of time, distance and therapy have allowed the Montreal songwriter to finally understand everything he wants to say.

Whatever you go through, you’re always going to be alone with what you’re living,” Mac Cormack tells me. It’s a sunny day and we’re sitting on his rooftop patio, beside the garden boxes he carefully tends. The squirrels keep getting the tomatoes, he says with a laugh. He is calm about it. Calm but focused: some things we can control; some we can’t.

This was a hard-won lesson. In the deepest depths of the Pandemic, with a relationship in its ending, Mac Cormack recalls sending a text to his therapist: “I’m not meeting with you every week just to hang out,” the bilingual musician wrote. “Je veux que ça saigne” - for the work to “bleed.” To mean something. The next time they met, his therapist explained: “That message you sent me? You were really sending it to yourself. You were taking a decision.”

That decision - to move forward, to change, to really see oneself-is the journey of the past two years and also of SOLO, which gleams and shivers and pulses with the heartbeat of an artist in beautiful evolution. It was recorded over the course of a year and a half, from the before-times to lockdown to a newly tranquil present. This is a softer album than his first album NOW (2019), Mac Cormack’s acclaimed debut, but it’s riven by the fear and flood and disappointment that marked these recent years - and the singer’s childhood. Everything he is-it comes from what he lived through. And now, finally understanding this, that has begun to stop being in reaction to it.

Flash back to spring 2020 - holed up in a chalet, Mac Cormack is sitting on the floor with a computer, a keyboard, a guitar. He makes his music in silence, trying not to disturb anyone. ‘A&E’ is a song about the failure of love, the impossibility of paradise (its lyrics appear twice on SOLO, evaporating into the closing track, ‘Pattern’). Another tune, ‘LBTA’, strains toward love’s memory-toward a time when passion felt simpler, close enough to touch. “I wish you were my runaway,” Mac Cormack sang into the mic. During that original performance, this was the expression of a wish: that a certain person had been the one. Hearing it now, the 32-year-old Mac Cormack hears something different: the way he tried to escape himself, into somebody else.

Other tracks reckon with denial, apocalypse (BLUE WORLD) and a psychedelic reverie at the Festival de musique émergente in Rouen-Noranda (ALL AT ONCE). ‘Untitled’ is a dream of new love and its potential, whereas ‘L.A. Sky’ and ‘The Hills’ both play visits to California: the first for Los Angeles’s supposedly endless possibility, the second for the story of an imaginary Hollywood star and his reckless finale. Throughout it all, Mac Cormack summons a sonic world that’s razor-edged and intimate, influenced by the textured electronics of James Blake, Little Dragon, Caribou and SUUNS. Once again, Mac Cormack plays almost every instrument himself, surrounded by a soundtrack of one. Drum machines stutter under blooms of synths; curses float below swirls of loving sound. Mac Cormack has hidden so much discomfort inside an album that’s warm and glimmering, like a storm cloud before its strike - and even now, after the season’s passed, there’s still lightning in the air.

https://www.jessemaccormack.com/

https://www.secretcityrecords.com/


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