Release Date: Feb 26, 2013
Record label: Arbutus
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Post-Rock
Doldrums (aka Airick Woodhead) emerged from the same rich Montreal scene that spawned Grimes; Lesser Evil makes this apparent, but not because it sounds derivative — it doesn't. Rather, they share the exact same ethos: both work in a way that eschews genre tradition and categorization in favour of a more varied, unconventional sound. Take lead single "She is the Wave," a sonic attack built from aural scraps that sounds here like laser beams, there like a rusty zipper.
Moving to Montreal from Toronto a few years ago drew Doldrums (aka Airick Woodhead) into one of the most exciting art pop scenes of the past few years, home to Grimes, tourmates Purity Ring, D'Eon, and others. His debut album Lesser Evil is in large part the product of those cities' DIY/noise scenes, where Woodhead came up throwing warehouse parties. His addictive single "Egypt", however, nods toward earlier such scenes in Brooklyn (Black Dice, Gang Gang Dance) and Baltimore (Dan Deacon): It's cacophonous and polyrhythmic, continuously falling apart and putting itself back together.
Doldrums, aka Airick Woodhead, is the Canadian's first project since the late '00s, when he fronted The Hidden Cameras-championed indie pop act Spiral Beach. That band, despite their riotous, anything-goes live shows, were downright conventional in comparison to Doldrums..
Montreal electronic producer Airick Woodhead's songs as Doldrums find a glimmering patchwork of electronic hybrids and wild combinations on his full-length debut Lesser Evil. Following a series of less traditional outlets for the release of his music (including a VHS video compilation, not exactly the most popular medium for distribution at the time of its 2010 release), Lesser Evil feels like the crystallization of Doldrums' body of work, centralizing all of the random tracks and unfinished thoughts into one cohesive, accessible part. After the scattershot "Fantasia Intro," Doldrums' approach snaps into focus with the stand-out track "Anomaly.
In the mood to have your mind twisted? Then dive into 22-year-old Canadian Airick Woodhead’s experiments. This, his debut, is thrilling and chaotic and, at its peak, catchy like Grimes. ‘She Is The Wave’ is nasty electronica, ‘Egypt’ has some soaring, looped vocals and ‘Anomaly’ is based around what sounds like a lost Pet Shop Boys hook.
Taking a stab at exactly what Doldrums is seems beside the point; it’s not a case of being beyond classification or transcending previous musical trajectories, but there’s certainly a noticeable tension operating as to what exactly Airick Woodhead is trying to achieve with this project. Lesser Evil — arriving just over three years after his grunge-electro cover of Portishead’s “Chase The Tear” — capitalizes on what was intriguing about his early sound and explores the bounds of his androgynous pop-jam. If one were to take the route of examining this as somewhat-pop music, with a conceptual disposition toward the cerebral and how a “pop” or “non-pop” sound might clash, intermingle, or simply fall apart, there’s immediately a distancing from the electro-pop movement: its self-confessed physicality and its celebratory nature.
Airick Woodhead, aka the Doldrums guy, grew up like most dystopically-inclined under-30 laptop musicians: getting his angst on to Radiohead. His favourite Radiohead album is probably Hail to the Thief, and to employ the style of critical analysis du jour, this information might be sufficient to gauge your prospective enjoyment of, or engagement with, or tolerance for Lesser Evil, the young Montreal man’s debut LP. But peer beneath the cosmic tetchiness and there’s an underworld of whirring thematic cogs.
It’s a common theme in pop that groups of like-minded artists all seem to emerge at once; specific enclaves of creative artistry all coalescing around one geographical area with every individual or group feeding off one another. In terms of idiosyncratic, primitive synth pop, a febrile group of arty types have emerged from the Canadian hubs of Montreal and Toronto in the past few years, led by the likes of Grimes and Purity Ring as well as the more introspective Majical Cloudz. Toronto born and now Montreal resident Airick Woodhead, who records under the name Doldrums, has been operating within this milieu for a few years, but is only now releasing his debut album Lesser Evil.
The word “androgynous” gets tossed around to describe the voice of Toronto by way of Montreal songsmith Airick Woodhead, who records under the name Doldrums, an awful lot. Chances are, if you’ve read a review online of his debut full-length album (including this review, I now suppose), you will see the word pop up, sometimes even repeatedly during the course of the discussion at hand. I’ll be honest with you, dear reader and listener: the first time I head Lesser Evil, I was convinced—absolutely convinced—Doldrums was the product of a female vocalist.
After a string of ambitious EPs, Canadian pop experimentalist Airick Woodhead, aka Doldrums, is releasing his first full-length album, Lesser Evil, a combination of peculiar intergalactic noises, heavy bass and eerie vocals that grew out of the same avant-pop scene that birthed acts like Grimes and Purity Ring. Like both of those artists, Woodhead’s music is packed with careful shifts in tone and mood: Some songs are cheerful while others are completely dark and creepy. If Doldrums were looking to make an album that could be labeled as disjointed but somehow still sound coherent, then he nailed it.As you venture down the fascinating road Woodhead has paved, you’re hit with all kinds of twists, turns and subtle digressions.
There are many supposed roots for the nom de plume of Airick Woodhead, a.k.a. Doldrums. Apparently the moniker has been extracted from contemporary fairy tale, The Phantom Tollbooth, named after the mysterious land where thinking and laughing aren’t allowed. It could also refer to his involvement in a semi-philosophical collective which is a “community reacting to overhype, the plasticity of modern youth culture and its ultimately alienating nature – his music deals with the loss of the individual in an increasingly altruistic society”.
It’s no fluke that three of the freshest breaths in the electronic-indie scene all hail from our neighbor to the north. Grimes, Purity Ring, and now Doldrums have been suckin’ that quality Canadian air for years. All unabashedly influenced by portions of The Knife’s now shrine-worthy Silent Shout, the 23-year-old Airick Woodhead (aka Doldrums) is the latest to step into the otherworld and come out with his debut: the claustrophobia-inducing Lesser Evil.
‘Experimental’ is a word that gets lugged around a lot. And annoyingly, it can distract listeners from forming an actual opinion on an artist, because rather focusing on the work in question, you’re instead using descriptions like ‘wacky’ and ‘…meets Aphex Twin’. It’s also how Airick Woodhead, aka Doldrums, has been widely characterised over the past couple of years, but there’s fire beneath the smoke: the former guitarist / vocalist of Toronto indie pop band Spiral Beach has ventured down the Ontario 401 express to Montreal, where he’s become BFFs with Grimes and started to, well, experiment.