The Sound Cafe
Art Bergmann to Release 'Late Stage Empire Dementia'
First new collection since 2016's The Apostate follows 2020 appointment to the
Order of Canada
By Jason Schneider. Photograph by David Kotsibie
Art Bergmann’s music is meant for our current times. As we struggle to make sense of world events and the conflicts they have spawned, Art’s songwriting – as it has consistently done for the past four decades – cuts through the bullshit and hypocrisy with unflinching focus with the aim of finding some remnants of humanity that will pull us through.
It’s what used to be called “punk rock” when Art first established his reputation in Vancouver during the late 1970s, even though he’s never been a fan of that term. Yet, his status as one of Canadian punk’s foundational artists remains unquestionable, to the extent that in late 2020 he became the first of his peers to receive the Order of Canada, an honour bestowed upon the country’s most revered cultural figures.
Art’s latest album, Late Stage Empire Dementia, will be released May 21, 2021 -- also Endangered Species Day -- on Toronto-based (weewerk), and pointedly demonstrates why he deserved the OC. On eight songs that sonically run the gamut from the jagged, speaker-shredding rock he’s long been known for, to the experimental, acoustic-based soundscapes he introduced on his 2016 Polaris Music Prize long-listed album The Apostate, he takes aim at political corruption, the dual unchecked epidemics of guns and drugs, and the plight of refugees yearning for a better life.
Art states, “The Apostate was more a long view of human history, whereas this new record is a reflection of what’s occurred over the past four years in terms of the masks of fascism being stripped off. These songs say, here it is folks, your history is right in front of you and these are the reasons why. Since the advent of social media, and with cameras everywhere, everybody now knows about police killings, the plague and climate catastrophe, and who these purveyors of this nightmare are. Who needs sci-fi anymore when we're living in the best Philip K. Dick novel ever?”
Late Stage Empire Dementia was recorded throughout 2020, with basic tracks laid down in Calgary at Lorrie Matheson’s studio Arch Audio and most other tracks completed at Russell Broom’s studio, Broom Closet. Although Broom and longtime Neko Case collaborator Paul Rigby handle the bulk of the guitar playing, the song “Christo-Fascists” features a rare guest appearance by legendary MC5 co-founder Wayne Kramer, whose trademark buzzsaw tone remains as potent as ever.
Yet, for each great example of politically charged rock on Late Stage Empire Dementia, such as the first single “Entropy,” there is an expansive, hypnotic piece like “Los Desaparecidos (Border Art)” or the nearly 10-minute title track that further illuminates Art’s evolution as a songwriter—completely unafraid to enter uncharted territory. It is that bravery that makes Art Bergmann’s voice as important as ever, and places Late Stage Empire Dementia easily among his finest works.