Published Oct 21, 2014You could be forgiven for having forgotten about Chocolat. The Montréal band, whose brilliant 2008 debut Piano elegant remains one of the last decade's finest rock albums, went dormant in 2010 as its singer, Jimmy Hunt, embarked a successful solo career that has since yielded a pair of critically acclaimed LPs.
Returning with its original lineup mostly intact (the only newcomer is Emmanuel Ethier, who replaces Dale Macdonald on guitars), the Chocolat of 2014 is nevertheless a very different animal. Where Piano elegant emphasized taut, country-tinged three-minute rock'n'roll songs that recalled early Beatles singles with occasional nods to the Cramps or the Kinks, Tss tss — despite its brief 33-minute runtime — is an altogether more expansive affair, with several songs featuring long instrumental passages, abrupt tonal changes and proggy touches.
Opener "Burn Out" immediately signals this new direction with ghostly vocals and a hazy blend of pulsing, robotic krautrock rhythms and the psychotic psych rock of Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd. The cavernous, menacing "Méfiez-vous du Boogaloo" bristles, rumbles and howls, slashing guitar riffs crashing into swirling keyboards. On the title track, Chocolat embrace the spacy, disorienting progressive rock of synth-heavy 1970s sci-fi soundtracks. The second half of Tss tss finds the group stretching songs beyond the five-minute mark with similarly fiery intensity, whether on the dramatic, sweeping chorus of the mantra-like "Fantôme" or the six minutes of "Apocalypse," which adds a layer of glistening, glacial synth textures to Brian Hildebrand and Ysael Pépin's metronomic rhythm section.
If Tss tss often feels like the sound of seasoned musicians rediscovering the pleasures of playing as a unit — the group originally reconvened for a few jams, perhaps to gather enough material for a seven-inch — it is also an exciting new direction for Chocolat. Here's hoping that this is only the first chapter of the next phase for one of Canada's best bands. (Grosse Boîte)