If, god forbid, one were to sit down and wade through the wreckage that is my twitter feed, a keen observer might be able to discern certain patterns. Dots might take shape in the form of 140-character allusions to holidays I hate, shows I loved, or moments in time that, either frozen in pure boredom or ignited with bad jokes, I felt the need to document. This broken bread-crumb trail has the fortunate side effect of allowing me to Hansel and Gretle my way backwards to stitch together the collection of experiences that is my life. It is therefore by way of social media reflection that I remember the first time I saw Piper Burns perform live, when I wrote this:
“Piper Burns is Regina’s Pagliacci.”
Now, not only am I impressed that I was able to spell Pagliacci correctly in a tweet, but I’m also impressed at just how well this opinion holds up.
For those of you who don’t know, Pagliacci is (probably) the main character of an opera. He is a distinctly sad clown that (probably) murders his wife (or something). To be clear, I have never seen this opera and have annotated the exactly two things I know about it in the preceding sentences to highlight my ignorance. My only knowledge of the opera comes from an episode of Seinfeld. I thought a tweet that would characterize Piper as at once both hilarious and tragic while referencing Seinfeld would be brilliant. With his most recent release, Sunny’s Cat, Piper has finally legitimized my internet stupidity by cemented himself as the sad clown of the Regina music scene. Regardless of how you might take it, I mean that as the highest of compliments.
Piper’s new EP, Sunny’s Cat is a short trio of songs that outlines both Burns’ stylistic diversity and joyful disregard for convention. Recorded by Snake River’s Chris Sleightholm and featuring the talents of Vanessa Benson and a mysterious fiddle player, this EP quickly takes you through the saddest of situations from all perspectives involved and with a heavy dose of humour, both musically and lyrically. The recording takes a gentle left turn away from Piper’s other project, the Steves, and gives a nod to his love of solo acoustic playing. Because of the EPs brevity and my lack thereof, I’ll break down my thoughts by track.
The EPs first track, titled “COCK T-SHIRT,” does little to ease us into the humour or sadness of the record. This heart breaking portrait of the composer is rendered from the point of view of a (possibly ex) girlfriend, adorned with spectral violin playing and beautifully sung by Vanessa Benson. It tells the story of a man who doesn’t think he’s enough for her. Or at least, he’s worried he’s not. The furthest departure sonically from the Steves, “COCK T-SHIRT” puts us at ease muscally while tugging at our heartstrings lyrically.
“SUNNY’S CAT” takes us the other direction. As the music picks up and begins to pulse and pound with a half doo-wop, half psychadelic sound that would make Syd Barrett grin, the lyrics only really hint at darkness. Once again, the humour of the music and the lightness of the lyrical themes play against the underlying sadness of the story being told. Piper mentions telling the cat big secrets and dark thoughts hoping that those things won’t weigh on him quite the same as a human. He remarks that Sunny’s cat “knows me better than you.” All of this brushes up against sadness while the jangle of a twelve string outlines chord changes that would feel at home at a 50s sock hop. Dichotomy. Pagliacci.
The album closer, “SUICIDE BOYFRIEND” is the nail in the coffin of Piper’s sadness. Stylistically the track drifts into a punky, surf realm that is perfect to cap off the record. Deliciously slappy reverb hangs around to punctuate vocal phrases and hammering drums abstract the speakers feelings of anxiety and sadness upon the song. The story being told is once again a give and take between boy and girl. The frantic fear and sadness spurred on by the boy’s wavering mental health is ultimately trumped by the girl. “Cut that shit out, I love you,” she shouts, as the band wails on. I hope they find their peace.
What Sunny’s Cat lacks in breadth it makes up for in wit. The EP is just like its maker, Piper — there is sadness and there is humour, and it is them both together that makes a whole that is for better or for worse, the beautiful sum of his parts. Pagliacci. Make no mistake, this record packs a punch. Both musically and lyrically, the songs are charming and unique, and truly tell the stories of young people dealing with doubt, fear, and acceptance. And going to shows. Why not work that all out together at a show tonight, when Piper releases his EP officially into the world?
Piper Burns performs tonight, June 20th, at the Artful Dodger with Super Moon. Show at 8:00.
By Dana Rempel