The title track that opens Kingston, Ontario, duo PS I Love You’s Paper Bag debut, Meet Me at the Muster Station, is a microcosm of the entire album: Paul Saulnier’s desperate yelping vocals laid over ruthless distorted riffing and rumbling drums. Clocking in at just over two minutes, the resulting song is superficially minimalist, but inescapably grand. Operating with pop-single efficiency, Saulnier and Benjamin Nelson evoke gutted, collapsing buildings with their jagged, massive noise-rock. It is, it must be said, a neat trick. But is it sufficiently artful?
PS I Love You’s antecedents are varied enough to supply the band with both positive and negative qualities. The obvious correlation to guitar-and-drum duos like the White Stripes and Death From Above 1979 only really gets us so far, as does the generic indie-rock-ity of the scattered vocals (drop the distortion and add more noodling keys to this package, and you’ve basically got Wolf Parade with a more developed sense of brevity).
But the stadium influences and the obvious stoner-rock and metal guitar borrowings flesh out the picture a little more, nowhere more clearly than on “Butterflies and Boners”, the album’s colossal, intense centerpiece. Even if Saulnier’s wailing iteration of his beautiful/ugly title is borderline chuckle-worthy, the power-chord monoliths rise tall and foreboding, and the magnificent tapping-solo change-up halfway through gives the composition a compelling diptych structure that makes it stand out among the album’s many large-scale, ambitious moments.
Meet Me at the Muster Station‘s longest track doesn’t even pass the four-minute mark, yet describing this band’s sound as anything but epic seems simply myopic. Indeed, the widest of its wide-screen moments may well be “Little Spoon”, which again just slips by the two-minute warning. Clean guitar tones, a tom-heavy drum-line, and the subtle addition of keyboards provide a thumbnail sketch of a dirtier stadium-rock sound. “2012” operates similarly, while “Scattered” displays a fuzzed-out take on the same sort of enormity.
But the enormity isn’t all possessed of such pleasing contours. “Get Over” commits the cardinal sin of noise-rock by failing to find the beauty in its own ugliness. “Facelove”, meanwhile, tilts too far towards a scenester circle-jerk aesthetic for its own good. While Saulnier and Nelson succeed at balancing the generic demands of current indie fashion with their own tangential interests and ambitions throughout most of the record, they were bound to slip back onto the well-trodden path here and there, and “Facelove” is the most glaring instance of backsliding. No wonder Pitchfork slapped a “Best New Music” label on it.
Late missteps aside, Meet Me at the Muster Station musters more than enough artfulness by its conclusion (the shattering “Meet Me at the Muster Station, Pt. 2”) to overcome any weaknesses. The short songs/large ideas trick is no mere gimmick for PS I Love You, but an expansive aesthetic. Saulnier’s vocal choices and mostly-inaudible lyrics are the main reason for pause, but they’re employed sparingly enough that they become simply another initially-harsh noise to be integrated into the powerful whole. And when that whole is powerful, it is very much so.