Art d'Ecco's Glam Rock Is Crystal Clear 'In Standard Definition'

Art d'Ecco's Glam Rock Is Crystal Clear 'In Standard Definition'
Art d'Ecco wanted to do something impulsive. It was 2016, and he was feeling listless a few shows into a tour for an album that wasn't doing very well. Wandering around a local mall, d'Ecco had a sudden urge. He ducked into a wig store and picked out a black bob, grabbing a stash of makeup on the way. "I don't know what I was going for," he said in a 2018 interview with The Georgia Straight, "but I was like — fuck it!"

So goes the story of how d'Ecco transformed himself from bearded rocker to glam rock character — pageboy-meets-Rocky Horror Picture Show. When he premiered the persona on his 2018 album Trespasser, critics and listeners talked about the way he looked just as much — if not more than — the way he sounded. Now, with his appearance well-established, d'Ecco looks to deepen his musical craft on In Standard Definition, a kinetic concept album that offers a suitable showcase for his arch performance.

The raw materials for In Standard Definition emerged while d'Ecco was in transit. Travelling and touring, he found himself jotting down fragments of melody in motel rooms — the hum of a television set constantly in the background. d'Ecco became hounded by the ubiquitous streams of media that followed him from place to place. "We're constantly… consuming various forms of entertainment," he said in a press release, describing the ideas behind the album. "We feel less close with each other, and closer to the strangers who make us feel good."

That's a pretty broad, paint-by-numbers concern about the modern age and it may not seem like sufficient fodder for a compelling concept album. Fortunately, In Standard Definition prefers to explore its ideas in sonic rather than literal terms. Over the course of the album, d'Ecco clicks through 12 tracks of glam rock, as if holding a TV remote behind his back. Occasionally, the album tunes in to instrumental interludes, like "Channel 7 (Pilot Season)": a cinematic synth loop that could easily have been pulled from the Twin Peaks soundtrack.

When those interludes fade out — and d'Ecco's voice breaks in — it arrives as instrument of its own: low in the mix, a unit of sound more than meaning. At times, d'Ecco is all percussion, landing hard on syllabic pairs: "Night fall / It's on," "I need / your kind," "A thought / surmised." Elsewhere, on "Birds of Prey," his voice becomes pure opera in a careening falsetto, gazing down on the guitar line below.

Certain threads of ideas — TV, media, celebrity — gradually accumulate across the record. All three converge in "TV God," whose lyrics warn forebodingly of the titular deity, described as "that face… on the channel." The album's title track approaches similar cultural obsessions with a hazy, nostalgic bent. "We're turning out to an old-time movie," d'Ecco says with a sigh, "French cinema with the volume off."

It's a classic scene for d'Ecco, who has never hidden his longing for the past. In Standard Definition furthers his desire, through a new (or, rather, old) production process. Recording for the album was done in analog, a result of a collaboration with producer Colin Stewart — known for his work with Destroyer, among others. The effect is a set of tapes wound with energy, suffusing the record's calculated structure with flashes of organic movement. (Paper Bag)