Fresh Snow: ONE
Hand Drawn Dracula

How critical is it for a band to present a coherent identity? Is an equally credible strategy for a group to resist genre identification and shapeshift from one song to the next? Such questions arise as I listen to Fresh Snow's ONE, the second full-length album by the Toronto-based “instrumental kraut-noise-psych rock quartet” whose 2013 debut album I was nominated for the Polaris Music Prize. Issued in vinyl and digital formats and recorded in a rural Ontario barn, the group's follow-up to 2015's EP WON augments core members Brad Davis (guitar, keyboards), Andy Lloyd (bass, keyboards), Tim Condon (keyboards, guitars), and Jon Maki (drums) with contributions from Laura C. Bates (violin) and Mila Petkovic (voice).

As “Olinda,” “January Skies,” and “I Can't Die” play, faint echoes of Faust, Sonic Youth, LCD Soundsystem, Stereolab, Pink Floyd, and The Cult fill the air; the silken synths and vocals in “Mass Graves / Dance Caves,” on the other hand, suggest some Pet Shop Boys-and-Heaven 17 collaboration. Allusions to other artists aside, there's no denying the punch-and-thrust of Fresh Snow's attack, soundly announced when a vicious guitar stab detonates the krautrock pulse of “Olinda.”

Whilst there's enough shredding, noise, and dissonance present to keep any post-punk aficionado happy, there are also funky, synth-smeared grooves and ponderous ambient-styled meditations. Hints of prog surface during the mellotron-laced “I Am Smitten With Your Wrath,” Petkovic's vocal presence gives the synth-pop of “Three-Way Mirror” an appealing French twist, and the band even makes room for a pretty, piano-based vignette (“Eat Me In St Louis”). ONE could conceivably be heard as Fresh Snow auditioning for a spot on Constellation or kranky, so natural a fit would the adventurous band be for either label.

By the time the nine songs end, you'll either regard the quartet as one whose identity's a work-in-progress or perhaps a band that's simply content for its sound to remain eclectic and multi-faceted. Every song presents a slightly different version of Fresh Snow, it seems, even if all of its influences, from synth-pop and krautrock to noise and punk, surface over the course of the album. It's natural for a band's influences to be close to the surface on its first few recordings, and perhaps Fresh Snow will evolve to sound progressively more like itself the longer it exists. But even if ONE sometimes sounds like a band in the process of figuring out what it wants to be, the ride's never less than entertaining.

September 2016