Bernice is a collection of five presumably upstanding and almost certainly affable souls from the great Canadian city of Toronto, who happen to have a new album out. It is called Puff LP: In the air without a shape. Presumably, the “LP” in the album’s title is to differentiate it from last year’s Puff EP, a five-track wonder of glitchy electronics and spacey instrumentals, all topped with the airy, nearly deadpan vocals of Robin Dann. Puff LP is barely longer than Puff EP, the LP topping off at seven tracks to the EP’s five, though it earns its distinction as an album via unity of vision. Where Puff EP may well have earned its name as a result of Bernice’s penchant for floaty minimalism, such an approach becomes the entire motivation on Puff LP, as the music floats further into the stratosphere, into the mesosphere, into the ionosphere, even scrapes against deep space for a moment or two before floating back towards earth.
If that sounds like a little much, you should know that Bernice peppers all the floatiness and formlessness that gives the album its subtitle with just enough terrestrial handholds to keep listeners from tuning out.
Sometimes these handholds are in the instrumental. “Glue” is a perfect track to introduce the album, starting as it does with a pleasantly slinky bassline under Dann’s musings of childhood. It still tends to wander a bit; that bassline doesn’t last forever, as sound effects phase in and out, guitars as cleanly electric as synths play jazz chords, and drums flirt with a beat while never quite attaching to one. In its last minute-and-a-half, though, its disparate pieces come together to form a beautiful, laconic hip-hop beat, punctuated by perfectly syncopated cowbell. Dann is simply singing lists at this point — lists of colors, of fruit, of flowers — but it doesn’t matter because it’s so easy to be consumed by the utter pleasantness of everything going on around her. It’s a beautiful track, the standout of the album.
That is not to give short shrift to the band’s contributions on the rest of Puff LP. “He’s the Moon” pulses along with an insistent quarter-note bassline and the occasional clank, with some well-placed record-player pops for the sake of atmosphere. “St. Lucia” is one of two tracks that previously appeared on Puff EP, and although the EP’s version was far more centered on beats with almost EDM undertones, this version far more subtly gets under your skin while still retaining the melodies that made the original appealing.
Throughout Puff LP, however, it is Dann’s voice that holds everything together. Multi-tracked harmonies on the aforementioned “St. Lucia” are an essential part of what makes it irresistible. “Passenger Plane” is a track whose structure shares a lot in common with “Glue”, where the beat doesn’t really kick in until the song is about half over, but Dann’s soaring, yet still sweetly understated vocal renders the first half of the song pleasantly pretty, and its latter half utterly gorgeous. Dann employs a lower, more chest-focused vocal for “David”, a beautiful song roughly about finding your way out of a rut. Perhaps the only place where Dann, and Bernice as a result, falters is on “He’s the Moon”, whose chorus of “He’s the moon, and I live inside of the moon” is both a bit precious and repetitive.
If that seems like a small thing to be irritated by, it’s because Puff LP: In the air without a shape is otherwise unrelentingly pleasant and likable. Tethered to no style or genre, it exists as its own tiny universe of sound, unassuming and intriguing, a treasure waiting to be uncovered. By the end, it’s easy to wish there were more of it, though that may be as much a signal as anything that its seven tracks are just enough. Puff LP is lovely.