First new collection of music since 2016’s The Apostate follows 2020 appointment to the Order of Canada

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Photo: Paul McNeill from the in-progress VR project, The Olive Grove
“Each discarded life jacket represents a North African, Afghan, Iraqi, or Syrian refugee who braved the waters for freedom at the Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.” Art Bergmann

Art Bergmann’s music is meant for our current times. As we struggle to make sense of world events and the conflicts they have spawned, Art’s songwriting – as it has consistently done for the past four decades – cuts through the bullshit and hypocrisy with unflinching focus with the aim of finding some remnants of humanity that will pull us through.

It’s what used to be called “punk rock” when Art first established his reputation in Vancouver during the late 1970s, even though he’s never been a fan of that term. Yet, his status as one of Canadian punk’s foundational artists remains unquestionable, to the extent that in late 2020 he became the first of his peers to receive the Order of Canada, an honour bestowed upon the country’s most revered cultural figures.

Art’s latest album, Late Stage Empire Dementia, will be released May 21, 2021 — also Endangered Species Day — on Toronto-based (weewerk), and pointedly demonstrates why he deserved the OC. On eight songs that sonically run the gamut from the jagged, speaker-shredding rock he’s long been known for, to the experimental, acoustic-based soundscapes he introduced on his 2016 Polaris Music Prize long-listed album The Apostate, he takes aim at political corruption, the dual unchecked epidemics of guns and drugs, and the plight of refugees yearning for a better life.

Art Bergmann is principally joined on this record by the talents of fellow musicians Russell Broom (Electric Guitar / Keyboards), Peter Clarke (Bass) and Ian Grant (Drums) while a number of others join in on specific songs; Wayne Kramer (Electric Guitar), Danny Vacon (Vocals), Kate Stanton (Vocals), Zoe Da Silva (Vocals) , Paul Rigby (Acoustic, Slide, Steel Guitars and E-bow), as well as Andrew Jessman, Guergana Brittain, Ann-Laure Hug, Laurie Meredith and Sylvie Matheusik on Backing Vocals. 

Art states, “The Apostate was more a long view of human history, whereas this new record is a reflection of what’s occurred over the past four years in terms of the masks of fascism being stripped off. These songs say, here it is folks, your history is right in front of you and these are the reasons why. Since the advent of social media, and with cameras everywhere, everybody now knows about police killings, the plague and climate catastrophe, and who these purveyors of this nightmare are. Who needs sci-fi anymore when we’re living in the best Philip K. Dick novel ever?”

Late Stage Empire Dementia was recorded throughout 2020, with basic tracks laid down at Lorrie Matheson’s Calgary studio Arch Audio and most other tracks completed at Russell Broom’s Broom Closet studio in Vancouver. Although Broom and longtime Neko Case collaborator Paul Rigby handle the bulk of the guitar playing, the song “Christo-Fascists” features a rare guest appearance by legendary MC5 co-founder Wayne Kramer, whose trademark buzzsaw tone remains as potent as ever.

Yet, for each great example of politically charged rock on Late Stage Empire Dementia, such as the first single “Entropy,” there is an expansive, hypnotic piece like “Los Desaparecidos (Border Art)” or the nearly 10-minute title track that further illuminates Art’s evolution as a songwriter—completely unafraid to enter uncharted territory. It is that bravery that makes Art Bergmann’s voice as important as ever, and places Late Stage Empire Dementia easily among his finest works.

Photo by David Kotsibie

Art Bergmann is Canada’s most important trouble-maker, and that is evidenced on his new album, “Late Stage Empire Dementia.” It covers all of the bases of what I consider essential to his work: unapologetic political confrontation; deep insight and meditation on the grave injustices of humanity; a distinct, antagonizing, inimitable and cutting voice; and most of all, masterful lyrics set against great rock hooks. He is the real deal, and the mere fact that he has weathered the storm, and come out on the other side with important things to say, deserves our attention. There is so much more to unpack here, so suffice to say, the deeper you get into this work, the more insightful and rewarding it becomes. A classic.” – Tony Dekker (Great Lake Swimmers)
“Art Bergmann is doing the best work of his career. His songwriting has achieved a level of greatness that puts him on par with some of the greatest Canadian songwriters. I include Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and The Band amongst his peers. Hyperbole? Perhaps. Listen and get back to me.” – Phil Saunders, author of No Flash Please: Underground Music in Toronto 1987-1992
“Art Bergmann is truly a political shit disturbing legend and hero!” – Yvonne Matsell, Toronto concert booker and promoter
“Some people think Art Bergmann is screaming in the wilderness, but if they do, the wilderness should listen. Late Stage Empire Dementia is as good as anything he’s ever done and that’s saying something. Art at his acerbic, razor-witted best. Oh, and it rocks like 1995!” – Mike Campbell, Programming Director, The Carleton, Halifax NS