La Force – s/t (Arts and Crafts)
Ariel Engle made my favourite recordof 2013, “In the Pines,” as one-half of the duo AroarA. Five years later, on her debut as La Force, Engle has once again announced herself as a major talent—this time under a new name, and with her alone in the spotlight.
In the interim, she and her friends Leslie Feist and Snowblink’s Daniela Gesundheit formed a trio called Hydra, mainly as a social club with which Engle could play summer festivals with her newborn in tow. She then followed Feist into the latest incarnation of Broken Social Scene; Engle joined the already-crowded band on their comeback record, 2017’s “Hug of Thunder,” and easily carved out her own space beside the starpower of Feist and Emily Haines. Broken Social Scene also features Andrew Whiteman, who was not only Engle’s partner in AroarA, but off-stage as well. He co-wrote the music for La Force, but this is her project. She’s more than ready for her close-up.
For starters, she’s an arresting vocalist, every bit as compelling—if not more so—as her more famous friends. (The sole distraction on the album is on “Upside Down Wolf,” where she sounds remarkably like Cat Power—for an artist whose voice is so otherwise distinctive, this presumably accidental homage is somewhat jarring. It’s still a great song, though.) Her melodies are lovely, often based—as the best folk songs are—on as few chords as possible, if not just a plain drone (like the opener, “The Tide”).
But where Engle truly shines is in her rhythm: not just in the live and/or electronic percussion behind her, but in the role that every instrument plays on this record, starting with her own guitar playing. Latin rhythms often percolate underneath, not always in recognizable ways, though the bossa nova vibe of “Mama Papa” is undeniable. The overall production aesthetic is that of slick, art-rock torch music with more than a few nods to ’80s new wave (see the redundantly titled “Epistolary Love Letter”), with thoroughly modern technology; there’s nothing retro here, other than a sheer devotion to craft. As perfect as this record is, it also leaves the future of La Force wide open. This is an artist who could easily pivot in any which way: into darker corners, into sunnier settings, situated anywhere in the world.
Even though all her other projects have been with dear friends and loved ones, once this record makes the rounds, Ariel Engle’s own work will never be seen as an adjunct to someone else. Viva La Force!
La Force is on tour now. She plays Adelaide Hall in Toronto on Thursday, September 20. Full dates here.
Stream: “The Tide,” “TBT,” “Lucky One”