Photo by Colin Medley
Every week we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Eau De Bonjourno, the second full-length album from playful Toronto-based pop experimenters, Bernice.
It takes a lot of both control and curiosity to create an album that strikes a balance between palatable and surprising, natural and novel, as perfectly as Eau De Bonjourno. Robin Dann, and her band Bernice (Thom Gill, Dan Fortin, Felicity Williams and Phil Melanson), thankfully, have no shortage of either. With their obvious combined wealth of jazz knowledge and an undercurrent of pop and R&B instincts, their collective songwriting spark gave way to a 49-minute fantasy that discusses everything from inherent worth to social anxiety.
Even among all of its risks, oddities and subversions, Eau De Bonjourno maintains a light-heartedness and refreshingly avoids the added pretension and headiness that tends to bog down a lot of projects in a similar vein. Take the track “Big Mato,” where breezy vocal harmonies and twinkly electronic wind chimes meet saucy, buzzing bass synths to create a song about a salad. And love. There’s a whole lot going on, but it’s sweet in its message (“I wanna know you; you are invited to eat my salad”) and never sounds any less simple than the way sun hitting ripples of water looks or the first bite into a crisp apple feels. “Personal Bubble,” a song that took on a new relevance after it was written pre-COVID about Dann’s unease in crowds, feels similarly sparse, with its soft and spastic rhythms and friendly flute melodies, until it combusts into an elating jazz sax solo.
The quirkier, surprising moments on Eau De Bonjourno serve as a clever foil, however, to its gentler, more earnest moments: the soft, meditative last minute on “It’s Me, Robin,” the sprawling, minimal piano ballad that is “Beautiful House,” the slow, suave and twisted chorus on album-closer “We Choose You.” “We can live in the future,” Dann sings to complete an album that does, in many instances, serve as proof of that statement.
While the stream-of-conscious lyrics do occasionally verge into twee territory, with their nature and animal imagery and sometimes invariant delivery, there’s always a pinch of winking self-awareness or left-of-center sonic decision to offset it. What’s more, it often contributes to a youthful sense of wonder that makes the album a joy at every turn.
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.