Picastro, an active force in Toronto’s music scene for over 10 years, released their seventh and newest record “Exit” this past June. Led by vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Liz Hysen, this latest offering features the talents of her band, cellist Nick Storring, synthesis Matthew Ramalo (Khora), and drummer Germaine Liu.
On the albums’ eight songs, Hysen systematically removes herself from her own stories while playing around with the roles and expectation of the creator as the central voice of their artistic output. While the music still sits in continuity with the bands previous work, Hysen relinquishes her role as singer and storyteller, even adopting male pronouns in her writing, Guest male vocalists including Jamie Stewart (Xiu Xiu), Tony Dekker (Great Lakes Swimmers), Adrian Crowley, Caleb Mulkerin (Big Blood), Alex Mackenzie (Petra Glynt), and Chris Cummings (Marker Starling) were invitedtocontribute their take on her vision of the songs. Letting these alternative versions run wild Picastro explores how the music and narrative mutates with different voices at the helm.
Picastro has appeared on the BBC, WFMU, VPRO Dwars at numerous festivals including SXSW, CMJ, Rhaaa, Lovely, Tanned Tin and has recorded sessions with La Blogtheque and Daytrotter.
Pitchfork review of EXIT: 7.8 by Stuart Berman – FOLK/COUNTRY / APRIL 27th, 2019
Always one for gender subversion, the Toronto songwriter invites a cast of guests to sing her songs, resulting in some of the project’s most deviously playful music ever.
In the late 1990s, Toronto musician Liz Hysen began to use the alias Picastro to distance herself from assumptions about singing-and-songwriting women at the dawn of the Lilith Fair era. Hysen’s hushed, spectral songs tapped more into the stewing undercurrents of slowcore and post-rock than traditional folk, anyway. By the time she released Picastro’s first proper album, 2002’s Red Your Blues, the project had become a full band, one whose revolving cast of local mavericks (including, for a spell, Owen Pallett) reflected her music’s mercurial quality. Even as her tensely strummed missives acquired a more expansive sweep on two mid-2000s releases for Polyvinyl, Hysen’s voice remained at the core of Picastro, the resolute center of increasingly calamitous environs.
Hysen has long resisted autobiographical interpretations of her writing, and she’s often sung from a male perspective to emphasize that these songs are stories, not confessionals. On the appropriately titled Exit, Picastro’s first album in five years, she largely steps away from the microphone to let others do the singing, farming out most of the album’s eight tracks to a predominantly male cast of guest singers culled from her Toronto peer group and beyond. And instead of simply applying their voices to Hysen’s songs, the singers push their personalities to eccentric extremes, driving Picastro toward their most tumultuous, unpredictable, and deviously playful music to date.
Hysen, for instance, has Great Lake Swimmers leader Tony Dekker perform his best imitation of her on the opening “Mirror Age,” his honeyed voice proving the subtlest salve to lyrics that blur the line between relationships and addiction: “I don’t feel much of anything/All because of you.” But Hysen’s acoustic finger-picks ultimately rally Matthew Ramolo’s sunbeam synths, Nick Storring’s trembling cello, and Germaine Liu’s clattering percussion through a series of turbulent ascensions and peaceful plateaus toward an ecstatic rekindling of the senses. Unlike most post-rock outfits, Picastro aren’t interested in working themselves up into volcanic crescendos; instead, they conjure those early moments of a windstorm, where the dead leaves and street debris start to coalesce into circular patterns, though everything could drift off at any moment.