The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Stunning & Atrocious Zara Hedderman , August 27th, 2021 08:19

Montreal's queer quartet return with an aural comfort blanket, writes Zara Hedderman

Everyone has either an item of clothing or a blanket that provides an immediate sense of security and comfort. My go-to is a navy cardigan purchased from a charity shop when I was 15, approximately the same time I got into The Spinto Band, specifically their 2005 breakthrough LP, Nice and Nicely Done. It was an album I sought out and lived in as frequently as my tattered cardigan. Such aural reassurance has presented itself on numerous occasions since. Most recently, it arrived on the long-awaited return of Montreal-based queer quartet Fleece with Stunning & Atrocious, their most accessible and sonically conventional record.

That’s not to say conventional equates to boring. Not in the slightest. Stunning & Atrocious, and its 14 songs, simply adhere to melodic patterns which follow a more linear trajectory than 2017’s Voyager and their near-monstrous debut Scavenger. Across the tracklist, the quartet shift casually between dreamlike arrangements pinned down by the gorgeous ripples of guitar and vocals reverb ('Why Can’t We Be Alone' and 'Something Real') and swap heavier grunge sensibilities for sweeter R'n'B tinged arrangements like 'Do U Mind? (Leave The Light On)'. For anyone entering the band at this stage in their career, the gorgeous textures layered throughout opener 'All My Money' coupled with the warmth emanating from vocalist Matt Rogers is enough to convince you to stick around for the ensuing 48 minutes.

Fleece gained Megan Ennenberg on bass and guitarist Jameson Daniel in the four years since the previous album. Oh, and there was the Covid-19 pandemic. Much of the material for their third offering was written and recorded over an extended period from late-2018 and 2020. More time in the studio facilitated the group to fine-tune their songwriting and consciously focus on making it as collaborative as possible. On this occasion, Ennenberg penned and took the lead on 'Bodies Lie', an infectious blend of Weyes Blood’s most recent dalliance with 1970s Laurel Canyon pop folk and the indie-rock guitar motifs that characterised the aforementioned Nice and Nicely Done. Elsewhere, the shared experiences of all four members of life on the road and navigating toxic relationships has informed the lyrical content.

It’s not all hardship dominating the narrative arc. 'Upside Down' grabs your attention with as much intent as Rogers' initial flirtatious encounter recounted in this uptempo arrangement. "Sexy man on the sidewalk / Let me greet you with my eyeballs / It ain't politically correct so / I’ll stop ogling you / And I'm sorry if you feel weird now."

The colloquial nature of Fleece’s lyricism, as is the case with relaying this awkward exchange (which eventually leads to a mutual flirtation), amongst others documented across the record, makes for both a charming and relatable listening experience. It’s easy for the listener to recognise aspects of themselves in the song. Comparatively, 'Love Song For The Haters' delves into the adverse effects of toxic relationships: "You're not the reason for this song / It’s to remind me that the trauma you cause was just your insecurities playing tricks on my mind." Juxtaposing the weighty subject matter with a beautifully wistful interplay of woozy guitars and softly played drums makes for a tremendously captivating moment within the record, which maintains itself into 'Bodies Lie'.

At their best, Fleece herald Flaming Lips' more contained instrumentation ('Inner Tube') while other moments transport listeners back to the mid-noughties with traces of Bombay Bicycle Club and Cloud Control sprinkled across the record. With this exceptionally accessible and inviting record, Fleece go above and beyond to make proceedings as bright, breezy, dreamy and dynamic as possible. It’s certainly one to slip into when you’re seeking aural comfort.