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Sandro Perri - In Another Life Music Album Reviews

On his first album in almost seven years, the Toronto artist uses ambient pop to craft a masterful, dreamlike world where songs luxuriate for 24 minutes and Dan Bejar shows up to sing about Paris.

For nearly 20 years, Sandro Perri has been cultivating his own genreless brand of futurism. Across many aliases, records, and collaborations, he has zagged from spacious electronic music to Tropicália-flecked folk to avant experimentation to slyly expansive post-rock, like a Canadian Arthur Russell or Jim O’Rourke. He studied jazz in college but only lasted a few semesters, and his subsequent work sketches the form of an improvisational spirit eager to twist out of the shackles of musical tradition. To that end, In Another Life is visionary in both content and form: The first half is filled by the 24-minute title track, while the flipside offers three versions of the same basic song, but with different singers, lyrics, and moods. Both sides are slow and pleasingly repetitious, quiet rebukes of the mania of modern life.

This album comes seven years after Perri’s last solo LP, and “In Another Life” makes it sound like he’s spent every waking minute of that time crossed-legged on a mountaintop, contemplating his utopia. As he sings in verse after verse, hewing to a consistent melody and cadence, like a zen blues, this is a place where there is “nothing to have, no reason to fight.” Where children can play after dark without worry; where intelligence and worth aren’t measured by typical tests; where there is “no position, ladder, or pit.” Egos are fully sublimated. This is a place where album reviews and ranked lists are likely frowned upon too; “What use grafting sport to art?” Perri asks, his voice oozing a calm, casual righteousness.

But these are not demands—he would never be so bold. They are more like wishful affirmations, the wise words of a seeker trying to articulate what a virtuous society could look like. Perri’s dream of a perfect world is as seductive as it is impossible, and “In Another Life” proposes a utopia that falls in line with the ones dreamed up by so many other philosophers and artists—except with a lot more looping synthesizer sequences and yawning guitars.

There’s infinity—and tragedy—in this very long song. It doesn’t really rise or fall. Instead, it luxuriates in its own endlessness, like a koi pond encased in mirrors. For nearly half an hour, its lowkey throb acts as a cocoon from the outside world, from human nature, from the horrors of 2018. There are elements that essentially repeat for the entire track, and elements that pop in for a minute to check out the view and then go away, shutting the door softly as they leave. In some ways, “In Another Life” doubles as a stealth life hack—close your eyes and listen and let the world melt. Then you remember the title and snap out of it. This is another life, after all. Not the here and now. In the song’s unwavering rhythm and cadence is an admission of defeat: We’ve imagined idylls before and we will imagine them again in perpetuity—that is, utopias only exist in dreams that never come true.

Side B brings the lofty philosophies down to a more grounded version of paradise: Paris. “Everybody’s Paris” is presented in three incarnations, allowing Perri, André Ethier (one-time frontman for garage rockers the Deadly Snakes), and Destroyer’s Dan Bejar to wander through the streets of their very own French capital. The melodies remain constant throughout each take, and the chords feel familiar, but the instrumentation is tweaked, and each singer is allowed their own unique perspective. It’s like a Mad Libs for sage Canadian art rockers.

Perri’s version continues with the casual enlightenment, as he trembles out abstract aphorisms over an ambient smear of synth, organ, sax, and strings: “When everyone’s a piece in everybody’s chain/There’s right in losing and at least that much in gain.” Ethier’s “Everybody’s Paris” is more twee, nearing the innocence of children’s music, with the singer emphasizing the universality of the song’s title. His weathered voice is like a bear hug from an old friend as he lists quotidian details that connect us: washing dishes, holding hands, smelling flowers. Bongos and flutes are brought in to bolster the levity, and it all recalls the bittersweet musings of Paul Simon. Even if you’ve never heard of André Ethier, you get a decent sense of his pragmatic, humanistic worldview.

The same sort of reveal happens with Dan Bejar, though, as any Destroyer fan would guess, his viewpoint reads more like a dark comedy. Atop fretless bass and Perri’s meandering guitar, Bejar conjures a Paris where every citizen “wants to be a cat,” “haunts a haunted house,” and has a cigarette dangling from their lip just so. His is a city of mystique—it could kill you just as well as it could lead you to life-changing love, maybe on the same day. Bejar ends the song, and album, by descending from his perch at the top of the Eiffel Tower and offering an apology: “Everybody’s Paris, along the river Seine/Swore I would never do this to you again.” The words could be directed to a loved one, or to the listener, or to the entire human race. Because, behind every brand of utopia, there are wrongs, regrets, and the hope that, next time, we can get it right.

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