All Hands_Make Light

Two stars of the Montreal music scene unite for All Hands Make Light

Efrim Manuel Menuck and Ariel Engle have released their debut album and are playing POP Montreal this weekend.

All Hands_Make Light contains no immovable object or unstoppable force — just a simpatico pairing of well-known Montreal artists. The duo’s eponymous debut is out now on Bandcamp and cassette tape, with a second-ever live performance as part of the POP Montreal festival on Saturday.

Efrim Manuel Menuck (of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra) and Ariel Engle (la Force, AroarA, Broken Social Scene) get along really well. So much so, it’s surprising the vets of the Montreal music scene haven’t collaborated more in the past, and it’s easy to forget the one time they officially did: Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra’s 12-inch disco remix “Hang on to Each Other.”

Besides personnel, All Hands_Make Light doesn’t have much in common with that slice of “very earnest house music.” Frictionless in creation, the soundscapes on their debut surround and slowly engulf the senses. Maybe it’s the give and take at work, but the dissonance abates at the right moments, while the vocals can be the star or recede into the sonic smoke.

“But don’t pigeonhole us yet,” says Engle.

After all, All Hands_Make Light remains in its infancy, the product of two colleagues committing to swap music files after bumping into each other on the eve of the pandemic in 2020. It was mostly Menuck experimenting on modular synths and Engle on vocals. They immediately clicked and the natural momentum never stopped.

“We fileshared. We didn’t meet in-person to work on the record until it was mostly done,” says Engle.

The filesharing aspect was rare for both.

“I’d never done it before, at least not in that way,” says Menuck.

“I don’t use it in a complicated way, I just record my vocals,” added Engle. “For me, it’s one step up from a voice memo on a recorder.”

They did eventually meet at Thee Mighty Hotel2Tango to hammer out the final details on their debut. The bulk of the album was assembled towards the start of the pandemic, with “Anchor Rose” coming together at their Suoni per il Popolo performance earlier this year.

“I think one of the things that’s really fun for me with this project is that it feels good without any sense of labour or torture,” says Engle. “I leave that for other things in my life.”

Engle’s vocals come from an “if it feels good, do it” philosophy: sometimes the lyrics are completely audible, sometimes they’re a bit more inscrutable, and occasionally there aren’t even any words at all.

“Sometimes the lyrics are there, sometimes they’re approximate, but mostly there are lyrics there,” Engle said. “But sometimes they’re not discernible, even to me.”

The pair also said there wasn’t a specific order to how the songs were written. One was Engle sending a vocal and keyboard, while another had Menuck sending a nearly completed song minus the vocals. The project is also described as utilizing “old scales,” which Menuck said was a way to push beyond the restrictions of popular music conventions, but isn’t about a specific era.

Both have extensive resumes, and they said finding an easygoing rapport like the one they have can be rare.

“Our interactions are easy,” says Engle. “There’s a lot of mutual respect and we’ll both read the room, so we’ve never butted heads. I wonder sometimes if it’s because we come from different musical spheres, so we each bring what we bring without wading into each other’s musical worlds.”

Menuck says: “We have a lot of commonalities, but then at the same time we have different aesthetic senses when it comes to music. It’s been nice on that front to bounce off someone. Maybe something’s too discordant or distorted, or not discordant enough for my tastes.”

Adds Engle: “Maybe I can be in a wall of sound, something all-encompassing. That’s new for me, and it’s been a real pleasure.” ■

All Hands_Make Light is available now. All Hands_Make Light perform with Thanya Iyer, Malika Tirolien, Korea Town Acid and Vagina Witchcraft at l’Entrepôt77 (77 Bernard E.) on Saturday, Sept. 25, 3 p.m., $18.38

For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.