Ambient atmospheres are built with meticulous care on Refuge, each section of the debut album from the Seattle super-duo quand il pleut crafted with a darkly nuanced beauty.
Composed of musicians Natalie Bayne (Sound of the Hunter) and Matt Badger (Ravenna Woods), previous collaborators who forged the new art-rock/alt-folk outfit out of a “mutual Covid freakout.” The band name (translated in French to ‘when it rains’) brought with it the obvious association to their Seattle domain, compounded by the downpouring dismal feeling of the pandemic.
It’s not all dire, however. Refuge, the debut album released today exclusively via Dance Cry Dance Records, is packaged as one continuous 25-minute track that is by turns bleakly anthemic and gold-tinged hopeful. As Matt recalls, “During the throes of the lockdown, we were both definitely hungry for collaboration. I underestimated how essential it would end up being for us to create together. It really was a refuge, something to hold onto.”
Segmented into six songs, the EP leads with “Altar,” a sprawling and spectral track dirtied up by Matt’s grimy guitar outro (“I had the opportunity to justify blowing my savings with a looper and rig up my guitar, so I could shred in ways I hadn’t previously.”) The following tracks feature artful string arrangements by violinist John Sinclair and producer Phillip Thorpe-Evans; the piano-driven “Chest Pain,” and “Waterside,” a waltzing sea shanty lifted by Natalie’s floating vocals.
Always embarking on the songwriting process with melody first, the haunting acapella intro of “L’ennemi du Sommeil,” the first track conceived together, cues the listener for an operatic cacophony of dissonant guitars and layered synths. Penned and sung by Natalie in French, the final vocal of the track (inspired by the Charles Baudelaire poem ‘Tristesses de La Lune’) feels like a solitary wanderer across a vast landscape. Matt commands a vocal moment of his own on “The Rage,” an Elliot Smith-evoking acoustic, complete with just-weird-enough drum sequencing and foundational sub bass. The EP closes with the appropriately delicate yet soaring “Rivers,” wherein Natalie’s sotto voce passages rise into waves of passionate entreaty.
Matt and Natalie’s roles varied and blended during the creation of Refuge, with Natalie tapping into her producing and recording pedigree to engineer and mix the album herself. Throughout the process, “there was an implicit trust,” says Matt. “Natalie really knows how to shake shit up.”
Which brings us to the unique release format behind Refuge, and the core vision of Dance Cry Dance Records. Founded by Natalie Bayne in early 2022, Dance Cry Dance is a Seattle-based label and literary magazine created to provide a new way for musicians to release their art, without having to rely on the usual income streams of merch sales or touring.
“The album was fully written before I signed anyone to the roster,” explains Natalie. “Really it was the impetus to start the label, so I could release it how I wanted to. Digitally, from home, to an audience that believes creators should be compensated fairly for their art. ”
Embracing the subscription model to reach audiences who are willing to pay the artist directly, DCD delivers new music releases via episodes of The Dance Cry Dance Break, available on Substack. Some episodes of “The Break” feature exclusive content available only to paid subscribers at a rate of $7 per month with the discounted option to pay annually.
Moreso, Dance Cry Dance celebrates the craft of writing in all forms; each episode of the magazine pairs a DCD artist with a writer who creates a short story or essay inspired by the music. Released exclusively via Episode 004 of The Break, Refuge is paired with a short story by Washington-based author Isaac Marion, best known for the New York Times Bestselling Warm Bodies series.
quand il pleut will be performing a set on Instagram Live on May 27th.