It should have came as no surprise to learn that Erik Bleich released his sophomore album, “More Than Anything You’ve Feared,” this past Valentine’s Day. For love in its deepest yearning beats alone in the heart of this wondrous music.
The five songs contained on this new EP serve more like a five-act play, charting like a one-man movie through a landscape of broken dreams, celebrating hope where none exists, celebrating love when its shimmering allure has long since faded. Bleich (guitar, vocals), accompanied by musicians Tristan Murphy (accordion, glockenspiel, trumpet) and Cassie Norton (violin, vocals) have invented a soundscape of rich sonic textures, bending and shifting vibrations to match the demands of Erik’s deeply personal and vulnerable narrative.
However hopeful we remain inclined toward love, love itself is fraught with anguish and uncertainty, sometimes almost extinguishing the will to prevail when it fails to survive. Bleich has taken a set of compositions crafted during a past romance and courageously chosen to take us deep into the emotional ramifications of an affair gone wrong, while still somehow pointing toward a triumphant renewal. No matter how daunting and foolhardy it must be to love again, there is no choice but to carry on.
Bleich has not released an album since 2010’s, “Invisible Vehicles,” a set of tunes that introduced fans to a talent that many clearly recognized with a very bright future. Although the Toronto singer-songwriter continued an extensive performance schedule of local dates, he took a deliberate amount of time exploring and mapping out his next project, through a broad range of styles, genres and interests that stimulated his imagination.
The song cycle on “More Than Anything You’ve Feared” began as a soundtrack to a gallery showing of intimate portraits from painter Stella Cade Rotstein. The paintings focused on the domestic life of two people falling in love, with Bleich’s songs providing a counterpoint to the vivid colour and distorted figures within those paintings. Both elicit a powerful emotional question and response.
Arising from that project, Erik began to record the set in 2019 with Harrison Fine at Fine Productions in the Kensington Market district of Toronto. For whatever reason, Erik chose to postpone the release, even though he set a date many times while he continued to work on other projects and collaborations. The timing and placement of these tunes seems to have needed some emotional climate for Bleich’s comfort. Now, after so much waiting and so much isolation, the timing seems perfect.
Reminiscent in tone to “Invisible Vehicles,” the cycle begins with the hauntingly beautiful “Calico Night.” A dense, palpable sadness pervades the delivery and yet, Erik’s vocal subdued and almost submersed beneath the music, soars above looking out to a horizon undefined: “And my bloodshot eyes / A real sign of the sailors’ delight / Buzzards fill the sky / But they’re no danger from such great heights.” Prompted by the passing of near one, the song relentlessly probes the depths of sorrow, but allows for some sort of hope to arise.
“Lampshade” and “Pink Guitar” are love songs, introspective and tender. The fourth act in the set belongs to the stunning “Books You Never Read,” a heartbreaking search for meaning and purpose in the depth of lost love and depression. For anyone who has ever suffered the malaise of mental collapse, Erik fearlessly leads the listener through the paralysis, confusion, and despair that sets upon a hapless sufferer. It takes artistic courage and fortitude to delve into topics less travelled in popular music, and though surely not a song meant for everyone, “Books You’ve Never Read” is a comfort for those similarly afflicted.
“Birds” closes the five songs with an uplifting inspiration. “If I had the words, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing them down / I’d be singing with the birds from the tallest tree around / But I am tangled in the wires / Instead of soaring with the highest fliers.” All of Bleich’s gifts as guitarist and songwriter are on display in this song, as his band surges victorious, and with a voice renewed and empowered, Erik punches through the morass of entangled grief, if only momentarily, to shout toward an open sky – I will survive, to thrive another day.
Photo Credit: Jen Squires