This is a celebratory affair from start to finish, and constructed in such a way as to put a big grin on your face.
Halifax, Nova Scotia's Rich Aucoin is a guy who is clearly influenced by children's stories. His first EP, 2007's Personal Publication, was designed as an alternate soundtrack to How the Grinch Stole Christmas. His latest release and second album, Ephemeral, is inspired by the tale of The Little Prince and, in a rather Dark Side of the Rainbow move, it runs in synchronization with the 1979 claymation short film adaptation of the novella created by Will Vinton. However, Aucoin's passion for all things youthful doesn't end there: he once travelled across Canada entirely by bicycle to raise money for Childhood Cancer Canada. Aucoin's concerts are also youth-like: he custom orders a giant parachute for fans to clamour underneath, and his live show is such a spectacle that a commentator for CBC Radio 3 has said that"“he's already holding stadium-calibre, interactive live spectacles in the confines of clubs." Even his albums take on a commemorative aspect: 2011's We’re All Dying to Live, which was longlisted for the Polaris Music Prize in 2012, featured more than 500 guest musicians, including Jay Ferguson of Sloan and Becky Ninkovic of You Say Party. The release party for that record featured more than 80 musicians on stage. Clearly, Rich Aucoin likes a good shindig.
And that's what makes Ephemeral so special in its dance grooves. This is an anthemic collection of head nodding and foot tapping electro-pop, and you might find yourselves reaching for comparisons at times to Prince (the big Prince, I suppose) if not Sufjan Stevens's electronica leanings. This is a celebratory affair from start to finish, and constructed in such a way as to put a big grin on your face. All this masks the album's rather heady concept: "This album was written to explore the same concepts and themes contained in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's densely filled children's novella; themes of the ephemerality of human existence, the absurdity of life, the values placed upon the pursuit of power, wealth and knowledge," says Aucoin by way of a press release. "Isolation and relationships are a big focus in the book and the record, and the realization that our relationships are the most important part of our short existence." However true this statement may be, the lyrics do take a backseat to some of the orchestrated noodling ("Always the Same") and the general party vibe of this record. Still, as weighty as the themes might be, put on your dancing shoes for this one.
The album starts off rather incongruously with the mostly instrumental track "Meaning in Life". A keyboard line gradually builds and builds, before a thudding bass line, starburst keyboards and a background chorus of distorted voices kick in. But just as the song is revving up, it is suddenly aborted and cut short. This leads to "Want to Believe", which is a sliced-and-diced stab at modern electronica, again with a thudding and propulsive bass line and enough sound effects bouncing between speakers that you could play an auditory version of Pong with the song. Single "Are You Experiencing?" could almost pass for a Polyphonic Spree song with its chanted background choir, and, by now, it becomes apparent that Aucoin is a master of multi-tracking various vocals to create a big festive affair. "Yelling in Sleep" is the album's new wave moment, all tricked out with a wavy synthesizer that would jack up the Cars. "They Say Obey" skitters all over the place, before slinking into a locked bass groove, and here Aucoin sounds vaguely Prince-like – it's also a faster paced take on Spoon's "I Turn My Camera On", at least in the similarities between vocal phrasings. "City I Love", meanwhile, with its brassy nature, comes off as an electronic take on a Broken Social Scene song. "Four More Years" is all dirty funk with a chicken-scratch bassline. "I Am Sorry" is a glitchy slow jam with processed voices at the outset. "Let It Go" is an '80s-style raveup worthy of Depeche Mode. And, finally, "Always the Same" is all Arcade Fire in its use of strings.
Ephemeral's flaw lies in its brevity: the album runs about a half hour long, so just when you're getting your groove on, it's all over and you're left to pick the confetti off the floor. Its dance nature also makes it hard to view this as a concept album of sorts; you concentrate on the beats and the overall vibe of melancholy happiness, instead of lending your ears to the album's weightier philosophy. That aside, Ephemeral is a pretty good party for those who like to check in and then check out of a get-together. You can tell that a great deal of care and precision went into making the album, and it is stellar in terms of its production and studio wizardry. All in all, a childlike sense of wonder permeates Ephemeral, which is apt given the artist's background and source of inspiration for the record. It'd be interested to see if this record does actually synch up with the short film version of The Little Prince, but, as it stands now, this disc stands on its own as a platter of party anthems ready to serve. While most of the songs are barely three minutes long, there's a swell of euphoria that sweeps over the listener, if listened to in full. Basically, this album proves that Rich Aucoin is a child at heart. It'll be interesting to see what happens when he decides to make a grown-up record.