Black, White, and Grey, the new album from Calgary, Alberta's Francis Cheer, is an exploration of the places, feelings, and sounds found in between. Over the course of eight pristine pop songs, John Gerrard as Francis Cheer uncovers a common ground – stylistically, lyrically, and sonically – between the anthemic and intimate, the abstract and direct, and shadow and radiance. The songs nuanced arrangements and beguiling lyrical constructions coupled with Gerrard’s deft and inventive guitar playing make a case for Gerrard as one of the more distinctive voices in the world of songwriting today.
The music on Black, White, and Grey shimmers with a sense of effortless grace and polish, but for Gerrard the time leading up to the album was not quite as smooth. For a period of nearly three years he battled with bouts of mania, depression, and psychosis, eventually leading to a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. Rather than trying to cast aside those difficult years as best-forgotten, his reflections upon them inform his lyrics and overall worldview. The record imbues these notions of spaces between dualities, which Gerrard struggled to realize in his life.
It is no surprise that as a lyricist Gerrard offers a study of the areas in between; while acknowledging the multitudes of perceived dualities/dichotomies in everyday life he is compelled to search out spaces beyond these rigid constructs. At times, he allows this perspective to manifest itself playfully, framing words and sentences in ways that encourage multiple interpretations. Yet the record also finds Gerrard coming to terms with a new-found frankness, and, as uncomfortable as it may be, he says "I decided to take that risk in order to have these moments of directness on the record, like a diary of sorts.” To wit, the delicate sonic environs of “All 3” frame some of the record's most nakedly emotional territory, detailing an obsession with the number three that began during a bout of mania and has continued to act as a quasi-talisman for a place between two poles.
The songs on Black, White, and Grey each provide their own diverting confluence of attributes: the seemingly triumphant big beat of “Find A Light” distracts from its nakedly honest lyrics and subdued delivery; the title track has a wide-open and expansive feel, yet is dotted with intricate, understated production details at every turn; the kinetic guitar pop of “Northern Semantic” is immediately gratifying, yet the lyrics are oblique and require careful parsing; and “Deep End” is bright propulsive power-pop that recounts one of Gerrard's first episodes of psychosis.
Black, White, and Grey is the second full-length album from Francis Cheer, and like previous efforts, was recorded by Gerrard – who is also a visual artist with an emerging painting career – at his own Electric T Cup studio, where he performed the bulk of the instrumentals himself. After bringing the recordings to engineer Pat Palardy's Public Lunch Studio, Gerrard enlisted drummer Chris Dadge (Chad VanGaalen, Lab Coast) to bring a human touch to highly inventive beats and rhythms he'd programmed during the Electric T Cup sessions. The result is a bright collection of finely-wrought songs, easily engaging yet full of nuance.
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