Toronto synth/rock duo Cubs Refrain’s much-anticipated debut “Tell Me You Love Me” landed with a bang on April 6th. Just in time for sunshine, band members Erin Roblin and Jordan Shew have mixed digital production with analogue synths to create a soaring sonic portrait of beauty and loss.
Influenced by M83, CHVRCHES and Metric, the album’s 14 tracks tell a story of doomed young love. Each song marks a step in the couples’ journey through the desire and despair of romantic awakening.
“It’s based around the angst of teenagers,” Roblin says. “That age when you’re first discovering what love is, what lust is, what it means to be curious. And what it is to find out that everything isn’t perfect.”
Side A captures that honeymoon period in tracks like album overture “Collide” — a dreamy ode to first contact — and propulsive single “When It Started,” whose wet synths and sing-along bridge mark it as a dark-horse contender for 2018’s “Song of The Summer.” Side B, however, mirrors the lovers’ fall into betrayal and separation on heartbreaking bangers like “Breathe” and the epic ultimatum of “All New Lives.”
“Once we storyboarded it, the themes within emerged,” says Shew. “The more you want something, the more you tighten your grip and the further away it gets. Instead of growing together, the lovers grow apart.”
Despite the album’s intimacy, Shew and Roblin do not have a romantic history. They met at a Queen’s University and bonded over a shared love of music, later competing against each other in a “Battle of The Bands” competition at their engineering pub. Shew’s classic rock chops mixed well with Roblin’s modern indie take on keyboards and vocals. Cubs Refrain combined their separate areas of expertise into one cohesive sound.
“We’re a really great team,” says Roblin. “I was writing lyrics and melodies in my head, and when I brought them to Jordan he’d morph them into these awesome arrangements. I would have made them sad and slow and acoustic – it was Jordan’s idea to try out this new genre. I bring the vocals, he brings the grit.”
Roblin and Shew communicate with the ease of life-long friends, and are adorably huge admirers of each others musicianship. The sugar and sand effect of their respective vocals stylings add an electric tension to the tracks, and their commitment to the tenets of live performance keeps their recordings spontaneous.
“A lot of electronic music is sequenced, very metered and perfectly on the beat” says Shew. “But we tried to use those elements sparingly. All our lead lines, our bass lines and pads, are performed. It lends itself well to that rock feel – there’s very little editing. Analogue translates to a nice warmth that you don’t get with digital synths.”
Shew mixed and produced the album after he and Roblin recorded it in Shew’s home studio. It features cello, drums and electric guitar, all performed manually. Most arresting are the sounds made when Shew dismantled his family grand piano following the housefire referenced on the albums artwork and on closing track “Death of the Grand Piano 2017, Scissors on Wire.”
The visual aspect of Tell Me You Love Me continues through the music videos Cubs Refrain shot with local filmmakers Luke and Mark Montgomery. The chapters are actually excerpts from a short film which further explores the concept of doomed love.
Stay tuned for tour dates!