As a blogger who writes about new music, I’m continually inundated with submissions from artists, PR firms and record labels, all wanting me to review their music offerings. There’s no way I can possibly write about or feature even a tenth of them, so must carefully pick and choose those I feel are standouts, or that resonate with me in some way. And so it was when I received an email from a nice man at Nice Marmot PR about Canadian artist dwi – aka Dwight Abell – and his debut album Mild Fantasy Violence, which dropped October 1st. Though several days passed before I was able to give the album my undivided attention, once I did I was hooked on this exquisite and beautiful work. I’ve listened to it multiple times since, and love it more with each play. The songs are brilliantly written and executed, with such compelling lyrics and memorable melodies, many remain stuck in my head long after hearing them.
Based in Maple Ridge, a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, Abell is also bassist for Canadian alternative/power pop band The Zolas. When the global pandemic shut everything down in March 2020, he decided to create his solo music project, which he dubbed dwi after the first three letters of his first name. With time alone (albeit with his wife and two young children), he had a chance to reflect on his own life and insecurities, as well as the crazy world around him, which led him to create this deeply personal record. Influenced by some of his favorite acts like The Beatles, The Cure, Oasis and Damon Albarn, dwi’s music is wonderfully refreshing and innovative, spanning with ease across a wide range of genres and styles.
Released via the label Light Organ Records, Mild Fantasy Violence explores feelings of disconnect from the normalities of relationships and society, touching on such topics as childhood, friendships, addiction, politics and environmentalism. “It’s about using extremes of both escapism and deep self reflection to come to terms with everyday life” Abell explains, adding “There’s so much I want to say about this album, but I honestly think everything I want to tell you about it is already in the songs. I’ve been dreaming about this moment ever since I heard Oasis for the first time at the tender age of 10.”
The album was artfully produced, mixed and engineered by James Younger, bassist of Canadian synth-rock band Yukon Blonde, who also played bass on “Intuitive”, as well as synths on some tracks. Abell played all other instruments except for drums. In listening to his songs, two of the most immediately striking aspects of dwi’s sound are his outstanding guitar work and quirky, endearing vocals that remind me at times of Declan McKenna or grandson, yet are uniquely his own. Then there are his disarmingly pointed lyrics that are so honest and relatable.
This is immediately evident on the first track “Intuitive“, a bouncy tune with a sort of hip hop beat, highlighted by a blaring distorted guitar riff. The song opens with noises one might hear at a party or bar as dwi bemoans his jadedness and ennui: “You said you brought the good shit, but I can’t taste the difference no more.” Later in the song, he expresses his desire for a hooker, knowing that nothing’s gonna come of it: “Senorita of the night. You’re stuck in bathrooms practicing your lines. I wanna love you but both my hands are tied. I wish I wasn’t so intuitive all the time.”
His skill for writing a great melody is showcased on the darkly beautiful “Reverse Engineering“, which to my ears has a strong twenty øne piløts feel. The song is really terrific, with elements of hip hop, alternative rock and dream pop, and I love the glittery synths, lovely piano keys, twangy guitars and snappy percussion, not to mention dwi’s wonderful vocals. And on the brilliant title track “Mild Fantasy Violence“, he ventures heavily into electronica to create a futuristic soundscape as a backdrop for the lyrics about addiction, using video games as a metaphor. He explained to Colleen Flanagan of Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News that the song “is about someone who has an urge to play a video game and by the end of the song they are completely sucked into it. I love it lyrically and I love the progression of the song. It’s kind of like three songs in one. The first half of the song describes the struggle. The second half is like you are going through this tunnel and you’re getting all these warnings thrown at you. By the end you’ve just escaped and you’re inside this thing that you really didn’t want to be in but it’s glorious nonetheless.”
“Freak N Out” speaks to the emotional trauma many have experienced as a result of both the Covid pandemic and the destructive political divisiveness of late: “We’ve poisoned the well again but that’s old news I guess. The news is division of class and races no.” The hauntingly beautiful and sweeping orchestral and psychedelic synths and bold jangly guitars are fantastic. The dark and trippy video, directed by Sterling Larose, shows dwi seemingly losing touch with reality – i.e. freaking out – as he dances about in a wet field on a rainy night while interacting with a giant rather scary-looking teddy bear.
The album’s vibe makes an abrupt turn with the deliciously-upbeat, radio-friendly track “Good Friend“. The lively but poignant pop/rock song is about “discovering that a friend had been struggling with something dark and wishing you knew more at the time so you could help them through it” explains dwi. Against a backdrop of hard-driving rhythms and frantic riffs, he plaintively laments “Had I known you were broken inside. Had I known you were empty inside. If I was a good friend, I’d a known better. If I was a good friend, I’d have done better.” It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album.
“On the Weekend” has a languid, doo wop sound, with a wonderful mix of reverb-soaked jangly and distorted guitars, accompanied by swirling synths and gentle percussion. The lyrics seem to speak to wasting time with momentarily pleasing, but ultimately unproductive, pursuits like porn and watching strippers: ” Oh porno on the weekend helping the time go a little slow. Well I was in a daze until I finished, deleted the history but it wasn’t my history.” That x-eyed teddy bear makes a return appearance on the quirky surreal video, in which dwi performs the song with a backup band and a host of characters doing weird shit.
On the catchy “Summer’s Shut Down“, another radio-friendly tune, dwi laments about his ruined summer thanks to Covid, and how he misses his friends and fun times: “Just like a hunger strike, but at least with that you can put up a fight. My only vacation is staring at my laundry trying to figure it out. I guess my summer shut down.” The musically complex “Balance” sounds like a song that could have been recorded by the Talking Heads. I adore the bouncy groove and, as always, dwi’s guitar work and vocals are superb. The album closes with the achingly beautiful “Soon“, another of my favorites. Oh hell, they’re all favorites, as I love the entire album! The bittersweet lyrics seem to speak to feelings of disconnect and that something’s missing in your life, but remaining optimistic that things will be better soon: “I’m always home, but I’m never quite there. Like a lion’s roar that’s too loud to hear./ Soon. Hold my breath for me./ This land was grey, but the weather has changed.”
Mild Fantasy Violence is a brilliant and beautifully-crafted album filled with wonderful, outstanding songs. It’s an impressive debut effort, and a testament to dwi/Abell’s strengths as an imaginative and innovative songwriter and musician. He should be very proud of what he’s accomplished here, and I thank him for gifting us this lovely record.
Abell will be touring Canada in November with The Zolas to promote their latest album Come Back To Life, as well as perform his own songs. The tour starts in Montreal on November 4, and will finish in Victoria on the 27th.