As vibrant as the Vancouver, British Columbia music scene has been over the past four years or so, these days, it’s gotten a bit too bland. The West Coast city’s chief musical export has been indie pop, best exemplified by artists like the great New Pornographers, the woefully underrated young and sexy, and younger bands like The Salteens and The Organ. As upbeat and happy as that kind of music is, it gets tiresome pretty fast when you get album after album of the same old thing, year after year. The sheer predictability of Vancouver indie rock makes Girl Nobody‘s debut album, The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be all the more of a pleasant surprise.
Admittedly, the appeal of Girl Nobody has a lot to do with the stunning Marta Jacuibek. The Polish-born chanteuse and keyboardist is the focal point of the quintet, and not just for her beauty. Possessing an intoxicating, distinctive voice that places somewhere between Lamb’s Louise Rhodes and Catatonia’s Cerys Matthews, she sings, howls, and coos her way all over this album, veering from atmospheric dreampop, to acoustic, twee-oriented fare, to more adventurous music that sounds more inspired by Kurt Weill than modern pop. “I want to show you how bright I shine,” she sings at one point, and on this album, does she ever. Her lyrics show a Bjork-like playfulness at times, as she sings about UFO sightings at soccer games (“Aliens”), fires off anti-Capitalist rants (“Why Am I Alone”), unique erotic imagery (“I woke up with my thigh clinging with dampness to your side”, “Pink seems to suit you best as long as you shave your chest”), as well as more straightforward love songs. Sweet one minute, and aggressive the next, Jacuibek pulls it all off with great ease.
That said, Girl Nobody would be nothing with the four other guys. Happy to sit back and let Jacuibek bask in the spotlight, the rest of the band becomes Girl Nobody’s greatest strength, leaping from genre to genre with astounding skill. Bassist Jeremiah Schneider, percussionist Brett Drury, and multi-instrumentalists Joey Turco and Jimmy Northey add huge helpings sophistication and flair, much like the great Jon Brion, and it’s all been slickly arranged by producer Futcher (who recently produced the acclaimed debut by The Be Good Tanyas). The insistent “My Best” has the band combining distorted rock guitar with stuttering electronic beats, “Come and Find Me” veers off into a mix of bossa nova and atmospheric country before bursting into a propulsive pop chorus, while “Cages” and “Yellow Morning” are much more simple, with airy keyboards and acoustic guitar. Then there’s a song like “Sirens”, with its loud, shoegazer style guitar drones, which is followed immediately by the more subtle, electronic-oriented “Carlucci”. The music may seem all over the map at first, but there’s a real consistency to it all, and self-indulgence never creeps in.
Most immediately pleasing is “Aliens”, a blend of a sprightly drum beat and layers of vocal harmonies by Jacuibek that sound reminiscent of Lush, circa 1991. Possessing the kind of goofy charm you’d expect from a band like Super Furry Animals, Marta’s tale of aliens and soccer players is buoyed by a chorus as catchy as anything you’ll hear this year. “Smile and Beware”, on the other hand, is a flat-out gorgeous ballad, a lushly-arranged piece of wispy pop that has the entire band shining, especially the radiant Jacuibek, whose voice soars and weaves its way around her bandmates’ deft acoustic shuffle. The slow, sultry “Paperdoll” has Jacuibek intoning longingly, “You cut me out with love and tenderness, worked around my edges carefully…Each time you’d fold me up I’d hope and pray that soon you’d pull me out with your precious hands,” as the band provides a slinky, slightly menacing arrangement. Also of note is the untitled bonus track, a remix of “Why Am I Alone”, by New York-based artist Delikate Impostor, which only shows another direction the band could easily head in, as their sound lends itself perfectly to a more dance-oriented arrangement.
Aside from the supremely gifted Dan Snaith (of Manitoba fame), Canadian independent music, as good as it has been lately, has lacked some real musical boldness, and The Future Isn’t What It Used to Be lends a classy, worldly quality to Canadian pop that really hadn’t been there before. Three years in the making, this is one confident debut, so well-performed and recorded, that even when the band misfires a bit, it still sounds good. With that woman’s voice, her looks, and the four supremely talented men playing behind her, this band shouldn’t be nobodies for very much longer.