Survival is on everyone’s mind these days. For some, though, like singer/guitarist Cassia Hardy of Edmonton’s Wares, survival is on their mind even when there isn’t a global pandemic. There’s no timelier release than the band’s sophomore album (and Mint Records debut), simply called Survival.
Wares initially gained a following, and eventually the Vancouver label’s attention, with face-melting live shows fuelled by a heartfelt and equally scintillating self-titled debut. What began as Hardy’s solo project has evolved to include other skilled players including keyboardist Jamie Mclean, bassist Matthew Gooding, and drummer Holly Greaves. The quartet forged their intense sound and boiling chemistry touring across Canada and further refined it on Survival with help from engineers Mason Pixel and Jesse Gander.
The band’s latest is an album about figuring out who you are and finding community, support, and love in every sense of the word. Although Survival is rooted in Hardy’s personal journey, she hopes the album will resonate with anyone who’s ever been through a struggle; specifically, Hardy writes in the album’s liner notes, “this record is dedicated to decolonial activists, anti-fascist agitators, prairie queers fighting for community and a better life.”
Survival addresses heavy topics, but it brims with hope. Fittingly, the music on Survival, spread out across 10 tracks, is musically dynamic, as tender as it is explosive – all raw nerves, either way. At less than a minute and a half in length, opening track “Hands, Skin” shoots from resting to caustic as Hardy recalls her account of an assault. The triumphantly emo “Surrender into Waiting Arms” celebrates the joy of working through trauma and finding a relationship built upon trust, consent, and clear and honest communication on the other end.
Despite “Surrender into Waiting Arms” and other sweeping songs with grand builds like “Tether,” “Complete Control,” and “Surface World,” some of Survival’s best moments are their quieter ones. Sonically, “Tall Girl” is pure dream pop with pastel vocals, but it’s eulogistic, with Hardy lamenting, “I regret not getting to know you better.” “Jenny Says” channels Smashing Pumpkins at their most sentimental, like one of their many starry-eyed lullabies.
From spacious bliss to scorching, guitar-driven, shred-filled rock, Wares’ Mint Records debut leaves an indelible impression. Everyone could use a little support in this time of isolation, lockdown, and loss – and many people are coming together in selfless ways to offer what they can, be it sharing resources, checking in on their neighbours, delivering groceries, or organizing and acting in ways that should squash any cynicism – but it’s always comforting to hear that unity and solidarity in song. With Survival, Wares let listeners know, “You’re not alone, and someone’s looking out for you, any way they can.”
review by Leslie Chu