New Music: Mike Trask’s ‘Derealization’

If you had to make a list of five New Brunswick musicians that stand out not just as good musicians, but musicians that consistently and creatively push the boundaries of their art, Mike Trask would be on that list. Or at least he should be. His newest release ‘Derealization’ is the next stage in his metamorphosis. Another step in his journey towards maximum Traskiness.

Not everyone can pull this off. There’s a not so fine line between Radiohead and John Cage. At one end of the spectrum you’ve got musical genius that opens doors to something unique. At the other end there’s an island. There’s a gimmick that finds merit simply in the fact that someone attempted something new, but Oh Lord, must we really sit through a whole concert of this? In either case, at the edge of that boundary is the realm of self actualization. Right now that’s where we find Mike Trask.

Trask’s music has always been a little bit out there, and maybe by necessity – he sounds like he was born smoking two packs a day. He’s Miramichi’s answer to Peter Dreimanis or Tom Waits. A decade or so ago he was doing straight forward bluesy style of rock. His raspy voice suited it perfectly. That in itself doesn’t seem odd, but it came at a time when we were still getting over the super-produced era of the late ’90s and early 2000s. Bands were more polish and less grit. Trask’s brand of unapologetic hard rock provided a dose of sincerity in a landscape that seemed to be lacking in substance.

That sense of authenticity has been reinforced with Trask embracing analogue tech. He has lived as a man outside of time, and his newest album reflects that. Opening with ‘Zombie’, Trask dives right in with what we might assume is now ‘Peak Traskiness’, which might be compared to the personification of your father’s favourite corduroy recliner on acid. The song is the sort of hokey funk that puts it almost on par with the Monster Mash. You could imagine it being a musical interlude to some ancient late night, low budget TV show starring Bela Lugosi’s understudy. It plays into one of Trask’s more common themes – not cheesy horror, but the darker side of love, revisiting this again in ‘Killer’, ‘Love’, and ‘Love on the Rise’.

Miraculously, there’s a balance struck between songs that get dangerously poignant, and the strength of Trask’s character that shines through on tracks like ‘Horse’ and ‘Life’. Often bring in tongue-in-cheek levels of funk, there’s a self awareness of the situation that sells it. The self-produced video for the single, ‘Horse’ nails the feeling of the album, with Trask trying to… not sell us a dead horse. It’s one of those situations where understanding comes second to appreciating the artistry.

Trask says that, despite being produced under trying circumstances, ‘Derealization’ is his strongest album. He compares it to his previous albums by referencing the famous Maya Angelou quote: “I did then what I knew best. When I knew better, I did better.”

“Having played everything, written all parts, and producing myself alone, it is by default the most authentic, true representation of me – much more so than any other record I have ever made,” says Trask.

He further explains that the album was a private endeavour, emphasizing that ‘Derealization’ was created without the critics, or even an audience in mind.

“It is just eleven pieces of art recorded during a time when I was coping with some heavy stuff. There was allot on my mind and the sessions for ‘Derealization’ that led to the most productive, creative piece of work I have ever done. By far the most authentic, true-to-me, piece of work I’ve ever done. If anything, these are the songs I want to write, while other albums are the songs I had to write.”

The album closes with ‘Love On The Rise’, a Dylan-esque tune, and a strong ending. Trask dips back into a singer-songwriter style to give a lament of a passing relationship and its inevitable fate.

“Where does love go when its dead? In the good book is anything said, like a psalm or two? A prayer we can do, for love on the rise?”

It might be Trask’s strongest bit of songwriting yet, and while the meat of the album of the album is a healthy dose of funk, rich in character, it’s the quiet moments that really showcase Trask’s skill and versatility.