Ottawa, Ontario singer-songwriter Jacob Earl is a fairly prolific artist — one look at his website shows a list of recent releases that are available for download. For his latest missive, Before the Flood, Earl took to a very antiquated medium, the cassette tape. If you’re one of those people who’ve junked their tape deck, there’s a digital download coupon inside the cassette case. Before the Flood is remarkably ambitious and forward-looking for its 25-odd minute run time. Combining elements of bedroom pop, folk rock, hip hop and electronica, this album sprawls wildly and is as adventurous as Toronto musician Valery Gore’s Idols in the Dark Heart. In fact, Before the Flood is based off of Canadian author Margaret Atwood’s recent MaddAddam trilogy. Thus, you could call this a pretty literary work, or at least a musical adaptation of one.
There’s a stunning and remarkable intimacy to these songs. You can hear the warm hiss of analogue tape, even in the digital medium, and you are practically transported into Earl’s inner world throughout the course of this journey. Featuring samples of rap artists, turntablism and the rhymes of guest rapper Jesse Dangerously on “Oryx”, Before the Flood transcends genre. That’s what makes it so significant for a low-key release. If you call this album anything, you cannot call it tiresome or dull. There’s plenty to really wrap your mind around. While Earl’s mid-range voice might not be to all tastes, he has no trouble transitioning from erstwhile folk troubadour to aspiring rap star. This is a cassette that, while short, sprawls wildly all over the place, and it makes for a refreshing listen. There’s some real soul searching and sonic exploration at work here, and Earl has effortlessly created something artistic and worthy of being the soundtrack to a vernissage. Certainly, this is well worth checking out if you appreciate underground art and have a fondness for weighty and thoughtful material. It’s extremely well done.