Zef Raček is the alias of Jozef Raček, singer/songwriter of recently disbanded Montreal pop folk trio Harvest Soon. Pop Ululation, released in August 2015, marks his fifth Bandcamp release under this moniker (a collection of works largely made up of material that did not jive with the Harvest Soon sound). It is the first full-length solo LP for Raček with a limited edition cassette tape to be released soon. The nine tracks of ‘bedroom music,’ recorded in various living spaces throughout Montreal, provide an airy, eclectic journey riddled with catchy gems along the way.
Raček veers from his more traditional, melodic folk sound in favour of some quirky keyboard, surf guitar and catchy refrains. “Snow and Pine” is a great example of this exercise in whimsy; it sounds like it could have easily come from the sunny West Coast rather than a chilly Montreal borough. Surfy reverb and Spanish sounding guitar on tracks like “Fairmount” and “Blue and Plaid” brought to mind the Beach Goth sound of the The Growlers from Orange Country, and the Steely Dan-esque guitar and fumbling relationship-based lyrics of“Ballade Mentale” made me briefly think of B.C. born Mac Demarco. Vibrant and aloof, Raček’s new sunnier sound of has a sense of play and mischief that cannot help but bring a smile.
It’s not all experimental, upbeat jams. There are a couple of more traditional indie rock tracks that feel radio-ready. “Dark Bark” has all the trappings of a successful single: catchy refrains, groovy bass line, and a driving rhythm that feels road-trip worthy. “Busted Cymbal” has a strummy, garage-rock vibe, with simple, allegorical lyrics that don’t feel over-worked. You can almost picture it being written nonchalantly after stumbling onto a busted cymbal during a stroll through a Montreal back alley.
There are a couple of tiny tracks that feel more like ideas or interludes rather than complete pieces; “Fairmount,” “Nosferatu,” and “Blue Plaid” are all a minute and under. If these are the seeds of songs to come; I hope this warm sound Raček is dabbling in brings them to full fruition.
“Waiting Tables” feels a bit more like a Harvest Soon number than the rest, or even as some of the earlier Zef Raček fare—melodic folk with a lot more attention paid to intricate harmonies and guitar work, and very polished production. It feels more like a song made in the studio than the bedroom, and is lyrically a bit of a down note on this otherwise dreamy journey.
Despite some West Coast leanings, the LP ends with “To The Shore,” which could only have come out of Montreal. The use of a vibraphonette is a clever soupçon of French folk flavour, paired with lyrics pondering the cultural/linguistic alienation that many Montreal Anglos can identify with, “and now I’m walking to the shore, in a foreign country, I don’t know the language or the people that’s for sure, and I feel I’m getting deeper in the hole.”
This LP is a short and sweet mishmash of sonic sketches, experiments, and lightly composed ditties. If these are blueprints, I look forward to seeing how Raček builds upon them.
Written by Courtney O’Hearn
*edited by Danielle Kenedy