Ahh, youth and pop. Footless and fetterless…the gawky yet infectious insouciance. That defined Plumtree a few years ago: An energetic first single and later an album that was matched by disarmingling quaint live shows, where lack of technical skill was made up for in a self-deprecating, and occasionally self-effacing, will to overcome stagefright and give good pop.
Like their Vancouver big sisters in the trio Cub or their East Coast kin, Jale, Plumtree flit between, ahem, plumbing the depths of lonely girl bedroom pathos, self-loathing, regret, and rejoicing in love’s first blush (one can almost hear the falling autumn leaves). And like their Canadian precursors, Plumtree are often at their best doing post-Riot Grrrl songs of love and loss.
On This Day Won’t Last at All, however, what was once a breezy pop sound has given way to a sluggish and studied rock style. There are a few more power chords and drum fills here, an aural marker that in a Canadian sonic geography puts them amongst friends in home-base Halifax with its numerous bands espousing an unabashed love of a ‘70s rock aesthetic (Halifax natives and sometime Cinnamon Toast labelmates Sloan are probably the most well-known exponents of this kind of retro-rooted power-pop).
There are moments on this record where harmonies come together and guitar licks (and they are licks) seem less forced, where the sound of spontaneity, ever so brief, breaks through the weaker, awkward stabs at rock. The opening track, “Was That All,” and “Hello Again,” “Latitude”, “Thrilled to be Here,” are cuts that stand alone as upbeat examples of Plumtree’s ability to make pure pop.
What makes Plumtree more interesting is that so few girl bands manage to map out their record collections so explicitly. Their riffing on Cheap Trick (“Regret”) or cross-pollinating Blondie’s “Tide is High” with Zepplin’s reggae inflected “Dyer Maker” (“My My”), and borrowing liberally from other ‘70s staples, makes sense when you open up the inner sleeve, which comes complete with a shot of them in a rec room setting. With the band sorting through records, probably not far from their practice space, it presents to us a fragment of a mostly unknown aspect of girl groups’ non-performing musical lives, a glimpse of a secret life. Girls aren’t supposed to know rock history, let alone scrutinize liner notes. It’s good to see, as far too often we only understand girl groups in more narrowly circumscribed ways.
Plumtree, by this small gesture, make their musical lives seem infinitely more expansive. If only this evidence of a rock pedigree could be more seamlessly grafted onto their pop past, there might be more to This Day Won’t Last at All. This a record that seems like its on its way somewhere. There just needs to be more emphasis on pop mechanics and less on laboured rock pyrotechnics.
// Notes from the Road
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