Bernice's Subverted Pop Shines Brilliantly on 'Eau de Bonjourno'

BY Chris BrysonPublished Mar 1, 2021

Bernice's entrancing music holds no bounds — the Toronto-based group are keen to throw genre expectations to the wind, and ultimately for the best. Keeping things unexpected and askew are what Bernice excel at, and with their second LP, Eau de Bonjourno, the follow-up to 2018's acclaimed Puff LP: In the air without a shape, they prove there's no limit to the joy of the creative heart.

The brainchild of songwriter and musician Robin Dann, Bernice are rooted in expansive experimental pop that weaves elements of jazz, electro, R&B and soul into something simultaneously complex and playful, and utterly unique. Dann wrote Eau de Bonjourno with long-time collaborators Daniel Fortin (bass), Felicity Williams (vocals), Thom Gill (keys/guitar), and Philippe Melanson (e-percussion/drums), at a Toronto Islands artist centre. Between them, they've performed with Bahamas, Andy Shauf, Lido Pimienta, Beverly Glenn-Copeland and others, and their extensive CVs are apparent from the first song. Adding to the album's breadth, Bernice collaborated with acclaimed producer and multi-instrumentalist Shahzad Ismaily, who's worked with artists like Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello, Lou Reed and John Zorn. For all its complexity, Eau de Bonjourno feels seamless and in the moment; the culmination of creative minds unafraid to take things in new directions.

The album's loose tracks are laced together with quirky yet perceptive lyrics through capricious, calculated shifts in mood and mode, like the jazzy galactic swagger of opener "Groove Elation" and "Personal Bubble," which jaunts through a funhouse of weird rhythms and sounds before spiralling out on wavering sax blurts. Following along with similar dynamics, "Empty Cup" progresses as if Bernice are flying through Julia Holter's Aviary, marked by twinkling bells and stars and twittering birds, until the band busts into liquid funk and one of the record's most danceable moments to carry the song out. The tinkling keys and shambling electronic beats of "It's Me, Robin" are paired with Dann's narrative intermittently questioning and affirming "Who are you?" amongst lines like: "So clear today, what I need to convey, okay / It's so much less simple / To give yourself the same love you receive, believe in your inner value / Who are you?" The song eventually wades into a shimmering sea of skipping drums, wafting sax and flittering instrumentals, with Dann repeating "Who are you?" with a sense of openness and revelation, like she's on the path to knowing.

One of the most striking things about Bernice's music is its ability to evoke a whimsical yet grounded feeling, both musically and lyrically, like with the dreamy, transient longing of "Lone Swan" and the sprawling and morphing effervescence of "Big Mato," which features lyrics that turn salad (the "bowl of creation") into a humorous metaphor for intimate moments. "Your Beautiful House" also plays off these themes, with gleaming piano, subdued drums and static crackles and pops. Throughout the song, Dann says sorry for things like forgetting someone's name, the way to their house, and the day they met. Her words drift away like the memories she's apologizing for forgetting, but with a sense of acceptance in the air. 

"Infinite Love" – like its name implies – skips, flutters and soars. But Dann tempers such a lofty ideal with personal truths, infusing experience and appreciation into lines that reflect reality and hope: "Don't you know, heaven is a concept to outgrow / You can feel the weight of your body is the proof / When it hurts, channel the energy of open space / When it hurts, just look your beauty in the face." With creating Eau de Bonjourno, the rest of the band was welcomed into Dann's writing process for the first time, where the intent was to craft a batch of songs that spoke to each other and told a collective story. Between writing sessions, they would cook and skinny dip, and the levity of this creative circumstance underscores the album's 10 tracks. However, like fun times spent connecting with friends, notions of purpose, identity and personal discovery inevitably shine through. 

At the heart of these songs is a creative freedom and delight that is as unmatched in its idiosyncratic style and experimentation as it is in the band's confidence to continually take things further. Subverting genre expectations and restructuring pop into imaginative new forms, Bernice continue to piece together and encapsulate gorgeously immersive and magical worlds with hidden gems, like the joys of life, just waiting to be found.
(Telephone Explosion)

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