Pete Tosiello doesn’t call it champagne unless it’s FROM CHAMPAGNE.
The first Backwoodz Studioz release of 2018 isn’t some brain-warping dystopic panorama from East New York, but a rather pleasant, introspective EP from L.A. transplant Henry Canyons—conceived during an artist residency in the South of France. And while the serene tempos of La Cote West may evoke coastal Basque country, the change of scenery chiefly provides the ever-earnest Canyons space to explore his own thoughts.
The isolation of life on the road is a well-trod rock star trope, but the act of settling alone in a strange land—even if it’s a seaside artists’ colony—is more laden. When Canyons beholds his breathtaking French environs, he’s reminded of days past, of things lost and missing. He is, of course, appreciative of his rare fortune, but with that appreciation comes the subtle unease of someone who knows his escape is merely temporary.
Canyons is a reliable if self-conscious narrator, a rapper who doesn’t rap so much as declaim, assuming the self-assured authority of a sweating preacher in his more animated moments. But for the most part he maintains a restrained, meditative cool, his musical delivery approximating the discursiveness of his own monologues. As on 2015’s impressive Canyonland, he shines when rapping over horns, a winning strategy on La Cote West’s moody opener “Well Acquainted Strangers.”
La Cote West explores the distance between pure escapism and the ties that bind, most directly confronted on “Last Time I Was Here You Were Here.” Canyons acknowledges his difficulty undertaking new journeys given the shadow of the past, but luckily for the listener he’s not quite debilitated by it. “I don’t know jack, so it’s Hank and the beanstalk/ We walk to the rhythm and adapt to how the beans drop,” he proclaims on “It Takes Time.”
There’s an honest, un-self-pitying melancholy caged within the excitement of La Cote West’s new experiences, and Canyons finds a whiff of strife even in leisure. But its sincerity and sharp production make for a depth that’s never too heavy, resulting in a worthy travel companion. As Canyons poses on the hook of “It Takes Time”: “What’s the point of being prudent if it hinders your improvement?”