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photo credit: JG & Shi

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Disturbing Body, the intimate debut solo album by Cots, paints a celestial portrait of lost love and consequence. From the bossa nova rhythms absorbed during her time bookmaking in Brazil to composing songs at the dining room table of her home in Canada, the ten movements of Disturbing Body beautifully upturn traditional songwriting structures via a modern art backdrop of astral connectivity.

“These songs, for the most part, have to do with the heart, something I was shy to write about previously,” reveals Cots’s creator Steph Yates. “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.” 

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 album’s opening title track is a starry, forlorn, and askew dirge that pulls you into its mysterious space with Yates’s enchanting voice: Searching for your disturbing body / The math doesn’t add up when I do it alone, she sings amidst quiet passages of metallic percussion, bass solo, and strands of near silence. 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. 

“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, poetry, and 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, and crayon 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,” an intentional obfuscation of the simple beauty in her soft voice and touch. With Cots, though, she has carved out space for quietness.

As an artist, Yates’s approach remains unconventional: from the human-alien qualities of her handcrafted papier-mâché planetary sculptures, central to the album’s artwork, to the vivid imagery of her exploratory yet delicate songwriting. Each composition eschews traditional choruses for linear metaphorical paintings. The lyricism of Cots is dark yet gentle, her storytelling a blend of direct narrative and oblique word play – Dying makes a sort of paste / it’s good for the eyes, she envisions on “Flowers.” Yates’s avant-garde delivery has received inspiration from the nocturnal settings of Francis Bebey, the shapes and forms found in text by the likes of writers Maggie Nelson, Anne Carson, and Lydia Davis, and the lilting rhythmic worlds found across the Éthiopiques catalogue. She blends folk, jazz, and classical; and of course bossa nova: life-altering influences like the mellifluous chords and vocal control of João Gilberto, passed along by newfound friends in São Paulo and Rio. “This lonely music made me less lonely, somehow,” she recalls. “I learned to play some of these songs and elements of them began to appear in my own songwriting.”

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 record saw the three reunite after sharing a bill with different projects a couple years prior. “I really liked their natures, they listen well, have sensitive ears, clever minds and make beautiful music,” Yates tells of her keenness to work with them. 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).

The ten songs of Disturbing Body move across a spectrum of sounds recalling the spontaneity of Deerhoof, the romance of Baden Powell’s Os Afro Sambas and the wistful exchanges of Mount Eerie’s Lost Wisdom. “Flowers” glides with the interpretive 60s French bossa of Nouvelle Vague or Astrud Gilberto’s “Agua De Beber,” while “Inertia of a Dream” nods to the electronic charm and composure of Broadcast. The album’s closer, “Midnight at the Station,” meanwhile offers a dystopian sonic dreamscape and a perfectly uneasy, ambiguous final note. 

Across Disturbing Body’s disparate touchpoints and searching melodies, somewhere between the stars and earthly interactions alike, Cots makes a whole lot of sense. “A cot is a solitary, introspective, and dreamy space,” she says. “It’s temporary too, suggesting to me liminality, moving on, passing through. It’s something you leave behind.”

Current Release

Cots
Disturbing Body
(Boiled Records)
Release Date: August 11, 2021

Track List:

1. Disturbing Body
2. Bitter Part of the Fruit
3. Sun-Spotted Apple
4. Bluebird
5. Inertia of a Dream
6. Flowers
7. Salt or Sand
8. Our Breath
9. Last Sip
10. Midnight at the Station

Photos (click for hi-res)

photo credit: (1) JG & Shi (2) Yuula Benivolski

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