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Ky is the new “solo” project of Ky Brooks, best known as vocalist/lyricist of noise trio Lungbutter and a slew of other Montréal-based out-music projects like 8-person queer punk band Femmaggots and experimental/improv trio Nag. Power Is The Pharmacy is an album of cerebral and visceral artpunk “mainly about grief, death, the fear of loss, losing dreams, losing youth, people, public space, ultimately oneself” an emotionally electrifying collection of songs fuelled by Ky’s piercing poetry, both spoken and sung, delivering an incisive blend of socio-political observation and spiritual sadness, swirling through vortices of disenchantment and re-enchantment.
The seeds of Power Is The Pharmacy were planted in pre-lockdown performances where Big|Brave’s Mat Ball played tape loops to Ky’s poems, with their intent “to figure out how to make music that involved singing in a more melodic way and use parts of my voice I wasn’t using with Lungbutter and other noise/punk projects.” Then pandemic hit, along with Canadian pandemic income support, allowing for Ky’s acquisition of a couple of mini-synths. Songs took on all kinds of further re-shaping in the isolation of Montréal’s intense lockdown winter 2020-21. Then devastating tragedy struck (as it had for so many) in spring 2021 when Lungbutter drummer and dear friend Joni Sadler died suddenly of a brain aneurism. Ky describes “All The Sad And Loving People” as “the most direct piece of writing I’ve done in response to Joni’s passing” and the song’s haunting, devotional simplicity is a numinous album highlight among many.
Power Is The Pharmacy careens through hissing bruitist synthscape, free/jazz sprinkles, soft-focus gauze, coldwave and ambient-to-thick sludge, all anchored by Ky’s superbly sly, searching, serrated lyrics and voice. The album ranges from trenchant spoken-word tracks like “Power Is The Pharmacy (Teeth)” and “Work That Superficially Looks Like Leisure”—which repeats the line “Suddenly! / No not suddenly! / But with a fantastic regularity and remarkable softness! / I woke up and decided I knew how to work!” to the haunting electro of “The Dancer” and “All The Sad And Loving People” (most overtly evoking Big Science-era Laurie Anderson, a recurring stylistic touchstone). The album’s second half brings Ball’s incendiary noise-improv guitar to the fore, along with Ky’s voice more fiercely and soulfully unleashed, on heavy incantatory cuts like “Revolving Door”, “Dragons” and the quasi-operatic cabaret of “Listen! Avoid Magic! Be Aware!”
Ky enlisted a diverse crew of fellow Montréal iconoclasts to flesh out this gripping voyage through unruly stylistic and mood swings of experimental song, including the aforementioned Mat Ball, synth maven Nick Schofield, saxophonist James Goddard (Egyptian Cotton Arkestra), bassist Joshua Frank (Gong Gong Gong) and drummer Farley Miller (Shining Wizard). Ky composed all the music, plays synths and guitars, asked all these friends to “not under any circumstances play any particular thing” and then and mixed the album “for 10 million years.” The album draws its title from A Critique Of Black Reason by Achille Mbembe, as quoted in the liner notes: Power is the pharmacy, thanks to its capacity to transform the sources of death into a seeding strength, or to convert the resources of death into the capacity for healing. And it is because of its dual ability to be the force of life and the principle of death that power is at once revered and feared. But the relationship between the principles of life and death is fundamentally unstable.
1. Power Is The Pharmacy (Teeth)
2. All The Sad And Loving People
3. Work That Superficially Looks Like Leisure
4. The Dancer
5. Revolving Door
6. Listen! Avoid Magic! Be Aware!
8. Elvin Silverware
9. The Replacement