Michael Rault’s second full-length, It’s A New Day Tonight, has its home in the darkness, like much rock and roll—many of its songs look at nocturnal activities, particularly sleep. “Sleeping and dreaming were attractive concepts,” says Rault. “I was looking for an escape from a lot of frustrating and dissatisfying conditions in my day-to-day life.”
The Edmonton-born, Montreal-based singer-songwriter-producer began working on its songs in earnest after winding down the tour supporting his 2015 full-length Living Daylight, but getting to the point of having an album was a process. “It’s crazy to think it was that long ago that I started fully applying myself to the album—there were a lot of holdups along the way,” recalls Rault. “Musically it came out of a period of dissatisfaction, creatively and personally, as I found myself pushing against the limitations of my abilities and approaches to making music.”
But those delays eventually paid off. As he was working on It’s A New Day Tonight‘s songwriting, Rault kept entering the orbit of Wayne Gordon, producer and head engineer at Brooklyn’s legendary Daptone studio—first through opening stints for the late firebrand Charles Bradley, then while on tour with Aussie shredders King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. “I thought I would record at home, or at my cousin’s studio in Montreal,” says Rault. “But I wasn’t fully satisfied.” Sending Gordon early sketches of some songs led to Rault heading to Daptone for what was initially going to be a two-week recording stint. Midway through that Gordon approached him about signing to the Daptone Records label’s rock spinoff, Wick—and becoming the first Canadian member of the Daptone family. “It was really flattering, because I had no idea if they liked it or not,” says Rault. Signing with Wick also led to Rault finishing the record at Daptone and bringing Gordon on as co-producer. “Michael is one of those once in a lifetime artists.” says Gordon. “Working with him on this record was a reassurance that pursuing music in my life was the right choice.”
It’s A New Day Tonight has the loose-limbed feel of a lost album by ’70s bands that bridged the gap between folk-rock’s open-hearted strumming and power pop’s crisp, melody-forward confections—Wings, Badfinger, Big Star, 10cc—yet possesses an energy shot through with 21st-century optimism. “The editing and patching together of tracks on the album was minimal compared to modern standards, which forced me to get more used to having to perform each song all the way through in the studio and then live with the imperfections afterwards,” says Rault. “They get the sounds off the floor through the mics and onto tape, and that’s it.”
The breezy album opener “I’ll Be There” sets the tone, its sauntering rhythm letting an earwormy chorus and intricate guitar solo blossom from sun-dappled strumming. But even with the carefree vibe, Rault’s lyrics are about the emotional toll of a musician’s life on the road.
The title track, “New Day Tonight,” is a midtempo reverie that’s elevated by tremolo guitar and delicate strings (which Daptone house engineer Gabe Roth helped tweak). It was the first song Rault wrote for this album, and its gently optimistic vibe is boosted by its swaying, melodic bass. “The lyrics tell the story of someone—probably me—who only feels good in the evening time, potentially after having a drink, or micro-dosing some psychedelic substances. Whatever works,” says Rault. “It’s almost completely describing a very positive nightlife experience, but the opening line implies that this evening is coming as a major relief after spending the majority of the day depressed.” Its title—and the album’s—comes from what Rault calls “a maybe surprising and typically Canadian source”: a pregame interview with a hockey player coming off a rocky night. “He said, ‘It’s a new day tonight, we’ve got to put the past behind us.’ At first, I thought it was an awkward phrase,” says Rault. “But I quickly thought: ‘Awkward turn of phrase… or a not bad song title?’”
Elsewhere on the album, Rault shows off his songwriting polish and studio-obsessive knowledge. “Sleep With Me” combines floating vocal harmonies with swooning guitars and a bridge dominated by darting strings. “I gave Gabe free rein to try to make the strings as trippy as possible, which he knocked out of the park,” says Rault. “Dream Song” has stylophone and backing vocals floating into the picture while its bassline echoes Rault’s wondrous lead; the delicately prodding “Out of the Light” pairs Rault’s falsetto with a shimmying groove.
“When the Sun Shines,” the stretched-out finale, brings the dawn and features the album’s only guest vocalists: BG, Zeimani, and Kucha Womack of the Los Angeles-based soul group The Womack Sisters. The trio, daughters of legendary songwriter-producers Cecil and Linda Womack (a.k.a. Womack & Womack), nieces of soul titan Bobby Womack, and granddaughters of the legendary Sam Cooke, add soaring harmonies to the dreamy outro, which features a shimmering guitar solo winding itself around the deliberate bassline and cracking open the darkness. “It’s obviously hopeful,” says Rault of the song, “but it comes out of a moment of sadness.”
- Maura K. Johnston