New Music: Arsoniste’s ‘Holes’

Halifax’s Arsoniste have made a departure from their synth-pop background to produce ‘Holes’, their more acoustic and orchestral, soul baring, sophomore EP.

“I’d like to think I wrap darkness in a lot of warmth and beauty,” says Rachel Sunter, who makes up three quarters of Arsoniste as the duo’s lyricist, vocalist, and pianist (the other member being drummer Patrick Murphy). She’ll readily admit that her songs tend towards melancholy, but they are as personal as reading the pages of someone’s diary.

Where her previous EP, ‘Where There Is Dark’, was built like a late night solo slow jam featuring a singer-songwriter with a synth pad, ‘Holes’ strips away the artifice and is purely Sunter, a piano, and a string section.

“This album was an escape,” Sunter explains. “After performing in a concert series with the HMC (Halifax Music Co-op, a local orchestra, choir and teaching school) in September 2015, I was so inspired by the orchestral approach to my songs that I decided to spend some time working exclusively on my acoustic material. […] I brought on one of the arrangers and a couple string players to do their thing to a couple of the songs: ‘Waterfall’ and ‘Thank God For That'”

It’s a deeply personal album, drawing its material from the rollercoaster of Sunter’s relationship, hiatus, and reconciliation over the last year, much of it written in a sense of impending doom. The metaphors of holes and water figure prominently into the album as Sunter searches for stability. ‘Waterfall’ is the impending breakup song. I want to be happy with my choices and path in life, instead of conforming to other people’s wants and needs. That’s been a lifelong struggle.”

The EP runs the gamut from there, visiting on the encompassing effects of complete infatuation, and the escape thereof, down to Sunter’s experience with depression on the closing track ‘Blow It Down’. “‘Blow It Down’ is a song I wrote four years ago when I was living in this really poor student ghetto in Halifax, and super PTSD / depressed / doing drugs and drinking / post-abusive relationship, which was a theme of my first EP.”

Sunter is unabashedly putting her heart on her sleeve as she bridges the gap between being authentic and creating something with universal appeal. ‘Holes’ balances on a fine line as Sunter bleeds out over her piano. She’s belting it out with a certain amount of self trust that, ultimately, depends on the inherent in the value of her message. “I feel like that’s a challenge all writers/creators have to address, to decide what balance to strike, if there is any balance at all. Everyone is aware of cool, whether they try or not, and I don’t believe anyone who says they’re not. I would be rendered speechless if I wrote ‘for’ anyone. I have to write for myself, as an attempt to capture a distinct feeling or moment. I get great pleasure from that. Or relief…”
‘Holes’ can be a heavy trip at times, but if the best art is built on honest experience then Sunter nails it. Darkness be damned.
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