The Badge Époque Ensemble return to Telephone Explosion Records with a new LP, Clouds of Joy. Featuring three vocal-led compositions, three instrumentals and three choral arrangements, this new album presents the Ensemble’s most ambitious, mature and engaging material to date. Clouds represents a shift from the group’s previous sonic excursions into the worlds of vintage soundtrack grooves and early electric jazz towards a more era-ambiguous, complex and all-encompassing approach to arrangement & production.
Undergoing a major shift of consciousness upon learning that he was expecting twins, BÉE leader Maximilian ‘Twig’ Turnbull found the spark to initiate the album within his reflections upon the nature of human joy. This shift in mindset also helped shape the record from an operational standpoint: Turnbull stepped away from his fixture on keys, leaving all of the musical performance on this record to his cast of collaborators. With Max assuming a more “directorial” approach to production and arrangement à la Barry White, David Axelrod, or Fagen & Becker, this album finds the Badge Époque Ensemble in its most collaborative mode to date. Vocalists Dorothea Paas, James Bailey and guitarist Chris Bezant all have co-writing credits here with Bezant contributing significantly to three compositions, including the album’s title track. The album was mixed collaboratively as well, as another joint effort between Turnbull, Steve Chahley and Tony Price, a trio who have teamed up behind the mixing desk for all previous BÉE albums, as well as U.S. Girls’ Heavy Light LP.
For the most part, the Ensemble on this record is made up of names familiar to anyone following the Badge cosmology: drummer Jay Anderson, bassist Gio Rosati, flautist Alia O’Brien, saxophonist Karen Ng, percussionist Ed Squires and guitarist Chris Bezant, with the new addition of young jazz pianist Edwin De Goeij, a perfect surrogate for Turnbull’s ideas on keys. (This in-demand collection of musicians represent a scattering of key cogs from a clutch of other premium Canadian exports; The Weather Station, Andy Shauf, U.S. Girls & Marker Starling). Clouds’ emphasis on the sound of the human voice finds its perfect outlet in vocal arrangements by labelmate Dorothea Paas and a return from lead vocalist James Baley. Their contributions find compliment by a choir composed of session vocalists, (including singers from Bernice and Bonjay) who come together to provide a series of show-stopping harmonic acrobatics.
Familiar Badge motifs are present through this album’s nine tracks: extended sections of dusty drum & conga breaks, swirling saxophone and flute flourishes, fleet-fingered guitar excursions, hazy Rhodes chords and lashing Clavinet stabs, but where Clouds excels is in its ability to weave tremendous vocal performances and choral arrangements into its dense tapestry of sound. The lilting melodies and multidimensional harmonies on tracks “Conspiring With Nature” and “All Same 2 Each, Each Same 2 All” bear the hallmarks of late sixties baroque AM-radio pop, while James Baley’s ecstatic, Stevie-esque lead vocal performance on “Zodiac” could light up the midnight sky, turning a nearly eight minute jazz-funk instrumental odyssey into a sure-shot dancefloor hit. Lyrically, Turnbull’s interest in an aphoristic spiritual mysticism condenses reflections on the complexity of human emotion into bold, succinct phrases, a quality most clearly communicated on the album’s three choral pieces, “The Greatest Joy”, “Let Breath Be The Sum”, and “Joy Flows” (upon first hearing these works Turnbull’s partner Meg Remy remarked that they sounded like “radio hits on the planet Dune”).
Clouds of Joy comes serendipitously as catalog number TER0100 – the hundredth release for Telephone Explosion, the rapidly burgeoning Toronto label. It is the group’s third proper full length of five total releases for the imprint in only 4 years. It represents the Ensemble’s most fully realized presentation of a founding vision to create music as human, organic and alive as it is synthesized, produced and designed; music that transcends the notion of linear time, pulling in influences and ideas from the past and taking them far into the future.