Music Reviews,  Pow Magazine

Listening with Your Eyes: Art d’Ecco’s Anything but Standard “In Standard Definition”

The land that pioneered the Canadian tuxedo is not exactly known for glamour, perhaps unfairly (there’s a certain allure to double denim in the right hands!), but with the rise of glam sensation Art d’Ecco, all that may be about to change. Our neighbors to the north are full of contradictions — those legendarily mild-mannered citizens also pioneered ice hockey, one of the most brutal, bloody sports on earth. And sure, their resident moose are shy and gentle giants, but Canada geese, bullies of the bird world, appear hellbent on world domination. Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising then that such a promising new glam rock star should emerge from the throng of plaid shirts and puffy jackets, covered instead in sequins and the perfect red lipstick and ready to go toe to toe with anyone (in heels, no less) standing in his way. “I feel like people listen with their eyes,” Art told me when I reached out to meet the man behind the sparkles, and sure enough, his new album “In Standard Definition” sounds every bit as sleek, angular and ready to party as the artist’s iconic Weimar-era bob looks.

2018 saw the very welcome invasion of his previous album “Trespasser,” a feverish psychedelic-glam-new-wave dance party composed, of all places, deep in a Canadian wilderness reachable only by boat. “I was living in a cabin on a gulf Island off the coast of British Columbia,” Art revealed, “so I would write and tinker with the songs in my home studio and then go for a run through the mountains or a nature walk to clear my head.” The environment helped him slow down and let inspiration find him instead of vice versa. “A lot of the magic happens when I’m not obsessively focused on trying to write something,” he acknowledged. Meanwhile, as news of Art’s exercise habits spread, Vancouver’s The Georgia Straight newspaper playfully joined in on the wild speculation about his jogging outfits, venturing a guess of “space-suit silver shorts and gold lamé boots with a feather-boa headband.”

Photo Credit: Mike Pepperdine

Silver jogging short shorts or not, like every good sonic magician, Art hides a few technical tricks up his glittery sleeves. Around this time, he purchased the synth and tape echo that would become his most treasured tools of the trade, an Arp Quartet synth and a Maestro Echoplex. “The synth has a distinct honky horn section, and a string sound that’s straight out of an old 50’s horror movie, which is further enhanced with the tape echo unit when used in tandem,” he told me. Their telltale spooky sounds hinted at a thousand spicy secrets on the provocative “Never Tell” from “Trespasser” and now swoop menacingly through the new album’s haunting “Bird of Prey.”

Unlike hawks and eagles, glitz and glamour cannot survive on mountain idylls alone. Art eventually packed up his sequins and sequencers and headed back to the flashy diversions of city living to write and record his new album and embark on an action-packed tour with psych darlings Temples, just before tours went the way of all things analog. “It was such a beautiful time,” he recalled. “In any year it would have been the highlight, and given how quickly 2020 devolved, it really put things into perspective. Playing Webster Hall in NYC was a dream come true. Both bands went for dinner in Detroit on a night off and it ended up in an epic bowling match. It’s like summer camp when you get to tour with like minded musicians.”

Ever the showman, even in our strange show-less times, Art told me he envisioned his new record “In Standard Definition” as “a concept album about entertainment — from three different perspectives: the entertainers, those who consume entertainment, and then the medium itself (told via mini episodes, or scripted plots). My relationship with entertainment flirts with all three concepts in different ways so at times I can relate to the stories from the perspective of the struggling actor, or the audiophile obsessed with analogue recording, or just ideas that could be plots to a movie,” he told me. The theme even extended to the recording process and music videos themselves: “When I wrote the record and was demoing the songs,” he shared, “I spent a lot of time researching old recording techniques — tracking to 2” tape, shooting on 35mm etc. It fed into the album concept so well that I just had to amalgamate that into the process.” As an aside, is Art ushering in a new, smarter era of glam? Because I’m pretty sure Marc Bolan never casually threw around words like amalgamate.

Smarter still, Art rounded up a compelling cast of characters to act out his grand vision: “I called Colin Stewart for some help with the recording. We brought in around 15 additional players — jazz musicians on horns, symphony players on strings, soul singers on back ups, and then my regular rhythm section rounding out the group,” he explained. “I was singing horn parts phonetically on the spot, and playing string arrangements on a melodica to illustrate what was in my head to these session players saying ‘I know I sound totally insane right now but trust me… it’s gonna sound great when it all comes together!’” And so it does. The resulting flurry of 70s glam rock instant classics and 80s synth dreamscapes sounds anything but standard.

This time around, Art’s not just making artful moves on the dance floor, he IS the dance floor, and his dance club hails from a far flashier age: “’73 to ’83 is sort of the aesthetic both sonically and musically with this new album for me,” he explained. “In Standard Definition” finds him preaching, purring and pouting over waves of shimmering synths, horns, strings, wailing guitars and an ever-persuasive beat. Even as he embraces the power of image and fantasy in entertainment, he calls out our obsession with swiping our way to picture perfect love on “Good Looks” and worship of the small screen’s biggest personalities (see “TV God”) while mourning the last gasp aspirations of a falling star on “Desires.” He even channel surfs across a new wave pair of moody instrumental TV soundtrack interludes. On “Head Rush,” he chases the simple highs of youthful Friday nights when entertainment meant smoking on fire escapes and making out drunk in the moonlight, launching into a chorus so persuasive you can’t help but sing along with him: “All I want is the head rush!” But even when he sheds his favorite sequined biker jacket and finally settles down to old black and white French films in bed on the plush velvety dream of a title track, sighing, “I dream in standard definition,” or lets some ennui crash the revelry on “Nothing Ever Changes,” it still sounds like one of the most heady, glamorous parties Canada’s ever thrown, with a soundtrack of melodies as sweet, sticky and irresistible as that famous maple syrup.

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