Quirky and refined, the Canadian four-piece Fleece sets itself apart on its new record Stunning and Atrocious. The band will showcase the record, and hopefully some of its signature camp, at August Hall on Sept. 18.
A self-proclaimed “queer band,” Fleece capitalizes on its idiosyncrasies rather than capitulating to achieve marketability. In a literal sense, the band uplifts LGBTQ+ identities. Lead singer Matt Rogers sings about dating men, and their recent music video for “Losing Time,” in which the band dons Wild West-style pin-up togs, is a queer cowboy’s wet dream.
But, for the members of Fleece, being in a queer band means more than celebrating sexuality; it’s about presenting oneself with a brazen authenticity. “We’re kind of reshaping the definition of queer,” Rogers said. “It’s not a negative thing and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with sexuality.”
Rogers noted that not every band member identifies as queer or genderqueer, but that they share idiosyncrasies he jokingly called “neurodivergent.”
“We just don’t fall in the binary box. Some of us don’t fall in terms of sexuality, some of us in terms of how we present ourselves or what we wear. It’s a mix of sexuality and vibe. We’re queer, and we’re a queer band. We’re definitely not a straight band.”
Fleece’s delectable quirkiness shines on the self-produced Stunning and Atrocious. Released late last month, the LP boasts a mix of psych and indie rock influences with a smattering of Motown flourishes, as if Berry Gordy Jr. produced a collab between Tame Impala and Grizzly Bear.
The album presents itself like an elongated diary entry awash in the pastel vibes of slinky guitar riffs and percussive melodies. It’s both sinuous and edgy, as if Fueled by Ramen released an Adult Jazz record.
Much of Rogers’ lyrical inspiration stems from his romantic experiences. He bemoans bankrolling “a guy that [he] can’t afford” on “All My Money” and describes his carnal desire to feel loved on “Do U Mind (Leave the Lights On).” It’s the type of subject matter that risks feeling hackneyed, but Rogers’ shameless honesty keeps the lyrics engaging. And though this shouldn’t be the case in 2021, it’s refreshing to hear gay love songs.
But Stunning and Atrocious isn’t just a record about being in love or wanting to be; it’s about grappling with the human condition and learning to love oneself despite it. “Something Real,” a poetic duet delivered by Rogers and guitarist Megan Ennenberg, depicts an emotional numbness that’s endemic to an age where the bulk of our interactions occur on the internet. “All I’ve got is a world I’m not attached to / made of steel” Ennenberg sings over slinky guitar hooks, while Rogers pleads to “feel something real,” as if repeating the request will bring it to fruition.
If “Something Real” is a plea for fulfillment, then “So Long” is Fleece’s attempt to anesthetize its ennui with funky rhythms and melodies, as if Stevie Wonder were an angsty 20-something going through an existential crisis. “I wanna change / This information age makes me feel no good,” Roger sings along to bubbly hooks that juxtapose the song’s bleak lyrics.
Fleece’s more jaded material is anything but depressing; in fact, acknowledging what we all deal with — listlessness, existentialism, and anxiety — is an act of validation and liberation. These experiences are universal, and coming to peace with them is an essential component of self-acceptance.
Such is the moral of “Love Song for the Haters,” an anthemic ode to shedding baggage. Equipped with cascading guitar riffs and ethereal harmonies courtesy of Ennenberg, Rogers exalts the freedom in divesting himself of a toxic relationship. It’s not a diss track, rather, “Love Song for the Haters” is about accepting past trauma and ultimately forgiving the one who caused it.
For all its surety, Fleece didn’t emerge a fully developed juggernaut. Like a pimply kid who doesn’t quite fit the mold, Fleece took a while to come into its own — seven years and three records, to be exact.
Rogers and drummer Ethan Soil go way back — they met in kindergarten, attended Jewish summer camp together, and their grandparents were at each other’s weddings. In high school, the pair formed a band called Darbus Fridge. Even in their earliest material, the pair’s brotherly bond manifested in a musical tightness.
They cut their teeth in small venues around Montreal, like the defunct La Vitrola, a bar and restaurant where the band played its first gig. “That show had literally 30 people at it,” Rogers says. “We were like the 28th band and our friends waited so long. I felt incredibly guilty.”
Darbus Fridge became Fleece when Soil and Rogers started college at Concordia University in Montreal, and after several iterations of the band, they invited classmates Ennenberg and guitarist Jameson Daniel to join. With its new lineup, Fleece released its first two records which, although virtuosic, lack a cohesive sound. The band acknowledged this, and even named its second album “Scavenger” for its motley influences.
But Roger’s laudable songwriting chops and the band’s electric live performances earned Fleece its big break in 2018 when a booking agent invited the group to open for the Canadian indie rock band Born Ruffians on a U.S. tour.
Not only did that tour solidify Fleece’s position on the indie scene, but those six months on the road cultivated essential bonds among the band members, strengthened by their shared resolve to promote mental wellbeing despite maintaining a hectic schedule.
“We committed to not only being best friends, but communicating properly, working together, and checking in on each other,” Daniel says of that pivotal tour.
Those friendships ushered in a new era of Fleece that saw Rogers cede songwriting control to his band members. Fleece’s collaborative efforts bore fruit on songs like “Bodies Lie,” which Enneberg wrote.
Stunning and Atrocious was two years in the making, but it was worth the wait. The new LP doesn’t merely surpass Fleece’s older material; in its poignancy and cohesion, Stunning and Atrocious distinguishes Fleece as a force to be reckoned with.
“We know who we are as people now,” Rogers says of the new record. “I feel like we’ve now homed in on a Fleece that’s more Fleece.”
Sat., Sept. 18, 7:30 p.m.