Published May 15, 2019Rich Aucoin has never been afraid to go big. Whether in lyrical content or musical scope, it might be the very scale of the Halifax-based musician's exuberant poptronica that makes it so affecting. He's conjured cathartic, 500-contributor parties (2011's We're All Dying to Live) and explored the fleeting connections we make (2014's Ephemeral) by letting massive swells of emotive sound carry the ambitions of his subject matter. In other hands it could feel too preachy, but Aucoin lets his deeper ideas absorb in through hook-laden, shout-along deliveries; you aren't so much asked to think about these things as you're given a way to feel them.
And so it is with Aucoin's third album, Release, which finds him grappling with mortality itself (the album, Aucoin recently revealed to Exclaim!, was almost called Death). Facing the music here means 11 songs of bright, empathetic electro-pop that probe unusual depths. It's pretty explicitly about making the most of the time we have, with Aucoin casting those sentiments in celebratory hues.
After "The Base" opens with a sample of author Sam Harris ("The reality of your life is now"), "The Dream" lets a warm, spacey drift couch darker ideas, while "The Middle" offers a moment of clarity in tones of soaring pop. Instrumental "The Mind" finds compelling hooks in its shifting, wordless build; much space is given to instrumental surges on Release, as if Aucoin is offering room to ponder and process his lyrical content. Sometimes it feels a little adrift, but rarely for long.
"The Time" shifts the palette, as piano, strings and a layered-vocals chorus land the idea that "This time is not enough / This life is not enough." It also sets up the seven-minute instrumental title track to close the album out in an affecting cascade of colourful sounds.
Release also syncs up with Disney's animated Alice in Wonderland, which might account for some of that drift. But even without that visual component, Aucoin's songcraft remains more inviting than didactic. Release's sheer vibrancy makes you want to rise up to meet the existential sentiments that Aucoin is exploring. (Haven Sounds)