Ky announces Power Is The Pharmacy

By Stacy Lee

The New Full-length by Ky Brooks (Lungbutter, Femmaggots, Nag)
Sharing the first single “Dragons”
Album out 12th May 2023

Ky is the new ‘solo’ project of Ky Brooks, best known as vocalist and lyricist of noise-punk trio Lungbutter and a slew of other Montréal-based out-music projects, including 8-person queer punk collective Femmaggots and experimental/improv trio Nag. Ky is a long-standing and shining figure of Montréal’s music underground: they co-founded essential Montréal DIY space La Plante a decade ago, and have since become a recording a front-of-house sound engineer about town and on the road with acts like Big|Brave. Power Is The Pharmacy is their debut album under the Ky moniker.

Power Is The Pharmacy is an album of cerebral and visceral outsider artpunk “mainly about grief, death, the fear of loss, losing dreams, losing youth, people, public space, ultimately oneself”—an emotionally electrifying, genre-spanning collection of songs fuelled by Ky’s piercing poetry, both spoken and sung, that delivers an acute blend of incisive socio-political observation and spiritual sadness, swirling through vortices of disenchantment and re-enchantment.

While many of the songs on Power Is The Pharmacy feature Ky joined by just one or two guest musicians, first single “Dragons” is a caustic swinging noise rock workout that rounds up a quintet of players who otherwise appear scattered across the album’s diverse array of tracks. Driven by drummer Farley Miller (Shining Wizard), bassist Joshua Frank (Gong Gong Gong) and guitarist Mat Ball (Big|Brave), the underlying tensile soundscape on “Dragons” includes synth contributions from Nick Schofield and Lucas Huang. Ky oscillates between spoken and sung vocals—a defining feature of the record writ large—opening with the declarative line “This is a song about loving the ocean”. That sort of literalism and directness, as a gateway to poetic invocations, similarly signifies a central strategy and sensibility of the album. As synths creep in and the guitar begins to snarl out of its opening drone, “Dragons” strides forward with Miller relentlessly working the swing groove against Ball’s blistering guitar excursions, waves cresting upon a sea of pulsing drone. “How far would you go?”; “It stings and it soothes”: Ky invokes the pull of the sea, the bite and buoyancy of salt water, its bliss and danger.

Cover Ky Power Is The Pharmacy
Power Is The Pharmacy Cover

The album is mainly about grief, death, the fear of loss, losing dreams, losing youth, people, public space, ultimately oneself. The poems are about losing urban space, time and naivete, and wishing things could move backwards in time—how can things ever be healed when life is a process of undoing, of gaining only to lose?  A couple of songs are meditations of the impossibility of knowing what to do after losing a friend. A lot of imagery is also informed by sci fi writers I love. I imagine this parrot-like AI looking over a plain of destroyed cities, talking to itself about losing our beautiful world, confused at being made in the image of a species that has really done itself in. – Ky


Power Is The Pharmacy

180gLP / CD / DL
Constellation • CST172
Release date: 12 May 2023

Power Is The Pharmacy (Teeth)
All The Sad And Loving People
Work That Superficially Looks Like Leisure
The Dancer
Revolving Door
Listen! Avoid Magic! Be Aware!
Elvin Silverware
The Replacement

Genre: Art rock, experimental pop, spoken word, punk

RIYL: Hyd, Sub Rosa, Nadah El Shazly, Ben Shemie, NGHTCRWLR, Holobody, Ruby Blue-era Roísín Murphy, Big Science-era Laurie Anderson, Lisel

Power Is The Pharmacy careens through hissing bruitist synthscape, free/jazz sprinkles, soft-focus gauze, coldwave and ambient-to-thick sludge, all anchored by Ky’s superbly sly, searching, serrated lyrics and voice. The album ranges from trenchant spoken-word tracks like “Power Is The Pharmacy (Teeth)” and “Work That Superficially Looks Like Leisure”—which repeats the line “Suddenly! / No not suddenly! / But with a fantastic regularity and remarkable softness! / I woke up and decided I knew how to work!” with increasingly declarative breathless intensity over ambient synths progressively swallowed up by pummelling drum rolls—to the haunting electro of “All The Sad And Loving People” (which most overtly evokes the recurring touchstone of Big Science-era Laurie Anderson) and “The Dancer”. The album’s second half brings Ball’s noise-improv guitar and Ky’s voice more fiercely and soulfully unleashed, on heavy and utterly incantatory cuts like “Revolving Door” and “Dragons” or the quasi-operatic cabaret of “Listen! Avoid Magic! Be Aware!”

The seeds of Power Is The Pharmacy were planted in pre-lockdown performances where Big|Brave’s Mat Ball played tape loops to Ky’s poems, with their intent “to figure out how to make music that involved singing in a more melodic way and getting to use some parts of my voice that I wasn’t using with Lungbutter and other noise/punk projects I had played with”. Then pandemic hit, along with Canadian pandemic income support, allowing for Ky’s strategic acquisition of a couple of mini-synths. Songs took on all kinds of further shaping and re-shaping in isolation, especially through Montréal’s long and intense lockdown winter of 2020-21. Coming out of that time, tragedy then struck devastatingly hard (as it had for so many) in spring 2021 when Lungbutter drummer and dear friend Joni Sadler died suddenly of a brain aneurysm at the age of 36. Ky describes “All The Sad And Loving People” as “the most direct piece of writing I’ve done in response to Joni’s passing” and the song’s haunting, devotional simplicity is a numinous album highlight among many.

In 2021-2022, Ky worked through grief and workshopped the songs further IRL, seeing them coalesce around an improv recording session with a trio of fellow-travellers, all of whom appear on the final album. A diverse crew of Montréal iconoclasts was ultimately enlisted to flesh out this gripping voyage through unruly stylistic and mood swings of experimental song. Collaborators include the aforementioned Mat Ball (now laying down his trademark incendiary electric guitar), synth maven Nick Schofield, saxophonist James Goddard (Egyptian Cotton Arkestra), bassist Joshua Frank (Gong Gong Gong), drummer Farley Miller (Shining Wizard) and Andrés Salas (Bosque Rojo) on no-input pedals/electronics. Ky composed all the music, played synths and guitars, asked all these friends to “not under any circumstances play any particular thing” and then mixed the album “for 10 million years”.

The album draws its title from A Critique Of Black Reason by Achille Mbembe, as quoted in the liner notes: 

Power is the pharmacy, thanks to its capacity to transform the sources of death into a seeding strength, or to convert the resources of death into the capacity for healing. And it is because of its dual ability to be the force of life and the principle of death that power is at once revered and feared. But the relationship between the principles of life and death is fundamentally unstable.

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