Preposterously prolific Montréal oddball Sean Nicholas Savage may now be on his umpteenth full-length release and indeed sprouts from Canadian soils so culturally fecund currently that it’s a thing of wonderment that there’s yet enough moisture to water such a burgeoning alternative music scene. But unlike any other to have traversed the Atlantic, Savage is not only a rarity in that he’s an inimitably eccentric individual but can be considered more idiosyncratic still by the fact that he goes about his craft in a commensurately outré way. And whereas his previous recordings have favoured any and indeed seemingly every genre from suave Spaghetti Western pastiche (Movin Up In Society) to Arthur Russell-esque ethereality (Flamingo), his ostensible breakthrough endeavour Other Life is driven by overwhelmingly affectionate, if fleetingly naff balladry. It’s the sort of stuff one might well have anticipated of a nom de plume self-deprecating as the realistically disappointing Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, as his nigh on every number concerns the slow slipping away of a loved one.
Sean caterwauls of mistaken identities and personal uncertainties on She Looks Like You – a lament seemingly born of oodles of beer and self-loathing. “Look in the mirror, what do I see?/ I’m just a circumstance, wearing a mask” he plaintively, if prosaically informs over elementary thuds of drum machinery and chintzy ’80s synths but if the sonic aesthetic sounds minimal, then it’s performed to a maximised impact. And unquestionably an air of performance clings to his every piece: bashful and forever self-effacing, he warbles right from the heart. It’s thus merely a question as to whether it’s that of Sean Nicholas Savage the person, or Sean Nicholas Savage the personage. I can’t help but contend it could well be the latter more often than not though so convincing is this projection of the self, or perhaps rather so impeccable its recital, that resistance to the seduction of whoever may be behind it becomes all but entirely futile.
For dabbling in the widely reviled genres of soft rock and unabashed schmaltz this time around, Other Life proves an unprecedented triumph: from the plush simmer of Lonely Woman with its disconcerting vocal shadowing of the innately salacious line of “fillin’ each other up with pleasure”, to the calypso absurdity of Bygone Summer during which Savage chirrups demented goodbyes ad infinitum, it’s an endlessly intriguing listen. “I remember one summer/ Everyone had a holiday, after I flew away” he despondently exhales, and the themes of “dreams where I’m flying” and a more general nostalgia remain cherished tropes throughout. The gentle ebb of You Changed Me, however, changes tack a tad as Savage reminisces over a revelatory season spent on Spanish beaches with a then girlfriend and so too a best friend, who altered his outlook on life quite irreversibly. Candidly, he chimes: “You sat by the sea, showed me a dream/ You showed me how to scream; you knew how much it means” as though his every emotion had been formulated according to feelings felt for this unidentified amour there and then.
It’s one of two previously released pieces here compiled, as each side concludes with a composition taken from previous LP, Flamingo. What with this being his first commercially produced release (and with that in fact the first not made available free of charge from his Bandcamp page) the inclusion of this and the shimmery pseudo-glitz of Chin Chin is not only admissible, but astute for as the tousled keys of the latter romp with unassuming acoustics, Savage breeds further content. Quite why he neglected to go one better and include his heartstring-twanging pièce de résistance Days Go By only he’ll know, although from the oddly gangly spook of It’s Real on which he plots sneered ways to make hits while simultaneously saving himself from the pitfalls of fame, to the antithetically tender Like A Baby he proves himself to be a doyen of tuneful sublimity.
And it’s when he goes for a weirdly louche jugular, as is on the seemingly a-ha-inspired We Used To Live In A Dream or the twinkly humility of More Than I Love Myself, that he truly comes into his own. The latter is his most inviting calling card, however, as he reflects on a first encounter with a girl sweet and crazy as “a grave growing daisies”. She, and indeed the song itself seemingly mellow, Savage rustles up one of the most mawkish if with it emphatic love songs of recent times. “I need your body, more than I need my own/ I need to live with you, more than I need a home/ And if it’s over it’s true, that I always loved you/ Ooh-ooh, more than I love myself” he importunately pleads come its initial chorus with what are, to all intents and purposes, a couple mighty fine, if still aberrant couplets.
Thus whether rangy pretender or winsome performer, there’s a genuine emotivity to Other Life for it’s a record which is nigh on impossible not to submit to eternally.
Released: May 27th, 2013 [Arbutus Records]