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Bonjay - Lush Life Music Album Reviews

Bonjay - Lush Life Music Album Reviews

The Toronto duo follows up an eight-year-old debut EP with an album that gestures toward various eras of dancehall and traverses a range of emotion.

It has taken nearly eight years for Bonjay to release the follow-up to their 2010 debut EP, Broughtupsy. The Toronto duo apparently mastered their first proper album, Lush Life, years ago, but kept revisiting and revising it, absorbed by the process. You can sense that from the album, which is both more tightly arranged and more expansive than anything else they’ve made. Elaborating on the sparse, looped riddims of their early music, they traverse a skidding range of emotion, gesturing toward various eras of dancehall while keeping their genre allegiances loose.

Bonjay frontwoman Alanna Stuart began singing in the Pentecostal church, and her voice never flinches beneath the weight of heavy drama. Lush Life’s first track, “Ingenue,” segues from chanted toasting to high notes worthy of Kate Bush. “My love,” Stuart cries, as she draws out that last syllable for ten anguished seconds, then collapses: “It’s you.” Instrumentals co-written by Stuart’s bandmate, Ian Swain, play over her vocals like stage lights. “How Come” pairs its drum machine, all throb and ache, with a delicate synth melody; everywhere the beat pulses in counterpoint to her. “Brick & High Beam” begins with a whispery refrain that lands someplace between mantra and lullaby, then, before the final chorus, gets shrouded by echoing effects. It’s the air twitching at a séance, an aria wrapped in gauze.

Lush Life was engineered by several of Canada’s best electronic musicians, including Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys and Arthur Russell superfan Sandro Perri—people who know enough about weird old disco records to bring their magic to new releases. “Devil’s Night,” a duet between Stuart and longtime Owen Pallett collaborator Thom Gill, further expands the ensemble. Gill’s low, sultry vocal inspires her most theatrical performance, her high notes tapping against the percussion, hushed yet poised. The rhythm slows to a hypnotic flicker. Lyrics yearn abstractly. At one sublime moment, a saxophone drops into the mix, its notes distending through space as Stuart sings phrases without words. You may distantly remember the Grenadian slang translation of Bonjay’s name: Good God.

“Night Bus Blue,” the closing track on Lush Life, takes its name and mood from the buses that knit Toronto together after 2 a.m., carrying shift workers, travelers, immigrants, and drunks—vehicles that represent both relief and regret. It’s by far the longest song on the album, yet it’s also the most intense, driven by clattering drums and ethereal overdubs that merge in a climax of feedback. Stuart sings like she’s narrating a dream, her soothing languor growing insistent with the music: “Nighttime fades to morning, all the while they sleep/Skyline is adorning the glow of city streets.” This is just what it’s like to watch streets race by from one of those buses, bewitched by their sapphire headlights, fingers making the frosted windows sweat.

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