Canadian producer and musician Bob Deveau may be best known for his drumming with acts such as the Olympic Symphonium, Grand Theft Bus, and Force Fields, but he’s also spent more than a decade as an electronic music producer under the name Senior Citizen. His first album featuring that alter ego, 2016’s The Hawk, was a long-gestating project that featured contributions from a number of vocalists and instrumentalists. The latest release under the Senior Citizen moniker, What Was That, features far fewer contributors but is no less satisfying or enjoyable.
What Was That is credited to Senior Citizen and Tim Walker, and the collaboration is much more cut-and-dried than the previous Senior Citizen release. Here, Deveau handles the music and production, while Walker – a fellow Canadian who also worked with Deveau as the principal songwriter of Grand Theft Bus – contributes lyrics and vocals. There are certainly similarities between What Was That and The Hawk, but overall, it’s a much more direct, pop-oriented effort. Granted, the beats are smartly infectious, and Deveau’s way around synths and sequencers shows a refreshingly smart approach to electronic pop. But the relentless, industrial-slanted drumming that dominated so much of The Hawk is dialed down for a warmer, more sedate feel.
“Are you who you say you are?” Walker sings in a slowed-down, distorted voice at the beginning of the opening track, “To Be and Not to Seem”. It’s a skeletal bit of synthfunk, slinky, seductive, and more than a little quirky. “No Pressure” works along the same lines, but it’s faster and sleeker, with Walker singing, preening, and shouting about how he works best when he’s up against a deadline. It seems like odd, almost soulless subject matter, but Walker is helplessly lost in Deveau’s beats and production, and it becomes a subtle dancefloor banger in short order.
There are moments when What Was That broaches current events while infusing emotions like guilt and sadness. The first single, “Tell Me When It’s Safe”, was inspired by Walker’s cousin’s COVID diagnosis. “She was out with friends to dinner one night,” Walker explains in the press release, “following all the proper protocols, and was exposed to it by someone who was not. Despite this, the guilt she and her family felt and the shame from some in their community – both real and perceived – was hard on them.” Walker adds that the song is not specifically about her, but her situation certainly provided the inspiration. “Maybe I’m innocent,” he sings, “But the guilt is all too real / It hangs upon my heart / And it will until I heal.” Albums identified as “made during the isolation of COVID” have been commonplace for nearly two years now. However, this is one of the few that includes actual lyrical references to the pandemic.
Other highlights on What Was That include “Motormouth”, with its subtle grind of distortion and Walker’s growling chorus providing a nice balance to the sparse, insistent beat. “Negative Waves” is a breezy, soul/funk ballad with sun-kissed production that seems charmingly retro and achingly contemporary. Then there’s the closing track, “Intrigue”, that takes cues from darker, more ruminative corners of synth-driven pop. The fact that it’s one of the more mature, adventurous moments on What Was That does little to diminish the album’s lighter moments. Deveau and Walker have found plenty of light and shade to spread around the album’s nine tracks, making for a deeply satisfying release on a number of levels.