Boniface’s Self-Titled Debut Is Gloomy Melodrama And Velvet Synth-Pop

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Justin Bieber’s Changes and Niia’s ‎II: La Bella Vita were two albums perfectly suited for release on Valentine’s Day, a date generally reserved for reflections on love, commitment, and romance. But a third, excellent record also made its debut on western culture’s most romantic holiday: Boniface, the project of Micah Visser — who hails from Winnipeg, Canada — released their self-titled album this past Friday, too, and it’s a project that shouldn’t be overlooked strictly due to high-profile competition.

Like Niia’s release, Boniface is a gorgeous reminder that independent pop music is still alive and well, and that commitment to the form spans across international lines. The band, and by extension, the record, are both lovingly named for Saint Boniface, a city on the outskirts of Winnipeg where Visser grew up and still lives. Perhaps it’s not intuitive to assume that one of the world’s next great pop acts hails from a suburban sprawl in the middle of Canada, but then again, the baroque pop of Arcade Fire emerged just southeast, in Montreal, and that might be the most apt comparison to illustrate how great this album is.

There are traces of indie rock in Boniface’s DNA, but the shift toward soaring, foggy synths over crisp guitar solos, and Visser’s passionate, dramatically-performed vocal delivery tends to skew the music more pop — even more so when the band is performing live. I had the pleasure of seeing them perform at a private show in Los Angeles earlier this month, due to the patronage of Manitoba Music, a non-profit that advocates for music from their native territory. Electrifying and immediately accessible, a simple three or four songs turned me from an idle listener into a full-fledged fan, particularly because of Visser’s skill as a frontperson, capturing the attention of a sleepy weeknight crowd and ratcheting the energy up substantially by commanding the living room nook where a makeshift stage had been set up.

Describing their debut as “a collection of stories about coming of age in a small town,” Boniface delivers on that promise with an album full of frenetic, gossamer pop songs that channel early ‘00s indie melodrama and gloom but never veer too deeply into emotionalism. Visser writes with an exactitude that’s necessary when dealing with material this raw, and their soaring, elastic voice flares and vamps on early singles like “Ghosts” and “Wake Me Back Up,” which appear in quick succession on the album, giving it an almost rollercoaster feel. My favorites are “Dear Megan” and “I Will Not Return As A Tourist,” two anthemic standouts with sing-along choruses that transform from lyrics into full-fledged mantras.

Micah describes the band as some of “the kindest, most talented people I’ve ever met,” and longtime collaborators on the project include their brother Joey Visser and Micheal Dunn, along with bassist Carter Dawson, and producer/engineer Neil Comber (who has worked with artists like Charli XCX and M.I.A.), who came in toward the end of the process to help polish up songs, many of which were written and initially recorded in bedrooms and garages in Winnipeg. And the relational intimacy between the band members, and the tenderness of bedroom sessions still come through on the final product.

What’s most fascinating about Boniface though is the sheer breadth of songwriting styles presented across this project. With sixteen tracks on the album, and two additional single versions — for “Oh My God” and “Keeping Up” — this is, indeed, a collection of music that functions as a bigger body of work than most debut albums do. It indicates that Visser is capable of writing almost every kind of song on the face of the planet, enormous ballads, slow lullabies, anthems and hits and bops, and all imbued with such a distinct sense of the writer behind them. Combining sad, gloomy memories with bright, insistent melodies, Boniface have created an album that manages to sound and feel hopeful even in the face of unrelenting darkness. This music never ignores the darkness, it simply acknowledges it, and insists on the light, anyway. There’s nothing braver than that, nothing more compelling, and nothing more loving.

Boniface is out now via Transgressive Records. Get it here.