When you hear the right song from Canada’s Woodpigeon, it is hard to believe they haven’t garnered more attention sooner. Their sophomore album, Treasury Library Canada, was originally self-released and only available on tour or from the band’s website. But after a while the album got enough attention, including ending up on some high-profile best-of lists in 2008, and the Boompa record company has stepped up and reissued the album for a larger audience.
The first half of the record makes its case as a fine pop record. The band’s sound is lush and ornate, but grounded in folk sounds. “Knock Knock” is achingly broken by Mark Hamilton’s lilting vocals, but it’s driven by a steady, thundering drum, and distant worming guitar riff that pleads over his acoustic plucking. “Piano Pieces for Adult Beginners” starts with, yes, a single piano, but not only proves itself sweetly catchy, but swells with layers of organ and synth, and another basic, but perfectly bouncy drum track. “I Live a Lot of Places” serves as a sort of statement of purpose for the rest of record, pinpointing a lost and searching feeling that weaves throughout these songs, a placelessness that manifests itself as pained longing. Violins swirl and tumble to open the track but rescind into the background and give way to the stripped-down chug of Americana. Voices come in during choruses to hold up Hamilton’s voice and delivering fragile but undeniable melodies.
They show a lot of variety in these opening tracks, with the country-sway of “Cities of Weather” and the solitary folk of “7th Fret Over Andres” filling out the first half. On top of all of these tracks is Hamilton’s shy keen, and on these beautifully orchestrated songs, his honeyed whisper works. But once you hit “7th Fret Over Andres”, the album starts to shift. The sense of searching and discovery in the early tracks too often gives way to meandering. Even the solid “7th Fret…” sounds an awful lot—as in, exactly—like Sufjan Stevens, which is enough to keep it from standing out in an hour-long set, particularly when later on “The Hamilton Academicals” shows a much more original and effective side to Hamilton’s balladry.
But with the exception of the storming guitars and violin that surge through “Anna, Girl in the Clocktower”, the second half of the disc lags. No matter how many instruments they pack into these songs—and they pack a lot—they feel like they’re running out of ideas as the album stretches on. The urgency of the drums in the early songs falls away, they slip into a string of quiet mid-tempo tracks and, as a result, it gets harder and harder to gleam melodic gems from particular tracks. And even when they break away from the monotonous feel they fall into, it is with the overly cute “Love in the Time of Hopscotch”, a song that rides on a cheap-sounding organ riff and, as if they get tired of it too, the song ends up settling back into the hushed pop of the rest of the record anyway.
It’s hard to fault the band for the album’s underwhelming second half, since the first half is so strong. But in the future the band needs to avoid the self-indulgence this slips into. The reissue of Treasury Library Canada comes with a second bonus disc entitled Houndstooth Europa. It acts as a stripped-down companion piece, and does highlight the band’s knack for beautiful folk, but there isn’t too much that sticks out. And in the end, it just makes for a bigger, muddier pool of songs in which the strongest stuff can get diluted. The raw talent is there for Woodpigeon, and Hamilton is a beautiful songwriter, and a compelling if understated frontman. It just turns out that he, and the band, could probably use an editor.
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// Notes from the Road
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