Sing and Float Free
There must be something special in the water that washes Vancouver BC. It’s either that, or an inordinate number of lost Zombies fans and Beach Boys enthusiasts settled in the city and started families, because an impressive amount of that particular sort of guitar-and-piano-based pop-rock with the heavenly harmonies, chiming guitars, and orchestral arrangements seems to be coming from the left coast of Canada these days.
Cinderpop’s third album, A Lesson in Science, continues to refine the group’s pitch-perfect pop sensibilities, which were first noted on 2005’s acclaimed Their Skies Are Beautiful and 1999’s Violet Gamma Rays.
“Bumblebee” begins the lesson with something a little more rock than expected; it’s frenetic, keyboard-driven power pop that, while excellently executed, seems slightly out of place with the rest of the tracks as the album unfolds. The title track is awash with the sort of grand, gorgeous pop swells that recall a particular preciousness often found in the first wave of post-psychedelic British pop of the late ‘60s. “A Lesson in Science” is one of those dreamy, tinkling piano pieces that call to mind long and languid summer afternoons on a riverbank, and mutton-chopped mop tops smartly-dressed in Edwardian velvets and pinstripes, a sonic image which belies the lyrics of the song’s scientific spiritualism, but will still have you floating along on its buoyant strains.
“Speechless” and “Blonder” highlight lead vocalist Kevan Ellis, and the harmonies between him, bassist Joel Myers and keyboardist Erin Jane, the former song with a charming, chiming tune and the latter with a wide and ringing guitar sound from Mark Jowett, and a momentum and melody a bit reminiscent of the Cure.
The first four songs on A Lesson in Science are sweet and pleasantly catchy in their own right, but it’s the middle of the album where Cinderpop really begins to hold attention. “Cinnamon Winter” is not just catchy, it truly captivates with its sing-along chorus and positive outlook of “You must admit this has been a pretty amazing day”. “Speed of Light” explores a trippy, kaleidoscopic cyber-tangent and “When All the Town Turns Right” cleverly condemns conformity while still encouraging dancing.
“Boomerang” is an exquisite example of everything at which Cinderpop excels. There’s the immediate hook on guitar, echoed by washes of keys laid over a propulsive beat, and layered with high harmonies complementing Ellis’s sweetly simple tale of misconceived and unrequited love. This is the magic potion for modern pop, the secret formula of the science of song, and Cinderpop owns the patent.
“Dead at the Side of the Road” seems to be a cautionary story of picking up the wrong rider—or perhaps the right one in disguise—but it’s the guitar revving up into the chorus that makes this one go. “Mary All Messed in the Head” down-shifts considerably to a hypnotic reeling, but its dream-like imagery and delicate delivery give it an undeniably unforgettable quality, like an inexplicable sense memory, pleasant and beautifully strange.
“Vesuvius” returns to the upbeat, rhythm-driven, jangly-guitar with a splash of new-wave power-pop that the band began with, and “The Latest of the Five” makes one more visit to the soft, slow and shimmering. It’s a sad, somewhat somber-sounding acoustic song, which oddly, flows flawlessly into the last track.
“Bounce Me” closes the album. It’s a spinning, spiraling swirl of percussion (from drummer Digger Watkins). “Bounce me off the earth and wave”, sings Ellis, amid waves of effects and over a bass line that, yes, bounces. Cinderpop succeeds by remixing earlier essential elements to create new compounds. It’s another great pop song, and it’s the perfect way to end A Lesson in Science.