[1 March 2006]
Perhaps there’s just something about the cold up there. Or possibly their extensive welfare program allows kids to wank around “following their artistic passions” without worrying for a paycheck. Or maybe it’s the French blood. Whatever it is, Canada has far too many indie artists for its own good—and they’re getting ready to launch their own Canadian Invasion across the globe.
LunarTheory is the latest in a long line of artists in the Great White Igloo, a proud heritage that includes Stars, the Arcade Fire, and sudden indie kings The New Pornographers. As the vehicle of singer/songwriter Jared Robinson, who plays every instrument on the album excluding some drums, it neatly summarizes in musical terms the position of a Commonwealth country next to its Yankee monster of a neighbor. Heavy Britpop pilfering is fused with the hallmarks of the suburban American indie-scene, all delivered with the kind of low-key tone all too appropriate to a country where big headlines are the snow reports.
From the start, you can tell this kid desperately wishes he was born somewhere around the same altitude—just slightly across the Atlantic, please. “A Million Frowns”, while a gorgeous song in its own right, could provoke lawsuits from Blur’s Graham Coxon for stylistic plagiarism (OK, so Graham Coxon took it from XTC, but there’s a difference between inspiration and duplication), straight down to its sloppy, choppy riffs. Every piling on of loud guitars and swelling strings screams Radiohead, the jaunty piano hooks in “Someday” are taken from Sir Paul McCartney, and there’s even a hint of Madchester drum beats, especially in “Deep”.
For all its blatant theft of specific musical elements, though, the musical whole sounds nothing like Britpop. Again, I’m going to attribute this to my Musical Theory of National Differences—the British Isles have warm currents all around them. It’s nice there, even if hellishly rainy, and it fires up the souls of young rock stars waiting to take over the world, whether they’re Oasis or the Arctic Monkeys or the original four moptops. As for Canada? It’s just too goddamn cold there to do anything but stay at home, engage in some musical quirking, and sing warm, low-key melodies around the fire, and that’s exactly what LunarTheory does.
So to find a musical reference point, it’s tempting to point at the most Canadian of their peers, Stars. The giveaway comparison is the breezy vocal style. But beyond that, LunarTheory is clearly the weaker band (man?). Where Stars’ lyrics are meditative and immediate, in LunarTheory the voice is too far in falsetto to deliver with any kind of emotion, and the words are composed of mopey clichés like “You’re empty now/ She’s gone”. Instead of the musical texture of Stars, Lunar Theory relies far too much on saccharine pop harmonies which aren’t catchy enough to be hooks, and simply end up ingratiating (if I hear one more “doo doo” in “Someday”, I’ll puke). Jared Robinson’s vocals literally sound as if castrated, both pitch-wise and emotionally, and his refusal to drop the falsetto at any point turns out to be the album’s most annoying point, and its biggest flaw.
At several points, Jared Robinson’s unique sound comes into strikingly clear fashion—“She’s Calling” is haunting and bittersweet at the same time, “Fall” sounds like a song that belongs on The Bends, and “Lullaby” turns the traditional child’s lullaby into a swell of emotion. But more often than not, the band wastes too much time trying to slag off disparate interests and creates nothing compelling.
(Just kidding, Canadian readers. I still love you. The New Pornographers is God’s gift to the world. So is maple syrup.)