The sort-of sequel to Leaper's "1992," album opener "1994" seeks a stable dwelling place, and it's a proper tone-setter. Riding in on a brooding bass line, a gloomy guitar's forced to share the background with a ghostly synth while Jesse Crowe acknowledges the privilege of stable living accommodations. "It's time to kiss… concrete," she coos poetically. The next track, "Retreat (Light the Fire)" pitch bends a techno pulse into a warped world of isolating tones, unhinged electricity competing with Crowe's voice, technology having its way with nature. It's the weirdest thing anyone's heard from Beliefs so far, and the curveballs keep coming: on "Divided Youth (Only Lovers)," Crowe intones hypnotically over sparse, reverberant percussion and overdrive-loaded guitar psychedelia; "Comb" sounds like the fascistic campaign of some deranged robot overlord.
Trading out their dreamy palette of perfuming guitar atmospheres for colder, harsher environs, Habitat is far from the sun-kissed shoegaze of Jesse Crowe and Josh Korody's previous two records. If Leaper was a reaffirmation of what they knew, this is an experiment in letting go, and a love letter to the spaces that facilitate it. It makes sense that the duo had the live video for "Comb" filmed at the Baby G, the smaller version of the Toronto band's previously favoured base for local gigs, the Garrison; as local concert venues dropped like flies throughout the year, the former became a haven for emerging acts, experimental projects and generally displaced weirdos. The landscape's taken on a hostile, claustrophobic energy, and the pair's plugged into it with dutiful aplomb.
Stripping back the wombish layers of tremolo-picked guitar chords has left room for a more finessed rhythm section, and that translates here to an anxious post-punk sound, brooding bass leads and artfully scattered drum shuffles steering the action down mysterious, claustrophobic passages while Korody hangs back to tend some avant-industrial sound on a modular synth. His own vocal leads are restricted here to a short handful of tracks ("Comb," "Anti," "Swamp Core"), distorted and cold as though absorbed by the machine, while Crowe guides us through most of the darkness, her foreboding, gothic vocals welcome at centre stage.
When Exclaim! interviewed the duo surrounding the release of Leaper in 2015, they hinted at the new direction — Korody had just released his first tape under his Nailbiter moniker, and Beliefs were already toying around with ways to incorporate his new implements — but nothing suggested the about-face presented here, an exciting dynamic shift that has the band approaching each song as a blank slate.
If Beliefs have lost their centre, they've found a new voice — and in the process, they've delivered their most vital, present and thrilling record yet. (Hand Drawn Dracula / Outside Music)