A Question of When - When It Happens to YouI am always excited to hear artists that are new to me, and even more excited when they have embarked on their first ever Atmos mix. Canadian rockers “a question of when” have just released “when it happens to you,” their hard rock and new wave infused album that also contains psychedelic and ambient leanings.

Taking a stand for the land from where they thrive, the band begins by acknowledging the unceded land of the Coast Salish peoples, emphasizing that "unceded" denotes never surrendered or relinquished. They go on to recognize that the majority of British Columbia remains unceded sovereign Indigenous lands beyond the authority of the Canadian or British Columbian governments. In British Columbia, there are eight constitutionally entrenched modern treaties, covering 65 self-identifying First Nations participating in or completing a treaty negotiations process.

The band recognizes everyone as Treaty People, whether settlers, immigrants, or newcomers, emphasizing the responsibility to learn and support Indigenous strategies for land and community protection. Acknowledging broken covenants, the band strives for reconciliation in all relations, with a focus on providing a brave space for unheard voices. They also pay tribute to those forcibly brought, particularly through the trans-Atlantic slave trade, honoring ancestors of African origin and descent. The band calls for a moment of silence to honor lives lost and emphasizes collective responsibility for truth and reconciliation.

Having noted the above, this sets the tone for the massive five song album "when it happens to you," which guides listeners through the 5 stages of grieving. Addressing complex topics like identity, suicide, substance use, and intergenerational trauma. Unlike many modern-day recordings, the album was recorded on 2-inch multitrack analog tape, which undeniably works perfectly with both the limited-edition cassette and vinyl versions. Also, the band has released a limited-edition CD, and of course of most interest to readers here is the Dolby Atmos mix. The good news is while a stereo 48kHz / 24-bit lossless download version is available, the Atmos mix can be heard through popular streaming services or purchased as a downloadable MKV or MP4 edition through Immersive Audio Album (IAA). Although there are only five songs, this is not an EP… so get ready to step through the five stages of grief on this full-length release.

Opening with “The Valley of the Dead” fading in from the front and back channels, voices speak behind the sweet spot, while a slowly evolving guitar tone builds in the front leading into the full band across the main speakers. A reverb laden guitar arpeggiates from the right channel, in turn repeating in the left channel, followed by a solid kick drum nicely thumping out the rhythm and its deepest tones pushing out of the subwoofer. Atmos heights fly in with reverberation of the guitar that floats across the top speakers while a somber gruffy vocal extends from the center channel. Secondary vocals ooh and aah across the back channels, providing for a pleasurable immersive mix that fills out the room.

There is a rawness to the band’s music with a lively open feel that is most evident with the whack of the snare drum that falls deeply into the front speakers. The bass is plump, exuding a grumbly edge, continuing to behold the sound quality of a live performance. While the band and Ian Smith produced the release, Emma Whale took on the recording engineering, mixing, and tape operator duties. She was assisted by Tristan Miller at Catherine North, Chonnonton, and the album was mastered by Mariana Hutten at Lacquer Channel, Tkaronto.

“La Violencia” pulsates with psychedelic effervescence, with rhythmic keyboards striking from the rears, delaying to the front heights. Guitars sizzle on the right side with an edge that evokes a sound that is a cross between the punk and new wave era. The fury of the song swells and collapses as the guitar moves across the space, falling further into the back channels from time to time, showing off the dynamics of the medium.

While these are not traditional progressive rock songs, they take on an epic nature with two of the songs clocking in at over 10 minutes each. For those with tender ears, a fair warning in advance, this is distinctly an explicit album.

While the height speakers have been tastefully utilized, much of the focus wraps the listener in an immersive bed. Sophisticated ear candy has been crafted, tastefully moving parts around the soundscape. On “Faultlines” the Atmos height speakers chatter with spoken words and blend reflections from guitar parts, all while spaciously elevating vibrant sonics up into the yonder. The throbbing essence carries through as listeners make their way through the various stages of grief.

I am enthralled with how vocals rise from a distance behind the sweet spot, going on to move closer while slowly moving up to the front center channel on “An Elegy of Sorts.” Synthesized string parts roll in from behind as this pop driven song becomes focus. The guitars bloom up front enhancing the synthesizer parts from the back speakers. As this melancholy song progresses, the guitar erupts into an emotional solo that flies to all corners of the room.

“(The Permanence of Impermanence)” takes listeners to the end, bringing great relief with its uplifting and somewhat poppy edge. Vocals seemingly surround the listener while bird-like sounds take up residency, imbuing a joyous tone. A clean guitar strums from the fronts embellished by lead vocals emanating from the center out into the room.

Certainly, for the band’s first time mixing in Atmos, they have created a fantastic aural experience. The high-resolution stereo files available through BandCamp offer a very detailed alternative to the Dolby Atmos immersive mix. Stereophiles are likely to find the album compelling, with plenty of space for all instruments to find their place. Of course, one could still obtain the limited-edition analog version too if that is how one prefers to spin tunes.

No matter one’s choice of version, the album navigates the emotional spectrum, ranging from beautiful, tender, and empowering, to violent, abrasive, and terrifying. Naturally, I find this most compelling in Atmos, however the songs are all conveyed through a compassionate and critical voice that truly gives a personal touch that fans of epic tunes are sure to love.

released December 8, 2023

 Format Info

Dolby Atmos download and streaming.  Stereo 48kHz / 24-bit download, Limited Editions of: Compact Disc, Colored Vinyl, and Cassette.



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 About the Author

Wesley Derbyshire Profile Image

Wesley is a lifelong music enthusiast. He started his career in the recording industry in New York City as an audio engineer, producer, and studio manager. Subsequently he toured across America as a guitarist with the short-lived band Land's Crossing. After many years in the technology sector and amassing a substantial vinyl and CD collection, he delved into immersive audio and created Hi-Res Edition to share with other listeners about the sound quality and discrete mixes available on many formats. He recently upgraded his system to 5.1.4 Dolby Atmos and continues to seek out and share about the best sounding releases.


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