It’s when we hear the second of three references to a horse named Georgey that P:ano’s new album Brigadoon crosses the line from sounding mildly irritating to being just plain unbearable. Preciousness has always been a big part of the more pop-centric side of indie rock, and while it’s all well and good that artists have been able to skirt mainstream songwriting in favor of more endearing, eccentric ideas. Be it the wildly literate words of The Decemberists, the pretty, yet wryly humorous songs of The Shins, or the inspired creativity of The Fiery Furnaces, too much preciousness can be disastrous, whether it’s melodies that are too sugary sweet, or lyrics that try much to hard to impress.
Over the last decade, Vancouver has had more than its share of such bands, both good and bad. Nineties pop rock acts Cub and Zumpano, two bands who seemed to perpetually teeter between cute and embarrassing, paved the way for the wonderful indie pop stalwarts New Pornographers, the beautiful orchestral pop of Young and Sexy, and the underrated Salteens, all of whom combined smart songwriting with some very contagious pop hooks. At the other side of the spectrum, however, are bands like The Gay (whose idea to incorporate the accordion into indie rock beat The Arcade Fire to the idea, but lacked any of the depth of the Montreal band) and recent indie darling P:ano.
There’s no doubt whatsoever that P:ano are a highly talented band, with the capability to jump from genre to genre effortlessly, but on Brigadoon, it sounds like there’s too much showing off going on, and very little genuine depth to the music. Sure, the way they can switch from twee pop, to folk, to electro, to dreampop, to sea chanties, to cabaret, to showtunes is especially impressive, but when a band like this bombards listeners with a whopping 22 songs over just under an hour, it first sounds distracting, and ultimately becomes boring. With the majority of tracks clocking in around two minutes, this album is more like a collection of song fragments than anything else, and compared to the Fiery Furnaces’ wildly ambitious Blueberry Boat, whose seemingly chaotic sounds mask a demented cohesiveness lurking underneath, Brigadoon is a pile of half-baked ideas that go nowhere. P:ano are just being quirky for the sake of being quirky, and the shtick gets old real fast.
Try as they might, songs such as “The Monster Mash”, “Supermarket One”, and “The Snow” all ring hollow, as lyrical asides like, “I’m cleaning house, not tea and Faust,” are wordplay of the nauseating variety. “You the Widow” mimics the likes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, minus the wit, while “Sweet Sweets” has that overtly theatrical feel that Nellie MacKay is able to deliver with more panache. The ridiculous “Ghost Pirates” and “The Cameroon” try far too hard to impress us with their weirdness, and “The Rescuer” and “Heavens” are tiresome electro excursions that have no business being on this record, which is already too diverse for its own good. Then there’s “Georgey the Horsey”, an equine love letter that’s sure to induce fits of cringing, especially with a line like, “On a handsome horse, we’re prancing, of course.”
The band, led by co-lead vocalists Nick Krgovich and Larissa Loyva, do hit the mark from time to time. Krgovich achieves a kind of Destroyer-esque charm on “Covered Wagons”, but more often than not, it’s Loyva who provides the most pleasant moments. She has a terrific voice, and her vocal skill carries songs like “Leave Me With the Boy”, “He Will Come Back to Me”, and the lovely “Pure Evil”, a trio of tunes that actually dares to keep things simple. It’s on the moody “Dark Hills” where the band hints at how good they can be, Krgovich’s brooding voice underscored by a sparse arrangement of piano and bass, as well as some eerie, layered percussion.
Those few highlights are so overwhelmed by the rest of this mess of an album, that it’s hardly worth trolling through so much flotsam and jetsam to retrieve a handful of tiny gems. Sure, Georgey might be a nice horsey, which is all well and good, but when it comes to the highly pretentious Brigadoon, it should be taken out back and put out of its misery.