After a string of ambitious EPs, Canadian pop experimentalist Airick Woodhead, aka Doldrums, is releasing his first full-length album, Lesser Evil, a combination of peculiar intergalactic noises, heavy bass and eerie vocals that grew out of the same avant-pop scene that birthed acts like Grimes and Purity Ring. Like both of those artists, Woodhead’s music is packed with careful shifts in tone and mood: Some songs are cheerful while others are completely dark and creepy. If Doldrums were looking to make an album that could be labeled as disjointed but somehow still sound coherent, then he nailed it.
As you venture down the fascinating road Woodhead has paved, you’re hit with all kinds of twists, turns and subtle digressions. Like a kid hopped-up on candy and suffering from ADD, Doldrums leaps all over the place, often knocking over everything in his path. Songs like “Anomaly,” “Sunrise” and “Golden Calf are entrancing and conjure hazy portraits of the sunnier days to come. Then songs like “She Is The Wave” and “Singularity Acid Face” display a darker side—a way darker side. By toggling between these two stylistic registers, Doldrums manages to craft his own parallel universe of synth pop gone awry.
“Anomaly” uses super sped-up percussion, futuristic beeps and silky vocals that present an unsettling yet calm mood, which is quickly dampened by the likes of “She Is The Wave.” That song’s spacey machine guns and intense bass shoot you out into the cosmos for a good three minutes before you’re drawn back to Earth with the easy-going Sunday morning track “Sunrise.” One minute we’re in space dodging bullets, and the next we’re on top of a mountain watching the sun rise? Not even Obama wants that much change. Woodhead’s unsteady mind could end up being a double-edged-sword, but for most of the album, he’s able to gracefully manage these mood swings.
Things start to get gloomier (and slower) toward the end of the album. “Singularity Acid Face” uses dreary, hypnotizing ohms and mysterious squiggles that make the one-minute song seem like four. Doldrums’ ability to create abstract songs that capture people’s attention while letting them get lost within their own thoughts is what makes the album so rewarding. He seems to do a little of his own self-reflecting in the penultimate track, “Lost In Everyone.” In his distinct falsetto Woodhead mumbles incomprehensible words that we can assume are just as dark as the twitching, apocalyptic beat, until reaching the chorus where he cries out, “Somehow I get lost in everyone.”
The unbalanced synth drones go on for a good minute before transitioning to “Painted Black,” which closes off with a slow ticking that is accompanied by powerful vocals and squeaky synths that send chills down your spine. While many artists choose to play it safe on their debut album, Doldrums has decided to take us on an untidy journey into his own headspace. Lesser Evil is an unflinching and unashamed document of that trip, like a travelogue of a doomed vacation through Woodhead’s brain.