One of the most compelling moments on Homeshake’s highly anticipated third release isn’t a melody or verse, but a question. “Hey hey hey hey hey hey hey…are you even paying attention to me right now?” a voice asks, interrupting an inner monologue of absent-minded grocery aisle to-dos before Homeshake mastermind Peter Sagar bursts into the R&B delight ‘Every Single Thing’.
‘Fresh Air’ is Sagar at his most neurotic and world-weary. To describe it as preoccupied with technology would be an understatement — distraction, attention, and the illusion of connectivity are cast into an interlocking orbit of swirling paranoia that hovers over the entire record.
Like its predecessors ‘Midnight Snack’ and ‘In The Shower’, ‘Fresh Air’ is a distinctly “Homeshake” production in that it’s remarkably disciplined in its dedication to concept. The record is bookended by ‘Hello Welcome’ and ‘Signing Off’, and gusts of fresh air can be heard throughout. There’s talk of turning the ‘TV Volume’ down, while the familiar anxiety-inducing buzz of a mobile device on ‘Getting Down Pt II’ builds on the phone-obsessed narrative erected on the superb single ‘Call Me Up’.
For all the pent-up, distressed energy the album does so well to evoke, Sagar’s frustration is perhaps most evident when it comes to his use of the guitar as a writing tool. ‘Fresh Air’ sees him take unprecedented liberties with synth-leads and drum machines, while incorporating hefty helpings of ‘90s hip-hop and R&B calling cards. At times, the results sound more akin to an R Kelly or Prince than the names typically associated with Homeshake — Connan Mockasin, Mild High Club, Jerry Paper, and ex-bandmate Mac DeMarco, amongst others.
This newfound approach is best observed on ‘Every Single Thing’ and ‘Call Me Up’ in addition to the title track, which features a delicately-sung vocal refrain straight out of the Silk Rhodes playbook. Still, the record’s most novel achievements come thanks to a pair of slow-moving atmospheric pop numbers — ‘Timing’ and ‘This Way’ — with the latter boasting some of Sagar’s most uncharacteristically personal and deep-cutting songwriting to date.
The tumbling keys on ‘Serious’ do their part to carve out a Funkdoobiest-inspired Friday fantasy with the help of some unexpectedly poignant west coast police sirens. ‘Khmlwugh’ (AKA kissing hugging making love waking up getting high) is equally memorable, and both songs do well to infuse ‘Fresh Air’ with moments of real pop-friendly appeal.
The fact remains, however, that these instances of easily digestible charm are much harder to find here than on both ‘Midnight Snack’ and ‘In The Shower’.
‘Fresh Air’ is confidently obtuse in that it expertly harnesses the power in Sagar’s slightly off-kilter and out-of-tune instrumentation, and when you consider the vast amount of ground he’s covered on his first three LPs, it’s pretty easy to forget that up until a few years ago Homeshake wasn’t even the Edmonton-born rocker’s full-time gig.
Amidst the hazy Thoreauvian isolation of ‘Wrapping Up’, Sagar delivers what is the record’s most strikingly candid kernel of truth: “I ain’t looking for some company…Please don’t take it personally”. It’s something that many crave but few have the self-awareness to admit they need: time alone.
So try it. Disconnect. Turn off your phone. Step outside, and enjoy the ‘Fresh Air’.
Words: Noveen Bajpai
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