A Hopeless Noise
Red Mass have been around for over a decade now, but slipped into semi-hibernation for a bit there, must’ve been the bitterly cold Montréal winters. But last March, they exploded back on the scene with the epically brilliant Kilrush Drive, my favourite album of 2019. And now, they’re back with A Hopeless Noise. Red Mass is a Montréal-based collective, fronted by Roy Vucino, one of the survivors of Montréal’s legendary underground, and his real life partner Hannah Lewis. Over the past decade, Vucino (who has played in such Montréal bands as CPC Gangbangs, PyPy, Les Sexereenos, and Birds of Paradise (with Lewis)), estimates that several hundred musicians and artists have worked with the band.
And here, they hook up with a few of their favourites to collaborate on this, a concept album about the Diamond Girl, a modern-day telling of Don Quixote, set in the scuzzy side of the city, with Lewis voicing DG throughout. But the guest list is beyond impressive, as Vucino called up Red Mass’ favourite musicians to help out: Mac DeMarco, Rick Froberg (of Hot Snakes and Drive Like Jehu), John Kastner (another survivor of the Montréal underground, of the Doughboys and Asexuals), Evan Dando (Lemonheads), Hugo Mudie (The Sainte-Catherines), Jered Gummere (the Ponys), the legendary King Khan, and the even more legendary Mike Watt. Plus members of the Black Lips, Duchess Says, Fly Pan Am, and Godspeedyoublackemperor. Friends, foes, and even their Vucino and Lewis’ dads chipped in.
The results are stunning. Red Mass are all over the place stylistically here, from the opening track, ‘To Fall From Grace,’ with King Khan, to the end, ‘Sharp,’ (feat Mac DeMarco). But it doesn’t matter.
The story of Diamond Girl is a sad one, as she falls from grace. The trauma of her fall causes her to lose touch with reality around her, and she begins to suffer delusions of grandeur. And as the fall becomes increasingly spectacular, she continues to believe she lives in the lap of luxury and she is left wandering the dirty city, where the most decadent of the lowlives prey on her.
‘To Fall From Grace’ is the first single, and her Vucino begins our story, singing that
I was once a rich man
But now I’m fallen from grace
I used to travel the world
But now I’m stuck in this place
Fast cars, champagne, cocaine, I wanted a taste
Yeah yeah yeah
Now I’m in a hole and such a disgrace.
And his character’s plan to survive gives us a hint into the world of the Diamond Girl, when he notes that ‘delusions of grandeur/that’s how I will survive.’
‘Life is a Cabaret,’ the second track begins in a punk fury that recalls some of Vucino’s work in Sexareenos and Gangbangs. Over a furious beat, he begins Diamond Girl’s descent. One of my favourite tracks on the album is ‘First Time’s a Bitch,’ which features Watt. I talked briefly to Vucino last week, and we reminisced about Watt’s first official solo album, Ball Hog or Tugboat, back in 1995, which featured Watt working with a boatload of guest singers in the wake of the end of fIREHOSE. And so, it was exciting for him to work with one of his musical heroes.
‘Killer on the Loose’ with both Froberg and DeMarco sounds like The Stooges, helped by Froberg’s vocals, which sound like a young Iggy. This is some seriously good shit. ‘My Drugs’ sees Red Mass join forces with Kastner and Dando, as they collectively wonder where their drugs are, searching high and low, over a track that sounds like a cross between the B-52s and the Cramps.
The riff that drives ‘Howl’ is epic, and Lewis takes the vocals here. Her voice is a strong counter to everyone else’s, especially Vucino’s. On Kilrush Drive, her contributions had a very strong Kim Gordon feel to them, here she rocks out harder. ‘Diamond Girl’ begins with an acoustic guitar as Vucino and Lewis sing of the titular anti-hero of our tale here:
A queen of the lightlife
Elegance is innate
Exquisite and graceful
Her charm was a subtle spell
She’s got you by the throat
She loves the luxury
She will live forever.
But, of course, we know better, we know all is not well with the Diamond Girl. As the strings are laid gently over the track as it moves to the end, the lead guitar comes out of nowhere as Vucino unleashes an almost 80s metal lick over the song.
Album closer, Sharp, which also features DeMarco has our girl coming apart, as Lewis, over a tremolo guitar, sings of her descent into the scuzz of the nighttime. Eventually, in the first of several shifts, the track breaks into a disco track, as the Diamond Girl promises to
I’ll pull you in
Through the undertow
You’ll come up gasping
Without you soul.
And then the song goes haywire, much like our anti-hero; DeMarco takes the entire set of lyrics and sings them back to the Diamond Girl, exposing her, and leaving her bereft. And then the song breaks into a rock opera, at least musically, as the Diamond Girl screams, and then comes crashing back down, as she sings:
I’ll take you hand
And steal you mind
Leave nothing else
They fall like knives
And you can’t see
You live a lie.
This album has been on repeat down here at The Typescript World Headquarters, much as Kilrush Drive still is. Do yourself a favour, go buy this album now.