Montreal’s Alden Penner released last June his latest musical offering, the five-track EP Canada in Space. Penner explains that “there are more Canadians than any other nationality represented in the planned Mars colony. [This] EP is an imagining of the dreams, reveries, phantasms, hallucinations, psycho-spiritual projections, naïve mythologies, actions, visions and experiences of an abandoned crew before, during and after its permanent journey to Mars; the compression of time; dispersion, fragmentation of states and generations in space; ultimate detachment & wormholes.”
The EP opens up with the seven and a half minute-long “Breathe to Burn”. The track builds up on the simple guitar-plucked and almost ominous melody first with echoing vocals, then with an almost bass-like electronic sound, followed by drums that come as a dramatic contrast because of their crispness.
This is not a typical pop song more than it is an experience, one that flips halfway through into an electric guitar-driven punk rock track with a catchy groove. I can’t help but wonder which definition of “chimera” Penner is referring to. Seeing that the song started with the words “No country/Only the Monument”, I’m leaning towards its first definition, that of a plan of action not possible to achieve: an attempt at creating a country that ended up in a mere monument rather than in a cohesive whole larger than the sum of its parts that takes care of every single one of its elements.
“Will I” is built on a seeming cacophony of synthesizer notes in which vocals and other instruments are weaved in, almost like an auditory autostereogram. In order to perceive the final song, one must overcome the brain’s tendency to pick one aspect of a melody to build its understand of a song on.
In “Exegesis”, one can’t help but wonder what explanation Penner, who sings “We wait now for the exegesis”, is waiting for. The track, built on a single guitar-plucked melody, embodies the feeling of an almost innocent confusion asking for an explanation, what with the gently strummed guitar and the way the two sets of vocals are not quite in sync. The slight, almost infinitesimal shift between the two give the song a sometimes gloomy feel.
“Meditate” closes off the EP without the usual sounds one would associate with meditation—gongs and humming come to mind—but it definitely has some of its methodology, such as repetition and a certain hypnotic, heartbeat-like quality to the melody. The Eastern-sounding strings seem to be a tribute of sorts to the cultures that are known to use meditational processes as part of their journey to enlightenment. But ultimately this is an alternative rock track with a dose of psychedelia.
Near the midway mark, the nine-minute tune adds on various layers, sometimes together, sometimes separately, reminding me a lot of a group of friends jamming together. Some of the layers are straightforward and interesting; others are seemingly random and even jarring, a reflection perhaps of how broad the results of meditation can be.
Canada in Space is mostly an experimental album meant to be experienced and a promise of things to come. Tracks are available for streaming on SoundCloud. More information is available on Penner’s Facebook page.