The new EP from local indie rock outfit Les Jupes may be called Negative Space, but frontman Michael P Falk is in a positive space these days.
The last few months have been a particularly creative period for the prolific musician. He runs Head in the Sand Records and is a producer in his own right (recent credits include Yes We Mystic's debut, Floods and Fires). In July, he released a solo EP under the name Oshima.
And now, things are ramping up for his band. Negative Space, which was released Sept. 10 and will be celebrated with a hometown show on Sept. 20 at the West End Cultural Centre, serves as a teaser for the band's sophomore album, to be released in 2014. Hinting at a departure from the band's monolithic 2011 debut, Modern Myths, the four-song collection eschews the dense, challenging soundscapes of its predecessor in favour of a more streamlined and raw sound, still anchored firmly by Falk's weighty baritone.
"That was pretty purposeful," Falk says, over the phone from a tour stop in Calgary. "Since (the last album), I've become very infatuated with expressing things more simply. Part of that comes from wanting to be a better communicator, With Modern Myths, it was this great wall of stuff -- but it was arm's length. It's like a beautiful painting. You can appreciate it for what it is, but it's hard to get close to it. I wanted something more intimate and engaging. That's what drove this new wave of songs."
A tidal wave of songs is more like it. Les Jupes, whose ranks are filled out by David Schellenberg (bass), Adam Fuhr (keys) and Jordon Ottenson (drums), had 30 songs for the forthcoming record, which will be produced by Montreal's Marcus Paquin (Arcade Fire, The National, Stars), who manned the board for Modern Myths.
Working with an in-demand producer comes with its downsides: Modern Myths came out two years after recording commenced, delayed in part because Paquin was tapped to work on Arcade Fire's 2010 Grammy-winning album The Suburbs. Sensing history was about to repeat itself -- "Marcus got another big job again, working on the National's new album," Falk says with a laugh -- Les Jupes wisely decided to maintain its momentum and use some of that material to cut an EP.
The foursome enlisted Imaginary Cities' Rusty Matyas, whose list of production credits is ever-growing, to helm the EP. Despite both being vets of the local music scene, this is the first time Falk and Matyas have worked together.
"He's this firecracker of energy," Falk says of Matyas. "He has a whirlwind of ideas and can execute what's in his brain effectively and quickly. I liked that we moved pretty fast. I didn't want to get too bogged down with anything."
Indeed, Matyas' production style suited Les Jupes' MO for the new songs perfectly: less over-thinking, more decisiveness.
"If we record a part, it's the right part. We're filtering things a lot more," Falk says.
The resulting EP has an energy and a directness about it that Modern Myths sometimes lacked. While both records are accessible, Negative Space is more approachable.
Falk says the band, too, is renewed and refocused. A project that once operated in fits and starts, compromised by multiple lineup changes since forming in 2007, has found sure footing. "Interpersonally and musically, it felt almost like an arranged marriage and we had to figure out how to love each other and make music together," Falk says of previous incarnations of Les Jupes.
He doesn't lay blame; Falk knows just how big an ask it is to commit to a band. Happily, he's found three players who, despite busy schedules, have made Les Jupes a priority.
"We're in a really amazing place. These are four people who are excited to give up their lives to play music. This music."