There is something special about Toronto's own, Unbuttoned, and their new album, Liquid. As it ebbs and flows seamlessly like water, the four-piece have developed their innovative sound to be as intricately harmonious as the elements. Following their 2014 debut, Planes, and the 2012 EP, Electric Kingdom, Liquid continues to dissect internal (self acceptance, identity, love) and external (racism, sexism, homophobia) issues, yet in a purely cathartic way.
Our interview with the band was only our second on this journey of sonic diversity and storytelling. The strong, endearing personalities within the band are equally unique as the sounds they produce as a collective. Unbuttoned cannot be defined by genre, for they explore a vast array of sounds and styles, while simultaneously tackling life in its raw, true form. In the case of their sophomore release, Liquid (August 8, via their own Round 4 Records), it’s a revelatory experience of “composition, emotional complexity, and a fierce dichotomy of grief coupled with arrant heroism.”
Composition within Liquid is a great place to begin. Shifting between indie rock, electronic, ambient, soul, jazz, new wave and dream pop (still…cannot be defined), the album explores complex instrumentation. Whether through the orchestral, organic plucked strings of “Serene,” with its keys and Casey MQ’s mid-point verse, to the gritty, bass-laden “Soft Touch,” complicated by Kamilah Apong’s distorted soul tones, to the soundtrack-worthy and gloriously cinematic “Sending Psalms,” and the rustic jazz bar sax on “Catch Me I’m Falling,” every track delivers a different emotional experience. It’s evident that the writing and production process of each composition was intricately developed and executed through each nuance and tone.
Liquid resonates deep within the soul for its ability to target a variety of feelings, garnering a new response on every spin. In the case of the personal, “Womxn Cry,” Apong rises from pain to perseverance, describing the track as “What it looks like, sometimes, when I lose my mind. What it sounds like to fall back in love with myself.” A testament for many womxn, the artist examines catharsis in strife, and the daily struggles faced.
The pattern throughout the record, sonically and thematically, bounces back and forth, up and down between suffering and reclamation. There’s also a juxtaposition with nature – the graceful interludes of “To The Water,” and white noise of “EP8,” bring balance to the piece, giving time and space to process the emotional depth that Liquid possesses.
“My Hormones,” and “Bedroom Fall,” examine vulnerability and relationships. The power of desire, intimacy and intuition. Fear, perhaps. Self-knowledge and denial. Unbuttoned make it easy for the listener to relate – the content is applicable because it delves deep. As Casey and Kamliah proclaim, “Love, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts,” on the progressive “Oceans, Cliffs and Green Hills,” they let go of all inhibition – and this is when the sentiment truly sinks in. Catharsis arises on the catchy “Crystal Growth,” as Liquid sifts through ashes to solidify and shine, like the track title.
Unbuttoned are impressive. The foundation of the band is comprised of Kamilah Apong and Casey MQ, who shared their artistic exploits throughout high school, with their involvement in piano, vocal and dance. Joined by multifaceted percussionist, Miles Gibbons and gifted guitarist, Alexei Orechin, their bond is unparalleled. And they live up to their name. But we’re not talking about a sloppy garment. Unbuttoned is free from inhibition and ties to societal norms. There are still loopholes. And in the band’s case, these loopholes are facets of life. Lucky for them, the music carries them through to fasten these experiences with strength.
Listen to our interview with Unbuttoned (2015) to learn more about their journey to date:
Words by Ola Mazzuca