Robert Pollard should be shaking in his shoes. There’s a Toronto-by-way-of-Edmonton singer/songwriter named Eamon McGrath who’s doing a pretty good job of catching up to the dozens and dozens of releases the Guided by Voices frontman has put out by himself or with his band since the ‘80s. McGrath’s Wikipedia page lists no less than 27 albums released independently since 2006, along with four EPs. And while McGrath sounds nothing like Guided by Voices, not only does he share the reverences for past genres of classic rock that Pollard does, there are a few other interesting similarities. On his latest album, Young Canadians, McGrath has a song called “Auditorium”. So does GbV on Alien Lanes. (The two songs are only related by title.) McGrath is also on the Canadian indie White Whale Records, and, of course, there’s a classic GbV song called “White Whale”. Make of all that as you may, coincidence or no.
What McGrath does sound a lot like, at least on Young Canadians, is the brutality of Neil Young’s noisiest recordings crossed with the arena-sized character study rock of Bruce Springsteen. In fact, those who pick up this utterly smashing record may also draw some comparisons to – Are they on an extended hiatus? Did they break up? – Canada’s the Constantines, just with the Fugazi references turned down and the distortion pedals turned up. While Young Canadians has folksy moments, such as the sublime start of “Great Lakes”, the album is full of hooky, punishing rock numbers that bring the mental picture of a boxer standing in the middle of a ring while his opponent pummels him with punch after bloody punch. Young Canadians is an in-the-red kind of record that is utterly a joy to behold. And, yes, the album does offer up the glimpses of an up-and-coming punk, as opening folky song “Eternal Adolescence” – which overlays quietly strummed acoustic guitars with haunting guitar distortion – offers these lines: “My life could be a broken record / by Canada’s Ramones”. Young Canadians is simply a staggering statement from start to finish, and while one could quibble very, very slightly that McGrath is still in the process of finding his own voice as some of the songs do rub quite closely to the Springsteen handbook perhaps one or two times too many, he has plenty of great, gravelly tracks to offer up, and I can’t wait to see where McGrath takes listeners next. At the rate that he pumps stuff out, can we expect something new from him by this time next week?