The Nicoll siblings and their longtime BFF Noah Bender have always been a tightly knit group of friends, but they’ve finally recorded together as an actual group in the musical sense. Their new album, Us to Die, sees the 3 siblings and Bender going track for track and backing each other on each other’s songs.
They pulled a Postal Service. Jake is still living here in town (he won The Overcast’s $1000 Borealis Music Prize in January), but his songwriting siblings are living off the island now. To get the album together, he says they recorded bed tracks to a few songs each, and sent them to each other to add bits and pieces.
“I think the idea came to me and Noah while at Fixed [where they work], just goofing around,” Nicoll says. “Now that Ilia’s moved away, as well as Billy, it seemed like a fun challenge to try and make something from a distance and it also seemed like a special way to stay in touch.”
Naturally, as a collaboration of 4 fine and stylistically distinctive songwriters, the album offers a nice diversity of sounds, the way a compilation or mixtape does, but with the added perk of those songs being painted by the same brush; it adds a cohesive familiarity track to track that they all play and sing on each other’s songs.
“On some songs, whoever wrote it had a good idea of what to put overtop, and on others we were just doing whatever came up. It was fun and I definitely will be doing something like this again. It’s cool to see that it actually works!” Jake says.
The album opens with a song of Ilia’s, “Scummy Bear,” that showcases everything grand about her arresting voice, calculated songwriting, and distinctive guitar patterns. “Happy End” is the only song on the album where one of them is unaccompanied, because it really needs nothing more than the perfectly timed harmonies it gets.
Track 1 gives way to a soaring sing-along offering from Jake as track 2, “Annihilation,” about finding some footing in a world turned up on its head. It’s catchy and accessibly original — you’ll want an album’s worth of this one. “Uncertainty” sounds like a lost offering from his Borealis Music Prize winner, Half of Nothing / Two Things, if you’ve been needing a new dose of that, while “Killing the Willows” almost expands on that sound, imbuing Jake’s sound in something akin to Timbre Timber meets Mt Eerie.
Billy offers up the title track as track 3: an aching acoustic song complemented perfectly by spare and aching pulls of a bow across a violin. Another of his songs “Northern Pirate Radio” is a real ear worm about the perks of pirate radio.
Noah’s songs on the album show a somewhat different side of his songwriting. “The Key” sounds a little like an Ilia Nicoll song, so it was fitting to drop that track on a compilation album with the Nicoll siblings, vocally backed by Ilia herself. Bender’s album closer is another gem on the record. Its unique subject matter doesn’t come from the head or the heart, but from contentious culinary opinion. “Pinch of Pepper” starts off with the lines “Well cayenne and paprika, they don’t do too much for me.” It’s an argument against herbs and spices as seasoning in a dish where salt and pepper will do. It’s a minimalist song about minimalist cooking that joins the ranks of Old Man Luedecke’s “The Joy of Cooking” as songs to prove food worthy of song. It is our fuel and sustenance after all, despite taking a backseat to heartbreak and bling in songwriters’ lyric books.