The vibraphone is probably the uncoolest member of the percussion family. Tommy Lee, Lars Ulrich, John Bonham and Keith Moon wouldn’t have reached their levels of infamy had they been behind rows of carefully calibrated metal tubes, instead of sweating it out behind their kits. As a vibraphonist, it’s hard to be dangerous and sexy when the only other guy to bring notoriety to your instrument is Lionel Hampton. However, as unalluring as the vibraphone is, it has in the last few years attained a certain vogue within the indie rock community. Of course, the obvious example are post-everything band Tortoise, who pushed the instrument to the fore of their now classic Millions Now Living Will Never Die. Calexico and Aloha have also rolled it out to help shape their unique sounds.
Your enjoyment of La Fin Du Monde will largely depend on just how much you enjoy the vibraphone, as the Hylozoists have no less than three vibraphone players. The indie supergroup, centered around the songwriting prowess of Paul Aucoin, features members of Cuff the Duke, Fembots, Weakerthans, Broken Social Scene, the Sadies, and a good half-dozen other bands. Mostly instrumental, the tunes are an easily-digestible hybrid of post-rock structures, pop acessbility and left-field genre influences.
When I first spun the disc, I hadn’t actually read any of the press materials. The band had generated a fair amount of internet / messageboard buzz around the album, which is why I had requested it in the first place. What initially struck me was the remarkable production, particularly the spacious, yet powerful drums and Aucoin’s ability to balance the band’s huge sound in the mix so that nothing was lost (Aucoin also acted as producer). However, as the disc continued and as it finally came to a close, I was disappointed that so few of the songs actually grabbed me. Everything sounded great, but the hooks were few.
It was somewhat surprising for a band so heavily centered around the vibraphone that the disc’s standout moments were guitar based. The awesomely titled “If Only Your Heart Was a Major Sixth” is a damned-near masterpiece. Built on a fuzzed out, Morricone drugged guitar progression and then drowned in organs, strings and, yes, vibes, its bliss works on its carefully-built sections. It works because of little things like the second guitar that comes in, entering and leaving, repeating a two-note chord drone for about ten seconds. It works because it’s ambitious and unafraid and presents the type of moments that I wish the rest of the disc brought forth more often. One of those kinds of moments occurs in “Man Who Almost Was”, where guitarists Jeremy Strachan and Dale Murray take an aside in order to challenge each other, smiling and complimenting themselves with some beautiful runs before returning back to the song.
I wish I could boast this much about the rest of the disc, but unfortunately I can’t. The instrumental tones are diluted by uniformity and the few tracks that do attempt vocals are perhaps best left unmentioned. But if we’re lucky, this is only the beginning of a long career for Aucoin. Blessed with a producer’s ear and a strong, talented core of players around him, he shows the kind of promise that foreshadows a classic album just waiting to be released.
// Notes from the Road
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