About two years ago, the press descended on Montreal like moths to a flame, hailing the city as the next Seattle. Every band, regardless of size, was scrutinized as possible heirs to the throne thrust upon the Arcade Fire. Of course, as quickly as the buzz built, it died. While the Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade benefited most from the attentive press, the remaining Montreal indie scene continued to play on, amused by the brief sideshow that descended upon the city.
If you happened to be living under a rock, and need a primer on just what made bloggers foam at the mouth, there is probably no better place to start than Think About Life’s self-titled debut. Personally approved by the Wolf Parade, who invited them to open their autumn 2005 tour, and featuring AIDS Wolf vocalist Chloe Lum and Islands rapper Subtitle, the album is a veritable who’s who (and who’s left) of the Montreal scene.
Clearly influenced by their peers, Think About Life land square in the middle of what the bands around them have to offer. Bits of the Arcade Fire’s majesty are mixed with the raw passion of Wolf Parade and mixed with the eclecticism of Unicorns/Islands, resulting in an album that feels somewhat lacking in an identity. It certainly doesn’t help that the band—a trio of keyboards, drums, and vocals—work with such a limited palette. Keyboardist and programmer Graham Van Pelt doesn’t deviate much from a cheap, droney tone that is kinda interesting at first but grows quickly tiresome for the duration of the album. But perhaps worse is the facelessness of singer Martin Cesar. For much of the album, his voice is drowned behind effects, and with the band already operating in such a limited range, there isn’t anything left for the listener to latch on to.
That said, the album isn’t without its moments. “Money”‘s opening half is what the Strokes wish their mellotron experiment “Ask Me Anything” would’ve turned out like. Sour, repetitive, yet perfectly atmospheric keyboard notes allow space for guest Gordon Kreiger to maneuver with his clarinet. But it’s the song’s second half that is intoxicating. Some seriously booty-shaking keyboard shifts the song into dance mode, while the song’s refrain—“It was all for the money”—repeated singularly, in chorus and call-and-response but never the same way twice, is both singable and nonsensical. The sort of thing perfect pop gems are made of. “What the Future Might Be” offers a serious groove from the get-go, giving rapper Subtitle some meat for his salt and pepper verses. While he holds up the front end of the track, Think About Life hold up the back end up with an eyeliner-drenched keyboard drone and more hook-laden lyrics.
It’s unfortunate that the band can’t embrace their songs with a pop sensibility more often than they do. It seems they’re uncomfortable getting too close to their songs, fudging them with overt weirdness to keep them—and, by extension, the audience—at a distance. Even the album’s artwork—illustrations and collages of basketball players—seems deliberately odd. But somewhere, beneath the veneer of hipster indifference, there is a great band waiting to emerge and join their Montreal colleagues on the tips of tongues of ear-to-the-ground music fans.