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Visibly Choked Offer Aggressive Re-education

The Montreal punk quintet discuss the influences, intuition, and diasporic identity behind their raucous debut.

by Sean Orr

Photo by Stephan Boissonneault 

Visibly Choked is a yerba maté fuelled romp through the venerable halls of female-fronted art-punk, from X-Ray Spex to Life Without Buildings to Love is All, Lithics and Drahla. The music itself has a Safdie Brothers-like frantic energy to it; like if Uncut Gems was about a Fernet-soaked evening of Situationist art-school skateboarders smoking Gauloises and listening to Gazm records, then impulsively deciding to kidnap a local billionaire in exchange for meal programs to benefit Montreal’s homeless.

Once described as “a hardcore Kate Bush” or “five people having a panic attack,” Visibly Choked bottle up the collective anxieties of 2021—runaway climate chaos, a tainted drug supply killing thousands, housing out of reach for almost all young people, neoliberal austerity leaving our social programs in tatters, plague rats shutting down hospitals, and a not-so-shocking uptick in white nationalism—and throw it against the wall. 

What sticks is a debut EP stacked with zeitgeist that could pass for the latest shit-hot band out of Melbourne, Austin, or London. Discordant guitar melodies not unlike Institute or Shame with ‘bendy notes’ that aren’t quite whammy bar driven like The Hecks, vocals that range from talky ennui à la Dry Cleaning to panicked and shrill like Gouge Away, and a tight rhythm section that drifts effortlessly from no-wave to noisy post-hardcore, creating an intoxicating combination of toughness with despair and vulnerability.

In the age of the algorithm, it’s difficult to decipher how much influence the above bands had versus a more urgent and organic approach that may or may not have developed from a specific city scene. When asked if it was a conscious decision to adopt this playing style and whether it was a reflection of a new borderless world, the band is thoughtful in their collective response: “The ease with which we can access music through the internet can lead to similar sounds among bands. No one’s music is created in a vacuum and similarities in sounds may be due to the general zeitgeist. These bands are all great but any perceived influence/inspiration is incidental/not intentional. We just try to play as hard (physically) and intuitively (brain) as we can,” before adding that classic Montreal snark, “we base everything on Neil Young.” 

The band’s debut single, “Mother Tongue,” is a deeply personal narrative about the Arab diaspora, fitting into white supremacist colonial outposts of Canada by avoiding the use of “the mother tongue,” impossible beauty standards, and things left unsaid to one’s parents. Singer Gabrielle Domingue’s seemingly classically-trained vocals (what she calls “pretty screaming”) are on full display as the song hinges on a hypnotic and jangly chord progression that builds in tension and tempo, forming a visceral crescendo of immediacy and passion.

The song’s accompanying video is a carnivalesque romp using humour as a way to expose the reality that many new immigrants face when assimilating into Canadian culture. It mimics the masks they put on, especially in banal, everyday situations like drinking coffee with a friend, playing baseball, and smoking cigs. After each interaction with the lead character, the other characters are also left wearing masks. Is this the mask of white supremacy we all wear unconsciously? I asked if I was reading too much into it. Bassist Cassidy Johnson, who also directed the video, elaborates: “Definitely not reading too much into it, but the video is also intentionally vague. In conceptualization, we all needed to consider how to respect the lyrics of the song due to the sensitive and personal subject matter. With limited budget and resources, the video was done extremely DIY, so shared aesthetic influences (fringe film, surrealistic art) as well as shared experience crept into all aspects. This was the final outcome, and we’ve all been surprised by each person’s individual and organic interpretation of it.”

While Visibly Choked have a sense of internationalism to their sound, especially for such a new band, it’s also unmistakably rooted in Montreal’s vibrant experimental noise rock community. Bands like Pottery, Lungbutter, Boar God; venues like Turbo Haüs and Le Ritz; promoters like Blue Skies Turn Black; and labels like Celluloid Lunch and Mothland (the label behind the band’s self-titled debut) all point to a thriving scene, pandemic be damned. 

Visibly Choked seem poised to scratch and claw their way into their own niche with poignant lyrics, a collective manic melancholy, and a jagged confetti of punk, no wave, and hardcore. Expect big things from this band and their self-described “metaphysical musical jubilee in support of free thinking.” 

Visibly Choked release their debut self-titled EP on Nov. 5 via Mothland (FAB/Believe)