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Hey Rosetta!: Second Sight

This nearly hour long record is strong and forceful, and shows that Hey Rosetta! is worth paying attention to.

Hey Rosetta!

Second Sight

Label: Sonic
UK Release Date: 2014-10-24
US Release Date: 2015-01-27
Canadian Release Date: 2014-10-21
Label website
Artist website

The word Kintsukuroi refers to the Japanese art of taking broken pottery and repairing it with gold or silver. Some feel that the piece, in this form, is made more beautiful for being smashed up and repaired. It turns out that not only does the album cover art of Hey Rosetta's new, fourth album reference this, there is a song called "Kintsukuroi" here. Full of hammering piano riffs that are wonderful, you can't help but wonder in amazement in how much it feels like art. That shouldn't be surprising in and of itself, because this Canadian band from St. John's, Newfoundland, is a very critically revered indie rock outfit.

Previous albums Into Your Lungs (And Around In Your Heart and On Through Your Blood) and Seeds were both short listed for the Polaris Music Prize, and the group was nominated for a 2012 Juno Award (Canada's Grammys) for New Group of the Year. You listen to Second Sight, the new one, and you might find yourself finding similarities to Arcade Fire in sound and approach, which wouldn't be astonishing, given that the record was produced in Montreal by Marcus Paquin, who has worked with Arcade Fire in the past, along with the National and Stars. All three bands hang over Second Sight, for better or ill, so your enjoyment of it may hinge on how much you already like these other groups. However, this nearly hour long record is strong and forceful, and shows that Hey Rosetta! is worth paying attention to.

What really pulls you into Second Sight is the music. Opener "Soft Offering (For the Oft Suffering)" shimmers and glistens with glacial keyboards providing backing, but the song then bursts forth into a folksy rave-up that both reminds you of certain strands of '80s British rock (i.e. Simple Minds) and current-day acts such as Mumford and Sons. The folksy vein continues with "Gold Teeth", with its acoustic strum rubbing shoulders with drums and a glittery guitar line. These two songs essentially determine the course of the rest of the album, as it alternates between soft, lush acoustic ballads and big band rave-ups. (Considering that Hey Rosetta! is seven members strong, you can garner an appreciation for just how big their sound is.) "What Arrows", for instance, is a gentle song, at least initially, that actually wouldn't be out of place on a playlist that includes tracks from Arcade Fire's The Suburbs album. However, by the 4:20 mark, it turns downright propulsive and fiery, showing just how nimble the group is in marrying two divisive elements within the same cut. "Kid Gloves" (not a cover of the Rush number from Grace Under Pressure) is easily, hands-down, the most memorable thing to be heard on Second Sight with its squiggly keyboard lines rubbing up against the cavernous resonance.

By and large, by this point – the halfway mark of the album – you can really establish the outfit's grandiose ambitions and large scope. Hey Rosetta! paints on a broad canvass, and when you consider the length of the album and just how many people are employed by the group, notwithstanding their brushes with accolades in the past, it becomes apparent that Second Sight has its sights set on the stadiums and playing to the largest crowds possible. In a kind of ironic twist, Hey Rosetta! replaced the Gaslight Anthem during the 2014 Ottawa Folk Fest in September as a headlining act, when a member of the latter band's family became ill and they had to cancel the show at the very last minute. (And, yes, this was the same festival where that whole recent Sun Kil Moon versus the War on Drugs feud started, in case you were wondering.)

So, thanks to that fact, you can pretty much surmise that Hey Rosetta! is clearly entering the premier class of Canadian indie rock – that they're big enough in Canada, or Ottawa, at least, to land a high-profile gig as the top band on the bill during the final night of a major music festival, having enough clout to convince festival organisers that they had a large enough following to take the top slot on a bill that would have otherwise gone to a major American act. You know, that people would gladly pay to see Hey Rosetta! as much as they would have paid to see the Gaslight Anthem. So Hey Rosetta! does have its sights on attracting the widest audience possible, which, of course, every artist sets out to do, but there's a real feeling with Second Sight that they want to be considered a Big, Important Band. Heck, when the horns break in on "Alcatraz", the 10th song out of 12 here, you wonder if Hey Rosetta! should send Broken Social Scene – of course, another massive Canadian indie rock collective – a five-dollar bill and a bottle of wine for copping such an obvious influence and trying to reach the same level of Important Seriousness in their music. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It is what it is.

Hey Rosetta! may reach their lofty goals, but it seems like the only thing holding them back is the point that they don't sound too far removed from other successful international bands of ilk. Squint your ears hard enough, and lead singer Tim Baker sounds a lot like that guy from Coldplay. So when you consider Hey Rosetta!'s influences, they are worn quite proudly on the band’s sleeves. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but there's an overarching feeling of familiarity on this record, which may leave you a bit cold. Still, even if these songs sound like they could belong elsewhere, they are quite muscular and the work of an outfit that certainly knows its way around an anthemic hook or refrain. Also, for an album that is relatively long, it is astounding that the songs hang together well – there’' nothing here that you could call "filler", everything is in its right place and every track contributes to the overall flow of the record.

There's a reason why Hey Rosetta! winds up on Polaris shortlists (if not to be a token band from Newfoundland, which isn't exactly a mainstream musical hotbed in Canada). Hey Rosetta! is a group with strong roots (considering they make roots music and all), and certainly make an aesthetically emotional and agreeable sound. It'll be interesting to see if the rest of the world catches up with the success this outfit is having on their home soil, but, if they do, the pleasing music that is made on Second Sight, a thing of fragile, broken beauty, will be the key ingredient that will bring Hey Rosetta! to the international forefront.


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