Maybe these are just the words of one who legitimately believes that A Rush of Blood to the Head is one of the single worst records to ever pollute the pop music mainstream, but come on, haven’t we all had quite enough of ambient pianos? You know the kind: those murky, plodding, echo-drenched chord progressions that lumber along wearily and go plunk-plunk-plunk until your pulse actually begins flatlining, usually played by an ivory tickler about as dexterous as a hippopotamus in a mud puddle. Isn’t it time for that element of pop music to go bye-bye?
Moreau’s Nova Scotia is so full of syrupy, coma-inducing piano playing that it borders on impossible to make it through the entire record without either nodding off or getting so frustrated that you yank the album from the CD player and launch it at the wall with the ferocity of a steroid-dropping frisbee golfer. If you ever wondered what it would be like to use an entire stick of butter on one piece of toast, look no further than the delicacy’s musical equivalent, Moreau’s “Pia,” the closing track on Nova Scotia, the perfect parallel right down to the inevitable feeling of nausea that follows its consumption. The pointless ambient noise buzzes about like a bumblebee being swatted at, while vocalist Liam McKahey delivers a dramatic spoken word gothic monologue that sounds like something Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds might have done after a night of drunken in-studio debauchery. But while the Seeds would likely have woke the next morning and conceded that such an endeavor is not an item of which successful records are made, the fine folks of Moreau were not so observant, and alas, here we sit with almost an entire album’s worth of similarly ill-advised studio disasters.
I’m not going to lie: I don’t have a single good thing to say about this record. I tried, I swear; I listened and listened, searching high and low in every musical nook and cranny for something positive I could submit to at least attempt to balance out what was going to be a thoroughly negative critique with a little sunshine. But where I had hoped to stumble inadvertently across silver linings, repeat listens to the Nova Scotia only brought out more of what made it so irritating in the first place, and subsequently made it that much more grating due to repeat exposure.
Mainly, there’s the Liam McKahey problem. The cover of the press kit features a quote from Spill in which they declare that, “the vocal skills of (lead singer) Liam McKahey are undeniably a note-perfect wonder”; I suppose if the only quality one looks for in a singer is that he doesn’t go off-key, then yes, “note-perfect” may well be a term that applies, but I really wish words like “wonder” would be reserved for the likes of pipes such as Otis Redding’s or Nina Simone’s. McKahey doesn’t deserve mention in the same sentence; he sounds like, on any given night, he might be the best performer at his karaoke bar, but his singing is neither resonant nor relevant, and to label it as such is to grossly hyperbolize.
It’s quite the converse, actually; McKahey’s singing is even more detrimental to the record’s listenability than the schmaltzy keyboard thumping. His voice swims in Leonard Cohen’s gloom and Bono’s whine but lacks the defining character of either one, and the presence his singing brings into the room while this record is playing is like a perpetual raincloud; no, you don’t even get the excitement of the thunderstorm, but simply a bleak aura of looming unpleasantness that hovers obnoxiously above but seemingly never goes away. One of the least emphatic vocalists I’ve ever heard, his melodies are so nondescript and unmusical that they escape from memory before they’re even finished being sung, and his thespian commitment to such insubstantial material suggests that he’s either so self-indulgent that he doesn’t think these things matter, or he simply doesn’t know what he’s doing. The lyrics aren’t even worth mentioning.
Nova Scotia is mixed in such a way that suggests it was recorded on two tracks: one for McKahey’s voice, and one for the rest of the band. Because of this, the band sounds like a prerecorded backing track, which only further lends itself to McKahey sounding like a karaoke bar performer. But the band (unnamed in either the press kit or the notes of the promotional CD) can stand to be lost in the mix; they don’t do anything particularly interesting, the guitarist (when he plays) doesn’t have anything more to offer than the usual bag, and heaven knows those sluggish piano sequences don’t warrant being spotlighted in any kind of elevated fashion. Without second-guessing the artistic place of ambient noise, I sometimes wonder if bands don’t sometimes employ it as a cover-all for the fact that their songwriting plain sucks; Moreau are great case studies in this field, and singing and buzzing proof that there’s no substitute for a decent tune, not even all the fabricated presence in the musical universe.
Moreau’s charisma also suffers from a lack of levity and the McKahey’s seeming inability to allow the most inconsequential of lyrical phrases to sound like anything other than a woe-is-me distress call, but perhaps the true heart of this record can be summed up in that not one single song remained in mind after upwards of five listens. Every spin of the album started off tolerable, got irksome around track five or six, and downright infuriating by the penultimate number. With Nova Scotia, Moreau have truly created a work worthy of the dustbin. If you’re hell-bent on hearing it, wait a year or so; it will be a clearance rack staple at record stores across America and the world alike.
// Notes from the Road
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