Disturbing Body, the intimate debut album by Cots, paints a celestial portrait of lost love and consequence. The solo project of Montreal/Guelph composer, singer, and guitarist Steph Yates blends elements of bossa nova, folk, jazz, and classical against a modern art backdrop, her subtly unconventional style brushed across its lush palette.
Produced by renowned Toronto musician Sandro Perri, and engineered by recording artist Scott Merritt, Disturbing Body demonstrates Yates’s understated yet detailed songcraft and attention to lyrical play. Over ponderous nylon guitar, and careful instrumental incursions, Yates’s crystalline voice carries the gravitas of the album’s ten elegiac movements. Disturbing Body will be released August 11, 2021 via Boiled Records on vinyl and digital formats.
“These songs, for the most part, have to do with the heart, something I was shy to write about previously,” Yates reveals. “It’s possible my deepening love for Brazilian music, wherein some of my favourite artists sing freely about o coração, emboldened me in this way. As a collection, the songs give a prismatic view of a lone heart in its course having known closeness and having known loss.”
Released today, the song “Flowers” captures this liminal essence, reflecting cycles of death and spring with evident tension, as ascending melodies buoy Yates’s story of an old friend’s funeral-cum-wedding ceremony. Her lyrical description brings a vicarious tactility to the experience of death, as she sings “Dying makes a sort of paste / It’s good for the eyes / Dying makes a sort of cloud / It broadens the sky.” Accompanied by director Yuula Benivolski’s short film, in which hands adorn Yates’s unclothed corpse in petals, “Flowers” touches on the darkest of subjects while gliding on the 60s French bossa of Nouvelle Vague.
“‘Flowers’ is a meditation on death—death as essential, awful, tragic, beautiful, mysterious.” Yates says. “My vantage point at this time was not pressed close to death; I felt at a distance from it. I let it take on an abstract form in my writing.”
Sparked by her fascination with mathematics’ vast poetic potential, and the power of celestial mechanics, Disturbing Body explores the unexplainable interactions of interstellar bodies and human beings alike. The title – inspired by the phrase for a planet whose gravitational pull alters another planet’s course – speaks similarly to the disruptive nature of love. The album’s title track – available here as a B-side to the single – is a starry, forlorn, and askew dirge that pulls you into mysterious passages of metallic percussion, bass solo, and strands of near silence.
“I find it strange, unsettling, mysterious; how incalculable the experience of feeling drawn to someone is,” Yates says. “Human bodies are like celestial ones; just as a planet’s course is carved out in relation to others, our course – where we go and what we do – is compelled by forces of attraction.”
Disturbing Body orbits with evocative restraint balanced with playfulness, a natural extension of Yates’s creative curiosity as a child. Amongst the musical instruments and Billie Holiday LPs of her upbringing in an art- and jazz-loving household, she would illustrate storybooks, build snow forts, cut her own hair, draw murals on her bedroom wall. Now, as a multi-instrumentalist and multi-disciplinary artist, Cots has grown from deep roots in the Guelph, Ontario DIY scene, where, through her work as bandleader in outfits like Esther Grey and Cupcake Ductape, the characteristically shy Yates learned to be “loud, assertive, and unabashedly scrappy.” With Cots, though, she has carved out space for quietness.
After residual effects of a concussion left Cots uncertain how to finish the record on her own, she reached out to Toronto musician and producer Sandro Perri about working together – his production notes of “play louder” and “sing plainer” eventually making indelible marks on the contours of each song. Disturbing Body found its rhythm over four cosy days in Guelph at The Cottage studio, run by Canadian veteran recording artist and engineer Scott Merritt. The result saw her crystalline vocals and intricate guitar entwined with Perri’s atmospheric arrangements for Blake Howard (percussion), Josh Cole (bass guitar), Ryan Brouwer (trumpet), Karen Ng (saxophone), Thomas Hammerton (keyboards), and Perri himself (synths, samples, field recordings).
Across Disturbing Body’s disparate touchpoints and searching melodies – somewhere between the stars and earthly interactions alike – Cots intersects, and starts to make a whole lot of sense. “A cot is a solitary, introspective, and dreamy space. It’s temporary too, suggesting liminality, moving on, passing through. It’s something you leave behind.”