[14 December 2011]
“I’m sick of the way that we get on”, Will Currie sings in the opening moments of “City”, and if it wasn’t already abundantly clear that this album was going to be a different, yet incredibly exceptional, kettle of fish, those doubts must be immediately disposed of post-haste. Will’s voice in these early moments brings to mind some brilliant alliance between Ben Folds and They Might Be Giants, as the song breezes its way into an odd time-signature chorus of “whoooooooo” background vocals, fuzzed out bass, frenetic percussion, and Currie’s signature lead vocals. The song is flat-out stunning, the kind of rare pop chorus that’s all but unheard of in today’s radio climate. Don’t take it lightly – “City” is far from a fluke, and Awake, You Sleepers! may be the most invigorating pop listen of 2011.
Proving yet again that there’s got to be something to my “Canadians have some mind-blowing music-inspiring chemical in the water supply” theory, Will Currie and the Country French seem hellbent on bringing pop music back to being more than just a bunch of pretty faces. Hailing from Waterloo, Ontario, these five musical merry pranksters bring a frantic sense of enjoyment to the proceedings, led by Currie’s fantastic frontman persona; piano pop may have never died, but if Ben Folds has taken a backseat in the name of promoting a cappella music, somebody’s got to pick up the bloody slack, right? Currie takes the helm with ease and gives his band-mates all the room they need to breathe, injecting songs like “John Denver Haircut” with a fresh sense of camaraderie, as each member gets a chance to showcase his or her individual talents during a freewheeling instrumental jam at the finish. Will Currie may be sick of how things are getting on, but by the midpoint of Awake, You Sleepers!, we’re rejoicing that someone out there still cares about doing more than putting up musical smokescreens.
The band was originally put together as an excuse for Will Currie to write songs at Wilfrid Laurier University, but Currie later chose to put together a group of musicians who had equal interest in piano pop and taking solidly crafted pop music to the masses. They eventually caught the interest of Jay Ferguson of Sloan, who called them the best live band he’d ever seen, eventually signing them to Murderecords. They’ve since managed to build a touring reputation throughout Ontario and greater Canada, eventually winning a Bucky Award from the CBC’s Radio 3 in 2008 for their song “Push Pins”. Every sign pointed to the band having a breakthrough album on the verge of release.
If Awake, You Sleepers! isn’t that breakthrough, I’ll be disappointed, because rarely does a band put forward an album as unpretentious as this while playing to any number of disparate musical styles. Elements of Folds may resound through these songs because Ben Folds Five has been the closest we’ve gotten to pop music of this caliber in years, but there are equal parts mixed in of Beatles and Beach Boys melodic prowess, and Currie’s got the chops to arrange the album in a way which allows these songs to flow in a logical fashion; far from being a genre whore, these songs show a distinct vision for what pop can become, a far-reaching panorama of music aimed at adults who have discerning musical palates and are willing to support a band for daring to aim high.
Awake, You Sleepers! is a winning combination of daring and verve, as Will Currie and the Country French aim for the fences and succeed largely because, when all is said and done, the music is beyond reproach. This is the pop records for people you know who say pop music in the classic sense is a dead art, that the world’s not willing to go beyond superficial pap and push meaningful music back into the top 40.