Published Apr 30, 2019On their newest album, and first in five years, Picastro have subverted folk and popular music expectations. Led by songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Liz Hysen, the Toronto-based group — which at the moment includes cellist Nick Storring, drummer Germaine Liu and synthesist Matthew Ramolo — toys with the notions of genre and the composition of a musical group.
For one, the music is too dark, complex and bombastic to be pigeonholed in a single category, be it folk, rock or something in between. Additionally, Hysen — who normally plays the role of lead vocalist — has chosen a cabal of mostly men to give voice to her words.
Exit leads off with "Mirror Age," sung by Great Lakes Swimmers' Tony Dekker. On it, Hysen's spidery guitar is fleshed-out elegantly by the combination of cello, synth and drums. Liu's free percussive moves open up vast spaces for the wafting melodies to dance around Dekker's lush croon. On "Come From the Speak," Irish doomsayer Adrian Crowley appears to croak his last breath, as the band hovers threateningly behind him. Xiu Xiu's Jamie Stewart tremulously chants over barely audible backing vocals from Hysen on "Blue Neck." As the track proceeds toward conclusion, Storring lets his cello loose and the group adopts a brisk pace until they collapse with beatific abandon.
Hysen and Liu duel with pianos on the Confusion is Sex-era Sonic Youth cover "She's In a Bad Mood." Fittingly, Ramolo beams noises in from another dimension. Over this elegant and alien backdrop, Alexandra Mackenzie (Petra Glynt) almost sensuously incants Thurston Moore's angsty lyrics, turning the song's context on its head. Caleb Mulkerin — of Maine's best kept secret Big Blood — lends his signature howl on "A Trench"; the song unfolds with an almost cinematic sensibility, its energy rising and falling across four minutes of mood-shifting jump scares.
The many moods, perspectives and themes found on Exit are collected, synthesized and made whole by a group of talented musicians, and especially by Hysen herself. By eschewing her role as frontperson, she's revealed multiple facets of herself. Each collaborator brings out a unique element of her personality, yet it's the work of the entire ensemble that makes the proceedings complete. Exit is a singular vision made real through collaboration. (Sleeping Giant Glossolalia)