Fresh Pepper - Fresh Pepper Music Album Reviews

Fresh Pepper - Fresh Pepper Music Album Reviews
This culinary-themed Toronto supergroup crafts languorous jazz-pop grooves that capture the ambiance of a bistro dying down at closing time.

Nobody has ever sung more smoothly and suavely about chopping onions than André Ethier, the de facto frontman of Canadian supergroup Fresh Pepper. This is among the first things you hear on Fresh Pepper’s gastronomically themed debut: Ethier’s musings about onions (there are, apparently, new ways of chopping them), delivered in a croon so sensual and deep you might wonder if “chopping onions” is some sort of innuendo. “Sous chef/Dry your eyes,” the singer mutters over gentle waves of quiet storm keys. Two decades ago, as vocalist for the scuzzy rock band the Deadly Snakes, Ethier sang in a nasally warble often compared to Bob Dylan. But his voice has deepened to an astonishing degree, now sounding somewhere between Barry White and Tindersticks’ Stuart Staples.

There is a lounginess, an air of decaying elegance, to this honeyed croon, which pairs well with the exploratory saxophone tangents of Fresh Pepper’s other founding member, Joseph Shabason. Both veterans of Canada’s indie scene—Shabason is known for his work with Destroyer—Ethier and Shabason formed Fresh Pepper as a way of processing memories and emotional scars from working in the Toronto food industry. Every musician they recruited for Fresh Pepper (whose seven-piece lineup includes several members of Toronto’s Bernice) has done time in the service industry, and the apron-clad baby pictured on the album cover consummates the culinary concept.

Yet this peculiar album is never stilted or constrained by its food focus. This isn’t MF DOOM’s Mm..Food or Weird Al’s Food Album; Fresh Pepper is less concerned with snack-based puns than with using the restaurant setting as a loose prompt for a dreamlike flow of kitchen vignettes. The vibe is jazzy and reflective; Ethier’s lyrics are rich with novelistic detail: mushrooms sizzling in a frying pan (“Congee Around Me”), a pair of flies landing on a clock, that all-powerful barometer of a service shift’s beginning and end (the jazz-funk standout “Prep Cook in the Woods”). Across eight alternately vocal and instrumental pieces, Fresh Pepper crafts languorous and slow jazz-pop grooves that capture the ambiance of a bistro dying down at closing time.

Fresh Pepper plays like an eclectic showcase for Canadian indie-scene lifers even before Destroyer frontman Dan Bejar himself shows up for a woozy cameo on “Seahorse Tranquilizer.” The indistinct murmur of restaurant patrons ushers in this six-minute centerpiece, which evokes the drifting, free-association majesty of a Kaputt outtake. Bejar winds his way through impressionistic imagery (“Guitars floating down the river”) and satirizes the flashy promises of fine dining establishments (“We harvest insane roses/We harvest insane roses”) before retiring to let a Greek chorus of backup singers ride out the groove.

Shabason once confessed that, before joining Destroyer, he was “a self-loathing sax player for so long.” His playing on Kaputt showed him that audiences “actually want to hear a saxophone solo.” Fresh Pepper relishes the thought. The album utterly teems with Shabason’s tasty sax stylings—dueling with wafty keys on “New Ways of Chopping Onions,” simmering softly around the edges of the sighing bliss of “Congee Around Me,” taking a more menacing and processed tone on “Dishpit.”

Like much of Destroyer’s work, the record flirts with smooth-jazz kitsch; sometimes it crosses over too far, as on the antiseptic “The Worm” with its full-on Richard Marx mid-’80s sheen, but there is never the faintest whiff of ironic detachment. Fresh Pepper was recorded in-person during a lull between COVID restrictions, and the musicians clearly revel in each other’s presence, playing jazz that’s gentle and light but never stagnant or settled.

At times, Fresh Pepper feels a little too lethargic, too gentle to summon the indignities of an industry known for grinding hours and rampant exploitation. Instrumental pieces like “Walkin’” and the avant-jazzy “Dishpit” (named after the menial corner of the kitchen where dishes are stacked) are the only tracks that capture that air of hustle and bustle, and the latter feels like it was orphaned from one of Shabason’s solo records.

At its best, though, Fresh Pepper evokes the calm after the storm, the camaraderie and sense memories that linger after a restaurant shift is over. Arguably the finest song on here, “Congee Around Me” finds our narrator frying mushrooms and onions, only to reveal that he’s been fired and is now on his own. Strangely, the track—with its sense of nourishment and care, of cooking for or with someone you love—reminds me of that wonderful scene in Big Night, the 1996 Stanley Tucci film, where the two brothers (Tucci and Tony Shalhoub) wordlessly share an omelet and reconcile after a fraught night in their floundering restaurant. Sometimes, the most meaningful balm after cooking for angry strangers is cooking for yourself, just the way you like it.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Fresh Pepper - Fresh Pepper Music Album Reviews Fresh Pepper - Fresh Pepper Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Tuesday, June 28, 2022 Rating: 5

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