What a title. Only the Most Serene Republic, the Milton, Ontario-based sextet most famous for being the Robin to Broken Social Scene’s Batman, could have dreamt up a phrase as simultaneously polarizing and fascinating. Fantasick Impossibliss the album, meanwhile, is equally polarizing and fascinating, offering up a pummeling 26 minutes of frenzied indie prog that actually earns the title.
If you’re already a fan, the description is old news. The Most Serene Republic are seasoned, with three full-lengths and one criminally overlooked EP (2006’s stellar tour-only Phages) under their belts. However, Fantasick is a jolt, even to the acquainted. Here, a raw, powerful full-band attack dominates, stepping back from the kaleidoscopic chamber pop of last year’s David Newfeld-produced ...And the Ever Expanding Universe.
That album found the band trying their hand at accessibility… well, their definition of it, at least, downplaying the layered instrumental ferocity of 2007’s layered prog behemoth Population in favor of a more laid-back feel that, for once, actually merited the Broken Social Scene comparisons. They even delivered a full-fledged, if still warped, pop song with the banjo-driven “Heavens to Purgatory”. After the release of Universe, vocalist/guitarist Emma Ditchburn left the band, and the game of musical drum chairs was abandoned with the addition of percussionist Adam Balsam.
The intensity of Fantasick could be viewed as a reaction to the quiet rumblings of Universe, an explosion of the tension built up on that album. Maybe it could be attributed to the fact that the band is made up of just dudes now. Whatever the reason, Fantasick finds the Most Serene Republic back doing what they do best: creating heady, majestic, instrumentally and emotionally complex workouts that are as muscular as they are intelligent.
With “Jelly Chamber”, the band sets a new peak, with vocalist/trombonist Adrian Jewett reaching skyward, reflecting on birth and sex (“Could it be remembered? / the time in jelly chamber / if recalled hard enough / years are spent to discover that feel!”) over a tsunami of percussion, thick bass, and strings. Not only one of the Most Serene Republic’s best tracks, it’s one of the most exciting and devastating things you’ll hear all year.
Elsewhere, the band offers a singalong satire of drunk culture (“Pink Noise”), some more spooky-great prog (“Comeuppance”, “The Ache of Goon”), and “The Church of Acorns”, which features the line, “Where are all the squirrels that die of natural causes? / do they hold service in the church of acorns?” Some will still find Jewett’s observations impenetrable. For the likeminded, it’s one-of-a-kind stuff that’ll keep you glued to the speakers, pining and analyzing the unusual details. Ditto the music.
By the time the title track ends the set with a suffocating six minutes of Radiohead-inflected space jazz (check out Jewett channeling Thom Yorke’s claustrophobia via “The National Anthem”), you’ll be too head-spun to notice that maybe it goes on a couple minutes more than it needs to. This is prog, anyway, remember? And this is only a warm-up. They’re currently working on a full-length sequel. If Fantasick Impossibliss is any indication, it’s sure to be pretty spectacular. For now, they’ll have to settle for one of the year’s best releases, regardless of length.