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First Play: Bernice, Puff LP: In the Air Without a Shape

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Melody Lau

Bernice thrives in space: the grey area between genres, the expansive room in its songs that allows for experimentation, and that atmospheric altitude to where leader Robin Dann’s feathery melodies float off. Space is the Toronto band’s home turf, and on Bernice's latest full-length release, Puff LP: In the Air Without Shape (a continuation of sorts from last year's Puff EP), its borders feel limitless.

Ever since Bernice first formed in 2010, Dann and her collaborators — who have now solidified into a group that includes Thom Gill, Colin Fisher, Daniel Fortin, Philippe Melanson and Felicity Williams — have operated in a pop realm of their own. Structurally, their songs sound nothing like a typical chart-topping hit; instead, elements are stretched, rearranged and contorted into unrecognizable forms. But when it all comes together on tracks like opening number “Glue” or “He’s the Moon,” the results are just as satisfying.

Similar to bands like Deerhoof or Dirty Projectors — the latter especially in some of the album’s more harmonic moments — Bernice embraces oddities around every corner. The bandmates chase groovier rhythms three-quarters of the way into a track, spinning sparse pop into R&B territory or sprinkling synth blips, percussions, woodwinds and other sonic surprises, keeping listeners constantly on their toes.

It’s an exciting experience and one that begs for multiple spins to catch new details every time. And while it may feel like a random assortment of ideas at times, there’s an intent and strategy behind something so spellbindingly good. It’s like watching an abstract painting form in front of you, creating something probably not unlike the image that graces the album’s cover.

Almost half of Puff LP consists of previously released tracks — “St. Lucia,” “David” and “One Garden” were carried over from the past — so this album serves as a comprehensive and ideal introduction for new listeners, and a more polished, full statement for fans who have gotten by on shorter outputs from the band in the past few years.

No matter how you’re entering the world of Puff LP, though, you’ll find yourself navigating a wondrous maze of music, hopefully finding your way out the other end enlightened by the experience.

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