Words like "inspiring" get used so casually that their meaning loses power. But in the case of Ace Noface, and his new album, Toxic Charm, one immediately becomes present to the true meaning of words like inspiration and courage. The musician, living with a terminal illness, is facing his fate with courage and conviction by creating rich and resonant piano-based rock that is in turn hypnotic, jarring and spellbinding. Ace's life and music is the ultimate example of living what is possible in the face of any circumstance. Listening to Toxic Charm, you can hear the plaintive vocals, the resonance of the piano and the rolling presence of the rhythm section - it's a huge sound for such few instruments, but it makes sense, given that Ace makes the most of what he's got. At one time the bassist for an indie-rock band, in 2005, Ace was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, an incurable and degenerative neurological disorder. The diagnosis, obviously, was devastating. Ace remembers, "I really shut down mentally and emotionally for six months. I spent most of my days playing on the Internet and listening to music - I couldn't deal." But a musician friend took a stand for Ace, and informed him what might be possible. "He told me that even though I couldn't play an instrument anymore, I had to continue making music," Ace recalls. "He said that he knew that was what I had to do to make some sense of the diagnosis and give meaning to the rest of my life, as opposed to just suffering. So I developed a sense of purpose for my life - probably more than any other time." To begin, Ace had to learn a whole new way of making music; using one finger, some computer software and email. It was a daunting task, but Ace quickly found a benefit. He explains, "When I'm writing music or lyrics I completely get lost in it - I forget that I have any kind of disability." It's a fascinating process that Ace takes us through: "I'll hear a melody or a chord progression in my head and then I'll get in front of music notation software and I'll use an onscreen keyboard to enter the notes. I'll write either melody or a piano part. Then I'll go back to it in a few days and come up with other parts, as well as the melody and piano line. Then I put the music away for a couple of weeks, and I'll free associate lyrics - a lot of my lyrics come from random writings. Then I sit in front of a text editor and rhyming dictionary and the song will often just write itself straight out of my subconscious." It's a process that has resulted in the mesmerizing Toxic Charm, an album of piano-based rock reminiscent of bands like Steely Dan, the Fray, and Five For Fighting - a sound that hearkens to classic pop, but is fixed firmly in the here and now. There isn't a wasted note on the album - each sound is perfectly placed and sounds completely natural and right. Ace's vocals are soulful and heartfelt, and on songs like "Regret," he faces his reality squarely, and the courage with which he does touches a chord in anyone who listens. "2000 Bikes" sparkles with a melodic shine, telling the true story of Toronto bicycle thief Igor Kenk, who was behind the stealing of over 2000 bicycles. Ace gets inside Kenk's head, making the listener take a turn standing in his shoes - even creating compassion for a man that was perhaps the most hated man in Toronto. And in "Whiskey Bottle," Ace recounts a delusional, yet quasi-spiritual experience he had (the outgrowth of a bipolar condition), seeing what he describes as, "the eye of God in the logo of Maker's Mark bourbon," while doing shots one night. By turns joyous, sorrowful, uplifting, spiritual and emotionally relentless, the album is the sound of a man looking back upon his life - the good and the bad, the joy and sorrow and hearing it all become one, seamless whole. Ace's actions in the face of his disease have already won him notice and acclaim. The Chicago Tribune has written of him, and this coming fall, Ace will perform on the Jerry Lewis Telethon to raise funds and awareness to fight ALS. But it's really the example of his work, his defiance in the face of a grim fate, and the songs on Toxic Charm that will be his legacy. Ace concludes, "When faced with a difficult situation, everyone has a choice to make - to let it define you as a person, or make the most of the time you have left. What I'm committed to leaving behind as a legacy is the truth I've learned: Anyone can achieve their dream, no matter what the circumstances."
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