Pilot Speed: Wooden Bones

Wooden Bones is pleasing enough to the ear, but it's really barely worth talking about.

Pilot Speed

Wooden Bones

Label: Wind-Up
US Release Date: 2009-04-28
UK Release Date: 2009-04-28

Toronto's Pilot Speed opens Wooden Bones with subdued clapping and mild cheering, approximating the background noise at a sparse club or an under-attended party. As a kick-off moment, it's a self-deprecating reference to the warmer social welcomes that herald Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On". It's the first and only effort at knowing humor that Pilot Speed can be bothered with. The song that follows is "Put the Phone Down", Wooden Bones's lead single as well as its most-appealing feature. A handclap-friendly beat and simple guitar form underscore the impassioned range of classically trained vocalist Todd Clark, who reconstitutes the lyrical mainstays of Bono ("Broken bottles / In the doorway"), Springsteen ("Take the night train / Ride to Jersey"), and Win Butler ("The city is a graveyard") with aplomb. Still, it's the album's least-resistible cut, largely due to the inevitability of its telegraphed chorus.

Pilot Speed was formerly known as Pilate, a name they dropped when both success and legal trouble beckoned from outside of Canada. Their adequate level of fame in their home nation was based on admittedly fine pop singles like "Into Your Hideout" and "Barely Listening", a sequence which "Put the Phone Down" slides comfortably into. Those enticed to the band's LPs by these siren songs tended to wreck their hulls upon ghostly rocks of flaccid Brit-rock lite, however. Pilot Speed share the perhaps undesirable title of "Canada's Coldplay" with Nova Scotians In-Flight Safety but are polished to an impossible sheen and have none of In-Flight Safety's elegiac-maritime longing. They're not terrible and are capable of effective tune-smithing but generally come off as a little bit flat.

Wooden Bones is pleasing enough to the ear, but it's really barely worth talking about. Clark's got some fine pipes, and his melodies achieve cruising altitude most of the time. The lyrics are full of vague platitudes that might sound profound to someone who hasn't listened to the radio since 1960. There are mournful pianos and chiming echoed guitar, ethereal strings and shiny keyboards. Bill Keeley's drum work strikes the occasional spark, but there's only so much kindling to go around here. There's plenty of smoke but not nearly enough fire.

Wooden Bones is hardly devoid of diversion. The muted title track cultivates a stark baroque quality before abandoning the mystery for more half-baked anthemizing. "Today I Feel Sure" has some well-produced minimalism to offer, and Chris Greenough's sinister guitar solo in "Midnight Fires" is much more evocative than the self-righteous proselytizing of the lyric sheet. "Light You Up" has the feel of a possible second hit single, with Clark emoting his way across the grand chorus. "Up On the Bridge" is moody and downbeat and remarkably patient. "Open Arms" is fairly clichéd, but possesses some of the hymnal muscle of "Into the West", the stand-out closing track from their last release.

But little else makes a very strong impression, even upon multiple listens. As Wooden Bones winds on with too much grandiosity and too little inspiration, the crowd's unenthusiastic reception at its beginning seems less like a sociable wink and more like a pre-emptive judgment. Pilot Speed does little in the course of this recording to earn anything more than polite applause.


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.