A coming of age narrative with a twist.
Magnetic Strangers, the debut LP from Vancouver’s Blonde Diamond, opens with the snap of a snare drum before organ, tremolo-bitten guitar, and a mission bell clang in chorus like three gunslingers, backlit by a blood orange sunset, silhouetted on some dusty 1800s high street. It’s a playful nod at the top of opener “Man With No Name”: vocalist and band leader Alexis Young is a student of Ennio Morricone and the soapy, soaring drama of Spaghetti Western soundtracks. And while the track’s title namechecks Clint Eastwood’s infamous character in Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, it also plays into the name of the LP: Magnetic Strangers is a probe of desire and relationship not just between two individuals, but within oneself, too. “The Man With No Name” exists out there, but he also exists in here, in the very chemical, molecular bits of ourselves that we negotiate with each day.
“It’s a narrative about the laws of attraction, whether that be to a stranger, to a person, to a feeling, to a place,” says Young. The record’s menagerie of operatic, late-night indie rock and roll, dive-bar R&B, charred disco, and wide-eyed electro pop play host to a warring between choice, agency, reason, and compulsion.
“You can be a stranger to yourself,” continues Young. “Were you magnetic, or was it your choice? Are you able to choose, and ignoring it? People say you always have a choice, but then on the other side it’s unfair to say some people ‘have a choice.’ Things are not binaries. There’s always a spectrum of truth and reality. Maybe something was just a magical, scientific compulsion, the chemistry in your brain. You were overtaken, possessed. A stranger to yourself.”
The songs that comprise Magnetic Strangers were written over the past four years, some laying dormant before recording commenced prior to the pandemic at Coquitlam’s Echoplant Recording Studios with producer Ryan Worsley. COVID-19 lockdowns prompted Young and her partner, drummer Malcolm Holt, to designate their Fridays for pursuit of creative projects, a schedule which produced the rest of the record’s tracks, free from traditional timelines. “We just sat there and wrote what we wanted,” says Young. “We got to write a full-blown Spaghetti Western theme song, and then explore other darker tones.”
While Young says she was working to figure out her voice and message on prior releases, the period leading up to Magnetic Strangers brought a sense of confidence and space for her to “delve into the crooks of the brain that are feeling a little bit dark and shine a light on them.” After turning 30, she decided to redefine her work without consideration for what might be expected from a musician in her position. “It was exciting and terrifying for me,” says Young. “It became much more vulnerable and much more personal. But I feel like I have a newfound confidence.”
Young and Holt recorded most of the rest of the tracks at their home, with additional work completed at studios around Vancouver. Parker Bossley (Hot Hot Heat) produced alongside Young and Holt and played bass, while bandmates Louis Hearn and Bruce Ledingham handled guitars and synths, respectively.
Magnetic Strangers’ ten tracks present a psychedelic, boundary-tensing work: that rare record which poses as many questions in its lyrics as it does in its compositions. If you’re brave enough to search for answers to them, Blonde Diamond invites you to saddle up.