Montréal-based shoegazers Bodywash — Chris Steward and Rosie Long Dector — can trace their origins back to when the pair met while attending McGill University. But when they met, the pair didn’t immediately share a common musical language: Steward grew up in London listening to celestial dream pop while Dector grew up in Toronto listening to folk and Canadiana. The music they began writing together saw the pair bridging their influences. And with the release of 2016’s self-titled EP and 2019’s full-length debut, Comforter, the Montréal-based duo firmly established their sound — slow-burning and dreamy material centered around ethereal vocals, intricate guitar lines and pulsating synths.
The Canadian shoegazers’ sophomore album I Held the Shape While I Could is slated for an April 14, 2023 release through Light Organ Records. . When touring to support Comforter was cut short by the pandemic, the duo used the unexpected hiatus to write new material, which was darker, more experimental and more invigorating than its predecessor, and managed to reflect on Steward’s and Long Dector’s separate and shared experiences of losing a sense of place, the way something once solid can slip between your fingers, and their attempts to build something new from the psychological and emotional fallout.
Late last year, I wrote about the sophomore album’s expansive first single, “Kind of Light.” Beginning with a slow-burning and elegiac intro featuring glistening organ and a skittering yet propulsive kick pattern that slow builds up and breaks into a high energy boom bap-like breakbeat paired with scorching guitar squealing and wobbling bass synths. Long Decter’s ethereal and achingly plaintive vocals expressing profound, heart-wrenching despair — and hope. The song suggests that while loss is natural and sadly expected there can be hope; that there are only a handful of things in our lives that are truly permanent. And that ultimately for the most part, it can get better.
“I wrote ‘Kind of Light’ in bed,” Long Decter says. ““It was the fall of 2018 and Chris and I were both going through experiences of learning not to trust what feels like home. He sent me a plugin for a new organ sound, suggesting it might provide inspiration. I sent him back chords, a kick pattern, and some vocals about trying to pull your legs back; trying to take your energy out of the wreckage and put it into yourself. The process of deciding what’s worth keeping, what can be reworked and what gets tossed in the fire. A process that is devastating and also weirdly invigorating, because you can see new possibilities opening up in front of you. And you can start to look for light somewhere else.”
I Held the Shape While I Could‘s second single, the woozy “Massif Central” features glistening synth bursts, shimmering and angular post punk-meets-shoegaeze-like textures paired with a relentless motorik groove, stormy guitar feedback and Steward’s ethereal whispers recounting an experience of Kafka-esque, bureaucratic purgatory: a typo in a government letter caused Steward to lose his legal work status in Canada. The song manages to evoke the sensation of having your life flipped upside down, then being hopelessly stuck and having no say or agency in your situation.
“After eight years living in Canada, in the Spring of 2021, a government clerical error caused me to lose my legal status here,” Steward explains. “As a UK national, I lost my right to work. My savings trickled away during months where I could do little but pace the corners of my apartment. I was prepared to pack my bags and leave as the life I’d hoped to construct for myself seemed to vanish into a bureaucratic abyss.”
“‘Massif’ is the sound of wailing into a cliff and not knowing if you’ll hear an echo,” continued Steward. “The spoken word is inspired by a squirrel that was trapped in the wall behind my bed, clawing its way to salvation. With the help of friends, family, music, and a few immigration lawyers (and the rest of my savings), I’m now a permanent resident here. But this song remains as testament to my experience with an exploitative institution.”
Directed by Jordan Allen, the accompanying video for “Massif Central” is a dizzying collage of live footage, directed by Brandon Kaufman, distorted VHS-like visuals and eerie. retro-futuristic -inspired graphics. “With ‘Massif Central,’ we wanted to encapsulate the panic and urgency that Chris experienced, and have the abstracts portray the anxiety and hopelessness one can feel at the hands of bureaucracy,” Allen explains. “I chose graphics that heavily leaned into feelings of being lost in a maze, with towering structures and horizon lines pulling you into them. The idea was that the camera would be both a CCTV view of the band, but also glitching to reveal the more emotionally internal visual aspects.”