[21 November 2005]
If you’ve ever had the desire to join a cult/indie band, but the Polyphonic Spree’s billowy robes were too loose to showcase your new, slim figure, you may be in luck. Page France could use you. They might not be a cult per se, but they sure seem like it. Perhaps it is their leader’s (I mean lead singer’s) unbelievable knack for creating memorable pop melodies while using only a few chords that induces such beliefs. It’s this mixture of self restraint and the eyes-glazed-over idiocy these melodies reduce you to that can lead only to cult activity. The lyrics echo religious implications as well. We have tales of Jesus rising from the dirt, brushing worms out of his hair. We have “a wedding feast for the snakes and bees”. Banana trees play kazoos; you drink Jesus’ wine (or is it Kool-Aid?). All of this has a mantra feel to it. Like if Page France repeated “Jesus came up from the ground so dirty” enough times, it would suddenly make it so.
The songs receive the requisite chamber pop extras: xylophones, ringing arpeggio guitars, sweet female backing vocals, and backwards-sounding organs. “Chariot” and “Jesus” set the tone. Each stomps out an infectious beat before laying the pseudo-gospel on thick over a simple acoustic guitar. “Elephant” is the first song to change up the pace significantly. It doesn’t pick up until the bridge, where a galloping tambourine helps along a cyclical melody, and eventually, where handclaps and a distant horn emerge.
It’s on the fifth song, “Junkyard”, that I realized I couldn’t get enough of the formula. It’s nearly identical to “Chariot”; only the melody and words change, it seems. But it’s still as captivating as it was the first time I heard it. Is it possible to lace CDs with hallucinogens that vaporize upon contact with a laser beam?
The gospel of Page France contains numerous Biblical references: “You stood beside a burning bush”, “I was made out of your dust”, “Praise the land”, “Clap your hands”, “Praise to you for giving praise to we”, and “I’ll shed a feather for the Lord”. What intrigues is Michael Nau’s ability to ground these Godly allusions in naturalistic scenes. But he also keeps his songs in the realm of childhood. Each song title is only one word, and with titles such as “Grass”, “Glue”, and “Trampoline”, these are nouns that children would most likely scrutinize. Nau’s voice is so full of wonder and naiveté that criticizing his world view is damn near impossible. It would be like scolding a child for holding tight to the notion Santa Claus despite the overwhelming contrary evidence.
Ultimately, listening to 14 simple songs is a bit of a chore. Many themes return throughout the album, including water, bushes, chariots, and the very frequent notion of hand clapping. The two-chord structure that appears in many of the songs makes it possible to sing most melodies over any other song. By the end of the CD, you have a hope in the back of your mind that Nau might grow up just a little. And maybe he does. The penultimate track opens with this line: “Angel, way before there was goodness, way before they was sadness.” It grows more conflicted from there, saying that the angel was once a killer. Finally the song graduates into a pop sing-along, in which the chorus says, “I’m here looking for a leader.”
Those of you in search of a leader need look no further than Michael Nau. He’ll never lead you astray and always keep your toes a-tapping and your hands a-clapping. And when he says, “I’m as heavy as a feather / Hallelujah”, on the final song, you absolutely believe him.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/pagefrance-hello/