Making art born from the pain of a broken heart can be a tricky situation, especially if the pain is still raw. The influx of anger, regret and disbelief can often cause the art to have too much of a time stamp on it, and in that way can end up becoming only a maudlin memory in retrospect. Of course this has never stopped anyone from going about making this kind of art, especially musicians.
Montreal singer/songwriter Genevieve Tremblay formed Abbesse after the dissolution of her lengthy relationship to Olivier Maguire with whom she played with in the pop-punk band Fifth Hour Hero, and later Rome Romeo. The dissolution of the couple’s emotional relationship also ended their working relationship and Rome Romeo disbanded.
Instead of taking a vow of silence Tremblay picked up a bass guitar, an instrument she had never played before, and began to write songs. She then formed Abbesse with former Rome Romeo band mates - brother Gabriel Tremblay on drums, Pascal Turcotte on guitars and bassist Jean-Philippe Hébert.
With their debut album, The Surface of our Needs, Tremblay and company have made the best of a bad situation. Compared to Tremblay’s earlier pop punk vocal work, her vocals on The Surface of our Needs are softer, sharper and much more suited to ‘80s synth pop aesthetic which the band uses as a base for the seven songs on The Surface of our Needs.
The album opens with the upbeat “Lit Up” an atmospherically restrained rocker on which Tremblay sets the tone of the album. One notices almost immediately the pain in her voice. It speaks to her professionalism as a singer in the way she keeps on a tight leash, never letting it interfere with her smooth and cool delivery. Even on the mellow dance-pop of “Bloom,” a throwback to ‘80s electronic Anglo-pop, one gets the sense that everything is not ok, but Tremblay disguises it with sad and silky vocals.
This is of course a break up album which means that the claws are gonna come out at some point, and they do quite bitterly and ferociously on “Heavy and Light.” The problem here is the typical trap that many artists fall into when writing about lost love, and that is that the song seemingly exists solely for the unhappy couple. Tremblay’s lyrics are meant to serve as stab wounds, and if any other listener besides the one intended should find solace in them it is simply collateral damage.
But when Tremblay is focused and controls and hones her anger she ends up with the universal raucous stomp rocker “Hell with It” the album’s touchstone. In contrast “The Surface of our Needs” is a mellow rocker that benefits from the same effect, with Tremblay again dropping the bitter angry woman routine and opening up as she belts out with striking, soul bearing vocals “I know what’s it’s like to lose yourself”.
Is The Surface of our Needs a breakup album? Largely I would say no, if only to keep it from being pigeonholed as such. Tremblay and her crew deserve more credit than that because given the albums source material, the staple “You” pronoun, so prevalently found on breakup albums is disguised or alluded to instead of always being the center of the song. So whether you’re a commitment-phobe or nursing a broken heart, or just a music lover The Surface of our Needs has what you need.
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