Breeze Unites Toronto's Shattered Music Scene on 'Only Up'
Published Aug 25, 2021Only Up starts with a statement of disbelief and ends with a sense of direction.
Rallying a score of local friends and collaborators, Josh Korody (Beliefs, Nailbiter) has dissolved the jangly, guitar-driven pop of previous Breeze releases and synthesized a hazy Madchesterian party, but laser-sharp concentration (the album was written, recorded, and mixed all in eight days) connects its dreamy surface quality to deeper thematic concerns.
On Only Up, dreams are vital, recreational, stimulating — but they're also under attack.
On "Don't Cry," they're haunted; on the terminal title track they're "vanishing," subsuming to fears. "Get outta my dreams, that's my free time," Cadence Weapon raps around screaming synths, psychedelic guitars and blown-out hand percussion on "Come Around," setting boundaries on emotional labour and piggybacking on the grievances Korody airs over a friend that responded to a call-in by shrugging off accountability and acting like nothing happened. And, announcing its arrival on joyful horns and shakers, "Ecstasy on Keele Street" invokes the image of the bed as a place of safety and security, but not without casting suspicion on whether the version it will provide will be of any real or lasting quality.
The title of that last track could just be a reference to dropping E on a stretch of road in Toronto's Junction neighbourhood (likely at the pre-2019 parties at textile factory-by-day/party spot-by-night 500 Keele), but it also suggests the street itself — a rough industrial stretch far enough from downtown developers and NIMBYism that its distance from the forced nomadic grind the city traps artists in — has rhapsodic potential.
The world Korody alludes to throughout the album is one of encroaching developers, rapid gentrification, venue closures and unaccountable peers. You get to wondering if the title of the album might even be a reference to how much sleep he's getting.
"This is a hard-boiled wonderland," Korody declares on stream-of-consciousness exercise "Hard Boiled Wonderland," borrowing a title from Haruki Murakami, mixing metaphors, and locating the action of the album in a place that's partially a druggy dreamland, partially a tough and unsentimental crime landscape.
It's similar territory Korody explored with Beliefs on their 2017 project-redefining Habitat, but here, the displacement anxiety hits the dance floor, exploding in emotional colour. Korody trades out cold post-punk distance to affect a cool Madchester dropout, rose-tinted glasses and acid guitars recasting the barren landscape in psychedelic possibility. Tess Parks and a chorus of Korody's peers (Jesse Crowe, Robyn Phillip, Michael le Riche, Julia Wittmann) take the album out on a hazy but at least cautiously optimistic note: "Where to go? Only up."
The subtext to that line is that all the damage the community has weathered in the process couldn't really get any worse (and there's also some double entendre happening; Parks opens the track on the lines "We're getting pushed out / In downtown"), but what Only Up suggests at its core is an opportunity to unite Toronto's hitherto fragmented music scene; rave music, hip-hop and bands can coexist, rebuild the scene anew and have a hell of a good time doing it. The party doesn't have to be where everyone goes after the show; it's there on the periphery with a schedule imagining live bands, adventurous DJs and hungry MCs gobbling up the same stimulus, a generative engine facilitating deeply felt connections and memories, a journey with no set destination — only up. (Hand Drawn Dracula)