Doors at 7:30 | Show at 8
After spending much of 2020 with her thoughts and instruments, Charlotte Cornfield knew it was time to take her new songs out of the house. She’d spent months writing a suite of evocative, autobiographical story-songs in near-solitude, and was ready for the immediate, regenerative experience of a band playing live in the studio. But this wasn’t mere pandemic-related longing. It was instead a long-simmering desire.
The Canadian singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist’s 2019 album The Shape of Your Name had received widespread praise, including being longlisted for the coveted Polaris Music Prize. But it was a slow solo endeavor, written alone and meticulously recorded in fits and starts over the span of a few years. She’d even played most of its instruments. It was a mode that proved fruitful, if not inauthentic to the spirit of musical community Cornfield has dedicated herself to since childhood. After coming of age amid vibrant DIY scenes in her hometown Toronto, and forming lasting bonds in the music program at Montreal’s Concordia University, for Highs in the Minuses Cornfield knew she needed a cast that was representative of her journey — those friends and colleagues who’ve helped her become the incisive, witty, and generous writer and player she is.
Though the songs of Highs in the Minuses — her debut release on Polyvinyl and Double Double Whammy — are highly personal, Cornfield wanted their sonic quality to convey the communal, aleatoric energy of live performance. Channeling the spirit and working methods of Jason Molina, Neil Young, and Big Thief before her, she and the band allowed their psychic connection to convey the emotional interconnectedness that comes with stories of heartbreak, self-discovery, and new love. “I knew everyone was coming in prepared, but I was really excited to see what was going to happen spontaneously, and those ideas that happened really quickly,” Cornfield says. “It was so much about trusting who I was with and trying to capture the immediacy of the emotions in the songs.” So many of the tunes expose her messy corners, and an animate soundtrack played with equal parts heart seemed only fitting.
Cornfield (guitar, piano, vocals), bassist Alexandra Levy (Ada Lea) and drummer Liam O’Neill (Suuns) convened in Montreal at the studio of Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, Leonard Cohen). Cornfield and Bilerman originally met through a musician’s residency he founded at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, situated in the idyllic cradle of the Canadian Rockies, and she knew he would be a perfect fit for her vision. “I feel really grateful that he was on the same page, in terms of focusing on the emotion,” she says. “He didn’t worry about all the little details that people can sweat about in the studio.” In just five days, with minimal takes and overdubs—and with contributions from guitarist Sam Gleason (Tim Baker) and Stars singer Amy Millan—they set Cornfield’s vivid mini-memoirs to an earthen folk-rock symphony. It ebbs and flows based on each song’s feeling: sturdy and buoyant in its jubilance and hope, and stripped back and vulnerable in its lonesomeness and pain.
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