Having been around in various forms since 1998, Toronto’s Picastro have developed a unique sound that will wow fans of the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mt Zion and Xiu Xiu. Their fifth album proper, ‘You’, is their first record to be released on Function Records – a label that has always specialised in bringing off-kilter and highly diverse bands to dedicated music fans’ attentions.
‘Mountain Relief’ starts proceedings in a very serene fashion. Deeply atmospheric, the strings and woodwind instruments combine to devastating effect as, time and time again, the song threatens to fall apart in the most glorious fashion. Minimalist and full of abstract subtleties, this sets a yardstick for what follows. ‘Two Women’ opens with a folkier sound, before climaxing in a violin-led crescendo, showing Picastro as a band that are happy to embrace both melody and the avant-garde. There’s a Loney, Dear-style opening to ‘Endlessly’ with Liz Hysen’s distinctive vocals hovering over the sophisticated instrumentation. She gently sings about getting your head clean before it gets dark as a faintly psychedelic beat creeps in.
‘Vampires’ has more of a shoegaze feel with the arrangements also recalling Nick Cave at his most intimidating. However, Hysen’s singing again keeps the song the right side of pompous, offering what could be a difficult song a down-to-earth feel. This grounded approach serves the band well throughout as it complements the more intense, orchestral and ensemble approach featured elsewhere. ‘State Man’ contains the lyrics: ‘I am a man that likes to keep things clean, otherwise my mind might wander…’, showcasing a melancholic approach that has served Picastro well throughout their career. That it’s sung in such a captivating way just adds to the splendour.
The seven and a half minutes of ‘Baron in the Trees’ sees the band dip their toes into a more prog-rock territory, especially around the four-and-a-half minute mark as the strings make their mark and the song heads into a more-unexpected direction. It is this kind of idiosyncratic twist that makes the album endlessly surprising. With harmonies, string arrangements and a plaintive outlook, every song could soundtrack the episode of a European drama. By no means an easy listen, ‘You’ is an album to be absorbed, surprised and transfixed by.
Picastro’s ‘You’ is released via Function Records on 10 February 2014.