Story and photos by Sara Kuefler
Milk Mountain, the new album by Calgary trailblazers 36? is so monumental, complex and beautiful it is difficult to know where to even begin … well, since honesty in expression is of utmost value to Taylor Cochrane, frontman and writer for the band, I will start with moments of my own intimate first experience of the record.
To set the stage: I am sitting at my kitchen table. It is dark outside, and most likely somewhere in the vicinity of 3 a.m. I am editing photos on my laptop from a recent and magical photo shoot with the band, that took place at Cochrane’s residence. Magical because of the idiosyncratic setting, which brought back super strong connotations to facets of my own past residences, but more importantly the variety, vibrance and warmth in the personalities of the band members. Elements of that shoot are stamped into my memory in a very vivid way that I would like to hold onto. Outfit selection out of a suitcase full of random and fabulous items, and cooperative makeup application being one of many highlights.
As I edit, working on details of group shots, I listen to the pre-release copy of Milk Mountain that Cochrane has generously shared with me. Being that this is 36?’s fourth album, they are not new at weaving their unique blend of chaos, vulnerability, quirk, sweetness, and power, but there is something special happening here. This does happen to me occasionally, and maybe it sounds odd, but I feel this building sense of genuine and powerful affection for the people who created this music, even though I am not on close personal terms with them. Certain lyrics to particular songs are speaking pretty directly to my heart, as happens with songs, but it is more than that. It feels like an exchange, even though there is no direct contact at that moment. I do feel that human beings can communicate in very evocative ways on an art plain and 36? is a band that can 100 per cent tap into that level of consciousness.
When asked about his ability to connect with so many facets of the human experience in his compositions, Cochrane’s perspective is intuitively and brilliantly philosophical yet direct:
“I feel like that is just how emotion works; there is never a clear cut way to feel about something. There’s always something lingering that may sway you in the opposite direction. We are all chaotic beings. Our lives are not simple; they are impossibly complex and nonsensical. It’s like we are all used to the crazy, chaotic nature of existence so we act like it’s normal, but everything we are used to is totally insane. We are all somehow here on a giant spinning orb of randomness in the middle of an infinite amount of additional seemingly random shit. All trying to rationalize seeing the world from a tiny singular perspective that means everything to you but doesn’t exist to anyone else. Why do we even feel anything at all? Why does art even exist? What the fuck is anything? Basically the music is my best attempt at being honest with emoting this perspective.”
The uniqueness of Cochrane’s “singular perspective” mentioned above informs many of the lyrics on tracks included on the new album. The second single, “Vic,” for example, is an unconventional post-love letter of sorts to an ex, in which Cochrane touches on some of the insights gained in hindsight and self examination and wishes the subject well. “But I Don’t Know Myself (Suddenly)” addresses the trepidation incited by but also necessity for a break-up, when you begin to realize the person you are does not fit with who your partner is and what they need. “Starstruck,” on the other hand, is a dreamy ode to the affectionate emotions inspired by a new love. And creative process and self doubt are present within the deceivingly lighthearted sounding, “Carousel V4.2.”
While Milk Mountain contains songs that delve into Cochrane’s personal relationships and journey, which is very valuable to the record’s ability to authentically communicate and elicit response, it also is a record that transcends even as it embraces the specific. In an auditory sense, that may be in part due to Cochrane’s philosophy of building soundscapes based on prioritizing frequencies above surface elements like execution.
“…If I want to accomplish a particular feeling, I will think about what areas of the sonic field make me feel that way and the melody and the instrumentation will just grow out of that,” Cochrane explains.
It is common knowledge that music is a big stimulator of the math side of our brains. It may seem wild to think of anything that could be related to scholastics at a 36? show. I always find myself reminded of genuine (as in gritty no holds barred) punk while 36? is playing live – which has a lot less to do with the sound than the insane intense, raw energy that is like love and a punch to the face all wrapped up together – actually, quite fitting considering Cochrane’s description of playing live as “a surreal whirlwind of emotions. I have no idea what is happening when I am on stage. I just try to stay in the moment, feel everything, and drink enough water.”
However, if you are a fan of 36? and have taken the time to really listen, especially over and over from different emotional states, it will come as no surprise that their music originates from such a rich combination of math, philosophy, and emotive fire creating a transcendent experience that is both heady and thoughtful, as well as physically immediate.
36? recently signed with record label File Under: Music. Personally, I was very pleased to hear that the label has, “been wonderful allies for [36?] in putting out [their] vision for the record,” because it would be nothing short of tragic not to allow them full creative headway. In fact, one of the tracks on the album, “EZFM,” is an ironically catchy tune about not wanting to be told what kind of songs to write, while the song “Island” could be deemed an anthem for freedom of lifestyle and expression. The benefit of a label, however, will allow Milk Mountain to have more reach, including an extensive tour following the record drop. With an updated lineup of 7 members, 36? is sure to blow the hair right off of audiences afar, while we in Calgary both cheer them on and miss their presence.
As the phenomenal people they are, the band wants to thank fans for their support and express their intense enthusiasm for the release of this record.
Do not miss your chance to celebrate this achievement with them, and experience 36? and friends live this Friday, March 22 at the Palomino, doors at 9 p.m.! And Milk Mountain will be available on vinyl with very 36?-esque artwork, so bring some dollars with you.