Pop songs are a dime a dozen, but a perfect pop song? That’s a rare beauty. The best songwriters write perfect songs with ease, or at least they make songwriting seem easy and make their songs seem perfect. Judging by Vancouver Nights’ self-titled debut album, Sara Lapsley is one of those songwriters. This CD contains 12 peppy pop-rock songs, without one obvious flaw. Melody, harmony, piano, guitar, sweet vocals (by Lapsley and, on two songs, by guitarist Daniel Bejar)—all are balanced out into the right mixture of giddiness and serious musicality, songs that stick in your brain but don’t seem like bubblegum at all.
An album filled with exquisite pop music is a wonderful thing, but Vancouver Nights’ album has even more to offer than that. In short, if these songs were inhabited by fluffy or vacuous lyrics, this would be one of those albums that sounds really good for a while but doesn’t hold up over time. This is an entirely different affair, an album that reveals more each time around. Not only does the quartet hit all the right notes musically, but the songs, mostly written by Lapsley, add a few layers of depth through the lyrics.
Take the first song, for example. The bouncy “Naikoon Park” has a retro sound not unlike the ‘60s-influenced noises of the Elephant 6 bands. But what at first sounds like another 1960s “park” song, one of those mellow ditties about hanging out in the city park on a sunny afternoon, is much more. It’s a portrait of a natural preserve, one which not only gives a sense of all of the animals that make up the ecosystem, but also hints at the history and mystery that accompanies such a place, and does it all without sounding like a textbook or an nature instruction record for kids.
Exhibit 2: Check out the love songs on here, which travel way past the surface that most pop love songs tread on (namely, infatuation) and deal seriously with the choices people make regarding relationships. Where “Ben” turns the standard breakup song into a realization that their “love” was wrapped up in the ideas and mythology of romance instead of anything real, the Lapsley-Bejar duet “A Room of One’s Own” one-ups it by using both lovers’ voices to tell the a decidedly human breakup tale, one where the two make a mutual decision to go their separate ways. It’s not only a gorgeous song, but a truly interesting one, with the two sharing astute observations on why people start and end relationships. After listing their own and each other’s faults, and deciding that nothing’s left between them but “the pride of ownership”, they end with the wish, “May love renew herself, in terminations and beginnings”.
Those three songs are just the beginning. Each song on Vancouver Nights’ album is filled both with delightful pop sounds and genuine thought, something generally missing from pop music. It also has enough open places for listeners to think their way through the gaps. The last song “Slow Procession”, for example, has enough poetry to make it impossible for me to say what the song’s clearly about, or what the message is. But it’s not impervious either; it’s filled with lines evoking aging, death, rebirth, cycles, enough to get listeners’ brains scrambling. When pop music can be both aesthetically pleasing and intelligently provocative, that is a truly wonderful thing.