Valois have released their new album We’re All In This Together But You, which is their follow up to 2015’s Love Dies But You Won’t. Valois is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and producer Charles Hoppner, and has been ongoing since 2012.
We’re All In This Together But You builds off of Valois’ recognizable stripped-down synth-pop sound, and is informed by influences like Prince and Of Montreal. Their sound is rounded out with the addition of full live band containing singer Shannon Murray and drummer Don Rankin since 2015. While the key aspects of Valois’ dark, experimental minimalism still provide the skeletal framework for the album, there is a distinct movement towards brighter and more upbeat compositions. The arrangements contain melodic flourishes and layered instrumentation that transport us back to and era when VHS and The Sony Walkman ruled all.
“The synthesizer’s an amazing instrument,” explains Hoppner. “You can design the actual sound, and generally a lot of my favourite music—David Bowie’s Low, Kanye West’s albums from Graduation onwards, Prince, Of Montreal—is pretty synth-heavy but always with a more human edge. I listened to a lot of industrial and post punk when I was younger and also hung out at Soybomb in Toronto a lot where I’d be exposed to different hardcore and post-hardcore bands every night. That might have a less obvious effect musically but the attitude, political engagement and musical power have stuck with me.”
“I think that more recently, hearing Thanya Iyer and Fet.Nat and Bowie’s Blackstar really take jazz into new spaces really pushed my songwriting into a space that had a more rounded, jazzy feel in parts. At the same time I’ve always loved really aggressive, abstract guitar playing – Adrian Belew, Neil Young, etc. – and I think the humanity of a really emotional solo on an instrument that you can bend and slur the tone at will really creates an awesome contrast with synth-heavy music – and that’s the appeal of a lot of post-punk to me like Wire and PIL – there’s synths but it’s not synth-pop.”
Hoppner’s unrefined and raw vocals are half the charm of this band, as he seeks to build narratives and weave stories with his lyricism rather than trying to perfect his pitch. There are echoes of Morrissey in his songwriting, and the lyrical literalism he employs is simultaneously melancholy, subversive, poetic, and refreshing. This is exemplified many times throughout, but you don’t need to look further than the first line of the opening track “Easy To Love” to get a sense of what I’m talking about: “I’m easy to love, but hard to keep loving / You’re in my heart, but my head is too troubling”
“Lately, I really enjoy approaching music from a standpoint of writing upbeat, catchy pop tunes that have a much darker more subversive edge once you start peeling back the layers,” Hoppner explain. “That’s why I love glam—it’s like literally applying makeup to songs to hide and smooth over aspects of the truth in a way that makes the whole truth come into sharper, more dramatic relief. I was really determined to write about the world around me more—like how Heartsparkle is about the barriers a lot of women I know face in the art world—but these circumstances kept forcing the songs to become more insular and I think that is better.
“Glitter started as a pretty generic pro-genderqueer song inspired by the weekend I saw and met PWR BTTM (and basically had a minor breakdown from feeling inferior) but when Ben was outed as an abuser it became much more of a personal and oppositional thing—about identity, self acceptance, with just a passing nod to how much I regretted spending any emotional energy on that band. A lot of the songs evolved in that way and became more personal while still referencing what’s going on in the world—I don’t think it’s possible to separate the personal and political in 2018. It was a very cathartic record to make and I let myself take creative risks I wouldn’t have let myself do five years ago.”
The incorporation of female vocal parts and harmonies on the album add another dimension to it. Shannon Murray’s part in “Heartsparkle” is short but potent: “Here I go every move is on display / Just undress me weigh my sins / Here I go I’m the object for your gaze / Judge my everything but I don’t fear you.” Felicity DeCarle of Sparklesaurus also makes an appearance on the album, helping Hoppner to work on melodies and lyrics on “The River.”
“Sparklesaurus is my favourite Ottawa band and Felicity is a songwriter who I really, really admire,” says Hoppner. “She’s the rare type of composer who never leaves any loose ends in her music—every Sparklesaurus song is fully formed and perfectly structured for emotional impact. And she is a really fantastic lyricist.”
Music lovers who listen closely to lyrics and dissect them will appreciate this album just as much as someone who wants to let loose and have a dance party. There is a lot to this album, even in only eight tracks. We’re All In This Together But You is worthy of some deep exploration, and is an album that should be set on “repeat.”
Valois is set to release We’re All In This Together But You at LIVE! on Elgin February 25th, and the event will also incorporate comedy and burlesque in addition to the music. Advanced tickets are available for $8 here, and there will be some for sale at the door. Be sure to stream the album below.