Bitter Fictions is the solo project of Devin Friesen, best known as Sloth Records’ resident curmudgeon and the former host of CJSW’s Each One Teach One. He’s also one of Western Canada’s sharpest music writers — his work appears in Fast Forward Weekly (including this very page) and Tiny Mix Tapes — which makes reviewing Nos. 1 & 2 akin to reviewing Robert Christgau’s backpack hip-hop record. (Which, thankfully, doesn’t exist.) Reviewing Bitter Fictions is daunting: When it comes to music criticism, I can’t possibly outduel Friesen — he’s the type of guy who, you’d assume, lost his virginity to Spiderland. He can, and will, drop Shellac references into Flo-Rida reviews. He likely sets his watch to Drag City’s release schedule. And he’s the type of guy who’d pummel a reviewer for making erroneous comparisons about his own music. So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to write this review without making a single band comparison.
For those familiar with Bitter Fictions’ earliest work, which excellently straddled the line between overblown noise-rock and ’90s slack-pop, this tape might come as a surprise. This, like Friesen’s recent work in Percolator Glitch and Looper Pedal Blues, is instrumental and largely improvised; what’s surprising, however, is that Nos. 1 & 2 is Friesen’s most accessible work yet. Relying heavily on the delay pedal, each track begins with minimal guitar strums, with Friesen continually piling on scraps of texture and feedback; as a result, each track feels like it’s in perpetual motion, ending far differently than it began. Most pleasantly, though, each track possesses a distinctive tone: Shimmery openers “This is How it Started” and “The Little Lantern” are calmingly psychedelic; the shuddering “Adriano Meis” is mechanically soothing; “A Bit of Fog” turns feedback into a menacing, ugly soundscape. Indeed, Friesen’s firm command of mood is what makes this so listenable — and at times, it’s hard to believe Nos. 1 & 2 was improvisational at all. And that’s why you should listen to Devin Friesen.