Ruth Minnikin’s double life

Angel-voiced Ruth Minnikin finds a dark and lighthearted outlook on death, for her new album Depend on This.

After a ferry and a bus, Ruth Minnikin arrives at a North Street coffee shop. From here, she'll go by foot. Late on a December day, the sun is low. Soon she'll have to go postering in dying light.

Death was on Minnikin's mind during the making of Depend on This, not as doom and gloom, but as unavoidable. The album title, a reference to that fact, still makes her laugh. "I thought it was really hilarious," she says, grinning over a cup of hot chocolate.

In the black-and-white cover photo, Minnikin sits on a moss-topped cemetery wall, surrounded by her band. On the back, the same group shot is rendered in saturated colour, a psychedelic paint-by-numbers image. The two versions represent opposite outlooks on death: melancholic and lighthearted. These two poles have always existed in Minnikin's music, too. "The Theme Song" opens the album on a positive note, a statement of innocence: "It don't mean a thing, it's just gotta sing," sings Minnikin, celebrating music itself. "I write songs like that to remind myself why I'm doing it," she says. "Sometimes it's tough to be the songwriter in the loud bar." Making music is a matter of "instinct," she continues, adding matter-of-factly, "I can't get away from it."

With "Sleeping and Dreaming," a bass- and horn-punched R&B tune, Minnikin tucks a critique of institutional control of our lives, and society's drive to perfect, in between the "sha-la-la-las." "Four Churches" blends fantasy and reality, retelling a story a friend made up for Minnikin about a Toronto intersection. The title track seems to suggest that if we've accepted death, we need to choose to live---to remember we're alive. The song changes time, involves varied and complex vocal and instrumental solos and an overall symphonic pop sound. "Animals of Bremen" follows with world-weariness: "Tired of this life, its pain and its strife," Minnikin sings, which soon gives way to hope, a mind to get on the road. "Finale" wraps up the short six-song sequence, returning to the sense of celebration and uplifting spirit.

But it doesn't end there. The songs enjoy a rebirth, care of Chuck Blazevic (Dreamsploitation). They're not remixes, but "rearrangements," Minnikin says. Drawing on the lyrics' "recurring themes," as well as vocal and instrumental hooks, Blazevic reminds listeners of the presence and importance of patterns and repetition in life and music.

"I used the term 'rearrangement' because that is how I approached Ruth's songs," he emails, "fishing out individual notes from the recorded source material to create new chords and sewing together fragments of existing lines to create new counter-melodies, rhythmic patterns and basslines for use under the existing core vocal melodies."

"I enjoy repetitive things and same with rhythm: I love drums, I love playing tambourine. It's just one sound but I dig it," says Minnikin, heading out with a little light left in the day.

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