Shaken, Not Stirred
Edmonton’s the Provincial Archive is a Canadian band that is starting to make waves. They wrapped up a European tour earlier this year, and released the excellent Hide Like a Secret EP. Hot on the heels of that release, the band is now releasing their third proper LP, It’s All Shaken Wonder, but it’s their first record that was actually recorded professionally in a studio. The group also has a philanthropic bent: a portion of the album sales will be donated to the Alzheimer’s Society of Canada via Boom Charity, as opening cut “Daisy Garden” deals with the process of aging. “I wrote “Daisy Garden” about my grandmother’s struggle, outward and inward, with the decline in her mental state,” says singer/guitarist Craig Schram. “Daisy Garden” is actually the sole holdover from the EP, but listeners get nine new cuts that should help to establish the band as a force to be reckoned with. While the EP was a short and concise summation of a folk-rock sound, It’s All Shaken Wonder expands upon that. There’s an overt Byrds-meets-Fleet Foxes slither to the LP, and it’s simply just full of great songs. It’s a bit lumpy, and perhaps the band is struggling somewhat with the expanded palette that the album format provides, but, still, It’s All Shaken Wonder is, simply put, wonderful.
Things kick off with the aforementioned and quick and nimble “Daisy Garden”, which seems remotely a little like the Shins. It’s a glorious piece of folk-rock that establishes the ramshackle nature of the record. But things veer a little off the path, sonically, with second cut “Full of Water”, which has that jangly Byrds Rickenbacker sound. It’s the best song on the record, as it has a relentless guitar line that would best be described as perky. Fans of Real Estate should love it very much. “Land Machines”, meanwhile, re-establishes the folk bent of the album, with an acoustic strum that is quite scrumptious. It’s a peaceful, easy feeling that the song conjures up, especially when the banjo part and piano line kicks in. “The Market” once again brings the Byrds-esque sonics to the fore, with a military beat and a pulsing keyboard line, along with a soaring background vocal melody. “Bad Kids”, meanwhile, is perhaps the album’s most outward rocking moment. It’s an uptempo number that rolls along. In other words, the sort of thing you want to drive along to on a country road on a hot summer’s day with the windows cranked down and the music cranked up.
So far, this is all grand and good, right? Well, there is the occasional misstep. “In the Morning”, in particular, sounds an awful lot like Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal” as it’s sung in rounds and has a spacey reverb on the instruments. It’s a moment that all too obviously cops the band’s influences a little too much. And the record’s second single, “Common Cards” is a little too thudding for its own good, it’s not quite catchy and just seems fillerish. So it’s odd that this song is being used to promote the LP. Despite all this, the rest of the record is outstanding. “Every Pretty Girl” has a jazzy beat to it during the chorus, though the remainder of the song is another soaring anthem. “Lay the Kneel” is all banjo fury, and is a tough piece of Americana by way of Canada. And the song that closes the album, “The Lake”, is a haunting and gorgeous piano ballad that may make the hairs on the back of your neck stand at attention. It has a very Beach Boys sound to it with its background harmonies. It’s quite something.
It’s All Shaken Wonder should, I’m hopeful, establish the Provincial Archive as a band that is necessary to keep tabs on, not just in Canada but elsewhere, too. The record is full of catchy ditties, with a fair amount of workmanship in the song craft. It shows a band trying to stretch out and expand not only its reach, but its approach to songwriting. “In the past we recorded exclusively at home with all of the time and comforts that it affords,” says Scram. “The studio puts some constraints around us and made it more important for us to examine all of our ideas in rehearsal before getting in to record. I think it made everything that we did, from writing to production, more thoughtful.” Indeed, this is a very well thought out record. And there’s just enough variety to this material to keep things interesting, even though the album as a whole isn’t quite as focused as the Hide Like a Secret EP. Despite that, this is a fairly coherent statement of intent, and adds something to the already rich Canadian folk-rock music scene. The Provincial Archive makes a wonderful folksy racket, and, should you saunter down to your local record store and pick this up, you’ll be more than glad that you did. This is music that deserves to be heard by the widest possible audience, and one can only hope that the experience of recording professionally for the very first time will allow this band to simply grow, mature and flourish. Simply put, the Provincial Archive is quite, if not quietly, amazing.