Better in the Shade

Better in the Shade

The first thing you might notice about Patrick Watson’s seventh album is its relative brevity—with seven tracks clocking in at a lean 22 minutes, the record barely qualifies for LP status. But Better in the Shade feels just as substantial and rewarding as the Montreal art-pop auteur’s more epically scaled statements—he’s simply become more adept at condensing his ambitious ideas into compact packages. “I like the idea of shorter albums,” Watson tells Apple Music. “My biggest peeve about making long albums is you’ll have the first half of your album done, but by the time you finish the back half, you’re a different person. So, you have this mix of songs on a record that are a bit of a stretch to put together. It’s almost impossible to finish a [long] record in a short enough period that it feels really consistent.” Better in the Shade, by contrast, feels like one continuous, dreamlike journey—one whose meaning isn’t always easy to decipher but leaves a profound emotional impact, nonetheless. Its tracks form a serene yet restlessly mutating tapestry of delicate piano balladry, exquisite orchestration, and modular-synth textures, with surprising new elements entering and exiting the mix like apparitions wafting through the rooms of an abandoned mansion. But as Watson attests, the album’s amorphous aesthetic serves a highly practical purpose. “I make a lot of music every day,” he says, “so when I come home, I’m like, ‘What do I want to listen to after a crazy day?’ I just don’t have the energy to listen to a big album—I just want to listen to something that takes me somewhere, without so much stuff behind it. This whole album sounds humble—people can actually listen to it without it being too fucking crazy. I feel like that was a bit of a goal for this record.” Here, Watson guides us through the record, track by track. “Better in the Shade” “I split this song up into three little stories, and the last one is about that feeling you had as a kid when you stayed out too late. It’s almost nighttime, and you’re in that weird gray zone where you think, ‘Oh, fuck, it’s too late—I should have gone home.’ But with that comes this really exhilarating moment. So, the ‘shade’ I’m talking about is that strange place between places. It’s a pretty complex world we live in, and there’s something about being OK with that complexity and making peace with it. I find people are always trying to cure badness, but I don’t think you can just chop it off to make it go away. So, I guess that’s what I also mean by ‘shade’: you’re not going to cure the world of evil. People will always be shitty, so let’s just come to terms with that but find the most productive and least destructive way of dealing with that.” “Height of the Feeling” (feat. La Force) “Whenever Ariel [Engle, aka La Force] and I sing together, we’re always laughing. So, we were like, ‘How do we take that and put that playfulness into a song?’ We started with the topic of a couple dynamic and having two sides of the story simultaneously speaking over top of each other. I would come up with a lyric and she would answer it, or vice versa—and then we’d just laugh on the microphone and record as we were writing the words. It was very lighthearted, but I was really impressed by Ariel’s lyric-writing. Most of the best lines in the song come from her—like, ‘Did I give it away when my hands were shaking?’ And the ‘height of the feeling’ idea was Ariel’s as well—like, as a way to measure how big a feeling is. I thought that was lovely.” “Ode to Vivian”/“Little Moments” “I love playing solo piano a lot, and I like instrumental music, but it can be hard to release that in my projects. But this time [with ‘Ode to Vivian’], I was like, ‘Fuck it, we’re just gonna put it in and see what happens.’ These two songs are connected—both of them were inspired by the photographer Vivian Maier. She’s a bit of a hero for me. I like everything about her. I would date her if she was still here! I like the little moments she picks out—these really charming moments in life that aren’t like a big deal, but when I look at them, I’m like, ‘Yeah, but that’s so much more what our life is than the big deal.’ I love how she celebrates the little moments. I’m not a naturally gifted lyricist—I have to work months for every damn word I get. So, sometimes, I like looking at photos and just describing little details, literally, and then you get these really lovely lyrics in the end.” “Blue” “Often, people use the word ‘sad’ to describe my music, but honest to God, I think I’ve written three sad songs in my life. I have no interest in making sad music. Often, I feel like people confuse quiet with sadness. And I’m like, ‘Sometimes it’s nice to be quiet; it doesn’t mean you’re sad. You don’t always want to be at a dance party.’ So, this song is more of a celebration of blue being the color of melancholy. And melancholy is kind of like a drug state—it’s like being high in a different way. When you dive into melancholy, it’s still a form of escapism as much as going to a dance party or getting loaded or smoking a joint. And the essence of the song is about having an addiction to melancholy as if it’s a drug that you can’t kick.” “La La La La La” “We were recording ‘Blue’ in the country, and then [bandmate] Mishka [Stein] was like, ‘Check out these chords. We should write this song later.’ I just started singing, ‘La la la la la’ over the chords, and then everybody started singing along, and it was just a really nice moment. And sometimes music is more about capturing a moment than spending six months fleshing out a tune. From the moment Mishka showed me the chords to us recording the song, it was an hour. It’s a live take. We did this thing where we stood back from the microphone, and then started walking towards it—that’s why the voice gets louder. We were all laughing while we were recording it—it's a special thing to have on tape.” “Stay” (feat. Sea Oleena) “This is something you should listen to late at night when you’re tripped out and having fun. Mishka and I were out in the country again, and I just dialed in this weird modular beat, and I was like, ‘That’s such a bizarre beat. It sounds so strange and alive—like a fireplace crackling.’ We just kind of improv’d over it and that’s the take, other than the female vocals we added [from Sea Oleena].”

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