[10 January 2010]
Music and geography have always enjoyed something of a bountiful relationship. The planet we inhabit provides endless highways for touring musicians to ply their craft, but there’s so much more. Those endless highways eventually give way to lush scenery, bustling metropolis and quaint small towns all the same. Every piece of Earth musicians trek across provides a seemingly endless supply of inspiration, so much so that one can’t help but imagine music without geography. After all, could Neil Young’s Harvest exist without rural Ontario? Or could Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound sound nearly as authentic without the blue-collar grit of New Jersey? Probably not. And Vancouver’s Said the Whale would probably agree.
Islands Disappear, the band’s second full-length, is as much a study in the blatant effects geography has on a young rock and roll outfit as it is an enlightening and overtly charming blend of pop-rock pageantry. The 13 tracks on Islands Disappear practically leap from the speakers with a vibrancy that one would expect from a band still safely in the prime of their youth. Yet the authenticity which Islands Disappear attains is another matter. Said The Whale demonstrate with razor-sharp efficiency that they are not just a band that dreams of far-away landscapes. They are a band that has been there and lived to tell the tales. And they still sound hungry for more.
Five tracks make allusion to Said the Whale’s native Canada, including the delicate acoustic shuffle of “B.C. Orienteering.” “You should never travel alone / just one false step and you might not make it home,” croons lead singer Tyler Bancroft in a steadfast warble. True enough, the forests of British Columbia are nothing to take on half-assed, but Bancroft and the rest of the band guide listeners with genuine poise.
Calling Islands Disappear a labour of love might be close, but it’s not entirely true. The evocative landscapes Islands Disappear call to mind could only mean that Said the Whale inhale an indisputable respect for the world around them. And when they exhale, a pitch-perfect pop record like Islands Disappear is what happens. It’s a record that isn’t just a companion on road trips. It is a necessity to understanding the beauty of the world around us.
“Camillo (The Magician)”, the record’s single, is as catchy a track as one could ever expect to hear. Rousing, chunky hooks swirl amidst a tale of a magician who has captivated the band with the knowledge of the world that is at the heart of Said the Whale ethos. They might be a young act, but how refreshing it is to hear a band that has an unquenchable thirst for life. “Emerald Lake, AB” picks up where “Camillo” leaves off, and doesn’t miss a step. Patient, afternoon-ready rock gives way to a rousing, building chorus where Bancroft’s croon gives way to a howl. “What a fine life we are livin’”, proclaims Bancroft, and as guitars, horns and drums crash together, it becomes hard to argue.
Yet as immediate and blatant the charm of Islands Disappear, there are layers to the band’s sound which beg for exploration. “Gentleman” could fill the void so many Belle and Sebastian fans are probably feeling. Bancroft bares his soul and eschews the notion of being a “too cool for school” rock star, while “A Cold Night Close to the End” coos with heartfelt campfire vibes, revealing another truth about Said the Whale: they’re a bunch of romantics.
Islands Disappear is indeed a record full of truths. Said the Whale prove that the relationship between music and geography is indispensable. The record proves that this Vancouver act loves that relationship and are helpless to the effects it has on their character and sound. For listeners who find no fault in sing-a-long pop-rock, Islands Disappear is a record that many will be helpless against as well.