Hexes & Ohs: Bedroom Madness
Noise Factory

In 2005, Heidi Donnelly and Edmund Lam issued their Hexes & Ohs debut album, Goodbye Friend, Welcome Lover, a credible collection of electronic pop weakened by a dearth of strong melodies—ambitious and well-intentioned but hardly major league stuff. Fast-forward three years to the Montreal duo's follow-up Bedroom Madness and one discovers a far more polished result: stronger songwriting, multi-hued arrangements, and a ceaseless flow of alluring hooks. The fifty-five-minute collection is the work of a more confident, mature, and assured outfit, and one that's clearly spent the interval between albums refining its sound. The duo creates a mini-“wall of sound” in each song, building it up from a tight rhythm base, adding multiple layers of keyboards and guitars, and topping it off with rapturous vocal arrangements so intricate they verge on polyphonic (the glorious “Try So Hard” one example of many). New Order's influence looms in the charging rhythms that power so many songs (e.g., “Looking to Fight”) and in the Peter Hook-styled bass lines that occasionally take the lead, and a trace of Peter Bjorn and John's “Young Folks” surfaces in the chorus of “Looking to Fight” too.

The charging, guitar-fueled techno-pop of “H-H-Highschool” sets the bar high at the outset, a level maintained by the equally storming “Wildfire!” that follows. Powered by a surging drum pulse, the tune's a marvel of construction with its intricate vocal weaves and dropouts particularly ear-catching. Highlights are many, from the deliciously jaunty swing of “Seems So Elementary” and swoon of Donnelly and Lam's voices in the raver “We Remain” to the (simulated?) banjo that adds distinctive flavour to the jaunty electro-pop of “Little Bird” and the horns that blaze in the jubilant “Try So Hard.” The duo brings the intensity level down a notch as the album nears its end, with the folk-tinged “Not Arriving” flowing into the stark closer “Cut the Chatter.” Limiting the focus to piano, acoustic guitar, and vocals not only proves to be a masterful way to end this fine album but also allows the beauty of the song's melancholy melodies to strongly register.

One adjustment in the Hexes & Ohs sound might still be made: Heidi's solo vocal turn on “Still Adore You” argues that the band's sound would be better with a more balanced distribution of vocal duties, a move that would be especially wise in light of the fact that Lam's voice, while serviceable, can also sound bland. Regardless, the band's problem is no longer weak material but songs so loaded with hooks, the prospect of choosing one over another for a single seems an almost impossible task, given that most would be equally strong candidates. It's hard to pick favourites when so many stand out on this major-league effort.

November 2008