Meg Remy is a mercurial kind of artist. I’ve never seen her perform the same set as U.S. Girls twice, so it was a thrill more than it was a surprise when she took the stage at 2016’s Polaris Prize Gala with a 7-piece band in tow to play an acapella version of “Sororal Feelings,” from her 2015 album Half Free, and to cover Yoko Ono’s “Born In A Prison.” Though her backing band would change, the idea of Remy being supported by a full, flexible set of accomplished players was being introduced right then and there. Only 10 artists are shortlisted for the Polaris Prize and get to perform at the awards’ gala, so the televised broadcast of the ceremony is a huge opportunity for an artist to get their work out to a larger audience. She knew it and took that chance. Though she was there in support of her nominated record Half Free, her mind and band had already moved on and she was letting us in on where she was headed, rather than focus on where she’d already been.
In an interview she filmed earlier the same day as that performance in 2016, Remy revealed that much of her follow up to Half Free, what would become In A Poem Unlimited, was already in the bag. She’d provided The Cosmic Range, a Toronto-based 10-piece jazz rock outfit made up of some of the scene’s most seasoned players, with her sample-based song demos and had them reinterpret them as a full band for recording.
In the past, Remy has usually been a bit more overt and transparent in her sampling and use of external source material, which has also informed her minimal live setup, but now it’s clear she wants to create a much more seamless slippage between what’s “original” and her own inspired interpolations. In A Poem Unlimited might be drawn from sampled material but it also pulls from cover songs (“Rage Of Plastics”) and reinterpretations (“Incidental Boogie”). Often taking from soul and R&B sources, played by a live band, the sound these interpretations of her material has taken on a rich, soulful, disco-inspired direction. It’s a big enough palette to encompass Remy’s sound past and present, while also ultimately contributing to the record’s cohesion.
Anyone who’s followed Remy’s career knows she directs and edits a great deal of her own music videos. It seems natural that someone whose musical practice is very much about cutting up and splicing ideas together to also be a filmmaker. Thinking about the two in tandem helps understand Remy’s perspective as an artist. Expressed in filmmaking terms, Half Free was all about juxtaposition, the art of montage, by placing two not necessarily harmonious ideas or sounds alongside one another. Whereas In A Poem Unlimited opts to not make jump cuts between distinct individual vignettes but aims to be understood as a whole. The seamless way with which the band treats the material therefore informs the way we understand the thematic direction Remy has gone with her lyrics and the way the songs connect on the final product.