Considering his career and the beatific sounds of this mix, it seems almost ironic my introduction to Joseph Shabason's music would have been his woozy, wonderful cover of a favourite classical piano piece, Satie's "Gymnopédie No. 1", released just in May. The piece is something of a study in minimalist composition and subdued melancholia.
They might not know it but Shabason's musical footprint likely stretches far back through the listening history of many a music nerd — the usual focus on him having played sax on albums and toured for acts such as The War on Drugs and Destroyer, including landmark albums like 'Lost in the Dream' (2014) and 'Kaputt' (2011). Those records sounds seem inextricably linked to the heavy nostalgic tones of that soaring saxophone.
In the case of Kaputt, reading a FACT piece on Shabason from a few years ago elucidates such an experience best in his own words.
“So I went in and just improvised over these songs. It could not have been more casual. I recorded for a few hours, I never heard the songs in advance,” he says. “We went for lunch and then I walked away. Six months later he [Destroyer's Dan Bejar] came back with the masters and I was like ‘Holy shit.’”
Holy shit, indeed. And yet, for all the epic indie bombast of such collaborators and his other Polaris-nominated group DIANA, Joseph's solo music shows a much more introspective approach, with almost new age-tinged, ambient-leaning music that such genre labels simply don't do justice.
A jazz studies graduate, Shabason is better described as a multi-instrumentalist and masterful producer who explores a plethora of synths, effects, and textures to create musical forms that are at once hazy and yet strikingly clear in sound, often incorporating samples of conversations and recorded speech across numerous projects.
The result is a series of mesmerizing, moody albums that shimmer, shine and pulse, with breathy woodwinds threaded through like a caramel ripple. See last year's 'Anne, EP', the preceding 'Anne' full-length or 2017's 'Aytche', not to mention the stories of their creation, and it won't take one long to understand the depth of his work.
Today, Shabason gifts us with a mix focusing on a different instrument altogether — the voice. The music explores mostly different pop forms he's taken to, with an emphasis on vocals, jumping nimbly between genres from track to track, highlighting a number of fellow Canadian artists and a few pleasant surprises along the way.
The cherry on top, Shabason's frequent collaborator Andre Ethier kindly let us feature a new painting which illustrates the kind of idyllic escape such bright and beautiful music can be in the ever-strange times of now. We hope you enjoy the view.
To tie things off, I threw a few questions Joseph's way, via email.
AM: So how have you been keeping during Covid times? Has it spurred more or less time for music? Other happenings?
JS: The first two months of Covid were devastating. We have a two year old and with both me and Kate working full time we got fucking rocked. I feel like by the end of month 2, I was basically feeling the worst I've ever felt in my entire life. Just an irritable and exhausted mess. Now that my son is back in daycare I feel like I have a new lease on life. That's not to say that I won't miss spending so much time with him at this age...but yeah, working + full time child care is not a good combo. Somehow though I have been making more music than ever. I've scored two films, released two singles and finished a full length album...so yeah. Still keeping busy.
AM: Is there a particular piece of music you'd like to say something about in this mix?
JS: Just to say that "Along The PCH On Oscar Night" [by Nicholas Krgovich] is one of the best pop songs ever written. I can't get enough of it.
AM: Potentially ridiculous question but if you could collaborate with one of the artists featured, who might it be and why?
JS: Probably Prefab Sprout. I feel like our production styles would jive well... Or maybe they'd just be bored once they'd realize that I have nothing to contribute... Because I've just been stealing their production moves for the last 3 years :(
AM: Any other new projects or work in progress you can mention?
JS: Yeah, I have a full length album coming out on Idée Fixe in September. It's a collab with one of the artists that's featured in this playlist... I'll let you guess who.
Yves Jarvis – On My Grind
Luka Kuplowsky feat. Felicity Williams – Anew Day
The Roches – Big Nuthin'
Virginia Astley – I'm Sorry
Nicholas Krgovich – Along The PCH On Oscar Night
Caroline Polachek – Look At Me Now
Paolo Conte – Sparring Partner
Bob Marley – Africa Unite
Donald Fagen – The Goodbye Look
Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins & Sonny Stitt – On The Sunny Side Of The Street
P.P. Arnold – Welcome Home
Paul McCartney – Junk
Prefab Sprout – Nightingales