Acts of Worship
Vancouver’s ACTORS have been an act on the cusp for roughly as long as we’ve been covering them. The release of their debut album It Will Come To You was the moment that one of Vancouver’s best were coming to wider recognition. It lead to international tours, high-profile festival appearances and a palpable buzz around the post-punk quartet. And then the pandemic happened, and a band whose momentum was built up from relentless live gigging and audience interaction was grounded. How much that influenced the creation of their sophomore LP is anyone’s guess, but what’s abundantly clear from listening to the album is that for all of band-leader Jason Corbett’s hooky songwriting and slick production, ACTORS are coming to us from a darker place on Acts of Worship.
To be clear, in this case “dark” isn’t being used as a synonym for turgid or languid – ACTORS still have the bass guitar forward dancefloor attack that made them club staples in short order, and neon synth sheen that made them so palatable to genre fans and more general audiences alike. But the songs on Acts of Worship have a specific ennui woven into them, even in their brightest and most energized moments. I mean sure, a song called “Like Suicide” is probably gonna be a bit morose, but what makes it good is how it manages to be a synth-led new wave toe-tapper (complete with a “Fade to Grey” style spoken vocal break from keyboardist Shannon Hemmett) and a genuinely despondent accounting of love-the-bad-way without either aspect undermining the other.
That tightrope and how to walk it is basically the whole of the LP, and ACTORS manage it effectively throughout. Check out the funky minimalism of the bass and drums on the verse of “Only Lonely”, and how it uses the pre-chorus to ramp up to a wistful chorus delivered in Corbett’s familiar half-falsetto. Or how the deep wells or reverb wend their way through the peppy “Obsession”, adding depth and texture to its clicky rhythm track and plainly delivered vocals. When the band do go full doom and gloom on highlight “Strangers” it stands out specifically because they’ve resisted doing so for so long; Corbett sings “Light begins to fall/strangers after all” with a kind of weary resignation that cuts through the long shadows of guitar noise and ghostly backing vocals.
The songwriting and performances are certainly part of what makes the album notable, but a goodly portion of the appeal here comes from Corbett’s studio expertise. Never one to shy away from effects and high-gloss production, Acts of Worship is a showcase for his sensibility as a producer. He submerges and processes his own vocals, dials in multiple layers of guitar effects, makes use of programmed drums and synth sounds, and generally crams as much as he can onto each track. There are moments where it can be somewhat overpowering (the queasy warbling saturation at the outset of “Death From Above” is perhaps a bridge too far for example), but there are far more moments where the maximalist aesthetic elevates the material; closing tracks “End of the World” and “Once More With Feeling” are what they are because of the level of detail in their execution, from the tiny burst hesitant of feedback that precedes the second chorus of the former to the wave of shoegaze distortion that washes over the end of the latter like a curtain descending on the whole album.
Sophomore albums are generally one of two things: a paler version of a debut LP, or the moment where a band proves they have something more to offer. This is most certainly an example of the second one, although that undersells how distilled every aspect of ACTORS is here. From the sound of the record, to its songwriting and the wedding of those two things, there’s simply no other band you could mistake them for at this point, and few who do what they do as well or better. Recommended.