New Audio: Joseph Shabason’s Trippy Re-work of Absolutely Free’s “How to Paint Clouds”

Acclaimed Toronto-based psych pop outfit Absolutely Free — multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Matt King, Michael Claxton (bass, synths) and Moshe Fisher-Rozenberg (drums, synths) — is an offshoot of experimental rock outfit DD/MM/YYYY, an act whose multi-rhythmic, boundary pushing raison d’être provided a springboard for Absolutely Free’s sound and approach. 

Their full-length debut, 2014’s Absolutely Free. received a Polaris Prize nomination and widespread critical applause from the likes of PitchforkThe FADERStereogumBrooklynVegan,Exclaim!Under the RadarPopMattersAllMusic and countless others. 

Over the past decade, the members of the Absolutely Free have cultivated and developed a long-held reputation for an unorthodox approach to both conceiving and performing music: Since the release of Absolutely Free., the Toronto-based psych pop act have released an array of multimedia projects and releases including 2019’s Geneva Freeport EP, which features U.S. Girls‘ Meg Remy. Adding to a growing profile they’ve toured alongside the likes of AlvvaysYouth Lagoon and JOVM mainstays Preoccupations, and they’ve shared bills with Beak>, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, U.S. Girls and Fucked Up

Absolutely Free’s highly-anticipated Jorge Elbrecht-produced sophomore album Aftertouch was released last year through Boiled Records. Deriving its name from a the name of a synthesizer function, the album is fueled by the trio’s desire to “. . . to create an album that wasn’t bound by a physical ability to perform it live, to not only expand our palette, but also to consider the live performance as something completely separate.”

Culling from a myriad of influences including krautrock, New Wave, early electronic dance music, and an array of international psych and funk complications, the album sonically and aesthetically finds the trio shifting in, around and between analog and digital sounds, and real and fabricated images while simultaneously reveling in and refuting the loss of tactility. Thematically, the album explores narratives of hegemony, grief and exploitation in the present while sustaining curiosity for the unknown post-everything future. 

I managed to write about three of the album’s singles:

  • Interface,” a dreamily maximalist song featuring glistening synth arpeggios, percussive and angular guitar blasts, a chugging bass line and an insistent rhythm paired with plaintive vocals that reminded me of  Amoral-era Violens — in particular, “Trance Like Turn.”
  • Remaining Light” is a sprawling track with two distinct parts — a cinematic and atmospheric instrumental introduction featuring twinkling keys, glistening synths and clinking marimba. At around the 2:20 mark, the song slowly morphs into a slow-burning and brooding bit of pop featuring King’s plaintive, reverb drenched vocals ethereally floating over the mix. The end result is a song that — to my ears, at least — sounded like a slick synthesis of The Fixx’s “Sign of Fire” and Amoral-era Violens. 
  • Epilogue,” a slow-burning and reflective track that slowly builds into a maximalist crescendo towards its conclusion centered around a lush, New Wave-like arrangement featuring glistening synth arpeggios, skittering beats, a relentless motorik groove paired with King’s achingly plaintive vocals ethereally floating over the mix. But underneath the breezy and expansive arrangement, “Epilogue” managed to possess a wistful, melancholy air.

Because of their exploratory approach, the members of Absolutely Free have revisited Aftertouch album track “How to Paint Clouds” with How to Repaint Clouds, an eight-track remix effort using on MIDI (Multi-Instrument Digital Interface) files — a digital language that contains harmonic and rhythmic blueprints, but no actual recordings.

“The song’s lyrics reflect upon the transcience of taste and how an artist’s feelings toward their work change over time,” the band says. “When a musician revisits their old songs, new interpretations are informed by changing contexts and evolving preferences. We wanted to stray from traditional modes of remixes based upon manipulating a song’s individual audio tracks, to provide the arftists with an unusual freedom from the original material, to create new sounds and reassemble the motifs of the song.”

The eight remixes interpret the track’s original structures untethered from its instrumentation, across a diverse aesthetic range from dark techno to psych rock. The first remix by Toronto-based musician Joseph Shabason turns the song into an otherworldly, woozy and ambient, New Age-like meditation centered around distorted saxophone bleats paired with twinkling synths.

How to Repaint Clouds is slated for a May 5, 2022 release through Boiled Records and will arrive with a tactile rendering: 20 one-of-a-kind AI-generated cloud painting turntable slipmats.