Close up of Ky's head, she is looking to her left.

Track by Track: Ky – Power Is The Pharmacy

Friday 12th May saw the release of the new album Power Is The Pharmacy by Ky (Ky Brooks, known on the Montreal underground circuit for their work in Lungbutter) produces a special blend of outsider art punk and brutalist synth infused with socio-political commentary.

According to Ky the music “The album is mainly about grief, death, the fear of loss, losing dreams, losing youth, people, public space, ultimately oneself. The poems are about losing urban space (Elvin Silverware), time and naivete (The Dancer, Work), and wishing things could move backwards in time (Teeth) – how can things ever be healed when life is a process of undoing, of gaining only to lose?  A lot of the imagery is informed by sci fi writers I love – eg. Listen! Avoid Magic! Be Aware! Which comes from an Ursula K Le Guin story about the inevitability of harm in all relationships. I imagined this parrot-like AI looking over a plain of destroyed cities, talking to itself about losing our beautiful world, confused at being made in the image of a species that has really done itself in.”

Ky has kindly provided Joyzine with a track by track of the album.

Power is the Pharmacy (teeth) – In this track, two heavily modified voices converse about the possibility of repair. I somehow imagined this song as a conversation between an AI (perhaps shaped like a giant mechanical parrot) and a lonely person in a shellshocked burnt landscape, maybe like the ‘desert of the real’ from the matrix. (This narrative is not meant as a comment on the current media kerfuffle about chatbots & GPT; it’s just sci fi.)

All The Sad and Loving People – This song starts with a field recording I made of construction on the Campus MIL, which is described on the Université de Montreal website as ‘un des sites universitaires les plus avant-gardistes en Amérique du Nord’. This university site has contributed to intensifying gentrification of the neighbourhoods around it, including an area that used to house several longstanding DIY art and music spaces. It was also the site of many ‘silly little walks for mental health’ during the early pandemic. I wrote the track for a compilation of music honoring the memory of Joni Sadler, who was (among many other things) the drummer of Lungbutter and a force in the experiemental music scene. The ascending synth line that comes in partway through, as well as the drums, were produced by Nick Schofield, and I think add to the track’s feeling of longing. I recorded the vocals for this last on the album, after James Goddard (who plays sax) gifted me a hardtune pedal.

Work that Superficially Looks Like Leisure – This is a song about work, which I both love and hate.

The Dancer – I wrote this song while staying in the woods during the first summer of COVID. My partner at the time (the titular dancer) and I had left Montreal because it felt unsafe to be around people, and I had this feeling of life passing by so quickly. I thought the song was meant to be an emotional ballad of some kind, and worked and re-worked it with piano and guitar but never got anywhere. Then I was messing around with my little volca fm synth and came up with this loping, irregular synth sequence, and I realized it could be delivered in a more bitter way. Josh Frank came up with the bassline after an afternoon music-listening session (I think we were listening to some experimental-feeling reggaeton, but I can’t remember the name of the artist), and Farley Miller heroically found a way to play drums that work with the irregular rhythm. Finally, Mat Ball added a guitar filigree over everything, and Nick fleshed it out with additional synths. Oh yeah, also, the finger snaps are sort of a joke- they’re a reference (in my mind at least) to the Justin Timberlake track ‘cry me a river’ which is a weirdly relevant sonic touchstone for me. The animated music video was created by my friend Eric Bent- we were imagining a kind of soft, pastel style like the matisse painting ‘la danse’.

Revolving Door – I have this recurring dream about my dog going through an interdimensional door that looks like a fold in the air, and another doppleganger dog coming back through the portal. I know this new dog isn’t my dog, but I still feel compelled to care for it, because it’s a scary world to be a dog alone. Typically there is a terrible rainstorm or hurricane of some kind happening.

Listen! Avoid Magic! Be Aware! – There’s an Ursula K. Le Guin short story with the same title, which is about a parent and a child separated by a cultural gulf – the parent was raised in a society something like our own, but the child was raised during her posting on a planet where people have a very different attitude towards becoming involved in the lives of others. It’s a really interesting meditation on family, colonization, anthropology, and what it is to be in community. The poem I wrote isn’t quite about that, it’s maybe again more about wanting to connect across space or seeking a feeling of meaningful community; but there’s a link in that the story refers to this feeling of stillness- I tried to make a sound that was very still and gentle.

Dragons – This is an angry track about wanting to escape your life. It’s sort of old fashioned rock and roll I guess. I assembled the instrumental parts backwards (like everything else on this album)- first starting with a synth part played by Lucas Huang, which was part of a collaboration we picked up while we were reading ’Stars in My Pockets Like Grains of Sand’ by Samuel Delany, which features a scene where the hero shoots some dragons flying through a canyon with a gun that allows him to inhabit their sensory and emotional experience directly. Then I put some vocals on it, then the bass, then guitar, then drums and finally I removed the original vocal and improvised the vocal that appears on the album in a single take during what was meant to be a mixing session the week after Joni passed away.

Elvin Silverware – Matt Reading sent me a synthesized drum part which became the bed for a poem about the city seen in a receding view. Some vignettes about being in my 20’s and getting into trouble, basically. About nightlife, bad behaviour, social climbing, and how sometimes an especially long night gives way to a sublime kind of paralysis: things moving past without any sense of how to stop them. Probably my favourite poem of the ones here.

The Replacement – Another song about my dream of the disappearing dog, but also about how final it is to lose people, and the desolation of the empty spaces they leave.

Power Is The Pharmacy was released on 12th May and can be downloaded and bought from their Bandcamp

More information on Ky and the LP can be found at Constellation Records

Interview by Ioan Humphreys – Twitter
Photo by Stacy Lee

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