With the influx of affordable laptop recording software and the seemingly never ending obsession with lo-fi, it’s hard to find a bedroom pop artist that stands out. When it comes to Victoria’s Derek Janzen – aka First Nations – his unique collection of sounds probably shouldn’t grab you as easily as they do, but Before There Were Mountains is the type of record you find by accident and hold onto like a treasure map from One Eyed Willie.
Without sounding too cliche, it’s the risks and originality Janzen offers up that makes the biggest impact. The opening number – “When Silver Antlers Draw My Blood” – starts as barely audible blips and evolves into the equivalent to the sound of the TV going off the air when programming ends at the end of the day. It’s an odd introduction, one that Janzen rides out for almost 3-minutes before transitioning into the fantastic strummed acoustic/vocal sample of “Paper Heart/Leather Lungs”, but the subtle addition of big, echo filled tribal drums just behind the guitar really thickens the song and keeps the listener engaged and slightly unsettled.
And that’s probably all you have to know about First Nations, well that and the record is free if you want to download it. All of the ten songs Janzen offers up are ear pleasing, but every song has unexpected elements spliced into the core that make this bedroom project much bigger than the sum of the parts or the volume of the recording. Even when he drifts closer to the traditional folk singer (“Little Wings’), he still experiments with textures to give the delicate, slow moving song some rough edges. Whether it’s the infectious programming of “Ghost Lamp”, the dark dueling vocals of “Poorly Knitted Skull” or the delightful fade from chirping birds (“—/////+++\\\\\—”) to robotic, stomp percussion (“Son, We Are Animals”), Janzen has put together a well thought out LP born from alienation that happily invites you to listen.