[7 May 2012]
We always want a rock revival, or at least they keep coming. The British Invasion invoked the golden era, and garage rock did the same, on through punk to Arcade Fire and beyond. What exactly constitutes the “good old days” is of course always up for grabs, though, and for their part, Yukon Blonde (Jeff Innes, Brandon Scott, Graham Jones, and John Jeffrey) take us back to the late ‘60s and ‘70s on their second full-length release, Tiger Talk. A classic-rock revival of fat guitar riffs, big choruses thick with vocal harmonies, loud drums, and some tricky changes all held together with a pop sensibility: This is music for car rides.
The first three songs are probably the strongest, and “My Girl” starts things off at an upbeat and spirited clip. Brisk, shimmering chords veer into metallic licks and back again, with “You’ll be my girl / You’ll be my girl / You’ll be my girl” making up the bulk of the lyrics. “Radio” recalls the Knack and even Sloan — chunky power chords break into hot guitar solos, and a lineup of coolly reverbed harmonies shoot through on the chorus. The third track “Stairway” is my favourite number on the record: “I’m wishing I could be home right now,” Innes sings, urgently. Things slow down slightly after that as we move onto a more varied stretch, with the layered and gorgeous closer “Sweet Dee” being another standout. There are some darker moments, but Tiger Talk’s feel is generally upbeat and summery, a polished record for parties and hangouts, with hints of the Beach Boys, T. Rex, and Bowie sprinkled throughout.
As accessible as Tiger Talk is, it can feel compressed. And though the music is perfectly executed, with riffs and fills so precise it almost feels as though the band is reading sheet music, sometimes it’s hard to find anything underneath the words and melodies. I feel funny bringing in semiotics here, but in “The Grain of the Voice”, Roland Barthes writes about, well, the grain of the voice, the aspect of singing that lay beyond the mere meaning of words and tunes. It is a strange idea, that the voice can have grain, but it comes to mind because Yukon Blonde sometimes seems not to have any. The vintage tone is right, their technique perfect, and the lyrics mostly good enough. But the fleshy heart that grounds singing and playing feels missing-in-action, somehow. Is this iPod-era revivalism? All of the information but none of the attitude?
Still, it will probably always be nice to listen to a band that can play the hell out of their instruments together and who know their way around a hook, too. Yukon Blonde is going to spread smiles and will heads to nod along as they tour Tiger Talk around parts of Canada, the States, and Europe this spring and summer, and they’ll point their audience back to some classics. That’s worth a high five or two.