Land of Talk: Applause Cheer Boo Hiss

[16 April 2007]

By Edward Xia

Montreal has become, in some ways, a massive enclave of indie bands where buzz-worthy artists come out, seemingly, everyday.  Next in line seems to be Land of Talk, who in true Montreal-scene fashion, opened for the Stills and has leader singer, Elizabeth Powell, who roomed with members of Arcade Fire.  However it is clear that the love that the blogs have heaped upon Land of Talk is not merely buzz-by-association, but rather the affirmation of another gem of a band from Montreal.

The band begins and ends with Powell, whose gritty, primal voice is Land of Talk’s trademark.  Half the time it sounds like an instrument itself, concerned with making the right noises instead of saying the right words.  It is, in fact, so striking that PJ Harvey comparisons have been elicited.  And while there is a palpable sense of urgency in both voices, the difference lies in the fact that Powell’s voice grooves along with the band most of the time, pushing forward the songs while still being enveloped by the rest of the music.

And the music itself is force of nature, a rush of sound that feels like a car driving at top speed, moments away from careening out of control.  Songs begin assuredly and by the end devolve into a beautiful mess of destruction and chaos.  It’s hard to fathom that three people make all that wonderful racket. 

The opening track “Speak to Me Bones” doesn’t so much arrive as crash into your living room, pounding drums, thudding bass, crunching guitars and all.  Powell is saying something about something but you have a feeling that she doesn’t want you to think that matters at all.  And the album hardly lets up.  “Breakxxbaxx” and “Sea Foam” are similar in intensity, while another highlight is “Magnetic Hill”, the only song on the album with a danceable groove.  It still maintains a hard edge however. 

So given all of this, it is not surprising that there is one requisite slow song.  The finale “Street Wheels” is where the band slows it all down.  For the first time, Powell’s voice is the whole show.  You still can’t make out what she says and she sings as if in a woozy dream, but her voice feels far more distinct.  But to no one’s surprise, the feedback kicks up again, and that orgy of crunching madness envelops everything.  But then, the music fades again, and her voice is alone once more.  And then just as suddenly, the crunch returns.  And that is why “Street Wheels” works.  The struggle between Powell’s music and the band’s frenzied sound creates a beautiful tension that closes off the album.  It’s easy to forget that sometimes buzz and hype is grounded in some reality.  Whenever Land of Talk decides to release a full-length, there will be many loyal listeners waiting.  Until then, Applause Cheer Boo Hiss will just have to do.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/land-of-talk-applause-cheer-boo-hiss/