It has been over six years since Satnam Minhas self-released his lost classic debut, The Hunt is On, under the name My Lovely Son. In the interim, he has relocated from the small city of Duncan on Vancouver Island to Montreal, then uprooted a second time to Toronto.
I first encountered My Lovely’s Son’s lush alt. folk by chance in 2010, purchasing The Hunt is On after idly browsing in a Victoria record store, the decision to buy based on my attraction to its elegant, though unrevealing sleeve design, and the store’s review of the CD. A sticker compared the content to such as Bon Iver and Red House Painters, yet while both touchstones are somewhat valid, I also found similarities to Gravenhurst and echoes of Michael Head & the Strands. It has proven to be an impulse purchase of note: after just one listen I was lost in its haunting, ethereal beauty, and six years later The Hunt is On remains not only one of my favourite local releases but one of my favourite albums, period.
And now, seemingly but definitely not out of the blue, the second My Lovely Son album has been quietly snuck out into the world. However, Minhas openly admits, via a post on his Facebook page, that the creation of Hell is Other People was difficult, frustrating and…well, he explains it best:
Nothing about making this album was enjoyable. It was an arduous and discouraging process. I abandoned it numerous times, but it always plagued me that it wasn’t finished. And while I worked on it, I kept asking myself ‘Why?’ Why bother toiling over something that is only going to disappear into the abyss that is modern music, anyway?
Nonetheless, despite its apparently agonizing creation and Minhas’ view of an undeniably fragmented music industry, like its predecessor the digital-only Hell is Other People is a sublime, melancholy affair but, as one should expect, just as Minhas has moved a great distance geographically, so his music has evolved over time. Not hugely, though; the effortless-sounding My Lovely Son sonic identity remains, but the new material is just a tad jazzier and more structurally complex. And while The Hunt is On was an entirely solo affair in terms of composition, arrangement, performance, and production, for the new album Minhas has recruited a stellar producer and three fine Montreal-based musicians, two to add fleeting, but crucial contributions.
Mark Nelson is an in-demand and busy jazz drummer whose work on all but one of the eight tracks supports Minhas’ laidback delivery with inventive and subtle percussive touches. Previously compared to Joe Pass, guitarist François Jalbert is piling up jazz awards, and the animated solo propelling the majestic opener Communion to its conclusion is a doozy providing ample evidence as to why. Equally engaged with classical music and experimental, instrumental chamber pop via her band Sweet Mother Logic, Kate Maloney adds her lovely violin atop the meandering melody of Confession. Minhas plays everything else, with the prolific Toronto-based musician/producer, Sandro Perri, on mixing and mastering duties. Perri has produced releases by such as Devon Sproule, Tasseomancy, Great Lake Swimmers and The Weather Station, and on Hell is Other People he respects the spacious sound of The Hunt is On, while applying a professional sheen to ramp it up a notch from the bedroom-recorded limitations of the debut.
Interestingly, as stated in the Bandcamp sleeve notes, the songs comprising this new album predate Minhas’ move cross-country, so in that respect they capture a distinct personal period in time lyrically. Of the subject matter, Minhas says:
All of these songs are a representation of my old self. They were written years ago and don’t capture who I am now. Although, I won’t deny there are ghosts that linger, despite the passage of time.
There are certainly clues therein, both obvious and more veiled, that Minhas felt a need for change, to escape a restless, unfulfilling situation. Whether purely personally or partially professionally-driven only Minhas could say, but as a Vancouver Islander I can attest to the fact that, Victoria aside, the Island is (often, thankfully) a fairly sleepy, slow-moving part of the world, whereas Montreal and Toronto are obviously anything but. With limited employment opportunities here, as I have witnessed time and again it is common for ambitious young creatives like Minhas to leave the Island to try and make a go of it in a big Canadian city. For Minhas, this matter is most directly addressed in Children, the opening line being, He longed for the day / When he’d break away / From the life that he knew, but also clarified (and nudged at elsewhere: see below) in his explanation of the sleeve design. Bearing a figure looking not dissimilar to Swamp Thing, it is in fact, an unnamed statue from a Japanese park, about which Minhas says:
“The image gave me a dark feeling, yet there was something longing in the man’s motion. The longer I looked at it, the more I saw how he represented me as I transitioned away from home into my new life. I see the man moving forward, physically, but not unscathed. And the songs are very much an echo of that notion as well.”
Minhas earns his living as a psychotherapist, so it is interesting – telling, even – that he has chosen to name the new album for the (most) famous quote from Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist play, No Exit. And just look at the profile image that (at the time of writing) Minhas has employed on his Bandcamp page: René Magritte’s 1955 masterpiece, The Mysteries of the Horizon. Adding up the direct references and implied symbolism, it seems clear that Hell is Other People is an album documenting a period of both apprehension and hope at a crossroads in the musician’s life. There are pointers to, among other things, his search for meaning and purpose in his individual existence, and the strain of an emotionally challenging relocation – yet, paradoxically, always in the knowledge it was to somewhere full of possibilities and new adventures. One such adventure on My Lovely Son’s journey has been the painstaking crafting of this affecting new collection of old songs, and now they are out in the world this grateful listener hopes they help Minhas as an artist to view his place in this world with a little more value. Despite the pain of its creation, I can assure Minhas that the end result was well, well worth it. After all, as Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”
Both Hell is Other People and The Hunt is On are available on a name-your-price basis from the My Lovely Son Bandcamp page.
My Lovely Son Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/My-Lovely-Son-135512374872/