Liz Hysen’s reliably dissonant acoustic guitar might ground her as Picastro, but her work on six strings, however interesting it might be, is only the sparest introduction to this highly collaborative project. On Exit – Picastro’s new LP and its first in five years, out now via Sleeping Giant Glossolalia – Hysen’s guitar work remains wonderfully enigmatic but it is other details that define each composition’s haunted, often funereal quality.
Take “This Be My Fortune,” the album’s lustrous closing track. There’s a skeletal progression on acoustic guitar, but what steals the spotlight is the highly self-referential soundscapes of Matthew Ramolo’s synths and electronics, and Germaine Liu’s pitter-patter drums, which seem to perfectly accent (and sometimes anchor) some of the chaos. When the “verse” formally begins, it’s not even Hysen who’s singing. Though the Toronto musician penned all of the lyrics on the new record, she toys with authorship and subverts gender identity by encouraging a mix of frontmen (and one frontwoman) to sing her songs on Exit.
For the most part, that conceit works. The melancholy lull of opener “Mirror Age” is accented well by Nick Storring’s moody cello and Tony Dekker’s vulnerable lead vocal. “Blue Neck,” one of the record’s more melodramatic moments, features vocals by Jamie Stewart, who does his best to hint at the wavering timbre of Frog Eyes’ Carey Mercer. (Kudos to Storring here for the gypsy-folk-evoking string work that closes the song.) Guest vocalist Alexandra Mackenzie goes for a dose of the operatic on “She’s In A Bad Mood,” where Hysen shows her chops on piano, and, while it’s interesting stuff, it’s far from the record’s brightest moment. Elsewhere, this thing is haunting and evocative and wonderful.
Hysen cut her milk-teeth in the era of female singer-songwriters like Ani DiFranco – her first record, Red Your Blues, came out in 2002 – and it’s worth noting that, if only to indicate just how different she sounds from the mold and how singular her vision is. On Exit, she furthers her missives, offering emotive, densely crafted fare that owes as much (likely more) to post-rock and musique concrete as it does to singer-songwriter folk. Enter at will.