Caylie Staples has immersed herself in so many musical styles that it’s hard to tell where she feels most comfortable. Judging by the execution of her myriad projects, Staples is equally adept at several genres, tackling avant-rock with the band Anthems of the Void, dream-noise with the duo Glass Salt, and a stunning 2021 vocal/cello improvisational project (The Lily) with cellist Matthew Brubeck. With the solo album Future Memory, the Toronto native attacks electronic-based pop with skill and gusto.
Although Future Memory has more pop flavor than most of Staples’ previous projects, that innocuous label is deceptive. The music contains a great deal of texture and sophistication, and the subject matter is equally heavy. Exploring themes of love, resilience, rebirth, awakening, freedom, and nature, the album – as its title implies – “speaks to the interplay of time and our human experience of relationships”, according to the press materials. “In these eight original songs,” Staples writes, “I look to the past and the future and explore how they relate to the present and the choices we make.”
Future Memory starts with a bang, as “I’ve Never Met You” marries a sophisticated-yet-insistent electronic beat with lyrics about a lover Staples has yet to meet. “When you gonna come to me / In your full moon / All the way from Jupiter / And tell me by balloon?” But Future Memory isn’t all dancefloor beats, not by a long shot. The multi-layered “Years” has a more epic feel, veering between spacey Bjork-isms and subtle reggae touches.
Staples, who sings and plays keyboards, is joined by co-producer Jonas Bonnetta, who handles synth, bass, drums, percussion, and clarinet. The two artists create a mesmerizing world within the confines of a cabin studio in the countryside of Mountain Grove, Ontario, whether it’s the low-key, ethereal soul shuffle of “Monarch” or the gorgeous ballad, “Believe What You Want”. The latter wisely uses Staples’ chunky Fender Rhodes notes to add naked vulnerability to the sustained sci-fi synth backdrop.
One of the most impressive facets of Future Memory is Staples’ ability to craft unique, imaginative arrangements on top of songs that would sound perfectly acceptable in any format with any instrumentation. It’s not enough for the album to be compositionally strong; Staples and Connetta build amazingly textured and multi-layered musical worlds on every track. “Deep Memory”, a song about whales calling out to each other despite interruption from ocean sonar testing (and how that also acts as a metaphor for human interaction), slowly builds in intensity, as the lush keyboards are joined by percussive rattling and steady beats without ever going distractingly off-track.
While the beats all over this album are intoxicating and addictive, Staples’ knack for ballads is just as strong. Future Memory closes with “Where Our Love Lives”, the Rhodes creating the musical spine of a song that sounds like a combination of a long-lost jazz standard and an eloquent tone poem performed on the nightclub of a distant spacecraft. “Freedom is where our love lives,” Staples sings. As a testament to the power of love and resilience across timelines, Future Memory is a deeply felt statement. As a collection of synth-heavy, sophisticated musical gestures, it absolutely soars.