The new stage for spoken word is an intimate, dimly lit bedroom, and its curtains are the hushed moments that stand like bookends on either end of speech. It was only a matter of time before spoken word seeped down from under the spotlight of the stage and multiplied as an experience of listening from the comfort of home. With the 2012 release of digital album Remembrance Year, Canadian West Coast legend Shane Koyczan delivers a compilation that feels essential and timeless, while being firmly rooted in a certain caliber of execution that comes with experience in a famously competitive scene.
The gentle medley of folk spun by the Short Story Long is an appropriate compliment to the honesty of Shane’s newest composition–an album that tackles abuse with courage and displacement with inspiration, all the while through sharing the most personal of details. Wistful instrumentals and song from the trio of the Short Story Long punctuate each staccato of rhyme, making Remembrance Year material enough to fill a growing musical niche and allow listeners to enjoy the release as a stand-alone album. A humble romanticism, signature to his poetry, seeps through in accounts of pepper-tinged kisses and broken hearts. In avoiding antagonistic commentary, Remembrance Year aptly fuses the confessional with the charm of idealism. It’s hard to find any negativity in Shane’s verse, even as he builds an exposition to disillusionment with a youthful chorus of “We won’t forget” on the opening track, Remember How We Forgot.
Pulse, the album’s second track, lends Koyczan’s medium of spoken-word a feeling of warmth that can easily lack in a microphone solo. It is with Pulse, however, that Shane Koyczan falters in delivery, setting up a critical obstruction in appreciating the rest of the album. The magnetism of spoken-word is divided between the verse and the uttering. “As your breath is timed with the in and out of mine, I run my hand up your spine like it was the centre-line of a highway with no stop signs” simply lacks the sensuality it screams on paper and unfortunately compromises effect in order to match the guitar. There are more than a few instances throughout the album where sensuality is given the slip in favour of saying the verse in rhythm, which leaves listeners impressed by the words, but dissociated from them. For Koyczan, the physicality of lingual play may not be a priority in any case, given that his heftiest verse revolves around community and the experience of place, as opposed to provoking sensual phantasms.
Hope is written into every song with an optimistic wisdom and clarity. With a quiet grace, To This Day sweeps away its tales of childhood bullying, degenerated self-worth, and anti-depressant narcotics with a manifesto of “Our lives will continue to be a balancing act that has less to do with pain and more to do with beauty”. Remembrance Year is very much an album that feels most comfortable in an intimate setting. Confessions spill like hot water over ice from Insider to Weather Reports, at once simmering with the romantic sentiments of Tomatoes and freezing over with the lowest-common denominator of Restaurant proclaiming, “[I]f you’re going to come up short on a request like magic beans, you better be sure the first part of the meal means something.”
Koyczan continues incorporating childhood anecdotes throughout Visiting Hours, which grows into an, arguably universal, affirmation of feeling directionless in an equally stumbling world. “We’re tired of being treated like walking canes in a world so blind no-one can find each other, bumping into each other like people are just buildings made of bone”, he declares, with characteristic alliteration that is satisfyingly full with meaning and space. There is never a moment where the security of closure is not offered, given that Koyczan supports every stated fault with “You gotta let your body be the rocking chair that soothes the tired body of hope, and your arms be the rope around the neck of self-loathing. Let your skin be the clothing that keeps compassion warm.” More Often Than Sometimes is perhaps the closest track to which Koyczan approaches warmth in the bedroom as he “wrote notes on her skin in flesh tone permanent ink that would sink and set inside as I tried to underline the important parts of her”, though his articulation regrettably sounds no more fiery than a nursery rhyme. My Darling Sara wraps up with a bittersweet taste of piano, cello, and violin winding around a reflection of two desperate people who try to find some solace in one another by clinging to some vague idea of relationship.
Though his poetry is always laced with an innocence and positivity, Shane Koyczan does not give Remembrance Year a fairy-tale ending. Sara leaves, broken hearts remain, no-one is especially satisfied, and indeterminate bodies are still worming around without direction. What Koyczan offers beyond his truthful reflections is a wisdom that speaks to everyone from the child on the playground to disillusioned grown-ups. Koyczan himself falls into a rare shade of poets who speak with the care of age and integrity of youth, giving his listeners an opportunity to drink in his new album in more ways than spoken word performance can normally give on stage. Remembrance Year is an honest glimpse at unglorified romance and social conflict, and provides the healing balm of gentle wisdom that soothes naturally with Shane Koyczan’s carefully woven words.
For more information on Shane Koyczan and the Short Story Long:
Official website: http://www.shanekoyczan.com/
Shane Koyczan Twitter: @Koyczan
Short Story Long Twitter: @SKSSL
Remembrance Year album: http://shanekoyczanandtheshortstorylong.bandcamp.com/album/remembrance-year